In a sign that the campaign for governor has finally begun in earnest, GOP challenger Dino Rossi released his "Solutions to Get Washington Moving" transportation plan on April 15.
Among the highlights, Rossi's plan would:
• Replace the SR 520 bridge with an eight-lane floating bridge with much lower tolls than those Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed;
• Widen I-405 from Renton to Bellevue;
• Widen SR 509 to I-5;
• Build the Cross-Base Highway in Pierce County;
• Build the North Spokane Freeway from I-90 to US 2;
• Open carpool lanes to all traffic during off-peak hours;
• Replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel; and
• Kill Sound Transit and replace it with an elected Regional Transportation Accountability Board that would also have authority over roads.
Rossi would pay for all this and much more—a total of $15 billion over 30 years—in part by earmarking 40 percent of the sales tax on new and used vehicles for roads projects; that money (a total of $7.7 billion) is currently funding other state needs. He'd also dedicate money from Sound Transit's account for Eastside projects ($690 million) and anticipated toll revenue from the 520 bridge ($1.6 billion) to his massive road-building agenda. That money would have otherwise paid for transit.
Leaving aside the fact that Rossi would pay for most of his plan by cutting spending or raising taxes, the particulars of his proposal seem a little delusional. Sure, discussing environmentally ruinous projects like the Cross-Base Highway may have made sense a couple of years ago. But those discussions are over, and Rossi's side lost. Virtually every big Rossi proposal has been rejected: Citizens rejected the unpopular Alaskan Way tunnel, which nearly 70 percent of Seattle voters opposed; the regional "roads and transit" proposal, which included funding for 405 expansion and widening 509; and 2002's Referendum 51, which would have funded the North Spokane Freeway. Legislative bodies rejected the Cross-Base Highway, dropped from the roads and transit proposal and thrown into mediation in 2007; and the elected regional board, which the state legislature has rejected year after year. State officials rejected the eight-lane 520 bridge, which the state department of transportation scuttled years ago.
So to recap: Virtually all the projects in Rossi's transportation plan have been rejected, in many cases because they were too expensive and would have had devastating environmental consequences. Whether it's because of spiking gas prices or increased environmental awareness, people want alternatives to driving alone. A "transportation choices plan" in which the only "choices" are roads is not going to win over Washington voters who want more choices, not fewer.
Rossi did not return our call by press time, but his press release stated, "My vision for transportation is rooted in freedom and the ability of people to make good choices for themselves."
This is GOP doublespeak. People have been making choices for themselves. Unfortunately, those choices have been limited by a state transportation department that has thought only in terms of roads. Any new plan needs to emphasize new choices instead of fortifying old ones.