The C is for Crank

Clibborn: Government Should Pay for Roads, Not Getting People Out of Their Cars

By Erica C. Barnett January 20, 2010

State Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-41), head of the House Transportation Committee, outlined some of her reasons for opposing last year's "transit-oriented communities" bill in an interview with Seattle American Institute of Architects urban design committee chair Rick Browning.  (That bill, which died in committee, would have increased density around light-rail stations.)

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In the interview, Clibborn argues that the market can take care of density without government incentives, which she says would be better spent on "infrastructure" (i.e., roads) not "affordable housing or getting people out of their cars, things that pull money away from infrastructure getting built."

Not sure how Clibborn is defining "infrastructure" here—to my mind, infrastructure includes things like housing and rail transit—but it's hard to see how things like affordable housing and transit can be built without government incentives and funding. Kind of like roads.

In fact, Clibborn seems to tacitly acknowledge that market forces actually work against affordable housing: She blames "the banking system and the financing and the land costs" for the current lack of affordable housing near transit stops.

It's a convoluted argument, so let's unpack it a bit. First, Clibborn is saying  that the market will provide affordable housing and transit without government incentives. Simultaneously, she's saying that the market won't provide roads—roads, alone among infrastructure improvements, require government incentives to get built. Finally, contradicting her first point, she acknowledges that the market can't build affordable housing alone, but argues that banks and land costs are to blame.

Fundamentally, Clibborn is applying different standards to roads than to every other type of infrastructure. That's not surprising—roads are Clibborn's thing—but it's disappointing that one of our state's top transportation leaders doesn't seem to view transit and density as legitimate forms of infrastructure that merit government spending.
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