Sound Transit board adopts plan for regional light rail expansions

The Sound Transit Board yesterday unanimously adopted a $10.8 billion Sound Transit 2 Plan that proposes 50 new miles of light rail as well as improvements to commuter rail facilities and express bus services. The plan now heads to voters in November as part of the Roads & Transit ballot measure.

Board members signed the Sound Transit 2 Plan resolution Thursday afternoon atop the light rail tracks that Sound Transit installed inside the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. The backdrop of a new light rail train offered a glimpse of the system that will give the region its first taste of modern mass transit starting in 2009. As promised, Sound Transit is wrapping up the retrofit of the tunnel in time for it to reopen to buses in September.

The plan will now go to voters in November alongside the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) package that is on track for completion in June. Beginning last summer Sound Transit and RTID undertook an extensive public involvement effort to shape the Roads & Transit package, holding meetings around the region and generating more than 8,000 public comments.

Sound Transit 2′’s light rail expansions build on the light rail in Sound Transit’’s first phase, including the line between downtown Seattle and the airport that will open in 2009; the University of Washington extension that Sound Transit is working to start building as soon as 2008; and the Tacoma Link system that is operating today.

The Sound Transit 2 Plan adds service northward from the University of Washington to Northgate, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and the 164th Street/Ash Way area of Snohomish County. To the south the system would extend through Des Moines, Federal Way and Fife to the Tacoma Dome, connecting with the existing Tacoma Link light rail system. A long-awaited light rail extension across Lake Washington would serve Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake/Microsoft area.

The light rail expansions will add new capacity to the region’s busiest corridors as our population increases, operating 20 hours a day, with service every few minutes during peak times. Stations on the line will act as transit hubs where buses feed riders onto the rail system and past traffic jams.

Also yesterday, the Puget Sound Regional Council formally voiced its option that Sound Transit 2 is concurrent with Vision 2020, the regional growth plan, and Destination 2030, the regional long-term transportation plan.

The plan would be financed through a regional sales tax increase of 0.5 percent, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase. In addition to light rail expansions, the Sound Transit 2 Plan’s approximately $10.8 billion (2006$) package of capital investments also increases access to the regional transit system by doing the following:

  • Adding parking and other enhancements at Sounder commuter rail and ST Express bus facilities. The plan includes improvements to the bus rapid transit system on I-405 and funding for a planning study on more I-405 bus rapid transit improvements as part of a future phase
  • Building a new streetcar in Downtown Seattle connecting the International District, First Hill and Capitol Hill areas; prioritizes extending light rail from Redmond’’s Overlake/Microsoft area all the way into downtown Redmond, subject to securing additional funding or cost savings. The plan provides up-front funding for planning, engineering and strategic property acquisition for this extension
  • Preparing for potential transit extensions in future phases by providing funds for planning studies, including: 164th Street/Ash Way to Everett; Bellevue to Issaquah; University of Washington to Redmond across SR 520; University of Washington/Ballard/Downtown Seattle; Downtown Seattle/West Seattle/Burien; Burien to Renton; and the Eastside’’s BNSF corridor.
  • Authorizing a potential extension of Sounder commuter rail service to Thurston County if funding is provided by partners outside the Sound Transit District and/or a future annexation expanding the district.

In addition to capital projects totaling $10.8 billion in 2006 dollars, the Sound Transit 2 plan also funds operations and maintenance of the system expansions (approximately $1.5 billion in 2006 dollars through 2027), including funding for increasing service on existing ST Express bus routes while the light rail system expands. Information on the Sound Transit 2 projects is available at soundtransit.org/st2.