Metro money mess: New info Monday about potential cuts

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.

14 Replies to "Metro money mess: New info Monday about potential cuts"

  • CandrewB April 1, 2013 (5:51 am)

    Is public transit subject to tolls? If so, why?

  • cjboffoli April 1, 2013 (7:59 am)

    My guess is that it is called “HB 1959” because that’s the year that our elected officials think we’re still living in. Funny how they can easily find unlimited billions to tunnel new roads under the city. But the coffers are empty when it comes time to invest in public transportation. Looks like we we’ll all be sitting still in gridlock until those George Jetson flying cars come to fruition.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident April 1, 2013 (8:04 am)

    No they are not subject to tolls.
    Maybe what needs to happen is for the fares to rise to closer match the ACTUAL cost of the trip!
    A ride on the LLR from downtown to the airport actually costs about $25.00 per person, yet riders only get charged (iirc)$3.00
    I’m not saying to charge full price, but maybe raise the fares to cover 50-60% of the cost and continue to subsidize the rest Unlike now where upwards of 80-90% of the fare is subsidized.
    On ALL mass transit, be it bus/LLR/trolly…etc.
    One more way would be to PRIVATIZE it. Yes there is that word that make just about everyone in Socialist leaning West Seattle/Seattle CRINGE. Time for the Gov’t to get out of the businesses it has NO business being in!!!

  • no man April 1, 2013 (8:51 am)

    Cut some of those stupid rapid rides that are always blocking the road and the dumb bus stop at California and Fauntleroy northbound.

  • Amanda April 1, 2013 (9:01 am)

    I think an independent audit of Metro is what needs to happen. How can you raise fares and streamline the system and still be losing money? And please, it’s too early in the morning to mention that they are going to toll the tunnel. Are you kidding me? It will be a ghost tunnel once it’s built. Good lord, who is running this city?

    • WSB April 1, 2013 (9:03 am)

      Metro is county. The tunnel is state.

  • Tuesday April 1, 2013 (9:58 am)

    Wait, when were the labor union negotiations again?

  • Tuesday April 1, 2013 (9:59 am)

    Also, raise the rates.

  • cj April 1, 2013 (10:25 am)

    Sounds like we are caught in a transitional part of a long term plan that we are just not privy to. There is no way they could not have foreseen the tunnel project causing funding repercussions on the rest of transportation. I suspect that Metro has had a long term cutback on the table for some time but just did not have a way to get past public outcry. Maybe in the future its seen as a problem solver I don’t know but my gut tells me that repercussions and collateral issues were not carefully considered. Your tax dollars at work … for some anyway.

    Per one remark privatization would only cause worse problems as private contractors tend to do things their own way in favor of max profit and min expense regardless of how it causes a city or its people harm. Also they are very very nontransparent.

  • Jordan April 1, 2013 (10:29 am)

    Totally off topic here, but it does deal with the bus bulb fiasco here in West Seattle. Had to head to the Alaska Junction this weekend (Sunday morning at 11a), so was turning left from Fauntleroy to California. The traffic was backed up due to a Metro Access van being parked a the bus bulb. While the C-Line buses may just stop for 20-30 seconds, the Access vans typically stop for 5-10 minutes and in this case the guy was just parked there. This then forced all northbound traffic into the oncoming left turn lane to get around. Just waiting for him to go really isn’t an option when it would close down one of the few major north/south routes for 5-10 minutes. Maybe Metro can talk to these drivers and explain that they cannot park at those bulbs for more than 20-30 seconds.

  • Larry April 1, 2013 (10:35 am)

    We have Metro because the private bus companies in the county weren’t making money. Ipso facto, Metro has never paid for operations with fares. As a non-resident, I propose full fare subsidizing with revenues raised by a tax on Seattle. I’m sure every property owner there would be delighted to cover the cost of something which clearly benefits Seattle. Hardly anyone in King County uses the bus to go to somewhere else in King County, and they can afford to drive, because the parking is free. Let McGinn and his buds figure out what to tax to pay for this.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident April 1, 2013 (10:42 am)

    Per one remark privatization would only cause worse problems as private contractors tend to do things their own way in favor of max profit and min expense regardless of how it causes a city or its people harm. Also they are very very nontransparent.
    Oh PLEASE!!!!!
    A private COMPANY, not a contractor, would have to follow the rules and regulations that is set by the Gov’t, you know, WHAT A GOV’T SHOULD ACTUALLY BE DOING, and if they are concerned ONLY with profit and NOT the people it serves, they won’t be in business very long.
    Look at the West Seattle Water Taxi, the first few years it was run by a PRIVATE company that SHOWED A PROFIT running it. The County steps in and now it is turning into a money pit. As ANYTHING run by Gov’t becomes.
    Transparency???? And Gov’t is the ultimate in transparancy, isn’t it????

  • a April 1, 2013 (11:11 am)

    Should have left the viaduct alone. Traffic was just fine on 99 before they decided to build this tunnel and waste a ton of money. Now our commutes are a nightmare and metro is a mess. All for a tunnel that will be tolled and no one will use? How do we really know this tunnel will even withstand the ”big one”? I think I would rather take my chances above ground than be in a tunnel next to a huge body of water during an earthquake. This might possibly be the biggest waste of money in our city’s history. Enjoy!

  • yacman April 2, 2013 (12:58 pm)

    I live in Arbor Heights and have a Mother-in-law apartment that houses a mentally disabled person and I also homeshare with a visiting student. Although I have a 17 year old car, both my housemate and my MIL tenant are public transportation dependent. We already suffered a drastic cutback in service, reducing the 21 bus to only 21EX. If the 21EX service is eliminated from my neighborhood my tenant and housemate will probably be forced to move to where they can get transportation, Without available public transportation they will be difficult to replace, and I likely will be forced to sell my home and move away from Seattle. I hope this doesn’t sound too whiny, but those are the facts.

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