Imagine this scenario. Sound Transit comes back to ballot this fall with a shortened light rail plan and all three county executives within the voting district oppose it. Wouldn't that make for an interesting campaign season?
It might just happen. Right now, Ron Sims (King), John Ladenburg (Pierce), and Aaron Reardon (Snohomish) have grave reservations about Sound Transit's scaled-back proposal, which would extend the line up to Northgate and across the Interstate 90 floating bridge to the Eastside suburbs. Sims favors buses to the Eastside instead of rail, and Ladenburg and Reardon don't think the reduced plan does enough for their communities.
The agency has until mid-April to formally adopt a ballot plan. It seems poised to do so despite the county executives' opposition.
And what about the local Sierra Club, one of the notable opponents of last fall's mammoth roads-and-transit proposal? "We're still considering it," says Mike O'Brien, the organization's chair. He says his group wants an analysis of the greenhouse gas effects of the shortened plan before it signs on. He sounds reasonably encouraged, however.
O'Brien spoke on a transportation panel I moderated on Thursday, March 20, sponsored by Friends of Seattle. Other panelists were Rob Johnson of Transportation Choices, Jan Drago of the Seattle City Council, and Greg Walker of Sound Transit.
Clearly, it was a transit-oriented lineup, and they were all from King County. It was therefore predictable that they felt the most important thing right now is the scaled-back Sound Transit plan. Still, there was other notable agreement that could prove a path forward after last fall's roads-and-transit defeat, one with broad buy-in. The elements of the strategy are:
- Keep the Sound Transit agency as is.
- Send the roads piece back to the state (not back to the ballot).
- Move full-speed ahead with tolling.
In other words, re-commit to transit as a regional responsibility; demand action from the state on roads; and tap tolls instead of the unpopular sales and license taxes as the primary source of revenue. Not a bad roadmap, all things considered.
But what makes them all think that the state, which got us into the roads mess with years of inaction, is up to the job? The panelists cite a recent change in leadership at the Department of Transportation. Also, the new culture of creating stakeholder groups for the large projects to hammer out more acceptable plans. The recent success at reaching consensus on rebuilding Highway 520 encourage them all. The governor just announced a proposal for the aging bridge that was agreed to by a number of constituents, including Microsoft and Bellevue, two behemoths that haven't been on board past 520 designs.
We'll never be Portland, which is everyone's favorite example of regional planning, but we may be on the verge of a new vision.