The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Olympia Bill to Expand Sound Transit Role to Roads

Bill would expand Sound Transit's role

Agency would coordinate, finance regional projects

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Last updated 8:06 a.m. PT


Could a larger regional transportation agency solve the Puget Sound area's congestion problems?

The chairwoman of the state Senate Transportation Committee thinks so.

Bills to eliminate an existing road-project agency and make Seattle-based Sound Transit the first agency to coordinate and help finance major transportation projects were proposed Tuesday by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

Senate Bill 6772 would reduce Sound Transit's board from 18 members to 12, with seven elected by voters, including six from geographic districts, and serving six-year terms. The state secretary of transportation and the director of the Puget Sound Regional Council would be nonvoting members.

Currently, the board's members are appointed by executives in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Haugen said the bill also would allow some regions to form new transportation entities similar to Sound Transit.

The proposal comes weeks after regional voters rejected Proposition 1, the $47.2 billion road-and-transit ballot measure.

But Haugen said she introduced it because the Puget Sound area and other heavily populated parts of the state need a regional entity to complete transportation improvements the state can't afford.

"We (the state) cannot fully fund everything that is needed across the state," she said.

Sound Transit and possible new agencies created regionally could, with voter approval, raise a variety of taxes to finance new road and transit projects -- up to 1 percent additional sales tax, up to 0.8 percent in motor-vehicle excise tax and annual car license fees of up to $100 for each vehicle. All are similar to those proposed in Proposition 1.

Sound Transit also could impose a local gas tax and use the proceeds for roads.

If the Legislature passes the measure and Gov. Chris Gregoire signs it, the new Sound Transit would develop projects that would be subject to voter approval.

Another measure, Senate Bill 6771, would eliminate regional transportation investment districts such as the one including King, Pierce and Snohomish counties that developed the road portion of last fall's ballot measure.

"It didn't work," Haugen said. "We need to take it off the books."

At least two state commissions have recommended in the past a regional transportation agency of some kind, saying it would prevent delays, reduce duplication and make certain officials more accountable.

But it's unclear if either bill will pass; hearings haven't been set, and legislative officials contacted Tuesday said they hadn't had time to analyze the measures.

A spokesman for Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit Chairman Greg Nickels said, "Our focus is going to be, do (the bills) fix the problem?"

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said the agency will "look closely" at how the change would affect its efforts to get a $750 million federal grant to extend light rail service to the University of Washington, though "there's nothing out of the gate that would suggest (the change) would endanger it."

Others weren't so sure.

"I'm concerned about adding to the scope of responsibilities and funding availability for Sound Transit, since its staff is so committed to light rail," said John Niles, a fellow at the Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a think tank involved in development and transportation issues.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson said it's OK for lawmakers to eliminate the districts, if it means the state is ready to fully finance needed highway projects.

Mike Ennis, director of the market-oriented Center for Transportation Policy, said organizational changes should help, but officials have "got to do more to relieve congestion" as well.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, doubts the Sound Transit measure will get through the short session.

In previous attempts, backers of similar measures couldn't convince other lawmakers that the proposal would improve things.

And "if you can't convince people it would be better, it's hard to push forward," Clibborn said.

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