Poll finding on accelerating ST3 project delivery
Visualization of NPI's poll finding on accelerating Sound Transit 3 projects (Graphic by NPI, click to enlarge)

Near­ly five years ago, vot­ers across Puget Sound said yes to an ambi­tious but very nec­es­sary plan to expand high capac­i­ty tran­sit in the Seat­tle-Taco­ma-Everett met­ro­pol­i­tan area. Known as ST3, short for Sound Tran­sit Phase III, the plan autho­rized extend­ing Link light rail in pret­ty much every direc­tion — north, south, east, and west — along with expan­sions to express bus ser­vice, com­muter rail ser­vice, and the cre­ation of a new bus rapid tran­sit system.

Now, as Sound Tran­sit grap­ples with a fund­ing short­fall caused in part by the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic plus ris­ing costs for land and mate­ri­als, NPI finds that vot­ers in Seat­tle would wel­come the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide addi­tion­al finan­cial sup­port to ST3 so that projects could be sped up instead of being delayed.

71% of respon­dents to our July 2021 sur­vey of the Seat­tle elec­torate — all like­ly 2021 Seat­tle vot­ers — told us that they would sup­port a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure, while 24% said they would be opposed. 5% said they were not sure.

Poll finding on accelerating ST3 project delivery
Visu­al­iza­tion of NPI’s poll find­ing on accel­er­at­ing Sound Tran­sit 3 projects (Graph­ic by NPI, click to enlarge)

This find­ing is great news for every­one who cares about mak­ing tran­sit acces­si­ble to all. It also comes at a crit­i­cal time for the ST3 sys­tem expan­sion plan.

That’s because this Thurs­day, Sound Tran­sit’s Board of Direc­tors is sched­uled to meet and vote on a pro­pos­al that would for­mal­ly acknowl­edge the agen­cy’s finan­cial prob­lems and project man­age­ment chal­lenges and respond to them by sanc­tion­ing delays to the ST3 projects, includ­ing new light rail lines to Bal­lard and West Seat­tle and new infill sta­tions on exist­ing lines.

This “rebal­anc­ing” pro­pos­al and the process under­pin­ning it are col­lec­tive­ly referred to by the agency as realign­ment.

Peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions that cam­paigned for ST3, includ­ing NPI, Seat­tle Sub­way, the Sier­ra Club’s Cas­cade Chap­ter, The Urban­ist, Tran­sit Rid­ers Union, TCC, Dis­abil­i­ty Rights Wash­ing­ton, and oth­er mem­bers of the MASS Coali­tion have asked Sound Tran­sit to avoid sanc­tion­ing delays to ST3 projects and instead find ways to get them built on time or even ahead of sched­ule.

Cli­mate dam­age has already become cat­a­stroph­ic, as our recent heat­wave showed — hun­dreds of res­i­dents of Cas­ca­dia are believed to have died from that event, accord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary num­bers from Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, and the province of British Colum­bia. With the cli­mate cri­sis set to get worse, it’s imper­a­tive that Wash­ing­ton invest in clean mul­ti­modal trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture as fast as it can, includ­ing all elec­tric bus­es and light rail, which are capa­ble of mov­ing large num­bers of peo­ple with zero emissions.

Since a lack of avail­able funds is the main obsta­cle Sound Tran­sit faces in deliv­er­ing our vot­er-approved ST3 projects, we and our friends at Seat­tle Sub­way decid­ed to team up ahead of our sur­vey last month to pose a ques­tion to vot­ers in Seat­tle about their will­ing­ness to sup­port a city-lev­el bal­lot mea­sure to accel­er­ate deliv­ery of the new sta­tions and track­age inside of the city limits.

These projects — like the Sec­ond Down­town Tran­sit Tun­nel — are among the most expen­sive ele­ments in the ST3 plan, part­ly because they would serve dense, already devel­oped neigh­bor­hoods and require tun­nel­ing or aer­i­al alignments.

As men­tioned, we found that vot­ers are extreme­ly enthu­si­as­tic about the prospect of a bal­lot mea­sure to speed up deliv­ery of the projects that they vot­ed for.

Here’s the exact ques­tion that we asked and the answers that we received.

Note that the map you see below was shown to respon­dents with­out the NPI and Seat­tle Sub­way logos, or the map cred­its. As this ver­sion of the map is intend­ed for shar­ing and pub­lic dis­sem­i­na­tion, it has our logos and a map design cred­it. Thank you to the incred­i­ble Oran Viriy­in­cy for putting this map togeth­er for us!

QUESTION: The Sound Tran­sit 3 light rail expan­sion projects inside Seat­tle shown on the map below may be delayed from open­ing to the pub­lic for sev­er­al years past their orig­i­nal project com­ple­tion dates pri­mar­i­ly due to finan­cial short­falls. Would you sup­port or oppose a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to speed up con­struc­tion of cur­rent ST3 light rail expan­sion projects in Seattle?

Map: Status of ST3 projects by NPI and Seattle Subway
Our map show­ing the pro­posed delays to ST3 light expan­sion projects in Seat­tle (Click to enlarge)


  • Sup­port a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 71%
    • Strong­ly sup­port: 45%
    • Some­what sup­port: 26%
  • Oppose a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 24%
    • Some­what oppose: 8%
    • Strong­ly oppose: 16%
  • Not sure: 5%

Our poll of 617 like­ly August 2021 Seat­tle vot­ers was in the field through Mon­day, July 12th, through Thurs­day, July 15th. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online. The poll was con­duct­ed by Change Research for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

The project delay dates you see in the map above are all from Sound Tran­sit Board Chair Kent Keel’s June realign­ment pro­pos­al, which you can read about in detail over at The Urban­ist. (NPI lead­er­ship met with Chair Keel in late June to express our orga­ni­za­tion’s con­cerns about sanc­tion­ing delays to ST3 projects.)

Keel is now back­ing a mod­i­fied “realign­ment” pro­pos­al that com­bines ele­ments of an alter­na­tive plan cham­pi­oned by King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Clau­dia Bal­duc­ci.

In total, more than two out of three Seat­tle vot­ers said they either strong­ly or some­what sup­port­ed a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to speed up con­struc­tion of cur­rent ST3 light rail expan­sion projects. Those in strong sup­port out­num­ber the total num­ber of those in oppo­si­tion by a sub­stan­tial margin.

The inten­si­ty of sup­port did­n’t sur­prise us, giv­en that Seat­tle has a long his­to­ry of sup­port­ing tran­sit at the bal­lot. But it was still great to see. (The peo­ple of Seat­tle have wise­ly and con­sis­tent­ly vot­ed in favor of Sound Tran­sit’s sys­tem expan­sion plans and against Tim Eyman ini­tia­tives to sab­o­tage them.)

The les­son from this poll find­ing is that vot­ers in the Emer­ald City are very, very will­ing to invest more to get a faster return on the tran­sit expan­sion that they vot­ed for five years ago in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial election.

This is a time for coura­geous, imag­i­na­tive lead­er­ship… a time for cli­mate action and for for resource­ful­ness. We know aus­ter­i­ty is dis­as­trous and cost­ly. The real­i­ty is that the ST3 projects will nev­er get cheap­er to build. The soon­er we can build them, the more cost-effec­tive Sound Tran­sit 3 will be.

The Sound Tran­sit Board, the Seat­tle City Coun­cil, and the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should give Seat­tle vot­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speed up the biggest and most com­plex ST3 projects by autho­riz­ing new forms of pro­gres­sive rev­enue the city can levy to bol­ster the tran­sit expan­sion Seat­tle sore­ly needs.

While the Sound Tran­sit Board­’s realign­ment exer­cise is slat­ed to come to a con­clu­sion this Thurs­day, the more impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty for action will be in the weeks ahead, at the state lev­el as opposed to the met­ro­pol­i­tan level.

That’s because Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee is con­sid­er­ing bring­ing the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture back into ses­sion to work on forg­ing a new trans­porta­tion package.

A spe­cial ses­sion for that pur­pose is a great idea, but it’s imper­a­tive that the Leg­is­la­ture make cli­mate and mul­ti­modal tran­sit infra­struc­ture the focus of any leg­is­la­tion it adopts. We can’t afford anoth­er high­way-cen­tric package.

We do need to rebuild some of our high­way sys­tem’s crum­bling bridges, like I‑5 across the Colum­bia Riv­er, but we should not be adding new lanes to the sys­tem. The focus needs to be on the oth­er modes that typ­i­cal­ly just get crumbs: fer­ries, bus­es, trains, bike paths, and side­walks + trails for pedes­tri­ans and equestrians.

Most of Wash­ing­ton’s tran­sit sys­tems are fund­ed with dol­lars secured local­ly or fed­er­al­ly. Leg­is­la­tors need to devote more state-lev­el dol­lars to tran­sit, and also give Seat­tle the flex­i­bil­i­ty to enter into a part­ner­ship with Sound Tran­sit to get those big in-city ST3 projects more finan­cial support.

There is prece­dent for this.

A few years ago, Seat­tle vot­ers were giv­en the chance to fund Metro bus ser­vice hours with a city-lev­el vehi­cle fee. They said yes, and the city began an enor­mous­ly suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship with King Coun­ty Metro that ensured the city would have more and bet­ter ser­vice than with coun­ty dol­lars alone.

Now, our polling shows Seat­tle vot­ers would wel­come the chance to keep ST3 on track with a cap­i­tal tran­sit fund­ing bal­lot measure.

Since cities only have the rev­enue author­i­ty that the state gives them, it’s up to our state leg­is­la­tors to act. How­ev­er, Sound Tran­sit board­mem­bers have a role to play in this: they can and should be lob­by­ing for the req­ui­site leg­is­la­tion to be part of the trans­porta­tion pack­age that the Leg­is­la­ture adopts.

Cli­mate-aware Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties con­trol both cham­bers in the state­house and the gov­er­nor­ship, so this ought to be achievable.

We and Seat­tle Sub­way and the MASS coali­tion will do our part.

Our region and our plan­et’s future is at stake. We can­not afford to wait until the 2030s and the 2040s to cut the rib­bon on the essen­tial projects we autho­rized in 2016. We need to work togeth­er to speed up the time­frame and bring high capac­i­ty tran­sit to more neigh­bor­hoods as quick­ly as we can.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts