Opinion

Mixed election night messages, but not on Sound Transit 3

From the Editorial Board

The Sound Transit Link light rail shuttle passes by the front doors of the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. With Tuesday’s voter approval of the Sound Transit 3 package, Tacoma light rail service will finally connect to points north, including Federal Way and Seattle — although not until the year 2030.
The Sound Transit Link light rail shuttle passes by the front doors of the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. With Tuesday’s voter approval of the Sound Transit 3 package, Tacoma light rail service will finally connect to points north, including Federal Way and Seattle — although not until the year 2030. News Tribune file photo

Election night 2016 may go down as one of the most bewildering of our lifetimes, as slippery as a banana peel and fruitless for anyone trying to draw a singular message from it.

But if one lesson can be gleaned, it is this: The unrest in our country runs deeper than most observers thought. That a billionaire showman turned faux revolutionary was on the verge of being elected president, including winning well over 700,000 votes in deep-blue Washington state, speaks loudly about the mood of Americans desperate to repudiate business as usual.

That Washington residents would easily approve a $4-an-hour increase in the state minimum wage reflects a widespread unrest among those struggling to make ends meet, even in an economy that Gov. Jay Inslee touts as tops in the nation.

In Pierce County, some races were too close to call, including county executive. It’s only fitting that a matchup between two eminently qualified candidates, Bruce Dammeier and Rick Talbert, would go down to the wire.

One result that might surprise pundits: the apparent passage of Sound Transit 3.

ST3 is the latest chapter of light-rail, Sounder train and rapid bus transit service in three metro counties. The whopping $54 billion price tag seemed to make it a long-shot. Now it looks like the South Sound will no longer have to cling to the short threads of the region’s mass-transit patchwork. (Ironically, Pierce was rejecting ST3 on Tuesday night, but it was passing on the strength of King and Snohomish voters.)

The saving grace of ST3 — also known as Proposition 1 — was that the Puget Sound light-rail “spine” will be extended from Federal Way to Tacoma. It’s a long-deferred dream, this pixie-dust notion that Pierce County residents should have a light-rail connection to the greater metropolitan area, thereby improving their employment options and overall quality of life.

Instead, they’ve long been relegated to riding a closed-loop Link train in downtown Tacoma, going back and forth like an amusement park ride.

We figured it might take at least two tries to get ST3 approved, given Sound Transit’s history of do-overs. Voters had to be asked twice before they approved the inaugural Sound Transit package in 1996. Two attempts were also needed to approve ST2 in 2008.

ST3 is far from perfect. By claiming a share of property taxes for the first time in agency history, Sound Transit is horning in on an important local government revenue source. And the light-rail project timelines — such as the 2030 extension to Tacoma Dome Station and 2036 to Everett — won’t be completed in the lifetimes of many taxpayers.

But in the end, Tacoma will be interconnected with 16 cities via 116 miles of light rail, with additional transit infrastructure reaching as far south as DuPont.

Signs of 21st century transportation progress will be rampant over the next several years. We can celebrate that Tacoma Link will start running trains through the Stadium District and on to the Hilltop. We can cheer the completion of state Route 167 to the east and the widening of Interstate 5 heading south.

But those things will only carry us so far without a way around the beastly snarl of traffic heading north. Sound Transit 3 will help defang that beast.

In the words of Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland: “It’s our turn now.”

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