ST3 – Once in a Lifetime

Shared from Seattle Transit Blog with permission.  Original post available HERE.


ST3 is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Let’s make it great!

As you sit in a car or bus stuck in ever-worsening traffic in our region, do you ever imagine what our region would be like if we had approved Forward Thrust in 1968 or 1970—a system that would have been completed in the 1980s?

There is an equally important opportunity in front of the ST board starting on Dec 4th. We are not talking about just getting rail to Everett & Tacoma, or just West Seattle to Ballard. We are talking about a complete system in one vote.

Due to a unique convergence of factors, the Sound Transit board has a rare opportunity to do just that. They have the ability to connect our entire region and provide the Puget Sound with a much more complete solution to our transit troubles than they envisioned 3 years ago when they commenced planning for ST3.

Changing Times

During the height of the recession, when the board decided that ST should plan for a possible 2016 ballot measure, the choice seemed bullish. It is a bullish decision no longer. Our region is among the fastest growing in the country. Seattle alone added 58,000 people within its borders from 2010 to 2014. Traffic delays have increased up to 290% in some areas since 2010. We suffer from a challenge of abundance—unemployment in most large cities in our metro area is only in the 3-4% range and hiring doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Option that solves more problems

With our rapid growth in population and jobs, should we be content with a limited, recession-era plan to grow our rail system? What if we could do more while spending money more responsibly on a clear, long-term path to a complete transit system in just one vote? And what if that complete plan would cost us the same amount per year as the smaller, recession era version? The basic concept is this: Sound Transit puts forth a ballot measure that has more projects with more time to pay for them and more time to construct them. By planning and building a system instead of multiple votes for a few lines at a time, we have the ability to think and act strategically, save staff time and set ourselves up for more federal funds.

This approach solves some challenges of a smaller ST3 in every subarea.

  • Snohomish county. Paying for Snohomish County’s section of the spine–with or without Paine Field–exceeds the Snohomish subarea’s ability to pay. Under a longer plan this is solved, making the local preference for Paine Field much more feasible.
  • East King. ST3’s current concept only extends rail 1 mile to Redmond, then provides a BRT or express bus variant to cities from Totem Lake to Redmond. But the eastside is a major population center, deserving of an actual rail network. Furthermore, voters do not get excited about buses; they get excited about rail. ST2 passed on the Eastside, while King County’s effort to save Metro last year failed by a wide margin.
  • South King. Without a larger plan, Burien will not get service, nor will any area south of the West Seattle junction. Other options to serve Renton are also off the table. The smaller option simply completes a Federal Way line that was already approved in ST2. A larger plan will also allow the option of increased Sounder service.
  • Pierce county. A larger plan ensures that Pierce County’s link extension can go beyond the Tacoma Dome. It also provides Tacoma/Pierce county the option to seek additional Sounder service, Tacoma Link extensions or realize other BRT concepts.
  • Seattle/North King. A larger, longer-term plan guarantees that Seattle can build high-performing lines from U District to Ballard, extend lines deeper into West Seattle, and provide service to Crown Hill, on to Lake City and out the 522 corridor–serving some of Seattle’s most affordable housing areas.

Perfect Year for Yes!

When we talk about this with local elected officials and staff, the idea stirs both excitement and questions: Why not just wait for ST4? Will the voters approve this? It seems exciting to them, if only we could. The bottom line is there’s no better time than 2016 to get a Yes on Transit.

Here’s why:

Hungry Voters

Voters are very hungry for transportation solutions. In Seattle, Move Seattle passed by a whopping 17% margin. This is despite the measure having no signature project during a low-turnout, off-year election with $350,000 worth of high-profile opposition spending—all major headwinds the measure easily overcame. In Snohomish county, voters approved the highest tax rate in the state to improve transit service, and in Tacoma voters approved a multifaceted plan to maintain andimprove the city’s transportation infrastructure.

st complete

ST Complete Station Map, updated 01/14/2016.

A Station for Everyone

When you look at the two maps, the longer-term option offers twice the excitement. Why? Because effectively twice as many parcels will be near a light rail line. Voters are much more likely to vote for something if it will actually serve their neighborhood.

Coincidence of Timing

There is also no better year to show off a great transit agency doing great work. When citizens vote on ST3, riders throughout the region will be riding to Husky football games on U-Link—an extension completed by Sound Transit 6 months early and $150 million under budget. This is the most perfect rebuttal possible to the naysayer contingent that usually grasps onto “mismanagement” as their favorite reason to vote against good things. Sound Transit is delivering—tunnels and all! Let’s set them on the task of delivering more.

The Cost of Waiting

The most strategic concern here is that if we complete the spine in ST3, there might never be an ST4. Why? Without major signature projects to vote YES on in Pierce or Snohomish counties once “the spine” is complete, it becomes much more difficult to get YES votes from them in the future. This imperils the entire enterprise to conduct further expansion.

What You Can Do

Before the Sound Transit board meets on December 4th for their ST3 workshop, let them know that you want them to go big and support ST complete.  Here is the board’s contact informationEmails are good. Calls are better.  Let’s seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and leave a legacy of high-quality transit for Seattle and the Puget Sound region.

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