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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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September 30, 2005

Steve Ballmer and Roads

At yesterday's luncheon of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer listed “roads” as one of his two political priorities for the Puget Sound region. (The other was education.) I noted that Ballmer did not say “transportation” or, particularly, “transit.” He said “roads.”

Oh, my.

Compare that to what the Seattle politicians are saying. Councilmember Richard Conlin says on his web page that he is chairman (“chair”, he calls it) of the council’s Transportation Committee. And that concerns itself with:

--improved transit;
--developing new funding sources for transportation maintenance and neighborhood transportation improvements; and
--supporting pedestrian and bicycle improvements to reduce dependence on the automobile.

His opponent, Paige Miller, recently sent to my house a flyer of herself standing in a waterfront streetcar, with the headline, “One woman with courage makes mass transit.” In large italic type her flyer says, “With the increasing price of gasoline and our dependency on foreign oil, Paige Miller understands it’s more important than ever to develop effective mass transit.”

The flyer talks about extending Sound Transit light rail to North Seattle and rebidding the Monorail Project. Nothing about roads.

Councilman Richard McIver has a general statement about transportation and mentions his service on the Sound Transit Board.

Candidate Dwight Pelz does say on his web page, “I have insisted on a balance between new highway constrcution and investments in mass transit,” though I suspect he’s referring to fights with road advocates. The rest of it is about transit. “Our new transit systems, monorail and light rail, each have a promise to create pedestrian-oriented communities where people can easily reach destinations without getting in a car,” he says.

Casey Corr does mention "the deterioration of our roads and bridges" but doesn't talk about expanding the capacity of any of them. He does say, "We must build and expand transit service."

Jan Drago talks about "maintaining streets and bridges" and building "integrated, cost effective transit." Again, roads are maintained. Transit is expanded.

Well these are all Seattle people, and Seattle doesn’t have a lot of room for new roads, at least without expensive condemnation. But it could still widen some roads, take parking off other roads, make some flyovers and synchronize more lights, Few politicians will trumpet such ideas, and many work together to frustrate them. It is notorious that on the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, neither Mayor Greg Nickels’ tunnel nor the rebuild option has any new lanes. The proposed new 520 bridge has new carpool and bicycle lanes, but no new general-purpose lanes. To a great section of the Seattle electorate, which Conlin represents, the idea of new general-purpose freeway or arterial lanes is anathema. And yet that really is what Ballmer is asking for. “Roads” is an imprecise term—it includes carpool and bus-only lanes, but in general usage what it usually means is new lanes that can be used freely. People in public life are very reluctant to support this, though in their private actions they support it with the same enthusiasm as the rest of us.

Thus we reach a point at which we clamor for assets we don’t plan to use, and use assets for which we don’t clamor.

Ballmer is right. We need roads.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at September 30, 2005 02:03 PM



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