As supporters of the roads-and-transit measure roll out big advertising guns, it's almost impolite to ask: What if it fails? King County Executive Ron Sims recently dealt a wounding blow to the $18 billion Proposition 1, which some said was already in trouble.
Proponents hold weapons to offset that blow – a $1.4 million campaign budget; a broad coalition of business, labor, and others; a glittering roster of advocates (former Sen. Dan Evans, etc.); and there's always that strong desire by frustrated commuters to see progress, any progress. Can't they just build something? Why does it take so $%$! long?
So proponents have no reason to panic.
But Sims created big trouble, and not just for Prop 1. His recent op-ed in The Seattle Times could be taken more broadly as a criticism of transportation planning.
Some, such as Crosscut Publisher David Brewster, saw Sims as speaking against logrolling in Seattle-style process that smothers dissent and produces big packages that don't do anything well and waste resources.
From that perspective, a failure of Prop 1 will almost certainly revive demand to overhaul how we make transportation decisions – or whatever you might call the civic traumas called Monorail and Viaduct.
Last January, a commission led by former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice and telecommunications billionaire John Stanton called for a new agency of members who would plan and finance road and transit projects for central Puget Sound. The new Puget Sound Regional Transportation Commission would take functions from the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), and Sound Transit.
The Rice-Stanton report [2.5 MB PDF] concluded that there are 128 agencies who manage aspects of transportation in the four-county area. "Our current system of transportation governance delivers inadequate results and will need fundamental systemic change to meet our region's transportation needs in the future," they declared.
Sound Transit and others fought the proposal, which passed in the state Senate but died in the House.
But a similar call for a single agency to handle more decisions came from auditors of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The audit looked at effectiveness of investments in highways and infrastructure. "At present no single entity has 'ownership' of solving congestion in the Puget Sound region," said the report, commissioned by State Auditor Brian Sonntag.
In a recent interview with Crosscut, Rice said the issue is not just a new agency but what it should accomplish. The present system does not set priorities and blend the different modes of transportation. "You can't do that piecemeal," he said.
Proponents of Prop 1 say it may not be perfect. No plan is. It's time to act on congestion, they say. OK, but there are some real head scratchers: How come with all this money there's not enough to finish replacing the Highway 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington?
State Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a backer of the Rice-Stanton concept, said he'll be back with a new bill when the Legislature reconvenes next year. He endorses Prop 1 but says we need a system where priorities are established. At present, we have a roads group (RTID) and a transit group (Sound Transit) in metro Seattle, each pushing proposals, different agendas. No one is pushing for an integrated system. "I will try again," Murray said.
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