We are in the process of completing a 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment of the Levy to Move Seattle. Here, we outline why and how we completed this assessment in advance of its release early next year.

Thanks to your Levy to Move Seattle tax dollars, design and safety changes along NE 65th St significantly reduced collisions and expanded access for people walking, biking, and riding the bus. The midpoint of the Levy and impacts of COVID-19 together are an opportunity to evaluate where we stand on commitments to you. Photo Credit: SDOT.

Summary 

  • Thanks to your investment through the Levy to Move Seattle, we continue to deliver on projects throughout the city to keep you moving safely and efficiently.  
  • The Levy to Move Seattle portfolio was not spared from budget shortfalls caused by COVID-19. We took thoughtful, immediate action to pause projects while we identified necessary budget reductions. 
  • The midpoint of the Levy and impacts of COVID-19 together are an opportunity to evaluate where we stand on commitments to you. 
  • We decided to undertake an evaluation  – our 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment (COVID Assessment) – on the Levy to Move Seattle, and we look forward to sharing this with you in early 2021. 
  • In the meantime, we wanted to share the values, goals, and process that guided the COVID Assessment. 

Thanks to your investment through the Levy to Move Seattle, we continue to deliver on projects throughout the city to keep you moving safely and efficiently. Even so, the Levy portfolio was not spared from budget shortfalls caused by COVID-19.  

A bus is shown coming up the SW Avalon Way hill on a newly repaved road. Downtown Seattle is seen in the background.
Repaved SW Avalon Way. The $13.3 million investment on SW Avalon Way through the Levy enabled improvements including repaving, new bike lanes, transit islands, improved curb ramps, and more to support efficient and safe travel across all modes. Photo Credit: SDOT.

We’re halfway through the 9-year Levy to Move Seattle that voters approved in 2015! Some of the more recent projects delivered thanks to your tax dollars include the 4th Ave Mobility ProjectLander St BridgeNE 65th St Vision Zero Project, and SW Avalon Way Paving

While incredible progress has been made, as we’ve noted before, the COVID-19 global pandemic and resulting national recession caused many revenue streams the City relies on to decline. We anticipate that trend  to continue into 2021. These COVID-19-induced impacts have led us to create a thoughtful framework to assess how to refine that path forward for the Levy and your tax dollars. In this blog, we share more about what that framework looks like, and the important values that underpin and guide it.   

Before diving into the framework, we want to give you a sense of the financial impacts that need to be resolved through that process. 

The Levy is primarily paid for through property taxes. As a result, funding has not been as deeply impacted by COVID-19 as it would have been were the Levy funded by a source like sales or gas taxes. This is a powerful Levy that, despite challenges, will result in a vast array of improvements citywide by the end of its lifetime. 

However, we still needed to take thoughtful, immediate action to pause and reduce work across SDOT to balance our budget. As a result of the declines mentioned above, the overall Levy budget is anticipated to decrease by 6.7%, or $84M, from 2020-2024, from a pre-COVID baseline of $1.25B.  

As we pass the midpoint of the Levy, we will make lemonade out of lemons by using this unprecedented funding gap to evaluate where we stand on our Levy commitments to you through the 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment on the Levy to Move Seattle.  

In partnership with the Levy Oversight Committee (LOC), we decided to complete an evaluation called the 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment on the Levy to Move Seattle (referred to as the “COVID Assessment” moving forward in this blog) to ensure our decisions reflect core City and community values and that we deliver on what’s most important to you.  

The COVID Assessment will be released in January, and today we share the framework we created that informed that forthcoming report, findings, and recommendations. We strongly believe this type of comprehensive portfolio assessment is responsible and necessary to move forward in an equitable, transparent manner.  

The LOC has met to discuss COVID-19 revenue and portfolio impacts in their monthly meetings since April. (You can review the details of each meeting on our website.)  The LOC provided input and recommendations on the process, goals, and guiding principles for the COVID Assessment. The LOC stressed that equity should be emphasized in all decisions and that transparency throughout the process is critical. They also requested a focus on safety, climate change, and reduced car dependence, while continuing to advance projects already in construction or that have grant and partnership funding.  

The LOC’s feedback helped us develop specific goals and key principles for the COVID Assessment. 

The goals of the COVID Assessment were: 

  • Use the Racial Equity Toolkit to complete a racial equity analysis: One of our primary goals is to partner with our communities to build a racially equitable and socially just transportation system. Specific to the COVID Assessment, the LOC recommended that we focus investments in areas we historically have underserved to better address racial inequities. The racial equity analysis is made up of six steps that help us develop and evaluate the COVID Assessment to address the impacts of our decisions on racial equity. 
  • Align remaining Levy investments with SDOT and community values: These include engaging in an equity-centered recovery process, ensuring safe travel, and creating a walkable, transit-rich city. 
  • Validate or recommend changes to paused projects: From those goals and aligning with key principles below, confirm we made the right choices on projects to pause or reduce initially and if not, make changes to our recent program budget actions, the status of paused projects, and programmatic or scope reductions. 

We were guided by key principles: 

  • A responsibility to maintain or exceed all Levy deliverables, as we view each to be a key piece of the original commitment to voters. 
  • A commitment to Vision Zero and our goal to create a safe transportation environment and end traffic deaths and serious injuries in Seattle.  
  • A dedication to operations and maintenance of our infrastructure within the levy program.  
  • Maintenance of City staff capacity for this levy work and emergency response, ability to ramp up project delivery as we advance towards recovery, and preservation of family-wage jobs during a recession. 
  • A commitment to transit access as a lifeline for a growing, recovering Seattle.  
  • Funding for proactive, responsible maintenance of our existing assets continues to be a priority.  
  • A commitment to our values and programs exceeding our original Levy commitments.  

Thank you for your investment in our City’s infrastructure through the Levy to Move Seattle. We are committed to clear and transparent communication as we work to deliver Levy commitments and share  our findings and recommendations from the 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment with you. 

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