Transportation: What went wrong and when

It’s expected that transportation will be the biggest local issue in the 2008 elections. Most people aren’t happy. But instead of trying to find scapegoats, let’s review some history to see why we’re paying higher transportation taxes for longer commutes.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, June 2, 2008 2:01pm
  • Opinion

It’s expected that transportation will be the biggest local issue in the 2008 elections. Most people aren’t happy. But instead of trying to find scapegoats, let’s review some history to see why we’re paying higher transportation taxes for longer commutes.

From the early ‘50s until the early ‘70s, this state went on a highway-building binge. The viaduct was built in the early ‘50s. Interstate 5 was built in the mid-’60s and was completed by the end of the decade. The Highway 520 floating bridge was constructed, opening in late 1963. Interstate 405 was built out, including the interchange linking it with Highway 167, and with Interstate 5 at Tukwila. The Hood Canal Bridge was constructed, and so was the long awaited North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) in 1972.

And the state wanted more. It planned another highway running north and south east of Lake Sammamish that would parallel 405. A third floating bridge was on the drawing boards, linking Kirkland to Seattle’s Sand Point area. A series of cross-Sound bridges, including one from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and another from Seattle to Vashon Island, were being pushed. Also proposed was the “Bay Freeway” linking I-5 to Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue), and the R.H. Thomson Expressway, which would take cars from 520 through the Arboretum to Seattle’s Central District.

It was a bridge too far, literally, for the voters and the people they elected, who said “NO” to all these ideas. Instead of new bridges and highways, we would simply add capacity to the existing roads already in place. And we would promote alternatives to driving, an appealing option to people dismayed by the rising price of gas during the Arab oil embargo of the early ‘70s. That’s when METRO Transit was created, and when HOV lanes (then called “carpool lanes”) started to appear. By the ‘80s so did ramp meters and van pools.

Transit spending continued to rise, but a huge expansion of I-90 was held up by environmentalists throughout the ‘70s, and eventually scaled down to half its intended size, with a lid added over Mercer Island. We never did add capacity to most other highways. And after voting against a light rail system in the late ‘60s, voters greenlighted a smaller light rail system in 1996, along with more express bus service. Bike transportation was encouraged through an expansion of bike lanes.

It is now 2008. Let’s take stock of where we are.

The county’s population is now 1.8 million, a 57 percent increase, almost all of it coming from outside Seattle.

The proportion of all transportation dollars spent on transit has steadily risen since 1970 and now accounts for more than 50 percent of the total.

The percentage of trips taken on transit, however, is SMALLER than it was back in 1970. Yes, the number of actual transit trips is higher, but the number of trips by car has risen even more. Less than 5 percent of the daily trips in this county are taken by transit, which falls to less than 3 percent when you take in the four county Puget Sound region (King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap). So we are spending more than half our transportation dollars on less than 5 percent of our trips. And we are enduring some of the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Against this backdrop, there are two simple choices to make. Should we spend a greater proportion of transportation money adding more lanes to existing highways, or spend a greater share of transportation dollars on transit? State governor candidate Dino Rossi prefers more lanes, the light-rail lobby wants billions more on transit, and current State Gov. Chris Gregoire can’t seem to make a decision. The choices aren’t easy, but they’re simple. What would you do?


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentnews.us.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://kentnews.us/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Robert Whale can be reached at robert.whale@auburn-reporter.com.
If you're right, and you know it, then read this | Whale's Tales

As the poet Theodore Roethke once wrote: “In a dark time the eye begins to see…”

Robert Whale can be reached at robert.whale@auburn-reporter.com.
The key thing is what we do with our imperfections | Whale's Tales

I have said and done many things of which I am not proud. That is, I am no golden bird cheeping about human frailties from some high branch of superhuman understanding.

Robert Whale can be reached at robert.whale@albmedia.app.
Grappling with the finality of an oncologist's statement | Whale's Tales

Perhaps my brain injected a bit of humor to cover the shock. But I felt the gut punch.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Legislature back in session next week | Cartoon

State lawmakers return Jan. 8 to Olympia.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Santa doesn't drive a Kia | Cartoon

Cartoon by Frank Shiers.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Salute to veterans | Cartoon by Frank Shiers

On Veterans Day, honor those who served your country.

File photo
Why you should vote in the upcoming election | Guest column

When I ask my students when the next election is, frequently they will say “November 2024” or whichever presidential year is coming up next.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@albmedia.app.
Here's a column for anyone who loves their dog | Whale's Tales

It is plain to me in looking at dogs small and large that a decent share of them are exemplars of love on Earth, innocents who love unconditionally and love their chow.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@albmedia.app.
Please protect your children from BS spreaders | Whale's Tales

Among the most useful things I studied in college were debate, and… Continue reading

Email editor@kentnews.us.
It's time to change Kent's City Council elections to districts | Guest column

If you were asked who your city councilmembers are, would you have an answer?

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
Dear government: Hold your horses when regulating trucks | Brunell

Next to gasoline and diesel, natural gas also has the greatest number of refueling stations.