I-985: A mess for westbound SR 520

August 7, 2008 by · Comments Off on I-985: A mess for westbound SR 520
Filed under: Noteworthy Columns 

The Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly nails one of the many bad, unintended consequences of I-985:

Traveling Route 520 at 6:20 Friday, I found stop-and-go traffic from 84th Avenue Northeast to the bridge. The state Transportation Department’s rush-hour map shows even greater congestion much of the time. 

By throwing open the express lanes, I-985 would expand stop-and-go traffic from two lanes to three and defeat the whole purpose of getting people into buses and van pools.

But it may be even worse than Connelly thinks. Merging creates congestion. Right now, the narrowing of SR-520 westbound from 3 lanes to 2, right before the floating bridge, isn’t a major problem — but only because it’s an HOV-3 lane. There are few enough vehicles that the merge doesn’t gum up traffic. But I-985 would turn the 3rd lane into an HOV-2 lane during rush hour, and a general purpuose lane the rest of the time. Adding more vehicles to the merging lane will absolutely hammer westbound traffic — leading to even longer backups to the 520 bridge, and not just at rush hour.

I-985: Budget buster

August 7, 2008 by · Comments Off on I-985: Budget buster
Filed under: Analysis 

The Tri-City Herald has the scoop:

[I-985] would cost the state general fund $620 million over five years.The impact on the budget deficit facing lawmakers in January would be about $290 million…

The state budget is already tight — and I-985 would just make a bad situation worse.

Raiding the general fund

July 28, 2008 by · Comments Off on Raiding the general fund
Filed under: Analysis 

I-985 raids the state “general fund” of about $575 million through the end of 2013.

What’s the general fund used for? This document (pdf) has the answers. In round numbers:

52 percent goes to education
30 percent goes to social and health services
6 percent goes to corrections
5 percent services bond debt
Less than 2 percent each go to government operations and natural resources
3.5 percent goes to “everything else” 

Take a look:So assuming the debt service is off limits, I-985 will mostly steal money from education, health, and law enforcement, to pay for pet transportation projects in the Puget Sound. Is this what taxpayers really want?

The budget impact keeps growing

July 26, 2008 by · Comments Off on The budget impact keeps growing
Filed under: Analysis 

An update on how much money I-985 raids from the general fund, by budget cycle:

’07-’09: $52 million (it’s in effect for less than half a year)
’09-’11: $238 million
’11-’13: $284 million 

$284 million is the equivalent of almost $50 of tax money from each Washington resident, from every corner of the state, to pay for road projects that will likely be concentrated in urban Puget Sound.

Only four out of Washington’s thirty nine counties have HOV lanes

July 26, 2008 by · Comments Off on Only four out of Washington’s thirty nine counties have HOV lanes
Filed under: Analysis 

I-985 turns the management of HOV lanes into a statewide decision. Yet only 4 counties have HOV lanes: Pierce, Snohomish, King, and Kitsap.

Because of a technicality, Kitsap county’s lanes aren’t even affected by I-985. So why are voters from all across the state deciding how to manage a local traffic issue that only affects three counties?

I-985 would "compound an already gloomy budget situation"

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on I-985 would "compound an already gloomy budget situation"
Filed under: Analysis 

The Tri-City Herald weighs in on I-985:

2 initiatives could bungle state budgetTwo citizens initiatives likely to qualify for the November ballot would compound an already gloomy budget situation if approved by voters, possibly pushing the state’s shortfall past $3 billion

[P]reliminary estimates from the Department of Revenue indicate Tim Eyman’s traffic congestion measure — Initiative 985 — would cost the state about $290 million during the next two-year budget cycle and the rest of the current one.

$290 million for a bunch of pet transportation projects sure ain’t chump change — especially at a time when the state budget’s tight anyway. So much for fiscal discipline and protecting the taxpayer.

More from the mayor of Wenatchee

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on More from the mayor of Wenatchee
Filed under: Local Leaders Speak Out 

Mayor Dennis Johnson has more to say about I-985’s proposal to take local red-light camera revenue away from local governments, and give it to the state.

“The purpose is to stop red-light violators. That’s what we want to do,” Johnson said. “If the state wants to take that incentive away from us, that’s not a good thought process.” 

Unfortunately, you won’t know that this is I-985’s agenda unless you read the fine print.

Where’s the congestion? Seattle, mostly

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on Where’s the congestion? Seattle, mostly
Filed under: Analysis 

I-985 raids $125 million per year from the state general fund, to pay for pet congestion relief projects. Some of those projects aren’t such bad ideas, but most won’t do a darn thing about congestion — and some could even make the state’s transportation problems worse.

But perhaps the most galling thing about I-985 is that it siphons money from all over the state — from local town and city coffers, even — to pay for what’s predominantly a local problem that’s concentrated in a narrow corridor in Puget Sound. This state map of congestion, from p. 74 of this state congestion report (pdf link), lays out the story:

It’s a pretty crummy map, since “up” is southeast, not north. But the story is pretty clear: according to the state, the worst congestion problems are found in Puget Sound, mostly in greater Seattle.

And yet I-985 forces the whole state to decide on how to manage Seattle’s congestion — and also expects the whole state to contribute tax money to the solution. I-985 even prohibits many of the solutions that Puget Sound residents are demanding to help them manage congestion.

It’s not fair to the rest of the state, and it’s not fair to residents of Puget Sound.

Wenatchee mayor opposes I-985

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on Wenatchee mayor opposes I-985
Filed under: Local Leaders Speak Out 

Wenatchee mayor Dennis Johnson doesn’t seem to like I-985:

Eyman’s newest initiative, I-985, would take money that cities generate from red-light-camera tickets and send it to a statewide transportation fund.

The cameras would be installed at busy intersections in an attempt to improve traffic safety by catching drivers who run red lights.

“Quite frankly I have no problem with the money being used locally for traffic-congestion projects,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “But there is no way the city of Wenatchee will become a tax collector for the state of Washington. It certainly is not acceptable from my point of view.”



I-985 raids money from the state general fund

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on I-985 raids money from the state general fund
Filed under: Analysis 

The Department of Revenue estimates that I-985 will take over $290 million from the General Fund by the end of the next 2-year budget cycle:

FY 2009: $51.7 million (It’d only be in effect for half the year.)

FY 2010: $114.4 million

FY 2011: $123.9 million

It raises a good question: what could you do with $290 million? Certainly, you could do better than to siphon it from all over the state to pay for some pet transportation projects in urban Puget Sound.

Where are Washington State’s HOV lanes?

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on Where are Washington State’s HOV lanes?
Filed under: Analysis 

I-985 “turns off” the state’s HOV lanes during most hours of the day.

Here are all the HOV lanes on Washington State highways:

Note that they’re entirely in a narrow strip of land bordering the Puget Sound — a tiny portion of the state. Over three-quarters of the HOV system is in King County alone. And yet I-985 asks folks with little understanding of local conditions, from all corners of the state, to make a decision on how to manage them. That’s just not good policy: people with good knowledge of local conditions should be making decisions about HOV lanes. Anything else just doesn’t make sense.

King County voters say: Fix congestion with transit!

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on King County voters say: Fix congestion with transit!
Filed under: Analysis, Citizens Speak Out 

King County voters rank traffic congestion at the top of their transportation concerns — and think that expanding public transit is the best congestion fix.

More than 450 King County residents think traffic congestion is the largest transportation problem facing the county. And they also say expanded public transit is the preferred solution.

That’s among the many results of a 65-page survey that was handed out as part of King Countywide Community Forums, an initiative designed to expand public input on local issues beyond town-hall meetings

Notably, transit is one of many solutions that I-985 leaves off the table.

Coalition forms to oppose Initiative 985

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on Coalition forms to oppose Initiative 985
Filed under: Announcements 

Coalition Emerging to Oppose Initiative 985

Proposed Initiative Would Cut Funding for Education and Health
Care while Increasing Traffic Congestion

SEATTLE – As the Secretary of State’s Office qualified I-985 for the November ballot, a diverse array of interests from across the state are emerging to oppose this latest measure from Tim Eyman.

Opponents cited a long list of problems that would be caused or exacerbated by I-985. “Initiative 985 is an initiative that promises everything for nothing,” said Bill LaBorde, State Director for Environment Washington and a spokesperson for the No! on I-985 campaign. It would divert more than $127 million per year that now goes to the general operating budget into a dedicated account that would do little address the state’s transportation problems. Added LaBorde, “with most of the general fund dedicated to education (52%), and health care and social services (30.5%), $127 million a year is a hit that the people of our state can ill afford to take at this moment of economic uncertainty.”

Mike Town, a Lake Washington School District teacher, raised concerns about the impacts of I-985 on his high school students: “We would lose funding that now helps pay for text books and reductions in class size,” he said.

“Even if you buy the argument that we can build our way out of congestion, $127 million a year doesn’t do much building but it sure takes lots of valuable funding away from kids and sick people, said LaBorde. “With that $127 million you could either educate more than 16,000 kids in our public schools, or you could add maybe a mile of new freeway in the Puget Sound area. You could provide health insurance coverage for 40,000 children, or you could build a ramp on a new interchange.” “Because of the constraints this measure places on tolling and transportation spending, I’m worried that if it passes, we will simply not have the funding necessary to replace the SR 520 floating bridge, said Rob Johnson, Regional Policy Director for Transportation Choices Coalition.

I-985 would also require opening High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to solo drivers for all but three hours each weekday morning and evening, creating havoc with an HOV system that has taken decades to build. “This would undermine the advantages that express buses, vanpools and carpools now have during certain peak hours, making it more difficult for commuters to get to work quickly and reliably at a time when rising gas prices are creating huge increases in transit ridership.” “The ironic thing about the so-called Congestion Relief Initiative is that there’s not a single provision in it that will actually provide any congestion relief. In fact, it probably makes congestion worse,” noted Johnson.

The initiative would also require cities to spend scarce dollars on traffic light synchronization projects which, in many cases, offer no improvement in traffic congestion. By diverting revenue from the operation of red light cameras, the measure would decrease safety in school zones and other areas with heavy pedestrian activity. Under the I-985, the State would be specifically prohibited from using any money from the Congestion Account for some of the most practical and effective methods for reducing congestion – “…park and ride lots, ferries, trolleys, buses, monorail, light rail, or heavy rail.”

Even worse, I-985 creates greater inequities between rural and urban communities by diverting sales tax dollars collected from around the state to fix congestion problems that mostly affect the Puget Sound area. Urban communities lose control; rural communities lose money.

FUSE Washington, Transportation Choices Coalition, the Sierra Club, Environment Washington, Futurewise, WashPIRG and Washington Environmental Council have already joined the coalition against I-985. Over the next few weeks, several more business and labor organizations are expected to join the campaign against the initiative.

Our campaign is coming together…

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on Our campaign is coming together…
Filed under: Announcements 

Here’s the press:

I-985 qualifies

July 24, 2008 by · Comments Off on I-985 qualifies
Filed under: Announcements 

It’s on the ballot:

Secretary of State Sam Reed said Friday that Initiative 985, sponsored by initiative activist Tim Eyman, collected enough valid voter signatures to win a spot on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. 

Of course, the article simply accepts the spin that I-985 is “designed to ease traffic congestion.” It’s not. It does a few things to reduce congestion. But it does some other things that are likely to increase rush-hour congestion, like shorten the hours that HOV lanes operate — which can actually reduce the number of trips that a highway can handle.

But mostly it just raids the state General Fund, transferring money from rural areas to pay for King County road and street projects.