By Marilyn Strickland and Rob Johnson
Sound Transit’s current governance framework – based on the appointment of elected officials from county and city governments who have huge stakes in making regional transit work – is a huge part of the agency’s success. Unfortunately, this framework is currently under threat; the proposed SB-5001 would replace these structural incentives for success and unity with representatives from 11 Balkanized districts chosen through direct elections.
We believe it’s critically important to have locally elected representatives serving on the Sound Transit Board. There is a nexus between local government, regional government, and having a regional transportation system that benefits all of us, from Tacoma to Everett.
This level of connectivity and regional integration ultimately ensures we get projects that are built faster, cheaper, and that benefit not just the districts we represent, but the entire region. And that’s not only good governance, it just makes sense.
Here are eight reasons the governance structure for Sound Transit proposed in SB-5001 would hurt regional progress toward achieving a 116-mile light rail system that reaches Tacoma, Everett, Downtown Redmond, West Seattle, Ballard, South Kirkland and Issaquah:
- As elected officials serving on the Sound Transit board, we hold a body of knowledge that allows us to make transit decisions with the awareness of how it impacts land use, housing, and economic development. These big transit investments we make involve so much more than just moving people from point A to point B; we need board members with comprehensive knowledge and the new proposed governance structure puts this at risk.
- The new structure would likely result in higher costs for taxpayers. For example, Sound Transit has a track record of obtaining highly rated bonds with low interest rates. Bond rating agencies look at stability of revenues and stability of leadership. Moving away from our current structure of elected officials with finite terms and extensive knowledge would put us at risk for receiving lower rated bonds – the burden of which would be felt by taxpayers.
- As elected officials, we are good partners with Sound Transit and we pave the way for projects to happen more quickly. For example, we are able to have the necessary conversations at the city level to expedite permitting processes. By removing elected officials from the board, the proposed governance structure would likely result in projects that are built more slowly, and thus, at higher cost.
- Sound Transit has passed 22 consecutive clean audits. Having locally elected representation with accountability to our voters plays a big role in this impressive track record; changing the governance structure puts that at risk.
- As with all projects, big or small, sometimes things don’t go the way they should. The ability for a mayor serving as a board member from one jurisdiction to speak to his or her counterpart in another jurisdiction gives us the ability to address issues more quickly and keep projects closer to schedule. The proposed governance structure would hinder this effectiveness.
- Utilizing the professional expertise of in-house city staff helps us as elected officials make better, more informed decisions as Sound Transit board members. This would be lost with the new governance structure.
- As elected officials, we are regional colleagues and bring these good working relationships to the Sound Transit boardroom. The new governance structure would negatively impact the current camaraderie and institutional knowledge that facilitates efficiency.
- Lastly, and very simply put, changing the governance structure in the middle of very complex projects that are underway creates a high degree of instability and risk.
A hallmark of local government is our ability to be close to our constituents and respond accordingly with more and better infrastructure. Last year, as plans for ST3 were getting finalized, the message we heard from constituents loud and clear was “do more – and do it faster.” We’ve proven time and again that we can deliver on those requests, and to get people out of traffic and connected to their communities.
Marilyn Strickland is the current Mayor of Tacoma. Rob Johnson is the Seattle City Councilmember for District 4. Both are Sound Transit Board members.