Seattle moving to restore $23.7 million for transit service and projects

Feb. 3, 2021
These funds represent the amount collected but held in reserve while the Washington Supreme Court considered the legality of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 976.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed to invest $23.7 million back into an array of transit service and mobility improvements, consistent with Seattle residents voting to support the 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).

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

“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," said Mayor Durkan. "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.” 

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

  • Route 40 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Project: Funding will improve the speed and reliability of current transit service on Route 40, which goes from Downtown Seattle to Fremont/Ballard to Northgate.
  • Gilman Ave Bus Safety Improvements & Lake City Way & NE 125th St Bus Stop Improvements: These current projects improve bus safety and operations in both areas through multimodal improvements, bus bulbs and stop expansion work.
  • 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.
  • Transit Plus Multimodal Corridor Program Support: This will fund staff and technical resources to support the Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Program that had to be reduced due to budget challenges last year.
  • 15th Ave NW & NW Market St Signal Improvements: Funding will support transit signal priority enhancements – which help buses run on time – to benefit Route 44 and the RapidRide D Line.
  • 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.

$5 Million for Essential Service

Despite 2020’s challenges, King County Metro’s 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 for daily errands. Throughout the summer, King County 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.

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 SDOT starts 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.

Seattle will continue preparing for a rainy day

One takeaway from 2020 is that rainy days can come when least expected. 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 the region recovers from COVID-19. Seattle 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 it was pre-COVID-19, SDOT says it is working hard to restore projects and programs in a way that is equitable, sustainable and reflects the city’s needs and priorities. SDOT will continue to do so as other funding opportunities arise.

“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," said SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe. "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.” 

“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," added Terry White, King County Metro general manager.