In the Sunday paper, the P-I had a spot-on editorial in favor of the the Sound Transit expansion vote we’ll be getting on the ballot in November, and pointing out the madness of raiding transit funding to put into the highway fund:

Major investments in public transportation are the smart, obvious move at a time when high gas prices are pushing a record number of Americans out of their cars and packing them into mass transit. Unfortunately, doing so is neither smart nor obvious to the federal government. Running short of gas-tax dollars for highways and roads, the Bush administration is planning on taking money out of mass transit funds to take care of highways.

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that, “the short-term solution would be for the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account to borrow money from the fund’s mass transit account, a step that would balance the accounts as highway travel declines and use of mass transit increases.”

Congress has the power to put the kibosh on this plan by refusing to approve it, and killing this counterintuitive move is the only way to go.

Of course I agree, but I think congress should go one step further. People have already started making the decision that the convenience of driving may not be worth the trade-offs in terms of cost and stress, which is why driving is down and walking, biking, and riding transit are up. It’s time for congress to take a similar re-evaluation and decide whether it’s still cost-effective in terms of mobility to subsidize highways to the extent the Federal Government has been.

The obvious reason why the highway fund is in trouble is because people are driving less, and thus buying less gas and paying less gas tax. But the less obvious reason that highway fund is in so much trouble is that the same amount of highway funding buys you less roads today than ever before. The cost of concrete, steel and real estate are all considerably higher than they were ten years ago, and because of it roads are more expensive than before.

The cost of providing transit has also gone up with materials and real estate prices rising, but transit costs less to begin with in a lot of cases. In our area, just the 520 bridge replacement will cost nearly as much as East Link, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct will likely cost more than as North Link. Neither will get significantly more users than the corresponding light rail systems. With tax dollars tight, it may be time to think about increasing funding for the more cost-effective way of moving people around.

7 Replies to “P-I Editorial: If not now, then when?”

  1. i sure hope that the general puget sound area’s consensus on ST2 is not what is shown in the soundoffs. what are the usual counter points when debating these people?

  2. There is no way the soundoffs represent the average puget sounder. much like in any situation, those that feel they need to contribute on the soundoffs are extremists…and they seem to mostly lean toward more freedom to do whatever whenever and less taxes (at least that is what I remember b/c that is about the moment when my blood starts to boil). It is difficult to avoid reading the soundoff, but it holds no real value. Better to save your heart the extra beats for later in life.

  3. The people on the Soundoffs are like broken records repeating the same message over and over . As much as I despise this, it can mislead the average reader to believe it to be true.

    I’ve talked to a couple people and overheard on the bus in the tunnel about Link opening next year. They didn’t believe that would happen hence the common perception that ST is behind schedule.

    1. I’m always surprised to talk to people who think that light rail to the Eastside or Northgate was a sure thing. I always have to point out it’s not true!

  4. Whenever I read about the federal gas tax I always wonder what people were thinking when they implemented a tax based on gallons of gas instead of a percent of the cost.

    By making the tax flat, you guarantee that inflation will slowly eat into purchasing power of the tax. It also makes certain that every decade or so, politicians will have to deal with the sure to be explosive debate about if we should once again raise gas taxes to meet expenditures.

    Every other tax I can think of off the top of my head is based on a percent of something: sales tax, property tax, income tax. Just throwing in my 18.4 cents worth.

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