Sound Transit jeered by county leaders

Time is running out for Sound Transit leaders to decide whether to put a package of massive transit projects on the November ballot.

The Sound Transit Board of Directors needs to agree upon a ballot measure by July 24 to be able to present it to voters this fall. Two options are under consideration to improve mass transit in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

One plan calls for $10.4 billion with inflation to tackle bus, train and light rail projects over the next 12 years. That plan aims to bring light rail to Northgate in King County.

The other plan costs $14.7 billion with inflation that would complete transit projects over 15 years. It would push light rail farther north to Lynnwood by 2023.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Edmonds City Councilwoman Deanna Dawson, who both serve on the transit board, said they oppose the 12-year plan, partly because it doesn’t bring light rail to Snohomish County.

“I will vote no on it,” Reardon said. “I will actively campaign against it.”

Reardon and Dawson said they won’t support the 15-year plan, either, unless it brings light rail to Lynnwood, quickly creates a better bus service for Snohomish County and assures local taxes will be used for local projects. Snohomish County residents need transit options, Dawson said.

“People are struggling right now to be able to afford rising gas prices,” said Dawson, who also serves on the Community Transit Board.

The 15-year plan is still being developed.

“I’ve grown tired of waiting,” Reardon said. “It’s moving too slow.”

It will take a supermajority vote among 18 board members to approve a ballot measure. Officials are mulling over when and how to return to voters with a new package of transit projects after an $18 billion proposal failed in 2007.

That proposal was tied to a series of road projects. The size and complexity of Proposition 1 played a role in its failure.

The general election including the presidential race is expected to draw a big turnout and attract large numbers of young voters, said King County Councilman Larry Phillips, a Sound Transit board member. Young voters tend to support transit projects.

“It’s a superb time to put it on the ballot,” Phillips said.

The region can’t afford to wait on developing a mass transit system, Phillips said. A ballot measure of transit projects, separated from road projects, should gain more public support. More people are turning to buses and trains to avoid the pain at the gas pump.

The 15-year plan stretches more projects to Snohomish and Pierce counties than the 12-year plan, Phillips said.

“I hope that the 15-year plan that’s emerging is the one we are considering,” he said.

The cost estimate for the 15-year plan is preliminary. If approved, the plan would result in a sales tax hike. Taxpayers in the Sound Transit district would shell out 4 or 5 cents on a $10 purchase to pay for transit projects. The district includes the cities and urban parts of Snohomish County.

Sound Transit Board member Paul Roberts, an Everett City Councilman, said he opposes the two plans.

They don’t bring light rail to Everett, the largest city in Snohomish County with the county’s largest employer — the Boeing manufacturing plant, Roberts said. They don’t aim to provide much-needed bus service for people over the next few years.

“I’m very committed to building the system,” Roberts said. “But I don’t see how we can build the kind of the system we want in any of these configurations.”

He would like to see an alternative plan being prepared for 2010, Roberts said.

“I keep looking at what we are selling, not how we are selling it,” he said.

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