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.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Parsons Brinkerhoff and other Sound Transit vendor provide funds for Prop 1

Proposition 1 | Backers hope big turnout can propel $17.9B plan; foes say timing is awful

The fortunes of Sound Transit's Proposition 1, a multibillion-dollar plan to stretch light rail into the Seattle suburbs, may ride on a politician who doesn't live here: Barack Obama. Supporters are counting on a wave of young, energized Democratic voters in the liberal Puget Sound area to put the measure over the top, in a high-turnout presidential year.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Proposition 1'smain projects

The measure would raise sales taxes by a nickel per $10 purchase, or $125 next year for an average household making $65,000. It appears on the fall ballot in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. The tax increase would last about three decades, if work stays on budget. Here are the main projects in the $17.9 billion package:

Light rail: A total 34 miles of track to reach Lynnwood and north Federal Way by 2023, and Overlake (Microsoft) by 2021, with some stations opened sooner. Possible extension of existing downtown Tacoma line.

Commuter train: More trains and longer stations to nearly double capacity on the south Sounder line, by 2015.

Express bus: About 100,000 annual hours of service would be added, starting next year.

Streetcar: A two-mile line linking Seattle's Chinatown/ International District, First Hill and Capitol Hill in 2016.

Source: Sound Transit

The fortunes of Sound Transit's Proposition 1, a multibillion-dollar plan to stretch light rail into the Seattle suburbs, may ride on a politician who doesn't live here:

Barack Obama.

Supporters are counting on a wave of young, energized Democratic voters in the liberal Puget Sound area to put the measure over the top, in a high-turnout presidential year.

That theory largely explains why project backers, led by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, rushed back to the ballot after a bigger Roads & Transit measure crashed in the off-year 2007 election.

"We're going to get the people who don't need convincing, the people who are young, who vote for Obama. We don't want them to stop there," said Proposition 1 advocate Ben Schiendelman, 26-year-old contributor to Seattle Transit Blog. With the roads stripped away, global warming in the news, and gas prices around $4, the new transit-only version could appeal to new voters.

"Our opponents don't have a solution," says spokesman Alex Fryer of the Mass Transit Now campaign.

The rival camp argues the timing is terrible to increase sales taxes for more rail. The economy is convulsing, and the Seattle area's first light-rail lines, approved in 1996, aren't done yet.

Phil Talmadge, an opponent and former state Supreme Court justice, suspects that Sound Transit came back "for a very good reason" — that voters would be too distracted to scrutinize the plan, so "a lot of the issues would be prop wash to the presidential and gubernatorial races."

The $17.9 billion measure offers 34 miles of light-rail tracks reaching Lynnwood, Overlake and Federal Way by 2023, along with a near-doubling of Sounder commuter-train capacity between Pierce County and Seattle's King Street Station by 2015. A modest boost in express-bus service would begin next year.

To pay for this, the sales tax in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties would increase a nickel per $10 purchase. That translates to $125 next year for a typical household (making around $65,000 a year). Businesses also would pay the sales tax.

Grasping Obama's coattails

Look at the "pro" campaign's logo: a train and a bus in the foreground, with Mount Rainier behind, in an "O" shape like the Democratic candidate's logo.

"It's not an accident to have a circular pattern here," said Fryer, a former Nickels aide.

Polling by "yes" forces suggests only 8 percent of voters are undecided. So persuasion is not the goal.

Fryer said his main task is urging less-experienced voters to persevere past the judges they don't know and reach Proposition 1 near the bottom of the long ballot.

One sign of heightened interest is that the number of registered voters in King County has increased by nearly 48,000 so far this year, or 4.8 percent, to a total of 1.04 million people.

"We worry that people will check the Obama box and skip transit," Fryer said.

So-called "rolloff," where voters abandon the ballot partway, can be in the 10 to 15 percent range, said Matt Barreto, political-science professor at the University of Washington.

"Of course, it depends on the level of awareness," he said.

Lower-budget fight

Last year's Roads & Transit measure captured only a 44 percent yes vote, even though proponents collected $4.2 million to bombard the airwaves. A pair of "no" groups spent a combined $745,000.

Only about one-fourth as much spending is expected this year, both sides say.

Nickels, who is Sound Transit chairman, said that when he's "dialing for dollars," donors hold back because of frustration at weak state leadership and repeated requests to bankroll ballot issues.

Even if campaign leaders did spend big, they might not be heard over a cacophony of candidates and social-issue advertising this season.

For that reason, Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman plans to give less than last year's $210,000 to the "anti" forces.

"There's a lot more noise out there," said Kathy Neukirchen, president of Media Plus, which made ad buys for foes last year.

Backers report $123,000 in contributions so far, led by $40,000 from Parsons Brinckerhoff, a major transit-engineering consultant; $25,000 from engineering/design firm David Evans and Associates; and $10,000 each from law firm K&L Gates and the Seattle Mariners.

Microsoft plans to give $10,000 this time. Spokesman Lou Gellos said that while the plan stops short of downtown Redmond, it represents progress. "We believe this plan is better than no plan at all," he said.

The firm gave $200,000 last year, but Gellos says the company is spreading its political money among more causes this season.

Lacking funds, supporters will reach out to voters through door-to-door visits, events at the University of Washington, and online social-networking sites.

The Web site includes a Facebook group of 597 members as of Friday; a fan's YouTube video there juxtaposes Obama with footage of Sound Transit trains, set to urban contemporary music (

Allies at the Transportation Choices Coalition (Sound Transit is a paying member) and the Cascade Bicycle Club will amplify the message. The Sierra Club — which sent members in polar-bear suits to protest road expansions in the 2007 ballot measure — has endorsed the transit-only sequel. The Sierra Club can supply 200 volunteers, said regional chairman Mike O'Brien.

"It's nice to have the polar bears on our side this time," Fryer said.

"Worst thing you can do"

Opposition themes will be nearly identical to 2007.

"We're right back to the general theme from last year: Costs too much, does too little," said Mark Baerwaldt, a private investor who is treasurer of "Doubling Sound Transit's portion of the local sales tax in these hard economic times — the worst thing you can do is raise taxes."

Radio ads will return, with "ka-ching" sounds to emphasize decades of higher sales taxes if the measure passes, he said.

Baerwaldt's job is simpler this year, he said. With the 182 miles of proposed new road lanes gone, he can aim directly at Sound Transit.

"Before they finish what they promised, why would you give them more money?" he said.

The agency promised voters in 1996 that it would build rail to the University District by 2006, but the lines won't get to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium until 2016, he emphasized.

Chris Van Dyk, a strategist for the "no" side, ridiculed the notion of Obama coattails. "When someone's drafting in Washington state politics, they generally find themselves at the end of the pack," he said.

Local voters approach ballot issues independently, as shown by the occasional success of Tim Eyman's tax-cutting measures, he said.

Rail backers like to cast opponents such as Freeman, a longtime highway booster, as globe-warming dinosaurs. But the plan also has been blasted by green-thinking King County Executive Ron Sims, who says money should be poured into express buses, to give the public relief sooner from traffic and gasoline costs.

Former state transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald, who travels mainly by bus, has argued in essays at that light rail would reach only a few of the many places commuters need to go.

Light rail offers less bang for the buck than buses and ride-sharing, said Talmadge. Costs for construction, land and trains would total around $300 million a mile.

He calls the "pro" campaign's name — Mass Transit Now — misleading, as the program wouldn't be done until at least 2023.

"It doesn't sound as good to say 'Mass Transit in 15 Years.' "

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

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