Transit Plan Can Trace Surprise Success To Suburbs -- New Support Found On Eastside, In Snohomish County

All last week, backers of a regional mass-transit plan anticipated what they felt would be the Puget Sound area's last chance for years to build a transportation network.

But no one predicted the overwhelming victory Tuesday, when voters approved a $3.9 billion rail-and-bus network. The measure won 60 percent of the vote in King County and majorities in neighboring Pierce and Snohomish counties.

"This is so much bigger than transit," said Bob Gogerty, campaign consultant to the RTA campaign. "It is breaking the stranglehold that says people won't vote for taxes."

While the RTA victory might not mean a voter change-of-heart on automatic approval of new tax increases - it only has been a few months since voters twice defeated the Seattle Commons park proposal and a countywide measure for parks and open space - Gogerty argues that it means voters will tax themselves for the right project.

Just 18 months ago, the region gave a more ambitious $6.7 billion transit plan a mere 47 percent yes vote. That plan won approval in Seattle but was turned down nearly 2-to-1 in the neighboring counties and on the Eastside.

Last year, when Everett's mayor campaigned against the plan, it was turned down with an 80 percent no vote.

But this year in Snohomish County, where local officials campaigned feverishly for the project, citizens voted 55 percent for the bus-and-rail network.

Opposition was thought to be strongest on the Eastside, where developers Kemper Freeman Jr., Skip Rowley and David Schooler paid for much of the anti-RTA campaign.

But election results show the RTA won with 54 percent of the vote in Bellevue's 48th Legislative District. Other Republican strongholds on the Eastside produced similar numbers.

It won a slim majority in Pierce County and 53 percent in South King County areas, such as Normandy Park and Federal Way.

Citizens in heavily Democratic Seattle voted 70 percent yes, including 56 percent in favor in the 34th Legislative District of West Seattle, 72 percent in the Queen Anne-Magnolia area, and 80 percent on Capitol Hill and the University District.

The only area to vote no was near Kent, in southeast King County.

The difference, said Bob Drewel, county executive in Snohomish County and chairman of the RTA board, was that the RTA was willing to rewrite its plan after its defeat.

RTA supporters reduced the scope of the plan and the time to build it.

"We were very straightforward," Drewel said. "We said there were a number of objectives, of which this was just one."

Gogerty, architect of dozens of civic campaigns in the past 30 years, sees the win as something of a vindication.

His first political job was on the 1968 Forward Thrust campaign, which brought dozens of parks and community centers to King County but failed to win citizen approval for bonds to pay for a new transportation system.

The 1996 RTA plan is expected to take 10 years to complete.

The most difficult construction job will be the light-rail line from the University District to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which includes a deep tunnel under Capitol Hill.

In the near-term, RTA Executive Director Bob White said express buses serving suburban areas and Seattle could be operating in two years.

Those buses will be operated by current bus agencies, such as King County Metro, Pierce County Transit and Snohomish County's Community Transit. The RTA may either provide funding for buses or procure buses for the transit agencies.

Commuter rail between Seattle and Tacoma also could be running in about that time, provided the RTA can negotiate an agreement to share tracks and costs with Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

Commuter rail between Seattle and Everett, and between Tacoma and Lakewood, meanwhile, will take three to four years.

Drewel said turning the RTA from a planning agency into one that actually contracts for construction may require adding staff and restructuring.

How that goes together will be defined by a capital plan that is expected to be adopted by the RTA board by mid-1997. It will specify which projects will be built first, where stations and transit centers will be located, and how they will look.



Two kinds of rail transit were approved in Tuesday's Regional Transit Authority vote. Here is an explanation of how they will work:

COMMUTER RAIL -- Diesel trains on existing tracks. -- 14 stations between Everett and Lakewood, including stops in Mukilteo, in Edmonds, on Seattle's King Street, on Boeing Access Road, in Tukwila, in Kent, in Auburn, in Sumner, in Puyallup, at the Tacoma Dome and in Tacoma. -- Maximum speed, 79 mph. Average speed, 35 mph. -- Service in rush hour only. Nine trains in the morning and evening between Seattle and Lakewood; six trains in the morning and evening between Seattle and Everett. -- Three- to 10-car trains with a capacity of 450 to 1,500 passengers. -- Tracks shared with freight trains. -- Two years to begin Tacoma operations; three years for Everett trains. -- Stations could be provided in Richmond Beach, Ballard and Georgetown if funding becomes available.

LIGHT RAIL -- Electric-powered trains on new tracks. -- University District in Seattle to South 200th Street in SeaTac with stations on Northeast 45th Street, on Pacific Street, on Capitol Hill, on First Hill and at downtown bus tunnel stops. Elevated tracks along Rainier Avenue South with stops on South Atlantic Street, on South McClellan Street and in Columbia City. Surface tracks along Martin Luther King Jr. Way with stops on Othello Street, Henderson Street and Boeing Access Road. South King County stops in Tukwila, on State Route 518, at Sea-Tac Airport and on South 200th Street. Route could be along Highway 99 or along Interurban Avenue. -- Maximum speed, 55 to 65 mph. Average speed, 25 to 35 mph. -- Trains every six to 15 minutes, all day. -- Four- to six-car trains, at 125 people per car. -- Tacoma light rail from downtown to the Tacoma Dome. -- First operations in Tacoma. Five to six years for first Seattle operations. Ten years to complete system.