$54 billion light rail plan underway

light rail train

After three and a half years of discussion and support by voices of the public, the Sound Transit Board recently approved the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) plan costing $54 billion for the ballot in November. The plan proposes the construction of a new light rail network connecting the Puget Sound region through 62 miles of light rail in 37 additional areas. If voters agree to the plan, one of the new light rail stops will be built in Eastgate near Bellevue College.

Sound Transit’s Public Information Officer Bruce Gray emphasized that the ST3 plan will give “commuters and travelers an option, besides sitting in traffic, to get from point A to point B.” According to him, the region is “clamoring for options to get to work which are faster and more reliable.” The ST3 website states that the light rail plan prepares the region for expected population growth and eases the strain on Puget Sound’s exhausted road networks.

A Sound Transit light rail train headed to the airport.

Throughout the last years, the development of the ST3 plan has relied on heavy public support. Data featured on the ST3 website show that more than 1,200 people took part in open houses, 2,320 people addressed the agency in comments and an online survey received 35,000 responses.

Gray explained that Sound Transit is “not just seeking comments from the people on the trains and busses today, but also working with local power bases and cities throughout the three counties we serve.” Sound Transit is in very close contact with the Puget Sound Regional Council that assists in setting policies around transportation throughout the region.

The ST3 plan will be funded through “property tax, sale taxes and vehicle registration fees,” said Gray. An estimate on the ST3 website assumes that an adult living in the region will have to pay an additional $200 per year in order for the plan to be executed.

Groups like Smarter Transit have expressed concerns about the ST3 plan online and criticized its high cost. In comparison with the light rail networks operating in Vancouver and Portland, the Sound Transit light rail network will be more expensive and provide less rides. Another issue they touch on is an increased travel time for commuters from Snohomish county, whose commutes are estimated to become 23 percent longer than they are now.

“What we see is that people in this region are clamoring for more transit, for more options,” said Gray in response to these accusations. “Folks wanted a package; they wanted more and they wanted trains to go further and that is what this plan does.”

Another project included in the plan is speeding up existing bus routes. Sound Transit hopes to shorten travel time by having busses drive on the shoulder of freeways. While this would be one of the early investments to be made once the plan is accepted, the light rail stations will open between 2024 and 2041.

“Five new stations will be on in 2024 and it all keeps going from there,” explained Gray. Estimations from Sound Transit state that the ST3 plan will result in an increased ridership and a greater share of transit travel in the Puget Sound region.