I don’t even like talking about this subject, mostly because I feel like SB 6772 is a plot by the areas outside of the central Puget Sound to get out of paying for the state’s road obligations in that area, but the Sound Transit Board made a statement about the bill, and I got a hold of it via a state representative, and I thought I would forward it on to you.
Financing: One of the major findings of the Regional Transportation Commission and Blue Ribbon Commission reports – that there is not sufficient funding in the system – is not addressed in SB 6772. The revenue options are limited to those that exist today for Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District, with the exception of tolling revenue, which has been removed. In addition, the state constitutional limits on debt capacity mean that by combining roads and transit into one entity, the overall capacity of the new entity to issue debt for transportation becomes limited.
Delay: With the Legislature’s leadership, the region is making progress in delivering transportation investments through the Nickel Package and the Transportation Partnership Act. And, Sound Transit is completing the regional high capacity transportation system approved by the voters in 1996. In fact, we will open the Central Link light rail system from downtown Seattle the airport in 2009, and we will start construction on the next extension of light rail to the University of Washington. An unintended consequence under the new governance structure proposed in SB 6772 is the timeframe to get a roads and transit plan to the voters. While theoretically the new entity could go to voters in 2009, it could also take several years since the plan would have to comply with required environmental and planning reviews. The Regional Transportation Investment District took about five years to get consensus on a package to present to the voters. With both roads and transit to prioritize and balance – with the same amount of revenue – it could take a new entity even longer. Inflation alone is a huge cost of delay.
Federal Partnership: With the strong support of our congressional delegation and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Sound Transit has been very successful in attracting federal funds for this region’s light rail system, dollars that would otherwise not be spent in the Puget Sound. Right now, we are negotiating with the FTA for a $750 million grant for the University Link light rail project. The possibility of a governance change could unintentionally undermine the federal government’s confidence in the agency’s commitment to provide the local matching funds for the grant. In addition, the uncertainties associated with the staffing and operations of the new entity could undermine their confidence that our technical capability and capacity is maintained to deliver the light rail system and the rest of the transit services we currently provide. Both of these issues are threshold requirements for the federal grant.
Representation/Balance of Power: Currently, each member of the Sound Transit Board represents about 145,000 citizens, and a single subarea or county can not dominate the Board’s regional decision-making. The directly-elected members in the six districts authorized by SB 6772 would each represent 433,000 citizens, and King County could dominate the decision-making. Attached is a graphic that helps illustrate this point. In addition, the governance structure proposed in SB 6772 would eliminate the local transit board representation on the Sound Transit Board. Eliminating this feature undermines coordination and collaboration with local transit projects and services.
Land Use: This proposal does not address land use authority and permitting issues, which often delay projects and increase costs. As the primary capital construction agency in the Puget Sound region, outside of WSDOT, permitting issues, mitigation demands and differing requirements among jurisdictions, impact our ability to efficiently implement new transportation projects. A major benefit of Sound Transit’s federated Board structure is that the relationships and common interests of the elected officials facilitates dialogue and resolution of issues with our jurisdictional partners. Without changes to assist the land use and permitting concerns, we believe SB 6772 could have the unintentional impact of making delivery of projects harder.
Accountability: By statute, the State convenes an Expert Review Panel to review Sound Transit’s planning and financing methodologies and assumptions, and our work must be certified by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) as conforming to the region’s long-term transportation plans. SB 6772 removes the requirements for an Expert Review Panel and PSRC consistency review. Sound Transit believes review of our work by independent outside experts has been a good accountability measure for the region, and that consistency with the regional plan should be a pre-requisite for any transportation investment plan. Likewise, sub-area equity is the primary tool Sound Transit has for ensuring voters receive the transportation benefits they have approved at the ballot box. SB 6772 eliminates all three accountability measures.
Voter confidence: The Board is concerned with the provision in SB 6772 that would allow the new governing body to change any aspect of a voter-approved plan with two-thirds vote of the ten voting members. This broad authority would seem to undermine voter confidence.
Sound Transit has over ten years of experience in delivering high quality capital projects in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. We have doubled our ridership in the last five years and are poised to open Central Link next year. We hope legislators will draw on that experience when considering this bill. The Board is open to a discussion and fully supports efforts to make the delivery of transportation projects and services easier, faster, and more efficient while not jeopardizing current plans and services.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns. The Board appreciates the opportunity to work with the Committee and the Legislature on these important issues.