The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ST doesn't yet have the votes to put ST2 on the ballot in 08

Sound Transit unsure about timing, cost of next pitch to voters

Seattle Times transportation reporter

After five months of soul-searching, Sound Transit leaders still seem baffled about when and how they should bring a light-rail expansion plan back to the ballot.

A public vote might happen this fall, when backers hope the presidential election would attract young, pro-transit voters.

Or it could happen in 2010, after voters see the first 16 miles of Seattle light rail operating from downtown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

An even tougher question is what to propose, at what cost.

Last fall's Roads & Transit measure failed largely because it was seen as too expensive, as leaders tried to offer something for almost everyone. In response, Sound Transit is looking at a smaller, transit-only sequel. Construction would last 12 years and provide less rail than the previous 20-year plan. Officials may also shrink their sales-tax request to 0.4 percent, instead of last year's 0.5 percent for transit.

But if officials trim the plan too drastically, the lines would miss so many communities that voter support might disappear.

Transit-board members were scheduled to issue a tentative plan Thursday, but they can't agree on one yet. They will try again April 24. To reach the ballot, officials must write a final plan by July.

Sound Transit's polling, along with fast growth in ridership on buses and the commuter trains, demonstrate that people are hungry for more, backers say.

The 2007 election strategy, led by then-Sound Transit chairman John Ladenburg, was to launch rail and road construction over an entire generation. Some 50 miles of track would have reached Overlake, Lynnwood and Tacoma by 2027, with taxes continuing years afterward.

This year's more modest proposals would fund light rail only as far north as Northgate, without reaching Snohomish County.

Deanna Dawson, a transit-board member from the Edmonds City Council, said she can't support such a plan. She also doubts that officials can come up with an alternative to serve Snohomish County with other transit in time for this year's ballot.

"It's not just a scaled-back package. We're looking to get back to the drawing board," she said.

"BRT" without the "R"

A cheaper alternative would be "bus-rapid transit," or BRT, but Dawson said the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes are too slow, and for now, there's no assurance the state Department of Transportation will make traffic move faster — for instance by limiting HOV lanes to cars carrying at least three people, or to transit and van pools.

"It sort of takes the 'R' out of 'BRT,' " she said.

Any Sound Transit measure must be approved by a majority of voters in urban parts of Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

Fast-growing Federal Way, south of Seattle, is likely to be left off the rail system, too.

Last year, its City Council endorsed Roads & Transit, which would have linked the city of 87,390 people by rail to Tacoma and the airport. This year, Sound Transit thinks the line can reach only as far south as South 200th Street or Highline Community College, missing Federal Way.

"I don't think our voters are going to get excited, unless they see they are included," said Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey.

Another problem is how to serve Tacoma. If there's not enough money to connect the city into regional light rail, should Pierce County use its share to stretch the downtown Tacoma streetcar?

Ladenburg, who is Pierce County executive, said a ballot measure should include money to buy right of way for eventual light-rail construction toward Federal Way and the airport, keeping the vision of a regional system alive.

Rail visions seem clearer in Seattle, where a strong consensus exists to reach Northgate. Mayor Greg Nickels, the current transit-board chairman, supports a vote this fall.

A Seattle-only tax?

If no plan materializes, Nickels has mentioned he might explore a city-only tax to raise money for rail transit. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said Friday no research has been done yet on that idea, because Nickels is still focused on crafting a Sound Transit measure this year.

Voters passed a multibillion-dollar regional transit plan in 1996, but severe cost increases are gobbling up money that otherwise could have funded more projects in a second phase.

However, the agency's Eastside fund has enough money available that light rail could still cross Lake Washington, from the Chinatown International District to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, in a leaner plan.

Express-bus service would increase in this year's suggested plans. And Sound Transit has just started to consider adding an experimental train route, from Woodinville to Bellevue, on an abandoned freight line.

Sounder commuter service would increase by up to six round-trips per day, for a total of 15, on the south line between Pierce County and Seattle's King Street Station, via the Green River Valley. In that case, Dovey wants shuttle buses from Federal Way to the Auburn train station.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

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