SEATTLE SOUNDINGS | Why can’t we have nice things?

It’s a cliché of every local election: The dynamic candidate, in search of your vote, is going to do something about Seattle’s awful traffic. Every state legislative candidate, mayoral hopeful, would-be county and City Council member and more than a few aspiring school board members all want to fix Seattle’s traffic. And then they get into office.

Why don’t efforts to fix it work? At the city level, the answer is obvious: Nobody tries. Seattle doesn’t do transportation projects; it does real estate projects using transportation money.

For the last decade, while bridge and road repairs backed up and the earthquake-damaged Magnolia Bridge quietly awaited collapse, the City of Seattle spent its discretionary capital funds on first the “Mercer mess” and then streetcars. Traffic engineers correctly predicted that “The Mess” (aka the Paul Allen beautification project) would actually make South Lake Union traffic worse. But it made Allen’s real estate holdings prettier, which was far more important than gridlock or climate change.

Similarly, city leaders were so anxious to build the South Lake Union Trolley that they didn’t even slow down to notice its acronym, much less its lack of passengers. Fixed-rail projects permanently boost real estate values, and so Seattle has soldiered on, expanding the network at an exorbitant cost per mile, with projected riders drawn almost entirely from existing bus routes. It makes sense only when you realize that transportation isn’t the point; corporate welfare for developers is.

And those are the relatively good transportation policies. For the truly awful ones, turn to Olympia and our state Legislature.


No bill, no funding

The downtown deep-bore tunnel, of course, was a state creation. Even if Bertha quietly applies for help under the state’s Death with Dignity law, the tunnel project will be a success with its newly enriched, waterfront-area property owners.

But at least with all these projects, something’s being built. What’s being generated by Olympia, particularly the Republican-controlled state Senate (unofficial motto: “Let’s screw the libtards in Seattle!”) is far worse.

For the last two legislative sessions, the state has had no transportation budget at all. Why? Because Republicans — despite being, until this year, a numeric minority — managed to block the Senate from considering a transportation bill because it wasn’t totally focused on roads and because it didn’t eviscerate public transit.

Blocking the passage of any transportation budget at all at least accomplished one of these goals: Without state funding, public transit agencies around the state have been forced to scale back or even close operations. True to form, even at a time of record ridership, King County Metro had to scramble last year to avoid devastating cuts. Even then, suburban routes have been gutted and in-city routes remain hopelessly crowded and inadequate.

Which brings us to this year, when the state Senate has finally decided that it really ought to offer some, any budget proposal. And what it has coughed up makes all of the transportation disasters listed above seem like really good ideas.


Always an agenda

Essentially, the Senate’s 16-year, $15 billion proposal parties like it’s 1959: Freeways are swell, and “climate change” never happened. More than half the money goes directly to “highway improvements,” disproportionately funding projects outside the Puget Sound region, where most of the state’s population growth is happening. Public transit gets hosed.

A poison pill requires $750 million in transit and multimodal funds to be redirected to the Motor Vehicle Fund, if either a carbon tax or stricter fuel economy standards are imposed. Sound Transit’s request to let it ask local voters for $15 billion for the next stage in light rail funding — which isn’t even state money, just an ask to let Sound Transit ask local voters to tax ourselves — gets reduced to $11 billion.

Even then, Republicans tie that provision directly to approval of several road mega-projects, most notably a major new north-south freeway in Spokane.

Another jewel: Beyond a gas tax increase, some of the proposed funding comes from transfers from sales-tax revenues, putting pressure on other parts of the already-gutted state budget.

In short, after two years of obstruction, Senate Republicans have come up with an ideologically driven transportation bill that actively blocks action on climate change, de-funds all types of public transit, pours enormous new funding into highway construction and penalizes Seattle pretty much for the sake of penalizing Seattle.

In terms of moving people and goods, this is why we can’t have nice things: Everybody’s got a transportation agenda. Sadly, none of those agendas actually promote transportation.


GEOV PARRISH is cofounder of Eat the State! He also reviews news of the week on “Mind Over Matters” on KEXP 90.3 FM. To comment on this column, write to