Two big steps toward better transportation

The road to unclogging our region’s traffic jams is still a long one. We’re happy to note, however, that a couple of major roadblocks were cleared last week.

County council members from Snohomish, King and Pierce counties on Friday approved a long list of highway and other road improvements to put before voters in November. Snohomish County would raise $915 million to widen Highways 9 and 522, build new ramps and make other capacity improvements to the U.S. 2 trestle, add new ramps to I-5 in North County and Everett, improve east-west connections between Highway 9 and I-5, and more – many, many new lane miles of progress.

Two of Snohomish County’s five council members – Gary Nelson and John Koster – cast the only votes against the plan. Their objections, which include the way taxing-district boundaries are drawn, meddling by the Legislature, too much money for transit and a feeling the combined transit and road package’s taxes are just too much, aren’t trivial. Still, the package is the product of a welcome regional compromise, and will go a long way toward improving traffic flow throughout Snohomish County. We applaud council members Dave Gossett, Kirke Sievers and Dave Somers for voting in favor of the roads package. Now that their concerns have been registered, we hope Nelson and Koster will support the ordinance to put the package before county voters.

Last week’s other positive step was the announcement of a long-sought deal between Sound Transit and the University of Washington to build a 3-mile light rail tunnel north from downtown Seattle to the UW’s Montlake campus – presuming a pending federal grant of $750 million comes through.

The rail link from Seattle’s Westlake Center to the University District ran into trouble early. The discovery of a boulder field under Portage Bay forced officials to reroute the tunnel, and the link was shortened because of rising costs. UW officials had fought having a major commuter station on campus, and wanted assurances against vibrations and other impediments to scientific research.

The deal announced last Wednesday provides $35 million to the UW for land, easements and design work, and will result in a light-rail stop at Husky Stadium. It’s good news for Snohomish County because it clears a major barrier to moving light rail farther north. If voters approve the transit and roads package in November, light rail will get all the way to 164th Street SW and I-5 within 20 years.

Yes, that’s a long time. Years of neglect have taken a toll on our transportation systems. That’s why every step forward is important.

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