Transportation

Inside Seattle’s $130M Transportation Budget

Next year’s budget could see a 25 percent increase as the city pushes to update aging infrastructure and get a handle on worsening congestion.

by David Gutman, The Seattle Times / September 26, 2018

(TNS) — Seattle would boost its spending on streets, sidewalks and buses by nearly $130 million next year under Mayor Jenny Durkan’s new proposed budget.

That’s more than a 25 percent increase over this year as the city rebuilds its aging roadways and tries to manage increasing traffic congestion.

The two-year budget, released Monday, also projects an additional $70 million in transportation spending for 2020, on top of what is proposed for next year.

The money would come from a variety of sources. Spending from the Move Seattle property tax levy would increase by more than $30 million in 2019, after the Seattle Department of Transportation spent significant time and energy this year assessing and refining the troubled program.

The city’s commercial parking tax, real-estate excise tax and school-zone traffic cameras have also brought in more money than anticipated, the proposed budget says.

Durkan wants to increase bus service by 100,000 more service hours over the next two years, using car-tab fees and sales taxes approved by voters in 2014. But it is unclear if Metro can increase service as quickly as Durkan is proposing.

Metro hasn’t been able to hire enough bus drivers or increase space at its maintenance bases to provide all the bus service that city voters approved and are paying for.

“We are hopeful that they will,” Durkan said, noting ongoing discussions between the city and Metro about just how much service it can provide. “But that is the amount that we budgeted for.”

Jeff Switzer, a Metro spokesman, said the 100,000 additional hours are also in Metro’s proposed budget.

With some of the unused money, the city is now providing free ORCA transit passes for all Seattle public high-school students, a program that would continue under the new budget.

The budget includes funding for Seattle’s two existing streetcars, in South Lake Union and First Hill, but does not indicate whether Durkan will restart construction on the stalled First Avenue streetcar line. That project, whose anticipated costs have increased by more than $100 million, remains under review with no firm timeline for a decision, the mayor’s office said.

But earlier this month the city renewed its application for $75 million in federal funding for the new streetcar, which the city is relying upon, should the project resume.

“We are moving forward as if it’s a go, but we want to continue to assess,” Durkan said. “We want to keep all options open.”

The budget has $1 million to continue studying congestion pricing — broad-based road tolling — in downtown Seattle. That would build on a $200,000 study included in last year’s budget by City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

That study was originally planned to have results this fall, but the city didn’t hire its consultant until last month.

Durkan, earlier this year, pledged to develop a plan to toll city roadways.

“Congestion pricing can be an effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving mobility,” the new budget says, mentioning London, Stockholm and Milan, cities with widespread downtown tolling programs. It says the new funding would go toward assessing pricing tools, tolling technology and potential impacts, both on people and businesses.

Durkan also wants to use technology to make it easier to police existing traffic regulations that often go unenforced.

She announced Monday that the city will lobby the Legislature for a change in state law to allow traffic cameras to ticket drivers in bus-only lanes and for “blocking the box” — when a car gets stuck in the middle of an intersection, blocking traffic from getting through.

©2018 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.