Revised plan brings light rail to Everett 5 years sooner

EVERETT — Snohomish County leaders are backing a new plan that would bring light rail to Everett at least five years sooner than promised earlier.

The South Transit Board on Thursday advanced a revised plan to add 58 miles of light-rail track between Tacoma and Everett, with dozens of stations to serve an estimated half-million people each day.

As initially proposed in March, the Sound Transit 3 expansion would not have brought light rail to Everett until 2041. The updated version would bring light rail to Everett Station by 2036. It would still follow the route local leaders had insisted on, serving Paine Field and the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant.

Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, who serves as vice chairman on the Sound Transit Board, said he was pleased with a rail route that would connect to “the state’s largest manufacturing center at Paine Field and the population center in Snohomish County.”

He said the five-year shorter construction timeline was significant and could shrink further if Everett, Lynnwood and the county make good on promises to coordinate engineering, planning and permitting.

County Executive Dave Somers said he supports the revised plan as a step in the right direction.

“While we would all like to have light rail reach Everett tomorrow, that is not realistic,” he said. “These large construction projects do take time. We need to ensure that Snohomish County is not left out of our region’s mass transit system, since the consequences of that to our economy could be devastating.”

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling also supports the new timeline.

“This revised Sound Transit 3 plan is a good fit for our region’s needs and will provide the necessary backbone for growth, thus completing the long-awaited spine of light rail from Everett to Tacoma,” he said.

Earling said the expansion could help relieve traffic congestion in south Snohomish County and is “very worthy of support.”

The positive reactions contrast with the criticism emanating from Snohomish County political circles after the release of the plan that would have taken a quarter century to reach Everett.

Thursday’s decision helps focus the projects that would be funded through a tax measure the Sound Transit Board is preparing for the Nov. 8 ballot. The board expects to finalize details in June for the Sound Transit 3 proposal, which is called ST3 for short.

The route through Snohomish County would reach Everett Station via stops at Alderwood mall, the Ash Way Park-and-Ride, 128th Street near I-5, Paine Field and Evergreen Way near Highway 526.

The whole Lynnwood-to-Everett segment would open at once, in 2036.

The package would include a bus rapid transit route from Lynnwood to Burien via I-405, which Sound Transit would aim to have running by 2024.

Other regional additions would open up three years sooner than projected in the earlier ST3 draft. That includes building out light rail to West Seattle and Tacoma by 2030 and to Ballard by 2035.

Sound Transit also aims to deliver light rail to downtown Redmond by 2024, four years sooner than in the draft proposal.

Sound Transit officials say the faster timeline owes to a more complete financial picture. Staff now expect to raise more money more quickly. The cost of the expansion also would grow by $4 billion, making for a $54 billion total.

If the measure passes, people in Sound Transit’s three-county service area would see increased car-tab fees, property taxes and sales tax. That’s estimated to cost the average adult about $200 per year.

Voters first approved funding for Sound Transit in 1996. The agency is now building out a second phase of expansion that voters approved in 2008. That includes completing the Link light-rail system north to the Lynnwood Transit Center by 2023.

More than 1.6 million people in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties will have the opportunity to vote on ST3. With about 250,000 of those voters, Snohomish County has less influence on the outcome. More than 1 million are in King County.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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