There is no other way to look at Sound Transit’s Proposition 1 than as an investment, paying now for a greater benefit later, just as we do when we put money into a child or grandchild’s college fund.
As with any investment, we’ll need to start paying for it now. Voters in Sound Transit’s taxing district are being asked to approve a package of tax increases — sales, license plate tabs and property — to fund the $54 billion ST3 project.
And like most investments, it will be a while before it pays off. For many Snohomish County residents, particularly those who live, work or go to school in Everett, we won’t see the ST3 wheels hit the rails for twenty years, extending the transit agency’s Link light rail system to Everett via Paine Field, as well as extending lines in King and Pierce counties to Ballard, West Seattle, Redmond, Issaquah and Tacoma.
So voters will have to weigh those costs against the benefits. Both are considerable.
Voters are being asked to approve a package of tax increases, including a .5 percentage point increase to the sales tax, which would add 50 cents to the tax on a $100 purchase; a .8 percentage point increase to the motor vehicle excise tax (car tabs), equal to $80 annually for each $10,000 of vehicle value; and a property tax increase of 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. Sound Transit has estimated that the median cost for each adult — meaning half would pay more and half would pay less — is $169 annually over a 25-year time-frame.
Voters can get a better idea of what it will cost them by looking at two online calculators, one from Sound Transit at soundtransit3.org/ calculator and the other by the No on ST3 campaign, NoST3.org. Both offer fair comparisons. Sound Transit’s calculates the increase on its own; the no campaign’s calculator includes existing Sound Transit taxes in its tally.
There is no online calculator for considering the benefits, which is where each voter’s individual judgment comes into play.
With light rail not estimated to arrive in Everett until 2036, voters will need to imagine what their community and its demands for transportation will look like 20 to 25 years from now. What we know is:
Congestion on interstates and highways already is a drag on our lives and our economy; the median travel time from Everett to Seattle is 52 minutes; 44 minutes for Seattle to Everett;
The Puget Sound region is expected to add 800,000 residents in the next 25 years; Snohomish County is expected to grow by more than 200,000 to 950,000;
Everett and Snohomish County already are home to the state’s largest concentration of manufacturing jobs, with 64,000 direct jobs, 43,000 of them in aerospace; and the second-largest concentration of high-tech employment with 66,000 jobs;
And in just the next five years, estimated job growth in the county is expected to increase by 66,000 jobs.
Truthfully, even with ST3, we’re not likely to see a significant decrease in congestion when Link arrives at Paine Field’s manufacturing center and downtown Everett; the number of cars on the road will continue to increase, but ST3 should reduce an even greater crush of vehicles by offering more commuting alternatives.
Opponents have suggested that bus rapid transit, such as Community Transit’s Swift lines, would be a more effective and less costly alternative. But for bus rapid transit to move close to as many people as light rail — an estimated 800 passengers every six minutes between Everett and Seattle — a bus rapid transit system would have to operate in lanes dedicated solely to buses, which would have to be added separately at significant expense and within a right-of-way that already is constrained.
Bus rapid transit — BRT — is part of the solution, and Proposition 1 actually includes funding to add such lines as well as improve the reliability of the Sounder commuter rail system. But opponents make an unconvincing argument that BRT alone can address the region’s coming transportation needs.
Others have recounted how Seattle voters rejected Forward Thrust in the late-1960s, which would have built a subway system largely with federal money. What followed — at greater local cost and more slowly — is Sound Transit’s current light rail system. Funding, through ST2, has been approved that will extend that system as far north as Lynnwood by 2023.
Without voter approval of ST3, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff has said, “there is no Plan B.” Lynnwood would be the northern end of the line for light rail.
Without voter approval, light rail would stop well short of the jobs at Paine Field and in downtown Everett, short of homes in Everett and Mukilteo, short of a growing educational campus shared by Everett Community College and Washington State University, and short of the regional transportation system that was originally envisioned.
If Everett and Snohomish County are to remain a leading jobs and educational center in the state and continue to support livable, vibrant communities, voters have to provide for the transportation needs ahead.
Vote yes on Proposition 1.