We’ve had a couple of postmortems now, and I think the time has come not to just talk about what we want next, but how to do it.
I know that King County Metro will have to do something about their budget shortfall, but they aren’t going to solve their problems with the legislature – they need a solution before the session, and they would have to go to a public vote anyway. So this isn’t about them.
The two things I want to work on most are to accelerate Link expansion, and to improve intercity rail. I think both of those provide the most bang for the buck. Here’s why:
If Link takes 13-15 years to complete, I think we’ll be well into the next construction boom as it’s finishing, and the last projects in the basket will end up running into a lot of the same problems Central Link did – lack of contractors, high real estate prices, high materials prices.
The big thing holding Link back is how fast the money comes in. I’m not exactly sure how long design takes, how long public comment periods are, etc, but I think the real issue, what this comes down to, is how long it takes for sales tax to trickle in to provide enough cushion for issuing bonds. I think a fast infusion of cash could cut a lot off our wait time, by allowing those bonds to be issued sooner.
As for Amtrak… I think Brian’s gotten us up to speed on what needs to happen, it’s just a matter of the money to do it. Just next year, we’ll have four cities on the Cascades route with urban rail connecting to the intercity train. Connecting those stations more effectively will have a big positive effect on transit ridership in at least three of the four (not so much in Tacoma until their streetcar goes farther). Making Cascades service more frequent will increase the value of living by Link in Seattle.
So, then, how do we do these things?
First, I think we need to earn ourselves some allies in the legislature. We have a few already, but we have the opportunity to earn more now that several districts have gone strongly in favor of transit. This is a budget year, but I don’t think the state’s current budget situation would allow us to get anything – so we should make friends. Transit oriented development is a great way to do this – for example, it reduces money spent on transportation and increases money spent on real estate, meaning higher property tax revenues per capita, therefore more money per head in the schools. Also, higher density results in lower fertility rates, meaning even more money per head in the schools!
But there are lots of ways to do that. The point is to look good – even if we can’t make a lot of friends, we can make it less politically expedient to be an enemy of transit by showing how much benefit it generates. The point here is to lay down a kind of all-legislator strategy (at least the ones on relevant committees) to prevent the rumblings of ‘governance’. We’ll have to develop a list of real benefits to the state here – or direct benefits to constituents.
The next step will be to actually ask for money. Step one is really about both Amtrak and Link (and Sounder too), the arguments and benefits will be for high capacity transit in general, so they’ll be useful for both. But here’s the interesting part. I don’t actually expect to get any money from the state for Sound Transit – not now, not in 2011. I just expect to use the act of trying to get money from the state as a springboard. When they say ‘we don’t have any money to give’, we can ask for local options, like the authority for more sales tax, or some other tools. We’ll have to figure out what we want here as well – but I bet Sound Transit already has a wish list.
Amtrak will take a study, I think. We can prove that ridership will be high, taking people off I-5, with some investment for expansion. That’s what I’d ask the legislature for first, resources to update the long range plan and make new ridership projections – whatever we need to be more competitive for federal matches.
This seems like stream of consciousness right now – but I hope everyone will start thinking about what we can do to take the next step. We’ll get a lot of momentum next year when Central Link opens, and pushing forward in the wake of that could earn us another victory.