Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Light rail is our best option to meet population boom

Investing in our our transportation infrastructure – especially public transit – helps our whole community thrive. Failing to invest strangles opportunity and amplifies economic inequality. It’s time for Washington’s legislature to act boldly! – Marilyn Watkins, EOI Policy Director

Light rail is our best option to meet population boom

By Bill Finkbeiner, The Seattle Times, May 26, 2015

Bill Finkbeiner

Bill Finkbeiner, guest author

Leadership on transportation investment is hard. Decisions made today won’t show results for years and inaction is always the path of least resistance. But the recent growth in our area, and the growth that is to come, means that the Legislature needs to act now to allow Sound Transit a full range of options to present to the voters.

Our region’s major arteries — interstates 5, 90 and 405, along with Highway 520 — are pretty much at capacity. Even if the Legislature gets its act together and passes a gas tax, the jaw-dropping costs of completing 520 will sop up the majority of the money slated for the Puget Sound area.

The alternative, to do nothing, clearly isn’t viable if we want to avoid total gridlock. And the best-case scenario unfortunately isn’t going to come close to accommodating the scores of new drivers we are adding to our roads every day.

King and Snohomish counties added 144,000 new residents from 2010 to 2014, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council. Congestion delays increased 52 percent. Growth projections make it clear our already overwhelmed transportation infrastructure is in crisis.

All of this would create a very bleak picture if it were not for the wisdom of the voters to invest in Sound Transit over a decade ago. Under the leadership of Joni Earl, Sound Transit has gone from a beleaguered agency known mostly for cost overruns to the best hope for a mobile future for our region. The agency is now on track to deliver 34 miles of light-rail extensions by 2023, and projects like the University Link project are exceeding expectations — University Link is $150 million under budget and nine months ahead of schedule.

Today, when we wonder how we are going to get from here to there in the future, the light-rail system, with all of its critics and detractors, looks like our best hope.

Somewhat fortuitously, our new growth seems to be centering in our urban cores. This is a sharp contrast to the last growth cycles, which saw new homes expand to ever distant exurbs. This new density increases the number of people who can realistically be moved in their daily lives by light-rail infrastructure and makes an even stronger case for the transportation solutions being offered by Sound Transit.

The Sound Transit board has asked the Legislature for the authority to present a $15 billion mass-transit funding package to voters in 2016, and the Legislature needs to give them that full authority, now. Both the state House and Senate have moved forward with plans that include some Sound Transit taxing authority and billions in new road improvements. Our region, and state, needs them to agree on a plan that gives Sound Transit full taxing authority to seek $15 billion, and makes these needed road improvements. The problem is obvious and the solution is all but agreed upon, but time is running out.

Earl recently announced that she is retiring next year. Her legacy will be: With vision and dedication, leadership and hard work, we can tackle our transportation challenges.

The Legislature needs to take that leadership mantle and run with it because the people are voting with their feet and the sound is deafening as they flood into our region. The strain they put on our existing infrastructure will arrive as they do. We need to act now if we hope to keep moving forward.

A former state legislator, Bill Finkbeiner is now investing in real estate.

This article was originally published on May 26, 2015 in The Seattle Times.

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