Reuven Carlyle (D-36th)

As legislative negotiators work tirelessly behind the scenes to seek common ground on a statewide transportation package, profoundly important philosophical questions are on the table. The tension in the air can be sensed over what strategic direction our state’s transportation system will take in the decades to come.

Will a modern, sophisticated, win-win grand bargain between the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House be achieved, or will our infrastructure continue to slide into mediocrity?

On a deep level, the questions are substantial: Will we continue down a traditional path of a restricted 18th Amendment (use of gas tax for roads and highways) instead of multi-modal uses? Will metropolitan strategies–from Bruce Katz author of The Metropolitan Revolution with smart cities, urban environmentalism, responsible growth, transit to city-oriented regionalism itself–find support from the business community and Republicans? Will the Senate Republican leadership provide the majority of votes to lead their chamber through the sweeping policy questions or simply expect a majority of Democrats to vote for taxes while Republicans vote ‘no’ yet quietly bargain for transportation spending in their own legislative districts? Will Seattle and King County voters, who for years have been net contributors of taxes to state government, reach a tipping point of frustration at cuts to local transit and deteriorating roads and support a “Plan B” or ‘King County-only’ approach? Will King, Snohomish and Pierce county residents take the initiative, for the first time in years, to think strategically about the post-modern infrastructure needs (ports, ferries, highways, transit, bike paths, stormwater, public waterfronts, etc.) as a Puget Sound region?

Recently I stopped by a major bus stop in my district to speak with Metro riders about the situation. After reviewing the policy background provided by Metro, and learning more about the current Senate proposal on the table, one rider said to me: “I’ve been thinking about this, let me get this straight, here’s the deal as I understand it: We raise our gas tax by 11.5 cents which, in turn, gets us the honor of voting for a new Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), and we cut spending on public schools–and environmental cleanup–all in exchange for ‘buying back’ our current level of bus services. Seems like a ridiculously bad deal to me. Let’s just raise fares and our own MVET and pay for our own services and at least keep the money here.”

The state’s thought leaders in the business community are fighting hard to find a compromise. They argue, rightly, that public infrastructure should maintain a special place in political discourse given how vital it is all a healthy and robust quality of life. And yet those same organizations led the charge to fully fund the business-backed candidate in a recent open state senate seat who is categorically opposed to new transportation taxes. It is difficult to reconcile those competing values.

Our old model of transportation funding and spending is ending. More than that, our radical addiction to decentralization of authority and allocation of resources based on yesterday more than tomorrow is unsustainable. The gas tax itself is, of course, imploding virtually before our eyes as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and competing over a declining resource is hard enough under the best of circumstances. Add to the mix the need for a bold approach at living the Metropolitan Revolution and it simply does not seem realistic to expect Seattle and King County voters–and others throughout Puget Sound–to enthusiastically embrace a stereotypically static model.

What would make sense?

Courageously stepping together into the 21st Century of transportation innovation.

Let’s take the risk of truly experimenting with new approaches such as opening the 18th Amendment to meet the transportation needs of communities; taxation of vehicle miles traveled (privacy remains a big issue); wide spread use of regional tolling and variable and usage-based systems; healthy funding of transit in well planned regionalism; exploration of an authentic carbon tax; meaningful reforms that go to the heart of the need for efficiencies and truly save money; more focus on maintenance and operations and repairs of our existing infrastructure rather than new ‘greenfield’ construction; and acknowledging what the data proves–that the Puget Sound is the heart and soul of our globally competitive infrastructure.

Let’s recognize that when you eviscerate the ability of start up companies to attract employees, students to get to universities, Boeing to transport aerospace parts, Microsoft to shuttle employees from Seattle to Redmond and more, you lose part of the soul of what makes Metropolitan thinking an authentic strategy. You lose the benefits of “Rise of the Creative Class,” and you lose affordability and social justice for those who are left behind.

None of this is to disrespect or disengage from our rural communities and their interests. None of this is to imply that all the resources should be redirected to the cities of Puget Sound. None of this is to disrespect our historical ‘social contract’ between Democrats and Republicans, urban and rural.

All of this is merely to elevate the dialogue toward regional thinking economically, socially, politically, environmentally and culturally and to recognize together that our old approach is ending not because we want it to but because the status quo is imploding. In a handful of years more than 75% of the world’s population will live in cities. We’re not ready. We are so much more than what we’ve become.

Reuven Carlyle is the Representative to the Washington State House from the 36th District.  This piece was originally posted on his blog.

51 Replies to “The Metropolitan Revolution Comes to Puget Sound”

  1. Not to state the obvious too much, but we do need to redirect resources back to cities in the puget sound. We’ve been subsidizing the tax adverse voters for far too long.

    If you want to get real about taxes of any kind the first step is subarea equity for state sales taxes, King county is sick of subsidizing tax adverse counties and getting little in return.

    The second step is sales tax on gasoline.

    The third is a state carbon tax.

    The fourth is a state income tax.

    Each of these are less palatable than the previous for Olympia, I assume, but they’re utterly obvious.

    1. Number one on TvsC’s list first and foremost, but only as a starter; 2 and 3 to follow shortly thereafter.

      1. Nice way to sneak in Number 4…which is your only real goal. Sticking the middle class across the state with an income tax.

        I note that you do not even list asset taxes, such as my NIIT suggetion below.

      2. @JohnBailo: First of all, I hardly snuck it in. I would like to add that, at first, a revenue neutral substitution with sales tax is what I was envisioning: Income taxes are less regressive than sales taxes, especially on the middle class. Everyone knows that.

        I plead ignorance on the current use of asset *valuation* taxes: as far as I know, valuing assets directly (other than real property) and taxing them is not currently a defined tax system already employed by the government. HOWEVER–pay attention here, John–I’m fine with passive income taxes and I think I support your NIIT suggestion below–again, I don’t know much about it. I even agree with your property tax suggestion on some level, perhaps with limits on annual percentage increases from their current levels to market levels, so taxes don’t jump 1000% in year 1. I’m sure there are examples of states where people actually have to pay their property taxes at market values.

        @Aleks has thought a lot about property tax options to fund transit and other needs, but I don’t usually have time to read and understand everything about the possibilities, much to the detriment of my online relationship with Aleks.

        See John, my real goal isn’t to stick it to the middle class, of which I am a definite member. My real goal is to raise revenue for Seattle and King County’s transportation needs: when possible, at the expense of road subsidies everywhere; when possible, if Seattle is guilty of being subsidized on broad transportation spending, then I’d correct that–I doubt it is if you include road spending. I’d keep King County transportation dollars (especially for roads, but also rails, rubber tires, whatever) in King county and other county’s dollars out. I’d also never build a stupid tunnel for cars in downtown Seattle. I’ve always been partial to geographic equity, but I’d allow “sub-areas” (defined however) to tax themselves as much as they like AND I’d leave open the option to negotiate trades and transfers in an open an honest manner too. After all, we still live in an almost entirely capitalist society, money is truly the primary bargaining chip.

  2. Good statement, Reuven. Funny: this morning, I’m your constituent. And trunk-load by trunk-load, I’m becoming your next-door neighbor- at least right across the lagoon from your workplace. Also discovering I’m not your only voter doing this right now.

    But the way I look at this, I’m by no means “moving”- except that I’ve probably put five hundred miles on the new hybrid battery on my Prius, which unfortunately for gas-tax considerations gets over forty-five to the gallon at 60. And more to the point, my ORCA-card readout will probably list me in a high percentile of ST Express miles.

    My affection for my car is the exact reason I’m willing to pay a car-related tax like an MVET: fast, comfortable, frequent regional transit is my most urgent maintenance expense. It’s the odometer reading that chronicles the decline of a car, in cash value and mechanical damage. And the very driving that does my car the worst damage is also the compulsory suburban traffic-fighting I hate the worst.

    Current experience is that our regional service is making a very strong beginning. But considering the capital invested in I-5, for instance, and the power of our coach engines, service is still much too slow. The 592 takes two hours’ express driving between Seattle and Olympia for a trip that takes one by car- with huge time wasted fighting traffic accessing off-freeway transit centers.

    And a lot less comfortable than necessary. A regional system in an advanced country would have passenger restrooms at Lakewood Station, and likely aboard buses as well.

    A concept you might want to consider is that the whole division of “urban” and “rural” is now about a decade out of date. The way many, if not most of us live our lives is as citizens of a region. Isn’t it really true worldwide that the income-generating entities fall into this category? “The Greater Puget Sound Region” conveys the right positive spirit. With both your offices in its service area. As a bus-line, “IT” is among world’s best. And there are tracks in place right to the brewery in Downtown Olympia. A block from fantastic espresso roaster.

    See you at work.

    Mark Dublin

  3. Incidentally, re: urban/rural/regional: two weeks ago, I was forced to convert a southbound regional trip to a car trip in heavy traffic and bad weather because Route 40 I needed to get to ST was twenty minutes late into Ballard. Clogged capillaries will still kill a patient with the best arteries in the species.


  4. If you want a “new model” of taxing, why not look to Obamacare which is funded with an inescapable 3.8% tax on passive income, or NIIT:

    Why doesn’t state government follow this template and add a 1% SIIT (State Investment Income Tax)?

    It should be easy to monitor and tax these transactions since they already have to be reported for the NIIT and it doesn’t have all the vagaries of valuing assets since it only taxes income from assets.

    1. That’d be great, and just as soon as the state is able to solve the “Republicans [who] vote ‘no’ yet quietly bargain for transportation spending in their own legislative districts” problem I’m sure it is something which can be tackled.

      1. So, because you are not brave or smart enough to fight the big bully in your own grade who eats your sandwich, you go and pick on the little kids and steal their lunch money.

    2. I like the idea John. One of the problems with the state income tax proposal is that ordinary folks felt it was eventually going to apply to them. In this case, you have a system in place already that could be leveraged. You can tie the values together. If the federal NIIT limit goes up (e. g. starts applying to married couple that make $300,000 instead of $250,000) then the state limit would go up. Plus, this is a tax already in place that most people don’t know about, because it only applies to very wealthy people (unlike the income tax, which requires everyone to fill out a form even if they don’t end up paying anything). I think this gives people more confidence that this new tax wouldn’t start creeping down and effecting them or that they would have to do extra paperwork each year.

  5. Any immediately relevant proposal is buried behind platitudes here… but I think there’s something worth saying about regionalism and the “metropolitan revolution” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to be): if the places on either end of the fast regional transit ride aren’t easy to get around on foot and (to some degree) on local transit then regionalism is nothing more than drive-more-often-and-farther-ism, follow by a demand-more-freeways-revolution. Exhibit 1 is LA, and Exhibit 2 is right here. A wide and clear freeway with one foot in the city is the greatest enemy of sane transportation policy because it makes everyone involved stupid. Where we are with carbon emissions and climate change falling for this is a mistake we can’t afford to make.

    Even if we’re thinking regional for some reason our most urgent actions are local. Every city in the American west (and every unincorporated freeway-exit office park) has the same deficiency in pedestrian connectivity, and nearly all have the same lack of three-dimensional urbanism, all sacrificed at the altar of driving everywhere. Only after fixing these things will we have places worth running regional transit between.

    1. Sure, there are platitudes. Politicking is half doing the business of government, half advertising *why* the decisions were made the way they were. I’m just thrilled to see the words a lot of voters have been thinking put down in stark contrast: Why do the Puget Sound counties have to foot the bill for the rest of the state to crap on us? I’m about as liberal as they come but I’m reaching my limit when the “distaste” for our counties moves from passive grumbling to active undermining. I’m all for funding services throughout the state because each state, like it or lump it, is a society brought together by 100+ years of history and common government. That runs dry when voters elsewhere not only want their slice of the statewide pie–to which they are more than entitled–but want to prevent my local government from baking a pie on the side. (Sorry for the tortured analogy.)

      I’m emboldened by reading an actual elected official, someone who will have to face the voters again, come out and say “you know, this is a raw deal and your representatives aren’t standing for it any longer.” That means two things have possibly happened: this is a politically wise move that’s likely to stand up in front of the voters (that is, voting for a “Plan B”), and/or he and others are willing to stake reputations on getting the type of societal funding many of us here have said we want.

      Yes, there are cracks in the logic, but that happens any time because the world is not a perfect place. Walkability needs to be improved in Lynnwood and in Renton and in Kirkland and in Issaquah. Density needs to be championed instead of letting every neighborhood yell it down as “it’s a good fit just not here!”, especially when limited-to-no parking projects are presented. Tunneling machines need to be sunk into the ground and subways built from Lake City to Ballard to Olympia (maybe not). But we can’t get there by going backwards; the transmission has been put into “R” and our region is in danger of having the accelerator stomped on our behalf.

      1. There’s one specific platitude here that worries me: “Grand Compromise”. The grandest part of the compromise, by money and impact, has always been freeway expansion that ossifies the car-dependent structures of the places that most need to change for a more sustainable future.

        So a politician states the obvious: that the current proposal sucks for Seattle. But what’s his alternative? Pollution emitted between downtown Seattle and Ballard is no different than carbon emitted between Bellevue and Renton, between Spokane Valley and Coeur d’Alene, between Vancouver and Kelso. Does his Grand Compromise involve a vision for walkability everywhere, or does it keep fueling the auto-addiction of our cities and suburbs? Let’s step down from platitudes and strained metaphors pies, transmissions, and talk about vision. Since Bailo responded to me, too, I’ll say something I love about Bailo: that he states a vision. Mr. Carlyle, what is your vision and what do you propose to do to enact it?

    2. Question sent to me from Andy Alien, Cygnus 23:

      The OP keeps talking about “tomorrow” yet refers to a “gasoline” tax.

      What is this thing you call “gasoline”? I have heard they once used it back in your 20th century.

      Surely, you have by now replaced it with renewably generated hydrogen for all your cars, buses, trains, trucks and ships because it creates no CO2 pollution.

    3. In other words, the state needs to focus on walkability as a statewide issue. That would be a good thing. A “walkability first” approach would recognize that everyone is a pedestrian, including drivers. So we need to focus on (1) the areas around their parking spaces, (2) how their parking spaces and roadways impact other people who are walking, and (3) how the automobile-designed infrastructure forces people into cars for trips they wouldn’t otherwise need to (and didn’t need to before the 1960s).

      Obviously, the rest of the state outside Seattle is not going to get away from the “one parking space for every apartment, two for every house, and one for every simultaneous store patron on Black Friday”. But even within that, it’s possible to make things more walkable; e.g., a shorter distance between destinations, less “open space” in front of buildings, and more destinations reachable from one parking space.

      1. Since you’re going around making all these rules…how about a minimum walking length.

        One thing that made me hate walking in Seattle is that the blocks are so short, I had to stop and wait for cars every few hundred feet or so. It was like walk..stop…wait…walk…stop…wait….

        It’s interminable!

        Here in the suburbs, because of low density, you can walk and walk and walk before coming to an intersection! That is far more like real walking to me.

      2. “how about a minimum walking length”

        (1) We’re in America. (2) We’re competing with the convenience of driving. (3) We’re competing with the lingering remnants of the American mythology that cars = American dream.

        We have to build something that Americans will use and will say, “This is a good transit system.” The experts have said that means a target walk circle of 10 minutes for average Americans to use every day, or 20 minutes for power walkers or partial use. When you get up to 30 or 40 minutes, only a small fraction of people will use it.

        One of the major reasons people cite for driving over transit is that they can get more things done in a day. Instead of doing two errands, they can do four or five. So to get people to use transit, we have to focus focus on walking time. That means many destinations near a station, rather than a station on every block.

        “One thing that made me hate walking in Seattle is that the blocks are so short, I had to stop and wait for cars every few hundred feet or so.”

        I can’t believe how you take the suburbs’ annoyances and consider them features. First it was Southcenter and its parking lot as pleasant places to be, and now you’re extolling superblocks for walking on. You’re probably the only one left who thinks so. The “stopping and waiting” are because the traffic lights are times for cars driving the speed limit, not pedestrians walking. A “walkability first” approach would be to time them for walking, but that’s way too big a step to expect the cities or state to do at this point.

        The reason most pedestrians prefer Seattle’s short blocks is that within any 5-minute period there are more interesting things to see, more destinations to enter, and more other pedestrians to encounter.

        In the worst superblock cases it takes five or ten minutes to walk a single block, with only a single big-box store or office park in the middle, and unused open space or a parking lot around it. That’s very boring to walk past, especially every day.

  6. Are you tired of YOUR tax dollars subsidizing certain counties, which are nothing but mooches on the rest of the state? Are you tired of King County getting an unfair share of tax income? Well tell your legislators to vote for subarea equity, keeping YOUR hard earned tax dollars in YOUR county!

    Eastern Washington will eat it up. Curious what Eyman would think…

    1. Funny how sub-area equity is a good idea when talking about cutting off Eastern WA, and a bad thing when the rest of King County talks about subsidizing Seattle a little bit less than they currently do.
      Double Standard?
      Will Seattle sit still long enough for the rest of the ST taxing district to get their rail lines built, or should the tax pies be so large that everyone gets their fill?

      1. Funny how sub-area equity is a good idea when talking about cutting off Eastern WA, and a bad thing when the rest of King County talks about subsidizing Seattle a little bit less than they currently do.

        Except for maybe Shoreline, but not really, the “rest of King County” doesn’t subsidize Seattle. That’s exactly what subarea equity is. One standard.

      2. @Charles. I don’t quite get your statement, how is Sub-area Equity biting Seattle AND South King in the hind quaters? Do you mean slowing Seattle down?

      3. Last time I checked, Seattle proper got 2/3 of the transit service, but only provided 1/3 of the tax revenue to Metro. Just sayin.

      4. mic,

        We’ve gone over this before. Seattle pays something like 53% of Metro’s budget, and gets 73% of service.. So you’re mostly right, although I think you’ve overstated the margin.

        I would personally be 100% okay with instituting subarea equity in Metro, so long as it was part of a deal that also allowed Seattle to raise its own money to pay for its own services. Seattle can do that now, but there’s nothing to stop Metro from arbitrarily reallocating money from Seattle to other regions.

      5. Just allow Seattle to raise it’s property taxes to market levels.

        Then it can pay its own costs in full.

        Same as everywhere else.

        Right now Seattle and Washington is full of Freeloaders who are grandfathered into a system that allows them to get the benefits of other people’s taxes without having a significant contribution to the same.

      6. Amen, John. There’s no good reason why property taxes are yet another instance of people pulling the drawbridge up after they got theirs.

    2. Re Charles’ question, there’s a belief that Sound Transit’s subarea equity policy has so far benefitted the suburbs by blocking revenue transfers to North King. This forced ST to build Sounder and suburban Link extensions rather than additional Seattle lines that would be score higher on pure transit-need and transit-ridership metrics.

      But now that ST2 will cover the largest suburban needs, the benefit may reverse. Seattle still needs expensive subways, while the burbs only need inexpensive extensions where plenty of ROW is available (for Everett, Redmond, and Tacoma). So the suburbs could get subarea equity abolished, approve only a level equal to those extensions, and screw Seattle after already receiving their benefit.

      Of course, the problem disappears if the suburbs decide to “go big” and ask for a Ballard-Redmond line, a Kirkland-Issaquah line, a Burien-Renton line, a downtown-Burien line, half-hourly Sounder South, four Swift lines in Snohomish County, and another Tacoma streetcar. Then Seattle would have plenty of money for the three lines most discussed: Ballard-downtown, Ballard-Children’s, and downtown-Burien.

      South King County is in a unique situation because it was hit worst in the recession and can’t even afford all its ST2 projects. ST thus scaled back the Federal Way extension. But it seems to be an artificial limit; i.e., South King can’t afford it within the ST2 tax level, as opposed to the citizens just not having the money. In that case, a reset tax rate in ST3 may allow South King to get everything it wants. Or maybe South King really can’t afford more; that’ll be the big question for ST3.

      It should be noted that South King has a higher population than Seattle (800,000 something), and a high percentage of poor and transit-dependent people, in spite of its low density. So it really deserves more transit.

      Metro has no subarea equity policy, so any extent that it protects its subareas is informal.

  7. How about this idea? Since Central Link is mainly an airport and stadium shuttle, is there a way to raise transit revenue by including a significant fee on every SeaTac airline ticket and Seahawks and Mariners ticket sold? Additionally, since East Link was designed for Microsoft workers, could we raise revenue with a special tax on MS Redmond campus paychecks? U-Link is a Husky Stadium/University shuttle, so raise Husky ticket prices and college tuition.

    Others in this thread are saying King county shouldn’t subsidize other state counties, which is another way of saying people should pay their own way. So I’m sure everyone who agrees with the idea that other state counties shouldn’t mooch off of the largess of King county residents would agree that transit riders shouldn’t mooch off the largess of non-transit riders. Right?

      1. I could agree to that, as long as you include public transit riders into the pool of people who should be tolled for everything.

        Let’s remember, it’s not the mode that does the most harm, but the very act of choosing to live a significant distance away from work, college, etc., that does the harm. Rail and buses solves nothing. They cure no problem. They only mask the problem.

      2. Rail and buses solves nothing. They cure no problem. They only mask the problem.

        I refer to you to the linked .gif (full link below) and suggest your assertion is not entirely correct

        I don’t entirely disagree with you however: zone based fares are ok too.

    1. TransitVsClimate, who has a more adverse effect on climate change? A man who lives in Puyallup who takes Sounder South into work in Seattle every day (and he has a wife and three kids)? Or a childless couple, one of whom drives a car every day into Seattle every day from Magnolia?

      1. Sam, of course that depends. But given the distances involved in the exurbs it’s reasonably likely that the Puyallup resident emits more just getting himself to Sounder than the Magnolia driver emits on his total commute.

    2. His commenter name suggest he’s worried about climate change. But the cheapest and most effective way of combating change is population control, not building new transit lines or getting people to stop driving. In other words, the guy in the car is not the problem, it’s the people having too many kids. It doesn’t matter how one gets from point A to point B. In terms of global warming, what matters is how many kids you have. The most effective way to combat climate change is to encourage population control, not build new train lines. Why is this never part of the discussion? Politically incorrect?

      1. It’s never part of the discussion because this is a TRANSIT blog. It’s not an environmentalism blog, and certainly not a population control blog!

        But to engage you in that train of thought for a moment: I spend time advocating for rail among our politicians and communities and so on. Im received warmly by some, less so by others. If I was advocating for population control at a farmer’s market, I think I’d only get glares. This is a democracy, and if you want something to happen you have to convince people to like it. Once you’ve gotten population control sell-able to the American public get back to me.

      2. That is tempting bait, Troll-ish Sam. I see JonCracolici has taken you up on it.

        All I have the time to say right now is that in regards to developed countries you’re wrong as they have birthrates are below replacement.

      3. Actually the most effective way to limit climate change is mass executions, but unlike you I’m more inclined to make driving more expensive than compromise fundamental human rights.

    3. Is the Chicago El just a shuttle to O’Hare? Is the Vancouver Skytrain designed around getting people to the stadiums and Metrotown? No and no. Central Link is designed for citywide transit circulation. The airport is one of the obvious main stops. The popularity of taking Link to the stadiums or as a TIB P&R shuttle came somewhat as a surprise.

      East Link has three main focuses. Primarily it’s an alternative to the congested floating bridges, which has been a transit need since before Microsoft existed. It also serves intra-Eastside circulation and the emerging Spring District, for whatever that’s worth. And it serves the Microsoft campus.

      What your glib assertion doesn’t understand is that one person will take Link to the UW while another person takes Link to a store on the Ave. Why should the UW student or staff pay a surcharge while the shopper or barista doesn’t? The students and staff, as a collective volume of passengers, are what make rapid transit more feasable, allowing us to fulfill a citywide need with the excuse that it helps them. So maybe we should be giving them a discount. (As we will anyway, via the U-Pass.)

    4. As for airport surcharges, that’s really about sticking it to a captive audience who doesn’t know their alternatives and presumably has traveling money. It may be fair if the extension is an otherwise-unproductive long spur and they’re paying off the capital costs. But the cities that have surcharges also have an isolated airport station or separate airport entrance, so that they can charge the airport entrance more than the others. SeaTac station was not designed like that. Airport travellers, transferees from RapidRide, and local residents from the future city hall and TOD all share the same entrance. The only way to do it would be to surcharge everyone who doesn’t have a monthly pass, and that would impact SeaTac residents (and everyone along 99) inequitably compared to the rest of Link’s service area.

    5. Sam, you are forgetting that the Husky Stadium station is right next to the hospital. We need to start charging patients extra. Likewise, way more people use the International District station then the Stadium station, so I propose a tax on dim sum.

      1. @Mike Orr

        Or the Ramen… there is at least one good Ramen shop down in ID (and its name is not Samurai)

  8. The key to successful change in our system is coalition building. That sometimes means that we can’t have everything we want. However, the traditional “shopping list” approach doesn’t satisfy voters like it used to. What can be different? One way is with accountability. One model is shown in the countywide planning and funding agencies in California, which funnels project money to operators and cities with independent accountability. Swing voters on funding can be swayed by an agency structure that is set up so that the city or operator has to justify their projects. Still, the larger truth is that transportation funding is less exciting to voters today because travel needs are no longer growing like they used to so it’s never going to be as easy as it was in the past.

    1. I agree completely. Coalition building is essential. I think there is a coalition that is ignored right now, while the old coalition is on life support. The old coalition involved both rural and urban representatives focused on road projects, with a little extra transit thrown in. But this is being nibbled to death by both sides. The governor (who I respect quite a bit) is trying valiantly to save the various projects, while his core constituency (left leaning environmentalists) hate most of the projects. The CRC has boondoggle written all over it. It makes the 99 tunnel sound like a bargain. Meanwhile, the 167/509 expansion also sounds like a huge amount of money for very little benefit. It is supposed to improve shipping (and it probably would, marginally) and keep Boeing in town. But as everyone knows, Boeing is trying to squeeze every last dime out the states, and this probably wouldn’t be enough. In other words, if I don’t live in the effected areas, and I’m the least bit frugal, it is hard to get excited about either project, even if I love roads. No wonder the Republicans hate this. Meanwhile, every environmentalist hates this. These aren’t two obscure projects on a long list of proposals either, but where the lion’s share of the money will go. It is no wonder that this old coalition is fraying — it is only Inslee’s hard work that keeps the Democrats on board (and the Republicans show no enthusiasm either).

      A better coalition would focus on a much smaller proposal. Do a bunch of little road projects, complete what we have started (520, 99, etc.) and then allow King County (and other counties) to tax themselves for transit. There are plenty of little road projects that will improve traffic in various areas — in many cases it will improve transit. I’m sure the folks on this blog could come up plenty of road proposals that are relatively inexpensive and would make a huge difference for transit (e. g. real BRT usually involves new freeway ramps — include that within this package). This could unite the frugal Republicans (who want to spend as little as possible) and the left leaning Democrats. The only possible losers would be suburban Democrats, who might not get the big project they wanted. But again, if it takes a handful of little (cheap) projects to keep them happy, then spend the money. But let’s throw out the two big projects, because they are certainly not worth it, from a political or financial standpoint.

  9. I’m disappointed that many of the comments here aren’t directly addressing the issues brought up in post.

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