Accelerating local light rail

To take a long view of light rail requires a Job-like constancy, a mapmaker’s eye and an unnatural willingness to keep cool. This is particularly true imagining the trunk and neck bone of a transportation spine that extends from Tacoma to Everett and Seattle to Redmond. The anatomy is visible, with routes white-boarded in the 1990s made whole at SeaTac Airport north to Westlake Station.

For Sound Transit, connecting the spine is paramount. Thanks to the leadership of Sound Transit Board members Paul Roberts and Dave Earling, there is renewed hope that Snohomish County will benefit from light rail a wee sooner.

When Sound Transit 2 passed in 2008, Roberts shepherded an amendment to fund planning for a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package to set in motion county light rail (stay with us here.) Last December Roberts, along with Earling, pushed a resolution that integrates and hastens ST3 planning, an approach that underscores Sound Transit’s original mission.

Nearly two decades ago, voters were promised a regional transportation network that knits together light rail, express bus service and Sounder heavy rail. With light rail, the primary concern is mission drift. Service to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, while appealing to Ballard-ites, can’t sidetrack connecting the rail-station dots. The latest ST3 movement is encouraging because it accelerates planning and breathes life into the promise of a true regional system. In cobbling the resolution, for example, Roberts was joined not only by Earling, but also Seattle’s Richard Conlin and Mayor Mike McGinn.

With aerospace and other manufacturing centers anchored in Snohomish County, the absence of light rail repels Asian and European-based suppliers otherwise eager to move here. Troy McClelland, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, said that companies are stunned by the lack of a swift and rapid transportation system. McClelland said that one visitor expressed shock at the acres of cars parked at Boeing. For Snohomish and the Puget Sound region, a vital light-rail system is integral to feed a growing manufacturing and high-tech base.

In addition, in a world of declining revenue, Sound Transit’s Service Improvement Plan demands re-arranging bus service to ensure efficiencies in a revenue-neutral manner. Tweaks are being made, services improved.

Growth is the operative word. As Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson notes, Everett will support a population of 200,000 along with 180,000 jobs in 2040. During his State of the City address on Thursday, Stephanson pushed for Sound Transit to identify alignment from Lynnwood to Everett. Stephanson wants to see a decision on ST3 before the decade is out. Given the strategic importance to Washington’s economic health, ST3 needs be put before voters in 2016. Inaction is not an option.

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