Elections

Light rail to Tacoma in our lifetimes?

A Sound Transit light rail train pulls into the new Angle Lake station in Sea-Tac in September. Voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties were deciding Tuesday whether to significantly expand light rail service.
A Sound Transit light rail train pulls into the new Angle Lake station in Sea-Tac in September. Voters in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties were deciding Tuesday whether to significantly expand light rail service. phaley@thenewstribune.com

Voters on Tuesday appeared to be approving a $54 billion plan to expand light rail throughout the central Puget Sound region, including extending a line from Federal Way to Tacoma by 2030.

Early returns showed the measure called Sound Transit 3 failing in Pierce County by 10 points but leading in Snohomish and King County, which were giving it enough support for apparent passage.

The plan, which appeared on the ballot in the urbanized areas of Pierce, King and Snohomish counties as Proposition 1, calls for building out what Sound Transit officials call “the spine” of the light rail system, taking lines to Tacoma, Everett, Ballard, West Seattle, Issaquah and Redmond over the next 25 years.

One of the selling points for South Sound residents was the extension of light rail to Tacoma and the promise of a 33-minute ride to Sea-Tac Airport for Pierce County residents.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, vice chairwoman of the Sound Transit board, said during the campaign that after years of watching King County reap the benefits of light rail, it was Pierce County’s turn.

“I think this is a game changer for Tacoma and the South Sound,” Strickland told The News Tribune on Tuesday night. “It’s really about having that true connectivity to the rest of the Puget Sound region through light rail and increased and improved Sounder commuter rail, which is very popular.”

She added that Pierce County also would benefit from increased construction jobs as a result of the proposal, both from building the necessary tracks and stations and also from increased development near new transit hubs.

Pierce County also voted against Sound Transit’s last successful ballot measure in 2008. It barely passed the agency’s original 1996 proposal.

The plan also calls for the extension of the Sounder commuter rail, which is highly popular in Pierce and South King counties, to DuPont with a new station in Tillicum, and longer trains to meet increasing ridership.

Rapid bus service connecting Tacoma to Spanaway along the Pacific Avenue corridor also is part of the package.

Bellevue City Councilman Kevin Wallace, who was part of the group that opposed Sound Transit 3, congratulated supporters Tuesday night on running a successful campaign.

Wallace said he still is convinced the plan will do little to reduce congestion. He said he plans to continue promoting efforts to increase ride sharing and transportation technologies he believes are better answers to the region’s traffic woes.

 

 
 

Proponents admitted the plan was ambitious but called it a worthy and necessary investment in transportation that would pay dividends in the coming decades as the population of the central Puget Sound region continues to grow. Some estimates predict 1 million more people will move to the area during the next 25 years.

“In this proposal, we go big,” King County Executive and Sound Transit board chairman Dow Constantine said in March when the package was unveiled. “We go big because the need is big.”

So is the price tag and ensuing tax increases.

Nearly half the cost of the plan comes from new taxes.

The sales tax would increase by 0.5 percent and the motor-vehicle excise tax by 0.8 percent. In addition, and for the first time, Sound Transit would levy a property tax: 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The estimated price for average adults varies based on the value of their vehicles and houses and on how much shopping they did within Sound Transit’s taxing jurisdiction.

Sound Transit estimated the cost to be about $169 per adult per year.

Opponents, who mustered under the No Sound Transit 3 banner, called the plan too expensive, said it would take too long to build and ultimately would move too few people.

They argued there were better options, including expanding bus-rapid transit.

According to the Public Disclosure Commission, the opposition raised about $374,000, much of it from a group called Families for Sustainable Transit.

Supporters, organized as Mass Transit Now, raised more than $3.2 million to tout the package, with Microsoft, Costco, Amazon and other Puget Sound commercial giants writing large checks to the movement.

Many elected leaders from the region supported the measure, including U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, who said it would “help families and workers access educational opportunities, jobs and all that our region has to offer.”

Support among local leaders was not universal.

Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan and Steilacoom Mayor Ron Lucas penned an op-ed to The News Tribune in which they said, “We will spend a fortune on light rail that most people cannot use, and still have dozens of roads and bridges that need major repairs or improvements but are not funded.”

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam

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