By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Crowded buses on busy routes, service cuts on non-busy routes.
But what’s happened with Metro since last fall is nothing compared to what is looming if politicians can’t get the money mess straightened out, with two sources of funding about to expire.
Tomorrow (Monday) morning, Metro’s general manager Kevin Desmond plans to meet the media to offer specifics on what the transit service believes it will have to do if its next big budget shortfall isn’t solved. The briefing will come in advance of a Metro report going to the King County Council tomorrow “outlining routes at risk of cancellation or reductions … unless Metro can obtain a stable revenue source.”
The specifics will go beyond what Desmond told two groups of politicians earlier this month – politicians who say it’s up to the Legislature to empower them to rustle up more money.
The first problem is the scheduled end of “mitigation funding” – $32 million the state gave the county to make up for the transportation complications posed by the Highway 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct projects.
Though most of the southern part, between the West Seattle Bridge and the stadium zone, is done, the rest of it has barely just begun, as symbolized by the impending arrival of the machine to dig the tunnel to replace the rest of the Viaduct.
The state money runs out in the middle of next year – “15 short months from now,” as Desmond told the County Council’s Transportation Committee – but the tunnel won’t be open before 2016, and it will be followed by the demolition of the rest of The Viaduct, as well as other waterfront work expected to continue to 2019. Asked by a committee member how long he thought state mitigation money should continue, Desmond said, at least until 2016.
Then, there’s the 17 percent problem – a separate systemwide cut looming when the Congestion Reduction Charge expires – also in 2014.
While the latter affects the entire system, routes such as those between West Seattle and downtown are the ones that stand to feel a lot of pain. Desmond said Metro’s research shows two-thirds of downtown commuters are traveling by modes “other than driving alone.” If the funding just ends in the middle of next year, he declared flatly, it’ll be a “disaster.” The mitigation money’s disappearance would mean a 14 percent in routes serving the Viaduct vicinity – mostly “the West Seattle Bridge corridor.”
Especially after the most recent round of changes, he said, they can’t just go in and find “bad-performing” routes to cut – “we’d have to go into meat and bone in our system.”
And did we mention, he sees added buses needed because of “diversion” from – aka avoidance of – the tunnel, when it’s tolled? (No amounts set yet – other political bodies are grappling with how much will be just right, enough to raise the money needed for the project but not so much that everybody takes the surface streets.)
One other tunnel impact has been talked about a little – the pathway that will replace the viaduct, since downtown-bound buses won’t be using the tunnel. As Desmond recapped, the “preferred pathway” goes along 99 to the new Alaskan Way that’ll be on the waterfront, then up Columbia, but will need “quite a bit of transit-priority (improvements,” and even with that, “travel times will be slower.” This has all been said before – we’ve reported it too – but only now is it finally approaching reality.
To the second looming problem- presented to the Regional Transit Committee, which includes elected officials from other bodies beyond the King County Council – Desmond said, “If we don’t get any legislative relief (for finding a funding source), we will be out in the public this fall with proposals for cuts, and (then seeking) approval in May, June of next year.”
So what would that legislative relief entail?
We asked around, and right now there is one major proposal still alive, state House Bill 1959. Its co-sponsors include both of West Seattle (and vicinity)’s state House Reps., Eileen Cody and Joe Fitzgibbon. We asked them about its status and what they would advise constituents concerned about the transit-funding situation, and Rep. Fitzgibbon replied:
HB 1959 is still alive, because matters related to taxation are not subject to the same cutoff dates as other bills. However at this point I expect that if we see relief for King County Metro, that will be included in a broader state transportation revenue package (probably a combination of gas tax to pay for highways and ferries and some local transit options like those in HB 1959) and not in a stand-alone bill like HB 1959.
Constituents are welcome to write to us, though we are both supportive already. House leadership is supportive of transit funding, Senate leadership not so much. Communication to both House and Senate leadership about the importance of transit to our communities would certainly be welcome.
We also talked with County Councilmember Joe McDermott, a former state senator, who offered similar advice.
Meantime, next weekend, you have an opportunity to show concern by joining forces with other communities in the area. The Transit Riders Union is having a late-night march at 11 pm next Saturday, April 6th, in the Magnolia area, started as a show of concern over late-night service cuts, and expanding to concern for all transit funding. If you’re interested, check out the event page on Facebook.
And tomorrow, check back here for our coverage of what Metro’s general manager says is at stake if the funding gaps aren’t closed.