Mobility, we need you
The central Puget Sound area needs a new transportation agency — not to transport things, but to decide them.
The clearest vision of this is Sen. Ed Murray's bill, SB 5803, which was passed out of the Senate March 12. The bill would create the Regional Transportation Commission to plan and approve the financing of "mobility projects of regional significance" in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties. It is with reluctance that we support a new layer of government. The problem is that none of the 128 agencies that exist is preeminent in the question of mobility. What gets built is decided by a competitive duck-shoot: Proposals are thrown into the air, and everyone gets a shot at them. Bad ideas may be brought down — we cheered last week's bagging of Seattle's waterfront tunnel — but good ones, also.
The result has been too little invested in mobility.
Murray's bill would lift the long-term planning staff out of Sound Transit and add the Puget Sound Regional Council. Unlike Sound Transit, whose board of directors is all appointed, the new agency would have eight directors elected by the people from geographic districts, plus one each appointed by governments in each of the four counties.
Directors would have staggered six-year terms and be paid the same as members of the King County Council. In total, King County would have five votes and Pierce and Snohomish four. Kitsap would have one appointed director only, but no liability for RTC taxes or tolls.
In King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the board would have authority to propose road tolls (including on existing roads), parking taxes, license-tab fees, gas taxes, employer excise taxes and up to a penny of sales tax, and also to sell general-obligation bonds — all in plans subject to voter approval.
Murray's bill gives the voters no districtwide power of initiative or referendum, however, and that should be added. Agencies this powerful need to be subject to popular control.
This is not a partisan bill. Eastside Republican John Stanton is for the bill. So is Seattle Democrat Norm Rice.
Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, would like to make some changes in the details of the bill, but supports its central idea.
That idea is an agency responsible for mobility, and its time is here.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company