Extend light rail to Paine Field and Everett

While legislators hash out a transportation package this winter to address more immediate needs and projects to improve our highways and bridges, one decision they’ll make could determine how future generations, specifically those now in elementary school and younger, could commute between work and home more than 20 years from now.

Sound Transit’s board of directors earlier this month voted unanimously on the general route for ST3, the third phase for the agency’s Link light-rail system. The existing Link system connects Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with downtown Seattle. ST2 is expected to extend the line north from Seattle to Lynnwood by 2023. (Other future projects seek to extend the system east to Bellevue and south to Tacoma.)

While the understanding was that ST3 would extend Link north to Everett, no route had been specified. Last month’s action by the Sound Transit board — the local representation of which includes Everett City Council member and transit board Vice Chairman Paul Roberts, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick — identified the potential route to downtown Everett, which will snake its way past Paine Field to serve Boeing and the wealth of other aerospace and technology employers in south Everett, the state’s largest manufacturing center. The route selected is longer and more costly than a more direct route that would shadow I-5, but the route by Paine Field’s industrial area can serve many more commuters and potentially take many more vehicles off I-5. Extending the route even farther north to Everett Community College and what will be Washington State University’s University Center of North Puget Sound, will add to the cost, but as with Paine Field, will increase ridership and serve a growing community.

But we’re talking long-range here; Everett isn’t likely to see light rail until 2036.

The first step is for the Legislature to authorize Sound Transit to go to the voters in 2016 to approve funding for the estimated $3.4 billion light-rail extension to Everett. Between now and then Sound Transit will need to determine what that funding package will look like — either a property tax increase, a sales tax increase, a motor vehicle excise tax or a combination of two or more — and how to make its case to voters to fund and build the extension.

Regional mass transit votes failed in 1968 and 1970, and 25 years passed before Sound Transit was formed. In that time, Snohomish County’s population has nearly tripled from 265,000 to 746,000. In just the past three years, commute times between Everett and Seattle have increased 18 minutes, taking a driver-only vehicle 80 minutes to commute south in the morning and nearly an hour north in the evening, according to state Department of Transportation figures.

More immediate transportation projects should help alleviate that congestion, but a longer-term solution remains necessary, one that serves Snohomish County’s workers, students and residents long into the future.

It’s more than 20 years down the tracks, but would you wish your commute on your kids?

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