Is roads and transit plan worth the price tag?

EVERETT — Business owners Kevin Weed and Howie Bargreen want to make it easier to commute into, out of and all around Snohomish County.

They simply — and sharply — disagree on whether the roads-and-transit measure on the Nov. 6 ballot will get it done.

Weed, president of Everett engineering firm Perteet Inc., considers Proposition 1 necessary for overcoming transportation challenges and creating a desirable quality of life in the region.

“If we don’t make the investment, we suffer,” said Weed, whose firm contributed $20,000 toward its passage.

Bargreen, owner of Bargreen’s Coffee Co. of Everett, contends the measure is overpriced and spends too much money expanding light rail and not enough building needed roads.

“Don’t social engineer the people out of their cars,” said Bargreen, of Everett, who serves on the Snohomish County Planning Commission. “People love their cars. People love the independence of them.”

Voters are now deciding the fate of the 20-year, $17.8 billion package of road, bridge, light rail and transit projects proposed for Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District crafted the plan, which would be paid for with increases in the sales tax and car tab fees.

In terms of dollars, it’s the costliest prescription for remedying transportation problems ever put on a ballot in the three counties.

“It may seem like a big shock to our system, but when things break down, it costs more to fix them,” Weed said. “We can’t get it all for free.”

Bargreen said as traffic woes become a “social problem,” a better answer can be found with all those dollars.

“Finding reasonable solutions to incredible problems is doable,” he said. “We have to. We have to get these people home on time so they can have good family relations, otherwise the society is going to fall apart.”

Breaking it down

Prop. 1 marries the county-driven roads package and a second round of Sound Transit projects.

The transportation piece would spend $7 billion on building new interchanges and bridges and paving 182 miles of new roads in the three counties. The cost is in 2006 dollars, the year the list was drafted.

Of the total, $1.5 billion is for roughly two dozen projects in Snohomish County, including work on I-5, U.S. 2 and highways 9, 522, 524 and 531. Design and construction would occur over a 20-year period.

Sound Transit’s portion amounts to $10.8 billion, the bulk for extending light rail train service into Snohomish and Pierce counties and east King County.

It includes $1.45 billion for light rail service along the I-5 corridor to stations in Mountlake Terrace, near the Alderwood mall in Lynnwood and finally, by 2027, to 164th Street SW and Ash Way in south Everett.

Higher sales tax and car tab fees will pay for it all.

Sales tax will rise by 0.6 percent, equal to adding 6 cents to every $10 worth of purchase. Of the sum, 0.5 percent will go toward light rail and the remainder to roads.

Car tab fees, also known as the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, will go up by roughly $80 for every $10,000 of value of a vehicle. This money will go toward roads.

Revenues collected in the county will be spent on local projects and not ones in King or Pierce counties, proponents said.

What people wind up paying in Snohomish County will depend on where they live and shop.

South Snohomish County sits in both taxing districts, so residents there will see a climb in prices at area shops and fees for their car tabs.

Cities such as Monroe, Marysville and Arlington are outside Sound Transit’s borders and inside the transportation district. Car owners would pay more for vehicle license fees while shops in town would raise the sales tax by 0.1 percent.

Communities such as Sultan and Granite Falls that are outside both districts won’t be imposing any tax or fee hikes, nor will their residents be voting on the measure.

Campaign scrabble

Throughout this electoral scrap, supporters have focused on what the measure will do while opponents target its financial and environmental costs.

Keep Washington Rolling has raised nearly $4 million to run a campaign designed to sell the benefits of Prop. 1 for every affected neighborhood.

Bankrolling the effort is a legion of big firms such as Boeing and Microsoft, as well as labor unions, trade associations and firms likely to do design and construction of some of the proposed projects.

Political support comes from a host of cities, a majority of those serving on the councils of the three counties, and leaders of the region’s environmental groups and chambers of commerce.

The campaign strategy is simple: Tell people what they’ll get in the deal.

In Snohomish County, radio and television ads and mailed literature extol its plans to widen Highway 9, unclog the U.S. 2 trestle and replace overloaded I-5 exit ramps.

There’s talk of improving safety on U.S. 2, deploying more buses, constructing park-and-ride lots and running light rail trains to the area.

“This is about projects. This is a package that addresses the transportation needs of this region,” Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said. “I think people are tired of being stuck in traffic.”

How much relief Prop. 1 can deliver is a contested point.

A recently issued audit of the state Department of Transportation suggests congestion gets worse every year in the Puget Sound region as population grows.

In 20 years, if growth continues as predicted and nothing is done to combat congestion, drivers could face twice as much time delayed by congestion.

The auditors conclude if road and light rail projects in Prop. 1 are completed, the delays won’t go away, but they won’t be as bad. Nothing in the audit suggests delays can be eliminated.

The other side

Critics argue the measure is a political compromise that fails to solve problems and makes some worse.

“We have a transportation crisis. If we pass this plan, it will continue to be screwed up for years and years,” said Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman at a forum in Everett last month.

Freeman and Seattle high-tech investor Mark Baerwaldt are financing, a group that’s tried to portray this election as a referendum on Sound Transit.

Voters in 1996 approved funding for Sound Transit to construct an extensive link light rail system in the three counties within 10 years. It didn’t happen and cost overruns forced scaling back on the plan.

Sound Transit leaders say the agency turned itself around by hiring new leaders and employing better project management practices. This package, they have said, will be carried out as promised.

“Why would we believe anything these people tell us?” Freeman said to the crowd of Everett of business owners.

Bargreen said he doesn’t mind paying taxes, just not on light rail.

“We’ve got a very thin supply of money, and we need to spend it the most effective way we can,” he said.

Baerwaldt’s fixed a spotlight on the numbers. He said the $17.8 billion figure is vastly understated and argues that years from now the amount could reach $157 billion should such things as inflation and interest rates rise faster than predicted.

The Sierra Club leads a second flank of opposition. Members like light rail but are dead set against building roads.

Auto emissions are a major contributor to global warming, and paving all those new miles of road will only increase the damage inflicted on the environment, said chapter president Mike O’Brien.

And he’s frustrated some of those pushing Prop. 1 say they want their communities to be leaders in the fight against climate change.

“There is disconnect between leaders who say they want to do something about global warming and then don’t do anything,” he said.

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Snohomish County Councilmen John Koster and Gary Nelson are among a handful of elected leaders opposed to Prop. 1.

They want more money spent on roads and a shorter time frame to get the work done.

“I’m not saying we don’t need to do something, but this (measure) is not one of them,” said Koster, who lives outside the districts.

Weed gets frustrated hearing such talk.

“We can go around and around in this dialogue to find the perfect plan,” he said. “This is a great plan. Nobody will ever reach the perfect plan.”

10 key road and transit projects in the ballot measure

1. Highway 531 (172nd Street NE)

$55 million


Widen to four lanes from 43rd Avenue NE to Highway 9, add turn pockets at key locations and bike lanes.

2. I-5 interchanges

  • 128th Street SW

    $113 million


    Replace existing interchange.

  • Everett Mall Way/100th Street SE

    $59 million

    2010; 2015-2019

    Phase I constructs on-ramp to southbound I-5 south of the Highway 526/Highway 527/South Broadway intersection. Phase II constructs a tunnel under I-5 at 100th Street SE, with HOV-only access to the I-5 South Everett freeway station.

  • 41st Street

    $6 million


    Reconstruct the one-lane bridge over the Broadway on-ramp to southbound I-5 just south of the new I-5/41st Street interchange.

  • 116th Street NE

    $25 million


    Replace existing interchange.

  • 88th Street NE

    $38 million


    Replace existing interchange

    3. U.S. 2 — Trestle

    $281 million


    Build new ramps at interchange of U.S. 2 and S.R. 204 to serve a wider trestle in the future.

    4. Highway 9 improvements

    $304 million


    Widen Highway 9 to four and five lanes on roughly 14 miles from 176th Street SE to the vicinity of Highway 92 near Lake Stevens. Add turn lanes and signals. Build a new bridge over the Snohomish River.

    5. U.S. 2 — Monroe bypass

    $44 million


    Build a two-lane limited access highway ending at a roundabout north of the North Kelsey shopping center. Build a roundabout connecting to Kelsey Street and Chain Lake Road.

    6. Extend light rail train service along I-5 corridor to Mountlake Terrace, Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood and 164th Street SW/Ash Way. Service is expected reach 164th St. SW by 2027; no dates are provided for the other stops.

    7. Highway 524

    $94 million


    Widen to four and five lanes from 24th Avenue W. in Lynnwood to Royal Anne Road (near Highway 527) in Bothell. The easternmost portion of the route would be widened first. Add a center-turn lane, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and new traffic signals at some intersections. Construct replacement bridges at the North Creek and Swamp Creek crossings.

    8. 39th Avenue SE/35th Avenue

    $79 million

    2008-2011; 2014-2025

    Phase 1 pays portion of final design, land acquisition and construction of two-lane arterial from 240th Street SE to the vicinity of 228th Street SE. Phase 2 pays portion of design, land acquisition and construction of two-lane arterial from 228th Street SE to Seattle Hill Road.

    9. Highway 522 Improvements

    $127 million


    Build new interchange at the Paradise Lake Road intersection in Maltby. Widen to four lanes from Paradise Lake Road to Snohomish River. Eliminate existing signalized intersections and build on- and off-ramps.

    10. Edmonds Crossing

    $122 million


    Helps fund construction of a new ferry terminal, commuter train station and facility uniting ferry and transit center. (State, federal and local dollars also involved in project.)

    Other projects

  • 88th Street NE corridor — Marysville

    $15 million


    Widen to five lanes between State Avenue and Ingraham Boulevard.

  • Highway 99 Improvements — Edmonds

    $40 million


    Widen the Highway 99 bridge over Highway 104 to seven lanes.

  • Highway 524 (196th Street SW) – Lynnwood

    $10 million


    Widen from five to seven lanes between 48th Avenue West and 37th Avenue West.

  • Park-and-ride lots

    $20 million

    2008-2010; 2020-2023

    Build lots in area of Smokey Point Boulevard and 169th Street in Arlington; Cedar Avenue and Grove Street in Marysville; Cathcart Way and Highway 9 near Silver Lake; and in the vicinity of Highway 524 and Highway 9 in Maltby.

  • Bus acquisition

    $12 million

    2015; 2020

    Sources: RTID Blueprint for Progress, Sound Transit and city of Marysville

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