On Tuesday, August 16, the Seattle City Council (sitting as the legislatively authorized Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) Governing Board) unanimously sent a $60 vehicle licensing fee (VLF) that would be in effect for ten years to the November 8, 2011 ballot. Voters will have the opportunity to decide whether this is the right time to invest some of their dollars in supporting transit, making our roads safer, reducing congestion, and improving freight mobility.
The Council has been working on finding new resources for transportation for more than a year. Last year we appointed a Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC III) to make recommendations as to how to proceed. The current proposal reflects the guidance of this Committee. The Committee based its recommendations on a series of public meetings, a scientific survey of Seattle residents, and comments received via a web survey.
The proposal was designed to address the following issues:
- Metro bus service has been saved for at least the next two years, thanks to the King County Council’s adoption of a $20 VLF. But Seattle can effectively get more bus service by making buses run faster – giving buses signal priority and repairing and improving transit corridors. We can also reduce bus costs by adding new electric wires that will allow Metro to substitute quiet electric buses that are less expensive to run.
- For thirty years, Seattle’s streets were not maintained properly. We began to catch up after voters approved the Bridging the Gap (BTG) transportation levy in 2006. But we have discovered that BTG will only keep up with current maintenance, and that we can save money in the future by further increasing the pace of street repairs.
- Entering in to construction contracts now could take advantage of a favorable bidding climate due to the recession and slowdown in the construction industry. However, voters will have to decide whether they wish to support this fee given the impacts of the recession on their own finances.
The VLF proposal will provide money for investments in road improvements so that Metro buses can run more efficiently and therefore maintain service for Seattle riders, as well as road repairs and other projects.
- Almost half of the funds raised will be used for transit related improvements, such as speed and reliability improvements to eight major frequent bus corridors, like Ballard to the University District via Market and 45th or Delridge Way to Downtown Seattle.
- Other transit improvements could include adding electric overhead wires in areas such as 23rd Avenue between Rainier and Madison, which would allow the route 48, one of Metro’s most frequent and heavily used buses, to be electrified along its entire route (there are wires on all of the rest of the streets it uses). Replacing diesel buses with electric saves Metro money that can be invested in more service.
- About a third of the funds will go to street repairs, which would cover two major repaving projects and 15 spot repairs each year.
- About one fifth of the funds will go to pedestrian and bicycle projects, such as constructing sidewalk, crosswalk, pedestrian signals and curb ramps to improve safety and mobility for disabled residents, and projects such as bicycle boulevards that can provide safer riding conditions for children and more casual bicyclists who avoid riding today because of concerns about safety.
- A small portion of the funds will go to planning for freight mobility and new transit options.