Letter to the editor in Bellevue Reporter on May 7, 2008

John Carlson's editorial about regional transportation choices (April 30) reminds me of something Woody Allen once said: "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Fortunately, the transportation choices available to Puget Sound area voters aren't so bleak.

One choice (Rossi's plan) involves further road expansion, paid for by existing gas taxes, elimination of tax on transportation projects (making them cheaper), and application of part of the vehicle sales tax towards contruction costs. The new 520 bridge would be paid for by a $1.50 toll, imposed upon completion of the bridge.

The other choice (the progressive plan) involves establishing GPS-metered tolls on a large number of roads, to discourage driving, especially during rush hour.

Rossi's plan directly eases congestion, without forcing people out of their cars. But the plan actually encourages more driving, thus contributing to eventual further congestion. The Rossi plan also fails to address climate change and fails to reduce America's addiction to oil. Each year Americans sends about half a trillion dollars overseas for oil imports, much of it going to corrupt regimes like Saudi Arabia and Russia. Continuing to build more roads and send money overseas is not sustainable.

Besides, it's not clear whether Rossi's plan is economically feasible. Even without new construction, gas tax revenues are inadequate for existing tranportation needs. Gas tax revenues are decreasing due to better gas mileage standards and increased use of public transportation. Diverting money from sales tax towards road construction will make less money available for other needs. Finally, it's hard to imagine that the construction companies that build the new bridge will be willing to wait until the project is completed before they get paid.

Of course, the Rossi plan and near universal tolling plan aren't the only options.

Most progressives are OK with limited road expansion (e.g., at choke points). And most conservatives agree that use of public transportation (e.g., buses) is a good idea. So maybe a compromise plan, involving some road construction and some tolls and new public transportation will be acceptable.

Another option is to lower the sales tax and raise the gas tax. This could even be done in a revenue neutral manner. It would discourage driving, thereby decreasing both congestion and the need for road construction.

In any case, we shouldn't pretend that we can solve our tranportation problems painlessly.

Donald A. Smith
Bellevue

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