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Originally published November 4, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Page modified November 4, 2013 at 6:19 PM

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Guest: Downtown Seattle needs a state transportation funding package

Downtown Seattle needs the state Legislature to adopt a transportation package with a local option for King County to seek a tax increase, writes guest columnist Kate Joncas.

Special to The Times

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IT’S now imperative to focus on the future of transportation in our city. When the Legislature adjourned earlier this summer without passing a transportation package, critical transit funding was left hanging in the balance.

When we look at the data of how downtown Seattle employees commute to work, it becomes difficult to overstate just how essential transit is to downtown.

Downtown Seattle is the Northwest’s largest job center, with 200,000 jobs in just 3 square miles.

Think about that for a moment: In the distance from the Mercer Mess to Safeco Field, 50 percent more workers commute every day than the total populations of any of the state Senate transportation committee members’ legislative districts.

During rush hour, nearly half of the people on the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Highway 520 bridge are on transit. According to a Commute Seattle survey, 43 percent of downtown commuters choose transit — more than any other mode — and just 34 percent choose to drive alone. Census data show that, for the first time, less than 50 percent of Seattleites drive to work citywide.

Even more remarkably, downtown traffic levels have stayed relatively flat despite rapid job growth. That means transit, walking and bicycling are absorbing nearly 100 percent of new job growth.

With 9,000 new housing units under construction and 120,000 new residents expected citywide by 2030, these needs will only intensify. The state should be taking advantage of this exciting growth by investing in new transit service, but at a minimum we should all agree that service cuts are intolerable.

The downtown business community strongly supports transit. More than 550 businesses choose to subsidize transit passes for their employees, and 450 of these are small businesses. None of these businesses are required to do so. They choose to do so because transit brings value to their businesses and employees.

King County has said that if the state does not grant the county a local option to ask voters for a tax increase, it will have to cut Metro service by 17 percent. The cuts are expected to be announced Thursday. They would devalue the investment downtown companies have made, induce more people to drive and reduce quality of life for commuters and residents across the region.

Although transit revenues are again growing nominally, they have not kept up with record demand, and the recession permanently reduced the revenue projections upon which service decisions have been made.

Metro has been fortunate thus far to avoid the service cuts endured by our neighbors Pierce Transit and Community Transit. But continuing to meet transit demand during the recession has exhausted Metro’s reserves. It required temporary funding mechanisms that are now expiring, such as the $20 congestion reduction charge and Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation funds.

It is imperative that the Legislature adopt a transportation package that includes transit funding in a special session this year.

I urge the downtown business community to continue reaching out to legislators to tell them what transit means to employees and customers. Without a strong transit system, downtown cannot thrive. And without a thriving downtown, the entire region will suffer.

Kate Joncas is president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

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