NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Ignore the Seattle Times editorial board and the naysayers — vote YES on Sound Transit 3

To the aston­ish­ment of no one, the Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board this week pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al for­mal­ly rec­om­mend­ing a “no” vote on Region­al Propo­si­tion 1, the bold and much need­ed plan to expand light rail, com­muter rail, and express bus ser­vice that’s on the bal­lot in urban Puget Sound.

Vote to Approve Regional Proposition 1

NPI urges an “Approved” vote on Region­al Propo­si­tion 1 (Sound Tran­sit 3)

Com­mon­ly known as Sound Tran­sit 3 (ST3), Region­al Propo­si­tion 1 is a once in a gen­er­a­tional oppor­tu­ni­ty for Wash­ing­ton’s urban res­i­dents to ensure that tran­sit can keep up with region­al growth and expand to meet the mobil­i­ty needs of com­mu­ni­ties across King, Sno­homish, and Pierce coun­ties, where the vast major­i­ty of the state’s pop­u­la­tion is concentrated.

Propo­si­tion 1 would autho­rize Sound Tran­sit to expand our light rail spine north to Everett, south to Taco­ma, east to down­town Red­mond, west to West Seat­tle, north­west to Bal­lard, and south­east to Issaquah.

Propo­si­tion 1 would also sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand bus ser­vice. New bus rapid tran­sit lines would be cre­at­ed to run on I‑405 and SR 522, while exist­ing ST Express ser­vice would be sig­nif­i­cant­ly enhanced.

Addi­tion­al­ly, Sounder com­muter rail would expand, get­ting a new south­ern ter­mi­nus in DuPont and run­ning more frequently.

ST3 is the result of years of exten­sive out­reach and plan­ning con­duct­ed by Sound Tran­sit, yet the Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board bizarrely calls it “rushed onto the pres­i­den­tial-year bal­lot”. It’s no secret that the Blethen-owned Times does­n’t like Sound Tran­sit, but this edi­to­r­i­al makes it sound like the scribes the paper employs sim­ply haven’t been pay­ing atten­tion to ST’s work at all.

At NPI, we have, and we can attest that the ground­work for Sound Tran­sit 3 has been laid over the course of many years because we’ve been par­tic­i­pants in it.

We stepped up to con­tribute our ideas when Sound Tran­sit announced it was updat­ing its Long Range Plan. We trav­eled to Olympia to lob­by the Leg­is­la­ture to give Sound Tran­sit the rev­enue author­i­ty it need­ed to ensure ST3 would not be depen­dent sole­ly on one volatile rev­enue source like ST2 was. And when Sound Tran­sit asked the pub­lic what the final plan to sub­mit­ted to vot­ers should look like, we weighed in. So did many oth­er cit­i­zens and organizations.

We’re very hap­py with how ST3 turned out. So are many local lead­ers across the region. A pletho­ra of city coun­cils have endorsed ST3 because they rec­og­nize that a robust tran­sit sys­tem leads to greater oppor­tu­ni­ty and broad prosperity.

When peo­ple are free to get to where they want to go with­out being forced to dri­ve, they can lib­er­ate them­selves from traffic.

For tran­sit to be appeal­ing to peo­ple who have the means to dri­ve, it must be con­ve­nient, fre­quent, clean, and reli­able. That means it needs to run in its own right of way. Build­ing new right of way is not cheap, sim­ple, or easy, which accounts for ST3’s sig­nif­i­cant price tag. But it is def­i­nite­ly worth it. Ask any­one who reg­u­lar­ly rides Uni­ver­si­ty Link since it opened to the pub­lic back in March.

The Blethens and the scribes they employ have become less harsh towards Sound Tran­sit since 2008, when we vot­ed resound­ing­ly to pass ST2. But they’re still under­min­ing the noble cause of tran­sit for all with their call to reject ST3.

In an appar­ent attempt to sound more rea­son­able than it did eight years ago, the Times has adopt­ed a mantra, “Press pause!”, which it orig­i­nal­ly debuted back in June when Sound Tran­sit’s Board was prepar­ing to sub­mit ST3 to voters.

Per­haps the most galling part of this edi­to­r­i­al are the pas­sages that refer to Sound Tran­sit 2 and omit the con­text need­ed to under­stand that vote and this one.

The Times opines:

Press­ing pause would not doom the region to traf­fic hell nor would it kill transit.

Sound Tran­sit already has fund­ing to build a bus-and-rail net­work that will han­dle most of the region’s tran­sit demand through 2040.

The Sound Tran­sit 2 project now under way extends light rail from Seat­tle to Lyn­nwood and almost to Fed­er­al Way, and between Seat­tle, Belle­vue and Red­mond. This ST2 work will be done by 2023 no mat­ter what — we’re already pay­ing for it. That won’t slow or stop if the region spends anoth­er year or two refin­ing plans for its future expansion.

The Times disin­gen­u­ous­ly fails to men­tion that none of “this ST2 work” would be hap­pen­ing at all if they’d got­ten their way in 2008. They emphat­i­cal­ly called for ST2’s rejec­tion that year, after hav­ing enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly backed Sound Move (ST1) only twelve years pri­or. (That prompt­ed this response here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, which The Stranger’s Dan Sav­age called “required read­ing”.)

The Times now seems to be tac­it­ly admit­ting that Sound Tran­sit 2 is a good thing. So are they going to admit they were wrong in 2008 when they char­ac­ter­ized ST2 as “a bad pro­pos­al” con­sist­ing of “a few stops at huge­ly expen­sive stations”?

I rather doubt an apol­o­gy will be forth­com­ing, but I still would­n’t mind see­ing one.

If that weren’t bad enough, the Times again omit­ted vital facts with this next bit:

Remem­ber, vot­ers reject­ed ST2 in 2007 because the orig­i­nal pro­pos­al was too big and unwieldy. That didn’t kill tran­sit. Vot­ers pressed pause, lead­er­ship pro­duced a more rea­son­able plan and ST2 was approved the fol­low­ing year.

That is not a good expla­na­tion of what hap­pened in 2007.

Here’s a bet­ter one.

In 2007, at the behest of state law­mak­ers, vot­ers were pre­sent­ed with a plan called Roads & Tran­sit, which was the result of a shot­gun mar­riage arranged by the Leg­is­la­ture between the now-dis­solved RTID and Sound Transit.

RTID, short for Region­al Trans­porta­tion Invest­ment Dis­trict, was an enti­ty cre­at­ed by the Leg­is­la­ture to fund urban high­way construction.

The Leg­is­la­ture told RTID and Sound Tran­sit they need­ed to go to the bal­lot togeth­er with a plan to invest mon­ey in roads as well as transit.

After vot­ers reject­ed the joint plan required by this shot­gun mar­riage, Sound Tran­sit’s poll­ster con­duct­ed research to find out why peo­ple vot­ed no. The key find­ing that came out of that research was that vot­ers did not want to vote on a pack­age that com­bined road projects with tran­sit projects.

So Sound Tran­sit went back to the bal­lot alone in 2008 — a pres­i­den­tial year — with a plan com­pa­ra­ble to what it had offered the pre­vi­ous year (though a bit scaled back), and vot­ers enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly said yes. As before, the plan called for expand­ing light rail north, south, and east, and expand­ing ST Express and Sounder.

RTID, mean­while, end­ed up get­ting killed. It was uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly dis­solved, while Sound Tran­sit began mov­ing for­ward with its Phase 2 implementation.

Since we vot­ed on ST2, Sound Tran­sit has demon­strat­ed it can con­sis­tent­ly deliv­er projects on time or ahead of sched­ule and under bud­get. The agency is very well run and has been laud­ed local­ly and nation­al­ly for its strong track record. Its new CEO, Peter Rogoff, left a fed­er­al posi­tion to run the agency because he con­sid­ered it to be a fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty. That’s a cred­it to the great work of CEO Emer­i­tus Joni Earl and her team, who endured years of bad press as they turned ST around.

But all of this great work appar­ent­ly does­n’t count for much, because the Blethens and their scribes still don’t trust Sound Tran­sit. They say:

Press­ing pause would direct region­al lead­ers to pro­duce a more rea­son­able plan with more account­abil­i­ty, includ­ing peri­od­ic pub­lic votes, rather than allow a per­pet­u­al blank check that ST3 offers Sound Transit.

ST3 is not a “per­pet­u­al blank check”. Sound Tran­sit is not ask­ing vot­ers to give it mon­ey so it can build some­thing to be deter­mined lat­er; it is ask­ing vot­ers to autho­rize a spe­cif­ic set of projects con­nect­ing spe­cif­ic neigh­bor­hoods that would be com­plet­ed by spe­cif­ic dates. The esti­mates are con­ser­v­a­tive (account­ing for the long time­frames, which the Times also com­plained about) in keep­ing with Sound Tran­sit’s phi­los­o­phy of under-promis­ing and over-deliv­er­ing. Many of the pro­posed projects may be com­plet­ed soon­er, espe­cial­ly if fed­er­al fund­ing can be secured.

And what is meant by “peri­od­ic pub­lic votes”? Do the scribes at the Times not real­ize that elec­tions them­selves are a pub­lic ser­vice, and cost money?

Hold­ing more fre­quent votes on tran­sit expan­sion would mean incur­ring addi­tion­al costs, because we’d be in the habit of pay­ing to vote on whether to build a set of projects before we actu­al­ly start pay­ing to build those projects.

And it would mean more con­fu­sion and uncer­tain­ty. Sound Tran­sit can work with Pat­ty Mur­ray to pur­sue fed­er­al funds and col­lab­o­rate with cities on project deliv­ery much more effec­tive­ly if it does­n’t have to go back to the bal­lot every oth­er Novem­ber to get anoth­er sta­tion or seg­ment approved.

It seems to us that in call­ing for “peri­od­ic pub­lic votes” on tran­sit expan­sion (with­out ever defin­ing “peri­od­ic”), the Times is hold­ing Sound Tran­sit to a very dif­fer­ent stan­dard than it holds WSDOT, which is respon­si­ble for high­ways, fer­ries, freight mobil­i­ty pro­grams, and Amtrak Cas­cades in part­ner­ship with Amtrak and ODOT, the Ore­gon Depart­ment of Transportation.

Last year, the Gov­er­nor and Leg­is­la­ture agreed on a major trans­porta­tion pack­age, Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton, giv­ing WSDOT the go-ahead to design and con­struct a slew of high­way projects all over the state. Unlike ST3, those high­way projects have not been sub­ject­ed to a pub­lic vote, nor are they like­ly to be.

By the way, here’s what the Times edi­to­r­i­al board had to say about Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton in July of 2015, after the pack­age was final­ized:

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a $16.2 bil­lion trans­porta­tion-invest­ment pack­age that had been ham­mered out over two years of gru­el­ing nego­ti­a­tions with law­mak­ers. It is a very good, well-bal­anced deal for Wash­ing­ton state. It includes fund­ing to fin­ish the High­way 520 bridge and oth­er megapro­jects, and pro­vides tran­sit grants. It is well worth the 11.9‑cent-per-gallon gas-tax increase.

Well worth the gas tax increase and also, appar­ent­ly, the bonds the state is sell­ing to obtain addi­tion­al financ­ing for the projects (lest we forget).

So the $16 bil­lion Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton pack­age was “well worth it” (and, by impli­ca­tion, WSDOT can be trust­ed to deliv­er it) but ST3 isn’t worth it — and Sound Tran­sit can’t be trust­ed with $27 bil­lion in new tax revenue?

That’s some tor­tured log­ic. Are the Blethens and their writ­ers aware that research shows the pub­lic has a high­er regard for Sound Tran­sit than WSDOT?

We do not have “peri­od­ic pub­lic votes” on WSDOT’s plans and projects, but that does­n’t mean that WSDOT is with­out over­sight. We have a Gov­er­nor and a Leg­is­la­ture for that, as our state’s founders intended.

Sound Tran­sit is like­wise gov­erned by elect­ed offi­cials. With the excep­tion of the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion, all mem­bers of Sound Tran­sit’s board are coun­ty exec­u­tives, city and coun­cil coun­cilmem­bers, and mayors.

The elect­ed offi­cials WSDOT answers to have the pow­er to direct WSDOT to move for­ward with megapro­jects with­out a pub­lic vote. How­ev­er, the elect­ed offi­cials Sound Tran­sit answers to can­not sign off on sys­tem expan­sion on their own; state law requires that pro­pos­als for sys­tem expan­sion go before the voters.

That is why we are vot­ing this month and next month on ST3.

Sound Tran­sit’s lead­er­ship did their home­work pri­or to sub­mit­ting ST3. The plan is ambi­tious because peo­ple have told Sound Tran­sit they want an ambi­tious plan.

Account­abil­i­ty is a pop­u­lar buzz­word in pol­i­tics, but when it’s not defined, it real­ly does­n’t mean much. Sound Tran­sit is already a heav­i­ly scru­ti­nized agency with a cit­i­zen over­sight pan­el that under­goes reg­u­lar audits, and the Seat­tle Times goes out of its way to fea­ture the agen­cy’s crit­ics in its news cov­er­age and on its edi­to­r­i­al page — some­times even simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, as you can see from this screenshot:

Screenshot of Seattle Times bashing Sound Transit 3

The Times base­less­ly sug­gests that if the region says no to ST3, vot­ers will get an oppor­tu­ni­ty to vote on a “more rea­son­able” plan next year or the year after.

That is high­ly unlike­ly. If ST3 goes down, we prob­a­bly won’t see anoth­er pro­pos­al for Sound Tran­sit sys­tem expan­sion until 2020, which is the next elec­tion that will see high turnout. And we can expect that a future pro­pos­al will cost much more, while deliv­er­ing less than what we’d get with this plan. Say­ing no to ST3 means wait­ing longer and pay­ing more to con­nect com­mu­ni­ties to our rail spine.

We’ve squan­dered oppor­tu­ni­ties to invest in high capac­i­ty tran­sit before, like when we turned down For­ward Thrust in the 1960s.

Eight years ago, a major­i­ty of vot­ers in Sound Tran­sit’s juris­dic­tion made the wise deci­sion to ignore the Seat­tle Times and the naysay­ers and pass Sound Tran­sit 2. We must do that again this year, so we can accel­er­ate the build­out of the rail spine that our region needs and com­ple­ment it with even bet­ter bus service.

We can con­tin­ue to stew in ever-wors­en­ing con­ges­tion on our high­ways, or we can vote to lib­er­ate more of our com­mu­ni­ties from traf­fic by pass­ing ST3.

We hope you’ll join us in mak­ing the lat­ter choice.

Vote APPROVED on Region­al Propo­si­tion 1.

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3 Comments

  1. The RTID high­way projects, rather than entire­ly dis­solved, were revived when the 2015 Leg­is­la­ture put many of those projects into the 11.9c gas-tax increase for $16b over­all ($9b in state road work).

    # by Mike Lindblom :: October 24th, 2016 at 10:04 AM
    • That’s cor­rect — RTID is what went away, not RTID’s projects. Begin­ning after the 2007 elec­tion, RTID’s web­site was updat­ed to note that it had gone inac­tive. Two years lat­er, the domain was allowed to expire. The project list lived on, and many of the projects were funded/put into Con­nect­ing Washington. 

      # by Andrew :: October 24th, 2016 at 10:43 AM
  2. Andrew. Lots of great stuff. Para­graph after para­graph. And then some more. 

    But you for­got to put in any num­bers. Like how much (only a lit­tle) ST itself fore­casts ST3 will add to 2040 tran­sit rid­er­ship already achieved the the ST2 pro­gram we are already pay­ing for.

    Or ST’s own state­ment that the pro­gram does­n’t achieve any kind of reduc­tion in traf­fic grid­lock — only, for some, an “alter­na­tive” to congestion.

    Or the incon­se­quen­tial GHG reduc­tion to be seen from ST3 in 2040 (even small­er after adjust­ing for Mass Tran­sit Now’s dis­sem­bling as to the amount), and who knows if there would ever be a car­bon reduc­tion ben­e­fit if ST had per­formed — as it should have, and did­n’t — a life cycle car­bon cost analysis. 

    Or the stun­ning analy­sis from ST itself that the accu­mu­lat­ed ben­e­fits of ST3 light rail invest­ments would even­tu­al­ly catch up with the accu­mu­lat­ed costs — in 2071. The youngest like­ly Yes vot­er will (one hopes) be well on to Medicare before ze sees a pos­i­tive return on zee invest­ment. (Bum­mer!).

    Sure­ly we could do bet­ter. No polem­i­cal and heart­felt extor­tion — how­ev­er “pro­gres­sive” — can actu­al­ly make the case for a very unfor­tu­nate digres­sion by spe­cial inter­ests from the effort to pro­duce a plan that deliv­ers more, soon­er, cheap­er. I’m sor­ry if that’s a non-pro­gres­sive cri­tique. But some­body has to actu­al­ly throw light on the sim­ple, clear facts ST itself has announced. You fol­low this close­ly enough, I know, to know them. Where are they in your post?

    # by Doug MacDonald :: October 24th, 2016 at 9:36 PM
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