All across the Puget Sound region, governments are drowning in red ink. So we’re slashing safety nets for low-income families, laying off workers, and cutting back basics like bus service and library hours. But for the most part, we’re still green-lighting transportation megaprojects with abandon, an issue that has given rise to at least two good rants recently.
Here’s Michael van Baker over at SunBreak:
But [Washington] is pushing ahead with a plan for a larger replacement of SR 520’s floating bridge—work is underway, despite there being $2 billion in funding missing from the $4.65 billion project…
And of course there is the deep-bore tunnel planned to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The entire project is supposed to cost $4.2 billion. People seem to get blasÃ© around such large numbers. In an interview explaining how a deep-bore tunnel is a “green” alternative, the City Council’s Richard Conlin noted that there was only a $1 billion difference between the tunnel and the surface-transit option.
For that difference, Seattle could run a $67 million deficit for 15 years. I know this line of thinking—about priorities—incenses certain people, who like to think that budget line items were handed down on stone tablets. “No, that money is for transportation!” they protest. But the point these days is, there isn’t any money…
Well said, Michael.
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And here’s Knute Berger striking a similar chord on the Crosscut pages:
Sound Transit 2 is $18 billion, and is at least $4 billion behind in revenues. The 520 Bridge Expansion: $4.65 billion, with $2 billion not yet raised. It also means major tolls starting soon. The total Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project is $3.1 billion, of which $2.4 is raised and nearly a billion is supposed to come from tolling and the Port of Seattle. But there are also the costs of the seawall, and surface improvements, which could be $1 billion or more. On top of these are proposals for light rail to Ballard and West Seattle, high-speed train service between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, the need to fully fund Metro transit service, and a legislature that wants more roads in Pugetopolis.
With 520, the Viaduct and Sound Transit 2 alone, we’re talking about spending at least $27 billion on Seattle transportation…
Those pushing the transportation agenda often say we’re being held back, that growth and the future are threatened, but the roadblocks and straw men are mostly imaginary. It’s easier to say we’re being sabotaged than it is to admit we’re spending too much or that we’re doing a bunch of the wrong stuff.
I’d say that’s about right.
Given the overwhelming budget realities facing us, perhaps it’s about time we give some serious consideration to the economics of not moving people—at least not at high speeds from end to end of the sprawling metropolitan region. To the contrary, our scarce transportation dollars are probably best spent on the inexpensive and unglorious workhorses like buses and vanpools; on low-priced but cost-effective infrastructure like bike lanes and sidewalks; and on maintaining the crumbling roads and bridges that we can realistically pay for.
Sound Transit has already announced plans to scale back the new light rail package, in line with revenue shortfalls. But no word yet whether any of the state’s big highway projects will be reconsidered.
Ultimately, we’re either going to find significant new sources of tax dollars, or we’re going to have to make do with less. There’s really not another option. Which is why I’d argue we should be spending more time thinking about how we can build places—neighborhoods and communities and cities—that require less long-distance travel. At this point, we just can’t afford to do anything else.