The most impassioned campaign speech at tonight’s 34th District Democrats meeting came from a semi-surprise visitor – and he wasn’t even speaking on his own behalf, though he’s on the ballot for next Tuesday’s primary. Our clip includes most of what U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott had to say, mostly on behalf of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, and why McDermott believes this may be the most important election of his lifetime. Also campaigning, State Sen. Joe McDermott (no relation), making one more pre-primary pitch for his King County Council District 8 campaign (vs. three opponents). And there was a mini-fundraiser for Reps. Eileen Cody (running for re-election against Republican Ray Carter) and Sharon Nelson (running unopposed for State Senate) before the meeting. But the hottest race on the ballot – 34th District State House, Position 2 (for which the 34th DDs have endorsed Marcee Stone, one of 4 candidates) – did not come up at all, and we didn’t spot any of the candidates in attendance. That may be a different story this Friday, when the group throws its annual fundraiser Garden Party at West Seattle Nursery – Chris Porter, who’s heading the effort, got up to talk about it twice. But the heart of the evening’s program was a panel on transportation – from current projects, to future possibilities – with a trio of panelists, including WS-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee. In addition to the Spokane Street Viaduct offramp-opening announcement we published as a separate bulletin earlier, they talked tolls, taxes, transit, and more – read on:
On the panel with Councilmember Rasmussen were SDOT’s Tracy Burrows – the department’s liaison with the City Council (and a West Seattle resident) – and Rob Johnson, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition.
Burrows first was asked to give the group an overall status update on the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Spokane Street Viaduct projects – regarding the latter, that’s when she announced the plan to open the new 4th Avenue offramp on Monday. For the former, though it’s a state project, she had the toplines: No major traffic effects for West Seattle drivers from the South End Viaduct project before spring of next year – then in 2012, she noted, things really intensify, when traffic will be diverted to the detour route that’s being built on a site east of a Viaduct section near the stadiums – that section will have fewer lanes and slower speeds.
In addition, she noted the state’s plan to make the transition by closing northbound 99 lanes for 10 days in May 2012, southbound lanes for 4 days. “Plan a vacation, telecommute, take the Water Taxi, take 4th Avenue, something,” she suggested.
What about transit? asked Kim Becklund, the 34th DDs officer who moderated the panel (far left in the top photo). That would be a cloudy crystal ball, Burrows acknowledged, saying that Metro will be “cutting 400,000 hours” of service between now and “2015 or so.”
Taking the microphone next, Rasmussen got an Alaskan Way Viaduct/Tunnel question from the audience fairly quickly – specifically about the clash between the mayor and councilmembers over the much-discussed “who pays for cost overruns?” issue.
“The difference between eight members of the council and the mayor is, he wanted to hold up the project until the state (removed the cost-overrun provision). The City Council consulted with our city attorney and Attorney General and what they told us is, that’s not enforceable – if there are cost overruns, the state will pay. If someone wanted to make the city pay, they’d have to back and get legislation passed.” If anyone tried that, Rasmussen went on to say, the governor would veto it, and other cities would fight having such a precedent set, lest it happen to them – he mentioned Vancouver, WA, is looking at a major bridge project, Spokane has a freeway project. “It’s a design-build contractor, so once it’s designed, the contractor is responsible for building it within budget.”
He also fielded a question about getting onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s current incarnation – a commuter describing the “nightmare” of dealing with 1st Avenue South approaching The Viaduct on sports-event days, and wondering if a protected right-turn lane for transit could be created. Burrows revealed something that’s in the works – she says that parking-restriction zones along 1st that are currently signed for no parking between 3-6 pm will soon be expanded to 3-7 pm.
The mike then moved to Rob Johnson of the Transportation Choices Coalition – who focused on the future, saying that while “density is a 4-letter word for many, we’ve got to change that perception – it’s a good thing, you’re in a 24/7 live-work environment.” He mentioned more than once that a significant percentage of pollution in Puget Sound has been attributed to auto-related runoff – and argued that those transportation choices are “killing fish.”
The true cost of your transportation choices, he contended, should be known, and addressed. He spoke of a “vehicle-miles tax” – which brought a sarcastic hoot of “GOOD LUCK!” from former 34th DDs chair Ivan Weiss in the audience (Weiss loudly expressed similar skepticism/outrage when discussion turned to the possibility of tolls on the I-90 bridge as well as the already-planned 520 tolling, and maybe even city streets).
“How many people here would want to have a conversation about tolling city streets?” Councilmember Rasmussen asked; about half those in attendance raised their hands. Other concepts briefly discussed and/or raised in audience questions included “pay as you drive” car insurance and a bike-rental program. No conclusions were reached, nor promises made, though Rasmussen did say he expected a “transportation-benefit district” – enabling taxes and fees for new transportation-related projects (explained here) would be created.
That seemed in keeping with what Johnson had said in his first remarks, “It’s really easy, we just need more money.”
And committing dollars to priority projects for the future also was evangelized a short while later in open-mike time by past and present City Council candidate (more on that in a separate story) Dorsol Plants of Highland Park, working with Streets For All, which is campaigning for the city to commit $30 million a year for projects such as sidewalks in the many neighborhoods that have none.
The 34th District Democrats meet the second Wednesday of the month, 7 pm, The Hall at Fauntleroy. As noted earlier, their dinner/auction Garden Party event is this Friday night at West Seattle Nursery; auction items mentioned at tonight’s meeting included a week in a condo in Spain, a tamale party hosted by local activist/advocate Maria Ramirez, and a kayaking trip to Blake Island. Chris Porter said they’re still looking for more donated items to auction off; contact info is on the 34th DDs’ website.