Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Sound Transit Sends the Prop 1 Do-Over to Voters

The Sound Transit Board has approved placing a 15-year mass transit construction plan and associated 1/2 cent sales tax increase on the November 4, 2008 general election ballot. While the package was forwarded to the ballot by a unanimous vote, the underlying plan as it was amended passed on a 16-2 vote. King County Executive Ron Sims and King County Councilman Pete Von Reichbauer were the two dissenting votes.

While an argument was made in this Forum and by several newspaper editorial boards that Sound Transit should wait until the Seattle light rail already under construction is put into operation, the ST Board thought it better to go ahead now.

Sound Transit Board Chair Greg Nickels characterizes the new plan as "faster, better and cheaper" than the 20 years-of-construction light rail transit portion of the first Prop 1 defeated at the polls in November 2007.  However, the tax increase in both cases is the same (1/2 cent tax on a dollar of sales) and in both cases there is no firm sunset date established for the ending of the tax.

Executive Sims and State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond attempted to amend the plan to add substantially more near-term bus service.  Their attempt was rejected by a majority of the Board.

The new Proposition 1 devotes 67% of its $17.8 billion in new spending over 15 years to extending light rail tracks about 34 miles beyond the Central Link line under construction between Husky Stadium and SeaTac Airport. Relatively small amounts of the package are devoted to expanding the Sounder Commuter Rail program (6%) and Regional Express Bus program (2%).  The remaining 25% of this new spending is programmed for debt service, operations, maintenance, and reserves, as follows:.

Most of the funding comes from the new 1/2 cent sales tax. The second biggest source is borrowing via sale of 30-year bonds, the interest on which beyond 15 years will add another $5 billion to the cost over the claimed $17.8 billion basic cost. As mentioned already, the new taxes that are part of the plan have no firm sunset date.  Furthermore, the Board's plan continues the Sound Move taxes -- now collected at the rate of one million dollars per day -- indefinitely, without limit as well.

Graphics above are from Sound Transit's presentation to the Expert Review Panel on July 21, 2008..

Here is what the measure is going to look like on the November ballot:



To expand and coordinate light-rail, commuter-rail, and express bus service (beginning 2009), and improve access to transit facilities in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, shall Sound Transit impose an additional five-tenths of one percent sales and use tax, and use existing taxes to fund the local share of the $17.9 billion estimated cost (includes construction, operations, maintenance, interest and inflation), with independent audits, as described in the Mass Transit Guide and Resolution R2008-11?



Documentation of computer modeling released in 2006 by the Puget Sound Regional Council shows that traffic congestion will increase dramatically by 2040 with even more light rail construction than this plan provides.

Furthermore, the benefit-cost analysis carried out by the agency is obviously deficient, as documented here.

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