• Wait until 2041 for ST3 light rail? Some locals aren't happy about that

    By: Graham Johnson

    Updated:
    Issaquah will be the last community to get light rail under Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, and resident Julia Duin is not happy about waiting until 2041.
     
    "That's horrible. I'm going to be ancient by that time, 2041," Duin said. "All this should have been started in the seventies, which is when I first moved here."
     
    Commuters in the Puget Sound region have felt the need to catch up on rapid transit since 1970, when the second Forward Thrust transit ballot measure failed.
     
    It would have given us a subway system mostly funded by the federal government.
     
    Even if ST3 passes, the wait for a way out of traffic will continue up to 25 years.
     

    Previous ST3 coverage
     
     
     
     

     
    A couple of extensions would open in 2024, but most come later. West Seattle and the Tacoma Dome wait until 2030. Three new stations on existing lines open in 2031. Ballard's line and a new downtown tunnel are scheduled for 2035. Everett would get light rail in 2036. Tacoma Community College would get service in 2039, and Issaquah in 2041.
     
    "Projects take a long time," said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff.
     
    Sound Transit says it takes time to buy property, and there could be limits on how much work the construction industry can handle.
     
    Still, Rogoff calls the timelines in ST3 "conservative."
     
    He says light rail can be built faster if cities quickly issue permits without long fights over where trains will run.
     
    "Do you think you can shave a few years off?," asked KIRO 7's Graham Johnson.
     
    "We can in certain circumstances," Rogoff answered.
     
    Some Snohomish County cities have agreed already to expedite permitting.
     
    Financing is another factor.
     
    University of Washington transportation researcher Mark Hallenbeck says state law restricts Sound Transit from exceeding its debt limit.
     
    "That limits how much money in debt they can have at any given time, once you're at that debt limit the only money you can spend is what you bring in in cash," Hallenbeck said.
     
    Sound Transit could borrow more money sooner if it were seeking a 60 percent supermajority in November.
     
    But the agency is playing it safe, requesting approval from 50 percent of voters.
     
    "It's very hard to get 60 percent to agree to anything. I'm not sure that 60 percent would agree the sky is gray today," Hallenbeck said.
     
    That lesson goes back to Forward Thrust, which in 1968, got a 50.8 percent yes vote, but failed under the 60 percent supermajority requirement.
     
    In an interview with KIRO 7, Rogoff floated another possibility for speeding up ST3.
     
    "We could always come back for a supermajority to get those financial restrictions lifted," Rogoff said.
     
    We took that question to King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair Dow Constantine.
     
    "If this passes, would you go back to the voters to seek a supermajority to speed things up?" reporter Graham Johnson asked.
     
    "It's an interesting idea," Constantine answered. "I think that's something that could be considered. It hasn't been discussed at this point. The first time I've heard it brought up, but I suppose it's possible."
     
     

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