A Sound Transit do-over?

Snohomish County and other Puget Sound area voters resoundingly rejected spending billions of dollars on light rail and road projects on Election Day.

But according to Sound Transit, a new poll suggests voters like light rail and want more.

Nearly three-quarters of south Snohomish County voters surveyed want to see light rail expanded, according to Moore Information of Portland and EMC Research of Seattle, the two consulting firms that conducted the survey.

They interviewed more than 200 voters from Everett to the King County line, all who said they cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election. Additional voters were interviewed in King and Pierce counties.

Voters in the region thought Proposition 1, the so-called Roads and Transit tax package, was too expensive, took too long to deliver and was confusing, the pollsters found.

A full 75 percent of the region’s voters also said they didn’t trust government to spend their tax dollars well.

“I think there was some concern in Snohomish County that it was a costly package that took too long to build out,” Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said Wednesday. He serves on the Sound Transit board.

Sound Transit board members are expected to review the survey’s findings in a meeting today and then begin to discuss what to do next, said Ric Ilgenfritz, the transit agency’s director of policy and public affairs.

One option being considered is putting the measure back in front of voters in some form, perhaps in time for next fall’s presidential election.

Polling conducted before the Nov. 6 election suggested the tax package would pass.

Instead, the measure tanked in Snohomish County, as it did throughout the region.

An analysis of final election returns shows the measure passed in only a handful of neighborhoods in the county. The greatest support was found in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and Brier in the county’s south end, but the measure overall failed to carry a single city. In Marysville, Lake Stevens and Arlington, six of 10 voters shot down the idea.

The pollsters suggested Wednesday that one reason they misread voters this fall was that they did not realize an attitude shift had occurred. In April, most of those surveyed reported they were optimistic about life in the Puget Sound region. Interviewed after the election, the majority were pessimistic, and suggested the region is “pretty seriously off on the wrong track,” according to the survey’s results.

Ilgenfritz said the concern appears fueled by national worries over the economy, particularly home mortgage finances, Boeing’s delays in delivering new planes and even poor performances of local sports teams.

Even so, 70 percent of Snohomish County voters who were polled said they would pay up to $10 billion to extend light rail as far north as Lynnwood and as far south as Tacoma. That was even higher than the region, where 65 percent of voters polled in support of spending money on light rail.

Everett Councilman and Sound Transit board member Paul Roberts said it’s time to listen to voters and give them a tax package that makes clear what their dollars would buy.

“I think the public gets it,” Roberts said. “I think they want to know what it’s going to cost and to know what it’s going to take to get it done.”

He said he was encouraged that voters appear to want more transit options, including light rail.

Proposition 1 would have spent $17.8 billion extending light rail to Lynnwood, Redmond and Tacoma and widening dozens of highways all over the region, including the U.S. 2 trestle and large sections of Highway 9.

It would have taken 20 years to finish all the work.

Slightly more than half of those surveyed said they would have voted for the light rail tax package if it had not been grouped with the highway package. The controversial shotgun wedding was ordered by the state Legislature.

Nearly 75 percent of voters surveyed said they think rail and road tax packages should not be grouped together in the future.

The poll found that most people didn’t know how much the tax package would cost them, and that if they thought they knew, they most likely were wrong.

When it comes to tax hikes, “if people are confused, their default position is ‘no,’ ” said Andrew Thibault of EMC Research. “There’s a lot here that speaks to voters being confused.”

Ilgenfritz said there are a number of options.

Sound Transit could go to the ballot next spring or in November 2008, when a presidential election could bring out voters who might be more favorable to transit, he said. Or the board could decide to simply leave things where they stand now.

The board is expected to begin shaping its plan over its next few meetings. Sound Transit’s board of directors is made up of elected officials from Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

Reardon said Sound Transit needs to find ways to help commuters, providing short-term transit fixes while working to extend light rail to Snohomish County.

“I don’t believe in going to ballot in 2008,” he said. “You can’t try to solve the same problem the same way and expect different results each time.”

Reardon said he talked to 15,000 people while going door-to-door for his successful re-election bid. He said fixing the region’s transportation problems was the top issue.

That tracks with the results of the Sound Transit survey, which ranked transportation as the top issue, far ahead of the economy and environment.

For the fourth year in a row, the poll also found that Sound Transit has a favorable rating with voters. More than 60 percent of those polled said they think the agency is doing a good job.

Herald Writer Scott North contributed to this report.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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