Opponents of highway spending complain that the state Senate’s transportation package – now up for consideration in the House – is too long on concrete and too short on alternatives to the automobile.
That overlooks a monumental investment in mass transit. The Senate bill would give Sound Transit the authority, subject to voter approval, to raise $11.2 billion for a massive expansion of rail and bus service in the urban Puget Sound region.
Among the plans on Sound Transit’s drawing board is a project of utmost importance to Pierce County: the southward extension of light rail through Federal Way to the Tacoma Dome.
People on this end of Puget Sound have been waiting and watching for many years as the transit agency has created high-capacity train service in the heart of King County. Sound Transit has built, or is building, light rail from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport, through Bellevue, and through the University District to Northgate.
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Left out so far: Tacoma and Federal Way. After two rounds of funding and construction, it’s our turn now. The next round should connect Pierce County and South King County to the airport and to the system Seattle and Bellevue have already gotten.
“Should” is a key word here. At $11.2 billion, the Senate provision is too lean, which puts the Dome connection at risk. Sound Transit estimates that the major projects in the third round will run closer to $15 billion. The House should adopt the more realistic number.
Regionalism is the guiding principle of Sound Transit. Both the first and second phases had something to offer to each of the agency’s five “subareas” – Pierce and Snohomish counties, and north, south and east King County.
The taxes collected in each zone are spent on projects that benefit that area. Pierce County hasn’t gotten light rail, but it has gotten regional bus runs, a short rail line in downtown Tacoma, and the Sounder trains that run from Lakewood to Puyallup, Sumner and up the Kent Valley to Seattle.
Sound Transit planners don’t believe the Senate’s $11.2 billion can be stretched to give enough to all five areas in a major new build-out.
Seattle leaders would like new loops of light rail connecting Ballard and West Seattle to each other and to the central line. Bellevue wants to extend its light rail line to Redmond and Issaquah. Snohomish County needs light rail to Everett. Pierce County needs the northbound tracks.
If the ballot measure isn’t big enough to give each area its major priority, somebody’s going to feel cheated – and probably for good reason.
A $15 billion ballot measure would carry a lot of sticker shock. But so would an $11.2 billion measure.
In either case, lawmakers wouldn’t be imposing taxes and fees on an unwilling population; the voters will make the call.
The Legislature should make sure that the voters have the choice to approve – or reject – a package that would finally knit the entire region together with light rail.