(First 56 minutes of WSTC Q/A with Andrew Glass Hastings)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Just 12 hours before the non-major crash that led to two hours of major backups on the West Seattle Bridge, the West Seattle Transportation Coalition had asked Mayor Ed Murray‘s transportation adviser about how to deal with that kind of recurring problem.
As you can see 19 minutes into our video clip (which has the first 56 minutes of his Q/A with the WSTC, before camera trouble ended the clip), he talked about information access as part of the solution – finding more ways for more people to know about the problem before they find themselves stuck because of it.
But he made it crystal clear that he wasn’t at the WSTC meeting to defend the city or answer for problems, saying he was there in hopes of a “dialogue.”
The meeting also included confirmation of the WSTC’s permanent board and a few other updates – read on:
Glass Hastings explained his job is to help “execute the mayor’s transportation vision,” not to manage the nitty-gritty details. He offered an update about the search for a new SDOT director, saying that by mid-June, the mayor should have, if not the choice, the finalists, though he noted that those participating in the search seemed to want a “transportation saint.” He wanted to discuss the Metro-funding proposal the mayor had unveiled hours earlier, but WSTC board member Deb Barker, moderating, asked that he first address questions that the group had sent in advance, including:
*What will the mayor do to guarantee that Viaduct mitigation money for West Seattle transit keeps flowing until the project is concluded?
“The mayor is committed to making sure (that it continues),” he said. “Even for years and years and years?” asked Barker. “Well, we don’t expect the tunnel will take years and years and years and years,” Glass Hastings replied.
*When will the city have an emergency plan for West Seattle transportation issues in case of a mass-casualty incident?
Glass Hastings responded by asking, “What are some ideas you guys have?” while saying the question was “appropriate (also) all over the city” since so many bridges tie the city together. “I’m not an emergency-response expert, so this question isn’t exactly transportation-related,” he said, suggesting transportation and emergency responders could answer it better. WSTC board member Michael Taylor-Judd followed up by saying, it really is a transportation issue, and pointed out recent snow/ice emergencies that “resulted in not a small amount of West Seattle residents (needing hours) to get home.” (The November 22, 2010, walk home comes to mind.) Glass Hastings also said he’d like to hear answers for that too. Mat McBride – who in his workaday life is an emergency-preparedness expert – said a strategic plan would be vital.
Board member Marci Carpenter pointed out that West Seattle has no hospital.
A preparedness discussion ensued, with Glass Hastings extolling “3 Days, 3 Ways.”
*Too often, a single-vehicle stall or non-major crash can shut down access to/from West Seattle. What’s the city doing about that?
Glass Hastings mentioned “Access Seattle,” which he said involves technology meant to help the city catch up on real-time information for people trying to get around, among other things. Over the next few years, he said this will “really improve the city’s ability to respond in real-time to situations (such as WS Bridge trouble).” (Online, we can’t find many mentions of this – here’s one.) He says it has a staffing component and priority component as well as a technology component.
Board member Amanda Kay Helmick followed up by asking about the “intern running the traffic-control center” revelation following a big tie-up last year and the recent “scumbag hat” Twitter incident. Glass Hastings asked testily if she wanted to “beat up on SDOT” or “move forward.” He said the mayor’s office “is committed to making sure that the traffic-control office is appropriately staffed.”
A variety of long-running West Seattle transportation concerns came up – ferries going downtown from Vashon instead of to Fauntleroy, the rush-hour openings closing the “low bridge” to cross-Duwamish traffic, the bottleneck from the “high bridge” to 99 – but they wound up falling more as voiced concerns than questions generating answers. The issue of the bridge-99 as a bottleneck for buses (among other vehicles) did lead to a little more discussion, particularly figuring out how to get buses from being mired in traffic there, to make them more “rapid transit” than they are now, while West Seattle waits for possible light rail far in the future.
Another question: What about the Lander truck crossing once envisioned for construction to help get traffic over the tracks in SODO? Glass Hastings said the city and county “recognize the need to re-engage in that conversation” and to find the funding that it would take. (Almost $300 million.) It’s a bottleneck for trucks and buses, for one. But the proposal has no date, no money, he said, asking WSTC if they had any ideas where to find the money. (Helmick quoted an SDOT guest from last month who said there was $30 million allocated somewhere for the project; Glass Hastings said, not to his knowledge. We checked our archived report and the SDOT guest had said he would have to doublecheck.)
Then he talked about the coalition that came together to help pay for the South Park Bridge and pushed until it became reality.
And finally he got the chance to tell the story of the Tuesday morning transit-funding-proposal announcement by Mayor Murray (WSB coverage here). He pointed out that the regional component was in Seattle’s best interest since the economic engine depends on getting people into the city from outside, too. He was asked about the “why not a property tax?” issue and brought up the Park District going for property tax in August, the universal-preschool issue going for property tax in November, which is when the bus-funding measure also is expected to go to voters.
The fact the $3 million going into a regional pot is a matching fund, not just a donation or giveaway, should be more clearly described, Glass Hastings was told. Added board member Barker, “Lots of PR to do.” And board member Ray Krueger suggested that people need to be reminded that the $60 car-tab fee is actually a $40 increase, since the current $20 fee is expiring.
So what other options were considered? asked board member Taylor-Judd. Glass Hastings suggested there weren’t many that would do the same. “There’s a local-option gas tax that wouldn’t really raise much money,” he noted. A Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) would have been ideal, because it’s a progressive tax, he noted. Ideally he’ll get that from the Legislature and “swap out the sources” in the future.
He contended that Metro has “done a yeoman’s job” of “trying to keep transit service on the road” despite the “bad” recession. He mentions what is frequently brought up by local leaders – that Snohomish and Pierce services have had to make deep cuts.
The mayor wasn’t interseted in using B&O (business and occupation) tax for transportation – you have to think about “employers’ ability to hire people,” said Glass Hastings – and there wasn’t much room left in a potential parking tax. What about the head tax? pressed board member Joe Szilagyi. Defending the mayor’s decision, Glass Hastings said both the taxes in the mayor’s proposal are in the Transportaiton Benefit District purview. Other types would require separate votes.
How long could these taxes last? Sales tax, 10 years, said Glass Hastings. He said “the mayor doesn’t believe this is going to drag on” for years. Otherwise, there’s no “this will end in 2 years if we are not successful in the statewide level and back here having this conversation again”
An attendee then said he voted against Prop 1 as did “everyone he knows” because of the RapidRide curb/bus-bulb problem at California/Fauntleroy in Morgan Junction. He went on to relate an anecdote about the bus stopping at Cal-Mor Circle, which has longer stops there sometimes because of assistance for seniors and disabled people among its residents, saying he timed the stop at 8 minutes. “They wasted millions of dollars doing (the bus bulbs).”
Glass Hastings pointed out again that Seattleites voted two-thirds for the measure – and he said that if this is successful, “there will be the flexibility to address some of the growing needs of communities like West Seattle and Ballard … One way or another we’re going to make sure this bus service is preserved.”
WEBSITE POLL? WSTC plans to conduct an online poll asking people’s thoughts about their financing preference. (We checked later with WSTC’s website guru, board member Szilagyi, and he said there’s no timetable for launching it yet.)
WSTC BOARD: Since the organization’s inception last year, WSTC has been led by an interim board. As of tonight, it officially has a permanent board. None of the seats were contested, and one, in fact, remains open, so the meeting included more of a “confirmation” than an election.
Position 1: Joe Szilagyi
Position 2: Amanda Kay Helmick (who also got a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” having celebrated hers over the weekend)
Position 3: Michael Taylor-Judd
Position 4: Deb Barker
Position 5: Vicky Nelson
Position 6: Alon Bassak
Position 7: Tod Rodman
Position 8: Marci Carpenter
Position 9: Ray Krueger
Position 10: Marty Westerman
Position 11: open
Departing interim board member Mat McBride helped with the roll-call/voice vote confirming the board members, and wished them “good luck” with an exhortation to “keep going.”
COMMITTEE HELP: WSTC has divided tasks into committee such as outreach and planning, and needs help with all of theirs.
NEXT MEETING: Lynn Peterson, secretary of the state Transportation Department, is the guest, 6:30 pm Tuesday, June 10th, at the regular meeting location (Neighborhood House’s High Point Center). Watch westseattletc.org for news and updates in the meantime (and the aforementioned poll). Tentatively planned for July, Szilagyi announced, will be a guest from Sound Transit, with the recent update on potential light rail (as first reported here last week) a major topic.