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.
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.
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:
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.