Northshore area included in transit-expansion plan

Sound Transit is pitching a new 12-year plan for expanding mass transit in the wake of Proposition 1’s drubbing last November.

Sound Transit is pitching a new 12-year plan for expanding mass transit in the wake of Proposition 1’s drubbing last November.

The proposal would require a sales-tax increase of .4 to .5 percent.

Citizens will have a chance to sound off about the proposal during a series of public meetings between May 22 and June 11.

The Bothell City Council has already taken its turn, passing a resolution that calls for an increased emphasis on bus rapid transit.

Sound Transit’s current proposal mainly focuses on connecting the region’s larger markets — Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond — with light rail.

The plan also includes increased service for commuter trains and Express buses, as well as improvements to station access.

Bothell officials say the package neglects Interstate 405 and State Route 522.

“Most of the money gets funneled to improve the connections between Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond and the University District,” said Bothell Transportation Manager Seyed Safavian. “Northshore gets what’s left over.”

Enhancements for the Northshore area would mainly consist of increased service for Express buses along I-405 and SR 522.

New game plan

Proposition 1 was a $47 billion roads-and-transit package that would have extended light rail out of Seattle toward south Snohomish County, Bellevue, Redmond’s Overlake area and Tacoma while adding capacity and bus service along certain highways.

The plan included funding for the Bothell Connector project, which is designed to turn 39th Avenue Southeast into a continuous arterial between Everett and Woodinville.

Bothell would have also received a $40 million regional transit center in its downtown area.

Transportation officials spent months trying to determine why Proposition 1 failed after voters rejected the measure.

“The main lesson is that it was just too big,” said Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick. “People like the idea of integrating roads and transit, but not the idea of having them on the same ballot.”

The new approach will be more incremental, and it starts by answering questions about what the plan should look like, when it should go on the ballot and how much taxpayers will be willing to fork over.

The package would cost a projected $9-$10 billion, depending on the scope of the project and how much sales taxes go up.

It would take 12 years to complete the plan, whereas Proposition 1 outlined a 20-year program.

Sound Transit officials say the new proposal would appear on ballots in either 2008 or 2010.

Kenmore Mayor David Baker said he would like to postpone the vote.

“I’d like to see the whole plan revisited to determine what’s best for the region,” he said.

Baker has been a longtime opponent of light rail. He claims an enhanced bus rapid transit system would serve commuters more effectively.

“You could run one of those double buses every 10 minutes for a lot less money,” he said. “It’s faster, and it increases capacity.”

The city of Kenmore will consider a resolution concerning the Sound Transit plan in the coming weeks.

The transportation authority expects to propose further enhancements down the line.

Future considerations will include use of the BNSF freight line to extend light rail along I-405.

A lonely road

Northshore cities stand virtually alone in their push for transit improvements along SR 522 and I-405, and they’re up against much larger cities like Bellevue and Seattle.

“No one in Seattle will support (SR) 522,” Safavian said. “There’s no justification in their mind to increase capacity along that road.”

As for I-405, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has already widened many sections of that corridor, but it left gaps between Interstate 5 and SR 522.

“They’re missing a section that is critical,” Safavian said. “When you listen to the radio, the traffic congestion is always southbound between Bothell and Kirkland.”

Safavian says Snohomish County has shown minimal support for adding lanes along I-405 because the highway barely enters its jurisdiction.

WSDOT is considering the addition of high-occupancy toll lanes on the corridor between Bellevue and Lynnwood. Transit vehicles would be able to use them.