The Urbanist Endorses Sound Transit Proposition 1 - Mass Transit Now
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The Urbanist Endorses Sound Transit Proposition 1

Regional Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 3): Approve

Regional Proposition 1 (also known as Sound Transit 3) would be a massive investment in the Puget Sound transit system. It would deliver grade-separated light rail to West Seattle Junction by 2030 and to Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, Denny Triangle, and Interbay by 2035, and open up various parts of the city and region to transit-oriented development, spurring plans to remake land in an urban image, to make more city to go around. Approve this measure to make our transportation system more resilient and our land use pattern more sustainable.

First let’s talk about the price tag. $54 billion is quoted often by opponents to scare folks out of voting for it. They don’t often mention that only half comes from local taxes and that the other half is leveraged through other sources including federal funds. Federal dollars are not fungible money. We either invest and return more of our federal tax dollars to our state thereby generating jobs, or get a bout of fiscal conservatism and let our federal money be spent by the likes of South Carolina, North Dakota, and Florida–who each receive more than four times what they contribute. Meanwhile, Washington state is on the other end of the spectrum, ranking 16th lowest in federal investment per state tax dollar. We are more of a giver than a taker when it comes to federal taxes. ST3 would ensure more federal investment.

The plan may not be exactly how some armchair transit planners would draw it, but such is life when North King County will account for only one third of revenue and one third of investment, give or take. And to its credit, ST3 manages to connect places in the suburbs that seem destined to urbanize. For all its eccentricities, Snohomish County’s Paine Field alignment does manage to hit most of the county’s densest neighborhoods.

Pierce and South King County do not boast great walkshed density along the light rail line but do offer some real opportunities to change that, such as near Federal Way Transit Center. Getting Tacoma light rail access to the airport will improve the city’s draw and help it shoulder more growth, too.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) boosters have suggested BRT could deliver sooner and spread its tentacles deeper into the suburbs. The thing they seem to forget is that ST3 delivers 49 miles of BRT by 2024 on two key corridors: I-405 and SR-522. That was the right decision in those corridors. But in corridors that need the greater capacity, ST3 makes the wise 100-year investment in light rail. Remember: one light rail line can move the equivalent of a 16-lane freeway filled with single-occupant vehicles. That’s why you should vote to approve Regional Proposition 1.