If you haven’t noticed, Sound Transit’s campaign for ST3—the latest plan to fiddle away $15 billion of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars—is well underway. Though Sound Transit still needs the state Legislature to approve a higher taxing authority in order to present ST3 to voters via a ballot measure, the transit agency is not waiting for the final word. Assuming legislative approval, transit officials have begun efforts to promote ST3 through various, less than honest tactics meant to garner public support.
Sound Transit has sent out mailers, it has placed fliers in local businesses and it has launched an online advertising campaign. Sound Transit officials’ strategy is clear. For now, they are simply presenting an obvious problem, traffic congestion, and a solution to that problem, light rail expansion. All while making it appear as though ST3 would be a joint Sound Transit-community effort.
Sound Transit claims, again and again, that the light rail expansion provided by ST3 would bring much needed relief to traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region. The claim is simply not true, as proven by the statement of the agency’s head, Joni Earl who once said, “We’ve never said we will reduce congestion.” That’s because commuters choose light rail as their method of travel less than 1 percent of the time. The Washington Policy Center explains,
“Federal estimates show people in the average household make 9.5 trips per day. Within Sound Transit’s district, that equals 3.9 billion total trips every year. Sound Transit’s total light rail ridership last year was approximately 11 million, or 0.28 percent of all trips people made in the taxing district. The Puget Sound Regional Council estimates that, even after light rail is vastly expanded, light rail would carry less than 1 percent of daily trips by 2040.”
A mass transit system projected to carry less than 1 percent of daily commuters cannot possibly reduce traffic congestion. Investing more of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars into a system that does not solve the key problem, i.e. traffic congestion, for daily commuters is, simply put, a bad idea.
Sound Transit officials are attempting to shroud their bad idea in a veil of community cooperation. The transit agency is alerting the public that the power to decide which mass transit projects will be considered for a public vote via ST3 is in its hands. Sound Transit is, apparently, seeking the input of voters at “open houses” scheduled in Seattle, Everett, Redmond, Tacoma and Federal Way through the month of June.
If public involvement and feedback is truly so important to Sound Transit, the question of why it has already released a draft of “priority projects” that will be considered in ST3 should be asked. A draft of “priority projects” severely limits citizen participation and points to an obvious conclusion: Sound Transit officials just want to appear like they are concerned with taxpayer input on how their money is spent.
Sound Transit’s campaign strategy dodges the truly important question haunting ST3: “Why, given all the broken promises, should taxpayers trust Sound Transit to keep its promises and spend their hard-earned dollars responsibility, on time and on budget?”
The answer, as recently spelled out by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, is that Sound Transit has not done anything to earn, retain or deserve to public’s trust. Mayor Stephanson recently called on Sound Transit to make good on a whopping 20-year old promise it made to taxpayers to bring light rail to Everett.
In 1994, the transit agency promised that “priority shall be given in subsequent phases to linking the four major centers of Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue” and that Everett “shall be a first priority” in the second phase of rail transit construction. That has, quite obviously, not happened. Stephanson wants Sound Transit to fulfill its promise before it launches a third plan
Stephanson’s call is an attempt to force Sound Transit to fulfill its promises and address its shortcomings. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the transit agency will do anything of the sort. Time and time again, Sound Transit has proven itself untrustworthy. It has wasted taxpayer dollars and has repeatedly broken promises made in its first two spending packages—ST1 and ST2. If voters approve ST3, it could be argued that they would effectively throw good money after bad.