The Sound Transit bills are thick on the ground in Olympia. Josh Feit found this one, and it’s got the Senate Transportation Chair as a sponsor:

The legislation, sponsored by the Democratic contingent from the 22nd Legislative District in Thurston County around Olympia—senator Karen Fraser, D-22, Thurston County, and representatives Chris Reykdal, D-22, Tumwater, and Sam Hunt, D-22, Olympia— would allow Sound Transit to expand its boundaries west so that I-5 corridor cities which are in counties that are “contiguous” to existing ST counties, like Thurston county’s Olympia, could be included in the future if voters wanted.

The bill is SB 5780 and the House version is HB 1921. Aside from the 22nd District, sponsors include Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima), Sen. Randi Becker (R-Yelm), and Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Snohomish).

If I read the text correctly, the ST Board and local councils would have to agree to annex. The new territory would form its own subarea and be taxed at the prevailing rate elsewhere in the district. Although it’s not entirely clear, I believe the only election would be in the annexed territory, not in the ST district as a whole.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal. I have no objection to ST Express or Sounder service to Olympia, and giving state employees a visceral stake in ST is probably wise for the agency’s long-term health. On the other hand, in practice the rail line is quite far from the center city. More fundamentally, a bigger district means annexing a relatively anti-transit electorate, likely raising the hurdle to pass a Sound Transit package.

Josh has lots of quotes about the bill.

77 Replies to “ST District Expansion Bill in Senate”

  1. Time to lobby your representatives for an amendment that specifically grants subareas the right to independently vote for and asses their own projects and tax rates!

      1. I should have made clear (as you did) that independent projects also is a key. Actually I should have just said +1 (since you put it better than I did).

      2. ya, but really what you are advocating for is a situation where less tax adverse subareas like North King can move forward while tax adverse subareas like Sno Co and Peirce can vote “No” on their own local projects and essentially atrophy while Seattle prospers.

        While the regional mantra at ST can get tiresome, I don’t think it is in the best interest of ST or any ST supporters to move towards a system that so completely benefits Seattle without even a tip of the hat to regionalism or the other subareas.

        A better approach would be to grant each subarea the ability to increase their local tax rate above the uniform ST level. I.e., if ST3 passes with a uniform tax rate of X% for all subareas, then each subarea (with a vote of the subarea) could increase that rate by Y%.

        Essentially the regional package would need to pass to allow each subarea the option of going a step beyond.

      3. Another necessary improvement before we add new subareas would allow ST3 to pass or fail on a subregion basis. E.g., if Pierce county votes no, the other subareas can still move forward with their own projects. That way suburban subareas can’t stop Seattle from moving forward on projects it strongly supports. Otherwise, there is a real danger that adding subareas designed to expand Sounder (which I support) would hold back light rail in Seattle (which is much more important).

      4. >> ya, but really what you are advocating for is a situation where less tax adverse subareas like North King can move forward while tax adverse subareas like Sno Co and Peirce can vote “No” on their own local projects and essentially atrophy while Seattle prospers.

        No, that isn’t what I said.

        >> A better approach would be to grant each subarea the ability to increase their local tax rate above the uniform ST level. I.e., if ST3 passes with a uniform tax rate of X% for all subareas, then each subarea (with a vote of the subarea) could increase that rate by Y%.

        That is exactly what we proposed. Just because you allow a subarea the right to draw up their own package doesn’t mean you kill the ability for the entire region to vote on a package. As I said below, Sound Transit makes a lot of sense for a lot of projects. Extending Sound Transit makes sense for similar projects. If the entire region wants to vote for express bus service for the entire region (including Seattle to Olympia bidirectional service) then I think that is a great idea. I would vote for it, and I would assume most of the region would as well.

        But if Seattle then looks at their situation and decides it wants to spend billions and billions on expensive light rail, why should other areas have to come up with billion dollar projects, just to match them? That only makes sense if they all have the same needs. It only makes sense if we are so transit deficient that every area is begging for huge amounts of money to be spent. It is obvious that folks don’t feel that way (and I don’t blame them).

      5. ya, but really what you are advocating for is a situation where less tax adverse subareas like North King can move forward while tax adverse subareas like Sno Co and Peirce can vote “No” on their own local projects and essentially atrophy while Seattle prospers.

        And the problem is?

        If Sno Co doesn’t want to stomach a 0.1% sales tax hike to build light rail the middle of nowhere, maybe they’ll be tolerant of a 0.05% sales tax hike to fund the bus service that is far more appropriate to their subarea’s current and future scale.

      6. Snoho has to take responsibility for its own development and destiny, if it rejects the idea of an über-powerful transit authority like Vancouver that can impose a transit-best-practices network everywhere. If Seattle/Bellevue continue running ahead of Snoho (which they’re already doing, and Boeing is about the only thing helping Snoho keep up partially), then Snoho needs to decide what it must do to remain competitive, and then fund it. Lynnwood and Marysville already have master plans that densify their downtowns and Swift station areas and envision better transit routes, they just need to do it. And the county needs to fund appropriate high-capacity transit and Swift lines. So just do it. Tell the Eymans off, show Olympia that the majority of Snohomans wants much better transit and higher transit taxes now. That’s the best way to convince the legislative and city/county obstructionists to get out of the way. And that can be done independently of modifying ST’s structure, and would clear the way for a better discussion on that.

    1. No– that’s going in the wrong direction. The strength of ST is the breadth of its taxing district. As soon as you start carving it up into smaller chunks, you automatically begin to diminish the region’s ability to mobilize for delivering and financing major infrastucture, subarea accounting notwithstanding. (Hint: that’s why Seattle hasn’t been able to build a mass transit system on its own, despite being the state’s largest and richest city.)

      The reality of the ST financial plan is that the agency only “accounts” for expenditures at the subarea level. It actually finances everything — issues bonds and services debt — on a consolidated basis, which gives is great heft and leverage in the marketplace, and thus vast capacity to pay for a 15-year, $15 billion plan like ST2.

      Plus each new increment of taxing requires an independent governing authority, which means subarea-level voting would require independent subarea governance in order to stay on the constitutional side of the one-person/one-vote principle. That is a path toward further balkanization of transit decision-making.

      Lastly, I’d point out that the benefits of rail investments aren’t solely contained within the subarea they’re in. The whole point of an expanding rail system is to create a network of reliable new trip options that don’t exist today. For example, a six-mile Link extension to Ballard with 7-8 stations doesn’t just benefit those station areas. It connects those areas to all the other stations in an expanding system, creating a multiplicity of new trip possibilities throughout the region that arent there now.

      Subareas are an artificial construct that are the wrong measure of how an addition to the system can benefit the whole region.

      Having said all that, adding Thurston seems like a fine idea. I don’t know how many people that is, maybe 150,000? Compared with 2.9 million in the ST district, it’s not a lot. Maybe it owuld generate enough revenue to significantly upgrade bus service to and from the Capitol. I doubt it would be enough to extend Sounder given the engineering challenges.

      1. But letting subareas vote their own projects wouldn’t surrender those advantages. Sound Transit would still exist and issue bonds in its own name; it’d just internally use the money differently (and, perhaps, run smaller issues at each given time.) And the different subareas’ projects would almost certainly still link together into a consolidated system. Because people within each subarea travel between subareas, or between different projects within their own subarea, transfers are still going to be convenient.

      2. “that’s why Seattle hasn’t been able to build a mass transit system on its own, despite being the state’s largest and richest city.”

        No. Seattle is being hindered by legislative tax caps, that allow barely more than the existing service. The variable MVET was taken away in 2000, and that put a hole in Metro’s, ST’s, and the monorail authority’s funding that has never been replaced. The entire reason Seattlites are asking ST to build their city rail lines is that ST has significant transit-tax authority and nobody else does. Otherwise it would just let ST1/2/3 build one trunk line as part of the regional effort, and it would build the other lines themselves (or better, hire ST to build them to Seattle’s specifications).

        The other factor is the monorail diversion. Seattle had a chance to launch additional subway lines, when the legislature was more supportive and the public was clearly ready, but it squandered it in monorail-modeism. The reason many monorail supporters did that was they were afraid light rail would be watered town to all-surface-and-slow as MAX, VTA, San Diego, the MUNI tails, etc, had been. So there’s a simple answer to that: stipulate a minimum quality of 75% grade separation, and 100% downtown. And stick to whatever technology Sound Transit is using to improve interconnectivity/interchangability/economies of scale. Instead the monorail supporters got their authority but had Olympia insert a provision “any fixed-guideway mode except light rail”. That’s what’s biting us now, even if it’s questionably enforceable (since it doesn’t define “light rail”), because Olympia is in no mood to give Seattle other transit-tax authority, because that’s “raising taxes” which is a sin.

        It has nothing to do with Seattle being unwilling to build it or unable to pay for it. There has been opposition in the past but it’s steadily eroding. Ballard and Wallingford are saying, “Do it now, what are you waiting for?” Greenwood and the CD and Lake City and West Seattle are saying, “Hey, what about us? We need faster/more frequent/more reliable transit too, especially to the surrounding neighborhoods.”

    2. I think this idea has some merit. The outlying areas need operations money, the urban areas need capital money. This could allow the tax rates to be set to match what is needed in these areas, without having to create projects to use the money.

  2. There is a rail right of way into the city center that I recall from my time working there. I don’t believe it is an active line, but could it be reactivated?

    1. The lines are circuitous, low speed, freight sidings

      The reason for ST to annex Oly and Lacey is to provide dedicated funding for ST Express, and MAYBE commuter rail. Although commuter rail wouldn’t currently make sense, the incremental cost for extension to Centralia (the next logical terminus), is significantly lower than ST 1

      1. I agree, which is why the subarea equity rules need to be changed before such expansion makes sense. Seattle is willing to spend several billion dollars on underground light rail serving Ballard, Queen Anne, South Lake Union and the Central Area. I can’t imagine a project in Olympia that would be that costly, or even close. But according to the rules, if we proposed spending a bunch of money in one area, we have to spend a bunch in all the other areas.

        On the other hand, express bus service to Olympia from Seattle makes a lot of sense. It should be bidirectional, and run often. Having Sound Transit manage this route would be the most sensible thing to do.

      2. The ROW into the city center is good, potentially fast, but would need total reconstruction of track for passenger service. The line is direct, just very under maintained. It is the old line for downtown Olympia passenger service!

      3. The current line is an active line serving the Port and some industrial plant on the far southwest side of town where it used to connect to the line to Aberdeen. It really wouldn’t need upgrading at all. Currently it takes an hour or more to get between the Olympia Amtrak station and downtown Olympia by bus. A single DMU operating on this line at the 10 mph limit allowed on the absolute worst track currently allowed could beat that. This line looks like it is more in the 25 mph condition range, and the track itself could probably be brought to 40/60 (60 mph for passenger) with a bunch of tie replacement. It’s an expense, but tie replacement is something you can bring tie replacement machines and crew in and have done in a matter of weeks if you need to.

        Unfortunately the line you really need is the one along what is now the Woodland Bike Path between Lacy and Olympia. Unfortunately there is so much suburban sprawl and highway interchange along that it would be impossible to restore service on it today without some major relocation of some expensive highway work and buildings.

      4. The 1-hour-by-bus figure is the result of the specific routing and scheduling decisions, not anything inherently problematic with buses. You could drive the distance in 15-20 minutes. If the will existed to provide express service between Olympia Station and downtown, it could be done relatively cheaply, given that the bus would only need to run as often as the trains it connects with.

      5. Any road route between the two is pretty bad though. The railroad, while winding as well, isn’t quite as convilouted. Best solution with buses from north or south is express from Tacoma or Centralia. One is already provided by Greyhound and the other by IT.

      6. Currently they are low speed, put enough money towards it and that could be fixed (like the DOT is doing with the Lakeview line).

    2. Yes, it would need major upgrades, but their is a line that goes by the old Oly Brewery and heads downtown. It passes the (newer) Fish Brewery and then passes through a tunnel to pass to the other side of town. A station at the Fish Brewery would actually be not to bad of a location.

      Of course it would be cheaper to bus everyone up to Dupont or South Tacoma to catch Sounder, but…..

    3. The ROW into the city center is good, potentially fast, but would need total reconstruction of track for passenger service.

    4. You’re right, Ryan. And the comments below are also true. The single track through Downtown Olympia on Jefferson Street is used occasionally by freight trains, and still has a full set of signals.

      Right now, though, the track itself is in extremely bad condition. Its chief importance would be its right of way right into the heart of the city- breweries, my favorite coffee house, City Hall, and the transit center.

      However, a few blocks toward I-5, this track spurs off the Tacoma Rail mainline as it heads for a tunnel emerging directly along the edge of the Capitol grounds, and crosses Deschutes Parkway on a bridge.

      East of the Nisqually River (counts as northbound on I-5), the track crosses the river Dupont after a straight run from Lakewood- really, exactly Sounder’s present route extended.

      Really difficult part will be getting from the from the Olympia side of the river into Downtown Olympia. Definitely possible, since the freights past the Capitol go through there all the time.

      Apologies for never having seen a map. However, fork from main line is Portland-ward from the Amtrak station in Lacey, being able to stop at same station as Amtrak itself.

      I would definitely be in favor of taking passenger rail into Olympia- as I think passenger trains did at one time. The project would indeed be expensive. But I think a direct downtown to downtown connection with the State capital is worth a very large amount.

      I think this service would be popular with a growing number of people, the especially as Olympia gets larger and younger. My sense of timing is that by the time the engineering study is done, never mind construction, general opinion in Olympia will become increasingly favorable.

      In the meantime, however, we need to get going fast on what the rest of I-5 needs its for its whole length between Olympia and Everett. Olympia to Tacoma is already traffic flooded by 6AM.

      This morning, an accident at Fort Lewis, about fifteen miles north of Olympia, blocked northbound traffic solid. By this morning’s radio reports, blockages are reaching a hundred percent of the work week from both Everett and Lynnwood all the way in.

      It looks like events themselves will create public support for my own shovel-begging political priority on ST Express: let the State argue all the time it wants over HOT lanes- which I’ve always thought were both overcomplicated and risky.

      Since nothing is going to happen soon no matter what, I think transit advocates should start focusing on some serious bus-ways- not a paint stripe, a diamond, cars, vans and motorcycles.

      Spending every weekday morning in a trapped car an hour late for work will be a powerful bunch of PR for people watching buses go by at 70.


      1. I did that roundtrip commute from Seattle to Olympia by car, 2-3 days per week, for a year. JBLM is such a nightmare, I would have traded that trip for a train ride in a second. Especially if I could have loaded my bike on the train.

      2. When I worked down there, I once checked traffic and it was completely gridlocked, so I biked on I-5 itself to get from Gravelly Lake Drive to JBLM’s main gate. I beat everyone.

      3. I did that commute for 5 years in a vanpool. hated every minute of it. I would have much preferred a train. Like I have said with building a sounder line to Bellevue/Redmond from Tacoma along the BNSF, if you build it, that first train on the first day will be full. I think Olympia would be no different…

    5. You’re thinking of the old BNSF line through Lacey. It’s now the median of Lacey Blvd and there’s a couple of traffic circles it would have to bisect. It’s not coming back.

  3. With its current makeup and design, I would oppose this for the reasons you mentioned. If we allowed different areas to have independent projects with different taxing rates (as Kyle suggested) then it is a different story.

    I really think Sound Transit is undergoing a very different phase in its evolution. All of the big, cross area projects are done. Link goes from Seattle to Snohomish County. It goes from Seattle to south King County. It goes from Seattle to Bellevue. These are projects that make sense for Sound Transit. They cross county borders (and city borders). Even by the “subarea” designations, almost all of the work has been done.

    Meanwhile, there are plenty of big projects that are completely within the subareas as Sound Transit defines them. The bulk of the money in the future will be spent on projects that will be within a county border, if not a city one. Give each area the power to independently design, vote and fund such projects, and Sound Transit doesn’t need to propose huge, grandiose projects for every subarea.

    The only possible project that crosses a subarea is an extension of Link down to Tacoma. Different subareas should be able to design their own projects not only for themselves, but in cooperation with other areas. South King County and Tacoma should be able to vote on extending light rail to Tacoma. But a vote for something like that shouldn’t simultaneously require East King or Snohomish County to come up with projects costing the same amount.

    There are still plenty of small projects like this, though. Swift from Paine Field to Bothell makes a lot of sense. Express bus type projects, like an express bus from Seattle to Olympia is also a good use of funds. An agency like Sound Transit is needed to manage this, and expanding it in this way makes sense.

  4. Perhaps there ought to be a density requirement for addition areas to be annexed into the existing system. Let’s require that they meet at least the current density of the current sub-areas, or something similar. This density requirement should be used to encourage increases in density so that ST can best manage the system for the greatest number of people.

    1. I’d like to subscribe to the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy especially with respect to urban cores with potential.

      Olympia, is a place that can densify its urban core and transit oriented development can assist that.

  5. While we’re at it how about elimating the multiple transit agencies? Currently all the agencies are trying to do the same things resulting in many inefficiencies. We really should do something like TriMet.

    1. Exactly. Time to start having this conversation of merging…

      Some may not like it, but my response is real simple: If you’re against this, you must be against buying in bulk.

    2. It’s time to start the discussion. But going into it too hastily may be worse than nothing. First we need a study of how much really is duplicative and whether it would actually save much. Companies get into trouble all the time merging and then finding out they haven’t saved anything. Often the ones pushing the mergers just want to extract a short-term execution fee/bonus for themselves, and ignore the long-term impact on the company. Also, merging collides with local control. Some people want all transit agencies to merge; others want Seattle Transit to secede from Metro. Why hasn’t Everett Transit merged with Community Transit? I assume it’s because Everett wants local control over its routes, and it’s afraid that Community Transit would shift Everett service to other parts of the county without replacement.

      An integrated transit agency would have a long-term benefit, especially if it really had the authority to put transit first over cars and design a transit-best-practices network, as Vancouver and German cities have done. But we need to know all the details and impacts and tradeoffs first before approving it, and not just blindly believe it would “save money” because maybe it wouldn’t.

      1. I think there is a way you can better integrate the service without merging the agencies. A wholesale merger would be disastrous I think. Metro’s high cost of operation would spread like wildfire across every other agency, and any cost savings would be quickly consumed in the cost of the merger (merging technology, branding, etc.) a better approach I think would be to place the PSRC in a position of becoming a transit planning and funding agency, like in Chicago with the RTA, LA’s MTA, New York’s MTA. the PSRC could collect funds and disburse them to agencies (which might actually be better for services that cross county lines, since the funding for that portion could come from the county its operated in). They could also provide higher service planning, working on creating a seamless system across agencies, and improve service at a local level by eliminating silos. Another thing they could do is take over ORCA management and other technology projects where there is duplication, and though routine upgrades merge the systems where feasible, with an outcome of having one system regionally providing an overall better service to the public. Each agency is than otherwise free to operate their services as they see fit at their own cost of operation without dragging each other down.

      2. Well, ST is more or less a planning agency and vehicle-ownership agency. It doesn’t do much operations or maintenance, it contracts those out to Metro, PT, CT, and BNSF. (And CT subcontracts theirs to First Transit, a private operator.) And ST and King County signed an integration agreement last year which should improve cordination and joint planning. I don’t remember if it has gone that far with CT and PT. So that could be a starting point for ST taking on more overall planning. But where does regional planning end and local autonomy begin? Should ST be involved in rerouting the 2?

    3. Oh, and under “duplicative” don’t file the 554 overlapping with the 212/216/218/219. They are all full, so ST would have to replace those runs with 554 runs and the cost would be a wash. And when you have entire busloads of people going to half the stations during peak, it makes sense for one route to go to only those stations and another route to go to the other stations; that’s a variation of the A/B stop pattern that has been employed on various systems like the Chicago El during peaks.

      That makes more sense for routes like the 218 that serve a subset of the 554’s stations, than those like the 216 that go beyond it. Those tails would have to be considered on their own merits, as they would be lost with a simple conversion to the 554. Maybe they’re justified, maybe they’re not, or maybe they should be shuttles with transfers. To the extent that they stop only at major P&Rs, they can be seen as possibly better than consolidating those P&Rs into one huge one. But to the extent that they serve single-family neighborhoods directly like the 159 (Timberlane) and earlier Kingsgate routes (I’m not sure if they still exist), they give an extraordinary privilege to those neighborhoods that none of the other neighborhoods in the area have, and that’s the epitome of unfairness.

    1. Or east, like Snohomish and Monroe?

      Since one of the co-sponsors is from Snohomish (the city or the county???), this has presumably been considered.

      1. I don’t think the bill defines the new areas (although I haven’t read it yet). Presumably supporters of the new areas could decide later on where to draw the new lines on the map. I’m sure they would draw the lines based on where it would make sense to expand Sounder, however.

      2. After actually reading the bills, I see that they deal only with adding new counties to the RTA. Expanding the boundary of a sub-area within a county is already covered in RCW 81.112.050.

    2. Why would it? There’s no “there” there. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but there is simply too little population in those places to make it worthwhile to run anything except peak hour expresses. That’s the business of the local county agencies; e.g. CT in this case, and it does it.

      ST Express is all-day-weekends-and-into-the-evening service. Transit, not large carpools.

      1. Oh, I’m not saying it’s what I want, but just curious if it applies for both directions, rather than just toward Olympia.

  6. It seems to me that one solution to this would be to have a west of Cascades tax rate for improving anything along the BNSF main line. The services over the distances involved would then become regionally funded state connectors operated at appropriate mainline speeds rather than being viewed as commuter only routes.

    I have met people that commute from Centralia to Seattle. That is really something that needs to be tackled on a Cascades level of district rather than a SoundTransit level of district.

    1. Absolutely right, Glenn. Not “subareas.” Corridors. In synch with the way development has been trending for decades. Also, a concept with easily-extended boundaries.

      An aerial pic already shows a solid trail of development just about all the way down the coast from Vancouver BC. In other words, our region is already there. Major progress on giving it high speed transit for the length of it, with whatever assist necessary for local service to reach it.


    2. Development really only goes to where roads are, or where they can coerce roads to be built. If you look at small towns and rural areas, almost all the development is around the state highways. The scattering of isolated houses and farms beyond that is too small to make much difference, and most of it is decades old rather than new.

      1. State highways, however, are subject to statewide political dickering. Having a dedicated fund raised and dedicated to the populated corridor in the west would fund passenger improvements there, not freight improvements on the Snake River line.

  7. It would be an odd coincidence if the “right” tax rate to support Olympia area projects turned out to be the rate we already have in the Sound Transit RTA.

    My understanding is that tax rates must be uniform across a taxing area. ‘Equitable’ spending across subareas is not a strict legal requirement, but it’s politically untouchable. Nobody is going to sign up for large transfers of funds across subareas.

    But I think it’s possible to have multiple RTAs. It would require enabling legislation, but a Thurston County RTA could buy service from Sound Transit that includes the capital investments necessary to make this rail line work.

    They could not, however, rely on Seattle super-majorities to get the consent of the voters. They’d have to vote their own taxes, which will be a higher hurdle. But they also wouldn’t get to raise the hurdle for passing ballot measures in the rest of the region.

    Similarly, a Seattle RTA could assess taxes over the regional baseline, and fund additional investments. Mechanically, it could work like the Seattle TBD.

    1. Yeah, that is pretty much the consensus of everyone that has commented. It makes sense to have a single agency manage buses and trains across multiple jurisdictions. That is Sound Transit. It also makes sense for everyone in the region to vote for some projects that benefit everyone (such as express buses). But it also makes sense for individual areas to be able to vote on their own projects, with their own tax rates. These projects should be managed by Sound Transit.

      Seattle’s relationship with Metro is rapidly evolving into a similar structure. The streetcars are paid by the city but managed by Metro (the county). Seattle voters also added additional funding so that there are more buses in the city (also managed by Metro). But the county provides the bulk of the funding for Metro in general.

      There is a reasonable fear that as Seattle pays more and more, the rest of the county will pay less and less, and suburban service will diminish. But I haven’t seen that political dynamic at all. Seattle voters, despite the fact that they can approve and fund their own buses, still want more bus service for the entire region. In other words, if Seattle can approve its own tax proposals, it doesn’t mean that it will vote against a region wide proposal. Quite the opposite, from what I can tell. Generally speaking, Seattle voters just want more transit everywhere. Since it is Seattle that is more likely to support the most expensive projects, and thus the area that wants the “extra”, then I really see no harm at all in allowing this change to occur. Folks in other regions needn’t fear that Seattle voters will say “we have ours” and oppose a region wide package. Either we don’t have ours yet, or we are fully in favor of you getting yours (when it comes to transit).

    2. “My understanding is that tax rates must be uniform across a taxing area. ‘Equitable’ spending across subareas is not a strict legal requirement, but it’s politically untouchable. Nobody is going to sign up for large transfers of funds across subareas.”

      That’s conflating two different issues. Keeping money within the subarea is the heart of subarea equity. Requiring an identical tax rate across disparate subareas is an add-on issue that’s becoming more strained as ST’s network gets more built out. If you tell suburban subarea members that repealing the common tax rate would allow their taxes to be lower for their BRT while Seattle’s taxes go higher for their subway lines, they’d say, “Damn right, where do I sign?” They wouldn’t say, “No! I want Seattle’s tax rate no higher than mine” or “I want my tax rate as high as Seattle’s.” Each subarea’s tax rate needs to be considered based on what projects the subarea wants.

      1. “Requiring an identical tax rate across disparate subareas is an add-on issue that’s becoming more strained as ST’s network gets more built out.”

        I don’t see it as an add-on. It’s fundamental to the construct of a single tax district. It’s a common law requirement that tax rates have to be uniformly assessed across a taxing district. Seattle and the suburbs can’t agree by overall majority to assess different tax rates. (That’s the reason we can’t just vote to have Medina pay for everything).

        If you want different tax rates, you need different taxing areas, each with their own voting majority requirements for tax increases.

        You can still have a single agency funded by multiple taxing areas that does all of the operational stuff to keep buses and trains moving across subareas.

        I think we’re inevitably on the road to either independent taxing areas within the ST region, or more control going back to local agencies. The ST4 or ST5 project list in the suburbs won’t be nearly as compelling as what Seattle can come up with. At that point, you either see Metro/SDOT take the lead, or you see a Seattle TBD paying into Sound Transit for more urban transit.

      2. Why do we need a single tax district? If money can’t be shifted between subareas, then they’re effectively separate tax districts already. Why not go all the way and make them “separate tax district” so they can have different rates? Puyallup’s sales tax is not required to be the same as King County’s or Seattle’s, that’s why “Cars Cost Less in Puyallup.” Why can’t ST’s subareas be the same way?

      3. The cynic in me thinks the local governments in the other subareas don’t trust their own voters to support the *right* projects.

        I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t have a regional authority with a single tax area to support initiatives that are truly regional in scope. But most transit demand is fairly local. So we seem to have a set of agencies who lean more toward regional infrastructure than transit demand would suggest. One way or another, I expect that to correct itself.

        Anybody’s guess whether the correction takes the form of voters getting more aggressively behind local agencies, or a voter slapdown to regional transit expansion.

      4. “most transit demand is fairly local”

        That’s probably true as a percentage of trips, but it doesn’t make Mark Dublin’s Olympia-Seattle or Olympia-Everett trips nonexistent or unimportant, because others do that too, from Seattle to Tacoma and Tacoma to Bellevue and so on. Sometimes five days a week, sometimes five days a month, sometimes five days a year, but combined with other people the aggregate trip pairs both short and long are all important.

      5. Part of the funding for Interstate MAX came from an urban development fund created for that area. I don’t see why similar localized districts couldn’t do the same thing in, ie, Ballard to UW.

      6. Dan,

        Well why don’t we get going building those “monorails” which are not-light-rail but happen to have two rails? Wherever full grade separation is required there is no need for an operator. Skytrain has demonstrated that sufficiently.

        Lines which must be grade separated throughout would include an inner city “ring” from Elliott West through Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union (two stops, one west of Aurora), a Capitol Hill shared station, one under Broadway about Columbia, another under Boren just east of Broadway, then 14th and Jackson. Come out of the hill to elevated over Rainier with stations between Dearborn and Charles, at I-90 for interchange with East Link, then Hill to serve directly the new redevelopment there and a terminus at Mt. Baker.

        It would also be the D option to Ballard and a little north via Fremont and Ballard-UW, either also via Fremont (better in some ways I think but there’s certainly room for discussion) or straight through Phinney Ridge.

        Now, where do you get a storage/light maintenance facility for that? In the current Interbay Yard area, that’s where. It could be connected with the end of the center city ring at Elliott West and to the Ballard lines around 22nd and Market. Obviously the system would need to be connected to Link directly and operable by drivers, in order to get cars requiring overhaul to the heavy maintenance facility. But if one doesn’t need to be worried about the drivers accessing the trains — and one wouldn’t in most instances — the yard can be long and narrow.

        Is all this cheap? Of course not. But without operators and building stations with less of an Oedifice Compex, frequency and station spacing could be “real transit”.

        Can Seattle afford it itself? OF. COURSE.

  8. This bill suggests that there is a need for more visionary intercity rail service in Western Washington. A rail line into Olympia would be great, but it could be done without bringing Olympia into the district.

    1. There is a rail line that Amtrak uses, but it is really slow. Making something faster would require substantial investment (I assume). It still might not be as fast as buses.The freeway took a very direct route, but the trains didn’t. Commuter rail from Olympia might still make sense, but I wonder how much it would cost and how fast it would be (it is about an hour from Tacoma, so if it is another hour, that is a pretty slow trip).

      1. Most likely caliber of regional trains is same as in southern Sweden- electric interurban streamliners larger than LINK, but smaller in coach size than Amtrak. Restrooms in each car. 100 miles an hour.

        Buses? Without really heavy barriers with regular traffic- single-car crash means nothing moves across the Nisqually river for hours. Year of two back, really bad one took down SB I-5 for a whole day.

        If you know Thurston and eastern Pierce well, it’s possible to divert and still run between Olympia and Tacoma. But if wreck is about a mile from the Nisqually Bridge in either direction- we’ll talk about amphibious or flying cars later.


      2. RossB, the Amtrak line only serves Lacey and is actually very fast, with current travel times of just 80 minutes from Lacey to King St (43 minutes from Seattle-Tacoma and 37 from Tacoma-Lacey.) When the Point Defiance Bypass opens, Amtrak travel times from Lacey to Seattle could be as low as 72 minutes. I’d imagine any eventual Sounder extension would run in a skip-stop pattern?

        But any attempt to run rail into Downtown Oly would require either:
        – A new rail interchange at Nisqually/St Clair, likely an elevated line in the rail-banked Woodland Trail corridor, a new bridge over I-5 at Eastside St, and construction of a terminal station somewhere east of the Capitol. That’s 9 miles of new track and hundreds of millions of dollars.
        – The other option is a 14-mile circuitous extension via the current BN mainline as far as the Rich Rd interchange, and then rebuilding the line northward into Downtown Olympia. Probably much easier to build politically, but nobody’s idea of a direct connection.

      3. “Making something faster would require substantial investment”

        That’s exactly what WSDOT should be focusing on, and does so sporadically as the legislative priorities change. There’s a long-term plan for separate passenger tracks from Seattle to Portland that could be shared by Cascades, Sounder, Amtrak, future HSR, and DMUs galore, and get them completely out of the freight congestion and oil trains. It would require BNSF ROW, but BNSF doesn’t seem to be objecting, it just wants the state to pay for most of it. The state works on it in fits and starts, but there’s been no start-to-finish dedicated funding that would make it a reality any time this generation.

      4. The dedicated source of funding is a tax on industrial fuels. If I remember the numbers correctly, over half goes for freight traffic improvements. Round about, it improves some passenger traffic.

        That’s why for some of these longer distance transportation projects it would be good to have a corridor specific fund that would actually be for passenger (Cascades, Sounder, and connecting buses) transport over the longer distances.

  9. Where is the LIKE button for this bill?

    It doesn’t just make sense for ST to provide 2-way all-day inter-county service to Olympia (especially if ST wants transit users to go down to Olympia to lobby). It makes sense to welcome the voters of the Intercity Transit taxing district into Sound Transit. They have a history of voting heavily for transit.

    Check out page 4 of IT’s Strategic Plan for a little history.

    1. Interesting. I didn’t know that. I still feel that the most important change is the one that Kyle suggested. If we grant subareas the right to independently vote for and asses their own projects and tax rates (along with projects that are region wide) then I am all for this. But if not, I’m not sure if you can find enough expensive projects that make sense for Thurston County to match everything Seattle wants to build.

    2. It would be much easier, simpler, and failsafe to allow Intercity Transit or the state to buy all-day STEX/Sounder extensions to Olympia than to extend the ST taxing district. The legal mechanism is already there, and is active on the 592, which is a pilot project to test the feasability of exactly that kind of service.

      Extending the district can be done at any time after that. But I don’t see the point unless Thurston County wants a wider variety of ST service than just intercounty expresses. ST’s business is really only about getting Olympia transit centers and P&Rs to Tacoma and Seattle. I don’t see anything else like a “405 corridor service” (SeaTac-Bellevue, Bellevue-Everett, Auburn-Redmond) that ST could provide in Thurston County.

      1. The 592 runs in the peak-only direction are not testing the viability of having 592 (or mid-day 574 or 594) service in the opposite direction. If IT is willing to switch from providing service to SR 520 P&R to paying that same amount toward ST running the entirety of Olympia Express service, that would be a substantial improvement. But frequent all-day 2-way service will cost a lot more than that.

        Figuring out how to consolidate 574/577/594 would get us closer to the requisite all-day frequency within ST.

    3. “It makes sense to welcome the voters of the Intercity Transit taxing district into Sound Transit. They have a history of voting heavily for transit.”

      That is interesting. But I have to imagine they’d blanch at the sticker shock of joining the ST area at a uniform tax rate. They’d be voting for the tax increases of Sound Move, ST2 and ST3 all at once.

      Maybe the impact could be mitigated by having ST assume ownership of some Intercity Transit services so they’d have an off-setting tax reduction on that side. But now we’re into making Sound Transit a local agency in one subarea (and not the one with the obvious needs).

    4. “They have a history of voting heavily for transit.”

      I am surprised that Intercity Transit is so frequent for such small cities. 15 minutes, 30 minute weekends, even night owl between downtown Oly and Evergreen University. Snohomish and Pierce Counties have larger population centers than that that have less frequent service. IT seems to have a more European level of service than similar-sized American cities have.

  10. Maybe because one’s outlook toward progress that as the aging process turns our material composition from saplings toward mountains, it gets more natural to look at future achievements with a very long view.

    Which is, the more important major work is, the less likely it is that one will live to see more than its bare beginning. Funny. Instead of creating personal panic to “Get it done before time runs out!” a deeply relaxed and serene mind-set develops, believing that personal satisfaction will be seeing public affairs shift solidly in one’s own chosen direction.

    In case of regional transit, major change of course, comparable to “coming about” on a freight hauling clipper ship, is to shift underlying thoughts about transit toward its farthest expanse. And use them for be basis of everything else.


  11. Independent from resources available from future potential ST taxing authority expansion…
    Since the state legislature feels expanded passenger rail is important then how about contracting with Amtrak, ST, and/or BNSF now to add more passenger rail service.

    1. Once the ARRA rail projects are completed, there will be two more Cascades round trips between Seattle and Portland.

      ST will also be adding three new Sounder South round trips in the next two years.

  12. We need to watch this asymmetry of subareas annexing to ST without the existing subareas’ consent, and then their ability to veto or limit projects in those other subareas. Especially given that the potential subareas are more tax-averse, more highway-and-P&R-minded, and more rail-to-nowhere than the existing subareas or the most urban subarea. That’s why I would rather have intercounty agreements for specific services rather than just inviting them into the ST pool.

    In that sense, the ST district may have some similarities wth the European Union. Some people want a small tight EU (just the central continent, eject the UK), while others want a loose confederation (Poland, Ukraine, and even to Israel). A common program like the Euro or the Schengen customs union gets introduced in this dichotomy, and immediately gets pulled in several directions at once. That would be easier to manage if the EU were just the central continent or just western Europe, but it gets harder when you invite more disparate members in. Somebody has to stand up for North King’s and the existing ST district’s goals, and we have to make sure they don’t get lost in expansion. There are other ways to extend more comprehensive transit to Thurston, Skagit, Whatcom, Kitsap, Island, Lewis, and Clark Counties than to just annex them all into ST.

  13. I’m confused by all these legislative bills. I read great things like ST3 full steam ahead, and transit-tax authority for Snohomish and Pierce Counties, and allowing ST expansion, and maybe something for Seattle’s city-rail goals (?), but mixed in with mediorcre or bad things, and most of these bills not having enough bicameral/bipartisan support to pass. I end up confused on which bills and provisions to support and how much of a chance they have, and whether my longstanding goals are finally getting closer or not. Could someody do some overall legislature articles over the course of the session, not just on individual bills, but on how they integrate together, and their overall collective impact, and which ones are most likely to pass, and how their chances are changing.

  14. I apologize if this is on the wrong thread, but I know that there are members of the Link Connections Sounding Board on here and was wondering if any of you planned on posting a summary of the first alternative for bus revisions that will be proposed at tonight’s sounding board meeting. I wish I could make it to the meeting in person, but I think it would be interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives on this, especially before Phase 2 public engagement.

  15. It is time to expand the ST taxing district, overdue IMO! As I understand it, the present rules are something like the voters in the applicable area have to vote themselves in (vote to tax themselves), with a certain amount of their taxes paid in to stay in their area for a few years before reverting to their sub-area. This is ludicrous! If taxpayers live relatively close to a Sound Transit bus, train, or light rail, but aren’t in the ST taxing district, who would vote to be? It should be established that, within a certain mileage of ST service, say 10 miles, one receives benefit, thus the ST taxing district should expand automatically. Of course, any time that ST proposes to extend a line, those within the set mileage, 10 miles in my example, would be included in those voting on it.

    Re: Thurston County, absolutely ST Sounder and possibly bus should extend there! Years ago, after riding BART, I suggested a similar thing to a state lawmaker who said that ours could be called “BORT” – Bellingham to Olympia Rapid Transit…and as a lawmaker, they’d make heavy use of it. Of course, that’s beyond a pipe dream now, but if we could extend the successful Sounder/South to Olympia, near the legislative buildings – or within a short shuttle bus ride – that would be a good proxy given today’s limitations.

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