I don’t always agree with with the P-I’s Joel Connelly, but I do respect him, so when he tells me that Tim Eyman’s latest for-profit initiative “deserves a look,” I decided to do exactly that. And you know what…? Connelly’s right; with I-985, Timmy may actually be “on to something.”
Or, on something as the case might be, considering much of what he’s proposing achieves the exact opposite of what he’s promising voters. Ah well… plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
Of course there’s a lot of stupid, selfish crap in Eyman’s initiative—that goes without saying—like opening HOV lanes to all comers outside the narrow hours of 6-9AM and 3-6PM weekdays that newly self-anointed transportation expert Eyman defines as rush hour. I’m sure that will win a bunch of votes from SOV drivers who fantasize about riding in the fast lane without the unbearable burden of a passenger… but if you think opening an extra lane to general purpose traffic is going to move things any faster on 520, there’s a shady fellow named Dino Rossi who has an eight-lane bridge to sell you.
Then there’s the popular synchronize traffic lights provision—a kinda silly, redundant mandate that reminds me of when my mother used to ask me to take out the trash as I was already halfway out the door with the bag, thus stripping me of an credit for taking the initiative. And of course there’s the “Reduce Congestion Fund,” a typically Eymanesque display of something for nothing legerdemain that fixes congestion without raising taxes by you know… stealing money from other stuff that taxpayers like.
But my favorite provision in I-985, the one that earns my endorsement, is the one that requires that tolls only be used to pay for the construction of the particular section of freeway or bridge on which they’re levied. I suppose Eyman supposes that this’ll tie the congestion pricers up in knots—which it will do—but take heart fellow enviros, for it will also result in less new road construction and fewer new miles of general purpose lanes built throughout the Puget Sound region and the state.
Let’s be clear: the 520 floating bridge is going to be replaced before it sinks into the lake (or perhaps, shortly thereafter); that is perhaps DOT’s number one priority. And all the current financing plans heavily rely on tolling both the 520 and I-90 bridges to pay for it. Remove I-90 tolls from the equation, and we not only lose a big chunk of federal funds that were predicated on tolling I-90, we also make it impossible to put any substantial toll on 520 without shifting the bulk of the traffic to its toll-free alternative.
This means we’re going to have to find a billion or so dollars elsewhere to pay for the new 520 bridge, and that money is going to come at the expense of other DOT projects throughout the region and the state. Yeah, that’s right all you Seattle haters on the other side of the mountains… if you vote to to prevent us from tolling ourselves to build our own bridge, the state will have no choice but to suck transportation dollars over the pass in our direction for a change.
And that Reduce Congestion Fund that pulls money out the general fund? Um… where is all this congestion that needs reducing? Why, in the Puget Sound region of course, meaning yet more tax dollars will be flowing East to West, courtesy of everybody’s favorite Mukilteo initiative impresario. But don’t worry Eastern and Central WA voters… Timmy’s going to synchronize all those traffic lights and open up all those HOV lanes that, you know… you don’t have.
Ironically, if I-985 passes it will largely be on the back of the “Fuck Seattle” vote, despite the fact that the end result will be a net inflow of tax dollars to our region. And doubly ironically, while Eyman claims to be addressing traffic congestion, the anti-tolling provisions will most definitely result in less road building, not more.
So if, like me, you want less road construction, not more, and you believe that increasing traffic congestion through stupid proposals like Eyman’s will only further incentivize voters to build more transit, then yeah, Joel’s right, I-985 does deserve a closer look, and perhaps, your very cynical vote.