Transit to seek tax hike

With light rail, better Sounder service and more buses on the menu, Sound Transit is gearing up to ask voters if they are hungry for a second serving of transit projects in the Puget Sound region.

New projects mean new taxes, however.

Sound Transit proposed projects

Sound Transit 2 projects proposed for Snohomish County:

* A light rail spur from Everett Station to Everett Community College.

* A light rail spur from the Lynnwood Transit Center to Alderwood mall, with a possible stop at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

* Begin preliminary engineering for an eventual light rail route from the King County line to the Ash Way park-and-ride lot.

* Study potential light rail routes from the Ash Way park-and-ride to Everett Station.

* Build more parking at Everett Station for Sounder riders.

* Expand parking at the eventual Sounder station in Mukilteo.

* Build a parking lot at the future permanent site of the Sounder station in Edmonds.

* Build carpool direct-access ramps at the Mariner park-and-ride.

* Add more bus-only lanes and priority transit traffic signals on Highway 99 in Snohomish County.

* Establish a new Sound Transit bus route on Highway 527, the Bothell-Everett Highway.

* Build parking garages at the Lynnwood Transit Center and at Canyon Park and Mariner park-and-rides.

* Build a park-and-ride along Highway 527 in Mill Creek.

Source: Sound Transit

On Thursday, the agency’s finance committee got its first look at the taxes voters could be asked to pay for the proposed second course.

By raising the sales tax rate by a half-cent, the agency would collect a maximum of $8 billion for transit in Sound Transit’s taxing district, which includes Snohomish County’s I-5 cities. About $1 billion of that would be spent in Snohomish County. The cash would be collected from 2007 to 2025.

Sound Transit could also put forth smaller sales tax packages that would raise less money, said Brian McCartan, the agency’s deputy director. The legislation that created Sound Transit allows the agency to collect a sales tax of nine-tenths of a cent on every dollar. It currently collects four-tenths of a cent.

“My guess is that we’ll pick something in the middle, something that is palatable and balances what we want to do with what we can actually afford,” said Richard Marin, a Sound Transit board member and Edmonds City Council president.

The sales tax revenue scenarios don’t include how much money the agency could borrow. Bonding capacity estimates won’t be given until the agency has a more focused project list with price tags attached.

Although a decision hasn’t been made to move forward with a second phase of Sound Transit, the agency has asked its staff to prepare a tax package that could go before voters next November. To do that, agency staff has to present a tax package with a winnowed-down list of projects to the board of directors by July.

“We’ve gone from more than 500 projects down to 80,” said Geoff Patrick, a spokesman for the agency, who said there isn’t money enough for everything. “The information presented today is giving our board and the public the information they need to decide what should be in Sound Transit 2.”

Sixteen of those 80 projects are proposed in Snohomish County, including proposals to build initial light-rail service in Everett and Lynnwood. Preliminary price tags are due out within the next two weeks.

Because there isn’t money to extend light rail north from King County, a Sound Transit advisory board has recommended that the agency pursue small segments of light rail in Snohomish County that could be linked to the King County line when money becomes available.

At the north end, the proposal is to build a line from Everett Station to Everett Community College, the eventual northern end of Sound Transit’s light rail system. Another option is to build a small line from the Lynnwood Transit Center to Alderwood mall, with a possible stop at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

Other potential phase two projects proposed in Snohomish County include expanding parking at the county’s Sounder stations, building more direct-access ramps for carpool traffic to get directly into carpool lanes and to expand bus capacity.

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