Photo by Magnolia Voice

Over the past month or so we’ve gone into extraordinary detail about the various funding buckets attached to the $60 vehicle license fee on the ballots that are coming to you in the mail, at least if you live in Seattle. This post is your cheat sheet for what Prop. 1 will buy you, transit-wise.

The ordinance that sent the VLF ballot has a provisional budget detailing spending of the $200m the VLF will bring in over 10 years, of which about $100m will go to transit. We haven’t talked much about the road, bicycle, and pedestrian safety programs, but the $100m for transit is broken out as follows:

  • $40m for speed and reliability improvements on the 12 priority bus corridors, including Seattle’s three RapidRide corridors. This is a bit more than a fifth of what is needed to build out all the Transit Master Plan’s recommendations.
  • $18m for High Capacity Transit corridor engineering, grant applying, and matching funds. The first priorities are the downtown streetcar connector ($74m estimated total capital cost) and extending the First Hill Streetcar from John St. to Aloha St ($30m total capital cost). The other four corridors are further back in the queue.
  • $20m for trolleybus expansion, probably Route 48 and streamlining travel on James and Yesler.
  • $10m for transit access projects.
  • $12m for “neighborhood transit connections“, to get people outside walking distance to transit corridors to those corridors. I don’t believe this is properly written up in the TMP. However, 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.

Finally, a word on whether we should “trust” the City Council to dispense the money this way or not. Personally, I’ve always been a bigger fan of republics than direct democracy, so I think we’ll generally do better by handing it to the council than by voting on every little thing. In other words, I’m glad there’s flexibility; if big federal or private funds materialize for a particular project, it would make sense to shift funds to leverage that.

Like many no campaigns, the anti-VLF rhetoric sows uncertainty, suggesting that the proposed budget is some sort of Trojan Horse for whatever kind of spending you hate. Conversely, I probably wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a pro-VLF argument somewhere that insinuates you’ll actually get whatever you want.

In fact, I think there’s good reason to believe that the breakout above is pretty close to what we’ll get. The City Council has its various factions and the plan is obviously a carefully crafted compromise. There’s little reason to believe the policy balance is going to shift radically, particularly in the first few years, and if it does it’ll be because voters are electing new council members.

2 Replies to “Summary: Transit Spending in Proposition 1”

  1. Sounds like a great list of projects. I’m glad to see the Aloha extension on the list. And Route 48 would be a good investment.

    I can seriously hear the second TBM tunneling under the Calhoun-Miller block right now in Montlake. I heard the first one a few weeks ago. Which is further along now, the northbound or southbound tunnel? If I plant an ear to the ground, it is unmistakable. It’s not from the stream of jets approaching Sea-Tac. If I lie on the ground, I can feel it. I can hear it whirring and grinding through what sound like the occasional small rock. Every so often, I hear a distant, vague thump, a very bass note, sitting in my basement. A neighbor’s dog started barking a few minutes beforehand. Something’s happening down there.

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