Charlotte and Seattle LRT
(Photos: CATS, Mac Photography)
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Light Rail Future Depends on Nov. 2007 Vote
Critical transit measures that would impact the prospects for rail transit development – particularly light rail transit (LRT) – in both Seattle, Washington and Charlotte, North Carolina, will be on the ballot before voters in those cities on Tuesday, 6 November 2007.
Seattle: Roads & Transit Plan Backed by Rail Advocates
Light rail transit development in the Seattle-Tacoma-Puget Sound region would get a huge boost if Proposition 1, a combined highway and transit measure, is passed by voters.
According to Seattle's Roads and Transit organization, "Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation investment District (RTID) Planning Committee have teamed up on an integrated long-term proposal for improving the region's transportation system."
With funding from Prop. 1, the transit agency's Sound Transit 2 plan would expand the regional mass transit system currently in operation or under construction, including about 50 miles of new light rail service. According to the Roads and Transit coalition, "Expansion focuses on high capacity transit facilities and services and would almost double Sound Transit ridership to a projected 359,000 per day in 2030, reliably moving people through the region's most congested corridors."
The Regional Transportation investment District (RTID) Planning Committee is likewise responsible for "developing a plan to improve significant highways and bridges in Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties" (these counties basically span the Puget Sound region from north of Seattle to Tacoma on the south).
According to the Seattle Times (9 September 2007), priced in 2006 dollars, the $10.8 billion transit plan offered in Prop. 1 would extend Sound Transit's LRT east to the Overlake area of Seattle's exurb of Redmond, south to Tacoma, and north to 164th Street Southwest in Snohomish County. Included in the plan is the enhancement of existing regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") and regional bus service.
The plan would also allocate about $7 billion on more than two dozen highway and local road projects, including widening interstate 405 and improving Mercer Street in Seattle. Almost $1 billion would go toward replacing the Highway 520 floating bridge. New HOV lanes as well as general purpose lanes in the major highway corridors plus safety improvements on key regional bridges are included in the package.
To finance this program, voters are being asked to approve the following new taxes (from Roads and Transit website):
According to the Sep. 12th Seattle Times, when inflation, financing, operations, overhead, and cash reserves are added, the entire package is projected to cost around $38 billion by the time all the projects are finished 20 years from today.
Sound Transit's existing tax revenues are now being used to build and operate Sound Move, the foundation of the regional transit system approved by voters in 1996. According to Roads & Transit,
Because of the lash-up of both transit and highway investment in the package, some Seattle-area transit advocates have defected from support, and joined opponents of the measure – putting them in a very unsavory alliance with some of the most virulent opponents of transit (and supporters of highway/motor vehicle dependency) in the Seattle region. For example, the Sierra Club has joined the opposition, claiming the plan spends too much on highways, promotes pollution, and contributes to global warming. Thus the region's Sierra Club is listed alongside the ferociously anti-LRT Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA) and various other anti-transit organizations and individuals as members of the No To Prop. 1 group fighting the pro-transit measure. This is an exceedingly dangerous, unprincipled, and untenable position for nominal supporters of public transport, including rail, to take.
This position may also signal a move further to the right, and away from commitment to public transport, by the local Sierra Club. Although the group has traditionally been considered an advocate of light rail, recently it has joined opponents of extending the Link LRT line to Tacoma, claiming it "doesn't make much sense", according to the Seattle Times of November 1st. (Sound Transit planners disagree, arguing that by the time the route is completed, LRT trains would beat buses to Seattle because of growing traffic congestion – thus attracting strong ridership.)
The critical need for transit supporters to support the transit measure on the ballot was underscored in a recent op-ed article by US Rep. Jay inslee in the October 31st Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Rep. Inslee, described by the paper as "a congressional expert on global warming", is also co-author of Apollo's Fire: igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, a book on the clean-energy revolution. As Rep. Inslee notes,
As inslee emphasizes, some of the greatest benefits of massive LRT and overall transit expansion will take many years to come to fruition – for example, "Light rail expansion also will drive development of dense, walkable communities." in addition to extending the reach of the LRT system, he notes, "Prop. 1 also would improve bus service, create new bike lanes and add HOV lanes – additional means of getting commuters out of single-passenger cars."
Rep. Inslee's conclusion relects the viewpoint of most rail transit planners and proponents:
Charlotte: Anti-Transit Tax Repeal Measure Opposed by Rail Advocates
While Seattle-area voters are being asked to vote Yes for the pro-transit Prop. 1, in the urban area of Charlotte, North Carolina, supporters of transit are being asked to vote No to defeat an anti-transit measure on the ballot,
if they wish to continue developing rail and other transit alternatives in
the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County urban region.
As the commentary from Citizens for Efficient Mass Transit (CEMT), titled Charlotte: Future of Public Transit System Depends on November Vote (published by Light Rail Now) emphasizes,
CEMT backs this up with an array of data and solid arguments, including:
As the CEMT commentary concludes,
In their latest newsletter (Summer 2007), CEMT point out that Charlotte transit opponents have continued their flim-flam of the voting public by playing games over the issue of "saving tax money". "Was There Ever Any Real Attempt to 'Save the Tax Payer Money'?" asks the nerwsletter's lead article – pointing out that transit opponents have been falsely claiming they could reallocate the transit tax to a wide variety of other purposes (schools, in the one case illustrated in the article). On the basis of other transit opponents' statements in the ongoing campaign, these opponents have a wide range of alternative spending priorities in mind, ranging from schools to jails to more highways.
As the CEMT newsletter points out, Charlotte transit opponents are deceiving the voting public, because, as in the case of the example they cite, such opponents are "simply playing the old game of taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another." in the case of the particular opponent the article highlights, people solicited to sign a petition to revoke the transit tax were told to "sign this to cut your taxes". This promise, notes the CEMT, "was never anything more than a scam" because the intent of this particular transit opponent "was never to do away with the half cent sales tax, only to redirect it to his favorite cause."
In a Nov. 1st pro-transit editorial, the Charlotte Observer urged readers to "Vote 'against' repeal'", with the subhead, "Charlotte region needs reliable funding for mass transit" – in other words, to support continued funding for transit:
To justify their strong endorsement of public transit, the Observer offered the following arguments:
In conclusion, the Observer focuses on the fact that
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