I-976: Some local transportation projects are safe - some are in jeopardy

Saturday, December 7, 2019

RapidRide E Line service could be affected
depending upon court ruling
Photo by Steven H. Robinson


By Jamie Holter

Voters statewide passed Tim Eyman’s I-976 $30 car tabs initiative by a wide margin in November. Currently, the initiative is on hold and making its way to the State Supreme Court for a decision on its Constitutionality. If it holds, it presents a mixed bag of challenges for the City of Shoreline and residents who walk, drive, or take transit.

Here’s a look at the projects and programs in jeopardy and others that appear to be safe.

Money to repair minor pavement damage is
in jeopardy
Photo by Diane Hettrick

Roads

In 2009, the Shoreline council passed a $20 vehicle license fee (car tabs) for road preservation in Shoreline

The fee goes toward repairing pavement early before it gets too bad and needs to be completely replaced - which is more expensive. This is in jeopardy.

Sidewalks

In 2018, voters approved a 0.20% sales tax earmarked for new sidewalks. That is NOT a vehicle license fee so it does not appear to be in jeopardy.

Money for sidewalk repair is in jeopardy
Photo by Diane Hettrick

However, the council did pass $20 vehicle license fee for sidewalk repair and maintenance. This is also in jeopardy.

The combined vehicle license fees account for $1.66 million annually for the city. Losing even a portion of this will require the council to look at the entire budget, reprioritize and reallocate based on discussions and recommendations from council, staff and input from the community.

Buses

Buses that head south into Seattle may be affected. In 2014, Seattle voters approved an increase in fees to cover an increase in transit service. Our transit is their transit once it hits the Seattle city limits. So the Rapid Ride E and other buses that stop in Shoreline AND Seattle could be affected IF the court rules that I-976 can remove transit fees approved by city voters for city transportation programs and projects.

The bottom line is that this initiative will affect transit revenue stream and if it is lost, it will be up to state leaders and policymakers how to generate new funds.

Other projects

The City of Shoreline partners with WSDOT on two key major construction projects along the 145th Street / SR 523 corridor.

Conceptual drawing only - not the final design
The first is the I-5/145th Interchange project. It would radically change the area by adding two roundabouts.

This is a companion project to our new 145th Link Light Rail Station.

This redesigned interchange would make it easier to get to and from the new light rail stop, improve traffic flow in that entire area, and make it safer. 

Shoreline is a financial partner with $12.5 million invested, but this is an expensive, wide ranging project so it would be impossible for Shoreline to go it alone.


Concept drawing for 148th pedestrian bridge
148th Street Pedestrian Bridge

This bridge will go over I-5 and connect residents from the northwest corner of the area (northwest of I-5/145th Street) to the new Light Rail Station.

The link is designed to encourage people to walk or bike to transit and connect to the network of bike trails on both sides of I-5.

Currently the city is in the design phase with construction scheduled for 2022 and completion in 2023. 

The $17 million project has state, county and federal funds. And WSDOT is a partner. WSDOT generally prioritizes safety projects first then projects that will benefit the greatest number of commuters second and other projects last. It’s not clear whether this would be in two categories – safety for pedestrians and ease for future light rail users. This is definitely a wait-and-see project. 

The Lynnwood Link stations appear to be safe
Sound Transit Projects
145th and 185th Link Light Rail Stations


These projects appear to be safe from I-976 cuts. The bonds to build them were issued far enough in advance to be out of reach of this initiative. However, it is always possible that Sound Transit will be forced to retire these bonds early and then the Sound Transit Board will determine how to manage that.

Another project is 145th from I-5 to Lake City Way, also a companion project to Light Light Rail at 145th. This creates Sound Transit Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which is like Metro’s Rapid Ride Program. These east-west corridor connections are key to building out a better transportation system by creating feeders to the north/south link light rail system. 

Bus Rapid Transit - to connect riders from Woodinville
through Kenmore and Lake Forest Park to the
145th station - in jeopardy
This may actually be in jeopardy because bonded funds are NOT already allocated. IF I-976 goes forward and it interpreted in the simplest way, it means: if it’s not currently funded, you can’t do it. At least not now and not with vehicle tab fees. So no Bus Rapid transit.. as yet.

Lake Forest Park Transit Center + Park and Ride Garage

This is another corridor connection project. It brings ST Bus Rapid Transit via SR 522 and 145th Street. It also potentially builds a 300-stall parking structure at Town Center. This project is in jeopardy because it is not currently under construction.

What’s next

On Wednesday, the State Supreme Court decided to let the injunction stand which means car tabs fees remain in place while the court decides whether to hold a full hearing on the constitutionality of the measure or sends it back to the lower court.

Given all this, the facts remain that agencies and organizations have a long list of projects and a lot of decisions to make if I-976 goes forward. It will be up to the legislature, city leaders and the ST board to decide which projects, which bus routes, and which light rail projects are built and which ones are cut, trimmed or delayed.

The Federal Highway Trust Fund that built major infrastructure projects like I-90 and I-5 back in the day is running out of money and will be gone by 2022 unless Congress takes steps to fund it. There is a bill to reauthorize $287 billion by fall 2020.

Sound Transit

According to a spokesperson for Sound Transit,
Following litigation on I-976, if Sound Transit were required to retire existing bonds to enable elimination of the MVET (Motor Vehicle Excise Tax) absorbing the loss of revenues would require the Sound Transit Board to implement delays and/or cuts affecting projects for which the agency has not already issued construction contracts. 
Board direction would determine the degree and distribution of delays and/or cuts on specific projects."


3 comments:

Joanie December 7, 2019 at 10:56 AM  

In your article you say sidewalks are at risk??? Business license and taxes help pay for that so why the scare tactics?

Nicholas Merriam December 8, 2019 at 8:43 PM  

VLF funds sidewalk repair and upgrades, in jeopardy. New sidewalks are sales tax, should be fine. I thoughtit was pretty clear. Prior to these revenue streams, the city had less that $200k a year for sidewalks - if that's what you're referring to with business licensing and 'taxes'.

Cass,  December 9, 2019 at 7:05 PM  

Sidewalks repair is ADA and transportation agencies will find a funding source, even by emergency legislation in order to keep the sidewalks ADA compliant.

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