The authors, transit advocates at Seattle Subway, say we can speed up building the new light rail lines in ST3—but first you have to vote yes.
The authors, transit advocates at Seattle Subway, say we can speed up building the new light rail lines in ST3—but first you have to vote yes. Sound Transit

Have you heard that we have a transportation problem? Everyone is experiencing a worsening commute to work. Those living near Everett and working in Seattle must leave home nearly an hour and a half before work to confidently arrive on time, and across the region delays are increasing 25 percent each year. This is the traffic our buses get stuck in. Given the depth of our commuter agony, it’s understandable that people want real solutions now.

We are choosing transit in droves. Ridership in our region is increasing twice as fast as population growth. When we open quick, reliable rail systems, ridership blows away predictions. Link ridership grew 82 percent year over year by just adding two stations (imagine 37 more). Sounder grew 17 percent in a year without adding any. With nearly 1 million more people flocking here in the coming decades, only transit can adequately handle this challenge (it would take four or five Bertha-sized tunnels under I-5 to move the same amount of people as one Link light rail line to Northgate).

Getting it as fast as possible

ST3 (Proposition 1) allows Sound Transit to build an alternative to traffic as fast as state-approved revenue collection allows. Just one year after light rail to Bellevue launches in 2023, the first Proposition 1 lines would open to Redmond and Federal Way. Then new lines would open every few years to West Seattle, Tacoma, Ballard, Everett and Issaquah.

The opposition has bemoaned timelines as their excuse to oppose the package. This argument is actually as old as it is illogical, effectively saying that “it’s not completed fast enough, so slow it down.” The “just wait” approach has already been tried—in 1912, 1968, and 1970. We would already have a system in place for much lower costs had we approved these. Repeating these stupid mistakes risks our economy and our quality of life.

To fully experience the opposition’s masterful deception effort, hop on light rail from downtown to UW. During your six-minute ride, read the Seattle Times2008 op-ed opposing extension of the very UW light rail you are riding. Apparently nobody will ride light rail, it takes too long to be worth doing, and the cost of a bare bones daily newspaper subscription is too much to bear to pay for it. This ridiculous viewpoint is the same argument they are making now. Far from visionary, this line of attack is being parroted by (usually wealthy) people who would never ride transit in the first place.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The new light rail lines that will be built if ST3 passes.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: The new light rail lines that will be built if ST3 passes. seattle subway

In fact, if they legitimately wanted a system faster, they would encourage you to VOTE YES in November. Voting YES is the only step that unlocks the door to delivering light rail even faster than Sound Transit promises. Once we have an approved transit package, our region has two important cards to play to speed things up:

#1: Sound Transit has to do environmental review before breaking ground on any project. While this process can take years, sometimes politicians insert themselves and delay important decisions even further. This is exactly what happened in Bellevue, as East Link was delayed by the Bellevue City Council two years from 2021 to 2023. As we have written here before, when Sound Transit and cities collaborate, we can shave one to three years from project timelines.

#2: Completing #1 allows us to legally speed up projects. Should multiple projects get sped up, Sound Transit would need cash flows a little sooner to pay for construction. Speeding up cash flow through loans or grants could cut a total three to five years off of many key projects. Who could provide such loans or grants? The feds—and current events are making this a powerful possibility.

In this wild presidential election, one issue area has been relatively uncontroversial: infrastructure investment. Hillary Clinton has a detailed plan to be enacted within her first 100 days. It involves $500 billion in new infrastructure investment over five years (read the plan for the wonky details). Not to be outdone, Donald Trump promises big: $1 trillion going into roads, bridges and broadband over an unspecified period. While he has not provided further details, the basic takeaway is they both want to invest more in our country’s infrastructure.

The $500 Billion Question

If Congress approved a $500 Billion infrastructure plan, what would that mean? Washington could expect $11 billion over five years if awarded proportionately to population. As the second largest capital projects agency in the state with experience winning large grants, Sound Transit would likely be in line for billions of dollars. Just 20 percent of Washington’s hypothetical federal contribution would be $2.2 billion more dollars—enough to shave years off multiple projects. Our best estimates of this impact can be found in this animation. (Drag the slider below; click here to enlarge.)

The Setback of a ‘No’ Vote

The alternative to a YES vote isn’t pretty. Voter rejection of Proposition 1 would likely delay any subsequent attempt at least four years until the next presidential election. If we had a follow-up package, it would inevitably be reduced in size, leaving communities in terrible predicaments. Seattle would have to pick whether to build to South Lake Union/Lower Queen Anne/Ballard or West Seattle; there would be no room for both. Everett might lose rail to Paine Field, or get to Paine but not Everett. The Eastside would likely lose a light rail line and some Bus Rapid Transit, leaving communities fighting not to be left out. Tacoma’s 40 percent increase in Sounder capacity, increased frequency, extensions of Sounder and Tacoma Link are all at risk. Finally, with no shovel-ready projects to fund, our region would see a significant opportunity cost, losing out on four years and billions of dollars of potential federal investment.

In Conclusion

In 1968, voters had the chance to fund a 49-mile rail system with just $24.42 per year in property taxes on the average $20,000 home (then). They balked, and we were left with a brittle transportation system that breaks during rush hour. With every year that passes, the commute gets painfully worse and the solutions more expensive.

There is only one proposal to connect 84 percent of the region’s residents and 93 percent of workers to fast, reliable, high quality transit. And there is only one way to make that happen even faster than Sound Transit promises. It all starts with a YES on Proposition 1 in November.

Seattle Subway advocates for expanding light rail in Seattle and the Puget Sound region on the fastest possible timeline.