Opinion

An easy “NO” vote on Prop. 1

It’s not about price, it’s about value.

That’s the second law of economics (the first is, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”). It’s why a lot of parents put off vacations, nicer cars, and nicer furnishings to make sure their children get a college education. Expensive? Oh yes. But also a good value.

Voters should use that same standard on Nov. 4 when they decide whether to raise their sales taxes to pay for Proposition 1, which would build 36 more miles of light rail, including to the Eastside, along with some additional commuter train routes from Snohomish and Pierce counties into Seattle, and a small increase in regional bus service.

How much will the sales tax go up? Half a penny on a dollar’s purchase, say the supporters of Prop. One. But it’s actually more than that because back in 1996 voters agreed to raise the sales tax four tenths of a penny to pay for the still unbuilt first phase of light rail. That tax was supposed to eventually phase out. A “yes” vote on Prop One authorizes Sound Transit to continue collecting it. So this is really a vote to authorize a sales tax increase of nearly one percent (nine-tenths of a penny) for decades. If there are cost overruns (not uncommon with Sound Transit), the taxes keep running. Please remember that.

When all this money is spent and all this new light rail is eventually constructed, will Prop One reduce traffic congestion?

No. Prop One’s motto is “Transit Now.” A more accurate jingle might be: “$23 Billion ... and nothing gets better.”

People in this area, particularly on the Eastside, are pretty reasonable about taxes and spending. They would probably pay more money for a shorter commute.

But Prop One, even when built out in the next 20 years or so, would not reduce congestion. Sound Transit’s own numbers prove it. They estimate that by the year 2030, when everything in the Sound Transit system is built out, that one half of one percent of the region’s daily trips will be taken on expanded light rail or commuter rail - and that most of those trips will be taken by people who are already taking the bus. Keep in mind that about 3 percent of daily trips today are made on transit. If Prop One is approved, after tens of billions of dollars are spent, there would still be under 4 percent of the trips taken on transit – a smaller proportion of transit usage than we had in the 1970’s.

So what should we do instead? Is there a way to spend money and reduce commuting times? Yes. Instead of light rail or brand new highways, all we need to do is expand lane capacity on existing freeways and major arterials, while expanding bus and vanpool service and making it more customer friendly. It would cost money, but it would also mean shorter commutes. And after safety, shouldn’t that be the first priority of our transportation system?

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