Transit ballot measure would extend rail to Everett — in 2041

SEATTLE — Snohomish County’s political leaders had mixed reactions Thursday when Sound Transit unveiled light-rail plans that would reach Everett via the industrial area around Paine Field, but not for another 25 years.

Light-rail spurs to Seattle neighborhoods, meanwhile, would materialize up to eight years earlier.

If those plans come to pass, they’ll end up leaving Everett-area voters with a 45-year wait from the time they agreed to raise taxes for regional transit until the first light-rail trains would roll into Everett Station.

“I’m very happy and relieved that the proposal includes Paine Field and the southwest Everett jobs center. I do have some concerns about timing and schedule,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, a Sound Transit board member.

The plans emerged at Thursday’s regular Sound Transit board meeting. Decisions about light-rail routes are needed for board members to craft a tax measure known as Sound Transit 3 for the November 2016 ballot. Known as ST3 for short, the board must finalize the ballot measure in June.

The new proposal does satisfy a major demand from leaders in Snohomish County: It would the reach the Boeing plant and Paine Field, rather than going straight up I-5. However, the line to downtown Everett — promised as part of the 1996 ballot measure called Sound Move — wouldn’t be built out until 2041.

Put another way, a 30-year-old who voted for the original measure would be 75 by the time Sound Transit makes good on the promise.

Leaders in Snohomish County argue it makes little sense to put the residential areas of Ballard and West Seattle so far ahead of Washington’s largest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the aerospace-intensive industrial zone of southwest Everett. More than 55,000 people work at or around Paine Field and Boeing’s Everett plant.

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling was one of the original board members in 1993 for the Regional Transit Authority, which became Sound Transit. Earling, who remains on the board, appreciated the commitment to build out the light-rail spine, but wants it to happen faster.

“I want to shorten up, candidly, the 25-year projection for us,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson vowed to work toward that goal. He encouraged his constituents to let Sound Transit know what they think about the plans.

“I’d be hard-pressed to recommend that waiting 25 years is acceptable,” Stephanson said. “I want to preface that by saying that I appreciate the fact that the Sound Transit board recognized that getting to the jobs center was a priority. That wasn’t always the case.”

Plans are already underway for light rail to reach the Lynnwood transit center by 2023.

Under the ST3 plans, light rail wouldn’t get to 128th Street in south Everett before 2036. The next northward expansion to downtown Everett via the southwest Everett industrial area wouldn’t happen until 2041.

Elsewhere in the region, new service would open in 2033 to West Seattle and Tacoma. It would reach Ballard by 2038 and Issaquah in 2041.

The plan also provides for additional rapid transit bus service on I-405 and added parking for Sounder commuter trains in Edmonds and Mukilteo.

State lawmakers last year authorized Sound Transit to raise up to $15 billion in new taxes to support ST3 through a combination of sales tax, property tax and car-tab fees.

Sound Transit conducted an online survey and held workshops last year to gather commuters’ thoughts on what kinds of service the new round of expansion should provide.

The current plans would bring the light-rail system only as far north as Everett Station. A proposed segment to the area of Everett Community College and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett has been dropped from ST3.

To pay for the expansion, voters in Sound Transit’s service area would be asked to approve the maximum allowed increases in sales tax, car-tab fees and property tax.

Sales tax would rise by 0.5 percent, car-tab fees by 0.8 percent and property taxes by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The average taxpayer would have to pay an additional $200 per year.

The total cost over a quarter century would be $50 billion.

That’s far higher than the $15 billion that state lawmakers authorized Sound Transit to raise through new taxes over the next 15 years. The plan outlined Thursday also includes money from fares, grants and other sources.

Sound Transit plans to open a formal comment period for ST3 in April. An online survey and a series of public meetings are in the works as well.

Once complete, the Link light rail system would extend for 108 miles and include 75 stations, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said. That will put the central Puget Sound region’s light-rail network roughly on par with the BART system in San Francisco-Bay Area and the Washington, D.C., Metro. It would be about twice as large as Atlanta’s MARTA.

The opening of new light-rail stations in the University District and on Capitol Hill on Saturday marked the first expansion of Link light rail north of downtown Seattle.

The line is on schedule to serve Northgate by 2021 and Lynnwood two years later. Trains would stop at the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, Northeast 185th Street in Shoreline and 145th street in Seattle. The line is predicted to carry up to 74,000 riders each weekday by 2035, with a Lynnwood-to-Seattle trip taking an average of 28 minutes.

Also by 2023, the system is projected to be serving Bellevue, Overlake and the Kent-Des Moines area.

More info: www.soundtransit3.org.

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

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