There's an enduring, though probably apocryphal, Seattle political story about a bunch of Democrats discussing a school bond proposal. One Democrat jokingly likens the school district bureaucracy to an undersized funnel; the public keeps pouring in money and, even though a lot splashes onto the floor and is wasted, some eventually makes its way through the funnel to the kids. And, he continues, the public has no choice but to keep pouring.
This is an apt analogy for the Sound Transit situation, except the water through the funnel goes to enriching transit planners, not teaching kids. Somehow, Sound Transit manages to add insult to injury on an almost daily basis: Last week alone, the struggling agency lost its grip on a much-needed federal grant, was embarrassed by the revelation of its light rail director's $200-an-hour salary, and saw its only success—the commuter rail Sounder—slip into the red ink column.
Yet one part of the funnel analogy doesn't hold true: Many members of the public don't feel compelled to keep pouring money into Sound Transit. Still, the elected officials who run Sound Transit have been all too willing to suspend judgment (and rational thought) in hopes of keeping the organization afloat.
The latest evidence of this curious support was the odd debate at last week's City Council Transportation Committee meeting. Council member Nick Licata had proposed a resolution asking Sound Transit to stop work on light rail until its own review committee finishes its work. It sounds harmless, but the resolution would have forced council members to take a public vote on Sound Transit's performance. Also, Licata included language asking Sound Transit to explore alternatives to light rail—further offending the faithful.
Colleague Jim Compton told Licata that taking shots at Sound Transit would hurt the system's prospects for federal funding (he's right; federal regulators blocked next year's Sound Transit funding the day after this meeting). Calling recent criticism of the light-rail line "a feeding frenzy," Compton announced that he wouldn't join in. "The blood is in the water now, and light rail could easily be the victim," he said.
Compton joined a majority of council members (Richard Conlin, Jan Drago, Richard McIver, Margaret Pageler, Heidi Wills) to amend Licata's proposal into oblivion, replacing it with a bland pro-light-rail statement. The full council is expected to rubber stamp the replacement resolution next Monday.
But at least your City Council has finally spoken on Sound Transit. And they say: "Keep pouring."