Seattle voters deserve a better deal than the one proposed by the Move Seattle levy.
SEATTLE’S nine-year, $930-million transportation levy “Move Seattle” is an enormous request of taxpayers, more than doubling the Bridging the Gap levy it replaces.
For that extraordinary request, Move Seattle should be chock full of big fixes, specific big projects and clear and measurable outcomes. Those are all needed because Seattle really needs to get moving to fulfill its role as a global city.
Move Seattle would cost the owner of a $450,000 house about $145 more a year than what is levied under Bridging the Gap.
But for all that money, it’s not really clear what Move Seattle aims to do. Nor is it clear that the city’s transportation department deserves the trust required from $930 million more in taxpayer money. For those reasons, reject Move Seattle.
Move Seattle is a grab-bag of diffuse spending, buttering money around in seven-figure chunks that fit City Hall’s urbanist-at-all-costs agenda, not the lived experience of city residents. The biggest investment, $250 million for maintenance and spot repair, barely puts a dent in the city’s nearly $2 billion maintenance backlog. Remember, Bridging the Gap, approved by voters in 2006, proposed to cut the city’s maintenance backlog in half, which it did not.
Move Seattle takes a similar approach, with some crucial bridge modernization and repair — millions in spending, but not enough to actually address the ailing Magnolia Bridge. It also does not help fix the Aurora Bridge’s lack of a protective center barrier, which was spotlighted in Thursday’s deadly accident.
Nor does Move Seattle promise much innovation to ease the city’s intractable gridlock. Although 81 percent of trips in the region are taken by car, Move Seattle proposes a paltry $13 million investment in traffic-light signalization. In contrast, Move Seattle proposes $20 million for urban forestry.
Instead, Move Seattle is more focused on the urbanist agenda focused on transit, walking and cycling as a way to unkink Seattle traffic. Some of that spending makes sense. Move Seattle, for instance, promises to improve safer routes to city schools. It proposes more than $100 million to construct seven more of the popular new high-speed bus routes.
But Move Seattle has a credibility gap. The Seattle Department of Transportation allowed its seawall-replacement project to run at least 30 percent over budget. A promised streetcar line from Pioneer Square to Broadway — itself a questionable use of scarce city dollars — is now more than a year late and probably won’t open until 2016.
Because Move Seattle’s plan is so vague ... there’s a risk funds could be siphoned off to pay for mistakes and overruns on current projects.”
Because Move Seattle’s plan is so vague — the suggested projects are contained in a nonbinding addendum to the ordinance — there’s a risk funds could be siphoned off to pay for mistakes and overruns on current projects. Voters should remember that Bridging the Gap promised a Lander Street overpass in Sodo for freight mobility, but that money was diverted to rebuild Mercer Street.
Aside from the seawall and trolley debacles, SDOT has poor transparency on basic projects. It last updated its infrastructure inventory in 2013, but used data that was at least five years old. Finding that outdated list on the city’s webpage requires immense patience and tenacity.
Move Seattle is disappointing because Seattle desperately needs a more functional transportation and transit system. But public investment requires public accountability. The Seattle Times editorial board recommended rejecting last year’s King County Metro transit levy because of a lack of accountability — and the threatened service cuts were proved unnecessary. The board then supported Seattle’s city-only Metro levy when city officials required performance measures.
Seattle voters should reject Move Seattle and demand a better deal — a smaller, shorter package with specific projects and goals. The next City Council, with members elected in the new district system, should help draw up the project list.
And voters need a better financing deal, one not foisted entirely on an already rising property-tax burden. Impact fees, imposed on developers benefiting from the development boom, should be part of the package.
Reject Move Seattle and send a message to City Hall that voters want a better deal.