Put aside for a moment the pros and cons of Dino Rossi’s just released transportation plan and consider this: It outlines what direction we should go in, why, how to get there, and how we’ll pay for it. Sound unusual? It should. No gubernatorial candidate or sitting governor has done that in nearly 30 years.
The plan also respects the electorate by outlining in detail, rather than broad generalities, what needs to be done. It isn’t a campaign brochure. It’s a blueprint for governing.
Rossi, the leading Republican candidate for governor in this fall’s election, begins by restoring a core principle that the state Department of Transportation has neglected in the last 30 years: Congestion reduction. A performance audit late last year asked, almost in bewilderment, why reducing commute times didn’t appear to be a top priority of a department created to keep cars and trucks moving safely and quickly. The dirty little secret is that a significant number of people at DOT, the Legislature and in community groups don’t really want less congestion because they want fewer people driving and more people on transit.
Many of these folks attack the Rossi plan for not being balanced by spending more money on public transit. Rossi correctly points out that transit is primarily a local responsibility, which is why we have Metro Transit in King County, along with a second agency, Sound Transit, that runs commuter trains and express buses in three counties and is building Seattle’s light-rail line. Rossi’s critics want more state money for transit because they want less money for road building.
Here in brief is what the plan would do in this region:
• Replace the four-lane 520 bridge with a bridge that could accommodate up to eight lanes.
• Expand I-405 by one additional lane in each direction from I-90 to downtown Bellevue and two lanes in both directions from Highway 169 in Renton to I-90.
• Expand State Route 167 (Valley Freeway) by adding a northbound HOV lane between Pacific and Auburn and add a southbound lane from Southeast 180th near Kent running to South 277th near Auburn. Improve the SR-167/I-405 interchange, and build the remaining six miles of SR-167 to the Port of Tacoma.
• Expand 14 miles of Highway 9 from two lanes to five.
• Connect State Route 509 to I-5.
• Finish the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, using the tunnel option.
Dozens of other road, ferry and HOV projects around the state are also included. A regionally elected board would cut through red tape to get projects moving and build ferries. On the environmental front, Rossi would triple the amount of money used to replace salmon culverts and exempt hybrid vehicles from paying sales tax.
It’s expensive – $15 billion-plus expensive. How does he pay for it? (1) Use 40 percent of the state sales tax on non-hybrid new and used cars for the next 30 years. Amount raised: $7.7 billion. (2) Stop using transportation taxes for general government expenses by ending the practice of charging the state sales tax on transportation projects. Amount kept for transportation: $2.45 billion. (3) Use Sound Transit’s surplus from sub-area equity for HOV projects on I-405 and 520. Amount raised: $700 million. (4) Limited tolls (about $1.50) on 520 – not to be extended to I-90. Amount raised: $720 million. (5) Use the money set aside from the 2005 gas tax increase for the Viaduct and 520. Amount available: $4.3 billion.
Much in the plan is debatable, but its overall impact would bring our road system into the 21st century and actually reduce congestion – a far better alternative than paying higher taxes for longer commutes while nothing gets done.
John Carlson is a radio commentator and former Republican candidate for governor.