Between Prop. 1 and the presidential election, it’s been pretty easy to forget that there’s also another Eyman initiative on the ballot.  I-985 would divert a significant chunk of the state general fund into a road-building account.  More directly relevant to transit issues, it would stop directing 1% of spending into public art (threatening federal funding for our projects) and open up HOV lanes to general traffic in “off-peak” hours.

As pointed out in numerous places, the measure’s definition of “peak” — 6-9 am and 3-6 pm on weekdays — is not at all fully inclusive of the times there is congestion.  There’s a certain disconnect in the logic here: that buses and carpools won’t be hurt by opening up the HOV lanes, but that somehow there’s congestion that single occupancy vehicles will be able to avoid by using them!* [Update Below]

There are more extended critiques in the P-I and Crosscut.  It’s nice to see the segment of Prop. 1 opponents that is intellectually honest, people like Doug MacDonald and Ron Sims, come out in vocal opposition to this measure.  I’m wondering, however, where the rest of the buses-and-vanpools-can-do-it-better crowd is.

Inadvertently, however, Tim Eyman has been very helpful to the Mass Transit Now campaign, by illustrating one of the big problems with Bus Rapid Transit.  Although BRT is almost always inferior to rail in terms of passenger capacity, environmental cleanliness, and operating costs, it’s true that with sufficient political will (especially the will to convert existing lanes to bus-only), a large portion of rail’s benefits can be captured by a properly designed system for a fraction of the cost.

A BRT system that relies on HOV lanes is not that ultimate system, but even its modest objectives are perpetually under threat by activists that want to loosen restrictions on those lanes.  No one’s going to try to open up light rail tracks to general-purpose traffic.

Lastly, I have trouble figuring out the coalition that’ll support I-985.  After all, diverting money from the state general fund into a congestion account amounts to a massive transfer of wealth into the areas that experience congestion.  I’m not sure who in Eastern Washington wants their programs cut to build roads in the Puget Sound that the locals don’t even necessarily want.

Bus Photo from; Eyman photo from

* UPDATE: It’s been rightly pointed out to me that one paragraph above is brutally phrased.  I’ll try again.

Outside peak hours, either there is congestion or there isn’t.  If there isn’t congestion, opening up HOV lanes to SOVs doesn’t offer any benefit to anyone, and the measure is pointless.  If there is congestion, then the claims that opening up HOV lanes won’t interfere with the efficient operation of buses and carpools is simply false.  Either way, it simply can’t be the case that I-985 simultaneously helps single-occupancy vehicles and doesn’t harm HOVs.

9 Replies to “Problems with I-985”

  1. If this effects the bus lanes on 15th NW and Elliot Ave, the city should fight it and take the heat from Mr. Eyman. It is time this big bully gets challenged. Quit hiding behind Sontag’s audit. I am one that thinks Ballard Rapid Ride won’t work because of frequent openings of the Ballard Bridge, and think SDOT and Sound Transit should begin doing soil samples of that area to see if there is the possibility of a short tunnel for a potential rail line of some kind. The bus lane will at least let the 15 and 18 heading inbound to Downtown make up some of they lose when the horns on the Ballard Bridge sound and traffic comes to a screeching halt as the bridge opens. The canal is a working waterfront, the fishing boats don’t just dock west of the bridge. It seems to be a lot of openings this time of year.

    Also, quit counting on Eastern Washington voters to over-rule King County Voters because King County voters don’t always vote for roads over transit. This is not British Columbia, where theoretically Members of Legislative Assembly from places outside of Vancouver can change how Translink in Vancouver is governed. Right now the Premier and Transportation Minister are from the Greater Vancouver area, but that can change next year. The leader of the NDP, is her party wins next year’s General Election, is from Victoria. That could have repercussions, although when the Liberals kicked the NDP out in 2001, the only two MLAs they had left were in the Vancouver area. The East-West divide here is getting out of hand. Spokane is getting bigger at times, but then Tacoma is on the verge of knocking them out of the #2 slot by the next census if they have not done it already. Spokane should complete the North Spokane Freeway, I’ll admit that, if it can take US2/US395 off of Division Street, it will be a good thing. I went out to the Northtown Mall a few times when I was going to EWU. Also, Spokane has a good bus system, it should be improved, while planning some kind of Light Rail, whether it is a streetcar, diesel light rail, or electric Light Rail, for when they need it. Wenatchee has a good bus system, and from what I have seen of it passing through, it looks like they have done a good job. No service to Pangborn airport yet, but when it is justified(if it is justified in this era of hard economic times for the airlines), they will find a way.

    I am one that was tired of Eastern Washington becoming one of Metro’s junkyards. There was one junkyard near Cashmere that had older buses in Metro colors sitting there, a farm between Quincy and Ephreta where two MAN 40ft buses were parked, and then there was the Grant Transit Authority whose first buses before they bought shorter Blue Birds, were ex-Metro buses. Even though it has good points for all sides, it just furthers the east-west divide. Many on the East side of the Cascades don’t like transit, I will accept that, but is it partly because of jealousy with the new buses that just about every bus system on the west side(especially in the Central Sound) is getting? SOme of it comes from locally-approved taxes, much of the funding comes from Federal Grants, up to 80% of the cost of the bus. I remember talking to an STA driver when I was going to EWU and he mentioned that the STA was going to try out this new-fangled Diesel-Electric Hybrid bus but the order got canceled at the time, thanks to I-695. Some of these drivers were also worried at the time of a layoff because of I-695, and went from jubilation over voting for it, to fear because they voted for it.

    Also, Amtrak Cascades continues to see ridership increases, and I would love to see it duplicated East of the Cascades, but if there are track improvments to be made(and there are quite a few), I would like Eastern Washington to be on board first. We got a route through Eastern Washington that has no passenger service West of Pasco, but combined with the route that sees the Empire Builder east of Pasco, we have an east-west route that hits most of Eastern Washington’s major population centers(excluding Walla Walla, Moses Lake, and Wenatchee, as they are on a different main, or on branch lines). A potential East-West Cascades service, would probably see stops at Tukwilla(stop close to Sea-Tac Airport), Auburn, Cle Elum(maybe, and close to Snoqualmie Pass), Ellensberg, Yakima, Kennewick, Pasco, Connell(Maybe), Ritzville, Cheney(University Town), and a terminus in Spokane.

  2. There have been other transportation proposals on the ballot around the state this year. Earlier this year, voters in Spokane overwhelmingly approved a permanent renewal of the 0.3% sales tax used to fund STA, allowing STA to expand service to meet record ridership gains. In Skagit County, SKAT is proposing to increase the sales tax by 0.2% this November to replace funding from state and federal grants as well as expand service. SKAT has seen 36% increase in local riders and 46-58% increase on its County Connector service. The County Connector, currently funded by state grants, connects Everett, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham by transit.

    The 15th Ave W & Elliott Ave BAT lanes along with the 3rd Ave busway and 2nd & 4th Ave bus lanes are currently in effect only during peak hours. During off peak hours these lanes become curbside parking. I-985 would not affect them in their current configuration nor drivers would benefit since cars would be parked in the way. However, I-985 will put a limit on the ability to expand those restrictions if traffic affects transit reliability.

  3. Eyman should look into the future traffic impacts in Mukilteo. I know the Snohomish County Executive will follow the Ron Sims playbook on negotiating with airlines over use of a County-owned airport, follow the due dilligence requirements of the FAA, then reject the proposal. Horizon Air is considering adding flights out of Paine Field to see if there is a market for flights from there to Spokane and Portland. With our traffic, which Mr. Eyman seeks to make worse under the guise of making things better(similar to what Sound Transit Opponents say about Sound Transit), there might be the market. Those passengers of Horizon’s turbine powered aircraft, which seat 70, whether they are turboprops or jets, will be going to places like Whidbey Island, and points North of Everett. A busway from Paine Field to Everett Station, with future conversion to LINK should be an option, but at first, bus lanes would be good. Mr. Eyman’s initiative would block the simplist solution.

    Now as for the Elliot/15thNW bus lanes, the city may need to expand them to make Rapid Ride work, but Mr. Eyman does not want that. It probably would be expansive to build a high-level bridge to replace the Ballard Bridge to allow traffic to move when canal traffic passes. I would like to see the Ballard Bridge twinned, with a new span with better pedestrian access, but for transit and bicyclists. THe current bridge seems to be lacking. The irony, when the Ballard Bridge opened, there were streetcars on it.

  4. Martin,

    Great point about the vulnerability of “dedicated” bus lanes.

    However, I’ve read this paragraph 10X now, and I do not follow.

    “As pointed out in numerous places, the measure’s definition of “peak” — 6-9 am and 3-6 pm on weekdays — is not at all fully inclusive of the times there is congestion. There’s a certain disconnect in the logic here: that buses and carpools won’t be hurt by opening up the HOV lanes, but that somehow there’s congestion that single occupancy vehicles will be able to avoid by using them!”

    There’s a certain disconnect in what logic? And what is the disconnect between the first point (that buses won’t be hurt by opening up HOV lanes…which I get) and the second point, which I don’t follow (that there’s congestion that single occupancy vehicles will be able to avoid by using HOV lanes…)

    Please take another shot at explaining your point.

    1. He’s saying that if there’s enough congestion that opening an HOV lane helps, then you just made the HOV lane useless for transit and carpools.

      I would phrase is slightly differently: if rush hour is over at 6pm and there’s no longer any traffic, why would opening the HOV lanes help anyone? Well, the answer is that rush hour isn’t over and there’s plenty of traffic, and that traffic would make transit and carpooling less attractive alternatives — creating even more traffic as time goes on.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Josh. I’ve appended a new paragraph to the post that I think expresses it more clearly.

        My anti-BRT argument has received a fair amount of attention, but I want to emphasize my last point: that this initiative is really raw deal for rural Washingtonians. The No campaign should be investing a lot of effort into getting that message out.

  5. Thanks you guys. Totally get it now. And yes, the last point about taking money away from Eastern WA is important. I had a handle on that one, but pointing out that Eyman’s argument about the “common sense” of opening up HOV lanes at “off-peak” hours when there’s “no need for them because, presumably, there’s no congestion” contradicts his other point that you need to open up HOV lanes to get people out of congestion … is a good call.

    And yes, leads to a sharp pair of question: 1) If, in fact, there is congestion, why should we open up the HOV lanes? (HOV lanes are intended to reward frugal commuters, like bus riders, not strand them in traffic). And 2) If there isn’t enough congestion to have HOV lanes than what’s the point of the measure?

    Well played.

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