The Roads and transit package: Overly expensive proposal encourages sprawl
At this historic moment when we must make real cuts in our global-warming emissions, Proposition 1 would spend $47 billion in taxes to make...
Special to The Times
At this historic moment when we must make real cuts in our global-warming emissions, Proposition 1 would spend $47 billion in taxes to make climate change worse.
While we support smart investments in transit, this combined package — RTID (Regional Transportation Investment District) and ST2 (Sound Transit, Phase 2) — would overwhelm the positive effects of light rail, put more cars on the road, encourage sprawl, and make global warming worse.
That is why we urge you to vote "no" on Proposition 1 this November.
This vote is about discarding the environmentally bankrupt dealmaking of the past and demanding transportation solutions that address the most critical threat to our planet. Scientists say an 80-percent reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions is necessary to avoid catastrophic global warming. If we pass Proposition 1, we will lock ourselves into a $47 billion, 30-year plan that takes us in the wrong direction.
If we reject it, we open the door to more hopeful solutions. We will send a message to public officials that voters reject regressive sales-tax subsidies to expand polluting highways. It clears the deck for Sound Transit to go to the ballot with its own plan, and forces a reprioritization of highway resources on fix-it-first maintenance projects. It allows us to quickly implement congestion-pricing systems that will reduce traffic and help pay for our transit and maintenance needs.
Let us not forget, amid the clamor proclaiming Proposition 1 our "once-in-a-lifetime" chance to build light rail, that two years ago we had a much better light-rail proposal — one that did not commit sales tax to polluting highway lanes and that would have helped solve the global-warming problem.
We do not get to vote on that plan, because highway advocates used their legislative power to link their pet projects to Sound Transit. For years, those legislators tried and failed to raise taxes for widening Interstate 405 and other highway-expansion projects. The defeat of Referendum 51 in 2003 dealt them a resounding blow, and delivered the message that voters were finished taxing themselves for new highways.
But, legislators saw another chance when the new Sound Transit train appeared on the horizon. By coupling their highway projects to the popular light-rail proposal, the pro-highway legislators could corner transit advocates with an offer they could not refuse. The ploy was dubbed a "balanced and comprehensive" approach. It is a leftover political deal that was con-venient at the time.
Polar bears and Northwest salmon will not find it particularly con-venient.
Reducing global-warming emissions was not the priority in this compromise. The Puget Sound Regional Council reports that the plan will increase vehicle traffic by more than 40 percent above 1998 levels. The new rail lines will not displace the increased traffic that the combined package will cause.
More driving means more carbon dioxide; a recent analysis from the highly respected Sightline Institute says the plan will add 18 million to 28 million tons of carbon dioxide to the air over 50 years. Experts say there's no foreseeable technology that will allow this region to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases if we pump out that much additional CO2. Building light rail will not address the global warming problem until we stop putting more cars on the road. King County Executive Ron Sims, a stalwart supporter of public transit, opposes Proposition 1 because it adds up to increased greenhouse-gas emissions for decades to come.
New highway lanes will also make it more difficult to build the kind of dense, walkable, bikeable communities that we know cut emissions and make it easier to get around. RTID continues our historic underinvestment in sidewalks and bike lanes in favor of a massive expansion of sprawl-inducing highways.
Proposition 1 is fiscally irresponsible. It will commit us to the largest tax increase in state history to pay for a plan that builds sprawl-inducing highways. While it builds new lanes and highways, Proposition 1 neglects our existing maintenance needs; it replaces only one of our 34 structurally deficient bridges.
We have effective options that will cost less and could be built faster than the projects in this measure. Whereas the proposed light rail would not be available for another two decades, we can reduce car trips in the near future by managing our existing roads better. With congestion pricing, we could put an end to gridlock and raise billions of dollars for transit and roadway maintenance. Elsewhere, its acceptance is growing as drivers experience the benefits of a well-managed system.
Sound Transit's light-rail proposal will not disappear if we say "no" to Proposition 1. When voters rejected a transit package in 1995, it came back one year later and with five years shaved off the construction time. And as rail service begins in South Seattle, voter support for the technology will only increase.
A combination of rail and congestion pricing forms a sustainable path to reduced congestion and global-warming emissions. Tragically, Proposition 1 fails to accomplish either.Michael O'Brien, left, is chairman of the Sierra Club's Cascade Chapter. Chuck Ayers is executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.