When we broke the story about the King County Council forming a Transportation Benefit District in unincorporated portions of the County, media outlets who noticed focused on the implications for the South Park Bridge. And rightfully so: collapsing bridges are an important story.
Unfortunately, that overshadowed the very interesting point that when former County Executive Kurt Triplett sent a letter asking Mayors to indicate interest in negotiating to form a countywide TBD that could save some Metro bus service, there were zero positive responses and many negative ones.
Gov. Gregoire vetoed an attempt to give counties to authority to impose a vehicle license fee for transit, citing the existing TBD statute that allows a similar fee. Unfortunately, said statute requires consent of at least 60% of cities representing at least 75% of the population. Triplett’s letter was an attempt to gauge support to create a Metro-oriented TBD.
I spoke with Doug Hodson, who was Triplett’s transportation manager and now does government relations for King County DOT. Hodson that was the point of contact in Triplett’s letter. His correspondents were generally city public works managers, and the response was overwhelmingly negative. Of major cities that didn’t respond negatively, Hodson only recalled Federal Way (non-committal, but positive) and Kirkland (no response). More after the jump.
Obviously, hesitation to raise taxes in a recession was part of the problem; another concern was the inability to obtain a decision before the two week deadline. However, the most frequent concern, and one brought up by Seattle and Bellevue, was the desire to use the TBD authority within city boundaries.
TBDs can be used for any kind of transportation project: roads, pedestrians, bikes, or transit. Although Metro has no remaining Transit Now funds for new “service partnership” projects, cities could directly contract with Metro for bus service by paying the full cost. However, I believe it’s safe to say that bus service is not what city TBDs will be used for.
In outlying areas they will no doubt be road projects, or nothing at all; Burien may have another go at their bike and ped project. It’s possible that cities could use the money to provide bus lanes, improving quality rather than quantity of service. Lastly, Seattle, Bellevue, Maple Valley, Covington, and Black Diamond all may have rail projects they’re looking to fund. And of course the viaduct replacement project has large unfunded components for the City of Seattle.
When fielding complaints about bus service, it’s easy for municipal officials to pass the buck to the County. After all, they generally have little to no influence on what Metro does. However, in this case cities had the option of helping Metro and chose to favor other priorities. In some cases, we might like what comes of these projects, but I’m skeptical that in the aggregate this will mean more transit and less roads.