Sound Transit ballot proposal includes light rail to Tacoma

The Sound Transit Board April 26 completed its list of proposed projects for expanding the regional mass transit system. If the Roads & Transit ballot measure passes in November, the Sound Transit 2 package will build 50 new miles of light rail, improve commuter rail facilities and expand express bus service. It responds to rising congestion by adding fast, reliable and high-capacity service on the region’s busiest travel corridors.

The Sound Transit 2 package will go to voters in November alongside the Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID) projects that are on track for finalization in June.

Since last summer Sound Transit and RTID have engaged in an extensive public involvement effort to finalize the Roads & Transit package, holding meetings around the region and generating more than 8,000 public comments.

The package proposes expansions that would create a regional system stretching 70 miles. The expansions build on the light rail segments in Sound Transit’s first phase, including the line between downtown Seattle and the airport that will open in 2009 and the University Link project that Sound Transit plans to start building as soon as the end of next year.

The Sound Transit 2 package adds service northward from the University of Washington to 164th Street/Ash Way via Northgate, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. 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 Microsoft and Overlake Transit Center areas, and Downtown Redmond if sufficient funds are available.

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

The package would ease pressures on the region’s road network by increasing the number of people who use the regional transit system every day to an estimated 351,000 by 2030, or more than 100 million a year. The light rail expansions offer extensive capacity for meeting the region’s long-term needs, since the frequency and length of trains can increase to keep pace with population growth.

Following Thursday’s unanimous Sound Transit Board action completing the Sound Transit 2 project list, the Board is scheduled to approve the final plan documents at its May 24 meeting. This summer the Board will adopt the ballot measure that is submitted to regional election authorities.

The package would be financed through a regional sales tax increase of 0.5 percent, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase. In addition to the light rail expansions, the Sound Transit 2 plan’s approximately $10.9 billion (2006$) package of capital investments also:

— Increases access to the regional transit system by 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 as well as funding for a planning study on further I-405 bus rapid transit improvements as part of a future phase.

— Builds a new streetcar in Downtown Seattle connecting the International District, First Hill and Capitol Hill areas.

— Prioritizes extending light rail all the way into downtown Redmond, subject to securing additional funding or cost savings. The package provides up-front funding for planning, engineering and strategic property acquisition for this extension.

— Prepares for potential high-capacity 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 BNSF corridor in East King County.

— Authorizes 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.

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 . Information on the proposed Roads & Transit projects are available at .