News I Was Gonna…
posted by March 21 at 13:07 PMon
…write a column this week trashing Senator Ed Murray’s (D-43, Seattle) regional transportation commission bill, but after a long interview with Murray, I’m still not sure where I stand on the bill. (It’s coming up for a big fight in the house.)
I’ve Slogged about this a couple of times now, but the gist is: Murray wants a new commission to coordinate transportation planning so that roads and transit aren’t developed in isolation. Murray is frustrated, for example, with the dunderheaded plans for SR 520, which don’t coordinate with light rail. He also points out how dumb it is that the viaduct plans were (until last week’s vote, anyway) drawn up without much of a transit component. His point being, let’s force roads planning to include transit.
The obvious criticism of the bill is that by coupling roads and transit planning, smart transit solutions may be jinxed by (forced to incorporate) sprawl and road “solutions.” Basically, I see Murray’s bill as a bigger, badder version of the joint Sound Transit/RTID ballot measure, which forces voters to support both roads exapnsion and transit, when they may in fact only support transit.
However, Murray insists that his bill will be an engine for transit because, he says, all the planning that needs to be done starts with road corridors anyway, and so by forcing multimodal thinking into the mix (which is what his bill mandates), he’s really just bringing transit to the table. And, he adds, people want transit. They voted out obstructionists like Jim Horn and Luke Esser on the Eastside, he says, because voters want transit on the table.
Ultimately, Murray believes this new transportation agency would bring new revenue streams to transit planning. Currently, he complains, the big transit projects are stuck using sales taxes and motor-vehicle excise taxes (MVETs) to the exclusion of other taxes. (Gas taxes can only be used for roads.) A new agency, he contends, would have the power to do all sorts of congestion pricing, like tolling.
Murray told me:
If you simply want light rail built with the sales tax and operating when your kids are having kids, then you donít want my bill. If you want a significant amount of additional transit or more light rail, and you want it soon, paying for with things like user fees, than you want this bill.
Of course, the Achilles’ heel of Murray’s bill is the fact that every board member of the commission, elected by geographic district, would have a veto. And so, a Seattle liberal could veto a roads component and a Snohomish County conservative could kill transit.
When I brought this up to Senator Murray, he said: “This is no different than my old bill to get an elected board for Sound Transit.” (Sound Transit planning, obviously, would come under the purview of this new commission.) “And you were for that. What’s the difference?”
Murray’s right. I was for that. But you know why I was for that? Because back then (when there were still two potential mass-transit projects duking it out over limited resources), I was for killing Sound Transit. That’s why I wanted an elected board, because I knew it could kill the project.
And, knowing how Murray felt about ST back then, I kinda think he had the same idea.