Today, at 5:30pm at City Hall, we’ll have the opportunity to ask the Seattle City Council to place a long term, $80 Vehicle License Fee on the November ballot. There are a number of competing proposals, and all but one of them are, quite simply, bad for transit.
As Martin wrote recently, the efficiency winner (by far) of the streetcar corridors in Seattle would be the 4th/5th connector, bringing the SLU streetcar and First Hill streetcars together. Building it would dramatically reduce negative perception of the SLU streetcar and dramatically increase visibility for the streetcar network overall. With such a connector in place, any future streetcar expansion will be more cost effective and poll better – this is the project that would lead to a snowball effect for rail transit.
It’s also the easiest project to showcase during a campaign for the VLF – while wonks like us appreciate small efficiency projects and planning, a new rail corridor through downtown is a lightning rod that earns votes and creates a simple, cheap campaign message. Remember that votes are rarely about how good projects are – they’re about how easy the projects are to understand and repeat to others.
Surface/Transit/I-5 is a great example of a counterpoint – it’s unarguably the most cost effective viaduct replacement solution, but it’s the most complex and difficult to explain, so it gets short shrift. In the case of this streetcar, we would have both a good project and a simple project – exactly what we need for a November win.
Here’s the problem: Only a long-term, $80 VLF will fund this connector – and the Council hasn’t seen much pressure to put that on the ballot. Most of them are interested in a $40 or $60 package that has nothing exciting – a package that voters won’t care about or talk about, and will end up being ignored on thousands of ballots. Today, at 5:30, is our one chance to put on that pressure.
There’s another, long-term reason this is very important.
Next year, the legislature will be discussing a huge transportation package, possibly for a statewide vote. With the transit master plan largely complete, Seattle will be in a strong position to go to Olympia to ask for transit funding for one of our half dozen unfunded high capacity transit corridors. Olympia knows they need our vote to overcome rural and suburban anti-tax voters, and they’ll be open to providing us a good incentive to come to the polls.
Our best argument to demand real funding for transit is to be bold today. I want to walk into a hearing room in Olympia next year and testify that Seattle uses every penny given to it by the legislature – and that we want more, from a progressive funding source. The only way I can do that is if we tell the City Council, today, to use all $80 that the legislature has provided it, and to use it to build rail. If we only use $40, or $60, legislators will ask why Seattle isn’t using the funding they’ve given us – and they will balk at offering more.
So I urge you to show up tonight, at 5:30, at city hall, and demand rail transit now. This is your chance to have it today and tomorrow.