In the COVID-19 Impact Assessment of the Levy to Move Seattle, we analyze & recommend changes to previous project pause decisions made because of COVID-19 budget impacts

Sidewalk safety improvements and street art on 8th Ave S funded by your Levy to Move Seattle tax dollars at work. Photo Credit: Dahvee Enciso.

Summary 

  • This is a powerful Levy that, despite challenges, will result in a vast array of improvements citywide by the end of its lifetime.  
  • However, local funding sources like grants and partnerships that we leverage along with property tax to deliver the full Levy portfolio have been affected. While funding has not been as deeply impacted as it would be if the Levy were funded by a source like sales or gas taxes, the decline in funds we can leverage means that there will be changes to Levy projects. 
  • The goals of this assessment were: 
    • Conduct a racial equity analysis to evaluate how our Levy-related budget decisions stemming from COVID-19 impact racial equity 
    • Align remaining Levy investments with SDOT and community values 
    • Validate or recommend changes to budget decisions that paused projects 
  • Some of our key findings and recommendations include: 
    • We recommended restoring 6 paused projects and 1 project that we reduced the scope of (totaling $8.57M). 
    • Despite COVID-19-related budget reductions, 27 of the Levy’s 30 programs are still projected to meet or exceed their 9-year goals in the 2018 Workplan.  
    • We don’t recommend changes to programmatic reductions identified for the Levy’s 2020-2024 Planned Budget. 
  • The results of this 2020 COVID-19 Impact Assessment and the City’s 2021 adopted budget will feed into an overall Levy Portfolio Status Update in 2021. This will highlight the many accomplishments to date and provide a detailed workplan and confirmation of planned Levy deliverables through 2024. 

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! Some recent Levy projects include the 4th Ave Mobility ProjectLander St BridgeNE 65th St Vision Zero ProjectSidewalk Improvements on 8th Ave S, and SW Avalon Way Paving.  

Person using the new 4th Ave protected bike lane on a fall evening. Photo Credit: Dongho Chang.
Using the new 4th Ave protected bike lane on a fall evening. Photo Credit: Dongho Chang. 

This is a powerful Levy that, despite challenges, will result in a vast array of improvements citywide by the end of its lifetime. The Levy is primarily paid for through property taxes, a stable funding source which is not expected to notably decline as a result of COVID-19.  

Your tax dollars will continue to be hard at work each day. We work to make every dollar count, which includes partnering with other agencies, competing for grant dollars, and leveraging Levy dollars to make them go further. This means that for every $1.00 of Seattle property taxpayer dollars we receive through the Levy to Move Seattle, we’re benefiting from an additional $1.29 in local, grant, and partnership dollars.    

While incredible progress has been made, as we’ve noted before, the COVID-19 global pandemic and resulting national recession caused declines in the other revenue streams we uses as part of the overall Levy program. We leverage local funding sources, including Vehicle License Fees, gas tax, commercial parking tax, and grant funds, along with property tax to deliver the full Levy portfolio.  

While Levy funding remains stable, revenues from these other sources are likely to continue to be lower in 2021. Levy funding would have been more deeply impacted if it came solely from these sources. Still, this decline in funds we can leverage means that Levy funding is still affected. We created a thoughtful framework to refine our path forward for the Levy and your tax dollars. Please take a look at our December blog to learn more about what that framework looks like, and the important values that underpin and guide it.    

Guided by the goals and principles we outlined, we then sought to confirm we made the right choices on projects to pause or reduce in scope, and if not, to make changes. 

This assessment considers COVID-19 impacts on the remaining four years of the Levy, as COVID-19 will continue to impact revenues through next year and beyond.  

We evaluated 32 paused projects, 6 projects reduced in scope, and 15 programs with budget reductions (as indicated in this blog). The budget reduction and project pause decisions were measured against departmental and community values, which sometimes required hard choices between funding safety improvements, maintaining our assets, or providing people with mobility options.  

We worked with the Levy Oversight Committee (LOC) to ensure our decisions reflect core City and community values and that we deliver on what’s most important to you.  

Knowing that the funds we leverage to deliver Levy projects would be affected, we began discussing COVID-19 revenue and portfolio impacts with the LOC in their monthly meetings in April.  

Members of the Transportation Equity Workgroup (TEW) also were invited to participate in the LOC meetings to provide their input. The TEW is a group of community members with personal and professional affiliations with Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities and historically marginalized communities.  

The LOC provided input and recommendations on the process, goals, and guiding principles for the COVID Assessment in the spring. Joined by the TEW members, they also provided key input on specific projects, and their feedback shaped our final recommendations. 

Below, we outline the key findings and recommendations within the COVID Assessment. As we mentioned before, these are very hard choices that require carefully balancing city and department values with the needs of all communities.  

Rest assured that property tax funding – the primary source of funding for Levy projects – is stable. It is the leveraged funds we noted above that were impacted during 2020 and are projected to in 2021. It is encouraging that through this COVID Assessment, we were actually able to recommend restoring previously-paused projects. Further, 27 of the Levy’s 30 programs are still projected to meet or exceed their 9-year goals in the 2018 Workplan. 

Still, we would rather not pause any projects. Each person, neighborhood, and community is important. At the same time, these recommendations prioritize some neighborhoods over others to ensure that we’re constantly working towards a more equitable city and investing in historically-underserved communities. You can also find more details in the COVID Assessment itself. 

Key Findings and Recommendations

We recommend restoring 6 paused projects and 1 project that we reduced the scope of (totaling $8.57M). 

See the table at the end of this blog for additional detail. Most of these projects are near or in highly disadvantaged areas as defined by the City’s Race and Social Equity Composite Index and they also provide important safety benefits.  

Notably, the LOC strongly recommended restoring and funding specific projects with restored funding following City’s victory to reverse I-976. This proposal was also reflected in the Transit Advisory Board (TAB) recommendations to spend these funds. This includes the 23rd Ave Corridor Phase 3 Project. Transit service in this corridor connects two disadvantaged areas and, through this project, we’ll continue to enhance safety and mobility on 23rd Ave E/24th Ave E between E John St and E Roanoke St as part of our Vision Zero efforts to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Previously-paused improvements include safer crosswalks, upgraded traffic signals, skid-resistant pavement in some areas, and curb bulbs.  

You can see all the projects that the TAB recommended to be restored with these one-time $60 vehicle license fee funds in Table 6 in the report. These include transit spot improvements on Lake City Way at NE 125th St, traffic signal timing improvements 15th Ave NW and Market St to improve transit along this busy corridor, and more. 

We’re working with all City departments on the effort, “Reimagine Seattle,” to address disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people of color. 

We have flexibility in many programs to dedicate resources in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and we recommend prioritizing annual program investments in these communities.  

Despite COVID-19-related budget reductions, 27 of the Levy’s 30 programs are still projected to meet or exceed their 9-year goals in the 2018 Workplan. 

Prior to the pandemic-induced recession, we were on track to meet or exceed all Levy deliverable targets established in the 2018 Workplan and we were within reach of the original Levy goals set in 2015.  

Without intervention, three programs are not on track to meet targets due to COVID-19

Due to a limitation on crew availability, caused by the pandemic, Program 3: Markings (arterial lane miles deliverable) will not achieve the 2020 planned accomplishments for 1 deliverable. We anticipate meeting this annual target in future years. 

Due to COVID-19 budget reductions in 2020-2022, Program 9: Arterial Roadway Maintenance will not meet targets.  

Also due to COVID-19-related budget impacts, Program 25: New Sidewalks was projected to miss its target. After pausing three sidewalk projects, the New Sidewalk program was able to identify needed funds that will enable it to meet it 2018 workplan target. 

We don’t recommend changes to programmatic reductions identified for the Levy’s 2020-2024 Planned Budget. 

Programmatic reductions include decreases to budget not yet assigned to specific projects, as well as reductions in operational activities. 

In addition to the careful and equity-driven work we already undergo to prioritize Levy deliverables, we recommend evaluating existing policies and considering opportunities to implement best practices, data sources, and equity prioritization factors.  

This includes conducting a racial equity analysis to ensure improvements benefit communities we historically have disadvantaged.  

Next up: Our Levy Portfolio Status Update in Q2 of 2021 will outline our Levy delivery plan through 2024 and will be grounded in this COVID-19 Impact Assessment of the Levy to Move Seattle. Thank you for your investment in our City’s infrastructure through the Levy to Move Seattle!  

Learn more: 

TABLE 1: LEVY PROJECTS RECOMMENDED FOR FUNDING RESTORATION 

# Program Project Amount ($M) Comments 
Vision Zero Safety Corridors Restart 1st Ave S Safety Corridor $0.30 Recommend use of Neighborhood Street Fund (Program 8) funds to restore 
  Restart Central Business District Safety Improvements $0.40 Recommend use of Neighborhood Street Fund (Program 8) funds to restore 
18 Multimodal Improvements Restart 23rd Ave Corridor Phase 3 project $4.30 Transit Advisory Board subsequently recommended to restore with one-time vehicle license fees 
  Restore Route 7 sidewalk scope $1.00 City Council subsequently restored in 2021 Adopted Budget 
25 New Sidewalks Restart 24th Ave SW – SPU Longfellow Partnership $2.20 Program subsequently identified project funds 
  Restart S Brandon St $0.17 Program subsequently identified project funds 
  Restart 32nd Ave S $0.20 Program subsequently identified project funds 
  Total Recommended Budget/ Project Restorations $8.57