WITH THE REGION'S grand transportation plans getting a tough reality check, The Stranger sat down with House Transportation Chair Ed Murray, D-Seattle, to talk about the big issues that dominate the transit discussion in this city: the monorail, Sound Transit, the viaduct, and the effort to repeal the new statewide gas tax through Initiative 912. Murray has been at the center of the storm, showing up at a recent Sound Transit board meeting to condemn Sound Transit's decision to cut the First Hill station, and even floating a radical idea for local control over transportation tax dollars.
The Stranger: So the gas tax is in trouble, which means the viaduct fix is in trouble. And the monorail is in trouble. And the First Hill station has disappeared from the Sound Transit map. Are you hearing an earful from your constituents?
Ed Murray: It doesn't appear that we know what things we want, when we want them, and how we are going to pay for them. In other words, what I'm hearing is that the city does not prioritize.
Let's talk about I-912 first. What do we do if it passes, and the gas tax is repealed, as seems likely?
The last three years we've passed two new transportation-revenue budgets [that rely on the gas tax]. Because of this, the money now exists to replace the viaduct with an elevated structure. (Personally I'd like a tunnel, but the fact of the matter is, the legislature delivered.) Now, if the people decide to turn that back, I can't tell you what will happen. I will say that whether it's 405 to Bellevue or the viaduct through Seattle, we will never see that type of money at the state level again. I mean, I try, but let's be real. I don't think that the legislature will go back and do this again.
You've talked in the past about pushing for legislation that would prevent rural areas from using our rich urban tax base to fund their roads—especially if the statewide gas tax is repealed.
There are two challenges. One is, I think, the rest of the state, particularly the suburbs, which are anti-tax and toll roads. Two: I think here the issue is related to the monorail, related to Sound Transit, and to the sense that Seattle wants everything and doesn't have a way to get anything. That could work against the initiative within Seattle. It's a very difficult political situation.
What do you think about the way that the No on I-912 campaign is shaping up?
It's not clear to me that it is shaping up.
Turning to Sound Transit, what do you make of the decision not to build a station on First Hill?
The First Hill situation is one that has resonated more than anything else I have come across outside the gay rights bill. And that's not just about people that live in First Hill. It's about people who live all over Seattle. It's also about the fact that the original plan promised three stations between downtown and the Montlake Cut. Now we are down to one station.
Could you have stopped the station from being cut?
Well, my take on this is that two weeks before it happened I got a briefing telling me that there were several financing problems and then before I knew it, it was up for a vote. There was no time for me really to go through the facts.... And it was interesting that the mayor and Larry Phillips and Dwight Pelz did not return my calls before they took the vote. Five to 10 years after the system opens, people will wonder what happened to First Hill. "How did First Hill develop the same economic problems as the Ave or Broadway?" "Gosh, why did the new hospitals open at the end of the transit system in Bellevue?"
When you look at the current political gridlock on transportation, how do you feel?
I have to say I am extremely disappointed. I thought we had changed transportation as we knew it, to paraphrase Bill Clinton... I am one legislator. I am very much of an activist legislator, but I can only do so much and I am very disappointed.