Sound Transit shouldn’t rush a plan onto ballot

The need to continue improving our region’s transit systems is urgent. In choosing the next major steps, however, haste mustn’t trump good judgment.

The Sound Transit board voted Thursday to launch a public feedback process that could lead to putting a new package of projects before voters this November. Preliminary plans are scaled back from the roads and transit measure that voters rejected last fall, and neither of two 12-year proposals put forward would extend light rail into Snohomish County. (Last year’s proposal would have brought it north to 164th St. SW and I-5 by 2027.)

For a sales tax increase of 0.4 or 0.5 cents on the dollar, Snohomish County would see increased express bus service into King County, Park &Ride expansion and perhaps an investment in a commuter rail corridor that has been proposed between Snohomish and Renton.

Paul Roberts, an Everett City Council member and one of Snohomish County’s three representatives on the Sound Transit board, cast the lone vote Thursday against moving ahead. Far too many questions have yet to be answered about the next phase of transit construction, he said. He’s absolutely right.

For instance:

n If the board punts on extending light rail into Snohomish County, how much further off does that push the promise of bringing it to Lynnwood, let alone Everett? Will today’s twenty-somethings be retired before they can take light rail from Everett to Seattle?

n Expanding existing Park &Ride facilities along I-5 in Snohomish County is premature without first addressing congestion problems along the east-west corridors of 128th, 164th and 196th streets.

n Express buses depend on smooth-running HOV lanes to stay on schedule. Roberts points out that the state is currently studying HOV use and new recommendations could come next year. It’s prudent to wait for them.

Proponents of a 2008 vote may believe the large voter turnout expected because of the presidential race works in favor of approval. But the sagging economy doesn’t. Another rejection, just one year after the last, could be politically devastating for Sound Transit.

A vote in 2010, on the other hand, allows time to develop a plan that better connects the region. It also would take place after the 2009 launch of Central Link light rail between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport, which should serve to bolster voter confidence. And after two more years of high gasoline prices, public demand for transit may be greater than ever.

The plan for how to proceed with regional transit isn’t ready. It shouldn’t be taken to voters until it is.

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