More and sooner.
That seems to be the consensus among Pierce County government officials about Sound Transit’s $50 billion plan to expand light rail, commuter trains and express bus services across the Puget Sound region.
From Lakewood to Orting, elected officials and city staff members bemoan the 25-year timeline for delivering some of the proposed services, and some wonder whether their residents would get their money’s worth from the proposal.
“All the communities are going to be paying millions and millions, if not billions of dollars, and they aren’t going to see anything for 25 years? How do we explain that?” Lakewood City Manager John Caufield told The News Tribune recently. “That’s just way too long. They need to go back and look at that.”
Tacoma City Councilman Robert Thoms pressed Sound Transit officials at a recent study session about getting light rail from Sea-Tac Airport to Tacoma sooner than the current 2033 projection.
“People are beyond excited for these transit options to come to their neighborhoods and their cities,” Thoms said. “We absolutely need to figure out how we can move up project delivery.”
It’s a refrain heard across the region, not just Pierce County.
People are beyond excited for these transit options to come to their neighborhoods and their cities. We absolutely need to figure out how we can move up project delivery.
Robert Thoms, Tacoma City Council
The mayors of Edmonds and Everett, and the Snohomish County executive, sent a letter to Sound Transit Chairman and King County Executive Dow Constantine on April 19, asking that the agency consider expediting the timeline for getting light rail to Everett.
The current proposal calls for that to occur by 2041.
“We are asking for completion of the line to Everett Station by 2033, 10 years after the completion of the Lynnwood City Center Station,” Dave Somers, Paul Roberts and Dave Earling wrote.
The mayors of Kirkland and Renton told The Seattle Times last week that they feel like their cities are being left out altogether.
“It’s very frustrating for us,” Renton Mayor Denis Law said. “We’re the only city of our size that hasn’t received so much as a parking garage.”
Sound Transit leaders acknowledge the frustrations.
“People want the projects delivered more quickly. We share that desire,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said at a public meeting on the Sound Transit 3 proposal in Tacoma last month.
“We have an internal process going right now about how we could move up time lines on delivering some of these projects.”
The Sound Transit board has sought public and governmental comments on the plan for the past month.
“What we do know is that the plan the board ultimately adopts in June will be substantively different from the draft plan, and how it is different will be informed by that input,” Rogoff said in Tacoma last month.
The public would have the last word on any proposal in Nov. 8 vote.
Voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties would need to approve increases in sales, property and motor vehicle excise taxes to pay for the planned projects.
They include extending light rail from the airport to Tacoma, expanding Sound commuter rail to DuPont and beefing up bus service along the Pacific Avenue corridor from Tacoma to Spanaway.
PIERCE COUNTY WANTS AND NEEDS
Pierce County governments have been making their pitches recently.
The current Sound Transit 3 plan calls for expanded Sounder train service to DuPont, with a new station in the Tillicum area of Lakewood.
Caulfield said Lakewood officials think that’s too little, especially given its residents projected tax contribution.
“If you compare what Lakewood and south Pierce County have received compared to what other regions have received, it’s not equitable,” he said.
Lakewood would like to see Sound Transit amend its plan for extending light rail to Tacoma Community College in exchange for extending the line to the Tacoma Mall, Caulfield said.
A bus rapid transit line then could connect the mall to Lakewood, giving its residents better access to shopping, jobs and transit connections into Tacoma and beyond.
If we could get some direct connectivity into the light-rail system, that would go a long way for Lakewood.
John Caufield, Lakewood city manager
“If we could get some direct connectivity into the light-rail system, that would go a long way for Lakewood,” Caulfield said.
Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello has said he thinks Sound Transit should include more resources for people who don’t commute by light rail.
Sound commuter trains and express buses can move more people more efficiently, Mello said at a recent study session on Sound Transit 3. He said he would support Sound Transit negotiating with the BNSF railroad for more access to its tracks for Sounder commuter rail.
“Light rail is sexy, and light rail is getting a lot of the attention and air time,” he said. “The fact is a commuter to points north from Tacoma to Seattle is going to continue to choose a bus or Sounder rail because it’s faster with way less stops. Commuters need more service.”
Orting Mayor Joachim “Joe” Pestinger said city leaders would like to see money either added to the plan or shifted from another project to expand Sounder service to the McMillin area, which is right outside Orting.
Such a line would give people who live in Orting, South Hill and housing developments on the Bonney Lake plateau alternatives to driving to the Sounder station in Sumner along state Route 162, which can become a parking lot during rush hour.
A railroad line already runs along state Route 162, Pestinger said.
The current Sound Transit 3 proposal includes money to study the feasibility of such a line.
“Of course, we would prefer to see something built,” Pestinger said, adding that city officials have been lobbying Sound Transit and encouraging Orting residents to send their comments to the agency.
Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow, also a Sound Transit board member, said he supports building the Orting line. Sumner suffers from severe traffic congestion during weekday rush hours as commuters flood into the Sound Transit bus and train station there.
“The question in my mind is, ‘How fast can Sound Transit build stuff?’ ” Enslow said. “If I had my druthers, they would start that sooner rather than later.”
‘A GOOD PROBLEM TO HAVE’
How many changes would be made remains to be seen.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, who sits on the Sound Transit board, has called the current draft a good one.
“I feel really good about the project list,” she said at the Tacoma public meeting last month. “That doesn’t mean I’m not open to making some modifications.
“But we have to have a project list that will fit into the money we will have available if indeed the voters decide they want to support it.”
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, vice chairwoman of the Sound Transit board, said the hand-wringing and wrangling show people support transit.
“This is a good problem to have,” she said. “It shows people care.”
Staff writers Brynn Grimley and Adam Ashton contributed to this report.