The plan leaves plenty to be desired. The package’s proposed $129 million in “clean transportation” funding doesn’t invest in any land-based, local transit.
There are some worthy items, but they miss the point. At present, high speed rail is a pleasant fantasy. Scrubbing the ferry system is all well and good, but it doesn’t get at the root of transportation’s carbon problem.
As every STB reader knows, but Olympia apparently fails to understand, driving is the single largest generator of carbon emissions in Washington. Reducing the amount of diesel consumed by car ferries misses the point. Starting a 40 year process for intercity high speed rail won’t make any immediate difference in the growing climate crisis.
But there is a Washington transportation project already in development—under construction, even!—that could slow or reduce the growth of driving carbon emissions. It’s Link light rail.
The more money that Sound Transit has to complete Link, the more the system can reduce emissions. The highest quality system will lure more riders out of cars, or keep new residents from getting in them.
However, local officials are debating tradeoffs in the project’s overall quality that could have a dramatic effect on ridership.
The First Hill station, which would have yielded some of the highest ridership in the system, has already been eliminated because of an austerity mindset. Other new stations will be built in neighborhoods with a high driving mode share, like Ballard.
If more stations are placed in suboptimal locations because of cost, Seattle and Washington will lose a generational chance to cut carbon emissions. Sound Transit needs a white knight.
Sources from the City of Seattle say that Mayor Jenny Durkan is willing to kick in money to Link if a new revenue source can be found. But Seattle residents are already paying plenty, and in most states, such a significant infrastructure project would get some state dollars.
The state could—and should—ride in and save the day. But the legislature has a clear and longstanding bias against capital projects in transit and/or Seattle. It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising, that lawmakers aren’t racing to spend on light rail. Instead, the usual concern- and budget-trolling continues.
The governor could try to wrest the issue from fiscal hawks, and reframe transit as the economic and environmental necessity that it is. This climate package is seemingly the perfect place to do just that.
Instead, the governor’s plan doesn’t do anything for Sound Transit—or local bus or rail transit anywhere in the state. Inslee’s desire for climate action only goes as far as his limited supply of political courage.