Because the question keeps coming up: Couldn’t we use those billions of dollars for something else right now?
The simple answer: Yes. We could definitely use those billions for something else right now. The list of needs, from social services to other transportation projects, is endless. But to re-appropriate those tunnel billions for something else you’d first have to remove them from of the place where they’re being held.
First of all:
There’s $2.4 billion in state funds allocated for building the downtown tunnel, but that giant hunk of money is cobbled together from a bunch of different sources: $339.8 million in federal funds (can’t re-appropriate those); $247.4 million in other state transportation funds (which could only be re-appropriated by an act of the legislature).
I made this mistake at first too, but a lot of that $247.4m is gas tax money, just not from the 2003 or 2005 gas tax increases. The rest is vehicle license fees and so on. There’s no way Sanders should have known that, as I found out in a private tweet from Mike Lindblom.
If you can get a constitutional amendment passed, then next you grab $700 million to $1 billion from the tunnel project’s pile of gas tax cash and leave the rest. It will be needed for tearing down the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct and implementing the I-5 improvements / surface transit option.
For the record, the DBT is $4.0 billion without transit improvements, surface/transit/I-5 is $3.5 billion. So the difference $500m or $700m if the state decides to keep its promises. However, in a surface/transit option the $400m in tolling money evaporates, so we’re down to the low hundreds of millions.
Lastly, a constitutional amendment is just about the most painful way to go about this kind of change. Much more direct is replacement of most of the gas tax with repeal of the sales tax exemption for gasoline. This subsidy amounts to $500m a year from the state (p.291) and $156m a year from local governments, including by my calculation about $28m from Metro. Some of this sales tax revenue would flow directly to transit agencies, and much of the rest to unrestricted funds with no constitutional requirement for highway building. That’s the equivalent of one U-Link every 3 years.