Public transit in Seattle and the Puget Sound region has had a fitful history. November’s ballot initiative Prop 1, the $54B Sound Transit 3 (ST3) expansion is yet another chapter.
Using Forward Thrust as the starting point of this saga, voters in 1968 and 1970 rejected plans for an urban subway system that would have seen as much as 75% of the $1.3B price tag federally funded. A 60% vote was needed, which was hard to achieve during the severe “Boeing recession.” In 1972 voters approved an all-bus Metro system, then in 1990 as a result of the passage of the Growth Management Act, planning was authorized which led to the formation of Sound Transit.
The first Sound Transit ballot initiative in 1995, a $6.7B package that included at-grade light rail from Lynnwood to Tacoma and across I-90 to Overlake, along with bus and commuter rail was rejected, but a downscaled initiative passed in 1996. That package, called Sound Move, proposed a starter light rail line between Northgate and SeaTac and included more express bus services. It has resulted in the 14.6 mile Central Link line that runs between the UW Husky Stadium and Angle Lake (below SeaTac airport) today. Failed negotiations with potential contractors resulted in delays and management turnover, so Sound Move has cost nearly $5B and had overruns of over 86% more than originally projected.
A second stage for Sound Transit was proposed as part of a regional transportation ballot measure in 2007. The joint highways and transit measure (called the Regional Transportation Investment District, or RTID) was defeated, but the transit portion was brought back to voters in 2008 as Sound Transit 2 (ST2). That $17.8B measure was approved to expand Central Link north to Lynnwood, east to Bellevue and the Microsoft campus, and south to Federal Way. When built out in 2023, this expansion to the system will have added another 36 miles of light rail service.
Now with the original Sound Move’s final stations open (UW Husky stadium stop opening just this spring and Angle Lake and its 1,100 parking spaces last week) voters will decide this Fall whether to fund ST3, a $54B package that will add 62 more miles to the light rail system completing the original system vision mandated in Sound Transit’s state enabling legislation to connect Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue with a spine of high capacity transit service. Continue reading