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Proposition 1: Light rail in Federal Way faces voter approval

Link light rail, bus service and Sounder commuter trains will traverse the region from Everett to Tacoma within the next 15 years if King, Pierce and Snohomish county voters pass this year’s Proposition One — Sound Transit 2 — traffic decongestant measure.  - Map courtesy of Sound Transit
Link light rail, bus service and Sounder commuter trains will traverse the region from Everett to Tacoma within the next 15 years if King, Pierce and Snohomish county voters pass this year’s Proposition One — Sound Transit 2 — traffic decongestant measure.
— image credit: Map courtesy of Sound Transit

For the second consecutive year, voters will see a measure aimed at traffic decongestion on the general election ballot.

This year’s Sound Transit 2 (ST2) proposal will be reflected on the ballot under the heading Proposition 1. But unlike last year’s Roads and Transit measure, Prop. 1 will include transit only and come at a smaller price.

“The whole idea of what is on the ballot this November compared to one year ago is, what we have, is a totally different animal,” Sound Transit spokeswoman Linda Robson said. “One-half of the projects and one-half of the costs are eliminated.”

Expanded light and commuter rail, as well as bus services, will be offered through a 15-year construction plan, starting in 2009. ST2 will cost King, Pierce and Snohomish county residents a total of $17.8 billion, including inflation, maintenance and debt service, among other costs.

“The feedback that we got from voters on the 2007 package was it was just too big and too costly,” Robson said. “This package responds to that criticism.”

Impact on Federal Way

One significant difference between this and last year’s proposal, in terms of services offered to Federal Way residents, is a guaranteed expansion of link light rail to Highline Community College by 2020, and South 272nd Street by 2023.

Light rail will reach Federal Way’s borders five years earlier than previously planned if voters approve the measure. In all, 36 miles of new link light rail will extend north to Lynnwood, east to Redmond and south to Federal Way. Service stations will be constructed at South 200th Street, Highline Community College and the Redondo/Star Lake area. Ridership of the rail line by 2030 is expected to approach 286,000, according to the “Sound Transit 2: Mass Transit Guide” mailed to voters this week.

Bringing light rail to Federal Way was a move the city council strongly encouraged following the failure of last year’s measure.

In April, Sound Transit’s board of directors was considering two packages to offer voters. Neither included link light rail to Federal Way.

The council responded by passing a resolution urging Sound Transit to consider a package that connects all urban centers from just north of Lynnwood to Tacoma with a construction phase possibly lasting longer than 12 years and the public paying for the project with a 0.5 percent sales tax increase.

“As members of this city council, we are standing up and saying ‘if you are going to do it, do it right,’” city council member Jim Ferrell said at the time.

ST2 will offer more than just light rail. Another notable difference residents will see is an increase in bus services. An additional 100,000 hours and a 30 percent increase on the the region’s busiest routes will be implemented, according to the transit guide. Sound Transit Express bus service will expand beginning in 2009. Currently, three ST Express routes serve Federal Way. It has not been determined yet if expansion of the Express bus service will occur in Federal Way, Robson said.

Between the light rail extension as well as increase in bus fleet and routes and commuter trains, which will not service Federal Way, the transit package will offer widespread benefits, she said.

“The vast majority of the population and job centers will be within easy reach of the transit network,” Robson said.

Costs:

A 0.5 percent sales tax increase, equivalent to about $69 per year per adult, will fund the measure, Robson said. A little more than half of Sound Transit 2’s capital costs will be funded through grants and cash revenues, according to the transit guide. Long-term bonds, lasting the duration of the construction period, and approximately $895 million in federal matching grants, will also pay for the transit improvements, according to the guide.

“What it means on the citizen’s side is half a penny more on the sales tax,” Robson said. “We’ll let the readers make up their minds if they think that is something affordable or not.”

Drawbacks:

Proposition 1 offers residents alternatives to driving, but unlike last year’s measure, it will leave Federal Way leaders still struggling to fund long-standing and much-needed road improvements, primarily to the “triangle” project. This is the interchange at which State Route 18, State Route 161 and Interstate 5 converge.

To date, $112 million has been set aside for the project, slated to be completed in phases and started in 2010, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation Web site, www.wsdot.wa.gov. An additional $120 million would have been garnered to fully fund the road improvements, had the 2007 measure passed. No new sources of funding have been identified since that time, according to the Web site.

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2007 vs. 2008

Here are some key differences between last year’s proposal and this year’s measure

Link light rail:

• 2007: Light rail would have reached as far south as Tacoma by 2027.

• 2008: Light rail will reach as far south as South 272nd Street by 2023.

Bus services:

• 2007: Additions of new park and ride spots and increases in regional express bus service was offered.

• 2008: Service will be increased up to 30 percent on the region’s busiest routes. The fleet will be expanded by 60 buses and 100,000 additional service hours will be added.

Roads:

• 2007: A roads and transit combination package was offered to voters.

• 2008: Road improvements are not included in this year’s measure.

Costs:

• 2007: A 0.5 percent sales tax increase would have funded the transit side of the measure and a 0.8 percent motor vehicle excise tax increase would have gone toward the road improvements. The measure would have cost $47 billion, in year-of-expenditure estimates, and $17.8 billion — $7 billion for roads and $10.8 for transit — in 2006 dollars.

• 2008: A 0.5 percent sales tax increase, equivalent to about $69 per year per adult, will fund the measure. No motor vehicle excise tax will be implemented to pay for the proposal.

Completion date:

• 2007: A 20-year construction period was offered to voters.

• 2008: ST2 includes a 15-year construction period.

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