Northwest NEWS

November 23, 1998

Front Page

Northshore cities question Sound Transit's plan

by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter

   Fearing that a bus they thought would be making a scheduled stop in their neighborhood may not, Northshore cities have banded together to lobby Sound Transit to change that.

   The mayors of Woodinville, Bothell, Kenmore, and Lake Forest Park have sent a letter to Sound Transit's board of directors that reads in part "it is urgent to provide Sound Transit quality service throughout the Northshore area in both directions along [State Route] 522."

   Sound Transit, formerly known as the Regional Transit Authority, is charged with building a $3.9 billion web of express buses, light rail, and commuter rail in the Puget Sound basin. Under their draft implementation plan, express busses wouldn't serve the north end of Lake Washington, though Woodinville officials note such a route was penciled in on the plan pitched to voters in 1996.

   "Our citizens voted for a plan that included service to Northshore," said Deborah Knight, Woodinville's interim public works director. "But the draft plan eliminated that service."

   Earlier this month, Sound Transit's board of directors approved the draft plan. Phased in over four years, 17 express regional bus routes would link Seattle, Everett, Bellevue, and Tacoma via interstates 5, 90, and 405, as well as State Route 520.

   Noticeably lacking at this point is Route E, which would link Woodinville and Northgate via SR-522. An express along that route was to come on line between the years 1998 and 2000, under the plan shown to voters. Instead, Sound Transit's draft plan points out that Metro routes 306, 307, and 312 serve the SR-522 corridor.

   Jim Moore, Sound Transit regional bus scheduling and planning coordinator, said an express with limited stops would mean Metro would have to continue their routes along SR-522, which would lead to inefficiencies. "We'd rather have one productive service than two unproductive services," Moore said.

   But the difference is apples and oranges. Knight says that Metro doesn't run express routes, which Route E would provide.

   The reason the route is in trouble is linked to costs that weren't factored into the operations and maintenance budget for Sound Transit's regional express service in the East King County District, one of the transit authority's sub-regions, and the one in which Woodinville and Bothell are assigned.

   Under the voted plan, there was $111 million in operating and maintenance costs for express service for the sub-region. Eighty-seven percent of that total would have gone for direct hours, while 13 percent was set aside for Americans with Disability Act (ADA) contingency.

   During last week's Eastside Transportation Partnership meeting, Sound Transit officials said costs such as liability insurance and administration now have to be considered. Under the current plan, 74 percent of the $111 million would go for direct hours, with 11 percent for ADA, 10 percent for operating reserves and 5 percent for Sound Transit administration.

   While Woodinville Mayor Don Brocha said having reserves on hand was smart, he said that need should have been known earlier, as well as the conflicts between Metro and express bus service in the SR-522 corridor.

   For Brocha, local service from Sound Transit is a matter of fairness. "We just want to make sure that we have some equity in the thing, that whatever they do serves the whole region, including Woodinville," he said.

   Brocha said the watchword for the second RTA vote in November, 1996 was "equity." The first vote, held in March of that year, failed and was criticized for being too Seattle-centric. "Woodinville could have gotten more, but had to give up for the region. It now appears to be serving the region instead of Woodinville," he said.

   A four-tenths of one percent sales tax and three-tenths of one percent motor vehicle excise tax from Northshore and the western urban areas of King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties help pay for the high capacity transportation network.

   Moore said the Woodinville area will benefit from arterial HOV lane enhancements and a look to see what can be done in the SR-522 corridor.

   Still, Northshore officials have other worries about Route E. The Mayors write: "If Regional Express Route E is not implemented, it is urgent for these funds to be used to upgrade transit service in the Northshore area. It would be inappropriate to transfer these funds to another area without considering the needs for improved transit service in this area."

   A letter from Bothell and University of Washington-Bothell officials suggests that savings from not providing service along SR-522 "apparently may be reallocated to Issaquah."

   Sound Transit's East King County district stretches from the Snohomish County line south through Issaquah.

   As it stands, Sound Transit's fleet of 175 air-conditioned buses is expected to start rolling next September, providing high-speed, two-way all-day bus service. Of the 17 routes, eight will come on line in 1999, and the rest the following three years. The buses will feature high-back reclining seats, overhead storage racks and other amenities.

   While Woodinville, Kenmore, and Lake Forest Park express stops are now absent from the draft plan, Bothell will still be served by two--one from Lynnwood and the other from Everett. Both will use I-405 on their way to Bellevue. One of the routes would've used the Bothell-Everett Highway (SR-527), but has been deferred.

   The Bothell Transportation Partnership says that the SR-527 corridor is a major origin for a large percentage of commuters to Bothell's business parks. The BTP, comprised of Allstate, ATL, Eddie Bauer, and others in the North Creek valley, estimates there will be an additional 7,000 to 10,000 employees in the high tech corridor within the next two to three years.

   "For those of us on the Eastside without rail, express busses are critical," said Bothell Mayor Debbie Treen.

   Woodinville officials say they are also in favor of an express between the Woodinville Park & Ride and the Bellevue Transit Center because Metro service times in that corridor have been impacted by the state Department of Transportation's move of HOV lanes from the inside to the outside lane.

   Sound Transit spokesman Denny Fleenor said discussions will continue with Eastside cities on possible modifications to routes, which heartened Brocha. The board of directors will next meet Dec. 10.

   Express buses are just one component of "Sound Move." Sound Transit is in the process of developing a 24-mile light rail line connecting SeaTac, Tukwila, and Seattle, a 1.6-mile light rail line in Tacoma, and an 82-mile "Sounder" commuter rail system between Everett and Tacoma.