The 2008 Solution
For voters who are queasy about approving a $6.9 billion roads package this November as a prerequisite for a $10.6 billion light-rail expansion (won't the new capacity for single-occupancy cars cancel out the benefits of increased light-rail?), there is a way out of the sickening compromise. As Seattle's Sierra Club recommends: Environmental voters should reject the $17.5 billion "roads and transit" package and then use the no vote to argue that light rail should come back next year in its own right—without roads.
Liberals who want light rail at any cost make two arguments against the committed Sierra Club crowd. First, the compromisers point out that suspending light rail's momentum will throw the agency into limbo. This argument is shortsighted. Light rail still has plenty of work to do on its $5.7 billion first phase, like expanding from downtown to the U. A mammoth project like that isn't going to lose momentum. If anything, voters will be thrilled about it next year when they see it becoming a reality.
Second—and this is the point that really deserves debunking—the compromisers inform us cuckoo idealists that political reality wont allow a 2008 vote. Governor Gregoire won't stand for it. And what's Gregoire's objection to a 2008 light-rail vote? Evidently, Gregoire is nervous about bringing out conservative road warriors en masse—a group that overlaps with Dino Rossi fans. So, King County's environmental voters are being asked to sacrifice their values on the cross of Gregoire's gubernatorial politics.
I'm not sure King County progressives owe that much to Gregoire (hello, elevated viaduct), but it'd sure be a fitting metaphor if Seattle sold out, compromised, and approved a package that includes $1.1 billion on I-405 expansion as a way to support her.
Now, here's the argument for voting on light rail in 2008. It's a presidential-election year. There will be massive turnout. In 2004, voter turnout in King County was 83 percent. Big turnouts help liberal causes. In 2004, a Tim Eyman initiative got crushed 67 to 33. Light-rail expansion will pass in 2008. Of course, maybe moderate Gregoire is worried about a committed liberal turnout in King County (I'm only half kidding).
Seriously, while I understand the urgency of the now-or-never crowd (I too am tired of waylaid mass-transit), I also understand the urgency of global warming. One of light-rail phase two's selling points is that it will eliminate 350 million vehicle miles traveled annually. Not factored into that equation, however: The $6.9 billion roads package now wedded to light-rail expansion.