There are a lot of opinions about what Sound Transit should do in Snohomish County, and (in our comment threads) precious few of those opinions come from there. To rectify that, I chatted with Sound Transit Boardmember, and Everett Councilmember, Paul Roberts for his perspective of what is desirable and feasible in that subarea. This is Part 2 of 2. (Part I)
Mr. Roberts is a self-described “recovering planner” who has served in numerous transportation and environmental advisory positions, and almost two decades as Director of Everett’s Department of Planning and Community Development, before “failing at retirement” by doing some consulting and serving in elected office.
It’s well-understood that only dense land use can fully utilize the capacity of rail. As a City Councilmember, what are you prepared to do to make it happen in Everett?
We’ve already done a lot of Transit Oriented Development along the Swift line. That’s the same thing we’d have to do for Link. It’s critical, and I’ve long been a supporter.
Our analysis suggests that the proposed $15 billion ST3 package won’t really be enough to get to Everett via I-5, much less via Paine Field. What compromises do you support to resolve this dilemma?
First, it’s too early yet to know what those pieces look like. But we still have to do system- and project-level studies. We don’t yet know what those costs will be.
Second, we have to think as a region. We have significant manufacturing capacity that drives the State of Washington. The real priority we have to look at is completing the spine to Tacoma, Everett, and Redmond. We have other providers — CT, ET, KCM — that have to be part of the integrated system.
Third, we also need to look at how to right-size the system to bias building more miles of track as opposed to larger stations or some of the other infrastructure pieces that can more easily be added later. The stations don’t have to be overbuilt to have impact. But they do have to function properly! There’s a difference between spending huge amounts of money on the station and spending the right amount of money to make that station work in terms of access. And those are relatively low-tech urban design solutions! Sound Transit shouldn’t dictate that design, but I do think we should work with the communities. Communities have to take the lead and frankly, the responsibility. In other words, Sound Transit can’t be funding a lot of that, but we should be supportive of it.
I’m on the record as advocating different funding mechanisms. Tax-increment financing (TIF) is used in almost every other state and captures some of the value created by the line. It’s a concept that’s overdue [Washington law does not allow TIF].
Your second point sounds like a swipe at subarea equity. If the emphasis is building out the spine, there’s taxing capacity in North and East King that is presumably going to very high-ridership but non-spine lines. Are you suggesting that those projects should be subordinated to completing the spine?
I don’t know the answer to that yet. The important question is, what are the key elements that the region needs? It’s what the region needs and what we’re all trying to do, not what my subarea needs. We have to look at a broader picture, and I don’t think that discussion is yet ripe. But it’s a fair question.
One of the big expenditures at stations is Park-and-Rides. Do you see a lot, a little, or no agency-funded parking at all at stations as we move up the spine?
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all model. I also think it opens up the opportunity for other funding mechanisms. At the ends of the system, there are clearly people who aren’t in the taxing district coming in to use that capacity. I’ve asked for us to look at other funding mechanisms like Local Improvement Districts that allow us to bridge outside the taxing district to allow us to build that capacity. We have to get creative; there’s just no question about it, and we haven’t begun. It’s time to begin that conversation.
Do you favor Paine Field as a commercial airport, and does that affect the case for light rail to serve it?
I’ve been a strong proponent of it, but let me put it in context. People have strong feelings about this, but the proposal is a 2-gate commercial terminal roughly the size of East Wenatchee. This is a tempest in a teapot: the maximum throughput capacity of those gates is less than 5% of the aviation capacity at Paine Field, which today runs at 40% capacity. I don’t think there’s a market beyond that, and multiple studies agree.
The proposal on the table, now in federal court, is a small portal into the nation’s air system. It’s very important from an economic development point of view, but not an air operations point of view. This is not about a Sound Transit 3 connection to Paine Field for commercial service.
Lastly, many people criticize North Sounder as being relatively unproductive, unreliable, and possibly unsafe due to mudslide risk. As a defender of Sounder North, how do you respond?
It’s part of what we felt was important to build our connections up here in ST 1 and 2. But I like to think of myself as a realistic defender: we know there are problems and challenges with that system. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. We’re asking ourselves “how can we do a better job of providing more reliable service,” including prospectively cancelling service because we can see weather patterns.
It is an expensive system, and we need to continue conversations between the cities of Everett, Mukilteo, and Edmonds about how to make that system work. Those are future conversations; they’re not ripe today, but it’s part of the conversation for ST3.
Thanks for your time. This was an interesting talk and I learned a lot.
Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate your interest in it!