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City Council backs Proposition 1

The City Council unanimously concluded Oct. 16 that the road improvements planned in Federal Way are too valuable to risk opposing the region’s Proposition 1 measure.

A public hearing and informational presentation by Sound Transit representative Andrew Schmid and Regional Transportation Investment District representative Jim Waldo was held prior to the council’s decision.

The council members, with the exception of Jack Dovey, who was out of town, agreed Federal Way had too much to lose if the measure failed.

While some of the council members did not hesitate to support the Roads and Transit plan, other members, before they too endorsed the plan, scrutinized its benefits and urged Federal Way voters to carefully evaluate the cost of the measure before making a decision for or against it.

“(Federal Way residents) are getting a great value, but it’s a great cost,” council member Linda Kochmar said.

The “triangle,” where Interstate 5, State Route 18 and State Route 161 converge, is important to Federal Way and is needed for its residents’ safety and the city’s growth, Kochmar said. The city has rallied for the funding to make improvements to the area for more than seven years. Now, a chance to fix the problems has surfaced in Proposition 1.

“Federal Way is getting a lot out of this,” council member Eric Faison said.

If the measure is approved, light rail would run through Federal Way, most likely alongside Pacific Highway South or Interstate 5, Schmid said. The service would allow residents to travel from their hometown north to Seattle or south to Tacoma in 20 minutes, he said. A train would run every six to 10 minutes, nearly 24 hours a day, Schmid said.

Council member Jeanne Burbidge questioned the ability of light rail to transport a significant number of people. At maximum capacity, a four-car light-rail train can carry about 12,000 people per hour, Schmid said. In a region facing increasing traffic, light rail would be reliable and beneficial, he said.

“The one thing that remains constant is the people-moving ability of light rail,” Schmid said.

Side effects

Though nobody argued the benefits of the system, its effects on local businesses as well as its costs along with road improvements were debated.

Sound Transit wishes to see three light-rail stations placed in Federal Way, Schmid said. Those may be placed along Interstate 5 or Pacific Highway South.

Scott Hogue, Pacific Coast Ford General Manager, expressed his fear that construction of raised light-rail stations, as opposed to ground-level stations, would harm businesses along Pacific Highway South by deterring customers.

Furthermore, Hogue questioned the methods Sound Transit and the RTID used to calculate a yearly median cost — approximately $150 — each household in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties will pay in sales taxes to fund the Roads and Transit plan.

A sales tax increase of six-tenths of 1 percent, or 6 cents per every $10 spent on retail purchases, will be seen by residents in the Sound Transit and RTID districts, with the exception of areas of Snohomish County, which are outside the Sound Transit district and will have a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase applied to retail purchases.

An eight-tenths percent ($80 per each $10,000 of a vehicle’s value) rise in car tabs, also known as motor vehicle excise taxes, will be seen by residents in the RTID district as well.

Using these percentages and citing information provided by Jim MacIsaac, a Bellevue transportation engineer who has been involved in Puget Sound transportation projects since 1965, Hogue informed the City Council that according to MacIsaac’s figures, each household will pay an annual total of more than $1,800 in sales and vehicle excise taxes by 2057, when the last bonds for the light-rail system are due to be paid in full.

Council members had mixed reactions to the statement. The public needs to realize what 0.6 percent and 0.8 percent taxes really mean, then make their own decision on the issue, Kochmar said.

“I’m concerned about pricing people out of their homes,” she said.

Mayor Michael Park questioned the reliability of Sound Transit and the RTID’s estimations of inflation costs over the 20-year building period. The inflation rate used for projected construction costs in King County was 3.5 percent, Waldo said. This figure seems too low, Park said.

Investment in the future

Despite Kochmar and Park’s uncertainties of Proposition 1’s expenses, both ultimately supported the measure. The plan is an investment in the region’s future and is worth the $18 billion in 2006 dollars and $47 billion in 2057 dollars, Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell said.

“It is expensive — of course it’s expensive — but anything worthwhile is,” Ferrell said.

Waldo warned the City Council and audience that traffic congestion is not getting any better in the Puget Sound area, and for each year the region waits to address the problem, it will cost an additional $200 million to $300 million to carry out a plan similar to what is being proposed now.

If Proposition 1 is not approved, the Legislature will extinguish the Regional Transportation Investment District, which was formed to establish a comprehensive solution to the traffic congestion, Waldo said.

The improvements need to happen now, said Bob Hitchcock of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

“If not this, then what? If not now, then when? If not us, then who?” Faison questioned.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

In an Aug. 30, 2007, table titled “Roads and Transit Annual Tax Collections,” found at www.bettertransport.info/pitf/JimExplainsTheProp1Taxes.htm, Jim MacIsaac explains his cost projections for Proposition 1.

To learn more about Proposition 1 visit these Web sites:

www.roadsandtransit.org: a site jointly maintained by the RTID planning committee and Sound Transit

http://yesonroadsandtransit.org: Roads and Transit plan campaign site

www.rtid.org/aboutrtid.html: Regional Transportation Investment District planning committee site

www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/sr18sr161ic/: Washington State Department of Transportation Triangle project site

www.soundtransit.org/: Sound Transit site

http://notoprop1.org/: Opposition to the Roads and Transit plan

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