By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Light rail is coming to West Seattle.”
That’s how King County Executive and Sound Transit board chair Dow Constantine opened his speech to the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon – his second pitch in the area in less than 24 hours for the transit megameasure known as ST3. He proclaimed it even more jubilantly in his first one, talking to the 34th District Democrats Wednesday night, as you can see and hear in our video:
Shortly after Constantine’s speech, the 34th DDs endorsed ST3 (as reported here earlier). His appearance before the Chamber – which did not involve an endorsement vote – was longer, and more educational; Constantine called it the “transit planner” or “nerd” version of the speech, rather than the “campaign” or “stemwinder” version.
The vote is still three-plus months away; ballots for the August primary hadn’t even arrived yet as he stood before the two local groups talking about ST3, which won’t be decided until November. But with an 11-digit price tag, this is no ordinary ballot measure. And supporters are pulling out the stops to avoid what happened with Sound Transit 2, a defeat, rewrite, and revote.
The county executive’s West Seattle Chamber appearance at The Kenney started with an explanation that the ST district includes parts of three counties, with 53 cities and more than 3 million people, plus “well, well over half the state’s economy.”
Constantine chairs the 18-member board, including 17 elected officials. Besides light rail, ST also runs a express bus service (including Route 560 to and from West Seattle) as well as the Sounder commuter-rail service.
Sound Transit is continuing to build out projects from pre-ST3 plans, including expanding as far north as Bellevue, east to Redmond, south to Des Moines, he noted.
And then – on to Sound Transit 3, which the board finalized three weeks ago, with a plan promising light rail for West Seattle by 2030.
“The region is growing,” he said, understatedly, most recently “a thousand people a week,” which means 1 million more people soon, people who need to get around. “Just last year we added 100 new cars to the road every single day – that is why we have these [traffic] problems.”
Why ST3? “Because this is the thing that works,” Constantine asserted, saying that it’s still the best way to reduce congestion – he mentioned Thursday morning’s crash on the West Seattle Bridge, which he said set him back at least half an hour. “The age of large-scale highway construction is over” – some components will be rebuilt, maybe expanded, but “we’re not going to add a new I-5,” for example. And even if that was done, the vehicles would pour into a maxed-out street grid. The congestion is threatening the area’s economy, he said. “Building a high-capacity, highly reliable system is an opportunity.” It will create jobs and grow the economy, he declared. “And it helps you individually stop wasting your time and wasting your money.”
Light rail, Constantine said, gives people a chance to get somewhere in a predictable amount of time, reliably. “It doesn’t matter if there’s a wreck on the bridge or it’s raining or slowing – if you need to be at work at 9 o’clock,” you’ll be able to do that. “How are we going to move people around this region? This is the way to do it.”
He offered numbers including one freeway lane carrying 2,000 people per hour while light rail would carry 16,000 people per hour. “How many lanes would we have to add to I-5 or I-90 to provide the kind of capacity we can with one light-rail line? This is not a replacement for our road system, it’s a new way of approaching the challenge of mobility that will complement our road system.”
He went through map pages showing where ST3 will extend light rail and bus rapid transit starting in 2024- if it’s passed.
In 2030, “West Seattle!” he declared, eliciting a few “yays” from around the room. He noted that it’s a “conservative” timeline. “With each thing that becomes more certain, we are potentially able to do things sooner.” The stations, he recapped, would be in Delridge, The Junction, and at 35th and Avalon.
“Here’s what we do for West Seattle in Sound Transit 3 – first, immediate improvements in Rapid Ride Line C – then, light rail to West Seattle, with buses coming to meet those trains in each of those corridors – third, bus rapid transit from Lynnwood to Burien – fourth, the study that will lay the groundwork for extending light rail to Burien, to White Center, and potentially (on to) Renton.”
But, he said, there’s more: “We’ll be potentialy able to reconfigure Metro, so that service can be redistributed to serve our community better – to have many, many more people within easy walking distance of the transit station.” That includes the “new RapidRide Line to replace the 120,” and he’s hopeful of more bus service “at Alki again. … except for the Water Taxi shuttle, it’s darn near impossible to get anywhere if you’re down there.”
He also said that other underserved areas such as Arbor Heights should get service back.
Now, the cost:
He says that it will cost an “average” resident “an additional $14 a month,” $169 a year, but did not get into the details until he was asked during the Q&A that followed:
“Why does it take so long?” asked one attendee. “I was watching NOVA last night and building a transcontinental railroad took six years.”
Constantine replied that “we’re building continuously” but that the money only comes in at a particular rate and you can’t build things without money. They did figure out how to reduce the timelines (as you might recall) before the final version was drafted to go to the ballot. Also, he said, they have to go through the environmental review process, the permit process. “All of those things can be shortened with partnership and with diligence,” he said. But overall, “the dates are all conservative,” he said.
Another attendee said he used the Seattle Times‘ “calculator” and learned that it would cost him “considerably more than” $14/month.
Constantine then recapped the three sources
.25 per $1,000 of property value
.8 percent of the state’s calculation of your vehicle’s value
Half-cent sales tax, “which rolled off when the stadium tax rolled away”
Constantine said that while he’s confident the Legislature will eventually reform the state’s tax system, “we cannot wait” to get going with this. “We will continue to push them to do that.”
Third question from someone who said she’s a supporter but wonders “what risks do you see?”
“This is a mature agency that has a track record of delivering projects on time and on budget … a very conservative agency … The greatest risk is in doing nothing. If we don’t do this now, when the package comes back four years from now, it will be smaller, it will go fewer places, who knows about West Seattle, and it will definitely be four years later.”
Ric Ilgenfritz, executive director of planning for Sound Transit, picked up a question about the envisioned light-rail route through West Seattle. The ballot measure will not address exact routes, exact blocks, he said, saying that will be worked out with the community if it passes. “But the (measure) budgets for the stations I mentioned,” Constantine adds.
Another question was about the timeline, again, which led to details of the financing. “40 percent of the program will be bond-financed – we can only issue bonds at the rate we can pay back that debt,” Ilgenfritz said. But they figured out how to “be a little more aggressive with our bonding” and that shaved a few years off the timelines. But “all the decisions about station locations, design, property acquisition, all individual decisions that take up time over a period of years before you’re ever able to stick a shovel in the ground. … Then once we’re ready to build it takes 5 to 6 years.”
Next question, about station locations and the study of running light rail south of North Delridge. First, said Constantine, they’d have to know where that first Delridge station will be – then, maybe to White Center, perhaps to Morgan inbetween. But, he said, keep in mind that the 120 will become RapidRide, “so it will be a fairly frequent and reliable ride.”
When will the study happen? “Whenever the board tells us to,” quips Ilgenfritz, but realistically – probably a few years after they decide where the West Seattle stations in ST3 will be, he said.
Saying that had been “the nerd version” of the presentation rather than the “stemwinder version” (which we’d argue he gave Wednesday night), Constantine wrapped as the meeting’s end at 1 pm arrived while promising to be available for questions.
Chamber CEO Lynn Dennis said she’ll collect questions and forward them for answers. Meantime, you can browse documents, maps, and other information about the proposal at soundtransit3.org.