Sound Transit seeks public input on three options for expanding regional mass transit.

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“How far do you want to go?”

With booming population growth and all-day traffic congestion on the horizon, the Sound Transit Board put that important question before the public today, identifying three options for a community discussion on expanding the regional transit system. The Board also identified light rail as the preferred mode for connecting EastKingCounty to the system currently under construction.

“Extending light rail north, south and east as part of an integrated transit and roads system will protect our region’s mobility in the face of rising population growth and keep our economy strong,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “Today marks the beginning of the public discussion about what our transit system could look like over the next 20 years as our region grows by 1.2 million people. To put that number in perspective, it’s more than the entire population of the Portland metropolitan region.”

In addition to light rail extensions, the options identify other proposed transit system expansions including added ST Express bus and Sounder commuter rail service and new transit centers and park-and-ride capacity. This summer Sound Transit and the Regional Transit Investment District (RTID) will hold meetings around the region offering community members opportunities to learn more about the options and provide comment.

Detailed information on the transit options released today and the process for identifying the final package for the combined 2007 transit/roads ballot measure is available at www.soundtransit.org/st2.

“Deciding what to submit to voters next year will require hard choices about which projects will deliver the greatest long-term benefits regionwide,” Ladenburg said. “All of the candidate projects we have considered will stay on the table this summer, but through the review process we must settle on the highest priorities.”

“Light rail is a clear priority because it moves more people faster and more reliably than any other alternative, including up to 280,000 people daily by 2030,” Ladenburg said. “In 20 years, the planners project a 45-percent increase in the number of vehicle miles driven in this region. Today, 385,000 people cross Interstate 90 and SR-520.  Imagine traffic on those routes increasing by 50 percent. Surface streets are saturated now and will be worse in the future.  Light rail, operating on a dedicated right-of-way, provides a high-capacity alternative to driving into and out of the most congested areas.”

“No one likes leaving for work 10 to 30 minutes early because they don’t know how long it will take to get there,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Everett City Council Member Mark Olson. “Things happen on the freeway everyday that delay cars and buses.  One day it’s weather, the next it’s an accident, a breakdown or construction.  Even sunshine slows down traffic!”

“Extending light rail benefits everyone,” Olson said. “Light rail will provide a high-capacity network that regional and local bus service will feed. It will keep transit riders moving by using a dedicated right of way to cut through the most congested areas. People who drive will also benefit since every person who rides light rail means one fewer person on the road. The faster we expand rail now the farther we can take it in the third and fourth waves of expansion.”

The three options the Board identified for review by the public and local government partners include:

Option 1: Bus/Rail Extension

  • Extend light rail north from the Univeristy District to Northgate, east to Bellevue/Overlake Hospital and south from Sea-TacAirport to Kent-Des Moines Road. Estimated 2030 daily light rail ridership (systemwide): 224,000.
  • Extend Tacoma Link light rail to TacomaCommunity College.
  • Expand ST Express bus service and build new transit centers and park-and-ride capacity at various locations around the Sound Transit District.
  • This option is financed by a three-tenths of one percent sales tax increase (3 cents on a $10 purchase).
  • Estimated 2030 systemwide ridership after expansions: 302,000 daily and 92 million annually.
  • Connects the region’s designated population and employment centers, directly serving 60 percent of the jobs forecasted for those centers in 2030 and 68 percent of the population projected to live in regional population centers.

Option 2: Medium Rail Extension

  • Extend light rail north from the University District to Mountlake Terrace, south from Sea-TacAirport to the FederalWayTransitCenter and east to Bellevue/Overlake Hospital or potentially as far as the Redmond/Overlake Transit Center, near the Microsoft Campus. Estimated 2030 daily light rail ridership (systemwide): up to 277,000.
  • Extend Tacoma Link light rail to Tacoma General Hospital.
  • Provide some expansion of ST Express bus service and transit center capacity at specific locations.
  • This option is financed by a four-tenths of one percent sales tax increase (4 cents on a $10 purchase).
  • Estimated 2030 systemwide ridership after expansions: up to 344,000 daily and 104 million annually.
  • Connects the region’s designated population and employment centers, directly serving 65 percent of the jobs forecasted for those centers in 2030 and 70 percent of the population projected to live in regional population centers.

Option 3: Maximized Rail Extension

  • Extend light rail north from the University District to Lynnwood, south from Sea-TacAirport to the Port of Tacoma vicinity and east to the OverlakeTransitCenter or potentially as far as Downtown Redmond. Estimated 2030 daily light rail ridership (systemwide): up to 294,000.
  • Provide some expansion of ST Express bus service and transit center capacity at specific locations.
  • This option is financed by a five-tenths of one percent sales tax increase (5 cents on a $10 purchase).
  • Estimated 2030 systemwide ridership after expansions: 351,000 daily and 106 million annually.
  • Connects the region’s designated population and employment centers, directly serving 70 percent of the jobs forecasted for those centers in 2030 and 78 percent of the population projected to live in regional population centers.

The identification of light rail as the preferred mode for serving EastKingCounty followed actions by the city councils of Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah and Kirkland endorsing that choice. Board members cited the fact that the alternative of building a bus rapid transit (BRT) system and later converting it to light rail would provide inferior service, attract fewer riders, require a lengthy shutdown during conversion, and ultimately cost the taxpayers more.

“Light rail offers the most effective alternative for connecting EastKingCounty to the regional transit system that Sound Transit is already delivering,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Bellevue City Council Member Connie Marshall. “In 2009 our region’s residents will start riding light rail between Downtown Seattle and the airport. Extending service to the Eastside gives our residents a fast and reliable way to reach major destinations regionwide. In the future we can expand service to accommodate our growth.”

Under the different options, light rail would extend at least to Bellevue/Overlake Hospital and potentially as far as Downtown Redmond, depending on the sales tax level ultimately selected and how much of the alignment is built above or below ground. Service between Redmond and Seattle would carry a projected 35,000 riders per day by 2030, with travel times of 18 minutes between Seattle and Bellevue and 16 minutes between Bellevue and Redmond.

Light rail service on Interstate 90 has the long-term capacity to move 8,000 passengers an hour in each direction.  This capacity can be provided in a right of way just 30 feet wide on the existing bridge. Providing a comparable capacity with a new or expanded bridge would require at least six lanes and a right of way that is 110 feet wide.

The light rail system would be built in the existing center lanes of the I-90 floating bridge and a new HOV lane would be added to I-90 in each direction. Upcoming public meetings on the Eastside will include opportunities for public involvement in identifying the specific route alternatives that will be studied on each side of Lake Washington.

Independent of the 2007 ballot measure, Sound Transit is currently working to secure the federal funds needed to enable construction starting in 2008 to extend light rail between Downtown Seattle and the University of Washington, using existing local taxes.

Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District will continue working with the public to ensure that the transit and road projects submitted to voters represent the top regional priorities and work as an effective system. In the coming months Sound Transit, RTID, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Puget Sound Regional Council staff will coordinate work on scoping, cost estimating, scheduling and public comment. Late this year Sound Transit and RTID will identify their preferred investment plans. Early next year the combined roads and transit package will be finalized for submission to voters in November 2007.

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Sound Transit plans, builds and operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.