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Saturday, June 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:51 A.M.

Freeway initiative campaign takes exit

By Eric Pryne
Seattle Times staff reporter

Kemper Freeman Jr. spent big in pushing for initiative.
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After spending more than $300,000, Bellevue Square owner Kemper Freeman Jr. and other backers of Initiative 883 have dropped their quest to collect enough signatures to get the ambitious freeway-construction measure on the November ballot.

Campaign manager Brett Bader said sponsors are leaning toward refiling the proposal as an initiative to the 2005 Legislature.

Bader said the campaign decided to stop gathering signatures largely because the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) board decided earlier this month not to place a three-county package of transportation projects and taxes on the November ballot.

I-883 was designed to complement the RTID package, Bader said. By itself, he added, "Initiative 883 does some good things, but not everything the region needs."

Bader's announcement yesterday came as a surprise. Through May, the I-883 campaign had collected and spent more money than all but one other initiative seeking a spot on the fall ballot.

Freeman commissioned the research that was I-883's foundation, and he provided about 90 percent of the $353,000 the campaign raised. He has maintained for years that an ambitious program to build more freeway lanes would do much to relieve traffic congestion in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.

I-883 would have provided billions for new lanes statewide — not by raising taxes, but by diverting sales, gas and vehicle-tax revenues the state now uses to pay for other programs.

It also targeted the state's network of HOV lanes. It would have immediately opened all lanes to solo drivers except during peak periods, and ultimately ended all restrictions on at least some lanes.

Bader said that by early this month, the campaign had collected about half of the 197,000 signatures required by the July 2 deadline. There's no question it would have qualified for the November ballot if work had continued, he added.

But the RTID board's June 3 decision changed the political landscape, Bader said: "There's a lot of people scratching their heads and saying, 'What next?' "
 
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Peter Hurley, executive director of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition, didn't buy that explanation, saying he suspects I-883 sponsors backed off because they concluded voters would reject such a freeway-heavy plan.

"This is the end of an era," Hurley said. "The dinosaur is dead."

State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald was a critic of I-883, labeling an early draft "wacky." He said yesterday that the campaign's decision not to try to qualify for November provides more time to craft a balanced, consensus transportation package rather than pitting transit and road advocates against each other.

The RTID board backed away from a November vote after big business said it wouldn't fund a campaign, citing a private poll that reportedly showed voters aren't inclined to support tax increases this year.

Bader said I-883's backers may propose their own regional plan to the board. It could include some transit, he added.

If supporters refile I-883 as an initiative to the Legislature, they would have until Dec. 31 to collect 197,000 valid voter signatures.

After that the Legislature could adopt the measure, making it law without a public vote. If it doesn't act, the proposal would appear on the November 2005 ballot.

The Legislature also could pass an alternative that would appear on the ballot with the initiative, allowing voters to choose one — or reject both.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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