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.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Seattle Times editorial on Rossi's 2008 transportation plan

Rossi's road plan and what's missing


The Highway 520 Bridge: Should it have six lanes or eight?

Candidate for governor Dino Rossi's road-building vision is, for the most part, Gov. Christine Gregoire's road-building vision. The superiority of Rossi's plan is it has more money to build roads faster. The weakness is it pays for new roads by diverting revenue from other state programs and cha-chas around the question of what other things the state would do without.

One project is Rossi's own: building a waterfront tunnel to replace Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. This used to be the financial sinkhole of Mayor Greg Nickels, and it nearly swallowed him. Why an Eastside Republican would pitch himself into this Funnel of Doom is baffling. Rossi should support whatever reasonable surface option has the largest vehicle capacity — a position that might not be much different from Gregoire's.On the Highway 520 bridge, Rossi proposes six lanes built on pontoons for eight. This is a promise in concrete to the eight-lane constituency. Given that Seattle will accept no more than six lanes after decades of negotiations, building pontoons for eight is a waste of money.

Rossi's cost estimates are troublesome. He offers one figure for a project in a big chart, then explains in footnotes that numbers are in 2007 prices for comparison purposes. His numbers may be technically accurate but they are misleading. At the very least, they minimize the effect on other state spending. The real project costs and the hit on other spending will be higher.

His project list is the state's wish list with a few variations. The projects include: widening Highway 9 near Snohomish; building a Highway 2 bypass around Monroe; widening Interstate 405 from Bellevue to Renton; connecting Highway 509 to Interstate 5 south of Sea-Tac; connecting Highway 167 to the Port of Tacoma; building the cross-base highway in Pierce County; building a new Columbia River crossing at Vancouver and a Highway 395 bypass east of Spokane.

Rossi is a get-it-done kind of candidate, and that is commendable. But the cost of getting some things done is other things are left undone. Here, Rossi is too mushy.

Most money for Rossi's road projects would come from the sales tax on cars, which feeds the general fund. This reservoir of tax money irrigates education, prisons and social services. Rossi's diversion would be $800 million in each two-year budget cycle.

The Republican candidate says he would cut $800 million out of current spending. People should believe him because he has done it before. In 2003, he and Gov. Gary Locke cut state spending to avoid a tax increase in a recession. They did it because they had to.

But the upcoming budget is forecast to be $2.4 billion in the hole. That's huge. Given that, it is difficult to imagine a Democratic-controlled Legislature allowing a Gov. Rossi to dig the hole $800 million deeper in order to fund roads.

Transit is invisible in Rossi's spending plan — it is a local function, he says — but it would get hit indirectly. The elimination of sales-tax money from construction would reduce tax revenue available to bus systems. That is a step backward.

Finally, there's the matter of tolls. For Highway 520, Rossi would have a toll of a little more than $1.50 in 2007 dollars, and charge the toll only when the bridge is completed. He relies on tolls less than Gregoire but only because he reaches into a currently untappable fund, Sound Transit's pot of gold. For Rossi to accomplish his goals, he would need a Republican Legislature.

We are left with Rossi's commitment to make road building a priority. The candidate has offered an important proposal that will change the discussion. But he needs to fill in many missing details so people can make an informed choice between roads and other programs.

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