Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

You get what you pay for

There's an article this morning in the Seattle Times about traffic congestion - the "SR 520 Vortex" in Redmond:
Some consider it the "Vortex of Hell."

It may lack the notoriety of the agonizing creep through the Interstate 5/Interstate 90 interchange and the name recognition of the "Kirkland crawl" along Interstate 405. But this place, where Highway 520 ends in a messy series of junctions with Highway 202 and Redmond's Northeast Union Hill Road and Avondale Road Northeast, has become one of the region's most frustrating bottlenecks.
I know all about the 520 Vortex in Redmond. I deal with it nearly every day, and usually successfully. As a longtime resident, I know how to slip right through the whole mess and make it home without spending a lot of time sitting in traffic.

It's not always that bad, but sometimes it can be downright awful.

For people who live further east than I do, the "vortex" is practically unavoidable, and hence it's very frustrating.

The Times notes that "improvements are coming" - Redmond, King County, and WSDOT are working together to solve the problem. But for people who are moving into the area, the improvements can't come fast enough:
Don Cairns, Redmond's transportation-services manager, said he's amazed at how many people move east of the city limits and then call within days demanding to know when someone's going to improve traffic along roads such as Avondale Road Northeast, Northeast Union Hill Road and Novelty Hill road.

"They're appalled and they can't believe how bad it is," he said. "But they're actually part of the problem. They're alone in their vehicle."
I've talked to many longtime residents who keep wondering why anything hasn't been really done until now.

Here's why:
Planning for most of the needed fixes began more than a decade ago. Improvements to the end of Highway 520 were all but approved in 1992, but funding fell through after voters called for an end to the state's motor-vehicle excise tax and opposed higher gasoline taxes.

Likewise, King County lost millions in transportation funding when Initiative 776 eliminated the $15 vehicle-license fee in 2004. The county decided to focus its resources on projects that improved safety or kept existing roads and bridges open and to postpone others that would primarily ease congestion, said Paulette Norman, the county's road engineer.
Here's the message I have for frustrated citizens who are stuck in traffic on deteoriating, unsafe roads:

You get what you pay for.

It's a very simple concept, but one that seems lost on a lot of people. There is no free lunch. If you cut government spending, you are going to lose projects, services, and even personnel.

Abraham Lincoln said it best:
"The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do for themselves in their seperate and individual capacities."

- Abraham Lincoln (1854)
What Lincoln meant was that we need government to provide important public services like transportation. Individuals, on their own, do not have the money or resources to build their own highways or operate their own public bus routes. Only the government can and will provide these services. But we get the level of service we pay for.

Taxes are public investments - investments in the infrastructure society needs. In fact, that's really what they should be called: public investments.

Permanent Defense has been trying to spread this message for years. And slowly but surely, it's dawning on more and more people.

Since Initiative 776 in 2002, Tim Eyman has been mired in a 1 for 5 slump, with only one successful initiative (I-900, in 2005, and that initiative didn't cut public investments).

Additionally, voters rejected Initiative 912 last November, keeping the new gas tax (a significant investment) the Legislature approved in place.

People are sick of hazardous bridges, unsafe roads, and congested bottlenecks. Something needed to be done. Public investments needed to be made. And they were. But those investments remain under attack.

The state says some $2.5 billion in transportation funding is threatened by Eyman's Initiative 917 - including funding for ferries, the State Patrol, Amtrak Cascades, and highway safety projects.

That initiative must be defeated.

We can't build our way out of traffic. It doesn't work. But we can design road systems that at are more efficient at moving vehicles (without adding lots of new lanes). We can make sure the roads we have are safe and maintenanced, and we can replace hazardous bridges or other structures that have become unsafe.

We can add new bus routes and extend high capacity transit (HCT) out to the suburbs, something the City of Redmond has included in its Transportation Master Plan. We can change the way we plan, designing our urban areas around people instead of automobiles, and zoning appropriately to prevent sprawl.

There are solutions to the mess we're currently in. It starts with protecting existing investments from being destroyed. When it comes time to vote on Initiative 917 (and other right wing initiatives, assuming they get on the ballot) we'll be asking voters to vote NO - and reminding them that you get what you pay for.

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