House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transit is now unlikely to pass this year and its last hope is a long shot: inclusion in a larger transportation package. As a reminder, the bill updates the antiquated language in the CTA law so it can be used for rail expansion now. Though we’re disappointed that HB 1304 didn’t pass on its own this year, it’s not uncommon for a bill to take multiple years and we’re really thankful for the work done by the bill’s sponsors and the many people who voiced their support and gave testimony. We’ll be headed back to the legislature next year.
That said, when one door closes another one opens. The Seattle Department of Transportation will send the Seattle City Council a proposed plan for what should be funded by a new $20 Vehicle licensing fee. This is an excellent opportunity to fund an updated Seattle Transit Master Plan that includes a roadmap for a future citywide Link rail system. This is work that, almost incredibly, has never been done for Link expansion in Seattle.
One of our central issues with the regional Sound Transit process is that it moves forward one package at a time, mirroring the FTA’s fixation on discrete corridor planning instead of the phased building of comprehensive city-wide systems. As a result, the ST Long Range Plan isn’t really a thought out long range plan for a full Link system, especially in Seattle. We are constantly risking—and sometimes making—mistakes in expansion that could have been avoided by better cohesive system-wide planning. Namely, we execute as if the system will never serve more neighborhoods in the future. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy we’ll later regret when we need to expand to serve a densifying city, and we can’t.. The result of this unplanned future will inevitably be an underutilized resources like a $4B downtown tunnel that could serve 3-4x more light rail lines than are currently planned for it. That’s 3-4x more neighborhoods served with high quality transit if we act with intentionality now.
The City Council has an opportunity to advance the vision of a citywide Link system so we don’t wind up painting ourselves into a corner. That’s why we support SDOT’s plan for “Planning Ahead” funds in the proposed VLF funding priorities. This is the first step to ensure we “measure twice, cut once” on the 100-year transit investments we are making. If we fail, we will be stuck with a system unable to expand to meet the needs of our city within our lifetimes, despite the predictable nature of that need.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please complete SDOT’s survey before 9:00 AM on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. At the bottom of the survey page, click “next” until you see question 2, and submit the following recommended comment:
We need to serve our entire community! If we don’t plan now, Seattle may never get another subway line connected to the future downtown tunnel. I support VLF “Planning Ahead” funds earmarked to update the Seattle Transit Master Plan in 2021-2022 and ensure we have a plan to connect new corridors like Aurora, Georgetown & South Park, the King County Metro route 8 corridor, and others. If we don’t plan now, these corridors might never get high quality service.
Thanks again to HB 1304 prime sponsor, Representatives David Hackney, coprime sponsor Liz Berry, and cosponsors Frank Chopp, Joe Fitzgibbon, Nicole Macri, Steve Bergquist, and Gerry Pollet. Also a huge thank you to all of you who have continued to support the vision of a true Seattle Subway.