There would be environmental benefits if many more people were to move in trains, buses, and car pools instead of single occupancy autos. There would be less pressure to develop open space and resource lands, and there would be fewer pollutant emissions that impact local air quality and contribute to global warming. But the key word is "many".
The RTA Plan at the end of ten years is expected, by official estimates, to cause an increase of 53,000 round trips daily to be made via public transportation (including car pools) instead of drive-alone autos. This is from a total of approximately 5 million daily round trips by private vehicle. The shift is about one percent.
In spite of this small change, some major environmental organizations in Washington State have endorsed the RTA Plan. But other environmental leaders, people like Emory Bundy and Norman Winn, are actively opposing the RTA Plan to be voted on November 5. For example, Emory Bundy testified to the King County Council on October 11, 1996 that the Plan "will starve cheaper, faster, environmentally superior, and more effective transportation opportunities available to this region." Bundy was a member of the RTA's Outreach Committee that spent several months intensively studying the plan.
The difference in opinion appears to stem from environmental leaders looking at the RTA Plan's performance in two different ways:
We the Forum editors take the second position, that the RTA rail/bus plan spends too much money for very little environmental benefit (see second lead story for a more detailed analysis). For the Editors of this Web Site, the symbolism is outweighed by the reality.
Ten leaders of the Puget Sound environmental community wrote an open letter to the community about reservations they had with the current RTA Plan when it was still in draft form in Spring 1996. Their statement of concern lists five "severe flaws" in the draft Plan, and four of the five flaws they named continue in the final Plan being submitted to voters.
Most of what was said in their open letter to the community rings true on the eve of the vote, even though some of them have now endorsed the RTA Plan. But they said back then, with the Plan pretty close to the way it is now, "we would rather see no plan at all than a bad one."
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Prepared October 1996.