The most common reaction I’ve seen, here and elsewhere, to Sound Transit’s plans for East Link light rail is:
“Why wouldn’t they go all the way to Microsoft?”
So, for the answer: They can’t right now, and it’s not really a choice for them because of subarea equity.
You may have heard of this, but for those who aren’t entirely clear on it, let me explain. Subarea equity is part of the state law that created Sound Transit. It requires that Sound Transit collect the same level of taxes in each subarea (of which there are five), and spend the money collected in a given subarea in that same subarea.
It’s a very good thing – Pierce and Snohomish portions of the Sound Transit district wouldn’t vote for their packages if they weren’t assured money collected there would be spent there!
The downside, and the reason Sound Transit can’t “just build to Microsoft,” is simple. If they got more money from the East King subarea, as in, collected a higher tax in that subarea to build that project, they would also have to collect a higher tax in every other subarea. We already know where that goes – post-election polling showed that Proposition 1 failed primarily due to its size. Sound Transit is also prohibited by state law from putting an identical measure (I suspect even one too close) to what they last submitted on the ballot, so changing things really is necessary.
So, before we get all riled up about Sound Transit building to the hospital, let’s step back. Do we want the agency to fail at the ballot again? No, so it can’t be so big that people kill it. Do we want light rail to Microsoft, ever? Yes, and it’s trivial to build an extension the next time around. We’re at least ten years out from opening East Link, so we can probably do it in the meantime – but if we don’t have an East Link to extend, what will we get? Nothing at all.
PS: With a new 520 bridge, there will be HOV lanes the whole way from I-5 to Microsoft. 60-minute 545 commutes will be a thing of the past long before East Link would open anyway.