Proposed light-rail extension heading for ballot

The numbers might be enough to make voters dizzy: a full 50 miles of light rail, to be built over 20 years, at a long-term cost of $23 billion.

Sound Transit is betting that when citizens say they want light rail, they mean it.

The agency's governing board Thursday approved asking voters in November to extend the system south to Tacoma, east to Overlake and north to 164th Street Southwest at Ash Way in Snohomish County.

The transit plan will be paired with a regional highway proposal as a single ballot question in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, where sluggish commutes are a perennial irritant.

Sound Transit proposes a sales-tax increase of a nickel for every $10 purchase, or $125 a year for the average household. For the highways, sales taxes would increase a penny per $10 purchase, or $25 a year per household, and a car-tab tax would add $80 per $10,000 of vehicle value, or $68 for the average car.

The campaign has begun.

Standing in front of a shiny railcar Thursday, transit-board members stressed that light rail offers reliable travel times instead of the crapshoot of driving.

"People will get to spend more time with their families instead of staring at brake lights at 5:45 in the morning," said Tacoma City Councilwoman and board member Julie Anderson. Microsoft has said it will help the "yes" campaign.

Meanwhile, the pro-roads Eastside Transportation Association has aired radio ads that criticize spending so much money to provide transit for a fraction of travelers. Michael Ennis of the conservative Washington Policy Center says: "Sound Transit is not really going to relieve traffic congestion."

The Sierra Club likely will oppose the "Roads & Transit" measure because new highway lanes would worsen global warming, said local chairman Michael O'Brien.

A rail line under construction from downtown Seattle to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is to open in late 2009, and Sound Transit says it can afford to tunnel north to Husky Stadium without the ballot measure.

In this year's ballot measure, Sound Transit's share amounts to $23 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars through 2027, plus additional debt payments for 30 more years. The agency on Thursday announced a figure of $10.8 billion, in 2006 dollars, which excludes inflation, financing, operations, overhead and cash reserves.

The highway side is worth $14 billion total, or $9 billion excluding inflation, cash reserves and financing.

On Thursday, the final highway plan is due from the Regional Transportation Investment District, made up of county council members. The big question is whether they will yield to environmentalists' demands to drop a proposed Cross-Base Highway in south Pierce County.

The Cross-Base Highway would link Interstate 5 to the booming Spanaway area, with an east-west route between the Fort Lewis Military Reservation and the McChord Air Force Base. Opponents say a new highway there would damage marshes and oak prairies.

The three county councils would each need to approve the roads package.

Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, who chairs Sound Transit, said that if Cross-Base is removed, he'll veto the highway plan, and perhaps resign as transit-board chair to campaign against the entire ballot measure.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or

Sound Transit's big plan

The agency proposes 50 miles of light-rail extensions as part of this fall's regional "Roads & Transit" ballot measure. Highlights of the transit portion:

Light rail

Extensions to Mill Creek area, Tacoma and Overlake by 2027.

Sounder stations

New or enlarged commuter-train stations

at Mukilteo, Edmonds, Tukwila, Auburn, Sumner and Puyallup.

First Hill streetcar

A streetcar from Seattle's Chinatown International District to First Hill and Capitol Hill.

ST Express bus stations

New park-and-ride garages and stations at Bothell, Renton and Burien.

Planning studies

Ideas in the dream stage include converting an Eastside freight-rail line

to transit; a bus-

rapid-transit system on Interstate 405; and transit options for Issaquah, Everett, West Seattle, Ballard, Wallingford and Highway 520.

Source: Sound Transit reports