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Following City’s Victory to Reverse I-976, Mayor Durkan Announces Plan to Restore $23.7 million for Transit Service and Projects

Leaving the bus at the University of Washington. Photo Credit: SDOT Flickr.

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan has announced a proposal to invest $23.7 million in funding back into an array of transit service and mobility improvements consistent with the will of Seattle voters when they supported Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD Proposition 1).

These funds represent the amount collected but held in reserve while the Washington Supreme Court considered the legality of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976 (I-976).

“Even before the pandemic and economic crisis, Seattle’s transportation budget was unnecessarily decimated by I-976 and our residents and businesses have felt the real impacts of cuts. Justice for Seattle voters prevailed when the Supreme Court struck down I-976, and now we are moving forward with a plan to invest these funds in improved transit service and projects that support a thriving and equitable Seattle. While it has been a brutal year for transit, our goal as a City is to emerge with robust transit options across the City, including new light rail and improvements to our bus service.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan

In full, the Mayor’s proposal includes funding three distinct types of projects to benefit Seattleites across the city. Considering the massive impacts of the pandemic on SDOT’s budget last year, the City turned to our partners on Seattle Transit Advisory Board and the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee to help us draft a spending plan for these one-time expenditures.  The proposed spending plan will be considered by the Seattle City Council in March 2021. 

The spending plan includes:

$12.7 million to restore projects which had to be paused in spring 2020 due to COVID-19-related budget impacts

While Levy to Move Seattle revenues have remained stable, local funds that support delivery of the overall Levy program declined precipitously in 2020 and we had to pause projects as a result. As discussed through the COVID-19 Impact Assessment of the Levy, the Transit Advisory Board and Levy Oversight Committee helped identify which reduced or paused projects to restore. Projects and programs aligning with the one-time nature of these funds and the initial intent of STBD Proposition 1 to fund transit improvements were selected and include:

  • Transit Spot Improvement Program: Funding will enable work to install concrete bus zone improvements, red bus lanes, and rear-door bus pads in coordination with King County Metro.
  • 23rd Ave E Phase 3 of 23rd Ave E Vision Zero Project: Funding will support 12 bus zone improvements, a signal upgrade at 23rd Ave S & E John St – which is an improvement for transit – and a variety of other elements as part of our Vision Zero program to keep people safer.

“While we were able to maintain much of our investment in the transportation system in 2020, we also had to take the painful decision to pause a number of projects and programs. Our economic and community recovery will continue to depend on safe and reliable transportation, and I am excited that we will be able to make these investments in the coming years.”

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe

$5 Million for Essential Service

Despite 2020’s challenges, King County Metro’s (Metro) network (including service funded by STBD) continued to serve essential travel for those around the region who still needed to move about – for work, for school, for healthcare, or even for daily errands. Throughout the summer, Metro continued to serve well over 100,000 daily riders, while ensuring using transit continued to be a safe experience for both riders and drivers.

“Thanks to the strong partnership between Metro and the City of Seattle, riders will benefit from frequent, reliable bus service and investments to make the transit network even better.”

Terry White, King County Metro General Manager

Mayor Durkan’s proposal includes $5 million to help fund transit service in 2021 and will ensure continuity of investments funded by the program before we start collecting new revenue from the STBD on April 1, 2021. These investments support Seattle’s Frequent Transit Network. This will also be able to further support routes that experienced relatively high ridership throughout COVID-19 – primarily those that serve BIPOC communities and neighborhoods with a high percentage of people who have continued to commute to jobs throughout the pandemic. These ridership trends reinforce the importance of transit for many people in Seattle and help us prioritize transit for those who depend on it most.

We will continue preparing for a rainy day as well.

One takeaway from 2020 is that rainy days can come when you least expect them. Setting aside the remaining $6 million in a reserve for transit service provides a fiscally-responsible buffer for unanticipated events, such as lower-than-projected revenues in the early years of the new STBD measure as we recover from COVID-19. We will continue to set aside funds throughout the life of the program to build a strategic reserve.

While local transportation funding is not back to where we were pre-COVID-19, rest assured that we are working hard to restore projects and programs in a way that is equitable, sustainable, and reflects our city’s needs and priorities. We will continue to do so as other funding opportunities arise.

“The Seattle Transit Advisory Board (TAB) appreciates the engagement of our board from both SDOT and the Mayor’s office in developing this proposal. We appreciate your involvement of the board early on in the development of the proposal and we are pleased with how you incorporated our advocacy for projects with a strong nexus to transit, and we are supportive of the plan. We’re especially excited to see both the transit spot improvements program receive more funding as well as for providing funds to keep larger transit corridor programs on schedule.”

Andrew Martin, Seattle Transit Advisory Board Co-Chair

Puzzle graphic showing vehicle licensing fees and sales tax
Graphic: SDOT

As part of the 2021 budget, Mayor Durkan proposed a spending plan for the STBD, which passed by more than 80% in November 2020 and goes into effect on April 1, 2021.