Election Night 2011 had all the potential to spell trouble for state and regional transportation planning. Specifically, Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1125 threatened to put a roadblock on light rail crossing Lake Washington as well as throwing a monkey wrench into funding SR 520 and a host of other transportation needs. Eyman’s initiative also threatened to create even more balkanization in our regional transportation planning. Additionally, in Seattle, the $60 car tabs fee was an example of what I call advocacy-based transportation planning. This usually leads to Christmas-tree type packages that offer a little bit to everyone but fail to connect the dots.
Seattle voters, however, finally proved that they can actually say NO to an initiative. Although I-1125 could still pass, the trends look pretty good — it’s losing big-time in King County where most of the people who actually pay the tolls and the costs of light rail actually live. It is winning big in places that likely will never see a toll, and will certainly never see nor pay for light rail.
In the Bellevue City Council races, light rail to the Eastside is winning big as well, sending a message to Kemper Freeman, that, yes, people do want to build it. Will he move off the issue now? That’s hard to tell.
So what will our elected leaders read into this election regarding transportation? The people who are working on the governor’s transportation task force, Connecting Washington, have been holding their breath for the past year over the possible impact of passing 1125. The transportation funding and management tools that 1125 would take away, as well as the added bonding costs associated with legislatively approved tolling levels, was going to make it difficult to meet our state’s transportation needs.
The participating legislators and other elected officials have always been a bit skeptical about getting a transportation package put together for next year, which still may be a tough lift, but failure of 1125 may give new life to the planning efforts. We have huge needs for both infrastructure and jobs and Eyman’s failure could help out on both fronts.
While the monkey wrench has been removed, there is much work to do. And who knows, maybe Seattle’s leaders will put together a local package that can be supported by the voters and links up with our regional systems and planning efforts.
It seems like common sense.