Delvin Ebbesen (left), of Everett, uses an accessible voting unit to cast his ballot at the Snohomish County campus building in Everett on Tuesday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Delvin Ebbesen (left), of Everett, uses an accessible voting unit to cast his ballot at the Snohomish County campus building in Everett on Tuesday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

$54B Sound Transit expansion plan easily passing


SEATTLE — Voters apparently were on board with Sound Transit’s $54 billion plan to expand rail and bus service throughout the region.

Tuesday’s election totals from Snohomish, King and Pierce counties showed the measure passing comfortably, with 55 percent support.

Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts, a backer of the transit plan, was encouraged by Tuesday’s results.

“It appears that people are saying, ‘We want to pull together as a region,’” Roberts said. “These are good numbers, exciting numbers.”

Voters in Snohomish County backed the measure by 51.6 percent in early returns, but in Pierce County it was being rejected by 55.5 percent.

While voters in Snohomish and Pierce counties were courted by transit backers, it was an open secret that King County was considered the true battleground. That’s because roughly 60 percent of voters who could weigh in on the measure live there.

In election returns Tuesday, 58 percent of King County voters were in favor of the transit measure.

ST3 only got backing of Snohomish County leaders after plans were tweaked to route light-rail to Paine Field and to shave a few years off the construction timeline.

Still, enthusiasm appeared tepid. Even the upgraded plan wouldn’t get light-rail to Everett for another two decades. And voters here were mindful that they’d chipped in nearly $1 billion in regional transit taxes since the mid-1990s and had little to show for it except for a system of buses and heavy rail, both prone to delays by rain, freeway congestion and mudslides.

For every dollar a Snohomish County voter has paid into the regional transit system so far, they’ve seen roughly 83 cents in services and projects, Sound Transit’s data show. Contrast that to Seattle, where a subway system has been built and voters have seen $1.25 spent for every dollar they’ve paid in regional transit taxes.

To pay for ST3 upgrades, the transit agency asked voters to support various tax and fee hikes. A sales-tax increase of a half a percent, or 50 cents on a $100 purchase.

Car-tab fees would go up by 0.8 percent, the equivalent of $80 annually on a $10,000 vehicle.

Property tax would go up 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $100 annually for a house valued at $400,000.

That’s on top of what people are paying already for Sound Transit: 0.9 percent in sales tax and 0.3 percent in car-tab fees, also known as motor vehicle excise tax. Tax statements identify those amounts as funding for the “Regional Transit Authority.” Sound Transit also collects a smaller portion of its revenue through a 0.8 percent sales tax on rental cars.

For Snohomish County, the most obvious benefit is extending Link light-rail track to Everett Station by 2036, via the Paine Field industrial area.

That’s just one stretch of the 62 miles of new Link light-rail lines in the plan. Other new light-rail destinations envisioned in ST3 include Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle, downtown Redmond, south Kirkland and Issaquah.

ST3 also called for a new bus rapid-transit route, mostly along I-405 between Lynnwood and Burien, targeted for completion in 2024. Another rapid-transit bus route would run mostly along Highway 522, between northeast Seattle and Shoreline through Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville.

Regardless of the outcome, Link light-rail service to Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace is expected to start in 2023, under an expansion plan that voters approved in 2008.

Toby Nixon, a Kirkland City Councilmember who opposed the ST3 proposition, said he was not surprised by the results, given the money poured into the campaign to approve the measure.

The campaign for ST3 raised more than $3.7 million in support. Much of that money came from the region’s big businesses, including Microsoft, Expedia, Amazon and Costco. The region’s top law firms, environmental champions, engineering companies and labor unions lent their support as well. Noticeably absent from the donors was the Boeing Co. The corporation said it was following its policy to steer clear of such contests.

The campaign working to defeat ST3 only raised about a tenth as much money, most of it from the Eastside development community.

“It’s not looking good,” Nixon said.

Opponents will continue to try to influence how the project moves forward. That will include efforts to change how the transit board leaders are chosen, he said.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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