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September 24, 2007

Sound Transit deserves praise for creating regional transit in the Puget Sound Region

I’m voting an enthusiastic YES! on the November ballot measure for sound transit and regional road funding.  Sound Transit Phase 2 is an exciting expansion of the existing hugely successful Sound Transit commuter rail, express buses and light rail.  The whole package contains many worthwhile projects that will help ease congestion, including eliminating choke points on many highways, improving the HOV network, new park and ride lots, and most importantly a dramatic expansion of light rail.

In this region there is generally a consensus that we are way behind in our funding of public transportation and that there is an urgency to catch up with what was a failure of previous generations to make a strong investment in mass transit in our region.  There is such a strong sentiment in our region for mass transit, and people want it built sooner rather than later.  The biggest complaint is that rail is not getting built quicker.  It’s really a myth that the general public is not supportive of light rail and mass transit.   The more the public learns about what has been accomplished by Sound Transit with the limited regional funding available the more the public wants light rail, commuter rail and express buses in this region.

Other cities are proud of their investment in light rail and see it as a sign that they’ve matured as a city.  I’m not the only one who feels a tinge of jealousy when I visit other areas of the country and really see how far the Seattle region lags behind when it comes to rail and mass transit.  In other regions you can see that they are building a legacy for future generations with regional, state and federal funding.  As with our Sound Transit light rail system this long-term investment creates a legacy that provides economic growth in an environmentally sensible way.

We’ve got to remember that we are building rapid transit with our light rail system in this area.  This is a mainline rail corridor not a neighborhood trolley.  When we have transit hubs at each rail stop with frequent local bus service connecting rail with the neighborhoods, then we’ll have the transit service that people are clamoring for.  The fact is Sound Transit light rail will provide frequent and reliable service 20 hours a day!

There is not a single solution to traffic problems and we need to do many things to try to make our dysfunctional transportation system work. Light rail is almost always viewed as one option, a long-term investment that requires a capital investment and takes us in a different direction with future urban growth.  There is also strong public support for expanding freeway’s.  Caution is needed when it comes to freeway expansion.  We must do this the right way, with congestion pricing (tolls) and using our resources wisely, such as the elimination of short trips on freeways by creating limited access.

When it comes to cooperation between state and local governments, there just doesn’t seem to be a mutual agenda for transportation.  State legislators, the very folks that created Sound Transit with a mandate to plan and build a regional transit system seem to be missing in action, when it comes to advocating for and funding Sound Transit.  This couldn’t be more obvious in pro-transit Seattle where voters have been clamoring for transit and rail for decades.  Where is the support for light rail among Seattle legislators?  If legislators from Seattle were focused on representing their constituents when it comes to transit, then I think we’d see a radically different dialogue around light rail in Washington State, where the state government would be focused on what they can do to pick up part of the tab to make the capital construction of a regional light rail a reality in a matter of years and not decades.

Legislators should ask themselves whose interests they are working for in Olympia.  Are they working for the public to build an infrastructure that supports urban development and smart growth and offers options to the public?  Or are they working for some other agenda or perhaps some special interest?

Now, as we approach November and a ballot that will create regional funding for the expansion of light rail, express buses and commuter rail, we need to rally behind Sound Transit as an agency and as a solution to our regional gridlock.  It is not if we are going to build light rail, it is when.  Lets learn from the lessons of Denver, Salt Lake City and Portland and focus on how we can create a great regional transit system anchored by the effective bus service provided by the counties.

In Seattle we need to be particularly concerned about the effect of heavily funded special interests who are fighting light rail.  The majority of suburban voters are not only pro transit, pro light rail and are willing to pay to make the system work, but they are stuck with a land use pattern and growth rate that has crippled the regional road network.  Creating different travel choices, such as the different modes of transit that are being created by Sound Transit is exactly what it takes to make the whole transportation system work.

Cross Posted on The Urban Environmentalist

Posted by EzraBasom on September 24, 2007 at 01:25 AM in Policy | Permalink

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