Tomorrow at 11am, the Seattle City Council will, in its capacity as the Transportation Benefit District Board, consider a resolution to put a $60, 10-year vehicle license fee (in addition to the $20 the TBD has already levied) on the ballot this November.
The $60 fee would generate about $20.4m annually. The Council would write a budget for the TBD each year, with a strong legal presumption that it would be divided as follows:
- 29% for “transportation system repair, maintenance, and safety;”
- 49% for “transit speed, reliability, and access improvements.” Some, but not all, of these would come from the Transit Master Plan;
- 22% for “pedestrian, bicycle, and freight mobility,” drawn from the respective master plans. This implies the creation of a freight mobility master plan.
There is also a requirement to “support and implement the goals of the City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.” That presumably means a thumb on the scale for low-income and minority neighborhoods, although they already received consideration in the TMP’s corridor selection and weighting process.
Sections 8-10 deal with the rigamarole involved in messing with the allocations. Much more detail after the jump.
Attachment A sketches out the intended sub-breakout of spending. Its main force, in my view, is rhetorical, in that deviations from the chart can be attacked as “not what we agreed to” and “not what the voters approved.” To editorialize, the way the $100m for transit is split out leaves a lot to dislike:
- $40m for bus corridor enhancements from the transit master plan.
- $18m for the 4th/5th Avenue streetcar connector and Aloha Streetcar extension. This provision will fund planning and design necessary to win matching funds, and provide some of that match. It’s not enough to build either outright.
- $20m for trolleybus expansion. In the past, I’ve heard of Metro’s desire to fill in the wire gaps to electrify the 48, move wire from James to Yesler, extend it on Madison St to 23rd Ave, and so on. I haven’t gotten a firm answer, but I think it’s things like that.
- $10m for “transit access projects“, which is placemaking on transit corridors and various marketing and outreach efforts for transit.
- $12m for “neighborhood transit connections“, to get people outside walking distance to transit corridors to those corridors. At best, this replaces inefficient Metro routes with alternative service delivery methods; at worst, it’s more “neighborhood circulator” routes, which people support at meetings, but then don’t ride because the only way to serve low-density neighborhoods is to take a circuitous route that no one with a choice would ever take.
My general comment is that I’d like to see as much as possible diverted to the first two items, which are the high-payoff, vetted improvements that bring more riders, make the experience better for existing riders, and (most importantly) concentrate investment in dense and densifying corridors, rather than spreading it everywhere.* I really see little value in extending the trolleybus network beyond filling obvious gaps in the wire and high-capacity trolleybus BRT, where appropriate.
SDOT wrote the Council with similar concerns, although the cited numbers have been overcome by events:
SDOT specifically requests that the language in the Summary of Options, Transit Detail be amended to read as follows:
The $60 and $80 VLF options would generate $6M over the 8-year term specifically to complete planning, alternatives analysis, environmental review, preliminary engineering and design for 1) a “Downtown Connector” of the First Hill and SLU Streetcars ($5M) and 2) First Hill Streetcar extension to Aloha Street ($1M) and 3) Other HCT corridors as funding is available. No construction funding would be available through this proposal.
This would leave much more flexibility to serve the other three HCT corridors with BRT or rapid streetcar if federal or private funding materializes.
There are also two amendments in play, which my sources suggest aren’t likely to get very far. Councilmember O’Brien proposes that the fee increase be $80 and be levied for 12 years, increasing the revenue stream that can be bonded against and enabling bigger projects. It would also use a slightly larger proportion of the extra $20 for transit projects and a slightly smaller one for the bicycle, pedestrian, and freight pool. It would also allow Seattle to press the need for additional revenue authority in Olympia.
Councilmember Nick Licata’s amendment would explicitly ban any spending on high capacity transit except for the 4th/5th avenue streetcar connector and the Aloha extension. This would prevent rapid streetcar or trolleybus BRT implementations to Fremont/Ballard, along Eastlake Avenue, and on Madison St., which serve some of the city’s densest corridors and where less ambitious bus improvements are apparently far less cost-effective.
*Full disclosure: I’m a member of citizen Transit Master Plan Advisory Group, although I’m but one voice on it. I think the consultants are doing a very good job producing that document.