NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 20, 2010

Have you ever wondered how much of your transportation tax money pays for that Metro (Seattle-area) bus you always see on the road?  Or how much of it funds light rail as opposed to roads and bridges?  New research by transportation expert James W. MacIsaac, shows that if you live in the Puget Sound region, you might be surprised just how officials spend your hard earned money, says Michael Ennis, transportation director for the Washington Policy Center. 

As lawmakers prepare to expand tolling and make it easier for transit agencies to raise their own taxes, it is important to understand how current revenues are distributed.  Here are some key observations from a comparison of road and transit taxes collected from the state, county transit districts and Sound Transit, in the central Puget Sound region (Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties) between 1991 and projected through 2015: 

  • Over the last 20 years, total transportation spending has risen from $1.57 billion every two years to $4.78 billion; that is nearly a 200 percent increase in transportation taxes and fees collected in the central Puget Sound region.
  • Regional road funding has risen 80 percent since 1991 while regional public transit funding has risen more than 450 percent over the same time period.
  • Public transit's share of the 14 million daily person trips made in this region is now less than 3 percent while transit collects 60 percent of all transportation tax revenues.
  • Road funding is only 40 percent of all transportation taxes collected in the region, but serves more than 97 percent of all person trips. 

Sound Transit now collects half of the transportation funding that goes to public transit in the region and is projected to collect more tax revenue than all of the local transit agencies combined within two years. 

Consequently, Sound Transit is on pace to collect almost $30 billion in total tax collections by 2030, yet only projects to carry 2.5 percent of all trips made in the Puget Sound region by 2030, says Ennis. 

Source: Michael Ennis, "How Public Officials Spend Our Transportation Taxes," Washington Policy Center, February 2010. 


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