Initiative mogul Tim Eyman says that his new ballot measure, Initiative 985, is all about fixing traffic congestion. But unlike, say, meat, there is no USDA inspection for ballot initiatives. Initiatives’ marketing claims aren’t monitored by the Better Business Bureau. No truth-in-advertising restraints apply.
For voters, it’s buyer beware.
And that’s where the residents of suburbs have to pay attention. If you look under the hood, you’ll see the truth: I-985 just won’t run. Not only does I-985 shortchange funding for schools and safety, independent traffic experts now agree that I-985 would make traffic congestion worse, not better.
Here’s why I-985 has to be given a very careful – and skeptical – look.
Beware of sales tactics saying that I-985 implements state Auditor Brian Sonntag’s traffic congestion audit. Sonntag recently was asked that question – Does I-985 implement your recommendations? – by the Tacoma News Tribune. His answer was clear: “No.” He’s right – I-985 contradicts key recommendations of Sonntag’s audit, and has many ideas that the audit never discussed.
Beware of claims that I-985’s traffic-light synchronization mandate will do a lot to ease congestion. It won’t. In many congested parts of the state, traffic lights are already synchronized. I-985 simply won’t change much. But at more lightly traveled intersections, synchronization is often a waste of scarce public dollars, accomplishing little in the way of congestion relief.
Be wary of claims that I-985 will mean your community won’t have to pay for traffic congestion efforts. The money doesn’t come out of thin air. Instead, I-985 diverts tax money from other state priorities, like education and health. Local schools will likely lose out to pay for Mr. Eyman’s pet transportation projects.
Beware of Eyman’s siren song of opening carpool lanes to all traffic outside rush hour. I-985 gets rush hour dead wrong – it doesn’t end at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. any more. And besides, HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes are critical to easing rush hour traffic by making buses, carpools and vanpools a bit more attractive to commuters. Surveys show that if the HOV lanes are clogged with cars, current bus riders and carpoolers are likely to switch back to driving alone. That will just make traffic worse.
This month, the Washington chapter of the national Institute of Traffic Engineers issued its official assessment: I-985 is riddled with engineering flaws and would have the unintended consequence of increasing traffic congestion and accident risks throughout Puget Sound.
As voting approaches and attention mounts, all kinds of people have now gone over I-985’s fine print. The consensus is astonishing: I-985 has united interests from all across the political spectrum. The Washington Roundtable, representing the CEOs of major employers, agrees with the Sierra Club: I-985 is bad news. The Association of Washington Business and the League of Women Voters agree. So do Boeing and Microsoft, the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs, city councils in places like Renton and Kirkland, the mayors of Wenatchee and Tacoma, the chambers of commerce in Seattle and Spokane, the Snohomish County Committee to Improve Transportation, the editorial boards at the state’s largest newspapers, and a host of civic organizations all across the state.
It’s not often that you get business leaders, labor unions, police and firefighters, educators, eastern Washington conservatives, and environmentalists all on the same page. But all have taken a close look at I-985, and none like what they see.
The message is sounding loud and clear. Mr Eyman, please, if you plan to bring us another initiative next year, make sure that it makes more sense than I-985.
Doug MacDonald is a former state secretary of transportation for Washington.