by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board
With about three months to go before it opens, this is the second installment of my recollections on the long road travelled to build our Sound Transit Light Rail line.
After the November 1988 Advisory Ballot victory, it became clear that the public (at least 70% of them) were far ahead of the politicians in envisioning light rail mass transit. The issue was taken up in the Metro Council (in its Planning Committee). Metro, then known as “Seattle Metro”, was a separate government until 1993. Its federated Council included a variety of local elected and appointed officials who oversaw the bus and wastewater treatment systems in King County.
Initially the issue was popular with Democrats and Republicans on the Metro Council. Republicans like Bruce Laing, Lois North and Paul Barden (along with local officials like Seattle Councilman Paul Kraabel and Mercer Island Mayor Fred Jarrett) joined Democrats Cynthia Sullivan and me in advocating for mass transit (some Eastside elected officials were reluctant to use the words “Light” and “Rail” in the same sentence even after the vote). About this time the idea of using Burlington Northern tracks for commuter rail was gaining traction as well.
It became clear fairly early that the planning needed to expand beyond just King County.
Fortunately there also were champions in the legislature like House Transportation Chair Ruth Fisher (and later Representative Ed Murray). State funding was secured to study the concept (I’m not kidding, State funding). In 1990 a body called the Joint Regional Policy Committee (I was a member of the JRPC) was established to expand the work from King County to Pierce and Snohomish and the legislation included local taxing options to pay for building a system. Between August of 1990 and July of 1993, a $13.2 billion Regional Transit Plan was developed and legislation authorizing creation of a Regional Transit Authority was passed in Olympia. In July of 1993, the three County Councils voted to join the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority to advance the plan. And thus Sound Transit was born.
The mayor’s previous post: Counting Down to Link