Since 2014, the City of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD) has consistently funded transportation improvements across the city, such as more frequent Metro buses, subsidized ORCA cards for income-qualifying residents, and pre-paid ORCA cards for Seattle Public School high schoolers. Seattle voters approved the STBD through a 0.1% sales tax increase and a $60 annual Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF), also known as car tab, for citizens who can afford it (the city runs a VLF rebate program for income-eligible motorists). We aren’t alone– about 60 other communities across the state fund their TBDs by one or both of these sources, improving vehicle, bus, ferry, and rail access across Washington.
When the program began in 2014, only 25% of Seattle households lived within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better all-day service. The original goal was for over half of all households to be served at that level by 2020. Through the STBD, the city met that goal in 2016, and continues to improve: today, 71% of households in the city enjoy frequent, reliable transportation access. The STBD directly added 6,780 weekly bus trips to Seattle residents, mitigating overcrowding, expanding access, and creating opportunity for Seattleites across the city.
Investments from STBD benefit all areas of Seattle, including neighborhoods the city has designated as having low access to economic opportunity. Access to transportation has been found to be a crucial factor in upwards social mobility. Historically underserved populations, such as Southeast, Southwest, and far North Seattle, have benefited directly from faster, more frequent service (e.g., Metro bus routes 106, 120, and the E line), and multimodal street improvements. STBD also funds the ORCA Lift program and saved Metro’s 24-hour Night Owl service from being permanently cut.
King County Council will vote on a Park and Ride permit program next week.
by HESTER SEREBRIN, VICKY CLARKE, ALEX BRENNAN, and TIM GOULD
In Seattle, many of us are privileged with easy access to great bus service at any time of day. But the regional reality is pretty different for most folks. Until we are able to fund and build out King County Metro’s long-range plan, which will connect many more neighborhoods to frequent, high-capacity transit via a short walk or bike ride, lots of residents have to rely on driving to a Park and Ride as part of their daily trip.
With increased growth and demand in our region, many of these lots are filling up fast, creating crowding on earlier transit trips, and leaving little to no parking for workers without the flexibility in their schedules to race for one of the limited spaces early each morning. Rather than building more parking lots, parking permits can help manage available space at Park and Rides, encourage carpooling, and create reliability for those who need it.
Next Tuesday, July 16, the King County Council Mobility and Environment committee will vote on a parking permit resolution to offer reserved solo driver parking permits for King County Park and Ride facilities. Join TCC and partners on July 16 at 1:30 pm to testify and show your support for smarter parking management.
This Park and Ride resolution is similar to the policy the Sound Transit Board of Directors approved last year; applications for solo driver permits, including discounted permits for ORCA LIFT riders, are now available for Sound Transit Park and Ride facilities in Northgate, Auburn, Puyallup, Edmonds, and Mukilteo.
Why Park and Ride Permits?
Park and Ride lots are convenient transfer areas that make transit more accessible for people who do not live near a bus or light rail route. Until we have a more robust transit network, Park and Rides are one tool to relieve congestion and promote the use of public transportation. All riders and taxpayers pay hidden costs for expensive parking infrastructure, and building more parking will only occupy land that can be used to build housing near high-frequency transit. Parking permits can help manage parking demand and curb the need to build endless parking lots. Without parking fees, parking costs impact all users, including those arriving by foot, bike, or bus, while only benefiting those who drive.
Bellevue may have decided to make the 108th Ave NE bike lane it built last year permanent, but when it comes to expanding the city’s downtown cycling network the Bellevue Transportation Commission seems to be at odds with City Council. On May 23rd the Commission split 3-3 over whether to add bicycle lanes along two blocks of Main ST between Bellevue Way and 108th Ave NE, despite the fact that City Council strongly supports the project. Following the split, the Commission voted to delay further discussion, but did not choose a specific date to revisit the plan, leaving it unclear how the process will move forward.
This is the second time that the Commission has punted consideration of extending Bellevue’s downtown bicycle network. City staff first proposed the Main ST project at the Commission’s March 28th meeting, but the issue was tabled after the Commission’s 4-2 vote to retain the existing protected bicycle lanes on 108th Ave NE.
The decision to delay comes after Commission Chair Lei Wu has received specific instructions from Bellevue City Council to evaluate options for Main ST and choose an alternative. At a May 13th study session the full Council discussed the proposal with Wu and expressed unanimous support for moving forward with an east-west bicycle facility. Since City Council strongly supports piloting more bicycle lanes, why is the Transportation Commission dithering on its responsibility?
by JOSHUA NEWMAN, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4
Once upon a time, it was easy to get around Seattle. Hop in the car and in 15 minutes, you were downtown; and outside of downtown, parking was easy. At least, that’s how many long-time residents remember Seattle. Congestion was infrequent and parking was plentiful.
So today’s congestion feel like dramatic change; a rupture from the Seattle people fell in love with. But people all over the world want a safe, prosperous place to live, and Seattle has offered that. After 40 years of stable population size, Seattle has grown 30%, by 167,000 people, since 2000. We all need to move around the city, and because every level of government has subsidized car use, most people assume they will get around by car.
This assumption carries heavy costs. In 2000, the annual cost to own a car was $7,160 (2018 dollars). It’s now $8,175. A community designed around cars is a community that chains its residents to a large financial liability. This burden falls most heavily on working families, who are forced into long commutes. Meanwhile, our businesses struggle to move freight, transit riders wait for car-clogged intersections, and potential bike riders stay away in fear.
The more expensive burden – which bears repeating – is to our climate. The human species has never, in our entire existence, lived on Earth when the atmospheric carbon content was as high as it is now: 415 ppm. Seattle’s own carbon emissions continue growing, and we won’t stop that with our current incremental approach.
STB readers know it doesn’t have to be this way. We can simultaneously unlock congestion, improve equity, and address climate change locally by making it easy to get around Seattle without a car.
If done right, congestion pricing can reduce pollution and improve mobility.
by HESTER SEREBRIN, Policy Director, Transportation Choices Coalition
Seattle has a traffic problem. According to the 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, Seattle is the 6th most congested city in the country, robbing people who drive 138 hours and nearly $2,000 annually.
Congestion also contributes to our climate crisis, with 66% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from road transportation. Commutes will only get longer and pollution worse as our city grows unless we take decisive action. Cities across the world, facing similar dilemmas, are considering congestion pricing, the only proven tool to reduce congestion. Pricing is also a tool that can be used to achieve other outcomes like mitigating local air and water pollution, and creating progressive revenue structures to support healthier and safer mobility options. While cordon pricing, charging people to drive to or within a downtown area, is the most well-known form of congestion pricing, pricing is flexible and we can find a structure that best meets our goals.
Last Thursday, the City of Seattle released a congestion pricing phase one report that provides case studies and potential pricing tools to inform Seattle’s policy development and engagement process as we explore congestion pricing. The report evaluates a variety of possible pricing scenarios based on criteria related to equity, climate and health, traffic congestion, and implementation, and outlines a process for engaging with stakeholders to ensure benefits accrue to communities who need them most. We all now have an opportunity to help shape a progressive plan that is still in the early stages of policy development.
Transportation Choices Coalition is working to bring more and better transportation choices to Washington State, improving access and mobility for all. As the report identifies, our current transportation system is inequitable, drawing from regressive revenue sources, struggling to provide affordable and reliable options to those pushed out by growth, and creating poor air quality disproportionately in communities of color. We believe that if done right, congestion pricing has the ability to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and generate progressive revenue to reinvest in a robust transportation system. There are understandable concerns that a poorly planned pricing system could hurt low-income communities and communities of color, and our priority is to develop a congestion pricing policy rooted in equity.
Here’s what we want to see next from Seattle’s congestion pricing process:
tl;dr: This post proposes a new option for the Interbay – Ballard segment of the West Seattle – Ballard light rail project that is measurably and significantly better than any of the remaining official options. The major components are (1) an aerial bridge over the BNSF rail yard, (2) an optional station at Fisherman’s Terminal, (3) a shorter tunnel under Salmon Bay, and (4) a station at 20th Ave NW and NW Market St.
This option has the highest possible value—retaining the high quality of a tunnel, but with significantly higher ridership, and at a competitive cost. In fact, it has a lower capital cost per rider than any of the official options. It has opportunities to turn Port of Seattle and BNSF into 3rd party funding sources, instead of potential adversaries. In spite of its superior characteristics, the only hope it has of becoming the preferred alignment is if enough of you support it in ‘scoping’ comments submitted to Sound Transit. Find handy links to do that at the end of the post.
Intro: why this option is optimal
The best possible ridership puts the station location in the center of the urban village, at 20th Avenue and Market Street. This location is closest to all of the current density, and closest to potential future development.
This option uses the shortest tunnel possible for crossing the ship canal of any practical location. It is about 10-12 % shorter than the 14th or 15th Avenue tunnel options. It is 28% shorter than the “BNSF West/20th Tunnel” option rejected in Level 1 scoping. The shorter the tunnel, the less costly the option. The limiting factors preventing the tunnel from being even shorter are (1) a maximum 5% grade and (2) allowance of 25 feet between the top of the tunnel and the bottom of the ship canal.
In order to reach the shortest possible tunnel, it is necessary to bridge over the BNSF rail yard. I acknowledge that would generally be unwise, but in a later section, I explain why this route is different; why it is uniquely feasible.
There is no practical route using a high fixed bridge to reach a station on 20th Avenue, because of impacts on the legally protected Ballard Landmark District. A tunnel is the only way to do it that does not sacrifice quality.
This option has two additional advantages. It has a net reduction in properties taken, thereby reducing cost further. By eliminating a curve, the Interbay station can actually be at Dravus Street, a better location.
Seattle has been successful in redefining urban mobility, but our recipe for success doesn’t have to be unique. Like any good cook who starts with the fundamentals of a solid recipe, then adjusts the ingredients to fit different tastes and dietary needs, each city can adapt elements of successful mobility strategies to best meet their own needs.
Over the past few years Seattle’s recipe to redefine urban mobility has include investment in transit service, adoption of TNCs (Lyft and Uber), growing the car share market, and experimenting with bike share – all of this while Seattle experienced the highest increase in transit ridership of any major city in the US. We are growing the mobility ‘pie’ with more choices to get around than ever before.
Below is a joint letter from Seattle’s Transportation Advisory Boards, which was sent to Mayor Durkan last month. As the search for a new SDOT director stretches on, we thought our readers would be interested in what the advisory boards want to see from the department going forward. – ed.
As members of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPAB), Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (SBAB), Seattle Transit Advisory Board (STAB), and the Seattle Freight Advisory Board (SFAB) we would like to congratulate you on your election as mayor and anticipate many positive and challenging transitions for Seattle in the years to come.
A new director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will have a significant impact on the modes of transportation that we each represent and as such we hope to weigh in on the nationwide search. We hope you will consider our positions and concerns in choosing the next SDOT director. These advisory boards decided it would be more beneficial for you to receive a collaborative letter, as we are not simply modal silos, but passionate Seattle residents who desire a safe and efficient city that accommodates and embraces all modes of transportation.
We have compiled a list of key values and experience that we would like see reflected in the new SDOT director. Many of the values listed below drive our own commitment as volunteer stewards of the city’s alternative transportation and freight transportation advisory groups. Webring a diversity of skills, backgrounds, and expertise, and reflect the diverse community of people trying to move safely and easily around Seattle.
All four boards have highlighted a desire for a new director with experience in:
Equitable and data-driven decision-making,
Coalition building, and
Thorough and efficient implementation of safe streets policies.
Thank you for your consideration and please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.
The Transit Riders Union is concerned that Sound Transit is passing up an important opportunity to serve the densest neighborhood in Washington: First Hill. Thousands of constituents in each of your districts commute to First Hill each day. And while we understand that there are some cost concerns with the slightly additional track length and tunneling twice beneath Interstate 5, we urge you to conduct a study of this possibility with sincerity and in good faith.
We recommend relocating the Madison Street station from 5th or 6th Avenue to a location between 8th and Boren Avenues. This relocation would make much of First Hill walkable to the thousands of workers, residents, and medical patients. Meanwhile, it would decrease the walkshed redundancy of building a station so close to the existing line beneath 3rd Avenue.
First Hill is a large employment center for many sectors, from nursing to administrative to custodial, that historically and presently employ mostly women, and they deserve to be considered equitably in comparison to other regional employment centers with white-collar, mostly male tech workers (South Lake Union) and blue-collar, mostly male workforces (Paine Field), which will rightfully be served upon completion of ST3.
Presently, some First Hill commuters ride Sounder to King Street Station, where they then must either:
connect to a slow and circuitous streetcar,
ride Link into Downtown and walk to a connecting bus as many as three blocks away (as in the case of Metro routes 2 and 12), or
ride two buses or a combined distance of one mile
Each of these options is unnecessarily sluggish. Imagine if these workers could walk out of King Street Station, cross over the International District Station, and ride in minutes directly to First Hill. For the many other First Hill commuters whose irregular schedules prevent them from accessing Sounder, they deserve, and would exponentially benefit from, a direct connection the regional Link system.
Many people access First Hill for medical services, including many people with disabilities. Disabled passengers, for whom approaching and waiting for a bus on the steep eastbound streets of Downtown Seattle can be difficult or prohibitive, deserve simpler, faster, more comfortable, and more accessible service to First Hill.
The Transit Riders Union is very grateful for all the work that Sound Transit does for the riding population of the Puget Sound, and we thank you for your consideration of this proposal.
Katie Wilson is the TRU’s General Secretary. Sam Smith is the Disability & Access Committee Co-Chair.
Either way, you are a beneficiary of the most effective transit pass program in the system. In 2017, King County brought in $76 million in revenue from the ORCA Passport programs for approximately 35 million boardings.
The ORCA Passport Program is both effective in getting people on transit and popular, but unfortunately, it doesn’t serve most low-income people. In 2016, Capitol Hill Housing (CHH), a city-wide affordable housing developer and community development organization, surveyed people living in apartments along Pike Street. We found that in market rate buildings, 68 percent had an ORCA pass subsidized by their employer. In contrast, only 22 percent of the residents in affordable housing buildings had Passports.
On Monday, May 21st, the Transit Riders Union is hosting a book launch and a panel discussion of past, present and future efforts to advance the vision of free public transit here in the Seattle area. The event will be held 6:00-8:00pm at University Bookstore, 4326 University Way NE. You can RSVP on Facebook here.
Panelists will include Rosalie Ray, author of one of the book’s chapters; Ifrah Abshir, a leader in the successful campaign to win transit passes for Seattle public school students; City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Teresa Mosqueda; and several more guests. I will emcee the event.
The book explores the winning strategies and pitfalls of case studies of free public transit ranging across thirteen countries: the United States, Montreal, Toronto, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Poland, China, France, Belgium, and Germany. As much a manifesto as a guide, this explosive book, the first ever on the topic in English, is written for those who want to truly revolutionise their city and move it forward.
by Jon Scholes, President / CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association
Thanks to businesses, elected leaders and community groups that shaped and endorsed it, Sound Transit 3 is moving forward, with planned expansion to Ballard, West Seattle through downtown in the form of a new tunnel.
ST3 was a bold bet on the future of our city and region, and the vision and leadership that got us to this point must continue as we design and build the system. Light rail helps make a place, meaning we have an obligation to build a system that thoughtfully integrates into the communities it connects. Light rail helps make a city, so we must consider how our city will be in 20-50 years and build the system for that need. Light rail helps people make connections, meaning the system we build should maximize connectivity for the most people with the greatest ease.
As Sound Transit stakeholders and leaders make decisions on next steps, the following considerations are important to realizing these principles:
You know a city becomes mature when its citizens begin to celebrate their transportation history. London, New York, San Francisco: these are all cities that have been pioneers in the field of transportation and have all embraced their own unique histories of moving people and goods.
Seattle is one such city—and while we are probably best known for pioneering the way people travel the globe by plane, our massive rail network of streetcars in the early part of the 20th Century was really quite remarkable. This network shaped the character of our city and provided critical access to the collection of neighborhoods we have today. And even though these streetcars were removed and replaced by “trackless trolleys”, their threads remain woven into our urban fabric and are still visible in the City we live in today.
But let’s face it. Because our entire region is popular and globally competitive, more is needed to support the growing population across the Cascadia region (combined metro populations of 13.5 million in 2040, up from 10 million today). Every time a mom or a dad spends ninety minutes on a 35 mile commute between Tacoma & Seattle, or 5 hours just to get to Portland, we know something is wrong. WE. DESERVE. FASTER. Our quality of life, and of our children’s lives, depends on it.
Affordable housing near transit is win-win for both housing and transit. If we build enough of it, not only will residents of this housing have lower rents, but the housing market as a whole will stabilize and improve. Meanwhile, transit riders will benefit from the positive feedback of more riders leading to more service and more support for transit improvements.
The Housing for All Coalition (including Housing Now) is re-launching our campaign for a tax on big business that would raise $150 million a year to build thousands of affordable homes. This tax would go a long way towards funding the affordable housing we need and reinforcing Seattle’s transit oriented future. We hope you’ll join us tonight at 6pm at the Seattle Labor Temple 2800 1st Ave, Seattle, Washington 98121. For more info and to RSVP, check out the event page.
Additionally, Housing Now is starting a new effort to reform Seattle’s comprehensive plan. We’re looking at moving from an “urban village strategy” that confines housing, to a “welcoming communities strategy” that supports and promotes abundant housing. We’re having a general interest meeting on Feb 18th, and we hope to see you there!
We need your support for both of these efforts, see below for more information on why both are important and how you can get involved!
The 2017 legislative session was a difficult, defensive session for transit. None of the Legislature’s transit advocates expected this after the unequivocal mandate for Sound Transit 3 in November 2016, but the combination of MVET sticker shock and inaccurate vehicle valuations forced us into difficult positions as we fought to fulfill the promise of a regional transit system. The battles often felt like losses at the time. But thanks to the intransigence of Senate Republicans dead-set on damaging Sound Transit, and the end of wasteful sales tax exemptions, we ended the session with more funding for core transit services, not less.
The debate over Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) authority was one of the most challenging parts of the session. Our exceptionally difficult vote disappointed many transit advocates back home. But by constraining that inevitable debate to a rational but hard bottom line, we managed to end the session with more wins for transit than losses.
The House passed HB 2201, which required that Sound Transit revise its MVET collections to reflect the vehicle values adopted by the 2006 Legislature (RCW 82.44.035), instead of the earlier valuation table from the 2015 transportation package. HB 2201 passed the House twice in a bipartisan 64-33 vote, including a “yes” vote from every legislator who represents the Sound Transit district.
The Republican Senate passed SB 5839. Rather than use RCW 82.44.035, it required the lower of either Kelley Blue Book values or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) values. The catch is that a government agency cannot issue bonds against a revenue stream that is determined by a private party. The House bill used RCW 82.44.035 so it could still be bonded against – and the Senate used proprietary valuation schedules because Sound Transit couldn’t bond against these streams, impairing project delivery. Their bill also cut Sound Transit’s MVET authority from 1.1% (up from 0.3% before ST3) to 0.5%. This expressly sought to overturn the will of 717,000 voters in central Puget Sound, 54% of the total, by forcing drastically lower revenues and making the completion of the regional transit system impossible. This bill passed three times in a strictly partisan 25-24 vote. It only passed because of overwhelming support from eastern Washington Republicans whose constituents were unaffected by the ST3 MVET.
We supported the House Bill for these reasons:
1. Even representing a district that overwhelmingly supported ST3 (59%) and will enjoy one of ST3’s marquee projects, I heard from a huge number of constituents alarmed by their new car tab fees. Some of this was sticker shock, but many had legitimate concerns when they received a car tab bill and saw that their car’s assessed value was unambiguously more than they knew it to be worth. Many House Democrats were concerned about this as a fairness issue. It is not accurate that legislators were unaware of the different valuation tables (indeed, even the Republican Senate defeated Sen. Ericksen’s amendment to the 2015 transportation package to reject the valuation table that Sound Transit ended up using). However, I was surprised by the vehemence with which my constituents rebelled against the higher valuation table in the law.
2. The lost revenue for Sound Transit from HB 2201 was estimated at about $78m per year. The lost revenue from SB 5839 would have been roughly ten times that. It was clear to pro-transit House Democrats that a bill without our support had the potential to contain a greater revenue loss than HB 2201. We made sure, in supporting the bill, that HB 2201 was a take-it- or-leave- it offer. The House would reject any bill that lowered the MVET rate below the voter-approved rate, required a valuation table that precluded selling bonds, or that cut revenue below what HB 2201 did. The House adhered to that promise, which wasn’t enough for the Senate.
3. The other condition of our support was to prioritize the completion of the regional light rail system. Legislators from end-of- the-line districts like me, including members from Tacoma, Everett, Ballard, and Kirkland, wanted to do everything possible to ensure that the MVET bill did not impede the completion of light rail promised to our districts in ST3. So we included a provision requiring that if Sound Transit had to cut any projects as a result of their decreased MVET authority, light rail projects would be cut last, and parking projects would be cut first. None of us were thrilled with this prioritization, because there are worthwhile parking projects in the package. However, the priority for us is the completion of the regional light rail system.
As readers of the blog are likely aware, transit usage in the Seattle area is booming. The greater Seattle metropolitan area had the highest transit ridership growth in the country last year, and is one of just six major U.S. urban areas where transit ridership increased in 2016. Some of this growth can be attributed to voter-approved service and infrastructure expansions. Others, to be sure, will point to our breakneck population and jobs growth. But these two facts alone probably don’t fully explain how, since 2010, downtown Seattle has added 45,000 new jobs but only 2,255 new solo car commuters. Overall, seventy percent of our job growth (over 31,000 trips) was absorbed by transit.
When Zach Shaner wrote that transit is saving downtown, he was right, and our business community knows it. Therefore, to thank riders and celebrate June as Ride Transit month, nine Challenge Seattle member companies donated over $22,000 in prizes to our first-ever Puget Sound Prize Patrol. Challenge Seattle’s CEO, former governor Christine Gregoire, noted that “Challenge Seattle companies are proud to support this effort to highlight how critical high transit ridership is to easing congestion and improving our region’s quality of life.”
Last week I read with great interest Dan Ryan’s excellent post on the proposed refinements to the Redmond Link Extension that is expected to begin service in 2024. As a resident of Redmond and former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, I have followed this process intently for more than a decade. The process has been open, and every step along the way has been reasonable and justifiable; but it may be a good time to take a step back and consider whether we’ve landed in the best place.
The 2011 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) considered several possible light rail alignments through downtown Redmond including the E2 preferred alignment (shown above) and the E4 alignment (shown below).
These two alignments take very different paths through Redmond. The E2 travels from Overlake along SR-520 to Southeast Redmond and then hooks back along the BNSF railway corridor to a terminus in downtown Redmond. The E4 departs SR-520 much earlier—west of the Sammamish River – goes directly to downtown Redmond and then follows the BNSF corridor in the opposite direction to a terminus in Southeast Redmond.
In 2006, while the EIS process was underway, Redmond endorsed the E2 alignment as the only way to reach the Redmond Transit Center (RTC). By the time the EIS was complete in 2011, Redmond and Sound Transit had abandoned the goal of reaching the RTC because it would have added at least $100-200 million to the cost. However, a “preferred” version of the E2 route was selected – largely because it came closer to the RTC than any of the alternatives.
Last month, Redmond and Sound Transit presented a set of proposed refinements which improve E2 further by moving the Downtown Redmond Station location and elevating a portion of the alignment. While these refinements are very reasonable, it is interesting to note that the newly proposed station locations precisely coincide with those considered in the E4 alignment.
An Objective Comparison
So, given that the refined E2 now reaches exactly the same station locations as the original E4, it is appropriate to compare the two options.
In a shocking investigation into their own inability to read legislation, Senator O’Ban and Washington Senate Republicans have taken a bold step into the unknown. How much incompetence are they willing to admit in their quest for Seattle Times headlines? Apparently quite a lot.
Sound Transit has been entirely transparent in their requests for a funding source to the legislature and to voters: This is well established.
The state legislature set both the rate and method of motor vehicle depreciation, which did not change in ST3. If these state legislators would like to change what the voters approved, they must replace any transit funding they are cutting. Senator O’Ban’s investigation into the bill he voted for is an act of bad faith. Bad faith, because they are abandoning a bipartisan deal to allow regional voters to tax themselves to fund transit in exchange for highways in far flung parts of Washington State. Bad faith, because they are trying to override the will of voters who expect Sound Transit to deliver the light rail promised in ST3.
Why are they doing this? They are desperate, as the party of Trump, to make this a campaign issue and maintain control of the state senate after an upcoming special election in the 45th district. Seattle Subway recommends a campaign donation to Democratic candidate Manka Dhingra in their honor.
The 2017 Legislative Session has been incredibly challenging for Sound Transit. On the heels of the passage of Sound Transit 3 in November, the agency has had to defend a host of bills designed to dismantle the voter approved plan and change its governance structure. Last Friday, the Senate passed ESB 5893 which slashes Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax authority from 1.1% to 0.5% among other things. TCC opposed that bill.
In the House, legislators are considering a relatively more modest proposal, HB 2201 which will create a $780M direct revenue gap in the Sound Transit 3 finance plan or an estimated $2.3B impact once you factor in higher borrowing costs. This bill was passed by the House Transportation Committee and seems well on its way to approval by the House as chronicled by the blog here.
Let’s recap for a quick moment how we got to this point. In 2015, as part of a deal on the Connecting Washington Transportation package, the Legislature granted Sound Transit the taxing authority to seek voter approval for a transit expansion plan. At the same time, it voted to approve an increase in the gas tax to fund road projects without requiring a public vote. It was a deal that advocates including Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) made for a chance to complete the high capacity transit system that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.
Fast forward to 2016, hundreds of meetings and tens of thousands of public comments later, the agency put forth a $54B transit expansion plan the details of which has been discussed in great depth on this blog. A grueling six-month campaign ensued and despite the best efforts of the opposition spearheaded by the Seattle Times, voters approved the plan by nearly 54%. The Puget Sound region finally embraced its transit destiny. Or so we thought.
As 2017 kicked in, higher MVET renewals started appearing in mailboxes, a media feeding frenzy ensued, and anti-transit legislators seized the opportunity to attack the voter-approved plan and the agency. TCC which led a broad coalition of business, labor, transportation, environmental and social justice advocates to pass the ST3 responded with a broad strategy which included an on-the-ground staff presence in Olympia, a joint coalition letter signed by 26 business, labor and community groups, and thousands of emails and petitions to legislators urging a measured approach that does not derail projects.
Yet here we are, battling bills that jeopardize projects, in the name of tax payer relief.
TCC cannot support HB 2201 as it is currently proposed. We appreciate the need to address tax payer fairness and find reasonable solutions that do not impact voter-approved projects. We suggested improvements to the legislation to address tax fairness for working families while keeping voter-approved projects on track including:
The reimbursement or credit should only be provided to cars valued at or below $30,000, providing relief to middle and low-income families who need it the most.
Find solutions to reduce the $780 million revenue gap created by this bill, either by limiting the tax adjustment to working families or other policy options that address the loss of revenue to Sound Transit.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much traction to move these changes forward.
Let us pause for a moment to consider the irony – the most progressive taxing source available to pay for transit, the MVET, is being undermined in the name of fairness in a state that has the most unfair tax system in the nation (Seattle Times $). That a measure approved by 700K residents which took three years and an incredibly robust public dialog to shape, can be so easily be scuttled by so few.
It will be easy to point fingers and assign partisan blame. Instead I encourage you to consider the following – transit is under attack at the federal and state level. Transit funding is being politicized for bigger battle – the control of the State Legislature. We should be careful to separate the policies from the politics. Voters want more light rail to more places. It is why ST3 passed last year. Now more than ever transit advocates and our broader coalition will need to stick together to defend our gains at the ballot. I urge you to join us in our fight by signing up for updates and opportunities to engage with your elected representatives to hold the line on transit.