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Legislature’s Failure Raises Questions about Future Transit Service

Image via Metro's websiteIn a major blow for the significant transportation challenges we face in Washington, the State Legislature adjourned over the weekend without acting on a statewide transportation revenue package; the House passed it, the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate refused to take it up for consideration.

The impact—or more accurately, disaster— for Seattle and the rest of King County will be felt next year when Metro will be forced to eliminate 17% of its current transit service due to lack of funds. Losing this much transit service will create congestion chaos on city streets (even worse than what we see today).

The City and County pushed for local authority to impose an increase in the motor vehicle excise tax (a sales tax on automobiles) to fund transit service. Now that the Legislature failed to provide this level of local control, we may need to find other creative solutions.

Stepping back, the Legislature’s failure points to an even greater challenge for our region.

Last Thursday, I got a long-term, big picture overview of how the Puget Sound region could fall even more behind on critical transportation projects. The staff at the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) briefed us on just how underfunded we are when it comes to regional transportation.

Investing in transportation (freight, transit, and basic commuter) is essential for continued economic growth. Using the PSRC 2040 Transportation Plan, it is estimated that our four-county region (Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap and King) will have a population of 4.98 million by 2040 (up from 3.69 million in 2010) and 2.9 million jobs (up from 1.85 million in 2010).

This population and job growth will demand improved roads, bridges and mobility services like light rail and vastly enhanced transit services. But, PSRC staff estimate that we are $12 billion short of funding the already planned for transportation projects, including Sound Transit. (Click here for the briefing presentation. Slides 8 through 13 have the key summary detail.)

Paying attention to our transportation infrastructure is crucial for our economic success as a region. I believe the vast majority of local governments understand this fundamental fact. It’s too bad the State Legislature doesn’t.
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