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Transit measure is crucial to region’s economy

Rush hour in Downtown Seattle Credit: Christopher Nelson Photography

Passing Proposition 1, an emergency measure to fix local roads and prevent deep cuts to King County Metro, is critical to the economic well-being of our region. Without a functioning transportation system, we will lose our competitive edge against other regional and global economic hubs.

Every work day, more than 200,000 people travel to and from downtown Seattle during peak commuting hours, and two-thirds are not driving alone. According to a recent Commute Seattle survey, 43 percent of all commutes to downtown Seattle are made on transit, and only 34 percent drive alone in cars. Imagine the gridlock if all these bus riders hopped back into their cars and drove every day.

If Proposition 1 doesn’t pass, Metro will cut 16 percent of service, and thousands of daily bus riders will be forced to do just that. Others who do not have the option to drive will be faced with longer walks and waits for rides on the overcrowded remaining routes. Some will be left stranded altogether, limiting not just their physical mobility, but their economic mobility as well.

It’s convenient to assume that our transit funding crisis can be fixed by belt-tightening, but that is simply not the case.

Until recent years, the state provided nearly a quarter of total transit funding. Since then, state funding for transit has declined to just 2 percent. By contrast, the national average for state investment is 22 percent. Today, 80 percent of transit revenue now comes from local sources (local sales tax and passenger fares). Soon after the shift to sales tax as our primary transit funding source, our country was hit by a devastating recession. Retail sales plummeted, creating a permanent hole in King County Metro’s budget.

For the last six years, King County has worked with the state to find a more sustainable transit funding source, but the Legislature has not taken any action to address this crisis. In the meantime, Metro has undergone a whole host of cost-cutting measures, including implementing audit findings and reducing operating costs, eliminating staff positions, reducing labor costs, doubling adult fares, cutting capital projects, and using reserves. There is no more fat to trim. We must either find new revenue or cut service.

In the middle of these funding challenges, transit ridership is reaching record highs. By Metro’s own estimates, the agency should be growing by 15 percent just to keep up with demand. Instead, we are talking about taking service back to 1997 levels.  

Meanwhile, our infrastructure is crumbling. Road maintenance is another critical transportation need that is not adequately funded. County roads are going to gravel, and our cities have a combined maintenance backlog of over $1.2 billion.

It is because of the critical nature of these investments that Proposition 1 has such broad support. The measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the King County Council and is endorsed by 20 mayors from across the county, the City of Seattle and the Suburban Cities Association, and over 200 organizations, representing business, labor, education, and social justice.

As our region continues to grow at breakneck pace, we must prioritize investments that preserve our economy, our environment, and our quality of life. I urge you to vote yes on Proposition 1 on April 22.

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