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Originally published May 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 11, 2007 at 2:31 PM

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James Vesely / Times editorial page editor

Round she goes, where it stops, nobody knows

If i were a croupier at one of the local casinos, I would smile and know that the house wins — ventually and always...

If I were a croupier at one of the local casinos, I would smile and know that the house wins — eventually and always — but that sometimes there is a run of bad luck that breaks the house.

Such is the early worrying on the huge, November election asking voter approval for more than $16 billion in local road and transit taxes. Even the $16 billion figure is dissected and debated, with some critics calling the total package well above $30 billion when the full costs are measured. To the average driver, van-pool rider and voter, the figure is comprehensible only as a tag-on to the current tax bills. A $16 billion project list would see about $125 more per family in annual sales taxes for light rail/transit, another $25 a year for roads, and a bump in the yearly car-tab rate to $68 for each $8,500-valued vehicle in the family.

Resistance to the November vote comes in two forms: outright voter weariness toward a tax that is heavy on light rail and still underfunds projects such as the Highway 520 floating bridge; or attempts to divert the funds and change the discussion.

That seems to be the purpose of "Vision 21," the proposal put forward by Eastside Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. Her plan would postpone the expansion of light rail to the Eastside via Interstate 90 and divert all that money toward a Seattle viaduct fix, a six-lane 520 floating bridge and other roadways.

Before The Times' editorial board, Pflug said just delaying light rail across Lake Washington would free enough money to push light rail to the Port of Tacoma, to Lynnwood, fund a solution to the Seattle waterfront, and eliminate the need for $7 tolls across the 520 bridge.

"Just by delaying some light rail for further study allows most of every other project to be funded," Pflug said.

Of course, one reason her SB 6169 did not reach law in the recent Legislative session is that it cuts out the plan to bring light rail to Redmond via downtown Bellevue. The croupier at the table understands that each player in the region — Snohomish County, the Eastside, Seattle and Pierce County — must be dealt in or the plan diminishes in returns. The delicate balance between accommodating each sub-region both with roads and transit projects requires some very big numbers, and dealing one area out almost guarantees a rise in "no" votes.

The debate, so far, has been healthy and wide-ranging, if sometimes off the point. In correspondence between a member of the Eastside Transportation Association and Sound Transit board chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, the crux of the regional debate was aired.

Richard Harkness, a Ph.D. in urban transportation planning, makes his points that Sound Transit has not been specific enough in its response to critics, and total costs, such as impact on global warming, are minimized. Ladenburg's reply, which was copied to most of the Free World, insists that some 80 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by Sound Transit on the Eastside favor extension of light rail.

Neither of these arguments is going to get us anywhere. Asking if the break-even point on the energy needed for construction compared to energy saved without construction is 94 years is like asking what the world will be like in the next century. Replying that a poll shows a wide approval rate is also whistling in the dark.

The 11th month approaches and with it an air of disapproval and discontent. I'd say the betting right now is, at best, even.

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com

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