When Sounder commuter trains head north into Snohomish County, Everett might not be the final stop after all.
Marysville, Arlington and the Tulalip Tribes are exploring the idea of joining the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority to ease rapidly worsening traffic.
"The traffic isn't getting any better on I-5 by just improving HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes and other things," said Arlington Mayor Bob Kraski. "This is a great step in the right direction, to offer people another way to get from Arlington to Everett" and beyond.
If officials for the cities and Tulalips decide they want to join the transit authority, now known as Sound Transit, voters will be asked to approve increases in their taxes.
A majority of voters must agree to a 0.4 percent increase in the sales tax and a 0.3 percent boost in the motor-vehicle excise tax. Those are the same rates approved in 1996 by King, Snohomish and Pierce county voters who live within the transit district.
Kraski said he hopes to place the question on the ballot in February. He already has the rail route laid out in his mind: Starting in downtown Arlington on abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks, it would swing past the Navy's Family Support Complex at Smokey Point en route to Marysville, then head into the planned Everett transit station.
The voting boundaries probably would encompass the urban-growth areas designated by Snohomish County under the state Growth Management Act, Marysville Mayor Dave Weiser said.
If North Snohomish County residents approved the idea, it would take at least two or three additional years of planning before commuter trains could begin running beyond Everett, said Paul Matsuoka, Sound Transit's deputy executive director.
Sounder trains are scheduled to begin running between Everett and Seattle in early 2001.
Two weeks ago County Executive Bob Drewel and Everett Mayor Ed Hansen, both members of the Sound Transit board, sat down with Kraski, Weiser and John McCoy, the Tulalip Tribes' government-affairs director. The group plans to meet again May 24 with Bob White, Sound Transit's executive director.
If the cities and Tulalips decide they are serious, the Sound Transit staff will analyze how much income would be raised by the additional taxes and estimate the cost of new services. New car-pool lanes and commuter bus service would be in the mix in addition to commuter trains.
McCoy said the Tulalips' planned business park on the west side of Interstate 5 has heightened their interest in the Sound Transit proposal. Commuter transit would be a marketing tool, he said.
Tribal members also would benefit personally, because they could use Community Transit (CT) bus routes that now go through the reservation to reach commuter rail or bus stations.
The Tulalips voted in 1997 to join CT's service area, but it took months of discussion to allay tribal fears that the service annexation would affect tribal sovereignty. It does not.
"We're extremely careful about what we jump into, especially if the `A' word (annexation) is being used," McCoy said.
For Marysville, the Sound Transit issue is a familiar one. The city was included in early versions of the regional transit plan, but the Marysville City Council chose not to join in the early 1990s.
Ever-worsening traffic snarls have helped change opinions, said Otto Herman, a Marysville city councilman and CT board member.
Herman, who commutes daily to Seattle, said traffic on I-5 through Snohomish County is so bad he sometimes bypasses it entirely. He drives east out of Marysville to Highway 9, then takes Highway 522 to Interstate 405.
"We're on the verge of the transportation system not working," he said. A Sound Transit extension "is not the cure-all, but it might provide some relief."
Diane Brooks' phone message number is 425-745-7802. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org