Seattles proud new piece of climate-causing infrastructure.
Seattle's proud new piece of climate-causing infrastructure. Jess Stein

Seattle is having its moment as a supposedly leading American city when it comes to fighting climate change. Our governor just ran a presidential campaign based entirely on fighting climate change. Our City Council just passed a resolution supporting a local version of a “Green New Deal.” But I’m going to let you in on something: our local climate activism is complete bullshit.

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Look no further than yesterday’s announcement that drivers will pay only $1 to take the new Highway 99 tunnel downtown while environmentally-friendly buses cost $2.75 a trip. (And a trip on the light rail from the airport to downtown costs $3.) You read that correctly: our governor may be screaming climate emergency on CNN, but locally we are practically paying drivers to drive their private cars through downtown.

Transportation makes up the majority of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 62.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, according to the city’s latest report. So why are we prioritizing climate-change-causing private vehicles?

It’s bad enough that our region just spent billions of dollars on a transportation project that gives exclusive access to private vehicles through downtown Seattle, but now we are literally subsidizing drivers to take that climate-change-causing tunnel.

The state had originally expected to offset the costs of the terrible tunnel by getting drivers to pay $400 million in tolls, but after the state realized drivers aren’t willing to pay that much for the tunnel (because the tunnel is a conceptual failure) they had to discount the cost of tunnel tolls and now only expect to raise only $200 million from them. So now we are only charging drivers $1 per trip during weekends and evenings.

The toll increases during peak periods, going up to $2.25 between 3 and 6 p.m., and the tunnel will cost $2 extra every hour of the day if you pay the toll by mail instead of using the state’s “Good To Go” pass.

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But even at its maximum price, taking the tunnel with a Good To Go pass will be cheaper than using your Orca card to take a bus in Seattle.

Remember these tolls the next time you hear a Seattle-area politician make some proclamation about fighting global warming. They don’t actually care. They especially don’t care if they are one of the politicians who fought hard for this terrible tunnel, a list that includes former Mayor Greg Nickels, former Gov. Christine Gregoire, former Mayor Ed Murray, former Council Member Tim Burgess, and current Council Member Sally Bagshaw. These politicians may claim to want to fight climate change, but they turned their back on fighting emissions when it came to taking a difficult position that might make Seattle’s drivers uncomfortable.

At least the Amazonians snagging up the last few affordable homes in West Seattle won’t have to pay too much to drive their Mercedes in to South Lake Union.