Public gets a look at light-rail plans

EVERETT — Residents and business owners came to Everett Station on Thursday to hear about Sound Transit’s plan to extend Link light-rail service to Everett.

Such a plan doesn’t exist yet except on paper. But it’s as close as people in Snohomish County have ever come to seeing Sound Transit’s 20-year-old promise to them come true.

Sound Transit’s board of directors voted in April to approve a route to extend Link light rail from Northgate to Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace by 2023.

A measure could appear on ballots as early as November 2016 that would provide funding for extending light rail to Everett through some combination of higher taxes on property, retail sales and motor vehicles.

If such a measure passes, and the Legislature coughs up a bit of money, Everett could start getting light rail service as soon as 2030.

“It needs to happen next year,” said Laura Gurley, a Lake Stevens resident who commuted to Seattle for six years.

“I rode trains, buses and drove. I tried everything,” Gurley said. “I work up here now and it’s wonderful.”

The exact route of the proposed line remains uncertain. Most civic leaders in the county want the line, which is part of Sound Transit 3, to run by Paine Field to serve the Boeing plant before heading into downtown Everett.

Other options would run light rail straight up Highway 99 or along I-5 to get to Everett Station.

Everett’s leaders also make the case that the line should not terminate at Everett Station, but at Everett Community College and the proposed University Center building, which is expected to stimulate more growth in the city’s north end.

Craig Skotdal, president of Skotdal Real Estate, one of Everett’s biggest residential developers, said he wholeheartedly embraced both a Paine Field route as well as the extension up to the college. Both areas, he said, had a lot of potential for growth.

“Transit-oriented development!” Skotdal said.

“I wonder why it takes so long to build,” said Bruce Caruthers, a Lynnwood resident and New York native wearing a London Underground T-shirt.

“After 9/11, New York put in a whole new subway line under the river in one year,” Caruthers said.

Local leaders, including Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, are concerned that Sound Transit plans for an Everett line could be sidetracked by efforts to expand rail service to Seattle neighborhoods like Ballard and West Seattle.

The maps on display at the community meeting indicated that the Everett route, as well as a West Seattle-to-Ballard route, a Sea-Tac airport-to-Tacoma route and an Eastside-only Kirkland-to-Issaquah route were all considered “priority projects.”

Paul Roberts, an Everett city councilman and the vice-chairman of Sound Transit’s board of directors, downplayed the possibility that Everett could get left behind, but reemphasized Sound Transit’s original promise to regional voters.

“It’s a regional system; building the spine is the first priority and has been the priority for over 20 years,” he said.

“The board has now said that multiple times and I think it would be very hard for the board to retreat from that,” Roberts said.

Roberts is one of three public officials from Snohomish County on Sound Transit’s 18-member board. The other two are Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling.

Sound Transit’s current northward extension calls for 8.5 miles of track from the Northgate mall to the Lynnwood park-and-ride lot, with stops at NE 145th Street, NE 185th Street and the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center.

“We have to bring the Puget Sound region together, that’s the point,” Roberts said.

People in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties first voted in 1996 to authorize Sound Transit to build a transit system that would one day bring light rail to regional population centers, including Everett. The funding mechanism is the Regional Transit Authority, which collects taxes on retail sales and car rentals and the motor vehicle excise tax.

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.

People are still waiting.

Katrina Lindahl, an Everett resident who commutes to Seattle every day, said she supported Sound Transit in 1996. “I’ve been voting for it ever since,” she said.

She said she intended to vote for the extension to Everett as well, and wants to see it built.

“By the time that happens, I’ll probably be retired. But still, it’s for the future,” Lindahl said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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