by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board
With just over ten weeks until Sound Transit Light Rail opens, this is my fourth installment on how we got here.
After the three County Councils agreed to place the RTA plan on the ballot, the RTA’s first actual service began on January 28, 1995. Called TRY Rail, this demonstration of commuter rail service carried passengers between Tacoma and Seattle for a few weeks and then between Everett and Seattle. In total, 35,000 passengers rode TRY Rail. Commuter rail was one of the elements of the ballot measure.
The first vote to decide Mass Transit for King County in 25 years (and the first ever for Pierce and Snohomish Counties) was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 Special Election. In addition to commuter rail, the plan contained a mostly surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood (actually 164th St SW) and east across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond.
The campaign in favor was called “Citizens for Sound Transit,” and the opponents, “Families Against Congestion and Taxes.” Early polls looked favorable with some 60% of respondents likely to vote yes. According to the Pro campaign FAQ:
There are basically two opponents: Ed Hansen, the Mayor of Everett and Kemper Freeman, Jr., a Bellevue developer. Mayor Hansen opposes this project because it doesn’t include light rail to Everett – in other words, it’s not enough. Freeman opposes this plan because he thinks it’s too much.
The campaign was nasty and the proponents often found themselves on the defensive, responding to FACT’s charges that the ($6,700,000,000) cost was too high (compared with buses and freeways), the ridership numbers inflated and it would not put a dent in congestion.
Despite carrying King County 50.3% to 49.7%, getting 61.7% in Seattle and winning in Lake Forest Park and Mercer Island, the measure got only 42.8% in Bellevue, lost Pierce County and did so poorly in Snohomish County (especially Everett) that Prohibition looked popular in comparison. It went down RTA district-wide 46.5% yes to 53.3% no. The region rejected mass transit. History repeated itself – mass transit was once again treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political roadkill. It looked like another dead end for rail transit.