Editor's Note: The authors are writing on behalf of Mass Transit Now, an organization that campaigns in favor of Proposition 1.
In nearly every poll, voters cite transportation as the region's biggest headache. The problems are many, and the solutions are hard to make reality. But this November, residents in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties will decide on Proposition 1, a mass transit measure that will deliver real results to all of us affected by crowded buses, worsening traffic congestion, and high gas prices. Proposition 1 fulfills the goal of an integrated and regional mass transit system — and at a price that represents a true value for our investment. Instead of waiting idly (usually in traffic) for our transportation headache to fix itself, this package delivers: more buses, 36 new miles of light rail, and expanded Sounder commuter rail.
As Sound Transit board members from Snohomish County, we examined this measure very carefully, weighing its costs and benefits to decide whether this was the right proposal at the right time. We are convinced that Proposition 1 answers the regional transit challenges that lie ahead, but we did not come to our decision on blind faith. Instead, after much work to develop a truly regional transit package and with a careful review of the skeptics' claims, we became committed supporters of Proposition 1. Our story of how we got to "yes" is relevant to voters now taking a look at what's on the November ballot.
First: Building the regional light rail "spine." Next year, the region's first light rail line will open from Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. You can see the newly constructed guide-ways the next time you're stuck in traffic getting to the airport. To us, this is what the future of transportation looks like. Proposition 1 would expand light rail's "spine" to Bellevue and Redmond to the east, to Federal Way in the south, and Northgate and Lynnwood to the north. We fought hard to extend this line to Snohomish County, and it was critical in securing our support for the package. We strongly believe that light rail has obvious long-term benefits over buses. Light rail won't get caught in traffic because it operates in its own right-of-way; it encourages growth and compact communities; and it's cheaper to operate, with greater passenger capacity. When it's completed, the Sound Transit light rail network can carry one million passengers daily. And light rail trumps even buses when it comes to curbing greenhouse gases.
Second: Addressing the need for increased bus service. We know that the Sound Transit light rail spine is only as good as the regional bus networks that support it. As board members, it was critical that the Proposition 1 package addressed the increased demand for bus service. The package will immediately expand express bus service on overcrowded corridors, including Interstate 5, Interstate 405, and State Route 520. While we wait for the benefits of light rail to reach Snohomish County, our citizens will be served by a 30 percent boost in express-bus capacity, including a new shuttle service that will connect the aerospace industry to the light rail spine. Proposition 1 front-loads the express bus expansions of the entire system immediately.
Instead of being spread out over several years, Sound Transit will add 100,000 hours of new bus service next year — an overall increase of 17 percent that will help people get around the region faster, now.
Third: Continue improvements to Sounder commuter rail. It's hard to overstate the popularity of commuter rail. In July, Sounder ridership was up a whopping 38 percent from a year earlier, in part because Sounder opened a new station in Mukilteo. These numbers re-enforce the adage: If you build it, they will come. Proposition 1 adds four new round trips a day from Seattle to Tacoma while expanding and improving Sounder commuter rail stations at Edmonds and Mukilteo. This increases passenger capacity by 65 percent to meet strong rider demand in the corridor, providing reliable and congestion-free travel rather than letting population growth continue to worsen roadway congestion.
Finally: The package is good value for the money. The $17.8 billion project would be paid from a sales tax increase of a nickel on a $10 purchase, or a half-cent per dollar. The taxes will automatically roll back after the projects are complete — that's in the legislation. Accountability was key in our support for this package, and we worked throughout the spring and summer to make sure we got the best project at the best price, using the best fiscal practices. For the average person, the price tag of Proposition 1 breaks down to $69 per year, about the cost of a single tank of gas. Considering what we're building, this represents good value for the money.
Proposition 1 is well-crafted; it's the product of committed representatives from Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties on the Sound Transit board asking tough questions and considering all options. Together with the current Sound Transit service, this plan will drastically increase express bus and commuter rail service, while creating a 53-mile regional light rail spine — all with a lower price tag, faster delivery dates, and more public accountability than previous packages.
Getting to "yes" was not an easy decision for us; however, we wholeheartedly believe that this package is the next step in our transportation future. We hope you will agree that Proposition 1 represents the best balance of meeting today's needs with planning a future that doesn't get stuck in traffic.