Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff (center) takes a ride on light rail from the new Angle Lake Station in Seatac with King County Executive Dow Constantine (left) in 2016. (Herald file)

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff (center) takes a ride on light rail from the new Angle Lake Station in Seatac with King County Executive Dow Constantine (left) in 2016. (Herald file)

County Council grills Sound Transit CEO about long timeline

West Seattle and Ballard light-rail extensions will be completed before the main spine to Everett.

EVERETT — For more than two decades people in Snohomish County have watched light-rail slowly inch closer. But as the system expands and new projects are added to the plan, the County Council is urging Sound Transit to focus first on building out the system’s central spine that will eventually connect Everett with Tacoma.

The Sound Transit plan seems to be continually expanding while projects in Snohomish County are being delayed, County Councilman Terry Ryan said.

“We keep watching new projects get proposed in King County,” Ryan said. “We should build the projects that are already in line, rather than building new projects.”

Last year, Sound Transit announced rising construction costs and property values, along with uncertainty around federal funding, would delay the opening of the Lynnwood Link Extension by at least six months.

The council has long worried that Snohomish County was being short-changed for the benefit of Seattle and the east King County. During a recent routine reappointment of Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts to the Sound Transit board, County Council members vented their frustration with the transit agency, which included car-tab fee increases and the long timeline of projects in Snohomish County.

Tuesday, County Council members got the chance to grill Peter Rogoff, Sound Transit CEO, when he presented to the Public Works committee.

“When did it become Sound Transit’s responsibility to move people from Ballard into downtown Seattle as opposed to (King County Metro Transit)?” Ryan asked during the committee meeting.

Both the West Seattle and Ballard link extensions are scheduled to open before light rail reaches Everett in 2036.

The short answer: “Things have changed,” Rogoff told the council.

“Development patterns now are very, very different than when Sound Transit was first formed,” he added.

Rogoff said the decision to run the Everett alignment to serve the job-rich Paine Field area stretched the timeline of the project and added about $1 billion to the cost to the future Everett link extension.

Dave Somers, county executive and chair of the Sound Transit board, added that the funding strategy Sound Transit uses has prevented the agency from prioritizing the construction of the spine.

Rather than a system-wide fund, the Sound Transit taxing district is divided into five subareas. The transit agency is required to spend local tax revenue on projects that benefit people in that area, also known as subarea equity. Snohomish County, along with South King County, generate the smallest amount of revenue from Sound Transit taxes.

Somers said the idea came out of the first Sound Transit package, pushed by people in Bellevue, and since has become “baked into the process and the rules” that Sound Transit operates under.

“Unfortunately we are the smallest area and generate the least among funds compared to the other subareas,” Somers said.

Snohomish County Councilman Brian Sullivan called the system flawed. The council instead supports a system-wide approach to funding, urging Somers, as chairman of the Sound Transit Board to bring the issue to the full board for consideration.

“A system-wide approach would be a more efficient way to build the system out in a timely manner,” Ryan said after the meeting.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@herald Twitter: @lizzgior.

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