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November 2008 mass transit ballot measure provides near-term express bus expansions, speeds up light rail by five to seven years

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The Sound Transit Board today unanimously approved placing a 15-year mass transit package on the November ballot.

The plan rapidly increases express bus and commuter rail service and creates a 53-mile regional light rail system — all with a lower price tag, faster delivery dates and more public accountability than last year’s roads-and-transit package.

"Today we heeded the public’s call to deliver a mass transit system that responds to high gas prices and rising congestion. This faster, better and cheaper plan will provide serious relief for our commuters,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “It’s the right plan for us, our kids and our planet.”

“This Sound Transit 2 plan delivers both immediate and long-term gains for Snohomish County,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. “It provides major express bus improvements right out of the gate while getting light rail to Lynnwood, which puts Everett in reach for the next phase.”

“Expanding ST Express, Sounder and Tacoma Link service will keep Sound Transit’s double-digit ridership growing and stimulate our regional economy,” said Board Member and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “Getting light rail to Federal Way five years sooner than last year’s package will also support the long-term goal of getting light rail to Tacoma as soon as possible.”

“This plan gets light rail to Redmond seven years sooner than last year’s plan and significantly increases bus service within the next four years,” said Board member and Redmond Mayor John Marchione. “Locally, that will help us manage our growth effectively. It will also help the entire region’s economy. When companies decide where to locate or expand, they look hard at how their employees will be able to get around. We need to catch up with the regions we compete against both nationally and globally.”

“This Sound Transit 2 package will continue the state’s partnership with the Central Puget Sound Region in keeping people moving in the face of continuous population growth,” said Board member and Washington State Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond. “The Board has worked hard and has been able to increase bus service expansions alongside the major light rail expansions.”

“Every day thousands of Pierce County and South King County residents depend on Sounder to make their commutes sail by painlessly,” said Board Member and Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow. “The problem is that the system is so popular we don’t have nearly enough parking. This package makes room for thousands more by expanding service 65 percent and providing funds to create expanded station access and parking.”

“The rapid ridership growth Sound Transit is seeing truly shows if we build it, they will come,” said Board and Edmonds City Council Member Deanna Dawson. “This June’s Sounder ridership numbers showed 44 percent ridership growth on the north line over only a year ago. Increasing access to fast, reliable transit options will give more Snohomish County commuters a way out of traffic jams.”

The package’s capital projects cost $13.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars that include inflation estimates. Adding operations, maintenance, reserves and debt service through 2023, the cost is $17.9 billion including inflation. Funding would come from a 0.5 percent increase of the local sales tax, or five 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 at current pump prices.

This transit-only package delivers projects significantly faster than last year’s Proposition 1 measure. The construction costs are 50 percent lower than Proposition 1, which included both roads and transit projects, and 23 percent lower than the 20-year transit package that was part of Proposition 1. While the packaged was forwarded to the ballot by a unanimous vote, the underlying plan as it was amended today passed on a 16-2 vote.

The new plan responds to public input received in May and June, which showed strong desire to see light rail extended further north and south than was proposed in 12-year options identified in April. Details of the 15-year plan 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 an expansion of 100,000 bus service hours for 2009, overall increases of 10 to 30 percent in key corridors, and bus rapid transit service on State Route 520.
  • Sounder Commuter Rail service expansions including a 65 percent in service between Lakewood and Seattle, with longer trains and more trips.
  • Improved station access: Funding to increase access to transit facilities in Auburn, Edmonds, 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.
  • Planning studies: The plan provides funds for studies to evaluate further mass transit expansions in future phases. These studies will focus on future extensions from Lynnwood to Everett; the University District to downtown Seattle via Ballard; Burien to Renton; downtown Seattle to Burien via West Seattle; South Bellevue to Issaquah; and along the SR 520 corridor between Redmond, Kirkland and the University of Washington and further west into Seattle. Funds for preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition are included for the future continuation of light rail from Federal Way to Tacoma.

More information on the plan is available at

“Sound Transit heard a clear message from the public that more delay is not a good plan for our region,” said Board and Tacoma City Council member Julie Anderson. “By moving forward with major Sounder commuter rail, ST Express bus and Tacoma Link light rail expansions, we’ll make Tacoma and other Pierce County communities better places to live and work.”

“This is a solid plan for the Eastside and the whole region,” said Board and Issaquah City Council member Fred Butler. “It extends light rail to the Eastside and connects the region’s major job centers. It provides more bus service in the first four years of the program. It funds studies for future extensions of light rail, including to Issaquah along the I-90 corridor. Now is the time to move forward.”

“Practically everywhere you look in our region you see Sound Transit,” said Board Vice Chair and Lakewood City Council Member Claudia Thomas. “From DuPont to Everett and back to Lakewood, commuters are taking advantage of our transit centers and services. South Pierce County residents are ready for even better access to the rest of the region. That includes more commuter rail, more express buses and positioning us to connect Pierce and King counties with light rail.”

“Completing a 53-mile light rail system will forever move our region beyond a car- and bus-only paradigm,” said Board and King County Council member Larry Phillips. “It’s naïve to think our region can get by without light rail trains functioning as part of an integrated system. The only way we’ll get rail to all the places it needs to be — including Seattle’s Ballard, West Seattle and Burien areas — is to move forward as fast as we can. Endless delay is the problem, not the solution. It is not productive for our region.”

“I support this plan because it gives us an opportunity to move forward with transit. It makes major investments in near term bus service that dovetail with local transit service, and it gets light rail to Snohomish County,” said Board and Everett City Council member Paul Roberts. “These improvements make the plan a good investment for Snohomish County.”

“In 1968 the voters of this region decided against building a rail transit system,” said Board Member and King County Council Chair Julia Patterson. “If we had supported that ballot measure, the system would have opened in 1985 and the bonds would have been paid off last year. We would be having a much different discussion right now. We need to learn from history and take action to expand mass transit.”

“By building Sound Transit 2 we can achieve a future in which Sound Transit carries nearly two-thirds of all transit riders by 2030,” said Board and King County Council member Dow Constantine. “That’s good not just for train riders, but bus riders. This dramatic increase in transit capacity through light rail will free King County Metro and other transit agencies to redeploy service to more people and communities throughout the region.”

“Improving transportation choices for our region is critical to maintaining the economic health of our region and our quality of life,” said Board and Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin. “And the longer we delay this important commitment to our future, the more it will cost. This transportation package is right for our region and the time to act is now.”

“This plan delivers long-awaited rail transit to the Eastside and will get all the way to Redmond seven years earlier than last year’s plan. At the same time it builds a bus rapid transit system across State Route 520,” said Board and Kirkland City Council member Mary-Alyce Burleigh. “Moving forward this year will save almost a billion dollars compared to waiting two years.”

In addition to the above-listed elements, the plan includes provisional and other policies including:

  • Prioritization of planning study corridors: The plan identifies mass transit expansions in the corridors covered by the planning studies as the highest priorities for future phases.
  • Mid-way check-in: The plan calls for a mid-way check-in on corridors undergoing planning studies to evaluate options for potentially expediting voter approval of additional projects.
  • Provisional Snohomish County enhancements: If additional funding and/or cost savings are available the plan will advance preliminary engineering and environmental work for a future light rail extension from Lynnwood to Everett as well as other projects to improve bus service access and reliability in Snohomish County.
  • Provisional I-405 corridor enhancement: If an Eastside rail partnership project does not develop, the plan provides funds intended to advance bus rapid transit service on the I-405 corridor’s HOV lanes.
    Review of other potential tax sources: The plan states intent to seek legislative authority to replace or substantially reduce reliance on retail sales and use taxes.

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.