The Seattle Times
January 29, 2006
Those looking for a basic reworking of the region's mishmash of transportation plans may have found it in a new document that lays out priorities and missions for just about every road from here to Hazel in Snohomish County.
The document (www.rtid.dst.wa.us/) can tie up your printer but it's worth a look because it is also a glimpse into the minds of the planners and policymakers about the region's transportation cure. That includes 20 years of taxes on license tabs and the sales tax, tolls, and integrated planning for both roads and rail. Such a singular vision of unified funding and planning is beyond our scope right now. Seven distinct transit agencies ply the highways, yet the public doesn't know who is in charge of anything since each project tends to compete for taxpayer dollars. The mess is visible every day just above the steering wheel.
But the Regional Transportation Investment District's proposal will also cause some grinding of teeth because it begins the march toward a mega-agency with Sound Transit at its heart and with little voter discrimination possible between highway improvements and mass transit.
And as I read it, the RTID proposal does not present a change in the way Sound Transit is governed. I think that's a huge failure. Let's look at the pluses, first.
Here's a quick overview of transportation planning as envisioned by the report:
• Six key corridors in King County would receive investments, including Interstate 5, I-405, the Highway 520 floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The report does not specify a replacement viaduct or a tunnel.
• Three key corridors in Pierce County, including Highway 704, the Cross Base Highway that would provide a needed east-west passage.
• An unspecified number of projects in Snohomish County, but including Highway 9 and I-5. The biggest change for Snohomish County is a proposal to extend Sound Transit boundaries into Northern Snohomish County to make the agency identical on the map to the regional district, something that would take a lot of sales work.
• Finally, the money: a sales tax of 0.1 percent in addition to 0.6-percent motor vehicle tax. Collected for 20 years, from 2007 to 2026, the additional tax would generate over $7 billion. That's on top of the current state increase in the gas tax.
For regional answers, there's a lot to commend here. The proposal would help defractionalize the fragmented and often-mistrusting region. It would blend real transportation planning with a steady money source, good for 20 years. It would address the region's biggest headaches with clear priorities.
Proponents of the plan, including King County Councilwoman (and Sound Transit board member) Julia Patterson, urge that the Legislature give the region the authority to do all this. Patterson on Friday talked about an epiphany that is taking place as the region struggles with funding projects beyond the ability of one county to deliver.
"Taxes would be from just two sources," Patterson said. That's the tab fee and the increase in the sales tax for three counties. "We understand there's a limit to the taxes people are willing to pay and we've tried to make this as understandable as possible, but people understand we have to get these projects under way."
Patterson reflected that changing the way Sound Transit is governed now, with an indirectly elected board, is too complicated to solve now. Maybe, but this is as much about trust as it is transportation and voters should be leery how the mega-agency will direct the mega-dollars.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org