Every year, Washington residents spend hundreds of hours commuting and stuck in traffic. Our state has grown by 1 million people in a dozen years, making transportation for people and goods even more challenging.
The public has been clear and consistent: We need better roads and more transportation options. As a result, investments at the local and state level are being used to prioritize road improvements, increase safety for bridges and overpasses and expand mass transit services where they matter most.
Initiative 976 threatens to undo all of that, and will slow our traffic and the economy.
This isn’t just about commute times, it’s also about jobs. Huge amounts of raw materials, agricultural goods and manufactured products move via roads and railways. That’s why our state’s business, labor and environmental leaders have all come together to oppose I-976. We agree that I-976 threatens our economy and our environment. It is far too costly.
In 2015, the Washington legislature passed a bipartisan transportation package that invests in all parts of our state. I-976 guts that package by cutting funds needed for projects like the widening of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, the west end of Highway 520, the widening of Interstate 405, and the desperately needed Highway 167/Highway 509 Puget Sound Gateway project in South King and Pierce counties.
I-976 cuts $4 billion in state investments in roads, bridges, overpasses, ferries and transit service over the next 10 years. That’s not all. It would also cut $15 million per year from the Washington State Patrol, and threatens services like bus passes for low-income families, dial-a-ride, disaster relief transit, and tribal transit operations. Senior citizens, youth, veterans and people with disabilities depend on these services for basic mobility.
I-976 would also cut projects that have already been approved by voters, including Sound Transit. Cutting Sound Transit funds means the agency will have to borrow even more money to deliver on projects, and it will have to pay higher interest rates. Just like a pay cut makes it harder and more expensive to get a mortgage, the $7 billion cut to transit revenue leads to $13 billion in extra borrowing costs between 2021-2041, for a total $20-billion impact.
Our state allows cities and counties to raise local dollars to solve local transportation problems. I-976 promoter Tim Eyman wants to eliminate that money, too. Seattle’s voter-approved Transportation Benefit District (TBD) pays for an extra 350,000 bus hours every year, helping to create the nation’s only transit system with growing ridership. More than 60 cities use their local TBD for road repair and local maintenance projects. I-976 repeals cities’ authority to use this tool.
In addition to the practical and human costs, I-976 hurts our environment. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and a robust transit system is critical to reducing emissions in our region and our state. Cuts to transit will force more drivers onto the roads, slowing personal and commercial traffic.
Eyman glibly suggests that the state could fund transportation out of the “rainy day” fund, but that’s not a real choice. Rainy-day funds are needed to help us recover from major disasters and to protect schools, health care, social services and public safety during recessions. The only disaster here is the one Eyman proposes to create.
Concerns about how car values are assessed are legitimate, but make no mistake, that’s not what I-976 does. If it passes, we will have to go back to the drawing board and decide, once again, which projects get done, and which projects don’t.
I-976 will cut funding support for our entire transportation system — roads, transit, bridges, ferries, rail corridors, and everything between. When that funding gets cut, all of us — individuals, families, workers and employers — pay the price.