Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island), chair of the state senate transportation committee, is queuing up a bill that will, as Senator Haugen puts it: "Get away from competing interests and toward more comprehensive transportation solutions. We need to move away from roads or transit and toward roads and transit."
To that end, Senator Haugen is proposing a bill that will change Sound Transit's mission. She wants Sound Transit to be able to do both roads and transit projects and have a new governing board that would include both appointed and elected members. She also wants the new agency—"Sound Transportation" is the working name—to have broader financing options that include the ability to combine road and transit revenue.
There's certainly some good stuff here, particularly the idea that traditional "roads only" money can be spent on transit. Also: Haugen's equation—a roads and transit combo under the roof of a transit agency—makes roads secondary, rather than transit. Going into this year's legislative session, transit advocates were antsy about "governance reform," which was being pushed by roads advocates as a way to make transit secondary to roads.
However, the very premise of combining roads and transit seems dumb. Didn't voters just reject the idea of roads and transit? It seems to me Senator Haugen is missing the whole point of last November's Proposition 1 fiasco—the roads and transit combo got trashed at the polls. The final verdict on Proposition 1 came in postelection polling that showed voters would have approved a transit-only initiative.
So, with a popular transit-only agency poised to complete its $5.7 billion project, which includes light rail from Sea-Tac to the U-District, why not give that agency the green light rather than, once again, shackle it to roads?
Turning Sound Transit into a new agency (Sound Transportation?) with new board members that may have a different agenda than building light rail is going to jeopardize light-rail expansion. Here's why: The feds, at the behest of U.S. Senator Patty Murray's powerful subcommittee on transportation, are prepared to sign off on $750 million this summer to get Sound Transit from downtown to the U-District. That's 43 percent of the $1.7 billion segment. If Sound Transit morphs into a roads and transit agency, the feds will throw up their hands—and that money is gone. Transit will be lopped out of the roads and transit equation whether we like it or not.
Haugen's office tells me they have no intention of jeopardizing the $750 million from the feds for transit, characterizing their proposal as "expanding" the agency not changing it.
Expanding it is cutesy talk for adding roads into the mix. This already killed light-rail expansion once. Let's not do it again.