Transportation at the ballot box Tuesday

Voters decided on a handful of ballot measures related to transit and transportation funding yesterday, but it’s worth pointing out two specific cases here from opposite sides of the country.

Charlotte: Transit funding upheld

An overwhelming 70 percent of Charlotte voters renewed their commitment to the city’s ambitious transit plans, upholding a half-cent tax that funds both existing public transportation and the planned expansion. Voters there originally approved a half-cent sales tax in 1998 to increase funding for existing bus transit, as well as to begin construction on a new light-rail line as part of a 2030 transit plan for Charlotte and greater Mecklenburg County. Anti-transit foes collected 48,000 signatures to put the half-cent sales tax back on the ballot, with yesterday’s election happening just weeks before the new light rail line is scheduled to open. Repealing the tax would have crippled funding for operating that system, as well as radically cutting bus service in the area, which receives 65 percent of its funding from the tax.

The anti-transit group pulled out all the stops, bringing in the usual outside hired guns — Randall O’Toole and Wendell Cox — and the anti-government Locke Foundation as part of their campaign to get the tax repealed. Even as recently as a few months ago, the fate of the tax was uncertain, but voters made it clear yesterday that they are on board with the plan for continuing and expanding transit service in the Queen City as gas prices rise, congestion worsens, and emissions take a toll on the environment. From the Charlotte Observer:

“The margin of victory stunned even transit supporters…The number of people voting for repeal — roughly 37,000 — fell short of the 48,000 signatures collected that put the tax back on the ballot.”

Seattle voters reject catch-all transportation package

Seattle voters rejected the largest transportation funding package ever put before them, an amalgam of projects that would have raised $16 billion for roads and $31 billion to build and operate light rail and other transit. The catch-all package was designed to give every constituency something to like, but may instead have provided multiple reasons to vote “no”. Transit advocates themselves were split on the issue.

King County Executive Ron Sims, who has made sustainable urbanism a major tenet of his tenure, echoed this in a September op-ed for the Seattle Times about why he was encouraging voters to reject the measure:

“While containing some good projects, this plan doesn’t solve traffic congestion in the short term, nor does it provide enough long-term relief to justify the financial and environmental costs. Tragically, this plan continues the national policy of ignoring our impacts upon global warming. In a region known for our leadership efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, this plan will actually boost harmful carbon emissions. In its entirety, I regrettably conclude that costs exceed benefits.”

Eric de Place over at Sightline feels the connection that residents have made with miles of new roads increasing emissions and climate change may have really “tipped the scales” against it:

“In fairness, there was plenty of confusion and disagreement over the proposal’s climate impacts — mainly because no one conducted a full climate assessment of the measure — but it clearly weighed as a factor for a critical bloc of voters on both sides of the issue. …In fact, Prop 1 may be the last of its kind: a Cascadian transportation proposal that lacked a climate accounting.”