Among other improvements, the Spokane Street Viaduct project added new public art installations.
(Courtesy SDOT blog)

On Monday, July 15, the Council passed an ordinance authorizing spending on new transportation projects, using savings from the Spokane Street Viaduct project. The new legislation accepts Mayor McGinn’s proposals for bike infrastructure ($3.6 million), the Neighborhood Street Fund ($1 million), retaining wall repairs ($700K), and work on transit oriented development ($250K). The Council revisions (see amendment 1 to C.B. 117813) included increasing spending on pedestrian infrastructure by 50% to $2.160 million, modifying spending on transit projects to emphasize immediate benefits, and adding $2.425 million for safety and maintenance by realizing increased savings from the Spokane Street Viaduct project closeout.

The two most visible changes made by the Council were to eliminate the Mayor’s proposal to move the first phase of study for a possible Ship Canal crossing between Ballard and Fremont from 2015 to 2014, and to redefine the Mayor’s proposed funding for a study of transit options on Eastlake to emphasize immediate improvements that could speed bus movement in addition to the longer range prospects for new, faster transit service such as a streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit.

I supported the Mayor’s proposal for the Ship Canal study, and voted for an amendment (see amendment 2) that would have moved the study up to 2014. Sound Transit is now beginning the review process for a possible 2016 ST3 vote, and this information could be very important input to ST decisions. However, the amendment failed by a 5 to 4 vote, with Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw, and Bruce Harrell also supporting advancing the study. Councilmembers who opposed advancing the study in this legislation, including Transportation Chair Tom Rasmussen, stated publicly that they would consider the issue again by September, after a full briefing and an analysis of how much funding is actually needed. I will continue to push for this to happen. The Eastlake decision was a reasonable one, and the legislation continues to move us towards the expanded transit vision that is called for in our Comprehensive Plan.

It’s exciting to be able to make these new investments, and much credit goes to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) for their effective management of the Spokane Street Viaduct project, the largest infrastructure project that the City has undertaken in many years. It was originally budgeted at $163 million, and ultimately cost some $13 million less than that. The City tends to budget projects very conservatively, and rarely goes over budget. In this case, because of the size of the project there is a significant windfall of resources that can be reallocated to other projects.

While the City adopts its budgets in November for the following year, there are always adjustments that are required as the year goes on. New revenue projections, grants received, new programs that the City decides to fund, or unexpected expenditures for items like police overtime or an urgent building repair are typical of the things that require legislative approval. In order to legally approve these changes, the Council must, by a ¾ vote, approve legislation modifying the budget, and we usually do that at the end of each quarter.

During the recession, these quarterly adjustments were often on the gloomy side, as revenues fell short of projections and we needed to reduce expenditures to address the new reality. In most years, because of our generally conservative budgeting approach, the adjustments are more routine and generally more in a positive direction. The Council already approved a set of adjustments for the rest of the budget (see this previous blog post). These transportation items were taken out of that legislation because the unexpected windfall from the Spokane Project completion allowed a significant reshaping of transportation expenditures.

All of this is good news for taxpayers. More transportation improvements are getting done – without new taxes.