Early yesterday morning both houses of the legislature passed a transportation package that among many things included the full $15 billion in funding authority Sound Transit requested. While I agree with many of the complaints with the package, overall I think it is a win for the region.
- Sound Transit wanted $15 billion in authority, Sound Transit got $15 billion in authority. This is the last bad deal we’ll have to take to build High Capacity Transit.
- Transit investments are needed today. Every year we wait to build more rail is another year stuck in traffic. Plus, expansion is most efficient when Sound Transit has a stream of projects so that it doesn’t need to waste time and money on short term increases in staffing. Sound Transit 2 planning is finishing up, meaning that putting off the next measure to 2020 would force Sound Transit to downsize, and then rebuild, their planning department. That means that delaying a vote four years would delay project completion by six or seven.
- The worst parts of the compromise are policies that can be corrected when we obtain a more supportive legislature in the future. The best parts of the compromise are rails that will be permanent. Some of our green friends are saying that we should have waited until we had the votes to pass a clean transportation bill, without things like the carbon-standard poison pill or all the highway money. But by the time we have the progressive majority needed to pass an ideologically pure bill, that majority can instead correct the poison pill and other flaws in the compromise. Either way, there is no need to delay the transit investments the region so desperately needs.
- Even without a carbon standard, the gas tax increase is GOOD for the environment. Washington will now be tied for the 3rd highest gas tax in the country. In a recent poll, rising fuel costs were the largest motivator to increased transit use apart from HCT access. Even if the tax revenue were just collected and set on fire, that would still help shift drivers onto transit. As it is, we get a couple decent projects such as south 405 HOV lanes and 520 west out of it.
- Increasing the number of people who can commute by rail, today, is the best way to increase support for rail in the future. We can’t obtain more progressive outcomes by halting transit expansion (as rejecting the compromise would do). To get a more progressive legislature we need to increase the number of dense, walkable legislative districts with voters that demand more transit. Dense populations are progressive populations. To create a more progressive future, we need to start building transit now. Each expansion of our rail system will have more supporters than the last. Once we shift the balance of power back to the urban core, then we can push an ideologically pure progressive agenda. Until then we will have to compromise. That’s the reality we live in. If we wait until we have a progressive majority before we agree to expand transit, then we’ll get neither.
The vote is over. Overall I think the compromise was worth it, but even if you disagree, let’s agree to work for more progressive outcomes in future sessions. It is critical that we all work together to make sure that the 2016 Sound Transit ballot measure is the best it can possibly be. Our local politicians made the deals necessary to put ST3 on the ballot next year, and for that I am thankful. Let’s work to make sure the compromises are worth it.