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Regional transit plan on November ballot

regional transit plan by Jeff Switzer
This fall, voters will be asked if they want to foot a $3.9 billion plan for more HOV express lanes, regional express buses, commuter rail, and electric light-rail to solve congestion and improve traffic flow between Everett and Tacoma.
   The Regional Transit Authority Board adopted the Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan--called "Sound Move"--at the end of May. Voters rejected last year's $6.7 billion proposal, which was criticized for its Seattle-centric approach and commuter- and light-rail emphasis.
   Dave Russell, Kirkland City Councilmember and RTA Board member, is enthusiastic about the new plan.
   "This plan will provide a new service connecting communities on the Eastside and providing a reliable alternative to getting stuck on I-405," Russell said.
   "There are some corridors where it really is time for light rail," he said, noting that the route from the University District is typically standing room only. "We have equity in the five sub-areas and they determined what would suit them the best. The system integrates it all together."
   The plan heavily emphasizes the use of I-5 and I-405 for regional buses, branching off to Redmond, Overlake, West Seattle, and use of Bothell-Everett Highway through Mill Creek.
   The Commuter Rail element plans to use existing tracks between Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, and Lakewood, running along Puget Sound until Boeing, then through Kent, Auburn, and Sumner to Tacoma.
   Electric Light-Rail service is planned for the densely-developed areas; Northgate to throughout downtown Seattle then to SeaTac; and between Tacoma and the Tacoma Dome.

HOV Expressway and regional buses
   Coordinating with the State Department of Transportation's already-funded continuous HOV lanes, the plan has more than 100 miles of HOV Expressway as wall as RTA direct-access ramps to "make it easier and safer for transit and carpools to reach and use ... eliminating the need to weave through several lanes of traffic to reach the HOV lanes."
   Taking advantage of the expressway, the RTA board says, approximately 20 new regional express bus routes will free up 300,000 hours of existing local bus service to be used for other local needs.

Commuter Rail and Electric Light Rail
   Scaled back from last year's rail focus, the 81-mile commuter rail will offer rush-hour train service on existing tracks between Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, and Lakewood. The commuter rail will share several stations with Amtrak, creating opportunities for interstate and local connections.
   The light-rail system comprises 25-miles of starter rail with 26 stations within "walking distance of major destinations, as well as connections to local and regional bus service." The electric light-rail will take advantage of the downtown Seattle bus tunnels, which were designed to accommodate rail.

Where the money is coming from
   The RTA plan assumes no state funds or increases in property taxes, but uses local revenues, municipal bonds, federal grants, and the farebox.
   Local revenues include a local sales tax increase not to exceed .04 percent and a motor vehicle excise tax/license tab increase of .03 percent.
   Just over half (50.6 percent) of the revenues will come from local sales tax and motor vehicle excise tax increases, producing $1.98 billion; 27 percent will come from bonds ($1.05 billion); 18.6 percent from federal grants ($727 million); and 4 percent from fares and other sources ($155 million).

Where the money is going
   According to the RTA's financial policies for the plan, local taxes will be invested to benefit the subarea where they are raised; there will be limited borrowing; and the RTA will hire independent auditors and appoint a citizen oversight committee to make sure the agency is held accountable. Also, voter approval is required for any capital investments beyond the 10-year plan.
   "If voters decide not to extend the system, the RTA will roll back the tax rate to a level sufficient to pay off the bonds (27 percent, or $1.052 billion) and operate and maintain Sound Move investments," the plan says.
   Those "investments" include operation and maintenance of the plan if approved, as well as bonding to pay for the long-term capital investments.