Eastside left out of transportation plan

Guest Columnist

It’s a shame that County Executive Ron Sims has to be reminded that the King County border extends much further east of Seattle than Lake Washington. In fact, some of the worst traffic congestion in the state can be found daily on the I-405 corridor and its connecting arterials on the eastside of Lake Washington – in eastern King County. Yet a mammoth regional transportation plan proposed by Sims and his counterparts from Snohomish and Pierce counties seems to ignore that fact, placing emphasis on traffic congestion relief squarely between the Northgate and Southcenter malls (i.e. Seattle).

The executives’ plan seeks to ask voters in the three counties, including those in the suburban and rural areas of south and east King County, to pony up nearly $12 billion through higher sales taxes, increased vehicle license fees and a new motor-vehicle excise tax. Yet money needed for Eastside highway congestion relief projects, including I-405, would be frittered away on light rail (nearly $1 billion) in north and south Seattle, and on other projects that would make little difference, rather than those areas that need the most attention.

Only $1.45 billion would be provided under the county executives’ plan for I-405 improvements. While that may sound like a large amount of money, it is just a fraction of the $6.8 billion the I-405 Corridor Program Executive Committee determined it would cost to add two general-purpose lanes needed to relieve gridlock and make a difference in the lives of Eastside commuters. Sen. Dan McDonald was right when he said, “That’s not going to do anything. That’s just a gesture.”

Eastside legislators worked in good faith to develop a comprehensive transportation plan to address our region’s terrible traffic congestion. We approved a list of projects that would give our local communities the congestion relief they need.

Unfortunately, since the majority-party budget writers underfunded the transportation budget, the state’s Transportation Commission has deferred until next year critical projects in the Eastside suburbs that had previously been funded and were ready to go forward. The county executives’ regional proposal adds insult to injury by shortchanging local suburban residents at the same time we are fighting the Transportation Commission’s decision to divert money away from the Eastside into projects the Legislature did not authorize.

When the Legislature passed the regional bill, it expressly gave authority to the county councils, not the county executives, to formulate a regional transportation plan and project list. By giving that authority to the councils, we felt it would provide a more balanced approach, with individual council members representing the best interests of their own districts.

Clearly, Ron Sims and company have put the cart before the horse. If the county executives wanted to show leadership, they should have put forward a reasonable proposal that balances the needs of all areas of Puget Sound – the Eastside suburbs included. Instead, they have closed their eyes to the real solutions offered by Eastside legislators to get traffic moving again.

We have worked long and hard to come up with solutions our local citizens can embrace. We have only one chance to get it right and provide a regional transportation plan that addresses not only the choke points of the city, but makes a major commitment to the worst traffic congested areas in the suburbs.

Before we get any further in the process, leaders in our state and within King County need to realize that as long as they remain Seattle-centric, they cannot expect suburban and rural residents to hand over their wallets just because they came up with a plan.

Rep. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, serve the 5th Legislative District that covers east and south King County, including the Sammamish Plateau, Issaquah, Snoqualmie Valley and Maple Valley. Pflug is a member of the I-405 Corridor Program Executive Committee. Anderson is a member of the House Transportation Committee.