New 15-year mass transit expansion package offers further rail extensions and faster completion dates

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The Sound Transit Board today discussed a new 15-year option for expanding mass transit. The new option heeds the call for further light rail extensions while delivering a series of significant Sounder commuter rail and ST Express regional bus service expansions between 2009 and 2023.

“This package would achieve a 53-mile regional light rail system by 2023 while focusing on moving quickly to launch major commuter rail and regional express bus expansions,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “It responds to the loud and clear call we’ve heard for major mass transit expansions, while maintaining faster completion dates and a lower price tag than last year’s package.”

The 15-year plan represents a new alternative for a mass transit ballot measure, alongside 12- and 20-year options identified in April. The new plan responds to public input received in May and June that included strong desire to see light rail extended further north and south than was proposed in the 12-year options. Details include:

  • Northward expansion of light rail from the University of Washington to Northgate by 2020, with a further extension to Lynnwood by 2023, five years earlier than last year’s Proposition 1 measure.
  • Eastward expansion of light rail to Bellevue and onward to Overlake Transit Center in Redmond by 2021, seven years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Southward expansion of light rail to Highline Community College by 2020 and Federal Way’s South 272nd Street area by 2023, five years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Major ST Express bus service improvements, including a first phase delivered prior to completion of a new maintenance base and a second phase afterward. The plan provides service increases of 10 to 20 percent in key corridors and bus rapid transit service on State Route 520.
  • Sounder Commuter Rail service expansions remain unchanged from the 12-year options, including longer trains and more trips on the line between Lakewood and Seattle.
  • Improved station access: Funding to increase access to transit facilities in Auburn, Edmonds, Everett, Kent, Lakewood, Mukilteo, Puyallup, South Tacoma, Sumner, Tacoma and Tukwila. Projects will be tailored to the needs of each location and may include expanded parking; pedestrian improvements at or near stations; additional bus/transfer facilities for improved feeder service to stations; bicycle access and storage; and new and expanded drop-off areas to encourage ride-sharing.
  • Partnerships for expanded transit: Partnership funding for Eastside passenger rail on existing freight tracks; as well as for potential extensions of Tacoma Link light rail and projects in Bothell and Burien.

The 15-year transit-only package would carry capital costs that are 50 percent lower than last year’s Proposition 1 package that included both roads and transit projects. Those costs are 22 percent lower than the 20-year transit package that was part of Proposition 1. Funding would come from a 0.5 percent increase of the local sales tax, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase. The approximately $69 annual cost of the increase for each adult is around the cost of a single tank of gas. More information on the 15-year and other options is available at www.future.soundtransit.org.

The Sound Transit Board will decide later this month whether to proceed with a ballot measure in 2008 or wait until 2010.

In May and June the Sound Transit Board received an outpouring of public comment reflecting a strong sense of urgency for expanding regional transit service, including 6,077 responses to a Website and telephone questionnaire and 4,015 written responses. Among citizens who took the non-scientific questionnaire:

  • 91 percent say it’s extremely or somewhat urgent to expand mass transit
  • 81 percent say it's extremely or somewhat urgent to add more light rail
  • 81 percent say it's extremely or somewhat urgent to add more commuter rail
  • 81 percent say it's extremely or somewhat urgent to add more express bus

The highest level of support among people who took the non-scientific questionnaire was for the largest transit package option: a 20-year plan funded by a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent, or about $69 per year per adult. The 20-year option was favored by 43 percent of respondents, while 31 percent favored a 12-year plan, and 14 percent did not support either. Respondents also expressed urgency around when to move forward with a new transit ballot measure: 76 percent favor a 2008 vote, 10 percent favor a 2010 vote, 3 percent favor voting after 2010 and 5 percent said never.

Sound Transit’s system of regional express buses, commuter rail and light rail currently carries about 55,000 riders each day, a number that will more than double following the 2009 opening of light rail service between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport. Construction of that light rail line is moving forward on schedule and is more than 90 percent complete.

Expansion of Link light rail between downtown and the University of Washington is slated to begin this year and be completed in 2016. University Link is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030.