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

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

SSB 5803 doesn't provide reform

My post yesterday on the transportation governance bill the Senate ended up passing has inspired a much needed discussion that hadn't been taking place about the merits of the idea. As you might expect, at unSoundPolitics, Eric Earling interpreted my post as a "meltdown":
In a sure sign the bill has merit, Andrew Villeneuve is in full-fledge meltdown mode over at NPI lamenting the idea (with a follow-up here once the Senate actually approved the measure)
That's an inaccurate characterization of what I wrote. A meltdown would have been something like an incoherent rant authored in ALL CAPS. My post was a serious breakdown of the consequences of a bill that has been quietly moving through the state Senate, with almost zero media coverage or public debate.

Eric goes on to say this:
Apparently, Andrew seems content with the status quo in which not much at all - if anything - ever seems to get done in substantively moving the region forward toward transportation solutions.
Actually, as Eric knows, projects are underway to move the region forward. For example, there's a big project he's probably heard of - Central Link light rail, now in the late stages of construction, with train testing underway. That project is being built under the auspices of a major agency Eric might have heard of that is focused on delivering transit solutions (a mix of express bus, commuter rail, and light rail services) to commuters - and that's Sound Transit.

We've never said anything along the lines of "we're happy with the status quo." There are many aspects of transportation decision making that need improvement.

But Sound Transit is an agency that's working well - on so many levels - and shouldn't be tampered with. Independent auditors have given it a clean bill of health for nine consecutive years. The agency isn't afraid to experiment with innovative ideas. Its services are popular - I ride frequently and can personally attest to that. But I'm certainly not the only one who has praise for Sound Transit. Here's a blogger who wrote about a recent experience on Sounder:
I can understand why they are adding passenger cars and preparing for additional frequencies. They'll easily fill up the trains they have planned for the next 20-30 years (18 daily frequencies from what I have heard, up from the 8 daily now). Even if they broke out and evened the subsidies to that of auto subsidies over the next 10-15 years they would still maintian very high ridership.

Very impressive to see this working so well.
Seattle Times editorial writer Lance Dickie chimed in last year in one of his finest columns:
Sound Transit is the medium for getting something done. Eastside communities recognize what they need, and they will dog Sound Transit to make it happen. Light rail and the American way. That's super, man.
Then there's fellow Eastside residents who are understandably excited about the prospect of light rail serving the Eastside, including Bellevue and Redmond:
Outstanding! Hardly a week goes by these days without me breathlessly talking about how great it will be when I can head to Seatac from the U.W. campus via light rail....You see, I work on the UW campus. And, because of my job, I spend a lot of time driving to and from Seatac — for my own somewhat-frequent trips, to transporting visiting scholars, or to transport the other scholar in the household. In fact, just this morning, I dropped Kathy off at the Airport. I think it was 6:00 a.m.

You don’t have to just dream about this anymore…check out the Link Light Rail animations. Next on my personal light rail agenda…Light Rail to Redmond!
A Pierce County resident who championed the construction of Tacoma Link observed its usefulness in a 2005 entry:
In December of 2004 my brother and I attended Tacoma's First Night festival on the 31st. This is an arts festival that takes place downtown. Part of the festival involves going to all the museums downtown for free. Since the museums, restaurant and festival's events all took place along the light rail line, it made sense to use it. My brother and I parked at the Tacoma Dome Station, then rode down to the museums where we toured the history museum, the Museum of Glass and the Art Museum. Afterwards, we had dinner at the Harmon, then took the train to the Theater District for the party. The train was packed full with people headed to the night's events. This festival could have not easily taken place without Tacoma Link.
A scientific survey conducted last October found public opinion of Sound Transit to be 65 percent favorable. And it's not just buses that the public likes, contrary to what ST critics might contend. The vast majority of Puget Sound citizens, especially those living on the Eastside, want light rail and don't see buses as the centerpiece of a comprehensive transportation fix.

Don't mess with success. That is what I wrote.

Onward and forward:
Of course as Andrew's posts indicate, he favors solutions focused on mass-transit only, as opposed to balanced combinations of roads and transit prudent people can support, and which actually have a prayer of electoral backing across the populations of King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties in question.
It's already been proven time and time again that you can't build your way out of congestion. We've stated that fact more than once and backed it up with evidence.

That does not mean we're against road and infrastructure improvements or maintenance. It means we see no value in building brand new highways and spending huge sums of money to widen existing ones. And we've expressed that sentiment repeatedly. We said it in 2005 when we were fighting I-912 in response to Brett Bader's whining that the 2005 Transportation Package didn't pay for lots of "new pavement to drive our cars on".

I doubt we'll be happy with every aspect of RTID's portion of the 2007 package when it's all put together. But if Eric assumes we'll oppose the joint package because RTID is included, then he is mistaken.

This new super commission, as I noted in my original post, is a golden opportunity for individuals like John Stanton to use their financial wealth to shape the future of local transportation planning by running candidates in races where it's difficult for grassroots campaigns to compete. That's why I mentioned him. He's behind the bill - and he stands to benefit if it passes.

As for my statement about the wireless industry, I find Eric's attempt at mockery to be a pathetic failure. If you've watched what has happened in the market you know what I'm talking about. AT&T buys McCaw Cellular and renames it AT&T Wireless, Cingular buys AT&T Wireless, Sprint buys Nextel, Alltell buys Western Wireless - look at a timeline of the business and you'll see a familiar trend of consolidation. It goes on, and on, and on.

There are only a few major players left and they're all giant corporations. Our choices have become more limited, and that has not been a good thing. Executives in industry after industry keep offering repeated assurances that mergers will be a boon to consumers - but the evidence proves that's just not the case.

Since this all powerful commission is such a great idea, why stop at transportation? Why don't we just legislate the creation of super commissions to deal with every major issue we have? For example, we could create a megadistrict with authority over all regional schools, governed by a dozen well paid politicians. In fact, we could do away with our current system for municipal governance altogether. Who needs county councils when you can set up issue-based commissions?

More seriously, there's a reason why we have so many special districts, agencies, and municipal governments in our state: we like home rule and local control.

What's ironic about this bill is that it actually adds new bureaucracy on top of everything we've already got. The consolidation, or merger, is basically the transfer of power to these twelve appointed or elected transportation czars that leaves toothless paper entities.

We don't need to imagine that officials elected by the people could actually make decisions about transportation...because that's already the way it works. Last time I checked, almost every single member of the Sound Transit board was an elected official. The board is a good mix of leaders from across the region who were elected by their neighbors to represent them. What's more, the board includes the key officials responsible for making transportation decisions at the county level. So there's already integration and coordination.

There's just no need to create more confusion by adding a new layer of government and stripping down what is already working.

The real problem we face with transportation is that we have a funding deficit. We have many needs and not enough money to pay for them. There is a huge backlog thanks to past neglect and dithering.

Hence, fights have ensued in recent years about how to spend the limited dollars available. Of course, conservatives will say the problem isn't money, just as they do with schools and other public services.

If the right wing had gotten its way over the last few years, we would have ended up with practically nothing in the treasury to pay for any projects whatsoever. There wouldn't be any arguments or debate about what we should build because there would be no funds available to build them with!

To address the shortfall, the Legislature last year paired Sound Transit and RTID at the last minute near the end of the session and told each to work together to create a regional investment package to present to voters. The combination didn't get a warm reception back in the central Sound. Regardless, the two have collaborated to work on a plan which is nearing completion.

Now the Legislature is going to suddenly change all of the rules and rewire the way governance works? There's just going to be a new mandate instituted without any thought or care given to the consequences?

That doesn't make sense. It seems Olympia can't leave well enough alone long enough for anything to get off the ground!

Let me emphasize again that this governance bill won't end the stalemate over what to do with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It won't prevent bickering over the State Route 520 replacement. How is a commission which is required under the law to operate by unanimous consent supposed to make "decisive decisions"? SSB 5803 is a recipe for more process, not action.

As it's written, this bill doesn't provide any meaningful reform.

Earling asserts that I should do more research. He should act on his own advice and read my writing more carefully before trying to distort and mock it.

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