Rossi’s plan is seriously flawed

More traffic, more taxes and fewer choices are what Dino Rossi’s transportation proposal would mean for area commuters.

More traffic, more taxes and fewer choices are what Dino Rossi’s transportation proposal would mean for area commuters.

Rossi’s proposal has two serious flaws — among many — that would have drastic consequences for the future of transportation in our region, particularly for East King County.

As a central part of his proposal, Rossi wants to resurrect a long-ago rejected idea to construct an eight-lane replacement for the Highway 520 Floating Bridge. This extremely expensive and complicated project is riddled with engineering and economic problems.

I spent several years chairing a regional 520 executive committee that produced a very strong east-west consensus on the six-lane alternative with later capability for additional high-capacity transit. Some mitigation issues in Seattle are now being worked out, and the governor has directed that the new bridge be completed by 2014 with all six lanes in service by 2016.

When we considered constructing eight lanes of new concrete across Lake Washington, we concluded it would have severe consequences for our commutes on Interstate 5 and I-405, not to mention our environment, local communities and our wallets.

Engineering studies show that dumping eight lanes of traffic from 520 onto an already congested I-5 and I-405 would virtually shut down both freeways and create gridlock across the region. I-5 and I-405 would become the most expensive parking lots on earth. Connecting an eight-lane 520 to I-5 and I-405 would be like trying to connect a fire hydrant to a garden hose, and the ones getting wet would be us, the taxpayers.

It has been estimated that billions of dollars in new lanes on I-5 and I-405 would be needed to make this fire hydrant-to-garden hose connection that Rossi proposes even remotely possible. These costs are not accounted for in Rossi’s plan, and funding is not available.

Furthermore, Rossi claims to be able to build an eight-lane bridge for less money than the planned six-lane bridge — a claim that not only runs counter to common sense, but one that doesn’t jibe with detailed state cost estimates.

The second major flaw of Rossi’s proposal involves the future of light rail and improved bus service in East King County.

In 1996, local taxpayers agreed to pay for and build key transit projects that are carrying thousands of people to work and back every day. Fortunately, in this first phase, East King County has built up a down payment that will help us afford more light rail and bus service in the next phase of construction. This down payment could mean light rail across I-90 to Bellevue and beyond, and more bus service and more park-and-ride lots throughout the Eastside.

Rossi’s proposal hijacks this down payment and spends it on a 1950s-style transportation plan that’s heavy on concrete and void of any reliable transit alternatives.

Rossi suggests redirecting East King County’s current transit down payment to more state highway lanes. While there are many legal complications involved with redirecting local transit dollars to state roads, I’ll stick to covering the policy implications.

By taking money dedicated to East King County light rail and express buses and spending it on highway lanes, Rossi is in effect telling this generation of Eastside residents that light rail and superior bus service aren’t in our future, ever. With our region approaching $4 for a gallon of gas, we need more transit options, not fewer.

Anyone who has even just peeked across the lake at the massive construction cranes dominating the city of Bellevue’s skyline knows that Bellevue is a city growing toward a 2050 land-use and community vision, not a 1950s automobile-dominated past. With more downtown workers and residents, Bellevue and its surrounding Eastside cities need more transit service, not less. Rossi’s transportation proposal would give East King County 50 more years of the same crowded highways and limited choices for getting to work, school and home.

After years of neglect, our region and state are making progress in chipping away at the long backlog of road and transit projects. There is no doubt that much more work remains. To stay on track, we must pursue transportation projects that are affordable, doable and forward-thinking. Rossi’s proposal is none of the above.

Reprinted by permission. This piece first appeared in the Seattle Times. Aubrey Davis is the former chairman of the Washington State Transportation Commission and the former mayor of Mercer Island.