Dow Constantine talks about the expansion of light rail and transit’s importance to the region’s growth and economy in his 2016 state-of-the-county address at Redmond City Hall.
Declaring the age of freeway building over, King County Executive Dow Constantine used his annual State of the County speech Monday to argue the case for a $50 billion Sound Transit 3 proposal that will go to voters in November.
With the three-county region’s population expected to grow by 1 million over the next 25 years, Constantine said transit is the only solution that can move a lot of people — 16,000 an hour, or the equivalent of 14 new lanes on Interstate 5.
“Even if we had the money, we lack the physical space to build enough lanes to build our way out of this crisis. There is simply no other option (than transit) that can add the kind of capacity we need to our transportation system,” Constantine told county officials, employees and regional elected officials at Redmond City Hall.
The executive, who chairs the Sound Transit Board, also called on the Legislature to give local jurisdictions greater taxing authority than the 1 percent property-tax increase allowed annually under state law.
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He said governments across the state, from fire districts to cities to counties, cannot keep up as inflation and growth add to the costs of doing business.
He noted that when he took office, the county’s operating costs were rising about 5 to 6 percent a year. Those increases have slowed to 3.3 percent, but with the county allowed to raise taxes only 1 percent, he said, it is facing a $50 million deficit in 2017-2018.
“This is unsustainable,” Constantine said.
His speech got some of the biggest applause of the afternoon when he told the Legislature, “Do. Your. Job. … Lift the arbitrary 1 percent cap that is eroding the ability of local governments throughout the state to meet the most basic needs of the people.”
The Sound Transit 3 plan calls for extending the central light-rail spine to downtown Redmond and Federal Way in 2028, West Seattle by 2033, Ballard by 2038 and Everett by 2041. Bellevue College and Issaquah would get a line in 2041, under the proposed plan announced by the Sound Transit Board last week.
A final ballot proposal is expected to be approved in June.
Regional officials on hand for the speech generally praised the preliminary plans.
“As we expand light rail, we can also extend the reach of bus service so transit is really accessible to people on the Eastside who don’t have that option today,” said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, the former mayor of Bellevue.
Council Chair Joe McDermott said the only pushback he’s heard on the ST3 proposal is from officials and residents concerned about the proposed timeline. Snohomish County representatives sent a letter to Sound Transit last week asking the board to consider a faster delivery date for the Everett service.
McDermott said he’s heard the same from his constituents in West Seattle.
“What I’m hearing is, ‘We want it sooner and we want more.’ There’s an obligation to build the spine out to Everett, but there’s also a pent-up demand to serve the city. We need to do it all,” McDermott said.