Coalition Bulletin #55:
Citizen's Transportation Advisory Committee Today Reveals $500 Million Backlog of Neighborhood Transportation Needs - Meanwhile the Mayor busies himself and two dozen of his staff with plans for a $50 million Street Car and $200 million in other transportation improvements for South Lake Union!
- Conlin's committee discusses "LID financing" for the streetcar but over half the costs under this mechanism would be passed on to taxpayers
- The Mayor ignores use of impact fees that would ensure Vulcan and other developers foot the bill for the trolley, Mercer Corridor re-working, Terry Avenue and other South Lake Union "improvements"
Who would have 'thunk' that an esoteric discussion on use of local improvement districts (LID's) could be so darn interesting. This morning I attended Richard Conlin's Transportation Committee meeting to hear area "LID" experts describe how this mechanism could be used to fund construction of the South Lake Union Street Car. It was a rather nuanced discussion, needless to say, but what came through loud and clear - us taxpayers are going to be called on to fund at least half the $50 million cost of the street car. According to a council staffer, even though area businesses in South Lake Union along the trolley route could realize as much as a $42 million dollar benefit (there's actually only one major owner and beneficiary along the street car route - Paul Allen of course) the Mayor will propose a special "LID" assessment requiring them to pay only $25 million of the street car's $50 million pricetag. You guessed it. The Mayor wants us taxpayers to foot the rest of the bill. Later this Summer, the Mayor is expected to bring a specific LID proposal to the Council and ask their approval for the trolley.
It got more interesting as they moved into item two on the Committee's agenda. Immediately after the LID discussion, Conlin heard from members of the City's "Citizen's Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) - a 12 member citizens group headed by Daryl Smith. Charged with assessing the City's overall transportation needs and making recommendations on how to finance those needs, Mr Smith got right to the point. His committee identified a minimum backlog of neighborhood projects that today would cost over 500 million dollars to complete These are projects in our neighborhoods that need funding now - mostly deferred maintenance for streets, traffic systems, bridges, etc. (and does not include funding for major projects like the viaduct, seawall, Magnolia Bridge or South Spokane Street Bridge). As these needs are accumulating, the cost likely would double within 10-15 years, according to CTAC's findings. Bridge safety repairs accounted for 37% of the total cost where there are real safety issues that have to be addressed right now. He went on to say that to make headway addressing this backlog, the City would need to spend an additional $40-50 million per year over 20 years just to catch up. Mr. Smith, then offered CTAC's rather feeble set of recommendations regarding how to pay for these added cost including greater use of "user fees"- totally impractical mechanisms - all of which require state legislation and an unprecedented level of regional cooperation. He even suggested a return to the use of a street utility tax despite the recent supreme court decision striking down use of this mechanism.
CTAC's key recommendation was a call for another taxpayer sponsored voter approved city levy they hoped would raise $25 million per year with about half going for bridge repairs and the rest towards basic maintenance needs. This would only be enough they said to at least prevent further deterioration of the city's infrastructure. It would not be enough to make up for the entire backlog and meet additional future expansion of the infrastructure that might be needed.
At this point in Mr. Smith's presentation... I could only think of the irony of his comments coming immediately on the heels of a presentation about the financial demands accompanying the Mayor's plans for a street car in South Lake Union. In fact, if irony could float, I'd say about then, it would have been hovering over the council chambers like a thick fog.
Against a backdrop of $500 million in pressing and necessary neighborhood transportation needs, what's the Mayor doing with his time? He's spending literally millions just in planning and staff time (over 25 staff from all departments focusing almost singularly on South Lake Union) including $250 million in new transportation infrastructure including the trolley, Mercer Corridor, and Terry Avenue improvements all for South Lake Union. Fully 60 percent of new project planning and funding in the Mayor's five year CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) is dedicated only to South Lake Union projects. Our neighborhoods go without funding even for basic safety needs while its full steam ahead in South Lake Union.
What's especially noteworthy, at no time in either these discussion this morning did anyone even mention the possibility of using developer imposed impact fees either to cover the cost of expanding infrastructure in South Lake Union or as a primary tool that could be used when meeting the city's backlog of neighborhood transportation needs. In fact, cities across the region are making widespread use of impact fees as a way of ensuring that big developers pay their fair share. The Growth Management Act and "Concurrency" specifically authorizes and even encourages cities to first look at use of this mechanism. Why do our city leaders completely ignore use of these tools and pass an inordinate share of the burden on to us? I guess the answer is obvious.... Big business calls the shots down at City Hall all too often.
So...how does all this shape up? It means that unless our neighborhoods speak up, our city leaders are first going to soak up a lot of existing state, federal, and local tax dollars to pay for Paul Allen's trolley and other transportation frills in South Lake Union - then sock the taxpayers with a massive voter approved bond of say $100-200 million to cover neighborhood transportation costs and needs that our leaders have neglected over these last five years....truly unbelievable.
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