Board heeds public call for faster completion of Sound Transit 3 light rail extensions

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Proposed ST3 Draft Plan changes would speed up major projects in response to overwhelming emphasis of public comments

Sound Transit Board members today outlined proposed changes to the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan, with emphasis on completing light rail extensions sooner.

“Across the region we heard vocal support for completing projects sooner,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Speeding up these light rail expansions will give riders earlier relief from our region’s ever-worsening congestion.”

Under proposed changes, the ST3 plan slated for voter consideration in November would build a total of 62 miles of light rail with stations serving 37 additional areas. Improvements outlined at today’s meeting would speed up most of the extensions by two to five years.

Light rail to Everett via Paine Field would open five years earlier than previously stated. Extensions to downtown Redmond and Federal Way would be completed four years sooner, while the Ballard, West Seattle and Tacoma extensions would open three years sooner. During the delivery of projects the agency would work with partners to further improve timelines where feasible.

“I am in full support of the revised Sound Transit 3 Plan and believe it is very good for Snohomish County and the region,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “As presented, Link light rail will follow our preferred route, hitting Paine Field on the way to the Everett Station District. While we would all like to have light rail reach Everett tomorrow, that is not realistic. These large construction projects do take time. We need to ensure that Snohomish County is not left out of our region’s mass transit system, since the consequences of that to our economy could be devastating. With this plan, the vision of Sound Transit and the region can be realized: we connect population centers to job centers and make the spine a priority.”

“These amendments accomplish the longtime goal of a truly regional light rail system faster than we thought we could, reaching Tacoma three years earlier while extending Tacoma Link to Tacoma Community College two years earlier,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “Our changes also include increasing investment in Sounder, which we heard today has seen ridership increases over the past year. The plan extends platforms to accommodate two more cars, provides funding for track capacity expansions for adding trains and extends service to Tillicum and DuPont, with additional parking in DuPont. These and other investments will help Pierce County thrive as our population keeps growing.”

Details of the proposed changes to the ST3 Plan are available at soundtransit3.org. Board members proposed a number of significant new projects and refinements that would be constructed as the region’s population grows by nearly a million residents by 2040. Seattle’s light rail extension to Ballard would be completely grade separated on 15th Avenue. A new light rail line between Issaquah and Bellevue would extend further to reach south Kirkland. Expanded Sounder commuter rail capital investments in South King County and Pierce County would increase system capacity, enhance service, and extend the line to Tillicum and DuPont.

Changes would expand early projects slated for completion within the first eight years, including improvements to Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 between Lynnwood and Burien with added facilities in Kirkland and Renton. A new station at 130th Street in Seattle would move from provisional to fully-funded status.

The Sound Transit Board is scheduled to vote on proposed updated projects and timelines at a special meeting June 2. The Board is scheduled to adopt completed language of the plan on June 23 to meet election submission deadlines.

The improved timelines and added projects are primarily enabled by refinements including adjusting the financing plan for the ST3 measure to modestly increase the issuance of bonds, improving the region’s financial capacity by approximately 8 percent or $4 billion.  The $54 billion in investments would be funded through new voter-approved sales, MVET and property taxes. The improved timelines and added projects would not change the measure’s estimated additional $200 annual or $17 monthly costs for a typical adult in the Sound Transit District.

The two major factors influencing project timelines are the time it takes to generate sufficient revenues through taxes, bonding and grants; and the time it takes to plan and build projects, including intensive work with local jurisdictions and other partners. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff today updated the Board on options the agency will pursue to reduce the time required to plan, permit and construct major projects, with emphasis on working with local jurisdictions to speed up project development.

“The actions this week by the Snohomish, Everett and Lynnwood councils pledging to work with Sound Transit to speed up the process is precisely the kind of partnership we need to get commuters out of traffic sooner,” Rogoff said.

Over the course of the public input period on the ST3 Draft Plan that wrapped up earlier this month, Sound Transit heard strong continuing support for mass transit extensions. An online survey generated nearly 35,000 responses and more than 1,200 people attended seven open houses held across the region. The agency received a total of 2,320 written comments from individuals and more than 90 letters from jurisdictions and organizations. By far the most frequent theme was interest in completing projects more quickly.

In a phone survey that Sound Transit conducted last month, 65 percent of respondents stated they strongly (30 percent) or somewhat (36 percent) supported the ST3 draft package in a question that described the associated tax increases. Following a question describing the plan’s previously proposed project timelines, 59 percent of respondents strongly (24 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) supported the draft package. The soundtransit3.org website includes a presentation summarizing the public input and phone survey.