Peter Rogoff

Sides debate merit of lofty ST3 measure

Peter Rogoff described an all-too-common experience: sitting in stalled traffic on Interstate 5 as early as 7:15 a.m. on weekdays, watching HOT lanes that had been built to ease congestion jammed with buses and cars, and nothing going anywhere.

  • Friday, September 23, 2016 4:21pm
  • News

Peter Rogoff described an all-too-common experience: sitting in stalled traffic on Interstate 5 as early as 7:15 a.m. on weekdays, watching HOT lanes that had been built to ease congestion jammed with buses and cars, and nothing going anywhere.

And if you think things are bad now, Sound Transit’s chief executive officer warned the small crowd that came to All Saints’ Church on Military Road last Saturday to learn about ST3, the agency’s ambitious, $53.8 billion plan to add more light rail and more transit buses by 2044, imagine how it will to be in 25 years, when prognosticators forecast an additional 800,000 people will be living in the Puget Sound region.

“Eight hundred thousand additional citizens – that is the entire population of Seattle and almost the entire population of Tacoma leveled on top of the density in population and congestion that this region already has,” Rogoff said.

Time to do something, Rogoff said, is now.

Voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties decide the fate of Proposition 1 on Nov. 8.

Supporters and detractors also weighed in on ST3 at the forum, which the League of Women Voters sponsored.

Here is what the shouting on both sides is about.

ST3 proposes to complete a 116-mile regional system, five times larger than it is today, that reaches Everett, Tacoma, the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and West Seattle, and new Eastside destinations of Redmond, south Kirkland, Bellevue and central Issaquah.

According to Sound Transit, the estimated cost to implement ST3 is $53.8 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars, of which $27.7 billion is to be financed with new local taxes.

ST3 would do this by increasing the following local taxes:

• Sales tax by 0.5 percent, or 50 cents on a $100 purchase;

• License tabs by a motor vehicle excise tax increase of 0.8 percent, or $80 annually on a $10,000 vehicle;

• And property taxes by 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $100 annually for a house assessed at $400,000.

On the “what-do-we-get-for-our-money,” side, the plan describes, among other things, 62 miles of light rail and stations serving 37 new areas to the north, south, east and west of today’s light rail route. And allowing existing bus routes, now caught in congestion, to run on freeway shoulders, where possible.

Maggie Fimia, People for Smarter Transit – No on ST3, wants nothing to do with the measure.

She argued that the plan is way too expensive, and misguided in its emphasis on light rail, which, she said, does and will do nothing to reduce congestion.

“People need solutions now, and we’re not providing solutions for most of the people now. Transit-dependent folks who have to move away from Seattle, don’t have the level of service that they deserve to have. We could be getting people to work, to school, now, if we invested in more buses,” Fimia said.

Other options

Mark Ahlers, an engineer and the founder of Sound Transit Revealed, offered alternatives to ST3.

“If you want to do something cost effective, you could do a combination of the type of bus ride-transit system similar to Brisbane, Australia, where they carry 300 buses per hour … and provide for a Swift type of DRT system, which they have in Snohomish County, to deal with all the arterial streets,” Ahlers said, adding that, like Brisbane, Sound Transit could run double-decker buses, increasing capacity and cutting costs.

DRT systems usually provide a public transport service for areas of low-passenger demand, like rural areas, where a regular bus service would not be practical.

Shefali Ranganathan, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, urged attendees to consider the future.

“We’re talking about a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a system that will connect people to jobs, will connect people to opportunity, and will really deal with the growth that we know is coming to our region. We know that we’re stuck in traffic, we know that we are away from our families and friend, losing time just sitting in traffic, frustrated by what’s out here. And the truth is, it’s going to get worse,” Ranganathan said.

Mayor Nancy Backus said ST3 would benefit the Auburn community directly and indirectly.

Directly, she said, in the form of additional Sounder Train trips, adding potentially more cars to the trains and building new platforms.

The indirect benefit, she described, calls for voters to think beyond the present.

“We already lose so much time driving to and from work, and with 800,000 to 1 million more people in the next 25 years in the region, it’s just going to get worse. It’s not magic. But if we don’t do it, nothing will move,” said Backus, a member of the Sound Transit Board of Directors.

Entirely separate from ST3, the City of Auburn is soon to get a long-promised second parking garage for its transit station.

Specifically, here is what the ST3 plan proposes to do for several local communities:

• Benefit Auburn, Algona and Pacific by adding Sounder south platforms in Auburn and other stations to serve trains up to 10 cars long, carrying 40 percent more passengers than today.

• Add two new Sounder south train stops south of Lakewood at Tillicum, to serve Joint Base Lewis-McChord and DuPont, both with parking.

• And provide funds to further improve capacity and operations along the Sounder south corridor.

ST3 proposes to benefit Kent, Des Moines and Tukwila by:

• Connecting riders to the 116-mile regional light rail system from a new Kent/Des Moines light rail station* opening in 2024, and Tukwila by reaching major job and housing centers in Everett via Paine Field industrial Center, Sea-Tac Airport*, Tacoma, Downtown Seattle. the UW, South Lake Union the Seattle Center, West Seattle, Kirkland, Bellevue*, Redmond and Issaquah. (*means already funded)

• Extending Sounder south train platforms at Kent and other stations to serve trains up to 10 cars in length, carrying 40 percent more passengers, providing funding to improve bus speed and reliability, and where possible, allowing them to run on shoulders of SR 167, I-405, I-5 and SR 518. Expand parking and improve transit connections, pedestrian and bike paths to enable more riders to access Sounder services.

• Adding a new light rail station at South Boeing Access Road.

Federal Way realizes expanded access with new stations at the Federal Way Transit Center, South Federal Way and South 272nd, all connecting to the 116-mile regional light rail system.

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