Good evening from Seattle. I’m here at the First Presbyterian Church on First Hill, where a dozen members of the state House and Senate are holding a public meeting to talk about Washington State’s transportation needs. This is the latest stop on what’s been called a “listening tour” instigated by Rodney Tom and Senate Republicans following the Senate’s failure earlier this year to take up the statewide transportation package passed by the House, or even propose their own.
I’ll update this post as frequently as I can. The hearing is scheduled to run from 6 PM to 9 PM and there will be a lot of testimony.
UPDATE, 6:22 PM: We’re finally getting started. It took twenty minutes just for all of the legislators to introduce themselves and for Senator Curtis King (co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee) to go over the ground rules. The crowd here is a bit restless and we’ve heard calls from the audience to get started.
UPDATE, 6:24 PM: Our first speaker notes that there have been too many cutbacks in ferry service, which has hurt ferry-dependent communities like Vashon Island, Bremerton, Whidbey Island, and the San Juans.
UPDATE, 6:24 PM: King County Executive Dow Constantine is addressing the panel. “We must invest in our transportation needs. We must do it now,” he says. “Mobility is essential for the economy of this region and this state.” He notes that King County Metro carries nearly 400,000 people each weekday, and that Metro is preparing to release details on what routes will have to be cut if the state Legislature doesn’t give the county the ability to raise revenue for Metro.
UPDATE, 6:26 PM: Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw is talking about the connection between gridlock and port competitiveness. If our ports can’t efficiently move cargo, it hurts our ability to compete with Vancouver and Prince Rupert. “I’ve heard from truck drivers in Eastern Washington who are so frustrated that the [I-90 traffic] backups start in Issaquah,” she says.
UPDATE, 6:30 PM: Republican King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert says we need a transportation package with a mix of roads and transit. She says the time for dithering and procrastination is over. She reminded the legislators up at the tables in the front, “A stitch in time saves nine.”
UPDATE, 6:33 PM: King County Councilmember Larry Phillips got lots of applause for yielding his time and letting the citizens standing behind him begin to address the panel. He joked that it might take “divine intervention” to get a transportation package, but we really, really, really need one.
UPDATE, 6:37 PM: Our first few speakers have done a very good job of explaining the consequences of Metro bus service being cut. Metro is underfunded as it is, and draconian service cuts will only make things much worse.
UPDATE, 6:40 PM: Our most passionate citizen speaker so far brought up an important point: Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the state. “We have some of the richest people in this country here in this state,” said the activist. “It’s about time you show you can serve the ordinary people instead of the corporations you have served so far.”
UPDATE, 6:41 PM: Republican King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn says there is bipartisan support for a comprehensive transportation package that empowers cities and counties to tackle traffic congestion and improve transit service. He urged the Legislature to act without delay.
UPDATE, 6:47 PM: Redmond City Councilmember Hank Myers, who ran for state House last year against Cyrus Habib, just spoke about the lousy track record of the HOT lanes the state has created on highways like SR 167. (HOT lanes, pejoratively called “Lexus lanes”, are HOV lanes that allow single occupancy vehicles to travel in the lane during congested periods if they pay a toll).
UPDATE, 6:48 PM: We just heard from Celeste Gilman, who stressed the importance of quality transit service and explained how she and her daughter depend on Sound Transit and Metro to get around. “We need you to act to call a special session to pass a lasting revenue package that will provide us with the transit, walking [opportunities], and biking [opportunities] that we need,” she said. Loud cheers filled the church sanctuary as she walked away from the microphone.
UPDATE, 6:58 PM: Outspoken activist Chris Mobley of the Transit Riders Union is speaking. He is pulling no punches, castigating the so-called “Majority Coalition caucus” for trying to promulgate a 1950s-era transportation system where driving is the only option. He condemned Senate Republicans (several of whom are here) for failing to get anything done during the session and for trying to advance a right wing agenda. He concluded his remarks by ripping up a copy of the Senate Republicans’ transportation plan. The church sanctuary exploded in cheers and applause, and a sustained chant of “Save Our Metro” broke out.
UPDATE, 7:04 PM: A union carpenter is speaking now. “I’d like to tell everyone here, you can either listen to them and their bells and whistles, or you can fight,” he said, addressing fellow activists in the audience. Like a couple of speakers before him, he pointed out that our state’s tax obligations fall most heavily on low and middle income families, not the wealthy, who can most afford to pay.
UPDATE, 7:11 PM: We continue to hear from speakers who support a transportation package. Our latest speaker notes that we can’t continue to build a sustainable society around the internal combustion engine. He’s recounting his visit to his childhood home in Houston, where he says there is now a fourteen lane highway instead of a two-lane one and signs declaring that bicycles are not allowed.
UPDATE, 7:17 PM: Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union just gave a barnstormer of a speech, castigating Senate Republicans for their failure to pass a transportation package and calling the listening tour a sham. I’ll try to transcribe her remarks later. She was passionate and eloquent.
UPDATE, 7:25 PM: M.C. Halverson, who owns property in one of the city’s industrial zones, says the state of the roads in our industrial areas is a disgrace and that we ought to be more concerned about road maintenance.
UPDATE, 7:29 PM: A lot of city councilmembers have signed up to speak tonight. We’re hearing now from Pat Hulcey of Fife, who’s talking about the need for completing SR 167 and other projects. We’ve already heard from councilmembers in Kent, Mountlake Terrace, Redmond, and many other cities in the greater Puget Sound region, who have offered some very cogent observations.
UPDATE, 7:34 PM: A Google engineer is telling lawmakers he recently had a bike accident on a trail that was supposed to be improved, but hasn’t been yet. He stressed the need for people who walk and bike to work, school, or anywhere else to be able to do so safely. We need safe and complete streets.
UPDATE, 7:36 PM: A disabled speaker says that he often has to wheel himself a mile to get to a bus that is capable of allowing him to board. He called on legislators to fund public transportation and stop creating new megaprojects.
UPDATE, 7:49 PM: Our last speaker, a blind man, noted the devastating impact that the implementation of Tim Eyman’s 695 has had since the turn of the century. 695 wiped out billions of dollars in funding for ferries, roads, and transit. It’s the first name Eyman’s name has been mentioned tonight. Eyman is sitting not far away from the microphone, quietly listening to the testimony.
UPDATE, 8 PM: One more hour to go. We continue to hear nothing but support for a statewide transportation package and, in particular, a local options bill that would allow King County to raise money for Metro to stave off draconian cuts. Senator Andy Hill, who represents the 45th District, has excused himself and apparently left, but the other legislators are still here.
UPDATE, 8:18 PM: It’s always reassuring to see so many people take time out of their busy schedules to participate in a public meeting like this. We have heard from transit activists, union carpenters, veterans, business owners, elected leaders, and concerned citizens tonight. The people have done most of the talking for a change, and the lawmakers who are here seem to be paying attention.
UPDATE, 8:20 PM: Some of the issues that speakers have touched on tonight:
- Port competitiveness. We need to improve freight mobility so we can get goods to market through our ports, chiefly the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma. Washington is the most trade dependent state in the nation.
- Washington’s tax structure is regressive. We have the most regressive tax system in the country, which means low and middle income families have higher tax obligations as a percentage of their income than the wealthy. That’s not right, and we need tax reform in addition to stronger public services.
- Transit service cuts fall hardest on people who don’t drive. Many speakers have pointed out that when bus routes and service hours are cut, those cuts disproportionately affect the disabled, the poor, and people who choose not to own or lease an automobile.
- Home rule. Cities and counties stand ready to make investments in local roads and better transit, but they need the authority to raise revenue from the state before they can make those investments.
- Megaprojects are eating up too many tax dollars. Several speakers have argued that WSDOT should scale back megaprojects like the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge replacement and redirect the funds to other needs.
- Investing in transit for all is good for our economic security. Transit expansion projects create good union construction jobs and improve livability in urban and suburban neighborhoods.
UPDATE, 8:32 PM: Senator Curtis King has called Tim Eyman’s name. Guess Eyman is planning to testify. We’ll see how well behaved he is.
UPDATE, 8:34 PM: Our most recent speaker, from the Transit Riders Union, brought up Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon’s coup in the state Senate last year and told Tom “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
More updates to come….