Roads proponents and transit advocates, reluctantly hitched together by the legislature last year, are now struggling to reach a compromise ballot measure that both can live with. On Friday, January 12, prominent local environmentalists met with members of the board of the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), whose road-building initiative will share the ballot with an expansion of Sound Transit in November. Both measures—meaning roads and transit—must pass for either to pass.
Transportation Choices Coalition director Jessyn Farrell says groups like hers are trying to decide "if we have to play this game of roads and transit, what kind of roads can we actually support?" Several activists who attended the meeting say that, at a minimum, they can't support any initiative that substantially increases capacity for cars. The joint initiative could fail without mainstream environmental support; another roads-building measure, Referendum 51, lost in 2003 under overwhelming opposition from environmentalists.
RTID could have an out-of-the-gate advantage with at least one environmental group: the Washington Conservation Voters, whose longtime lobbyist Cliff Traisman has just signed on to lobby for Sound Transit in Olympia, giving him a very direct interest in the measure's passage—and, by extension, in WCV's support.
Environmental groups have never supported linking the two proposals; they worry that RTID, whose cost estimates have ballooned, will kill Sound Transit even if the transit measure wins a majority of votes. But despite environmentalists' desire for Sound Transit to pass, they have trouble supporting RTID, because so many of its projects—including I-405 on the Eastside—expand capacity for cars instead of encouraging more carpooling and use of transit. "How much [car capacity expansion] can we swallow? I don't know," says Aaron Ostrom, director of the environmental group Futurewise.
Mike McGinn, head of the local Sierra Club's political committee, says it's not "safe to assume that because there's Sound Transit on the ballot that the Sierra Club will support it."