People visit and discuss mass transportation Tuesday during an open house portion of the Sound Transit meeting about the light rail expansion ballot measure, Sound Transit 3 (ST3), being considered this year.

Big meeting crowd presses for earlier light-rail service to Everett

EVERETT — Tension was palpable at Everett Station on Monday evening as an overflow crowd asked Sound Transit’s CEO about light-rail construction plans that wouldn’t reach here for 25 years.

Choose a route serving the industrial area around Paine Field, and it’ll take longer, CEO Pete Rogoff suggested. Move people to that area from I-5 with a bus rapid-transit line, and it could happen a decade sooner.

“Let me discuss briefly the elephant in the room — the delivery time of light rail to Everett,” Rogoff told the crowd early on.

The Sound Transit Board is preparing a November ballot measure to pay for a list of projects. They expect to finalize details in June for the Sound Transit 3 proposal, which is called ST3 for short. Meetings, such as the one held Monday in Everett, are helping to reshape the transit package.

It would take 25 years to realize all of the improvements in the $50 billion plan, first released last month. Between Tacoma and Everett, the proposal would add 58 miles of light-rail track and 39 stations to serve more than a half-million people each day.

Political leaders in Snohomish County were pleased to see the Paine Field industrial area with its more than 50,000 jobs included on the proposed route.

But they have condemned the 25-year wait.

Sound Transit staff presented four options Monday.

In addition to the original draft released a month ago that would get Link light rail trains to Everett Station in 2041, there was a compromise plan Snohomish County leaders hoped would get light rail to downtown Everett by 2033. Staff, however, estimated that plan would take five years longer to build.

Two other rail-line options would be 10 years quicker to build, but unlike the other proposals, they would follow the I-5 corridor. One would serve the Paine Field industrial area and the Everett Boeing plant with an east-west rail spur, the other with a bus rapid-transit line.

“You all are going to decide what the priority needs to be,” Rogoff said.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, a Sound Transit board member, said he remains committed to getting light rail to Paine Field. Somers called it irritating to see the bus-line idea resurfacing with such persistence, despite what he and other leaders have told the agency.

“We’ve been very clear on that,” he said.

While Somers and other Snohomish County leaders have staked out their ground, one tech-savvy Everett-to-Seattle commuter in his mid-30s said he’d be OK with a more direct route along I-5.

Tim Ellis compiles data about his daily bus commutes. For him, serving Paine Field by rail would be better, but he also worries about the detour from the freeway pushing commute times to over an hour.

“I feel that a train should be faster than driving a car most of the time,” Ellis said.

Also, the sooner it happens, the better.

“On the current timeline, who knows if I’d even use it?” he said. “Who knows whether I’m even going to be living here in 25 years?”

Everett Station’s Weyerhaeuser Room was packed beyond its 240-person capacity for the meeting. Dozens more people filled an overflow room.

Local mayors, county elected officials and professional planners attended, along with commuters, business leaders and activists of various stripes. Economic Alliance Snohomish County, which is backing a campaign to get light rail to Everett sooner, came prepared to hand out 200 T-shirts bearing the message: “Light Rail to Everett … In Our Lifetime.”

Rogoff assured the audience that all parts of the agency’s three-county service area are upset about congestion — and as in Everett, want quicker solutions.

The three Sound Transit board members from Snohomish County — Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts and Somers — released an alternative proposal April 19. It aimed to shave eight years and hundreds of millions of dollars by using the Highway 526 and I-5 corridors between Paine Field and downtown Everett, instead of the initial plan of following Evergreen Way.

At Monday’s meeting, a staff presentation showed that proposal falling a few years shy of its goal. It could be built by 2038 and would cost up to about $4 billion.

That’s roughly $300 million less than the original proposal. Both are estimated to carry a similar number of daily riders, up to about 43,000.

Sound Transit also presented two other options that would serve the area of Paine Field and the Boeing plant with bus rapid transit or a rail spur, with a main line running along the I-5 corridor.

One plan, with a direct east-west rail spur to Paine Field from I-5, would cost up to $3.6 billion and would carry about 46,000 people per day. Another plan, with a rapid-transit bus loop through north Everett down to 128th street via Paine Field, would cost up to $3.4 billion and carry as many as 55,000 riders per day, staff estimated.

Sound Transit staff say that if approved, ST3 would cost an average adult taxpayer an extra $200 per year. That would come through an increase in sales tax, property tax and car-tab fees.

The initial plan released March 24 would build out light rail to 128th Street in south Everett in 2036 and downtown Everett in 2041.

The plan also would connect the light-rail spine to Tacoma, and downtown Redmond, with new lines to West Seattle, south Lake Union and Ballard. A new Eastside line would serve downtown Bellevue, Eastgate and Issaquah. That line would reach Issaquah, a city along I-90 with more than 30,000 residents, at the same time as Everett, which has roughly three times the population.

The plan calls for bus rapid transit on the I-405 and Highway 522 corridors.

In 1995 and again in 2007, voters in Sound Transit’s taxing district rejected expansion proposals. Both times, voters returned the following year to approve a revised ballot measure.

The 2008 Sound Transit 2 measure promised to extend light rail north from the University District to Northgate by 2021 and to Lynnwood by 2023. It paid for more commuter buses and for improvements to Sounder rail stations in Edmonds and Mukilteo.

That phase of improvements also is extending light rail from Seattle to the Eastside and south to the Kent-Des Moines area.

More than 1.6 million people in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties will have the opportunity to vote on ST3.

With about 250,000 of those voters, Snohomish County has less influence on the outcome. More than 1 million are in King County.

Sound Transit plans to collect feedback through Friday to reshape last month’s draft plan. More than 28,000 people had taken a survey about ST3 as of Monday, said Geoff Patrick, a Sound Transit spokesman.

An online survey is available at www.soundtransit3.org. The agency also is accepting comments by email, soundtransit3@soundtransit.org, by regular mail, Sound Transit, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA 98104, or by phone, 206-903-7000.

Sound Transit has scheduled more evening presentations on ST3, similar the one in Everett, for Tuesday in West Seattle, Wednesday in Redmond and Thursday in Federal Way. There’s also a meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Union Station in Seattle.

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

This story has been modified to more precisely describe the various plans under consideration by Sound Transit.

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