Less than 24 hours after his attempt to open HOV lanes to all motorists was defeated in all but one of the state's 39 counties, perennial initiative backer Tim Eyman vowed to put another issue before voters next year.

Less than 24 hours after his attempt to open HOV lanes to all motorists was defeated in all but one of the state’s 39 counties, perennial initiative backer Tim Eyman vowed to put another issue before voters next year.

“We will sponsor a pro-taxpayer, pro-accountability initiative in 2009 — stay tuned,” Eyman said in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday. “We will continue to learn, adapt, and persevere.”

In an interview, Eyman refused to speculate why Initiative 985, which even opponents acknowledged had a “seductive” appeal, fared so poorly at the polls, garnering a majority only in Pierce County and collecting only about 40 percent of the vote statewide.

“When you win, everything you did was perfect, and when lose, you can second-guess everything. … There’s really no way to tell,” Eyman said.

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Eyman said he regarded it a “tremendous success” just to get more than 300,000 signatures to put I-985 on the ballot, and said it helped spotlight the need to fight traffic congestion.

Two months before the election, a confident Eyman e-mailed state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, instructing her to get ready to open HOV lanes to all motorists in “off-peak” hours. He said he planned to lead a “Freedom Drive” in HOV lanes Dec. 4, the date the measure would have taken effect.

“The Freedom Drive is being put off for a while,” Eyman said Wednesday.

I-985 would have created a state fund to reduce traffic congestion, restricted the use of tolls and made it more difficult for cities to operate red-light surveillance cameras.

It drew an increasingly wide array of opponents, including groups representing labor, business, law-enforcement, environmentalists, city governments and transportation professionals.

Federal transportation officials warned that opening the HOV lanes could make congestion worse and threaten federal funding.

In Eastern Washington, historically fertile territory for Eyman’s populist causes, I-985 lost by more than 2 to 1. Opponents had argued that region had nothing to gain from I-985, saying it would divert state general-fund money to fighting traffic congestion in the Puget Sound area.

Eyman, who makes his living promoting initiatives, said he hadn’t yet decided on the topic of his next measure and insisted personal gain was not his motivation.

“We’re the taxpayer’s last line of defense,” Eyman said. He took out a second mortgage on his Mukilteo home to help fund I-985 and said he hopes to recoup that in donations from supporters.

Former state transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald, who led the opposition to I-985, said, “There was something in it for everybody to dislike … that’s one of the risks of having a complicated initiative.”

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com