Looking north, an aerial view of Paine Field in Everett. (Paine Field / Snohomish County)

Looking north, an aerial view of Paine Field in Everett. (Paine Field / Snohomish County)

Editorial: Right call made to keep Paine on light rail route

The industrial center’s 40,000 jobs is reason enough to protect a route serving southwest Everett.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Those who lead brainstorming sessions like to start with the encouragement that “there are no bad ideas.”

The truth, however, is that, yes … yes, there are bad ideas. Bringing Sound Transit’s Link light rail line into Everett but bypassing southwest Everett’s manufacturing jobs center and the transportation hub at Paine Field is one of those bad ideas.

Snohomish County’s representatives on the Sound Transit board of directors — County Executive Dave Somers, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell — have made it clear that, when considering a route for Sound Transit’s Link light rail line, anything avoiding southwest Everett’s manufacturing jobs and the Paine Field airport isn’t worthy of further discussion.

Such a major realignment is a departure from the original plan and ignores the purpose of bringing light rail to Everett in the first place, moving commuters not just from homes in Everett to jobs south, but from homes south of Everett to the jobs here.

ST3, the package of taxes passed by the transportation district’s voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties in 2016, outlined a general route that would bring light rail to Everett as the northern terminus for the system, but one that specifically included the Southwest Everett Industrial Center as paramount for service before its last stop at downtown’s Everett Transit Station.

That’s why Somers, Franklin and Frizzell were unanimous in recently rejecting further work by Sound Transit to formally include detailed study of route changes that would have dropped stations and a route that included the manufacturing area and airport, instead considering routes along Highway 99 or Interstate 5 as part of the transit agency’s early work of considering track alignment and potential stations. The apparent advantage — though made without guarantees — is that such a realignment would cost less and could bring light rail to Everett sooner.

In June, those considerations were presented to an expanded group of local officials — the elected leadership group — for further discussion. That group last week voted to reject both alternate routes from further study. In July, without apparent direction from the larger group or the three local board members, Sound Transit planners indicated at a July board meeting they were beginning work on study of the alternative routes at a full board meeting in July.

When informed of the study of alternate routes, “that was a surprise,” Franklin said this week, because it wasn’t part of the route alignment that had been proposed to voters in 2016.

A significant realignment of plans from what voters approved, Franklin said, is reason enough in itself to stop that train of thought. But a deeper look at what would be lost in bypassing Paine Field and its jobs with little benefit possible from either alternative route should permanently derail further study.

“We look at alternatives all the time. We look at station locations and moving the line. But those types of alternatives are moving it a couple of blocks one way or the other,” Franklin said. “This is like saying, ‘Hey, let’s just not go to Ballard or Queen Anne,” light rail spurs that will serve Seattle neighborhoods.

In building a light rail system that serves Everett fully, the line must include the city’s southwest region, just by force of sheer numbers alone. Right now that number is 40,000 jobs in the industrial area, largely Boeing jobs, but also other aerospace businesses and those reliant on the airport, include FedEx. Boeing accounts for about 30,000 of those jobs, according to figures from Paine Field, but it also includes significant employment at other aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses and new players in the aviation industry, such as those developing electric-powered aircraft, such as magniX and Eviation.

“It’s the largest job center on the entire Sound Transit alignment,” Franklin said. “If we don’t serve that job center, what we’re doing is prioritizing job centers to the south over the largest manufacturing center in the state. … Why would we do that to our city?”

A reduced cost for the overall project or an earlier arrival — with no guarantee that either would happen — isn’t enough to justify avoiding the jobs — and commuters there. Currently, Link is scheduled to arrive at Paine Field by 2038 and Everett Station by 2042.

What would be lost, Franklin said, is about $1 billion in investment in south Everett, an area that has lacked such investment for decades.

As well, realignments along I-5 or Highway 99 would mean at least two fewer stations along the Everett line, a further loss for a community that Link was expected to serve and one that is reliant on transit services and the economic growth that the light rail system should generate.

Concerns about possible gentrification along the route, which might squeeze out existing low-income housing, particularly along Casino Road, are legitimate, but can be addressed by placing the route more closely along Highway 526. Franklin said the city and Sound Transit have time to plan that route.

Nor are opportunities gained by the alternate routes for future transit-oriented residential and commercial development, in particular along I-5, where there are no realistic options for stations and the development that would grow around them.

“We should be advocating for more stations, not fewer,” Franklin said.

The timeline for light rail’s arrival in Everett might seem far enough off not to raise concerns about plans and alternatives now, but bad ideas have a way of laying foundations that can be difficult to change. The local representatives advising Sound Transit decisions are right to derail any bad ideas now.

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