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

RTID cant make a decision; Fall 05 Ballot in doubt

RTID: fall ballot measure in doubt

By Eric Pryne

Seattle Times staff reporter

TACOMA — Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) board members yesterday all but ruled out putting a package of transportation taxes and projects on the ballot this year.

Too much work remains to be done, said Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Bonney Lake, the board's chairman.

Instead, he and other board members who attended a meeting yesterday vowed to present a package to King, Snohomish and Pierce county voters in fall 2006. A new draft from Bunney got a mostly favorable response.

But several board members fretted that if they can't convince the Legislature they're making progress, the 3-year-old district could be out of business soon.

"Olympia and the press are saying we can't make a decision ... ," said Metropolitan King County Councilman David Irons, R-Sammamish. "I think we are close, quite frankly, to being history."

"RTID has about three weeks left," said Pierce County Councilman Calvin Goings, D-Puyallup.

Disenchantment with the district has been building in Olympia for months. Five state senators, including Minority Leader Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, have introduced a bill that would force it to put a plan on the ballot this fall.

The Legislature created the three-county district in 2002 to help pay for big regional transportation projects widely considered too expensive for the state to finance alone. Many expected the district's board would present something to voters quickly.

That didn't happen. Board members spent the first two years on an unsuccessful quest for consensus. When they abandoned that goal and a majority finally approved a plan a year ago, it died because big businesses, foreseeing defeat, said they wouldn't finance a campaign.

Now the RTID's future is in the Legislature's hands, Goings said.
The Legislature is considering changes in the district's authorizing legislation that the board says are needed so it can put together a package that will pass. Legislators also are contemplating a statewide gas-tax increase to provide some of the money for regional "mega-projects" such as replacements for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Highway 520 floating bridge.

Unless both measures pass, Goings said, "I really see the window closing on RTID's future."

Without state money, he said, it would be difficult to persuade Seattle voters to support a regional package that provides only part of the money for the mega-projects.

But the Legislature, in turn, needs some assurance the RTID will come up with a plan to pay its share, said Snohomish County Councilman Gary Nelson, R-Edmonds.

Waiting until 2006 would provide more time to consult with regional leaders, refine the plan, conduct polls and educate voters, Bunney said. A bigger voter turnout in 2006 also could help the package pass, he said.

The new draft plan Bunney presented yesterday is slightly smaller than the one the board approved last year, with a different mix of taxes. Bunney called it "a work in progress," but said that, in the program's first 10 years, "we will be able to show some substantial gains in the performance of the system."

The $10.7 billion, 20-year plan would be financed by just two taxes: a 0.2 percentage-point sales-tax increase and a 0.6 percent motor-vehicle excise tax. Bunney said he chose them in part to simplify the plan, in part because federal taxpayers who itemize can deduct both taxes.

In King County, $2.17 billion would be spent to add lanes to Interstate 405 between Tukwila and Bellevue; $1 billion each to help replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 bridge; $890 million to extend Highway 509 from south SeaTac to I-5; and $440 million to widen Highway 167 through Kent and Auburn.

A joint ballot with Sound Transit, which would include additional tax increases to pay for light-rail extensions and other "high-capacity" transit projects, remains a possibility, RTID Executive Director Kjris Lund said. The RTID board expressed interest in it last year.

"I think we're generally going in the right direction," Snohomish County Councilman Dave Gossett, D-Mountlake Terrace, another board member, said of Bunney's draft, "but I think we need a lot more detail."

The RTID board has said it will put a plan on the ballot "next year" every year since 2002. This time it means it, Bunney said.

"There's been enough work done where these folks are very anxious to move forward," he said. "Heat and pressure are starting to make diamonds."

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.c

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