It would be hard to ignore the poster-size brochure, recently mailed to 805,000 households by the government sponsors of Proposition 1...
It would be hard to ignore the poster-size brochure, recently mailed to 805,000 households by the government sponsors of Proposition 1, nicknamed Roads & Transit.
“On Nov. 6, voters will decide if it’s time to approve a comprehensive transportation plan to address congestion and growth across the region,” the introduction says, alongside photos of a light-rail car being tested and an uncrowded freeway.
Big as it is, the mailing gives merely an overview of at least 54 listed projects and studies.
Sound Transit, which would build 50 miles of light-rail extensions if Proposition 1 passes, is required by state law to mail a brochure before the election, to explain its proposed system and financing plan. Agency officials decided the brochure should also explain Proposition 1’s road projects, which include 186 lane miles and partial funding for a new Highway 520 floating bridge.
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Ballot-measure opponents object to what they say is the flier’s promotional tone.
“They are clearly showing a one-sided angle on it,” said Mike O’Brien, local chairman of the Sierra Club.
Ric Ilgenfritz, for Sound Transit’s executive director of policy planning and public affairs, replied that the mailing bears no resemblance to the agency’s usual ads on billboards and radio.
“Our goal here was to provide factual information,” he said.
Here’s a look at some highlights:
Ridership: The brochure says there will be an estimated 311,000 trips per weekday on the expanded light-rail system by 2030.
That number seems conservative, and perhaps on the low side, said Siim Soot, a University of Illinois professor who chairs a Washington state expert-review panel on Proposition 1 transit projects. Development of offices and housing could draw more riders, he said.
John Niles, a researcher for light-rail critics, doesn’t dispute the number. But he believes 311,000 trips is a small amount, compared to 15 million daily trips expected in 2030 in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, where residents are voting on Proposition 1. More people could be reached by a similar investment in bus-rapid-transit, he believes.
Corridors : A centerpiece map highlights several areas that are being improved with non-Proposition 1 money, such as Highway 16 to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Also, dotted yellow lines cross West Seattle, Ballard, Woodinville and Issaquah, which would merely be studied under Proposition 1. Casual readers might think the measure is even more wide-reaching than it really is, unless they read the map key carefully.
Anne Fennessy, spokeswoman for the roads portion of the plan, said the map depicts how the proposed highway lanes fit into the regional system, by filling gaps where money from state gas taxes isn’t sufficient.
Taxes: The brochure accurately describes the Proposition 1 sales-tax increase of six cents on a $10 purchase, plus $80 in yearly car-tab tax per $10,000 of vehicle value. It left out the projected yearly average of $150 in added sales tax per household, not including any business taxes passed on to consumers.
Sounder: The brochure emphasizes that south-end service to Tacoma is scheduled to increase to nine weekday trains by the end of next year — but that will happen regardless of Proposition 1, because the service is already funded.
Ilgenfritz said that, legally, the agency is required to describe existing services. Proposition 1 money would expand or add Sounder park-and-ride stations.
Costs: The brochure mainly uses an estimate in 2006 dollars of $10.8 billion for the transit and $7.0 billion for the roads.
Sound Transit did not follow advice from the expert panel, which suggests that numbers also appear in year-of-expenditure dollars. With inflation, overhead, operations and short-term financing, the total is predicted to reach $38 billion by the time projects are supposed to be done in 2027, plus operating costs and $9 billion in debt payments later.
Ilgenfritz said Sound Transit’s governing board believes it is more meaningful to the average person to show projects in current-day dollars.
HOV lanes: The roads section promises a “seamless” high-occupancy-vehicle system for Highway 167 and Interstate 405. Officials kept HOV additions in the Highway 167 plan even after price spikes last winter forced them to curtail other lanes. In addition, the plan includes $316 million to build flyover HOV ramps where the two highways meet in Renton.
Timelines: In its list of projects, the brochure doesn’t say when various rail and road segments would open in each corridor.
The outermost light-rail sections from Northgate to Lynnwood, from Bellevue to Overlake, and from Kent to Tacoma wouldn’t be finished for 20 years, while some road lanes are also years away.
“When they tell people what’s being built, people get excited about it,” O’Brien said. “When they tell people how much it will cost and how long it will take, they aren’t so excited about it.”
However, the bottom section does explain that Northgate should be reached by 2018, and Bellevue and Kent/Des Moines by 2021, with all projects completed by 2027.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org