Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another Reason To Vote NO on Washington State Initiative 912

I-912 would repeal a hike in the gas tax which was recently passed in the Washington State Legislature to pay for road and transportation improvements. Here is a letter I had in October 2 Bellingham Herald.

Some people wonder why gas taxes go up, while traffic still gets worse. They seem to think state highway departments are frittering away the money. Few stop to realize that land is getting too expensive for building roads. It takes a lot of land to build a highway or add new lanes to an existing road.

Back when the interstate freeways were first being built, traffic congestion could be solved by just adding more lanes to the highway. That was when one could still buy a house for under $20,000. Now, many of those same houses are selling for prices closer to the million dollar mark. Few stop to think about what effect real estate inflation has had on the cost of land for roads.

Many folks sit in homes that have inflated significantly in value over the past twenty years. They still wonder why roads cost more than they did twenty years ago.

Since land values do not seem to be going down in the near future, we need to reduce dependency on the automobiles. Cars take up too much space in our crowded and increasingly expensive world.

That was the letter, but I can add a bit more here.

Some of the gas tax money goes to fund alternative transit. Enough that I noticed, from a quick look at their web site, that a representative from the organization Transportation Choices is urging a no vote. Remember, NO means keeping the gas tax increase.

In the past, some alternative transit and bike advocates opposed certain gas tax hikes as they had tended to be perfectionists. They didn't want to have more roads built for cars.

Another constituency, besides traditional "no tax" Republican types, to come out against taxes for infrastructure are some anti growth advocates. They say, "if we don't build the roads, people will stop moving here." "Just starve the growth and the economy."

That would be painful if people keep having kids.

Supporting the gas tax that funds a balanced system of roads and alternative transit is good.

The whole transportation system is interdependent.

Busses help cars by reducing the traffic, but road improvements for cars also help the buses to get through. Currently, much of our alternative transit is busses that share the roads with cars. Also shoulder improvements are good for bicycles.

1 comment:

Roy Smith said...

This gas tax increase is not funding for a balanced system of roads and transit, it is almost entirely about roads with a few transit projects thrown in for window dressing.

The problem with the entire debate over the gas tax increase and I-912 is that it is only a yes/no vote on the entire package. If we could get rid of the truly awful ways to spend public money, and keep the rest, that would be great. However, I think we need to vote for I-912 and trust that the legislature will figure out a way to actually fund the safety issues and abandon idiotic ideas like replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct and expanding freeway capacity throughout western Washington. The Alaska Way Viaduct should be removed completely, not replaced or buried.

The money is grouped into projects as follows (numbers from WSDOT, comments are my own):

Roadway Safety: $3.257 billion - includes partial funding for AWV replacement and SR-520 expansion, which are both collosal wastes of money. Assuming everything else is actually for safety projects, $757 million of this is spending I can support.
Preservation: $0.5 million
Ferries: $185 million - none of this is for passenger ferries, which is a mistake
Multi-Modal Improvements: $85 million - grossly underfunded
Environmental: $108 million - sound walls and the like. Might not all be necessary if we took actions to cut automobile dependancy
Freight Mobility & Economics: $541 million
Choke Points and Congestion: $2.952 billion - this is code for building more freeway lanes and ramps, and is a collosal waste of money to destroy quality of life

Taking the last item plus the $2 billion for AWV replacement plus $500 million for SR-520 expansion yields a total of $5.452 billion (out of $7.139 billion) worth of projects that are worse than useless, and that actively contribute to worsening congestion in the state.

I would vote against I-912 if the gas tax increase were about safety and improving Washington's quality of life. Unfortunately, it is mostly about building more roads to encourage ever increasing sprawl.

Vote YES on I-912.