Initiative 985: Would it help or hurt traffic?

Depending on which side you believe, Initiative 985 will either improve traffic flow on Washington’s roadways or thicken motorist mire.

The statewide measure would open carpool lanes to all traffic during nonpeak hours, require traffic-light synchronization, increase roadside assistance funding, and dedicate existing taxes along with fines, tolls and other revenues to traffic-flow purposes.

I-985, which is on the Nov. 4 ballot, is the 14th statewide initiative promoted by Mukilteo resident Tim Eyman over the past 10 years. Seven of the 10 that made it to the ballot have passed, including proposals lowering car-tab fees, capping property taxes at 1 percent and requiring performance audits of public agencies.

“It’s the exact same no-new-taxes/accountability message as every initiative we have done,” Eyman said.

“Unlike politicians, 985 doesn’t increase your tax burden one penny,” Eyman added. “We simply require government to spend your existing taxes more effectively.”

Opponents argue that the measure offers an overly simplistic approach to a complex problem best left to professional traffic engineers.

“It is going to make traffic worse at a loss to general fund dollars that now go to education and health care,” said Bill LaBorde, a spokesman for the No on I-985 coalition.

Eyman points to the bumper-to-bumper status quo: “If you like the job our state is doing at reducing congestion, then don’t vote for it.”

A key area of disagreement is the effect of opening up carpool lanes during nonpeak hours. Those hours would include any time other than peak hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. During peak hours, the use of carpool lanes would be limited to motor vehicles carrying at least two people or motorcycles.

LaBorde argues that peak commuting times stretch beyond the hours defined in the initiative and that Saturday traffic also can be particularly heavy on I-5, I-405 and Highway 520.

The high-occupancy-vehicle lanes also provide a nice incentive for carpoolers and bus riders who feel assured of reliable traffic times. By opening those lanes to cars with one occupant, the “travel time advantage” would be lost for those willing to carpool and take the bus.

“Our concern is more people will get out of the (carpool and bus habit) and that many more single-occupancy vehicles will be back on the road blocking traffic,” LaBorde said.

Eyman argues that the state isn’t using its road capacity well during nonpeak hours by allowing light flow in carpool lanes while other lanes back up.

“We are going to try to use what we already have more effectively,” Eyman said.

I-985 would use common-sense reforms based on recommendations from a performance audit that addressed traffic congestion issues done by the state auditor’s office, Eyman said.

“Our primary motivation is to poke them, prod them and grab them by the scruff of the neck to start to adopt these audit recommendations,” he said.

LaBorde said the performance audit had 22 recommendations and that the initiative ignores and “flies in the face of a bunch of the others.”

Over five years, roughly $620 million would be redirected from projects and activities supported by state and local general and transportation funds to congestion relief activities, according to an analysis done by the state Office of Financial Management.

That total would include $224.2 million for opening carpool lanes to general traffic during off-peak hours, $65.7 million for synchronizing traffic lights, $18 million for additional emergency relief and $1.4 million for the state auditor to monitor performance, according to that analysis. The remaining $312.9 million would be available for other congestion-relief activities, including expanding road capacity.

So far, ReduceCongestion.org has raised more than $642,907 for its campaign and No on I-985 has raised about $91,220, according to state Public Disclosure Commission records.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail stevick@heraldnet.com.

Both sides

To get a perspective from each side of Initiative 985, go to reducecongestion.org and no985.org.

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