The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Thursday, November 07, 2002

3 Transit Victories, 2 Transit Defeats. 5 Road Measures Get Clobbered

"It is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous to be subject to ridicule."
James Howard Kunstler

From the Cabalmaster:

Proposals to increase taxes for new bus and rail transit projects around the nation drew a mixed response from voters at the November 5th midterm elections. The results of the Seattle monorail proposal are still unknown due to late absentee ballots. In contrast, major proposals to expand highways in Virginia and Washington were dealt decisive defeats. Voters were generally reluctant to increase taxes, particularly for roadway expansion. Opposition to highway expansion also appears to have contributed to a Democrat being elected governor of Tennessee.

The most stunning transit victory was in Miami-Dade County, where voters approved a 1/2 cent sales tax for a series of rail extensions and bus service improvements, in an area that had suffered many transit funding defeats over the past two decades. Voters in suburban Denton County, Texas northwest of Dallas overwhelmingly approved connections to the DART light rail system, along with local bus improvements. In contrast, Cincinnati region voters rejected funding for regional transit improvements that would have included a 60-mile LRT network. Similarly, a proposal to expand bus and paratransit service in the Little Rock, Arkansas area was rejected as part of a program of non-transit projects, such as jail operations, “infrastructure” (presumably roads), and workforce development programs.

A statewide road-financing package in Washington was decisively defeated, as were two regional measures in Virginia, in the Hampton Roads (Norfolk) and Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Washington State

Referendum 51 ("R-51"), the mostly road-financing package including a 9-cent per gallon gas-tax increase, was rejected by 63 percent statewide. Backers admitted before the election that it would need to win big in Seattle-area suburbs. But it was rejected by 58 percent in King County.

Initiative 776 ("I-776"), sponsored by Tim Eyman, attracted a 54 percent "yes" vote statewide. However, this measure had little practical effect outside of the Sound Transit district (and one other county which has imposed a "local-option" license-tab fee). Anti-rail factions have attempted to "spin" this into a vote against Sound Transit's LRT plan. Takes a lot of spinning: I-776 attracted a 58 percent "No" vote in King County, which accounts for the large majority of the population within the Sound Transit service district.

As of early Thursday morning, Seattle's monorail financing plan had a 52 percent "yes" vote. However, the outcome is far from certain. The measure led by a slender margin of 4,500 votes out of more than 105,000 votes counted. And there are a lot more votes to count.

As of early Thursday morning, an estimated 500,000 absentee ballots had yet to be counted statewide. King County had received 190,000, and another 70,000 were thought to be in the mail. In other words, up to 250,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted in King County. Seattle accounts for slightly more than 35 percent of all registered voters in King County. Up to 88,000 ballots cast by Seattle absentee voters may await counting -- or more, if the monorail controversy generated a higher turnout than in King County overall.

The monorail proposal would have to attract at least a 47 percent "yes" vote to assure passage, assuming that 80,000 absentee ballots remain uncounted.

Those of us in the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal consider the above results to be a TRANSIT VICTORY and a MAJOR, MAJOR ROAD DEFEAT. First, due to the decisive rejection of the statewide road plan that gave only token amounts to transit. Second, though the Eyman proposal won statewide, King County voters decisively rejected it, a show of support for Sound Transit. Should the Seattle monorail measure pass, we would consider it a TRANSIT VICTORY since voters support transit funding, but we are still highly critical of the unneeded technology options chosen.

Miami/Dade County, Florida

Voters overwhelmingly approved a 1/2 percent sales tax increase for Metrorail and major bus expansion. The measure passed overwhelmingly, more than making up for a string of transit funding defeats over the past two decades. This is a MAJOR TRANSIT VICTORY, perhaps the biggest of 2002. By all accounts, this was the “surprise of the night” for transit supporters around the nation.

Denton County, Texas

This rapidly growing suburban area northwest of Dallas gave overwhelming approval to a transit plan that includes a rail connection to the Dallas DART light rail extension to Carrolton. This clearly is a TRANSIT VICTORY.

Tennessee Governors Race

Controversial highway proposals in suburban Knoxville may have tipped the governors race to the Democrats – see We Transit Cabalists count this as a ROAD DEFEAT that hopefully will improve the political prospects for light rail (Memphis, Nashville) and other transit projects in the Volunteer State.

Northern Virginia

Northern Virginia voters rejected a half percent (55% no to 45% yes) sales tax for highway and transit construction, substantially more $$ for roads than transit (but they supported bonds for university capital improvements)

This is obviously a ROAD DEFEAT, since most money would have gone toward new sprawl-inducing highway projects. A higher proportion for transit expansion in the measure’s spending plan would have probably given victory in Arlington and Alexandria, where large “yes” margins are needed to offset no votes in more tax-wary exurban areas. Certainly this measure will be on the ballot again, hopefully with a larger transit share.

Hampton Roads, Virginia

Hampton Road area (e.g., Norfolk, Newport News, Virginia Beach) voters decis – 1 cent increase mostly major roadway expansion, including a third freeway crossing of the harbor. An insulting, token amount was also set-aside for unspecified transit projects We opinionated Cabalists savor this as a MAJOR ROAD DEFEAT.

Little Rock, Arkansas

As proposed, a 1/4 percent sales tax in the Little Rock, Arkansas, region would have been allocated to bus and paratransit expansion. This proposal was one part of a 1 percent sales tax package in Pulaski County and City of Little Rock for a grab bag of projects, including “infrastructure,” (mainly roads) jail operations, and workforce development.

All measures were soundly defeated; voter turnout was very low. Us opinionated Cabalists rate this one as a ROAD DEFEAT. This item also rates as a TRANSIT DEFEAT, given voter reluctance to spend an entire new one percent sales tax on a smorgasboard of local government spending proposals.

Cincinnati, Ohio

Voters decisively rejected a 1/2 percent tax for a comprehensive Cincinnati regional transit proposal, including 60-mile LRT system. This is obviously a TRANSIT DEFEAT. This is the first time that Southwestern Ohio voters were presented with a ballot measure including LRT. Area leaders need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a less ambitious LRT plan for now, plus a greater emphasis on bus expansion.

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