The Sound Transit board appears to have enough votes to send a light-rail plan to the ballot this fall, winning new support by promising more bus service to Snohomish County.
Sound Transit now appears to have enough votes on its governing board to send a light-rail plan to the ballot this fall.
By adding express buses to sweeten the plan in Snohomish County, transit officials Thursday won the support of two swing voters — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Edmonds City Councilwoman Deanna Dawson.
There are currently 13 safe “yes” votes, one beyond the 12 required to file a ballot proposition for urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. The 18-member board will make an official decision July 24.
“All of our needs in the county have been met, so it’s something I can support putting before the voters,” Reardon said.
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The 15-year, $17.6 billion package promises 34 miles of light rail reaching Overlake, Lynnwood and north Federal Way; more Sounder commuter trains from Pierce County to Seattle; and some buses. (A previous figure of $14.6 billion omitted the short-term financing costs during construction.) If voters approve, sales taxes would increase a nickel per $10 purchase.
Board opinion has been divided because plans didn’t offer immediate help for commuters trying to escape $4.30-a-gallon gas prices, especially in Snohomish County.
“That was my main issue, providing my constituents with near-term relief, not just allowing people to wait for light rail to Lynnwood in 2023,” Reardon said.
He demanded, and got, a promise to boost express-bus capacity 30 percent, including a new Paine Field shuttle. Within five years, buses would go every 15 minutes at peak times from Everett and Lynnwood to Seattle, and on the Lynnwood-Bellevue corridor, for instance.
Sound Transit is in a bind because the multibillion-dollar cost of building trackway through Seattle, including tunnels, consumes tax revenues that might have helped reach farther north and south.
Late next year, light-rail service begins from downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, followed by a north line to Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium in 2016.
Reardon said Seattle officials earlier expected Snohomish County to underwrite rail construction from the Seattle city limits to Mountlake Terrace — leaving little cash for Snohomish County needs. But the new deal uses Snohomish County money only from Shoreline north.
Some details remained murky Thursday. Finance Director Brian McCartan said the fiscal rejiggering includes delaying some bond debt and lowering the cost estimate for a streetcar on Seattle’s First Hill.
Also, park-and-ride expansions in Snohomish County were dropped at Mariner, Ash Way, Lynnwood and Everett.
Dawson previously insisted on those, but said Thursday she’s now confident about arranging local buses to get people around clogged east-west arterials and into the stations.
Backers would like more “yes” votes, to show a united front in a tough campaign. Currently, five board members remain undecided or opposed.
Metropolitan King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, R-Federal Way, said the plan “is being assembled at the last minute,” so he wants to study the finances before taking sides.
He suggested that two key officials seeking statewide office are skeptics — board member John Ladenburg, the Pierce County executive who is running for attorney general, and Gov. Christine Gregoire, whose voice on the board is Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond.
“I think they recognize where the public would be on new taxes in 2008,” von Reichbauer said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com