Via Erica Barnett, here’s Mike O’Brien, chair of the Sierra Club’s Cascade chapter, discussing the overwhelming passage of Puget Sound’s $18 billion trains-and-buses measure, just a year after voters rejected a plan that would have coupled similar transit spending with a massive road building program:

Last year, a $5 million campaign in good economic times to pass Roads and Transit failed. This year, a $750,000 campaign in bad economic times to finance more transit passed. The difference—no climate-changing roads. When the voters defeated Roads and Transit last year, they weren’t just saying bring back light rail, they were also saying bring us realistic transportation solutions that help solve global warming.

Well said, Mike.

That’s precisely what we argued last year: it was climate change, and not just the cost, that doomed last year’s Roads and Transit package. (Seattle P-I op-ed here; longer version here.) The fact that this year’s measure came with a much smaller carbon footprint helped seal voters’ support.

Clearly, when it comes to Puget Sound transportation, the politics of climate are now game changers. Want proof?

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  • The evidence shows quite clearly that climate politics played a major role in the defeat of the 2007 roads-plus-transit measure. See, for example, the public opinion research here, here, and here.

    The Sierra Club and others had opposed last year’s measure because the road expansion projects it authorized would have incresed climate-warming emissions substantially. And these climate concerns swayed a crucial bloc of voters to oppose the train because of the roads.

    But this year, that same voting bloc helped seal this year’s transit-only victory. In fact, the electorate behaved very much like the post-election 2007 polls said it would: a critical bloc of swing voters who opposed the 2007 measure for its global warming impacts supported a 2008 measure that was widely portrayed as a boon (or at least relatively benign) for the climate. (Just to be clear: we here at Sightline don’t know how good an investment this year’s Prop 1 package will actually be for the climate; but we can be certain that it’s far, far better than last year’s package.)

    What’s happening here in the Northwest is unprecedented. As far as I know, these two measures are the first time that a region’s voting public has decided transportation policy on the basis of climate change. Climate wasn’t the only factor, obviously, but it was a decisive one. We’re in a new era now.

    Elected officials, please make a note of it.