Sound Transit 3 System Map
Sound Transit 3 System Map

Recent­ly reelect­ed Repub­li­can State Sen­a­tor Steve O’Ban announced a few days ago he plans to file a new bill that would dra­mat­i­cal­ly change how Sound Tran­sit is gov­erned. O’Ban’s pro­pos­al would replace the agen­cy’s effec­tive fed­er­at­ed board with a brand new board of tran­sit com­mis­sion­ers that right wing mil­lion­aires like Kem­per Free­man, Jr. could attempt to stack in peri­od­ic elections.

This actu­al­ly isn’t a new idea — some­one comes along and pro­pos­es it almost every leg­isla­tive ses­sion. We’ve been edi­to­ri­al­iz­ing against var­i­ous incar­na­tions of schemes to mess with Sound Tran­sit for almost ten years here on the Cas­ca­dia Advocate.

But this promised bill does­n’t deserve to gain any trac­tion dur­ing next year’s long leg­isla­tive ses­sion, so we encour­age oth­er orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­ual activists to join us and Seat­tle Tran­sit Blog in speak­ing out against it now.

O’Ban obvi­ous­ly does­n’t care that Sound Tran­sit just won a man­date from vot­ers to expand light rail, Express bus ser­vice, and Sounder com­muter rail with the pas­sage of ST3, or that the Leg­is­la­ture itself made ST3 pos­si­ble last year when it approved the Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton pack­age, which gave Sound Tran­sit the rev­enue author­i­ty it need­ed to finance the projects in the ST3 package.

No, O’Ban — like oth­er mem­bers of the Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus — want to put as many bad ideas on the table as pos­si­ble as the upcom­ing ses­sion approach­es, both to dis­tract us and dom­i­nate the pub­lic discourse.

Repub­li­cans want the nar­ra­tive com­ing out of ses­sion to be dri­ven by their agen­da. They don’t want pro­gres­sives going on offense again like we did in this recent­ly-con­clud­ed elec­tion, where we advanced the caus­es of eco­nom­ic jus­tice, gun respon­si­bil­i­ty, clean elec­tions, and tran­sit for all through a host of suc­cess­ful bal­lot mea­sures. But stay­ing on offense is exact­ly what we need to do.

Sound Tran­sit lead­ers need to focus on deliv­er­ing what the vot­ers vot­ed for, and we’re con­fi­dent that they will — the impor­tant and nec­es­sary work of imple­ment­ing ST3 has actu­al­ly already begun.

Leg­is­la­tors like O’Ban, mean­while, need to do their jobs.

The Leg­is­la­ture is present­ly in con­tempt of court for fail­ing to uphold Arti­cle IX of our state Con­sti­tu­tion (“It is the para­mount duty of the state to make ample pro­vi­sion for the edu­ca­tion of all chil­dren resid­ing with­in its bor­ders, with­out dis­tinc­tion or pref­er­ence on account of race, col­or, caste, or sex.”)

Leg­is­la­tors like O’Ban — and Doug Erick­sen and Michael Baum­gart­ner — should be devot­ing their ener­gies to com­ply­ing with the Supreme Court’s orders to get our schools prop­er­ly fund­ed, not intro­duc­ing bills to mess with Sound Tran­sit’s gov­er­nance or crim­i­nal­ize protests against the fos­sil fuel industry.

The crit­ics don’t like to admit it, but Sound Tran­sit already hap­pens to be gov­erned by indi­vid­u­als direct­ly elect­ed by vot­ers in King, Pierce, and Sno­homish coun­ties. The only mem­ber of ST’s board who isn’t an elect­ed offi­cial is the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion (cur­rent­ly Roger Mil­lar). The rest of the board­mem­bers are may­ors, coun­ty exec­u­tives, coun­ty coun­cilmem­bers, and city councilmembers.

We trust and empow­er these same peo­ple to make impor­tant region­al and local deci­sions about land use, stormwa­ter runoff, build­ing codes, and a host of oth­er issues. The beau­ty of the fed­er­at­ed board mod­el is that it brings togeth­er elect­ed lead­ers from both lev­els of local gov­ern­ment (coun­ty and city) who have exper­tise deliv­er­ing pub­lic ser­vices to the peo­ple of our region.

It’s been twen­ty years since the Sound Move vote of 1996, but it’s appar­ent there are still peo­ple out there who seem to not under­stand what Sound Tran­sit actu­al­ly is or real­ly does — which is odd, con­sid­er­ing ST’s high profile.

Sound Tran­sit exists because vision­ary lead­ers like Ruth Fish­er real­ized decades ago that build­ing a use­ful region­al tran­sit sys­tem could not hap­pen with­out region­al coop­er­a­tion. And so the Leg­is­la­ture cre­at­ed the Region­al Tran­sit Author­i­ty (which we know as Sound Tran­sit) to enable cen­tral Puget Sound to come togeth­er to deter­mine how best to link togeth­er its com­mu­ni­ties with high capac­i­ty transit.

Sound Tran­sit was designed as a vehi­cle for cities and coun­ties to join forces, pool­ing resources to improve mobil­i­ty for mil­lions of peo­ple. ST is not just a munic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tion. It’s a forum — a space for collaboration.

A space where part­ner­ships can be forged.

It is there­fore appro­pri­ate that ST has a board con­sist­ing of city may­ors, coun­ty exec­u­tives, and city and coun­ty coun­cilmem­bers, because ST’s most impor­tant part­ners are its con­stituent cities and counties.

But the list does­n’t end there.

Sound Tran­sit does a lot of plan­ning in-house, but it relies on part­ners to con­struct and oper­ate all of its ser­vices. Its fre­quent project part­ners include the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment (Fed­er­al Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tion), Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the Port of Seat­tle, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington.

Burling­ton North­ern San­ta Fe oper­ates Sounder com­muter rail, King Coun­ty Metro oper­ates Link light rail, and Pierce Tran­sit, Com­mu­ni­ty Tran­sit, and Metro each oper­ate the many ST Express routes you’ll see on ST’s sys­tem map.

An even longer list of con­trac­tors and union work­forces, mean­while, pro­vide the cap­i­tal and labor need­ed to con­struct the infra­struc­ture required to bring the projects Sound Tran­sit and its part­ners con­ceive to fruition.

Now, gov­ern­ments every­where reg­u­lar­ly uti­lize part­ner­ships to get things done. But Sound Tran­sit does­n’t just uti­lize part­ner­ships to suc­ceed — it depends on them. The agency would be nowhere with­out its partnerships.

Sound Tran­sit is for­tu­nate, then, that it is gov­erned by the peo­ple who rep­re­sent its most impor­tant part­ners (coun­ties and cities). And we, in turn, are for­tu­nate Sound Tran­sit was well designed, because tran­sit for all is an essen­tial need.

We want results, and ST is get­ting results for us.

It is a tes­ta­ment to CEO Emer­i­tus Joni Earl and her staff that they have been able to bring all par­ties to the table to deliv­er Link light rail, ST Express, and Sounder to an increas­ing num­ber of neigh­bor­hoods. This year alone, Sound Tran­sit opened three new light rail sta­tions: one at the south­ern end of the line and two at the north­ern end. More sta­tions are already under construction.

Vot­ers like what they see, and want more just as soon as can be arranged.

ST’s crit­ics have been say­ing for years that Sound Tran­sit’s gov­er­nance stinks, even as the agen­cy’s track record has got­ten bet­ter and better.

But let’s face it: these crit­ics want to shake up Sound Tran­sit’s gov­er­nance because they’re not in con­trol of the agency and they want to be. They can­not cred­i­bly claim to have Sound Tran­sit’s best inter­ests at heart. They are not root­ing for Sound Tran­sit to suc­ceed. They haven’t in the past and they are unlike­ly to in the future.

They do not want Puget Sound to invest in a rail spine that will lib­er­ate peo­ple from being forced to dri­ve to get to where they want to go — even though that’s what the major­i­ty of the peo­ple keep demon­strat­ing that they want.

Sound Tran­sit is not like a port, school dis­trict, or water dis­trict, and it should­n’t be man­aged like one. The peo­ple who keep insist­ing that we need to have a bunch of trans­porta­tion com­mis­sion­ers run­ning Sound Tran­sit instead of the fed­er­at­ed board we have now are prin­ci­pal­ly insid­ers who want to stop Sound Tran­sit from doing what it is doing — even in the wake of a suc­cess­ful pub­lic vote.

There is no out­cry from the rid­ing pub­lic to change how Sound Tran­sit is governed.

Replac­ing Sound Tran­sit’s cur­rent board won’t make it more account­able, won’t speed up deliv­ery of projects, and won’t lead to bet­ter out­comes. Steve O’Ban’s pro­posed bill is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and does­n’t deserve to pass Go.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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