As first reported on Seattle Transit Blog, the state House passed a $4.9 billion two-year transportation budget on Friday that restored funding for moving I-90’s HOV lanes (work necessary to keep the voter-approved East Link light rail project on schedule) and which removed language that would have barred the state Department of Transportation from negotiating air rights with Sound Transit for access to I-90.
This blog has long made the case that Rep. Clibborn has long been opposed to Link crossing I-90, so we hope that this is the first sign of a House that is friendlier toward transit — perhaps due to advocacy pressure. One legislator described our outreach campaign as “a deluge of emails set off by bloggers,” but we think it’s important that transit advocates let the state know how important voter-approved light rail projects are to the region.
It is difficult to accurately gauge the impact of citizen advocacy, but the folks at STB deserve a ton of credit for taking the lead on covering this issue, and pushing awareness amongst both rail supporters and legislators alike. If I were them, I’d quietly put another notch in my belt.
But after talking to a number of reliable sources both in and outside Olympia, I’m not so sure it was Rep. Clibborn’s opposition to Link crossing I-90 that was the real motivation behind the anti-Link nature of the original bill. Clibborn and others, I’m told, weren’t really hoping to scuttle East Link, which is pretty much accepted in Olympia as a done deal. No, this was more of a shakedown… part of a calculated effort to extort a billion dollars or more from Sound Transit for access rights to I-90… money House Speaker Frank Chopp hopes to target to his preferred, but monstrously expensive, “Option K” Montlake tunnel alternative for the Western approach to the new 520 floating bridge.
At least a billion dollars, possibly two, that’s what Chopp has privately told lawmakers and lobbyists he wants for access to I-90 (a bridge, by the way, built 90% with federal dollars), and that’s why, I’m told, he had his lieutenants throw roadblocks into DOT’s negotiations with Sound Transit. That’s potentially enough money to fund all of the controversial Option K tunnel.
Now, as House Speaker, I kinda expect Chopp to play games like this. That’s politics. It’s part of his job description.
But Chopp also represents the voters of Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District… voters who overwhelmingly voted last November to tax themselves to build light rail across Lake Washington, not a highway tunnel under Montlake. We tried to pass a roads and transit measure back in 2007—I aggressively supported it—and it failed. The successful 2008 ballot measure, on the other hand, was explicitly transit only.
The Speaker’s efforts to steal money from East Link to help pay for Option K, may be a clever political maneuver, but it clearly ignores the will of the voters, and threatens the ability of Sound Transit to complete a project that, due to the Great Recession, is already seeing lower than projected tax revenues, and for which ST had never factored in the cost of tunneling under Montlake.
And it’s not at all that clear that this effort is dead, even with passage of a relatively ST-friendly transportation bill.