World-class transportation? Ed Murray to ask voters for nearly a billion

Crosscut archive image.

Mayor Ed Murray rolls out his "Move Seattle" transportation proposal.

Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly want to ask voters for approval of a 9-year, $900 million levy to fund the city’s new, integrated approach to transportation called “Move Seattle.”

The proposal, which would be presented to voters in the fall, would replace the city’s $365 million Bridging the Gap levy, passed in 2006, which will expire in a matter of months. That levy was the most expensive in Seattle history, but it would be dwarfed by the mayor’s newest proposal.

The 2006 levy focused predominantly on maintenance and replacement projects — resurfacing roads, repairing sidewalks, adding signs — while also adding some amount of new infrastructure, such as more bike lanes. Move Seattle on the other hand, is a much more aggressive approach to creating an integrated transportation system — as Murray framed it, ending the “modal wars” between freight, bike, transit and cars.

Briefly, the plan will identify corridors within the city and define their main purpose. When possible, those corridors will be developed with all modes of transportation in mind — something akin to Downtown's Second Avenue, which was recently redesigned to accommodate bikes, cars and freight. However, some corridors will be designated as “freight corridors” or “bike corridors” to reduce confusion and competition for right of way.

The price tag of Move Seattle — which contains broad visions for 20-25 new transportation projects, a huge amount of sidewalk construction, expanded bike access and more — was certainly a question mark when the mayor revealed the plan. The enormity of the city’s newest levy confirms the suspicion that this plan would be hugely expensive. According to the mayor, to truly accomplish everything the city needs, the levy would have to be two to three times as large. “We took a gauge of what we thought we needed versus what was reasonable and settled on this amount,” he said.

Currently, the owners of what the city is calling a median-priced house ($450,000) pay $137 a year in property taxes for Bridging the Gap. The newer levy, officials said, will more than double that to $275 a year. Murray said that any time a city introduces new taxes, it’s a hard sell. But he, Kubly, and Councilmember Tom Rasmussen skirted the size of the cost, focusing instead on the need and arguing that whatever the city doesn’t do now will only be more expensive in the future.

Last election, Seattleites enthusiastically taxed themselves for new bus routes and a universal pre-K school program. But how far are they willing to go? Considering the glut of transportation projects, such as the tunnel, Mercer and the First Hill street car, will people have an appetite for more construction and more taxes?

Scott Kubly said that, if the levy is not passed, the city’s transportation budget will be only 25 percent of what it is now. With such a decrease, necessary projects like a Ballard Bridge update may not happen. Seattle expects 60,000 new residents in the next nine years, and Kubly and the mayor argue the can’t afford to not find new funds.

Murray and Co. are hedging their bets slightly. In May they will host a public hearing on the levy, after which they will introduce a revised draft in August. Murray said, “We’re going to listen to what people think is reasonable." The levy will hit ballots in the fall.

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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.