by SEATTLE SUBWAY
Last week, the State Legislature finally approved funding authority for Sound Transit to move forward with their next phase of expansion. This was a hard-won fight, fraught with unpleasant and ill-conceived tradeoffs forced by our state’s political geography, but those compromises have been made. Now is the time to make sure they were worth it.
Sound Transit planners have been pitching a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot proposal for high capacity transit funded by as much as $15 billion in taxes over 15 years. While this would build many badly needed projects, it would be only an incremental addition to a patchwork system that is not growing fast enough to meet the needs of our booming cities.
We propose a single 2016 ballot measure that includes the Sound Transit 3 funding and authorizes the continued collection of Sound Move (the 1996 vote) and Sound Transit 2 (the 2008 vote) taxes past their current end date. This would be enough funding to plan, design and build a complete regional system. Planning for a system and not just a series of lines is how Washington D.C. planned and built their Metro system, and how Phoenix is looking to plan and build theirs. In early planning, Sound Transit has chosen to only collect construction money over a set period of time, but that is a choice. We could choose a different path forward.
It sounds like a dream, but it’s very real.
Taxes would be held in line with what is being planned for ST3 by spreading the cost to the electorate over a longer time period and continuing to collect Sound Move and ST2 taxes until the larger system is complete. Instead of just ST3’s likely projects the voters can authorize ST3 and ST4. After a November, 2016 ballot measure passes, Sound Transit could continue to expand the system as bonding capacity becomes available without raising tax rates in the future or going back to the polls. Sound Transit’s legal staff is already looking into how to write a ballot measure to achieve this if we can convince the Board to pursue this long-term, visionary path.
The effect of pursuing the bigger package would be transformational: Experienced planning staff could move seamlessly from one project to the next, capital equipment like tunneling machines could be reused, and contractors could bid for multiple sequential projects in order to lower costs. Sound Transit could break the cycle of authorizing the few projects that can be built in the next 15 years and then devoting substantial energy to prepare for another vote in 8-12 years.
The details of our vision map are debatable, but not our message: The region needs to plan, decide, and vote on a complete transportation solution in 2016.
The regional political and planning advantages include:
- Politically better than ST3
Any system we come up with using ST3 funds will leave a lot of people who need a transit upgrade feeling left out. A vision for an entire system engages people’s imagination and sense of inclusion. It may be a while, but there will be a stop near me…
- Design and build a system, not a line
Being aware of the entire system design can help Seattle avoid costly mistakes and rework. It also will lead to better design choice without the constraint of looking at just one segment at a time. Would University District Station be designed differently if Sound Transit knew for a fact that there would be a future East-West Line?
- Knowing where rail will be built is enormously advantageous for regional planning
Where should we focus future growth? If we know where the entire system will eventually go that question is very easy to answer. Structural changes to growth and urban design can take decades to implement. Having a full system designed in advance will give planners in neighborhoods and urban centers an immense advantage.
- Allows for long term thinking in financing, application for federal grants, and seeking state funding
Having robust plans for future expansion at the ready can help our region compete for federal funds as they become available, fight at the state level for direct funding, and get ideal terms on financing. The collective impact of these factors could save our region billions of dollars while getting us the transit system we so desperately need.
- Regional politics can sink future Sound Transit plans.
It’s hard to see the future, but fighting separate battles every time we want to expand rail in our region, when stakeholders have uneven transit needs, is hardly an ideal way to build infrastructure. We need to side-step this process and authorize a larger expansion rather than being eternally stuck in the “Seattle Process” and risking compromised solutions.
Please join us in urging the Sound Transit Board to come together and present a true long range plan by writing the board and telling them you want a transportation solution for today and tomorrow.