Recently the Seattle City Council approved the 2013-2014 City budget http://www.seattle.gov/council/budget/. As Transportation Committee chair I focused my efforts primarily upon the 2013-2014 budget of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
The 2013-2014 SDOT budget is the first since 2007 where there are more “adds” than cuts. While the total City budget is still being cut because of the recession there is optimism that the era of deep cuts is ending. Recent large commercial property sales and expanding construction are evidence of the improving Seattle economy. Those activities are producing tax revenue that can be used for one-time capital projects.
In preparing my SDOT budget recommendations to my Council colleagues my overarching goals were to increase funding for repairing our city streets and to improve today’s transit service while we invest in planning for a future High Capacity Transit (HCT) network.
SDOT’s budget will increase from $310 million in 2012, to $321 million in 2013 and $389 million 2014. These numbers reflect total spending for each year and include expenditures on major projects including the complex and costly Seawall and Mercer West projects which are financed through long-term bonds or federal grants. In fact, most of the revenue increases over the next two years relate to Seawall bond revenues just approved by voters.
Here are some of the highlights of the 2013-2014 SDOT budget:
Street Maintenance and Paving
- Funding for maintenance of the City’s arterial streets will increase from $4 million this year to $5.9 million in 2013 and $6.9 million in 2014. So, look for smoother pavement and fewer potholes on the city’s primary thoroughfares.
- Paving and asphalt repair on non-arterials will more than double, from $500,000 in 2012, to $1.2 million in 2013 and $2.2 million in 2014. This will allow SDOT to make some headway on neighborhood streets that have been neglected for years.
- $2.1 million added for chip seal and crack seal projects that extend pavement life.
- The Council added $2 million from unexpected real estate excise tax into these street maintenance and paving programs.
Improving Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety
The Council increased funding for neighborhood bicycle and pedestrian improvements including:
- Funding for Safe Routes to Schools projects at McGilvra, Beacon Hill and West Woodland Elementary schools.
- Funding for design of improved bicycle connections to the Lower West Seattle Bridge.
- Design and construction of neighborhood greenways in Ballard and Delridge
- Planning and outreach for extension of a downtown cycle-track from 7th and Virginia further south into downtown and then south to Dearborn St.
- Continued planning improvements to Fauntleroy Way in the growing Fauntleroy Triangle residential neighborhood, once the site of many auto sales lots.
On-Street Parking – Pay by Phone
The City Council has supported using technology to allow people to pay for on-street parking by mobile devices. This fall, our Budget Office projected a decline in revenue from fines and penalties because parking enforcement may take longer and more violators may not be ticketed due to the complexity of verifying pay by phone compliance.
At one of our Budget Committee meetings some Councilmembers questioned whether the pay by phone convenience was worth the possible loss of over a $1,000,000 in citation revenue. We quickly heard that the public wants the service and the city will proceed with pay-by-phone for on-street parking.
Transit Improvements: Planning for the future while taking care of today’s needs
This part of the budget also generated some controversy. First, some recent history: The City Council adopted a long range transit master plan (TMP) http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/transitmasterplan.htm last April. The TMP recommends improving 15 high ridership corridors and downtown streets where many routes converge.
The TMP determined that 12 bus corridors need improvements for speed and reliability. The TMP also predicts that within the next 20 years, four corridors including the Downtown streetcar routes, Downtown to Ballard, Downtown Madison to 23rd and Eastlake to Roosevelt are likely to see such significant growth in riders that bus service may no longer be adequate or cost effective. The TMP designates these corridors as high capacity transit corridors (HCT).
A high capacity transit system is a different breed of transit. It may be rail or another vehicle which has the capacity to carry more people efficiently. HCT projects are very costly compared to the speed and reliability improvements that can be made to today’s system.
Because HCT is so expensive, funding by Seattle alone would be a huge burden on the Seattle taxpayer and for that reason we will have to seek funding from federal grants or Sound Transit in addition to local dollars to pay for construction. To be ready and eligible for outside funding sources, HCT projects must go through a lengthy planning process that can take from 4-8 years, depending on the cost and scale of the project.
The Mayor proposed that planning for the four HCT corridors begin in 2013. Where I differed from the Mayor is I believe that we should begin one of the studies (the Eastlake HCT corridor) in 2014 rather than 2013. That would free up funds to make improvements now to today’s transit system.
Beginning the Eastlake HTC study in 2014 allows us to direct $2 million to improve existing bus service for today’s riders. The $2 million would pay for better stop locations, signals that prioritize buses and passing lanes that allow buses to go to the front of the queue. Work on the Eastlake Corridor study would begin in 2014 and be completed in 2015.
With this action by the Council all four of the TMP’s HCT corridors will be on track for funding eligibility by 2016, which is the earliest a Sound Transit 3 proposal has a possibility of being put before voters. With a succession of HCT projects in the planning pipeline, we will also be ready to take advantage of opportunities for federal grants and local investments in engineering and construction on at least one HCT project as soon as 2015.
The Mayor had proposed placing $2,000,000 in reserves for unspecified HCT needs. However, the Council specified that the reserve funds be used for the following projects:
- Increase the Madison HCT corridor study by $150,000 in 2013 for a total of $1 million over two years. Analysis would then be able to be completed in 2014;
- $350,000 to complete design of the First Hill Streetcar Broadway Extension.
- $1.5 million would be used for environmental review and design of the “Downtown Connector” that would link the South Lake Union to the First Hill Streetcar.
My objectives reflected through this budget are to increase road repair and paving; to make the bus ride faster and more reliable for more than 85,000 people who today ride the city’s 12 Priority Bus corridors, including the RapidRide corridors; and begin HCT studies to be completed when funds for the projects are likely to become available.