Washington Traffic Congestion Proposal, Initiative 985 (2008)
If I-985 had been approved, it would have opened high-occupancy vehicle lanes to all vehicles for specific times during on weekdays, and throughout the entire weekend. It would have required that traffic lights in the state be synchronized in order to create a smoother flow of traffic, and it would have set aside more money in the state's budgetfor roadside assistance. 15% of the state's sales and use tax on vehicles would have been dedicated, under I-985, to ensuring better traffic flow in the state.
I-985 was sponsored by Tim Eyman.
See also 2008 ballot measure election results
|Washington Initiative 985 (2008)|
I-985, had it passed, was intended to open carpool lanes to everybody during non-rush hours, require cities to synchronize traffic signals on main streets, and provide more money for emergency roadside assistance in order to clear accidents more quickly. I-985 would have also created a special account to be spent for traffic congestion relief, to be funded by revenues already being collected: 15 percent of the sales tax on vehicle sales, the former half-percent-for-art money if it comes from a transportation-related public works program, and revenue from red-light ticket cameras in cities. The measure would have created no new revenue sources.
The official ballot measure summary read, "This measure would: open high-occupancy vehicle lanes to all vehicles Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday nights from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 a.m. Monday; require traffic light synchronization, and mandate increased funding for roadside assistance. Certain existing revenues, including 15% of state sales and use taxes on vehicles, certain traffic infraction penalties, and certain tolls would be dedicated to traffic-flow purposes."
The Office of Fiscal Management (OFM) released a July 31, 2008, report estimating that the initiative would redirect $668.6 million over the first five years from other projects and activities to congestion relief activities. The report estimates that the measure would cost the state about $324.6 million over the first five years. The report also suggested the measure would cost the Washington State Arts Commission $500,000 over the next five years. Most of the costs of the measure would occur in the early years, according to the OFM. 
I-985 was sponsored by Voters Want More Choices, headed by Tim Eyman, Jack Fagan, and Mike Fagan. Eyman said that his primary reason for supporting I-985 was, "There is plenty of revenue. When something is the first priority of the public, it should be the first dollar spent. It's all about reducing congestion without raising taxes."
Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, although he did not endorse the measure, said things that could have been interpreted as favorable to I-985, including, "Tim's effort to take our audit findings, to take our audit reports and the constructive nature of that and try to move it into action I think is a laudable next step."
Arguments in favor
- According to the Washington Policy Center, a conservative policy analysis group covering a wide range of state issues, I-895 could have contributed significantly to reducing delays on state roads.
- The Washington Policy Center also concluded that reforms had to be made through the state's initiative process because lawmakers were reluctant to tackle the issue. Michael Ennis, Director of the Center for Transportation at the Washington Policy Center, said, "During the 2008 legislative session, two bills were proposed that would have elevated congestion relief in the list of state priorities, but neither received a hearing. Initiative 985 would seismically shift the State's current policy back toward one that ties spending to a specific performance goal, traffic congestion relief."
- An October 2007 report prepared by Washington State's Auditor, Brian Sonntag, said that the provision in I-985 mandating traffic engineers to synchronize traffic lights at high-traffic intersections would bring the benefits of a reduction in travel time, emissions, and fuel consumption of 10-25% at very little cost.
- Voting for I-985 would meet an expressed need of the state's electorate, according to supporters. The Washington Policy Center released a poll that suggested that 70% of Washington voters considered traffic congestion an "extremely important" or "fairly important" issue for state government to address.
- I-985 doesn't increase the tax burden but requires government to spend existing taxes more effectively.
- The state has failed in dealing with traffic congestion, and since it is an important issue to most Washingtonians, it should be a priority for tax dollars.
- I-985 will lower the incentive for people to carpool or use the bus by opening up the carpool lanes to other traffic during certain hours.
- I-985 would not raise taxes and would generate about $1.7 billion for transportation infrastructure every ten years.
- I-985 would increase the projected statewide budget deficit by about $290 million during the next two year budget cycle and about $284 million in the 2011-13 biennium.
- I-985 would reduce the state’s reliance on the fuel tax for transportation infrastructure.
- I-985 would shift the state’s current policy back toward one that ties public spending to traffic congestion relief.
- I-985 would open HOV lanes during non-peak hours, which would reduce overall delay, because more drivers would be able to pass through the system. It may also increase congestion on sensitive direct access lanes and ramps.
- Opening HOV lanes during non-peak hours would also increase travel times for buses and cost transit agencies higher fuel and labor expenses and the loss of up to $20 million in federal grant money.
- I-985 would expand the emergency roadside assistance program and could reduce minor accident clearance times by nearly 10 percent.
- I-985 would synchronize most traffic signals and reduce travel times up to 20 percent on major arterials and up to 7 percent overall.
- I-985 would protect toll revenues in the same way the Washington State Constitution protects gas tax revenues. 
- The editorial board of The Olympian urged a "yes" vote, saying, "Comprehensive solutions to the congestion problem must be found. ... This initiative is about legislative inaction. Every ignored performance audit is a potential initiative."
- John Carlson, a columnist and talk radio host, said, "This is not a close call -- If there was ever a department of government that needed to receive a message from the voters, it's the Department of Transportation. This Eyman initiative is reasonable, sensible and long overdue. Yes on I-985. Yes 10 times over."
- The Yakima Valley Business Times said, "Governmental complacency and incompetence often are initiative Petri dishes and that's what has happened here -- we would like to see the people of the state of Washington send the following signal to our elected officials and our bureaucrats: ignore the results of a performance audit at your own peril."
- Pam Dzama, a columnist at the Kitsap Sun, said, "Initiatives like I-985 would be unnecessary if the Legislature would respond to the transportation needs of the citizens. It's time to make traffic congestion relief a transportation goal."
- The editorial board of the Centralia Chronicle said, "We urge a yes vote on I-985 -- it will help reduce traffic congestion, and perhaps more important, send a message to Olympia to start acting upon Auditor Sonntag's recommendations for a more efficient government."
Supporters of I-895 spent $669,820 on their campaign, while opponents spent $249,085.
The five largest donors to the campaign for a "yes" vote were:
- Michael and Phyllis Dunmire: $285,000
- Tim Eyman: $175,000
- Voters Want More Choices: $43,890
- Sam Adams Alliance: $30,000
- Kemper Holdings LLC: $25,000).
Tim Eyman mortgaged his home in April to loan $250,000 to the campaign to cover the expenses of collecting and processing signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
The No on I-985 campaign was a coalition of businesses, civic groups and leaders, including the League of Women Voters, the Association of Washington Businesses, the Washington PTA, and the Sierra Club.
- Gov. Christine Gregoire opposed I-985.
- The Washington members of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) voted Oct. 8, 2008, to oppose I-985., saying, "The best professional judgment of these engineers is that I-985 contains significant flaws that will likely, on net, increase congestion and possibly impact safety on the roads and highways of metropolitan Puget Sound.",
- The Washington Research Council, a policy research group, released a report claiming that though the introductory section of I-985 asserted that the Initiative “provides voters with the opportunity to implement the strategies recommended in the [audit] report" the Initiative directly addresses only two of the audit’s 22 recommendations. Opening HOV lanes to all vehicles outside of peak hours—I-985's most significant policy change—was not a recommendation of the audit report.
- Doug MacDonald, Washington transportation secretary from 2001 to mid-2007, said I-985 gave voters the impression that a portion of highway construction money is being spent on frivolous art projects and that I-985 will stop that practice. But MacDonald said no highway project spends money on art.
- The Washington Association of Cities officially opposed Initiative 985.
- Opponents argued that I-985 would take a big chunk out of the $3.9 billion 520 Bridge project because of the requirement that tolls on any project be used solely on that project. Opponents say this undermines the multicorridor tolling strategy state and transportation officials are considering to close the bridge-replacement funding gap.
- House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said lawmakers realize the electorate is frustrated by traffic problems, but the state's long-term highway plans also have to tackle safety and maintenance worries. Clibborn said, "I think we're as interested in getting congestion relief as anybody is. I don't think we're ignoring things. It's just that we have emergencies and safety issues that take precedence."
- Some opponents said that I-985 would be unfair to eastern Washington residents, citing a study by the Sightline Institute which concluded that of the $582 million tax dollars I-985 would draw from all over Washington State, 90 percent would ultimately be directed towards Greater Seattle (King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties). This is the eqivalent of $229 for a family of four living outside greater Seattle, the organization concluded.
The "No on 985" campaign made these arguments against the proposal:
- It would create a $600 million hole in the state budget over a 5-year period.
- Residents in rural areas would end up subsidizing those in urban areas.
- The money spent to enforce the provisions of 985 would take money away from other projects, such as schools, safety and law enforcement.
- I-985 would "cripple carpools, vanpools, and buses. During rush hour, carpool lanes are the most efficient part of the road network: they carry more passengers (and sometimes more vehicles) each hour than general purpose lanes. I‐985 restricts carpool lanes to just three hours each morning and afternoon—much shorter than actual rush hour—which will cripple their usefulness in fighting congestion."
- I-985 would make some key highway chokepoints worse.
- I-985 would undermine smart road management.
A number of newspapers in the state endorsed a "no" vote on I-985, including:
- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- The Seattle Times
- The Spokane Spokesman-Review
- The Tacoma News Tribune
- The Everett Herald.
- See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures.
|Month of Poll||Polling Company||In Favor||Opposed||Undecided|
|October 2008||Washington Poll||45 percent||43 percent||12 percent|
Path to the ballot
- See also: Washington signature requirements
Supporters filed 290,000 signatures on July 3, 2008. 224,880 valid signatures were required to make the November ballot.
- Washington initiatives supported by Tim Eyman
- List of Washington ballot measures
- Washington 2008 ballot measures
- 2008 ballot measures
- Official election results
- Washington Secretary of State, 2008 Election Results
- Fiscal Analysis for Initiative 985
- Washington Policy Center: Analysis of fiscal impact report, Aug. 5, 2008
- TheNewspaper.com: "Referendum would force congestion reduction"
- KNDO-TV News: "Gregoire opposes Eyman initiative, Rossi for," Oct. 9, 2008
- TheNewspaper.com: "Washington Think Tank Gives Thumbs Up to Traffic Reduction Measure," Sept. 5, 2008
- Washington Policy Center Traffic Congestion Poll
- Washington Policy Center analysis of I-985
- Follow The Money on I-895
- Donors to I-985
- Public Disclosure Commission database of contributions
- theNewspaper.com: "Washington: Anti-Congestion Referendum Gathers Momentum," June 19, 2008
- Crosscut.com: "Congestion conjecture: Eyman's I-985," Oct. 8, 2008
- Western ITE: "Predicted Traffic and Transportation Impacts of Initiative 985," Oct. 3, 2008
- Washington Research Council, "I-985 would widen the state's deficit"
- KNDO-TV: "City Council Prepares for Hearing on Initiative 985," Oct. 6, 2008
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Critics fear traffic backup with I-985," Oct. 10, 2008
- Newest WA initiative aims to reduce traffic jams
- "That Giant Sucking Sound"
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "P-I Endorsement: No way on I-985", October 10, 2008
- Seattle Times, "Get smart: Say no to Initiative 985", October 5, 2008
- Spokane Spokesman-Review, "Just Vote No", October 5, 2008
- Tacoma News Tribune, "I-985: Look under the hood – it won’t run", October 7, 2008
- Everett Herald, "Want worse congestion? Vote for Initiative 985", October 15, 2008
- PolitickerWA:, "Washington Poll finds support for every major ballot initiative", October 27, 2008
- Seattle Times: "Eyman's traffic Initiative 985 qualifies for WA ballot," July 18, 2008
- Voters Want More Choices web site: signature filing announcement
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