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Sound Transit: Tim Eyman’s great white whale

Despite having failed to qualify the last four (yes, four) consecutive initiatives he printed up petitions for, Tim Eyman is once again asking his shrinking base of followers to believe in him and give him money — lots of money — to force a new anti-Sound Transit initiative in front of the Legislature.

Initiative 947 would sabotage the expansion of light rail, express bus, and commuter rail services approved overwhelmingly by voters throughout Puget Sound last year. Eyman’s battle cry for I-947 is “Let’s stick it to Sound Transit!”, which he is now using in all of his communications.

As I explained yesterday, Eyman absolutely despises Sound Transit because his many past attempts to “stick it” to the agency have ended in failure.

That’s evidently created a very deep reservoir of resentment.

While Eyman has endured years of setbacks and defeats of all kinds, Sound Transit has rolled forward. It got Central Link light rail up and running, then expanded it three times with Airport Link, University Link, and Angle Lake Link. It has completed new park and ride facilities, new Sounder stations (including in Mukilteo, where Eyman lives) and it has added more bus service… a lot of bus service.

Sound Transit’s ridership and credibility just keep going up. And that infuriates Eyman. He can’t stand it. In an email today, he rants at length about the agency’s influence, even accusing Sound Transit of having “hired every law firm”:

Sound Transit has autonomous, unchecked power. They’re immunized by an unelected, unaccountable board. They have no fear of lawsuits because they’ve hired every law firm. They extensively advertise on TV, radio, and newspapers so the media won’t journalistically or editorially challenge them aggressively. They sponsor museums and concert halls and orchestras and operas and sports stadiums with our tax dollars.  They are a gargantuan octopus of influence.

What a pack of lies! (Typical for Tim, of course.)

First of all, Sound Transit does not have unchecked power. Sound Transit has a mandate from the people of Puget Sound to improve quality of life by developing a regional mass transit system. The people of urban King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties have voted three times — in 1996, 2008, and 2016 — to authorize Sound Transit to build light rail, commuter rail, and express bus infrastructure.

Second, all but one member of the Sound Transit Board (the Secretary of Transportation) is an elected official from either a county or a city in Sound Transit’s jurisdiction. They are thus both elected and accountable to the people of our region. When Sound Transit was created back in the 1990s, the Legislature decided that it made sense for Sound Transit to be governed by representatives of its local government partners, and that structure has worked very well.

Third, the notion that Sound Transit has “hired every law firm” is laughable. It is certainly true that Sound Transit has beaten Tim Eyman and his wealthy benefactors in the courts many times. But that wasn’t because the agency bought off every member of the bar who has been admitted to practice law in our state. It’s because Sound Transit was correct on the law and Team Eyman was not.

Fourth, Sound Transit advertises to ensure more people are aware of what it offers, not because it expects to get uncritical media coverage. For example, people living in Mukilteo (like Eyman) who want to go to a game in SoDo can choose to bypass I-5 traffic jams by taking a special Sounder game day train to Safeco or CenturyLink Fields on many weekends — if they know that service is available. Sound Transit advertises in order to make sure that they do. Eyman is clearly familiar with the ads, which is proof that Sound Transit’s marketing strategy is working.

No institution created by humankind is perfect, and Sound Transit is no exception. But the work Sound Transit is doing is incredibly important. The infrastructure the agency is building is badly needed, and therefore worth defending.

Fifteen years ago, when Tim Eyman set his sights on Sound Transit, I’d had enough of his lying, cheating, and double-dealing. I got involved. I became an activist.

I figured the infrastructure Sound Transit was building was so important that somebody should be building political infrastructure to defend it from Eyman and his ilk. So I founded Permanent Defense. And then, a year and half later, I created the Northwest Progressive Institute, which publishes this blog.

NPI and Permanent Defense have fought tirelessly to turn back attacks on Sound Transit so that Sound Transit could focus on its mission. And we’ve been very successful. Meanwhile, Sound Transit has demonstrated that it can deliver.

Sadly, that doesn’t matter to Tim “We Love Our Cars” Eyman or Sound Transit’s other unsparing critics, most of whom could be called road warriors because they want transportation dollars to only flow to roads and highways, not mass transit — or at least not rail transit. They don’t ride transit and they don’t understand that investing in transit benefits people who don’t ride it. They believe, mistakenly, that if we just put every dollar we can find into wider roads, congestion will dissipate.

But it won’t. Building more highway lanes and more roads will only create more traffic. And worse gridlock. It may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.

The phenomenon even has a name: induced demand.

Traffic engineers and urban planners understand it. So do most progressive elected leaders. I’ve discussed it many times here on the Cascadia Advocate. Regrettably, a lot of people on the right wing seem not to understand it at all. Attempts to date to explain this and related concepts to them have largely been fruitless.

I really wish they’d pick up the pamphlets of Paul Weyrich and Bill Lind and educate themselves. Weyrich was a staunch conservative who believed in the importance of building mass transit and especially rail transit. He and Lind wrote persuasively about the need for American cities to invest in transit and the benefits of doing so.

Freedom of mobility is ultimately all about having choices. When there’s just one mode available — when driving is the only way to get from Point A to Point B — that’s not freedom. But by investing in a multimodal system that makes it easier to walk, bike, or ride to our destinations, we can unshackle ourselves from the chains of gridlock. And every time one of us who owns a car chooses not to drive it, we’re freeing up space on our existing roadways. That’s a win.

Thanks to Sound Transit, I can go places today without my car that I could not have gone fifteen years ago or even ten years ago.

This free mobility future is what NPI is fighting for. It is the future that people in our region have repeatedly voted for. Tim Eyman may not respect the voters’ will, but I’m confident we can once again defeat Tim Eyman should his I-947 have serious money behind it. It will require work, but it’s work we’re capable of doing.


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