Sound Transit Prop. 1 pays for more buses

October 14, 2008

By Staff

Every day, Laura Hernandez takes Sound Transit’s 554 express bus from the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride to Bellevue Community College and back, then hops aboard

Laura Hernandez, a resident of the Summer Ridge neighborhood, waits for a bus at the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride. She commutes from Sammamish to Bellevue Community College every weekday. Photo by By J.B. Wogan.

Laura Hernandez, a resident of the Summer Ridge neighborhood, waits for a bus at the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride. She commutes from Sammamish to Bellevue Community College every weekday. Photo by By J.B. Wogan.

King County Metro Transit’s 269 bus back to 228th Avenue Southeast. Then, she walks to her home in the Summer Ridge neighborhood.

“It requires a lot of planning to take the bus,” she said, while waiting at the park & ride. In winter, the waits for each bus can be excruciating with the rain and wind.

“Then, I’m cold, wet and cranky,” she said.

Hernandez said she hasn’t studied Sound Transit’s Proposition 1, and doesn’t know which way she’ll vote. But in general, she’s in favor of more bus service.

“I’m always waiting for buses,” she said. “If there’s more of them out there, that gives me more options.”

Sound Transit’s plan does offer Eastside riders more options. For an estimated $17.9 billion over 15 years, it would build light rail from Seattle to Bellevue and Redmond. It would also expand bus service throughout the Eastside, including Redmond and Issaquah.

Also known as Sound Transit 2, the proposition will appear on ballots Nov. 4 for voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Doing the math

Sound Transit’s $17.9 billion would be spent from 2009 to 2023 and would include capital costs, operations and maintenance fees, reserve funds, bond payments and inflation, according to Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick. It would be based on a sales tax increase of about five cents added to each $10 purchase. For the typical adult, the increase would be about $69 per year.

The organization’s definition of “typical adult” assumes the median income for a taxpayer in the Sound Transit District is $64,405. The district includes urban areas of Snohomish, Pierce and King counties.

Taxpayers would continue paying the increased sales tax after the 15-year period. Sound Transit’s projections include an additional $4.9 billion accumulated in interest fees from bonds.

Patrick said there is a rollback provision that would cause the sales tax to return to its pre-Proposition 1 status after the projects had been completed and paid off. Sound Transit estimates the rollback would take place in about 2038.

Patrick said increased bus service is one change from last year’s failed Sound Transit proposition.

About 26 percent, or $3.5 billion, of the $13.4 billion in capital costs would go toward expanded bus service, whereas less than 5 percent was allotted for the same purpose last year, according to Patrick.

What would change for Issaquah

One route that would receive some improvements is the 554, which runs from Fifth Avenue and Lenora Street in Seattle to the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride. It is one of three Sound Transit express buses — the other two are the 555 and 556 — that run regularly from downtown Seattle to the Highlands.

With funding from Proposition 1, the 554 would run more frequently — every 30 minutes — on evenings and weekends, with buses every 15 minutes between 6 and 8 a.m. weekdays.

The route also would get an extra 30 minutes of service every day, said Andrea Tull, who specializes in Eastside bus service for Sound Transit.

Expansions in Sound Transit bus service are dependent on voter-approved propositions, such as the one in November. There isn’t enough outside funding to provide more bus service otherwise, she explained.

In the future, if voters pass Proposition 1, a Sound Transit 3 proposition could appear on ballots in 15 years that would include Issaquah as a new destination for light rail, Patrick said.

Potential problems

Some critics say Sound Transit 2 doesn’t benefit Eastside voters enough to justify its cost. Jim Horn, Eastside Transportation Association chairman, is one of those critics.

“It costs too much. It does too little. It is too late. And there is a better solution,” he said.

Horn levels many criticisms at the proposition. But one, particularly, is that there should be more bus service and no light rail on the Eastside.

“The amount of bus service increases that they are offering is minimal,” he said. “Why don’t we just do the bus service and forget the light rail?”

Horn is a former Mercer Island city councilman and state representative for the 41st District. Carpooling is part of his association’s solution for better transportation across the state Route 520 and Interstate 90 bridges.

“We can have people carpooling for virtually one-tenth of the cost and we can carry 50 percent more riders than the light rail does,” he said.

The key to increasing carpool numbers across the region is in aggressive advertising, he said.

He added that he believes the light rail portion of the proposition would have negative environmental impacts to the area; would be logistically challenging to design and implement over Lake Washington; would be too expensive; and would not offer enough ridership capacity to commuters.

Issaquah’s response

These views are not shared by the Issaquah City Council, which voted unanimously Oct. 6 to endorse Proposition 1.

“I’m strongly in favor of this for a number of reasons,” said Councilman Fred Butler, who also serves on the Sound Transit board of directors.

At the top of his list is the region’s existing, multi-billion-dollar investment in regional commuter rail, light rail and bus service. These have provided direct benefits to Issaquah in the form of added bus service and park & ride garages.

“Now is the time to consider the next level,” he said, adding that doing nothing would threaten the region’s quality of life. “This costs about $69 per person annually, which is about the cost of a tank of gas.”

Councilman Joshua Schaer, chairman of the Council Transportation Committee, concurred, saying Proposition 1 will benefit Issaquah indirectly, even though light rail service here is still a long way off.

“No one can expect light rail to come directly to Issaquah and bypass large employment centers,” he said. “We recognize we are part of the greater Puget Sound community, which is in dire need of this kind of program.

“We have come a long way from not having these bus routes that many people now rely on,” he said. “The question is, whether we want to take the step to create a world-class transportation system. We all have to take a big gulp and say, this is the thing to do now.”

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or Reach Jon Savelle at ext. 234 or

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3 Responses to “Sound Transit Prop. 1 pays for more buses”

  1. John Niles on October 15th, 2008 1:45 am

    The report on Prop 1 above states “About 26 percent, or $3.5 billion, of the $13.4 billion in capital costs would go toward expanded bus service.”

    This is WAAAAAAAY off! The decimal point is wrong on the percentage!

    According to the Sound Transit Plan document, $344 million, about two point six percent (2.6%) will go toward expanded bus service.

    Sound Transit is claiming about 60 more buses will be added, and region-wide across all the various agencies, there are about 2000 buses already in operation.

    Bus service additions from Prop 1 now are pitifully small compared to the billions for light rail to be finished in a dozen years.

  2. pslrts on October 15th, 2008 12:04 pm

    Prop 1 should be rejected. Just as any blackjack player would be foolish to double down before looking at their cards, voters for more light rail would be equally foolish to double their transit taxes before the first trains ever start running next year. Sure, light rail is popular in other cities, but Sound Move has built one of the most expensive systems to date (double the original cost estimate) and is taking twice as long to build it. Should we have reason to think the ridership estimates were equally bogus? You bet!

    Here’s what Sound Move trains will actually accomplish next year, looking at the trip from Seattle to Seatac Airport. The 194 makes the trip to the luggage ramp from downtown in 27 minutes while the light rail will take 35, plus require a 5 minute walk from Hwy 99 to get to the terminal – with bags in tow. Metro charges either $1.50 or $2.25, while Sounder rail charges $3.25 from Tukwila to downtown. Will Sound Transit match Metros fares? I really doubt it. Will Sound Transit honor the ‘ride free area’ in the tunnel. No! So your Metro bus will still do all the heavy lifting through downtown.

    How can any informed voter decide the cost/benefit to them personally, when Sound Transit only tells you how much it’s going to cost in higher sales tax per year, but withholds any mention of how much they plan to charge YOU to ride it? Surely they’ve thought that one through to generate all these ridership projections.

    So what did our billions buy? A slower trip on a more expensive vehicle? Metro buses run on time, nearly all the time to the airport, and could have been made ‘traffic proof’ for much less of an investment with the extension of the E3 busway and a transit only flyover at SouthCenter for millions, not billions. Rails across I-90 eliminate the reversible lanes forever. Buses could be using that space, with the same capacity as light rail, and still accommodate 2,000 car and vanpools with a 3+ limit, carrying another 6,000 riders per hour each way.

    Prop 1 will nearly double the taxes we pay to Sound Transit. Twenty years ago all transit in the region received about 30% of all transportation dollars. Today, transit gets about 50%. If Prop 1 passes, transportation spending will be turned on its head in the next 20 years. Roads will only get about 30%, while transits share climbs to 70%. That’s a complete reversal of spending priorities, but roads will still be required to handle 90% of the 15 million daily trips made in the region, while Prop 1 will only relieve roads of 62,000 new trips

    Do we really want to starve our road and HOV system into 3rd world status of potholes and crumbling bridges, just to claim ownership of a bright and shinny railroad, that moves fewer than 5% of the trips? You decide.

  3. Schroeder on October 15th, 2008 6:03 pm

    Light rail is cheaper to operate than buses and can operate at a much higher capacity than buses per hour (moves more people per hour than an equal number of buses in service). Not to mention that light rail, operating on its own right of way, won’t get bogged down in traffic like buses.

    What’s more is that this region is expected to grow by an additional one-million people by 2030, which will require this us o provide a high-capacity alternative to driving and buses, both of which will be bogged down in traffic on roads. We have essentially been investing in more buses and more highways for the last four decades and we continue facing the same problems with congestion. Buses will not solve our congestion problems alone and we will need light rail, or some other high-capacity rail alternative to assist in providing traffic relief and commuting options as this region grows in size.

    Vote YES on Prop 1!

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