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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Resolved: Sound Transit Dissolved

posted by on January 17 at 15:32 PM

I got a copy of a draft bill that state Senate Transportation Chair Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island) wrote that would dissolve Sound Transit and turn over its functions to a new regional transportation agency called the RTC, the Regional Transportation Commission. (I’ve copied her proposal below.)

The idea is a replay of an idea that floated around behind the scenes a few years ago called Sound Transportation—which was a scheme to get rid of the Regional Transportation Investment District, leave highway building to the state, and remake Sound Transit as Sound Transportation, putting the new agency in charge of transit and HOV lanes. The idea got sidetracked by the joint roads and transit initiative, which evolved into last year’s $17 billion Prop. 1.

In the wake of Prop. 1’s failure, Sen. Haugen is working through this new idea to get rid of Sound Transit altogether and let an elected body figure out how to coordinate roads and transit projects.

Here’s one major problem with this approach right off the bat: $750 million.

The feds, at the behest of U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s appropriations sub-committee on transportation, are prepared to sign off on $750 million this summer to get Sound Transit from downtown to the U District. That’s 43% of the $1.7 billion segment. If Sound Transit goes away that money is gone. That means light rail is dead.

We turned down federal money in 1968. Let’s not do it again by dissolving the agency that’s in good with the feds and replacing it with a roads and transit mish mash.

Regional Proposal Dec 2007

Create new regional transportation entity (Regional Transportation Commission (RTC))

• 11 members: 5 elected within King, Pierce, Snohomish; 1 elected at-large within 3-county boundary; 3 appointed by county executives; WSDOT Secretary; PSRC Executive Director
• Majority elected board: 6 elected & 5 appointed/designated
• Broad project eligibility: roads & transit
• Broad revenue options: combined roads & transit revenue, not limited by modal or subarea equity
• No MPO/RTPO function (PSRC held harmless, but Executive Director sits on new entity)
• Boundaries: Existing ST boundaries
• No Kitsap

Dissolve & repeal RTID

Transfer ST duties & obligations to RTC

• Existing ST entity & its federated board dissolved – replaced by RTC
• RTC maintains ST taxes to operate system & pay debt service

Coordinated regional transportation planning

• Requires RTC, WSDOT, and PSRC to coordinate regional transportation planning to ensure comprehensive & integrated corridor-based multimodal regional system

RSS icon Comments


Scr.w this.

How about they just change the board to be directly elected and get rid of the pro-bus bias in Sound Transit instead of this?

And get with the program - we need to DOUBLE all forms of local transit - and regional transit - or we're never going to meet the Kyoto accords.

A simple start might be to tax 18-wheelers and commercial vehicles for the damage they do to our roads and bridges - they cause 90 percent of the damage and pay less than 5 percent of the MVET - gas - and other roads taxes.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 3:37 PM

I was licking my chops when I heard about that $750 million for ST (bias: I work in the A/E industry for a firm that is involved in multiple local light rail projects). We would be fools to screw with our chances of getting it.

And Will, at least the ST buses are comfortable and well-maintained. I'm not sure about your 18-wheeler tax idea, though - jacking up shipping costs through increased vehicle taxation sounds like a good way to jack up the price of...everything that is transported by truck.

Posted by Hernandez | January 17, 2008 3:55 PM

Turn Sound Transit into Sound Transportation? Is that the same thing as when USAir turned into US Airways in 1997? More gravitas.

Posted by JMR | January 17, 2008 3:59 PM

talk about screwing the pooch

Posted by vooodooo84 | January 17, 2008 4:05 PM

Well, at least they got the Kill RTID part right.

But we subsidize commercial trucks - especially 18-wheelers - by permitting them to cause 90 percent of the damage and not pay for it.

Subsidies lead to incorrect decisions.

Like the oil/gas subsidy in the US that props up oil when it costs more than wind energy, for example.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 4:25 PM

Just wait until Tim Eyman gets on the regional transportaiton board.

Or the fucking chair.

Jesus god save us

Posted by Andrew | January 17, 2008 4:26 PM

Pro-bus bias at ST? They spend less than 15% of their budget on buses. Put down the meth dumbass.

Posted by Andrew | January 17, 2008 4:30 PM

The claim about losing $750 million smacks of fear mongering. Baloney! What is the basis of that claim?

ST presently has assets and many contracts and many bond obligations. If they did change ST to Sound Transportation, or some other body, they can and will provide that the new entity succeeds to all ST assets and liabilities. This happens all the time in government and in the private sector without assets like a $750 million grant being lost in the shuffle.

What, are they telling you that suddenly all the ST busses will have no owner, so that anyone can go steal them, too?

The claim that somehow a reorganization would "have to" cause loss of the $750 million in the pipeline sounds like a lie. More details, please.

Obviously the existing ST wants to fight any change in governance tooth and nail. If they are spreading this disinformation -- and we can't tell as you don't give any source or any details at all -- it'd be a pretty dishonest claim to make.

Also if transit is so popular then there is nothing to fear in having an elected board. And, if people don't want to elect pro transit board members that's their right.

Isn't it?

Or is it really all about protecting the bureaucracy and making sure it isn't accountable to voters?

Why the big fear of elections?

Posted by Cleve | January 17, 2008 4:34 PM

Second Hernandez @2. Everything comes by 18-wheeler. Any tax passed on to already-tax payers.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | January 17, 2008 4:40 PM

Cleve, see #6

Just another scam to build another empire. Save the money on that would be spent on changing the stationary, and just clean up what's there.

Posted by elections don't solve everything. | January 17, 2008 4:44 PM

Subsidies lead to incorrect decisions.

Yes, the massive subsidizing of mass transit leads to incorrect decisions about its desirability.

Posted by JMR | January 17, 2008 4:58 PM

You forgot to gloat about prop. 1, Josh.

Posted by bellevue & belmont | January 17, 2008 5:05 PM
Anyway, the buzz in Olympia today was this: Democratic leadership is not going to stand in the way of Sound Transit going to the ballot in '08. I repeat: The Democratic leadership has no intention of blocking Sound Transit from going to the ballot in '08.

Sound Transit, the ball's in your court.

Hmmmmm. What a difference a day or three makes.

Posted by whatever | January 17, 2008 5:15 PM

No kidding.

Posted by bellevue & belmont | January 17, 2008 5:18 PM

@9 - bull. Most shipments come by rail, or by water. In fact, until recently, most goods got to market mostly along rivers - trucks only became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, and only due to massive subsidies.

Kill RTID - no prob. Replace the unelected ST board with a mostly directly elected ST board - no prob. But get real.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 5:59 PM

and good point, @13.

Now how many beers do you guys owe me?

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 17, 2008 6:01 PM

"Or is it really all about protecting the bureaucracy and making sure it isn't accountable to voters?"

JFC. Cleve Stockmeyer is the f'ing Poster Boy for "accountable" elected transportation boards. The Seattle Port Commission comes in at a close second. For good entertainment value, go back to waning days of the Seattle Monorail Project, and watch those board hearings. Cleve and Cindi are literally fiddling while Rome burns, and spend most of their energy pointing fingers at everybody else. That's accountability, apparently. I'll take the bureaucracy, if it means they can deliver something to this backwards backwater town.

Even more painful to watch was Cleve's foray into Property Rights, post-SPMA. (What was it, Cleve - Fox News?) Cleve the ex-Monorail boardmember was effortlessly playing the populist bs-er role, complaining about those poor property owners who had their property taken away after incompetents drove the monorail project into the ground. Good thing it was Fox (or whatever). A real interviewer would have asked Cleve what his role was in screwing the family which owned that Sinking Ship property.

Look, Cleve is just carrying water for his old anti-light rail activist friends. You know, the conservative road+bus guys who use phony 'good government' arguments to hide their true agenda.

Good old (and I mean old) Ted Van Dyk kinda choked a couple weeks ago, and revealed Haugen's Discovery Institute governance reform "coalition" for what it is.

Rep. Haugen is basically a Republican - or, very conservative Democrat - because her district is rural, exurban and military. District 10 is also highly dispersed. So, of COURSE Haugen has a pro-freeway agenda. You think light rail would ever be on her priority list?

Haugen does have one priority related to King County and Seattle transportation: minimumizing the time it takes for her to drive through Liberal Land.

Thank the Lord we have competent and progressive ex-hair stylist part-time legislators to tell us urbanites what our priorities should be in regard to transportation!

Posted by Slatterly | January 17, 2008 7:18 PM

"Why the big fear of elections?"

Because the purpose of the elections is to take transit money and use it for roads, Cleve.

Because the purpose of elections is to delay and stop light rail, Cleve.

Because everybody knows the voters don't pay attention to these down-ballot races, so Cleve's buddy Kemper Freeman can buy a few seats. (confused? ask Alec Fisken)

Last reason we should be dubious of Cleve's elections: the kooks and nuts who would run for these seats and probably win a couple seats. That way, crazies like Cleve's bud Maggi Fimia can get sponsored by the pavement industry, get elected to Cleve's fantastic board, and the whole band of idiots can debate mass transit until the cows come home. Heck, maybe Cleve's faux populist law partner Phil Talmadge can run, too. He's already in the Karl Rove Kemper Kamp - lots of bucks are already primed for that sellout to run an effective "rise above it all" BRT + Freeways campaign..

If this elected board "reform" effort was being led and run by progressive, pro-transit forces, I would probably be a little less cynical. Just the opposite is true. So Josh's cause-for-alarm tone is fully justified.

Posted by Slatterly | January 17, 2008 7:52 PM

Sound Transit has had several consecutive years of nearly flawless audits.

The directly elected board at the Port is under investigation by the Feds.

In a sane state government, the latter would imitate the governance of the former.

But we live in Washington.

Posted by MHD | January 17, 2008 8:53 PM

It never ceases to amaze me the vitriol pro ST people have. The personal attacks made by anonymous posters against people for only having a different idea how transit should be done.

Most of our government business is done by elected entities. The state, the county, and the city are all elected. The Port has obvious problems just one of which is being elected at large in a county of 1.8 million people.

The ST board didn't discover the incompetents inside the organization that had underestimated the cost by 200% or more, that was done by critics and the press. People like Slattery said the even a stopped clock was right twice a day when the $1.2 billion over budget number came out in 2001. Tuck Wilson, when he announced the over-budget numbers, assured the public that this time all the numbers were added into the total. I guess they passed that audit as well.

Posted by whatever | January 17, 2008 9:45 PM

Cleve @8: Why the big fear of elections?

That's my question to you, Cleve (presumably Cleve Stockmeyer). Why are you so afraid of elections? I'll assume one piece of small print in this so-called "governance reform" is the blocking of Sound Transit from going to the ballot on its own this year. So Cleve, why don't you want Sound Transit to go to the ballot this year?

As long as I'm asking questions, I might as well repeat some questions I'd asked recently of the local Sierra Club leadership.

Mike O'Brien, Tim Gould, et al:
Where are you on Sound Transit going to the ballot on its own this year? Where are you on governance reform? And if you do have positions on these matters, what are you doing about it in the legislative session that just started in Olympia?

P.S. The problem that "governance reform" is intended to fix isn't Sound Transit's alleged lack of accountability or its inability to get additional projects approved yet. The problem that "governance reform" is intended to fix is the specter of the voters approving a major Sound Transit expansion.

Posted by cressona | January 17, 2008 9:53 PM

Cressona, why would you think that with great transit support that the elected members would not be transit proponents. It seems that pro light rail 50 mile 50 year program people think a half independently elected board would go anti-transit. My hope is that with the dropping of subarea equity that we could build a system that served the densest parts of the region.

Name one city that has a greater transit share than Seattle that didn't start by serving the heart of the biggest city in the region?

Posted by whatever | January 17, 2008 10:23 PM

Cleve asks for the basis of the statement that the $750 million to complete LRT to UW would be at risk if ST is dissolved.

He's a lawyer. He should know. If not, he and others can read it here:

The project is designed, it's fully funded, and it's ready to break ground THIS YEAR. ST has jumped thru all the feds hoops and is ready to roll on this.

The $750 mil comes in the form of a Full Funding Grant Agreement under the federal New Starts program, just like the $500 million grant Cleve and his pals tried and failed to kill for the first segment.

That's THREE QUARTERS OF A BILLION, almost half the cost. Put another way, local taxpayers are getting a $1.7 billion project for just about half price. The feds require local agencies to sign a CONTRACT spelling out exactly how the money will be spent. FTA and ST have been working on this for something like five years now. FTA likes ST. They've given this region a ton of fed money that would otherwise have gone elsewhere.

If the legislature scraps ST and replaces it with a bunch of new politicians like Eyman with no record and no expertise, do you think FTA is going to sign that contract? And give $750 mil to a bunch of people they don't even know who are in charge of a project they had no hand in designing? Get real.

Posted by you dope | January 17, 2008 10:47 PM

The elected bodies that work are those for general-purpose government -- the Legislature, County Councils, City Councils, etc. They are visible, they get covered by the media (at least somewhat...) and people at least have a few clues about who they're voting for, or against.

It's the down-ballot special-purpose boards that mess up the most and operate most obscurely. Port Commissions, School Boards, etc. The current Port of Seattle fiasco cries out to NOT go that route for regional transportation.

And let me repeat, any "governance" reorganization WILL substantially delay a return to the ballot box for light rail (under whatever aegis). The voters will NOT vote new tax revenues to a brand new, untried board. Votes will expect to see some type of track record before opening their checkbook again.

Voters have seen six years of excellence at Sound Transit, so they're good for another try this November. Change out all the people at the top, or set course for such a change, and it's a loser for sure. So, the writers who say this is just a move to kill more light rail have it right. It's a bit indirect, but the result is the same.

Posted by Perfect Voter | January 17, 2008 11:39 PM

Whatever, the King of anonymous posters, is whining about anomymous posters??? Makes about as much sense as his complaints about the high cost of light rail and subsequent proposal that (much more expensive & challenging) is the answer.

Whatever, a project of any stripe is "over budget" only if it's built. The ST board didn't build the project you're still botching about years later. You're such a pathetic grudge-chaser, you can't even figure out what decade we're living in.

If any of your alternate suggestions or scenarios were even partially rooted in reality, readers might find your dissenting opinions legit.

But they're not. So you're still stuck in the mud.

Say something intelligent, and your fortunes might change.

Until then...

Posted by Slatterly | January 17, 2008 11:43 PM

@21 - as I recall they already decided (think it's in the Sierra Club newsletter that came in January) they are definitely in favor of ST 2.1 coming to a vote in 2008.

But hey, you could ... go to the website ... instead of making up straw men like GWB does.

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 18, 2008 12:48 AM

Wow. Nobody saw this coming, huh?

Posted by Greg | January 18, 2008 6:05 AM

Will in Seattle @26:

@21 - as I recall they already decided (think it's in the Sierra Club newsletter that came in January) they are definitely in favor of ST 2.1 coming to a vote in 2008.

But hey, you could ... go to the website ... instead of making up straw men like GWB does.

Actually, I had gone on their Web site and hadn't found anything about Sound Transit. Got a link?

For that matter, while I'd be glad to know Sierra Club is in favor of ST going back to their ballot, there's a difference between real support and lukewarm support. The likes of Mike O'Brien and Tim Gould were very vocal on forums like this one opposing Prop. 1. But they've been pretty silent of late.

Posted by cressona | January 18, 2008 6:43 AM

And what the fuck is Camano Island doing getting involved with Sound Transit? Last time I checked, Island County was not part of the three-county area.

Posted by Greg | January 18, 2008 7:12 AM

Whatever @22:

Cressona, why would you think that with great transit support that the elected members would not be transit proponents. It seems that pro light rail 50 mile 50 year program people think a half independently elected board would go anti-transit. My hope is that with the dropping of subarea equity that we could build a system that served the densest parts of the region.

Whatever, let me paraphrase your question. Why do you think that with great transit support Sound Transit should not go back to the ballot this fall?

There are wonky arguments one way and the other as to whether an elected board or a different, elected body would be more effective or more accountable. But come on, whatever, that's not why you or Cleve Stockmeyer or Norm Rice or John Stanton or The Seattle Times editorial board is interested in governance reform. Governance reform has about as much to do with accountability as the Iraq invasion had to do with 9/11.

Posted by cressona | January 18, 2008 7:47 AM

Just don't hold an advisory vote about whether ST's activities should be overseen by a board accountable to voters! Advisory votes are worse than useless.

Posted by plebe | January 18, 2008 9:18 AM

Cressona - I'd say your support of ST2 is like the Bush faith based system. You avoid the facts. No city including Portland that has invested in LR has a better share of commuters using transit than Seattle, not one.

Although it's nice that you paraphrased for me, why don't you answer why a partially elected board would be anti-transit? I have already told you that I think we should build from the inside out and this bill would allow that.

I ask again. Name one city that has a better transit share than Seattle that built a regional rail transit system before serving the city?

Showing you courtesy I'll answer your question directly.

Why do you think that with great transit support Sound Transit should not go back to the ballot this fall?

Because they will try to sell a bad plan.

Posted by whatever | January 18, 2008 11:27 AM

Name one city that has a better transit share than Seattle that built a regional rail transit system before serving the city?

Chicago. The heavy rail lines that are now METRA went out to what became the suburbs and beyond before the El was built.

Posted by Bax | January 18, 2008 7:31 PM

With all due respect to Senator Haugen, wouldn't it be a better use of her time to address State ferries that don't float and interstate roadways that are under water? Why does she feel the need to change the way that regional transit is managed in the 3 county Puget Sound area. Is it because she wants to dictate to local governments how they spend voter approved funding, so that she can spend it on road improvements that should be funded as a state responsibilities? Here's an idea, pass a law that requires gas tax to be spent in the county that it's raised in. Or, don't build a UW campus in the middle of nowhere requiring new roads and other infrastructure and spend that money on funding state needs.

Posted by Dave | January 18, 2008 8:01 PM

Bax the question was about a regional rail transit system.

All cities that existed before the advent of ICE relied on rail for intercity transportation.

Transit however was built in the city first. Horse drawn streetcars then electric trolleys, then elevated and tunneled heavy rail or full blown trains.

Posted by whatever | January 19, 2008 12:09 PM

Josh,why the alarm over this? Dissolving Sound Transit and delaying rail is exactly what you and Erica Barnett urged your readers to vote for last November. Why the outrage now?

Posted by Stranger Consistency | January 20, 2008 8:57 PM

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