The campaign for a new, $930 million transportation levy has been saying that the last levy met all its goals. Not true — as you probably have guessed if you’ve driven around Seattle lately.
At the center of the campaign for a big, new Seattle roads levy is an eyebrow-raising claim: That the old Seattle roads levy met all its goals and promises.
The notion that the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy had an impeccable track record has been repeated by both campaigners and city officials.
“The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) met every numeric goal under the Bridging the Gap levy, from number of street miles repaved to number of new blocks of sidewalks,” reads the campaign website for the new, $930 million levy, called Let’s Move Seattle.
“SDOT met every commitment of Bridging the Gap … on budget and ahead of schedule,” a pro-levy group, Transportation Choices Coalition, wrote recently.
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Some of the performance claims are very specific. Example: “In 2006, Bridging the Gap promised to deliver 200 line-miles of resurfaced pavement. In reality it delivered 225 miles,” says an op-ed this week from a member of the Bridging the Gap oversight committee, assuring voters they should trust the new levy.
The problem is, none of the above claims are true. It won’t surprise anyone who drives around Seattle that the city’s track record on fixing roads is far more mixed.
Take the lane repaving. The voters’ guide in 2006 said the levy would repave 360 lane miles of local streets.
But in March, 2007, after the $360 million levy had been approved, the city transportation department put out its own list of “realistic and achievable goals” for the work.
That document dialed back the campaign hype a bit. Still, it pledged that over nine years the city would resurface “approximately 300 lane-miles of arterial streets.”
What actually got repaved? Only 225 miles. It means that at best 75 percent of the goal was achieved. In school that earns you a C.
The reason they can say the goal was met is that along the way the goal was cut by nearly half, to just 200 miles. It’s this sharply lowered bar that the city hurdled, and is now trumpeting as a performance success.
That 2007 work list is worth reviewing because it set 15 numeric goals for projects around the city. Comparing those 15 pledges in 2007 with what was actually accomplished by 2015, it turns out the city has delivered completely on nine of them.
So we’ll give them nine “A” grades. The city also earned one B, three C’s, one D and one F.
The A’s were for projects like putting in new sidewalks (110 of 117 blocks completed) and 45,000 hours of new Metro service (50,000 hours were achieved). The C’s were for street repaving and street-tree planting (only 6,135 of the 8,000 trees were actually planted). Also, the city did only three out of four major capital projects (the Lander Street overpass remains unbuilt).
The F was for SDOT’s pledge to “reduce the maintenance backlog by about half.” This was wildly off, as the backlog actually tripled. SDOT acknowledged this a few years ago, and also admitted that the name “Bridging the Gap” was itself a mistake because nobody ever expected the maintenance gap would actually be bridged.
Add it all up and Bridging the Gap has a grade-point average of 3.1. That’s a B-minus.
Not bad for government work, right? Seriously, a B-minus is hardly a scandal. The private sector sometimes can’t match that on big projects (Dreamliner, anyone?).
But it is troubling that they keep claiming they met all their goals when it’s so obvious they haven’t. Many of the goals were revised downward, sometimes dramatically. Example: The original levy said it would replace 150,000 worn-out street signs. About 90,000 were replaced. That would be a D grade — except that today, the goal is listed as only 50,000. So … A-plus!
Why not just be straight with voters?
“I don’t believe the main message of our campaign has been disingenuous or deceiving,” said Sandeep Kaushik, spokesman for Let’s Move Seattle. “Our message is that we’ve met most of our promises. And also that SDOT has a pretty good track record on bread-and-butter projects.”
Kaushik said he would consider having the campaign website changed so it wasn’t so sweeping in its self-praise.
Still, I doubt it will give the straight story: “Hey, voters, we met about 80percent of our goals. Costs went up on some projects, we misjudged on a few others. Bottom line: We need more money because clearly the need has only grown.”
I would probably vote for that. But giving yourself an A when you didn’t earn one? Résumé inflation is usually covering for something.