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Thursday, July 24, 2008

LIVE from Union Station: Sound Transit Board meets to consider Phase 2 plan

I'm here at Union Station, where the Sound Transit Board is meeting to consider placing a second Phase 2 proposal before voters.

We're currently listening to Jim Horn and Dick Taylor of Kemper's anti-transit Eastside Transportation Association bloviate about awful light rail would be. Among their lies and distortions: light rail would make traffic worse (by taking cars off the road, I presume) it would siphon ridership from buses (which is a lie that has been disproved in cities across the country) and it will cost a lot of money (money that Horn and Taylor want to dump into bigger and wider highways).

At one point Horn or Taylor (can't remember which) told the board that they may have heard that the Eastside Transportation Association is anti-transit, and it's not true, despite what boardmembers may read on blogs.

Well, here's a memo to both of you, Dick and Jim: Actions speak louder than words, and your group, the Eastside Transportation Association, is in fact anti-transit. You are against investing in any kind of rail system and your professed enthusiasm for buses is a farce. Your agenda is more lanes and wider highways.

We know it, you know it. It's no use for you to try to pretend otherwise.

UPDATE: City councilmemebers from Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, and representatives from Futurewise just spoke in support of Phase 2.

UPDATE II: We're currently suffering through the pathetically snarky testimony of Will Knedlik, who is insulting Mayor Greg Nickels and the Sound Transit Board in his quavering voice. He wants the Board to put Phase 2 on the ballot because he thinks it will be defeated and Sound Transit's foes will then be able to destroy the agency.

UPDATE IV: Aubrey Davis, former mayor of Mercer Island, just testified in favor. "Let's get moving," he says.

UPDATE V: Ben is liveblogging over at Seattle Transit Blog, though he's not here at the board meeting (he's watching the webcast).

Representatives from the Expert Review Panel are currently testifying.

Almost all of the board is here, although predictably, Ron Sims is missing.

UPDATE VI: Mayor Greg Nickels is now giving an overview of the fifteen year Phase 2 plan that the board will consider adopting this afternoon. He mentioned his humorous op-ed yesterday in the Seattle Times (Ten lame reasons to wait to put a transit proposal before voters).

Oh, and King County Executive Ron Sims just showed up...guess he doesn't intend to miss the vote after all. Also, Paul Roberts is listening in by telephone.

UPDATE VII: Ric Ilgenfritz, Sound Transit's chief communications officer, just provided an overview of the plan's benefits. Some highlights:
  • 34 miles of light rail to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Redondo/Star Lake
  • 65% increase in Sounder rail carrying capacity
  • 25% increase in ST Express regional bus fleet to provide access between major destinations
  • 2030 forecast is 358,000 daily ridership
  • Reduces carbion dioxide emissions by 99,550 metric tons
  • Combined system readily accessible to 70% of the residental population, 85% of employment centers
The board discussion has turned to the financing. Several questions of staff from board members. Councilmember Larry Phillips points out that taxes would be rolled back after Phase 2 is completed (unless, of course, voters approve extending them in another public vote).

Councilmember Julia Patterson is currently speaking about the Phase 2 plan. "We have a moral obligation...not only to the people that elected us, but to their grandchildren," she declared at one point.

"There is no other transportation agency planning anything," she notes. "The state isn't doing it." She added, "Metro Transit Authority's taxing agency has been used up in King County...This is the only game in town."

Regarding criticism of the sales tax, Patterson said, "Let the people of the region decide that. Give them the opportunity to speak their mind on this issue."

UPDATE VIII: There's a rumor that Paula Hammond, the head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, may vote yes on the Phase 2 plan. Her comments so far haven't been revealing. But we will see...Ron Sims may end up being the only no vote, but we won't know for sure until the board actually votes.

UPDATE IX: The board is now considering amendments. Ron Sims is arguing for passage of his amendment which would "accelerate the Transit Now plan". In other words, prop up King County Metro. It figures that Sims would want Sound Transit funding transferred over to Metro.

Sound Transit staff estimate the main fiscal impact at $120 million. It would be a cash transaction, too. John Ladenburg asks why the amendment would only expand bus service in King County and suggests the amendment be amended so all of Sound Transit's partner agencies receive money.

UPDATE X: A number of other boardmembers, including ST's executive, have outlined potential problems with the Sims "Give Us Money for Metro" Plan:
Joni Earl has stepped in. She’s pointing out that the two waves of bus service, 2009 and 2014, are staged the way they are because we’ll need until 2014 to have space available at our bus bases - we’re maxed out on base capacity. She’s essentially saying that this amendment has other problems.
Nickels is outlining numerous "serious concerns" with the Sims/Hammond proposal to transfer money to Metro for local bus service.

Aaron Reardon and Joni Earl have asked Sound Transit chief legal counsel Desmond Brown about the legality of the amendment.

UPDATE XI: Sims' amendment is defeated. Vote is 15 to 3. Sims, Peter Von Reichbauer, and Hammond were the only ones in favor. They're now going to consider a different amendment regarding bus service made by Hammond.

UPDATE XII: While staff work on the text of Hammond's amendment (fine-tuning it) the Board is considering other amendments. Basically, Hammond's amendment lumps the second fifteen percent ST Express service expansion (scheduled for 2014) in with the first service expansion, scheduled for 2009.

UPDATE XIII: Amendments proposed by several boardmembers with minor technical changes in language are being considered and rapidly approved. Larry Phillips is the maker of several of them. Julie Anderson is behind another. And Paul Roberts is behind yet another.

The last Phillips amendment concerns revenue, and calls for Sound Transit to request a more diversified base of funding from the state Legislature. Dow Constantine is commenting on how awful our tax structure is. Hooray for Dow!

UPDATE XIV: Hammond's amendment (with a friendly amendment packaged in to fix some language) is unanimously adopted.

UPDATE XV: The board is moving towards a vote on final adoption of the package. It looks like nearly every board member will be in favor.


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