A small group of citizens met Saturday morning to hear supporters of Proposition 1 speak about why Edmonds voters should approve an additional $40-per-year, per-vehicle registration fee to pay for for street and sidewalk improvements through the city’s Transportation Benefit District. The fee would generate about $1 million annually, which would be split evenly between street overlays and resurfacing and roadway projects.
First, some background on how this measure came about: Transportation Benefit Districts were created by the Washington State Legislature as an option for local governments to fund transportation improvements. The City of Edmonds formed its own district, or TBD, in 2008, with the Edmonds City Council acting as the district’s independent governing board. In 2009, the Edmonds TBD board authorized an annual $2o fee on vehicle license renewals within the City of Edmonds. On July 20, 2010, the board recommended asking voters in November whether to increase the TBD license fee by an additional $40. The Edmonds City Council voted 4-3 at its Aug. 3 meeting to put the proposal on the general election ballot.
At Saturday’s gathering, Edmonds resident Neil Tibbott, co-chair of the city’s Citizens Advisory Committee for Transportation, spoke first, explaining that he first became involved in city transportation issues more than a decade ago after moving into the Seaview neighborhood, near a busy street, with three small children. It became clear there was a need for street safety improvements, including crosswalks and signage to slow traffic near Seaview Elementary, so concerned citizens in his neighborhood came together and began working with the city to find a solution.
Four years later, the neighborhood had street improvements funded by several thousand dollars in city grants and $70,000 in state funding. The lesson? When implementing transportation projects, “it takes time, it takes money and it takes cooperation from many different entities,” he said.
The importance of that cooperation was a common theme in the remarks presented by Saturday’s speakers. They addressed the criticism raised by some citizens in recent weeks that the 37 projects identified for possible funding by the fee increase are not prioritized and in some cases appear to be a low priority given the city’s current economic challenges.
Both Tibbott and Citizens Advisory Committee co-chair Don Fiene noted that while the city has identified 37 projects costing an estimated $60 million, what is actually funded somewhat depends on the matching funds the city receives from the state and federal government. The goal is “leveraging city money many times over,” Tibbott said, at time when construction costs are low due to the recession and grant money is plentiful. The key, of course, is to have some seed money for those grant applications, and that’s where the Proposition 1 funding would come in, he added.
“If we don’t have any money in the bank to contribute to our part, it slows down the process, if not completely stops it,” Tibbott said.
“There is a lot of grant money available for this kind of thing but we have no match for it,” Fiene added, noting that there was another important reason for approving the measure: “You don’t jump-start economic development without a transportation component,” he said.
Fiene said that the matching money is not available for street overlays and resurfacing, a practice that should be done every 20 years to maintain city streets but under the current city schedule is on a cycle of once every 80 years. According to the city’s Proposition 1 web page, money collected through the measure — 50 percent of the total raised — would fund a 60-year street overlay cycle, which isn’t ideal but is an improvement over current practice. A map of the priority resurfacing projects, with streets rated “poor to severe,” can be found here.
My Edmonds News will continue to cover this issue during the coming weeks. Contributor “Citizen Harry” Gatjens is writing an article on the Transportation Benefit District, so look for that soon. And the guest for Gatjens’ next “Coffee with Harry” meeting — to be held this Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 3:30 p.m. at Chanterelle Restaurant, is City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams. Chanterelle, located at 316 Main St, is providing free coffee for those attending.