transportation

The Real Cost of ST3 Would Come from Not Passing It

Sound Transit

Kudos to Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom for breaking down the taxpayer cost of the proposed Sound Transit 3 measure, especially his explanation of how property taxes really work:

Chances are, you’re now wondering if transit property taxes would skyrocket after 2017, presuming home values continue their rapid rise.

They wouldn’t.

Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 capped the increases in property-tax collections for most local taxing districts at 1 percent, excluding new development.

So the average ST3 property-tax bill would increase 1 percent in 2018 and beyond. As a rate, the initial $25 would gradually decrease, if values rise.

Sure hope his paper’s editorial board digests this explanation before once again misinforming readers with bullshit claims that the property tax “would rise with the real-estate market.”

But as much as I appreciate Lindblom’s evenhanded explanation of the cost of passing ST3, I wish he had spent a couple hundred words explaining the high cost of doing nothing. And the cost is huge—assuming commuters value their own time.

According to Sound Transit our region’s population is expected to grow 30 percent by 2040—that’s about a million more people crowding our roads, ferries, buses, and rails. And they’re going to have to get to and from home, work, school, shopping, and leisure somehow. Build ST3 and many of these additional trips will occur on bus and rail. Don’t build ST3 and most of these new trips will be forced onto our already congested roads. While building ST3 isn’t likely to make our traffic better, it is almost certainly going to make it less worse.

How much less worse? I can only speculate. But even a modest reduction in the increase of cars on the roads would generate huge payoffs for those of us who continue to drive.

The math is actually quite simple. Imagine just a 10 minute difference each way on your daily commute—about 20 additional minutes a day stuck in traffic with a million more people and no ST3. Figuring 50 work weeks a year times 5 workdays a week, that’s an additional 83 hours a year of commuting without ST3 than with it. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seattle’s mean hourly wage is currently about $30 an hour. So if you value your time, that would come to about $2,500 a year in opportunity cost lost in rejecting ST3, compared to an average $169 a year in new taxes (per adult) if we pass it. Hell, even if building ST3 only saves a minute each way from our daily commutes, the average taxpayer still comes out ahead.

And that’s just your daily commute. Throw in all the other times you find yourself stuck in traffic at all hours of the day and night, and those minutes start to really add up. It quickly becomes apparent that both collectively and individually, the cost in lost time and productivity from not building ST3 far, far exceeds the cost of building it.

Of course, that’s a lot harder to quantify than ST3’s $53 billion price tag. But it’s worth a mention.