This is part of a Sound Publishing special report on the Sound Transit 3 expansion proposal, which is on the ballot on Nov. 8. More
We dare you: Read this introduction.
And read it again. And again. And again and again.
Time-consuming, isn’t it? Not to mention tedious.
The 15 or 16 minutes it would take to read this article five times is about what commuters spend creeping from the King-Snohomish county line to Lynnwood’s off-ramps. And that’s just a few interstate exits. If drivers are heading to Everett, Marysville or points north, it often gets nastier. (And no less tedious.)
The problem is big, and so is the solution proposed by Sound Transit: A $54 billion tax package that would extend the current light-rail “spine” to DuPont in the south and Everett in the north — plus add arms reaching to the Eastside, West Seattle and Ballard.
This project, commonly known as ST3, will appear as Proposition 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties — the jurisdictions that would be served by the proposed system and whose taxpayers would shoulder the cost.
Nobody debating this proposal — pro or con — denies traffic is a mess. There’s less agreement, however, about the timing, configuration and pricetag of ST3. And steadfast critics insist buses, not rail, could provide enough capacity with more flexibility and lower costs.
When it comes to timing, Snohomish County really has been at the end of the line.
An initial draft of ST3 would have extended light rail to Everett by 2041. Before the plan was finalized, however, the county’s Sound Transit representatives came up with an alternative that moved the date up to 2036 — with further hope of shaving a year or two off that target. Still, even this expedited schedule asks voters to invest in a system that is more likely to transport their children than to relieve the gridlock they endure today.
Snohomish County representatives also pushed back on the configuration. Proposition 1 reflects their insistence that light rail needs to reach Everett — as originally envisioned by transit planners — but also must serve the burgeoning employment center that Paine Field has become.
Even if Snohomish County voters are placated about timing and configuration, they must contemplate the $54 billion cost.
Let’s face it: Few light-rail proponents have experienced as much delayed gratification as those in Snohomish County.
From 1995 to 2015, Snohomish County contributed $1 billion in taxes to the transit district, but received only $870 million in benefits, mostly in the form of buses and an unreliable Sounder line. The county got the second-lowest level of return among all of Sound Transit’s five sub-areas.
Construction on the light-rail line to Lynnwood from Northgate is expected to break ground in 2018, with service starting in 2023. And the ST3 plan shows Snohomish County getting back bus and rail projects equivalent to all $9.3 billion that it would put in.
ST3 would be paid for with sales tax, property tax and car tabs. Sales tax would increase by half a percent (which would raise the rate to 9.7 cents per dollar in Everett and to more than 10 cents per dollar in much of south Snohomish County). Car-tab fees would go up by 0.8 percent, and property tax would go up 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation.
As opponents flinch at the price, ST3 advocates point out there will never be a cheaper time to build the system. After all, it would have cost less if voters had approved it in the late 1960s.
Now, citizens are left to consider: How much are we willing to pay to fix this problem? And if not a regional light-rail system, what is the alternative? We hope the information and analysis in this section helps you sort through these questions — and motivates you to vote on Nov. 8.
Neal Pattison is executive editor of The Daily Herald.
Stories in this special report