If this state had a transportation czar, it’s likely she or he would raise gasoline taxes to pay for more roads. That would discourage driving in general and fuel inefficient cars in particular. And it would build more roads to ease the congestion crisis. Assuming people could gradually switch to efficient cars, the approach would even tax the heaviest users the most, the same group that will benefit the most from more road construction.
Unfortunately, there is no quick way to a simple solution. And gas taxes are apparently so unpopular, that the Legislature and the governor will not pass these ideas nor put them on the ballot as a referendum.
Sadly, the politicians’ disdain for increasing the gas tax is compounded by the inability of elected officials to develop a comprehensive transportation plan with existing funds. The main achievement of the last six years of legislative activity was Referendum 49, the $2 billion road-building referendum that unfortunately relied on the very unpopular, and now expunged, motor vehicle excise tax.
Into this environment charges Initiative 745 and Tim Eyman, champion of I-695 and now apparently collaborator with the road-building and asphalt-paving industry. This somewhat unlikely coalition proposes to change the state’s funding formula for transportation spending from 70 percent roads, 30 percent alternatives to a 90-10 ratio.
Eyman is right that we need more roads. He is wrong in acting like we can accomplish anything by taking money from transit. It’s a huge — and unwarranted — leap of faith to suppose that we can take away buses and other forms of commuting options without clogging the movement of people and goods even further.
Sadly, there are no free lunches because the money has to come from somewhere, most likely from transit funding. It’s absurd to think that there is enough fat to finance a significant share of our needs by tightening up construction practices (though we suspect you could run quite a few buses with the potential savings or could speed up road work).
So here’s the dark side of I- 745: No ready source of funds to build roads other than what exists elsewhere in the state budget. Furthermore, guess who gets to put together this wonderful road-building plan? The same Legislature that has been unable to develop any comprehensive transportation solutions other than R-49 — wrecked by the same Mr. Eyman.
Lastly, if transit funding is whacked again (I-695 did a pretty good job of this already), the short-term result will be more congested roads as many transit riders return to their cars. Also, be prepared for a significant wait for new road projects in this region. For the foreseeable future, road construction planning will be held hostage by our endangered local salmon runs.
What we should be having is an initiative on how to get more money for transportation in general. What I-745 does is to shift transportation money around, a classic instance of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Vote no on I-745.