But politicians continually resist efforts to accelerate light-rail construction. The council has deprioritized the city’s transit master plan, twice freezing its funding, as if proposed transit lines were a novelty map. We’re currently stuck with the next regional light-rail vote likely being held in 2016—eight years after the most recent vote. Continuing to build a piecemeal subway system, by approving small extensions once a decade, which then take another 12 years to build, would take a century to reach most of the city.
The council and mayor can start identify funding sources right now, fight in Olympia to access revenue we don’t already have, and then send a plan to voters to approve preliminary planning and financing. Within a few years, Seattle could pay regional partner Sound Transit to start constructing the lines.
It would be difficult—it would take the same sort of resolve and elbow grease that city hall has exerted to build freeways (ahem).
With Prop. 1’s failure in April, the city’s going through another round of angst about “regionalism” – when do we need to coordinate with the suburbs and when we go it alone? There’s an undeniable appeal to the latter, and voting maps would seem to reinforce the argument that Seattle and its suburbs simply have different priorities when it comes to transit. But one can take that analysis too far. The “region” did vote to support Sound Transit in 1996 and again in 2008. When turnout is high (i.e. presidential election years), the region tends to come through with the votes. A vote to expand light rail in 2016 would have a good chance of passing, but it’s also possible that 2016 comes and goes with no vote at all.
Holden’s approach – for the city to get the money and pay Sound Transit to build the lines – is certainly a better idea than the last time the city tried to go it alone. But transit is really expensive and funding it purely through local taxes would require taxes that are orders of magnitude higher than anything that’s been proposed since the Monorail. It’s not impossible, of course — we’re a prosperous, growing city — but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk. That said, you can imagine many variations on this approach, such as Seattle opting to fund ST3 at higher levels than the rest of the region, or borrowing from the feds to accelerate construction.
Fighting in Olympia, however, sounds like an unabashedly great idea. One reason why Vancouver’s been able to fund so much rail transit is that the provincial government’s helped to pick up the tab. In Washington, all the transportation bills coming out of Olympia are road-centric disasters. And WSDOT has shown almost zero interest or competence in moving people instead of just moving cars. Perhaps if we all learned to ambulate by fuel injection, WSDOT would be interested in helping us get from point A to point B (ahem). In the meantime, it sure would be useful if Mayor Murray, a former state legislator, would use some of his much-ballyhooed influence in Olympia to fund Seattle’s transit needs.