Last week, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) Executive Board turned their attention to Sound Transit’s decennial update to the Long Range Plan (LRP). The board expressed surprising unanimity for getting a Sound Transit 3 funding package on the ballot in 2016, but was aware of the significant obstacles to such a commonsense effort.
A presentation by ST staff opened the conversation with scientific surveys outlining overwhelming public eagerness for additional bus and rail system expansion within the ST district. Staff then informed the PSRC (and the Sound Transit Board later in the day) of additional study corridors following the LRP comment period. These options included new HCT study corridors in Pierce County, a commitment to examine a Sand Point Crossing in North King subarea, a rail extension from Issaquah to Issaquah Highlands, and some additional bus corridors throughout the region.
Because increased authority for new Sound Transit projects requires legislative approval, our rapidly growing region may find itself politically blocked in Olympia. For various reasons, unity of city and county leaders in the region is essential to getting ST3 on the ballot in 2016, but might not be sufficient. To vote on and grow our system beyond the 50 miles of Link already funded, it may take private citizens from both dense and less dense parts of the region to make this a reality.
Unanimity & Leadership
After the presentation, nearly every board member expressed great enthusiasm for ST3, led by King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine. Noting the legislature’s other challenges such as education and mental health funding, Constantine noted, “This is yet another one of those issues where we are turning to the legislature and saying that ‘we know that you have problems, but simply give us the tools so that we can keep our region moving forward, and the prosperity that we are able to create here will help you solve your statewide problems.’ If we want to get to a ballot in 2016, as many of the board members do, we need to start moving right now.”
Other members echoed this sentiment, from Tacoma to Everett to Issaquah. Snohomish County leaders such as Commissioner Dave Somers and Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland leaned heavily on the need to connect Paine Field along a future Lynnwood to Everett Link line, noting 300 advanced manufacturers were demanding as much. “It’s very important … as it relates to business retention growth and the health of Snohomish County.”
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tacoma was perhaps most emphatic: “We have to get something out of them that will give us the authority to ask our residents to pay for ST3. [Tacoma and Pierce County] really really need this probably more than any other urban area in the entire region.”
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy noted that the Sound Transit board has been after this for quite a while (after some prodding by groups like Seattle Subway and discussion on STB). “A few years ago when we had a board retreat we basically said ‘put the pedal to the metal.’ We need to do this and we need to move fast and we need to set the stage for a 2016 election cycle. It’s an aggressive plan, and we are really going to need all hands on deck.”
Getting to a Yes in 2016
2016 will be a huge transit year! U-Link will open at the beginning of the year (early and under budget), followed by 1.6 miles of track south to Angle Lake later in the year. Over 20,000 new riders will be able to get between downtown and the UW in 6-7 minutes. The speed and reliability will make everyone ask “Why don’t we have more of this?”
But now, there are legislative challenges. Mill Creek City Councilmember Mike Todd wisely stated “When we each are talking to our legislators…we must be in lockstep. When they ask us ‘why do you want authorization for ST3?’ we need to all have the same answer. We all need to be buddy buddy enough to say the same words.”
That alone is essential, but still might not be enough. We also need to build constituent pressure on our representatives and senators from lower density areas, to show them that keeping our transit alternatives across the metro region affects them, too. If there are STB readers from the Federal Way, Tacoma, Kirkland, Redmond, and Everett areas that want to make a difference on this issue and make it matter to all our county delegations, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ST3 needs to happen in 2016. Our municipal leaders are united, but mobilizing the grassroots may be what it takes to help the Puget Sound—and the state—be ready for the future.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick summed up the PSRC meeting by noting, “When I get out and around the Paine Field area, the community has asked me there more than a few times ‘Will we see light rail in Paine Field area in our lifetime.’ Of course the question then is ‘How long are you going to live?’”
It was a laugh line in the meeting, but it is not the answer if we get a vote in 2016. Letting the people speak and say “yes” in 2016 will mean rail to Everett in the upcoming two decades.
The Timeline Ahead
- Ongoing: ST Staff is engaging the legislature on ST3 authorization.
- October 30, 2014: The ST board reviews proposed changes to the Long Range plan at an October 30th workshop (1:30 pm, Union Station).
- November 2014: Staff finalizes documents in November for final board approval
- December 2014: ST Board finalizes LRP and decides whether to proceed with the system planning effort, which would outline what would go forward on the ballot.
- January – February 2015: Legislative Long Session. First opportunity for ST3 authorizing package to be passed for 2016
- January 2016: Legislative Short Session. Last opportunity for ST3 authorizing package to be passed for 2016 (assuming no special session called by the governor for a transportation package)
- June 2016: System Plan Complete if authorized by Board in December 2014
- November 2016: Vote Yes on ST3 (if legislative authority granted and ST board places on ballot)