Today, the board of Sound Transit is meeting to decide whether to put a plan to increase the sales tax to finance light rail and other transit options for the next decade or two.  There are strong opinions both ways, to go ahead and put an aggressive proposal on the ballot or to do nothing for now and study the proposals further.

I believe that it would border on incompetence if our government does not act now to get these proposals started immediately.

In Wednesday’s Seattle Times, space was given to Seattle Mayor Greg Nichols, a proponent of light rail, and to King County Executive Ron Sims, who believes it would be best to study the situation more to come up with a better plan.

Mr. Nichols’ op-ed piece is a look first at all the reasons we should not not procrastinate any further on getting this project started now.   He notes that we cannot build our way out of our current traffic problems with more freeways, and that with the price of gasoline on the rise, there will be a long-term, increasing need for more transit in the future.  Now is the time to start building this needed infrastructure.  He then outlines why we should move forward on this plan.

Mr. Sims’ op-ed piece describes that, while he is opposed to the immediate decision to increase the sales tax for this particular project, he does favor light rail and transit in general.  He would like to see a future of light rail, but is more concerned about the immediate needs of getting people to work tomorrow, and believes we need to concentrate on more buses for right now, followed by a study of how we should continue toward the future.

I am not really opposed to the opinions of either man as it relates to adding transit capacity.  We all know that more people are moving from commuting in their personal automobiles to taking transit to work.  The main problem is that this issue should have been addresses twenty years ago, not today.  We do actually have two separate and serious needs.  One is the need to increase capacity immediately to get people to work.  The other is a long range plan to get people on fast rail service and off of the highways, even if they are in buses.  We need the urgency of Mr. Nichols plan tempered with some of the changes of Mr. Sims plan.

I am worried about Mr. Sims statement that we need to study the issue for two more years and come up with a better plan.  While the current plan probably needs to be refined, it needs to be presented now.  It also needs to be presented with enough leeway to allow for some changes and improvements ebfore it is built.  While I too am concerned with how high the sales tax is getting, we are going to need ot build this project anyway.  We might as well get started paying for it.

I also note that Washington’s government leaders have a history of studying things as a means of putting them off or attempting to avoid starting them. This has caused serious consequences.  One example is Washington State Ferries, a division of WSDOT.  There were endless studies over decades about how to improve service on the Port Townsend-Keystone route, and ho to replace the ferries on that route, until one day it turned out that the boats were no longer seaworthy without repairs that would have cost as much as new ferries.  We are now spending a lot more money than would have been otherwise necessary for a temporary fix to that problem.  Let’s not study this one until it’s too late, either.

Actually, we are currently in this situation because of procrastination on the part of our government leaders over the years.  We need to do something now.  The current group of leaders we have now present some good ideas.  I shudder to think that we try to change our leaders for the sake of change, only to get Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi and his latest idea to build an 8-lane SR 520 bridge.  I had thought our planners had debunked the myth that we can solve our traffic problems by building enough freeways long ago.

No, the current leaders have good ideas.  I am with Mayor Nichols on our need to get started on this project right away.  But I would also like to see the involvement of folks like County Exectuive Sims.  We will need solutions to our transit problems long before the currently proposed light rail system is built out.  There certainly must be a way to plan for long-term light rail, while at the same time, adding the express buses and dedicated bus lanes that we need to serve us for the next few years and into the future.