In recent years we’ve seen a series of ballot measures (sometimes property taxes, but more often sales taxes) around the country to fund ‘balanced’ transportation investments, i.e., a combination of (usually rail) transit and roads. Metro has been watching the political tea leaves for some time calculating whether such a measure would pass here.
But an article in the [Seattle] Stranger suggests this might be becoming passé and suggests a recent vote and poll indicates that leaders and voters may be losing their appetite for roads as part of balanced packages.
13 responses to ““Bundling” Strategies Changing?”
The voters described in the article are hardly a representative sample–I expect that balanced packages are still a good way to sell transit projects to mainstream folks.
But I think stories like this do show a real shift–the “no more roads” position (which I believe in myself) may not be mainstream, but it’s out of the closet, and getting some traction–that is, showing up in real world debates instead of just the internet.
Even if this position never gets beyond that, at least it helps shift the debate: for decades, believing in transit at all was a fringe position in most parts of the US. The transit-only position makes balanced packages look like a natural compromise which any reasonable middle-of-the roader would naturally vote for.
And while there really are good environmental reasons to oppose any and all new roads, on the other hand, cynically speaking, we know that traffic always gets worse no matter how many lanes they add, but as transit systems grow they actually work better. So in a sense, if we compromise, we win…
There have been four groups of voters for transportation issues:
0) no new taxes folks
1) more roads, no transit folks
2) more transit, no roads
3) more transit and roads folks
There have always been a certain number of people in each of those last three groups that will not support anything other than their preferred solution. Road folks who won’t vote for transit, transit folks who won’t vote for roads and roads and transit folks who won’t vote anything that doesn’t include both.
In particular, the regional political leadership has fallen into that last group. They want/need to please everyone and that means they need a package that they can at least defend to all three groups.
As Nick/295bus suggests, there was a time when the pro-transit folks thought the only way to get transit was to attach it to a roads package. In Portland at least, I think many of the pro-roads folks have come to accept the need to have transit as part of any package if they hope to win voter support. I think that shift was largely from the need to placate the “group three” people, rather than a belief they need folks from the pro-transit group (2).
What I think is changing, is that folks in the pro-transit group are starting to doubt they need to include roads at all. More and more the pro-road folks won’t support a joint package. And, unlike roads, its not clear that the roads and transit folks won’t support a transit-only packager.
What is keeping roads and transit linked is the elected officials. They still want something that is defensible with everyone except the “no new taxes” folks.
In the Portland metro area, name one ballot measure that was “bundled” with both transit and road improvements.
South|North was a statewide measure (1996 Measure 32, Yes – 622,764, No – 704,970, failed 53% to 47%.). And it failed. (It doesn’t matter that it “passed” in the Metro region – it was a statewide vote, and statewide it failed. Thus the measure failed. No technicality, “if” “and” or “but” about it – IT FAILED.) In fact, only FOUR counties had a majority of its own residents vote in favor – Multnomah, Washington, Benton and Lane. (Yes, even Clackamas County was more against than in favor.)
On the other hand, Washington voters repealed their MVET in part because much of the money went towards transit improvements; but passed a gas tax increase when it was dedicated solely towards highway uses and couldn’t be touched by transit.
Since the Westside Light Rail measure passed, transportation measures in general haven’t succeeded in Portland. (But the MSTIP easily wins in Washington County, and it has very few transit projects in any of its four editions.)
There haven’t been any regionwide “bundled” measures. There have been three transit-only measures sent up region-wide: westside light rail (passed), South/North light rail (passed), and downtown-Clackamas county light rail (failed).
The only “bundling” was the state-wide South/North light rail measure (actually a referendum of a spending bill already passed by the legislature), where the part of the state that benefitted from the “rail” portion of it voted to pass it, but it was voted down overwhelmingly by the parts of the state that benefitted from the “roads” portion of it.
Oregon’s only experience with “bundling” has been a failure on a state-wide basis. But “transit only” projects in the Metro area are 2-1. And given that the “transit” component of the statewide measure essentially passed in the area that was going to benefit from transit, I’ll call it a 3-1 history of pro-transit votes in the Metro area (and, unsurprisingly, 4-0 in Multnomah County.)
The Metro region really doesn’t need bundling to get a transit project through. But it might need one for roads.
the MSTIP easily wins in Washington County
I thought the MSTIP has been part of the Washington County tax base for almost a decade under measure 50. The only votes needed for how it is spent are the county commissioners.
Here is a link to the description on the Washington County web site. It appears the last vote was in 1995 which was before West Side MAX went into service.
Regarding the Stranger article on the Seattle regional package – you can also find some very colorful stories on the editorial pages of the Post-Intelligencer, including an “endorsement” that advised voters to hold their nose and vote for it. Apparently it was put together in a way to try and please everyone but instead succeeded in angering them all. According to the P-I (which is, nominally, a supporter) the range of opponents is quite unusual and broad.
In addition to the article cited from the Stranger, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has had some very revealing coverage on its editorial pages – including an “endorsement” (sort of) which headlined the advice that voters should hold their noses while voting for it.
Apparently the package was put together to try and please everyone and ended up in some way or another displeasing everyone. The P-I stories indicate that the “no” coalition is unusually diverse and broad, e.g. people who never agree with each other and who have opposite reasons for opposing this measure.
I myself would have mixed feelings on this one. I still feel that the road projects need to be finished up here, but unfortunately, the gas tax is losing value again, despite the recent increases, and inflation alone is not the cause. Fuel efficiency might increase the use of tolling. Also, I still believe that a roads and transit package is a great idea, because it should increase the amount of voters supporting it, if it was the right package. Now one Light Rail critic believes the best Roads and Transit option would be just regular buses on new and improved roads. Then again, when the Sierra Club says they are pro-transit, I do not believe them. THey are rapidly becoming anti-any transportation option, such as their opposition to restoring rail on the Lackawanna Cutoff in New Jersey.
Now I am all for completing the Spine for Central LINK up here, but perhaps they can work on ways to make it cheaper, so more can be built, possibly some busways for Rapid Buses feeding into it, and eventually building a Light Rail loop around the Suburban Crescent. Existing rail transit options should be combined with innovative rail and bus options, as well as road improvements. Unfortunately 2 of the roads that need to be fixed up here, are hot-potato items. Nobody wants a Six-Lane SR520 Bridge in some of the neighborhoods that route traverses, and a former State Senator(fired by his constituents in 2004) wants 8 lanes. Joe Horn thinks not just that, but each road project should be a separate vote. The Alaskan Way Viaduct it very divisive, figuretively and politically. SOme want to retrofit it, a few want a new viaduct that will be bigger and perhaps uglier, some want a tunnel but it is expensive, some want demolition and no replacement at all, as well as a Surface Plus Transit option. Now here is the irony with the AWV, it was built to relieve congestion on US99, which at the time going through Downtown used a couplet of Elliot and Western Avenues. Now a different tunnel idea might actually be one of the best but would be even more expensive than a cut and cover tunnel under Alaskan Way, and that is a bored tunnel under Downtown. We got one already, the Great Northern Tunnel, built in 1905, and thankfully they double-tracked it when built. It has survived three earthquakes now, and is very important to the region, but unfortunately, there are some that want to remove redundant rail instead of upgrading it, namely the Eastside Line, aka Woodinville Subdivision. Nothing for it is in the ST2 package, although momentum is begining to shift towards a trail with rail option instead of rails to trails. It’s 100ft wide in some places. It might be perfect for a ring line, within geographical, not political constraints. Geographical as in the regions geography where bodies of water would make it more of a semi ring line connecting with the BNSF North/South Main at Everett and Tukwilla, but a Ring Line within the land it does traverse. The Political constraints is that although the part of Snohomish County that the Woodinville Sub uses to connect with the BNSF Scenic Subdivision at Monroe, is in the Regional Transportation Investment District(the Roads portion of Roads and Transit), but not the Regional Transportation Authority. Whether it is Diesel Light Rail with time seperation to allow Freights to use it at night, or Commuter Rail whether Locomotive Hauled or using DMUs, this corridor could be one of the things that they would benefit from if they were within the RTA(Sound Transit). That and Regional Express Buses along SR522, US2, and Commuter Rail between Monroe and Everett(and Seattle?) They have several highways that need the improvements in that area, such as SR9, SR522, and US2.
Now maybe it should be seperate propositions, but that was done once before here, in 1968. The roads passed, so did the stadium measure, but the Transit part of Forward Thrust, failed. Now perhaps we should try that again, but require both to pass.
I just got off the max after another trip downtown, since you can’t get there with your car anymore.
And what occurred to me is;
THIS SYSTEM IS REALLY VULNERABLE TO ANY SORT OF MISCHIEF, I mean, there is absolutely no real security on the entire line! The whole system could be shut down rather easily!
Don’t we have a yellow alert or something?
Al, the Homeland Security alert level has never been below “Yellow” since its inception on March 12, 2002, so it’s really not a useful thing to live one’s life by or to adjust operational plans by at all.
So to keep it on topic, would you propose any specific security plans be bundled with a roads and/or transit ballot measure?
One of the groups opposing the Roads and Transit measure on the November Ballot up here, is Eastside Rail Now. They are a coalition trying to preserve the BNSF Eastside Line. In their campaign to preserve it, they have brought the Homeland Security Issue into it.