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News / Northwest

Proposal would add another $100 million to Seattle transportation levy

By Nicholas Deshais, The Seattle Times
Published: June 3, 2024, 3:46pm

SEATTLE — Seattle City Councilmember Rob Saka will propose a slate of additions on Tuesday to this year’s proposed transportation levy, which he said will better its chances for approval by fellow council members as well as voters in November.

With his amendments, the levy would reach $1.55 billion, up $100 million from Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal a month ago, which itself had ballooned by $100 million from Harrell’s original proposal a month before.

“This investment reflects a smart, balanced approach to meeting the needs where we all can win,” said Saka, who leads the council’s Transportation Committee. He described his additions as “the first initial step.”

The proposed levy — which will replace the $930 million levy voters approved in 2015 that expires at the end of this year — plots out eight years of repaving busy streets, maintaining bridges, building and repairing sidewalks, improving access to transit and expanding the city’s bike network.

Saka’s amendments keep the levy’s basic framework the same, but adds $63 million for new sidewalks, and $7 million to the Safe Routes to Schools program. It also adds $7 million toward safety measures on transit, which will mainly be spent on personnel, from civilian “navigators” to armed officers, Saka said.

Saka is also proposing $1.5 million for “outreach and education” about property tax exemptions for older adults, people with disabilities, veterans and people with low incomes. He also wants an additional $1 million to implement an auditing system and better fund the council’s Levy Oversight Committee as it examines the spending.

“It is a lot,” Saka said of the levy’s spending. “Whatever the investment amount, and this has been made loud and clear to me, we need to have tight accountability and controls baked in to assure good governance.”

The levy, which is funded through property taxes, would cost the owner of a median-priced, $804,000 home about $500 a year, Saka said, approximately $200 more than the 2015 levy.

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Polling done last year by the city, in March and December, showed support for the levy renewal. In the most recent poll, 64 percent of respondents supported essentially approving the 2015 levy, but that support slipped to 56 percent for a bigger levy of about $1.7 billion.

A more recent poll done by the Northwest Progressive Institute for a collection of advocacy groups — including Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, the Sierra Club, the Transit Riders Union, Transportation Choices Coalition, Disability Rights Washington, Lid I-5 and Sightline Institute — affirmed support for a larger levy, with 54 percent of respondents saying they backed a levy as large as $1.9 billion.

Other changes Saka is proposing include adding $10 million for new electric vehicle charging stations, $20 million for a program dedicated to the movement of freight, and $7 million to the District Project Fund, which would equally fund projects in each of the city’s seven council districts.

Spending on the city’s sidewalks is key, Saka said. More than a quarter of Seattle’s sidewalks are missing. Not only is that an impediment for people with disabilities, Saka said, but dangerous as it pushes people into travel lanes.

“One hundred percent of people are pedestrians at some point in their journey,” he said.

The levy includes $145 million for transit, including more to be spent on security so people feel safe riding transit, Saka said.

“That’s the underlying concern we hear over and over and over again. People are concerned about public safety on transit,” he said. “In certain cases we’ve made progress, that’s what the data shows. But people’s perception is important.”

Overall, the levy, the largest property tax levy in Seattle’s history, puts safety at the fore, with spending aimed at slowing drivers down, fixing old bridges, building new sidewalks and bikeways, and maintaining and installing crosswalks. It also puts $162 million toward the programs to reduce traffic collisions, severe injuries and death on Seattle streets.

Still, the city has a long way to go. Between May 23 and 29, six people were killed in traffic in Seattle.

Last month, a Washington Traffic Safety Commission report showed that 810 people were killed statewide in crashes involving a motor vehicle in 2023, a 33-year high. In Seattle, 27 people were killed in 2023, down from 30 in 2022.

The council will discuss Saka’s amendments at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the public will have a chance to weigh in that day at 4:30 p.m., either in person at City Hall, or remotely by phone or email. The council has two more meetings to amend the levy proposal, June 18 and July 12, before it sends it to voters on the November ballot.

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