Deliver what they want at a price they’ll pay

Transportation planners are busy trying to decipher what voters were saying when they shot down the regional roads and transit measure last month. It doesn’t take deep analysis, though, to conclude that voters thought Proposition 1 was too big, too expensive, took too long to deliver projects and — planners should read this part slowly — they don’t trust government to spend their transportation dollars wisely.

Sound Transit commissioned a post-election poll that found nearly three-quarters of voters within its service area think expanding light rail is a good investment. Don’t assume that sentiment translates into yes votes for a particular tax package, though. Only 19 percent of respondents in the same poll said Sound Transit is handling their tax dollars responsibly.

That’s a heck of a trust gap.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, who serves on the Sound Transit board, says government needs to go back to a simple notion regarding transportation: Deliver what citizens expect at a price they’re willing to pay.

Easier said than done? Sure, but so what? It could require some new ways of planning and funding transit and road projects. Longtime political foes might have to learn to sit down and work constructively with each other. Turf battles may have to be set aside. But as a goal citizens would surely embrace, it’s worth pursuing.

Reardon and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson agree that the region’s road and transit needs must be broken down into smaller chunks that can be delivered more quickly. Reardon likes an idea proposed by the Cascadia Center, part of the private Discovery Institute in Seattle ( build Park &Ride facilities that include shops, eateries and daycare facilities — amenities that will actually make bus travel convenient. And add routes that get more commuters where they need to go without having to transfer.

For funding, Reardon suggests allowing subareas within the Sound Transit district to tax themselves at different levels. If King County must raise its sales tax by half a penny to get the light rail it needs but Snohomish County can get by on less for now, let it happen.

As for road improvements, the biggest immediate need for Snohomish County, the state needs to step up to its responsibilities. Most of the projects in Proposition 1 were on interstate and state highways, which are not counties’ responsibility. The governor and Legislature can’t pass the buck to counties — they need to lead, as they did in 2003 and 2005 when they approved gas-tax hikes (the latter of which was reaffirmed by voters). Tolling and other non-traditional funding sources, including flexible, public-private partnerships, should be on the table for discussion.

Building trust by delivering what citizens want at a price they’re willing to pay. What a concept.

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