Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Clark County might charge school districts for traffic creation

What's not really stated in the linked article here, but obvious to long-time observers of the growth struggles in Clark County, is that Democratic county commissioner Betty Sue Morris is trying to find traffic capacity for her developer pals anywhere she can before she presumably retires next year. And she's now stating for the record that the county will take it out of the hides of the school districts if it can, and couch it in environmental terms to boot:
Morris wants the county to charge new high schools a fee, likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on the traffic they generate. All other developments pay that traffic impact fee, but the county has always given schools a pass. In the new system, schools might get a discount by building smaller parking lots or taking other measures to cut driving.
When I lived in the Evergreen School District, and that board some years ago looked into what could be done to have some kind of "concurrency" system for schools similar to that for roads, I was told by at least one school district official that wouldn't work because the districts have an unofficial understanding with the county. Basically, the county wouldn't apply traffic concurrency standards to the schools, easing their ability to site and build new facilities that have been so desperately needed due to growth. That sort of worked for a while, but now the value of traffic capacity is becoming so high that it's going to be in the interests of the pro-developer county government to not leave anything on the table, even for something as worthwhile as schools.

So if the county ever decides to charge school districts for the trips they generate, look out. All bets are off, and the first thing people should demand of their school district officials is that children be given the same consideration as asphalt when it comes to financing needed infrastructure. Think about it. Roads have to be at least planned and financed when traffic capacity is used up, but there is no similar provision for schools. Taxpayers pick up the bill and the Republicans blame us. It's fiendishly clever, if underhanded and destructive to quality of life.

Clark County is about to enact the Great Land Grab of 2007, only three years after the supposed 20 year growth plan was enacted, but there's never going to be enough transportation money to fuel the developers' dreams. Which is why school districts in Clark County now find themselves being greedily eyed by the seemingly unstoppable forces of endless sprawl.

Note to school board members in Clark County: Betty Sue Morris is issuing you a warning, right there in The Columbian. You don't need to pay the county to encourage more environmentally friendly commuting options by students. Taxpayers agree to fund schools for education, not to subsidize developers.

It's an outrageous suggestion on the face of it, and we can at least hope some brave school board members in the county will call Morris on her threat.

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