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RTA: Voters asked to approve 'Sound Move'

Regional Transit Authority by Jeff Switzer
The second attempt to fund regional transportation improvements will go before voters Nov. 5. The RTA proposal seeks an increase in local sales and motor vehicle excise taxes to raise $3.9 billion for more HOV express lanes, regional express buses, commuter rail, and electric light-rail to solve congestion and improve traffic flow.
   The Regional Transit Authority Board adopted "Sound Move"--the Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan for Pierce, Snohomish, and King Counties--at the end of May. Voters had rejected last year's $6.7 billion proposal, criticized for its Seattle-centric approach and commuter- and light-rail emphasis.
   The new plan places heavy emphasis on 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 would use existing tracks between Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Lakewood, running along Puget Sound until Boeing, then through Kent, Auburn, and Sumner to Tacoma. Scaled back from last year's rail proposal, the 81-mile commuter rail will offer rush-hour train service on existing tracks between Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Lakewood.
   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.
   The RTA plan assumes no state funds or increases in property taxes, instead using local revenues, municipal bonds, federal grants, and the farebox. Local revenues include a local sales tax increase not to exceed .04 percent and an increase of .03 percent in the motor vehicle excise tax (license tabs).
   Just over half (50.6 percent) of the revenues are anticipated to come from those sources, producing $1.98 billion; 27 percent will come from bonds ($1.05 billion); 18.6 percent from federal grants ($727 million); and four percent from fares and other sources ($155 million).
   According to the RTA's financial policies for the plan, local taxes will be invested to benefit the sub-area 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.