As election returns came in late Tuesday, voters were favoring Sound Transit light rail and rejecting Tim Eyman's Initiative 985 to help solo drivers.

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Sound Transit light rail was headed to victory Tuesday, while Tim Eyman’s Initiative 985 to help solo drivers was rejected.

The transit measure, Proposition 1, was far ahead in Snohomish County, with close to half the expected mail-in votes counted. It also took a huge lead in King County and was narrowly ahead in Pierce County.

“It’s a great step forward,” said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, chairman of the Sound Transit board. “We’ve been talking about creating a mass-transit system for 40 years. With passage of Prop 1, we will be able to build that mass-transit system. If you talk to people who want to do business in Seattle — and when I talk about Seattle, I’m talking about the metropolitan system, not just the city limits — one of the great drawbacks they see is the transportation system. They see it as a question. And now we have an answer.”

Meanwhile, I-985, which experts said would have slowed express transit buses, lost big. The measure sought to create a state congestion-relief account and open carpool lanes to general traffic in off-peak hours.

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Sound Transit

Sound Transit plans to extend light rail to Lynnwood, north Federal Way and the Overlake Transit Center, near Microsoft, by the early 2020s, through a half-cent increase in sales taxes. The $17.9 billion plan would expand express-bus service 17 percent and boost capacity by two-thirds on Sounder commuter trains between Pierce County and Seattle.

Alex Fryer, spokesman for Mass Transit Now, said he was blown away by the lead in Snohomish County, where campaign models predicted just under half the voters saying “yes.”

One explanation is that people liked the recent openings of a Mukilteo commuter-train station and the South Everett park-and-ride, he said.

John Niles, a bus-rapid-transit advocate against Proposition 1, said he had no theory for the measure’s lead. He did feel voters received plenty of information on all sides of the issues. He had argued buses would serve more locations than light rail.

A larger Roads & Transit measure lost a year ago. Since then, gas prices soared beyond $4 for several weeks, and public demand for transit increased, causing a 10 percent gain in King County bus ridership.

Nickels argued that a train system could eventually handle 1 million daily trips, as population grows over the long term.

Supporters counted on a presidential-year wave of young voters to put transit over the top, while opponents said people would reject the tax during an economic slump.

Opponents bought radio ads emphasizing the tax bite. Treasurer Mark Baerwaldt of last week predicted the measure would lose by 10 points.

Proposition 1 endorsers included the Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club, and the downtown associations of Bellevue and Seattle. The “no” campaign’s biggest contributor was Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, a longtime roads advocate.

Proposition 1 is the largest of 22 transit measures nationwide. among them a $10 billion bond measure to help fund a $42 billion California bullet train.

Initiative 985

I-985 would open high-occupancy-vehicle lanes except for 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays. It would also increase funding to clear traffic accidents; move revenue from red-light cameras and a portion of automobile sales taxes into a state congestion-relief account; and affirm existing state law restricting toll collections. For instance, Interstate 90 could not be tolled to help pay for a proposed $4 billion Highway 520 replacement bridge.

Still, Eyman declared a moral victory.

“I think I-985 made tolls even more radioactive,” he said.

For instance, House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, opposed the measure, but did say tolls from I-90 should stay “inside the I-90 corridor.”

The measure was opposed by former state transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald and Gov. Christine Gregoire.

MacDonald said that as voters learned the details near election day, the measure lost support: “It sank, it wasn’t beaten down.”

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

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