I-745 puts Island Transit on chopping block - again

"One year after Initiative 695 cut state transportation funding and local Island Transit, a new initiative could soon take what money was left to mass transit and put it into road building.If approved by voters Nov. 7, Initiative 745 might well spell doom for portions of the county's transportation system, namely Island Transit and Washington State Ferries. Outside of that, it has both local city and county officials wondering what the initiative really means.As it is written, I-745 would require all states, counties, and municipalities to spend 90 percent of their transportation funds on road construction and maintenance. It would also require a performance audit of the state's transportation systems. Supporters claim on the initiative's official Web site that I-745 would reduce traffic congestion by funding new lanes and roads in the most heavily used traffic corridors. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, was blunt in her assessment of I-745. On her way to a No on I-745 speaking engagement in Oak Harbor last week, she said that I-745 is badly written and would harm transportation more than it could help it. Not only does it siphon money away from transit programs in places like Island County, Seattle, and Yakima, it may also strip the state ferry system of needed funds.During the past year, Haugen - who is the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee - and her colleagues in the state senate were able to work around I-695. This new initiative, she said, would be impossible to deal with, especially in places like Tacoma, Seattle and Island County, where the road systems are built up as much as they can be. Public transit is what the county needs now, not more roads.Where in Island County do people want Martha Rose to build highways? Haugen said, referring to Island Transit's director.Rose, too, said she is looking at I-745 in the least optimistic light. Island Transit survived I-695 because Island County taxpayers voted this year for a new sales tax levy that bolstered the system's finances. I-745, Rose said, might be able to reach into the transit's budget and push 90 percent of it into road projects, even though that is clearly against the will of the county residents who want that money to go into buses.Rose said Island Transit will not survive a voter-approved I-745.I would say it would take care of the whole ball of wax, she said.The remaining 10 percent of the system's budget probably would not be enough to pay off employee pensions and vacation time and other outstanding expenses, she said. Like Haugen, Rose believes building more roads is not going to solve the state's transportation problems, but just put more slow-moving cars on the road.It's written in the smog line, she said.Herb Hunt, a Freeland businessman and one of the presenters at Tuesday's forum, said I-745, if approved, would come at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing and gridlock is unstoppable.It's counter-intuitive, Hunt said. However, he said he knows why the initiative is on the ballot. He said the Legislature has not done what was needed to ease transportation snarls around the state. The backers of the initiative, he said, are looking for relief.Sen. Haugen agreed with Hunt, but said I-695 is actually to blame for the Legislature's lack of action. She said the Legislature was ready to spend millions on road building and other transportation projects in 1999. But then, the funding dried up.I-695 took away the funding, she said.Democrats like Haugen are not the only politicians decrying the initiative. Republican Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said the state's $50 billion transportation system might just choke on I-745.Statewide, without a doubt, that is the worst initiative (on the ballot), he said.While the initiative would have little effect on the county's transportation funds, he said, it would damage Island Transit's ability to function and county residents' ability to get to work and anywhere else they need to go.Haugen and Shelton said they could not predict which way voters will go on the initiative. Martha Rose, who has spent the last two years campaigning against initiatives that posed a threat to Island Transit, said she has faith in voters this time around.I think people have a good picture of what it is, she said. "

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