by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board
With 81 days until the opening of Sound Transit LINK Light Rail, here is the third of my posts on the long road we’ve traveled.
The first meeting of the eighteen member Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Board took place in September, 1993. I remember very well taking my seat at the table amidst much excitement and high expectations (I am the last of the original RTA Boardmembers still on the Board). King County Councilman Bruce Laing (R-6th) was elected the first RTA Board Chair. A former Hearing Examiner, Bruce was known to all as the epitome of the “honest broker”.
Following the 1988 Advisory Ballot and through the planning process (JRPC) a core of Metro staff formed the backbone of the effort. With the creation of a new, independent government it was time to expand and hire “permanent” staff to conduct the environmental and engineering work necessary to place a measure on the ballot (the State legislation contained a number of requirements to be met prior to going to the ballot, including engaging an “Expert Review Panel”).
The first hire was to be an Executive Director. The RTA Board chose Tom Matoff (former General Manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit Agency) because of his experience in developing Sacramento’s initial light rail project. Tom was a true believer in light rail and felt that a successful, inexpensive start would pave the way for future extensions, earlier rather than later. This came into conflict with the aspirations of many Boardmembers, particularly those from the outermost parts of the three county district who wanted any plan to include them (this turned out to be quite a drama later).
The emotions were high, the debate heated, but in just over a year (on October 28, 1994) the RTA Board adopted a $ 6.7 billion, phase 1 (based on the JRPC Plan) rail and bus proposal to send to the ballot. The three County Councils were required to vote on whether to continue as part of the RTA and therefore send it to the ballot. After weeks of hearings the three Councils all voted affirmatively in December. The region’s voters would soon be deciding on a Mass Transit plan – for the first time in 25 years!