Sound Transit Prop. 1 pays for more buses
October 14, 2008
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Jon Savelle at ext. 234 or email@example.com.