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October 08, 2007

Environmental organizations excited about Roads and Transit measure

Leaders from the environmental community are stepping up their advocacy of the Roads and Transit ballot measure.  A broad coalition of environmental organizations is supporting the Roads and Transit measure because it will reduce sprawl, curb greenhouse gases, and will be the largest investment in transit in our region in decades.  The Roads and Transit package is being supported by Washington Conservation Voters, Washington Environmental Council, Cascade Land Conservancy, Transportation Choices Coalition, Environment Washington, Futurewise, Tahoma Audubon and Bicycle Alliance of Washington. 

Jessyn Farrell, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition explains, “we must change the patterns in our transportation system. The Roads and Transit package is a huge step forward in fundamentally changing how we get around in this region.  The package will dramatically change our land use in this region.”  She goes on to say, “the process it took to get this measure crafted and on the ballot was an enormously complicated political process.  To imagine this happening again anytime soon, feels very unlikely.”

There are two parts of this ballot measure.  On the transit side, we are investing in over 50 miles of new rail lines, creating new bus corridors, making major improvements to our HOV network and making a major investment in new park and ride lots.   The roads measure, the smaller part of the overall package, is primarily focused on safety, maintenance and freight mobility of different regional highways, but also includes an investment in infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycling.  Do the highways collapsing in 1989 Oakland and present day Minneapolis give us any sense of urgency for our own region?

The local major media, in a typical media circus fashion, would have us believe that the environmental community in this region is split on supporting this ballot measure.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  There are a few organizations, each opposing different parts of the package in an effort to draw attention to different environmental issues including the issue of global warming and the need for mass transit.  Lets remember that car exhaust is the leading cause of carbon emissions in this region.  All environmentalists support the long-term strategy of shifting people out of solo driving and into transit, walking and bicycling.  However, voting against this measure, a measure largely focused on transit, as a protest vote against our auto dependent culture and the long-term political disregard we’ve seen for the environment doesn’t make any sense at all.

The local major media is acting irresponsible with its assertion that this package is far larger than 18 Billion, because of interest and inflation. The suggestion that Sound Transit and the RTID are intentionally misleading the public about the costs of these projects may make splashy headlines, but couldn’t be more inaccurate.  The media keeps playing with numbers and adding various amounts of inflation and interest over several decades.  That just doesn’t make sense. Every government bond and private loan has interest.  We could never have the tax money to pay for major capital projects up front.  I could understand a chart in a news article showing for example the cost of housing, gas, milk and other costs to explain inflation, or an article examining how we end up paying double for the houses we buy and schools we build because of 30 year interest.  To try and wrap our thoughts around this package we need to look at it in today’s dollars if we are to understand it at all.  When I see an investment of 11 Billion in transit, it feels so amazing.  I just don’t see any downside to that.

Gene Duvernoy, from Cascade Land Conservancy says, “stopping sprawl and strengthening the Growth Management Act must remain priorities for environmentalists, and this ballot measure will do just that.  By investing in transit we can stay connected in our built environment.” The investment in light rail alone will create thriving urban centers, where people will walk and bike to work and for play.  This is the kind of investment we need so badly in this region.

In advocating for transit, I often feel like I repeat myself in these pages, yet when I hear the rhetoric from the opponents of this measure, be it an SUV driving energy hog or a well meaning but misguided environmental type, rather than pull out my already thinning hair, I guess I’ll say it all again!  We need to invest in transit.  Our transportation infrastructure is decades behind other areas of the country.  Our highways are unsafe.  We must change our development and stop sprawl and plan for the million or more new residents moving here in the next couple of decades.  Does this ballot measure go far enough, in dealing with global warming and building transit infrastructure?  Not by a long shot.  We need funding for transit from the state government, just like we had before it was sliced out of the budget by the silly $30 car tabs idea.  The people in this state bought an anti-tax gimmick, big surprise.  We need better and fairer sources of taxes, and tolling and congestion pricing will do just that.  We need to get smart about energy use and the environment.  We need to change who we are and how we live.  Subsidized condos built on top of light rail stations anyone?

Cross Posted on The Urban Environmentalist

Posted by EzraBasom on October 8, 2007 at 10:02 PM in Policy | Permalink


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