Everett officials want Sound Transit to make good on light-rail promise

EVERETT — More than 20 years ago leaders from the agency now known as Sound Transit vowed to make a priority of bringing light rail to Everett.

The original vision included Everett as a key destination, along with Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma.

“Guess what? We all know that didn’t happen,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.

Nor is it expected to materialize until the early 2030s — at the earliest.

Everett’s mayor wants to ensure that Sound Transit makes good on its promise to his city, as the agency looks toward crafting a ballot measure to pay for another round of expansion.

Voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties could decide as early as November 2016 whether to fund added service through a combination of higher taxes on property, retail sales and motor vehicles. Competing bills in the state House and Senate would authorize up to $15 billion and $11 billion, respectively.

The Sound Transit board is scheduled to discuss a draft list of expansion projects — known as ST3 — during its regular meeting from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday.

Stephanson and other Snohomish County leaders are nervous, in part, because transit authorities have been talking more lately about light-rail segments to places such as West Seattle and Ballard. They’re worried that those destinations could come at the expense of Everett and other cities where people have been paying taxes since the 1990s based on the promise of the original plans.

While Tacoma, like Everett, also waits to join the light-rail line, the City of Destiny already is better connected in some ways.

The south line of the Sounder commuter train between Seattle and Tacoma carries at least nine times as many riders on an average weekday as the segment between Everett and Seattle. Moreover, the south line doesn’t have the mudslide problems that cause dozens of days of service disruption during the rainy season.

Downtown Tacoma also is served by a 1.6-mile light-rail line operated by Sound Transit.

A letter Stephanson sent to Sound Transit’s board Friday listed three destinations he believes light rail must reach in Everett: the Boeing Co. and other manufacturers clustered around Paine Field; the downtown transit hub at Everett Station; and the expanding higher- education district around Everett Community College at the city’s north end.

“The purpose of my communication is to ensure that there is no misunderstanding about what ‘Getting to Everett’ means,” he said.

County Executive John Lovick, a Sound Transit board member, also wrote a joint letter with County Council Chairman Dave Somers about their hopes for the northward expansion of light rail. Their letter focuses on traffic congestion near future light-rail stations on 164th and 128th streets. It also stresses the importance of reaching Paine Field.

In 1994, the Regional Transit Authority board passed a motion declaring “that priority shall be given in subsequent phases to linking the four major centers of Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue.” The motion also said that Everett “shall be a first priority” during a second phase of expansion. The transit authority started using the Sound Transit name a few years later.

An initial measure failed at the ballot in 1995. Voters approved a scaled-back plan known as Sound Move in 1996, agreeing to build out the rail and bus system in phases, Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said.

In 2008, voters approved an expansion known as ST2. That work remains under construction and reportedly is on track to bring light rail to Lynnwood and the Eastside by 2023.

Everett’s place in the light-rail picture won’t become clearer until at least 2016, if the Legislature agrees to put the funding measure to voters. The West Seattle and Ballard legs should help win over Seattle voters, Patrick said.

“The assumption is that a ballot measure, to be successful, would have to have investments that are considered important for all areas of the region,” he said.

Leaders at Sound Transit have discussed a 15-year timeline for building the third phase of the system, including the Everett segment, Patrick said.

Other points in Stephanson’s light-rail vision include working with Sound Transit to build a maintenance facility in Everett. The city also wants the agency to build a 1,000-space parking garage at Everett Station.

Everett is expected to grow from about 105,000 people now to 170,000 by 2040. The city also expects to have 140,000 employees in 20 years, up from 95,000 now.

“We cannot sustain that level of growth without the introduction of light rail in our transportation system,” the mayor’s letter says.

Economic Alliance Snohomish County also has been collecting signatures from civic and business leaders whose views on light rail align with Stephanson’s. Troy McClelland, the group’s president and CEO, said there’s a business case: Not only will it help employees reach jobs, it should free up the roadways for freight delivery.

“That means that trucks moving goods to manufacturers, they’re going to have better movement,” McClelland said. “These are all things that strengthen our economy and make us competitive with peer urban and suburban regions.”

Sound Transit imposes a sales and use tax of 0.9 percent, a motor vehicle excise tax of 0.3 percent, and a rental car sales and use tax of 0.8 percent. The taxing district stretches from Everett to south of Tacoma.

To pay for the next phase of expansion, the agency could ask voters to approve a property tax increase of up to 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value ($75 per year for a $300,000 house); a 0.5 percent sale tax-increase (50 cents on a $100 purchase); and a bump in car tabs (0.8 percent, or $80 annually for a $10,000 vehicle).

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

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