SEATTLE — On Thursday Sound Transit’s board of directors approved a plan to extend light rail to Snohomish County and other areas as part of its Sound Transit 3, or ST3, package.
About half of the $54 billion plan would be funded by increases in sales, property and motor vehicle excise taxes.
A second vote by the board puts those tax increases on the November general election ballot.
Both votes by the 18-member board were unanimous.
Shortly before the vote, Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, who also is the vice chairman of the board, recalled the failed transportation ballot measures of 1968 and 1970, which would have funded a regional rail and urban subway system.
“Many of us have noted that 50 years ago we made some choices that we wished we’d made differently,” Roberts said. “The opportunity to make that different choice is here today.”
The plan involves building 62 new miles of light rail in the Puget Sound region, with 37 new stations.
In Snohomish County, that includes light rail stations at Alderwood mall, at the Ash Way Park-and-Ride, on 128th Street near I-5, at Paine Field, and on Evergreen Way near Highway 526.
It would also include bus rapid transit lines between Lynnwood and Burien along I-405 and on Highway 522 from Woodinville to North Seattle, plus more parking spaces at the Mukilteo and Edmonds Sounder stations.
The funding mechanism includes raises in the sales tax by 0.5 percent, the Motor Vehicle Excise tax by 0.8 percent, and property taxes by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Proponents have estimated the average adult in the taxed area would pay about $200 more per year.
The rest of the funds would come from a combination of existing Sound Transit financing, federal grants, bond sales and fares.
The plan approved was a revision of the first proposal unveiled in March.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, the three representatives from the county on the board, and other local leaders criticized the earlier plan for putting northward expansion to Snohomish County last on the priority list.
As first proposed, light rail wouldn’t have reached Paine Field until 2041.
A revision of the plan in May shortened the timeline by five years, and maintained the route local leaders insisted on to one day serve the airport and the Boeing plant.
The changes won the support of the three board members from Snohomish County, including Roberts, County Executive Dave Somers and Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling.
Roberts acknowledged the tax burden that people would soon face if the measure passes in November.
“This isn’t about how many lattés per week you can skip, it’s about reducing miles traveled,” he said.
“It’s also about getting our lives back,” Roberts added. “ … I’m not sure what it’s worth, but it’s worth a heck of a lot more than a latté a week,” he said.
The votes before the board coincided with the emergence of an advocacy group, Smarter Transit, which has pledged to fight the ST3 ballot measure in the fall.
The group asserts that light rail costs too much and would not decrease congestion, and instead sees bus rapid transit as a more reasonable alternative.
“It is called light rail because of capacity, not weight,” Maggie Fimia, one of the group’s cofounders, told the board on Thursday. “Bus rapid transit can carry twice the number of people that light rail can.”
“We’re not against transit, we’re against what we see is a transit proposal that is far too expensive and will not achieve the goal of clearing our traffic congestion,” said Franklin Dennis, another member of the group.
Shortly before the vote, the group issued a letter outlining its opposition signed by a number of current and former elected leaders and transportation advocates.
A common refrain from the opponents was to “push the pause button,” which some advocates picked up on.
“We made that mistake 50 years ago and we waited, and we have been paying the price ever since,” said Shefali Ranganathan, the executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Choices Coalition.
Dave Somers recalled when Lake City Way was the only highway between Seattle and its eastern suburbs, but that over the years, the people approved expensive transportation packages to build freeways, floating bridges and other amenities.
“We did hit the pause button in the 1970s, and we’re paying for it today” in the form of more congestion and higher costs and longer waits for new projects, Somers said.
“One thing I’ve learned in my years, it never gets cheaper, it never gets faster,” he said.