Given the time of year, it’s hard not think of it as a letter to Santa.
On Dec. 18 – a week before Christmas – Sound Transit’s board of directors is set to approve a new long-range plan – a wish list that spells out where billions of dollars could be spent on light rail and other mass transportation systems over the next several decades.
Last week, elected officials from throughout Pierce, King and Snohomish counties submitted last-minute amendments to the plan, designed to keep their pet projects in the running.
“I would like to remind everybody that this is a plan of what could be, not what will be,” Dow Constantine, King County executive and chairman of Sound Transit’s board, told fellow members.
None of the projects in the new plan is funded, beyond those already approved by voters and scheduled to be completed by 2023.
To proceed further, Sound Transit first needs to convince the Legislature to give it more taxing authority and then submit a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure to voters.
Even so, inclusion in the long-range plan is an important step, because only transportation corridors delineated in it will be eligible to be included in the ST3 package.
The biggest item on Pierce County’s wish list is already in the plan but didn’t get built last time around. It’s the continuation of the light rail “regional spline” that runs just 16 miles from Seattle’s Westlake Center to the Sea-Tac Airport.
The plan calls for extending the line north to Everett and south through Federal Way to a terminus in Tacoma’s Dome District.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy submitted an amendment to the new long-range plan that would extend the regional light rail spline further south – through the Dome District to a terminus at the Tacoma Mall.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland asked for an amendment that would further extend the city’s TacomaLink light rail system beyond the planned Hilltop route to Tacoma Community College.
“That makes good sense because TCC is already a transportation hub,” Strickland said after a meeting Thursdah of Sound Transit’s executive board.
McCarthy also submitted amendments that would add a bus rapid transit corridor along Puyallup’s Meridian Avenue and a high-capacity transit corridor from downtown Tacoma to Parkland.
McCarthy and Sumner Mayor David Enslow co-sponsored an amendment that would add another high-capacity transit corridor from the Puyallup/Sumner area to Orting.
Amendments to the long-range plan submitted by representatives of other cities and counties in the three-county transportation district include these light-rail possibilities:
Sound Transit is aiming to submit an ST3 package to voters as early as November 2016.
Judging from surveys the agency has taken recently, the timing might be good. In a telephone survey in June, the agency received a 69 percent approval rating, higher than ever in its history.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said they supported continued expansion of Sound Transit’s mass transit system of light rail, commuter rail and express buses.
Pierce County respondents showed slightly less enthusiasm. Still, 66 percent in Pierce County approved of the agency and 80 percent said they favored continued expansion.
Sound Transit has begun working with legislators to secure additional taxing authority for ST3. Board members have indicated they’ll ask for a broader range of taxing options this time around.
Currently, the regional transportation system is funded almost completely by a 0.9 percent retail sales tax (90 cents on a $100 purchase) and a 0.3 percent motor vehicle excise tax.
This time, board members say they’ll also ask the Legislature for the authority to collect a property tax, on grounds it is less regressive than a sales tax.
Voters approved ST1 and ST2 ballot measures in 1996 and 2008.
If voters turn down an ST3 measure, the current tax rate will be rolled back to a rate sufficient to pay off existing bonds and to operate and maintain the system as it stands in 2023.