Ron Sims – the King County executive and a former chair of the Sound Transit board – used to love light rail. Used to trumpet his support for it when running for office. Used to demand its rapid completion.
He was one of the architects and biggest advocates of the plan for regional light rail service, for heaven’s sake.
Now? Not so much.
Sims turned coy recently about Proposition 1, the $18 billion combined highways-transit measure on the November ballot. He started saying he had no position on it.
Well, it seems he does. As he explained Thursday in a Seattle Times op-ed article, he’s against it on the grounds that the plan he helped design costs too much and does too little.
There’s nothing dishonorable about opposing Proposition 1 on the basis of costs, routes, whatever. Many do. Some of Sims’ objections have to do with the highway, not the transit, part of the package. And Sims, to his credit, is pushing the region to explore congestion pricing and variable tolls – innovative strategies that could help pay for roads and control traffic at the same time.
The biggest problem with Sims’ new position, from a South Sound perspective, is that – after vigorously fighting for light rail in Seattle – he’s suddenly turning his back on the long-planned southern extension of light rail from Sea-Tac Airport to Tacoma.
That extension has “inefficiencies,” he wrote, in part because this end of the Sound is “already served by faster Sounder trains.”
True, Sounder is here already. But Sounder runs north through the Kent Valley, completely bypassing the densely populated Federal Way-SeaTac corridor. Nor does Sounder go to the airport. Nor does it carry passengers through the heart of downtown Seattle to the University of Washington.
Dropping the southern light rail extension, wrote Sims, would free up funds to provide rail service to Renton and Southcenter. Glad to know Southcenter’s a higher priority than South King and Pierce counties.
Meanwhile, Sims calls for accelerating the extension of light rail from the UW to Northgate.
There you have it: As far as light rail goes, Seattle would get the bread; the South Sound would get the crumbs.
Sims’ new stance is precisely what a lot of South Sounders were worried about years ago: If transit taxes approved in 1996 were spent building light rail in Seattle, the voters of that city – having gotten their line – would lose interest in paying to extend rail to Tacoma, Bellevue and Snohomish County.
We expected some Seattleites to balk when the time came to complete the regional transit plan. We just didn’t expect that one of them would be Mr. Light Rail himself, Ron Sims.