Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sound Transit's new future plan is up

Proposition 1, rejected last fall by Puget Sound voters, would have approved a large package of mass-transit improvements as well as highway improvements. Interestingly, after its failure at the polls, surveys indicated that a large bloc of voters (environmentalists who did not vote for passage) would have been swayed towards the proposal had it had less highways, not more.

A survey conducted by Sound Transit (PDF) seems to bear that out. According to Sound Transit's telephone survey, there is good news--voters think that expanding mass transit is very important. ST didn't explicitly ask voters to prioritize funding for mass transit over other areas, but since mass transit will have its own referendum, that's not as much of an issues. Furthermore, 52 percent of respondents to an open question identified "transportation" or "congestion" as the most important problem facing the PS region. Voters had very favorable opinions of Sound Transit and King County Metro. In general, voters approved of almost every option put on the table, and seemed to give greater favor to options which were completed more quickly and were more extensive in scope.

Out of the individual projects, those that found the most favor were increasing Tacoma-Seattle commuter rail, using the Eastside freight rail tracks for commuter rail, and extending the light rail across I-90 to Bellevue.

My principal concern about the survey is that it seems to have grossly underweighted younger voters. Only 20 percent of survey respondents were 39 or younger. I am curious if this was deliberate, to represent the distribution of voters, or whether it was a result of polling methods (younger people being more mobile, younger people not having land phones, etc.) I have no idea if it would make a difference in the results.

So, then, what is the proposal? ST comes out with two--the "0.4" and the "0.5" proposals--based on the sales tax hike that each one would require. Essentially, 0.5 is 0.4, plus more stuff. Key points:
  • Expansion of light rail to Northgate, to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, and to south 200th in Burien. The 0.5 plan extends it further, to Overlake TC in Redmond, and to Highline CC in Des Moines. Additionally, there would be studies done (and in some cases ROW purchased) for the eventual extension of the light rail to Everett, Tacoma and Redmond Town Center.
  • BRT on the new 520 bridge (not sure what, exactly, this BRT will look like, or how it would be different from current ST regional service. Guess it depends on the bridge outcome).
  • Improved Sounder on the southern end (through Kent and Auburn to Tacoma)--more service, station improvements, etc.
  • Construction of the First Hill connector that will link that area with light rail (how much gets done depends on which plan).
  • Study of transit possibilities on the freight line from Woodinville to Renton.
  • Of course, there are lots of little improvements all around.
The options cost $6.8bn or $7.8bn, in 2007 dollars. Overall, they're necessary just to deal with the growth the Seattle region will undoubtedly continue to see. Luckily, the survey suggests most people are eager to vote on the issue again this fall, and hopefully approve a package that will get started soon.

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