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Sound Transit 3: Proposition 1 Hopes to Create a Regional Rail Network

How ST3 proposes to address the growing population and traffic congestion in Seattle and the Puget Sound.

October 5, 2016

At the same time Sound Transit opened two eagerly-awaited new Link light rail stations in Capitol Hill and at the University of Washington (UW), the  agency released a plan called Sound Transit 3 (ST3), a massive $54 billion expansion that will be on the November ballot as Proposition 1 in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. It will expand light rail by adding 62 more miles — making it a regional system — along with other improvements to bus, heavy rail and access to stations. If approved, it has the potential to change the very face of transit in the region for decades to come. 

What ST3 proposes

ST3’s proposed extension of light rail calls for 37 additional light-rail stations to be constructed between now and 2041, extending from the city in virtually every direction.

  • In Snohomish County, lines that are currently being constructed from the University District to Lynnwood would be extended by another six stations, projected to reach downtown Everett by 2034.
  • On the Eastside, where a 33 percent growth in population is projected for 2040, the plan calls for lines to be built out from the already-approved Bellevue East Link station. These new lines would extend to Redmond by 2024 and extend southeast to Issaquah by 2041.
  • ST3 proposes new lines to reach Tacoma by 2030, with six more stations to be added by 2039.
  • Seattle proper, the plan includes new lines to West Seattle by 2030, and into Ballard by 2035. These extensions would require building a second underground transit tunnel parallel to the shared tunnel currently in use underneath the city.

Image courtesy of Sound Transit.

If Proposition 1 is approved, the total length of light-rail lines would reach 116 miles, well-over five times its current length of 20.35 miles.

The plan also proposes updates to the area’s Bus Rapid Transit and Sounder Commuter Train systems, four new Rapid Ride bus routes along the clogged corridors of I-405 North, SR 518 in Burien, SR 522 through Bothell, and North 145th St. to Shoreline. The Sounder Commuter Rail Service would be expanded southwards to connect Joint Base Lewis-McChord through new stops in Tillicum and DuPont. The older rail system would also be outfitted with more platform space, upgraded signal systems and updated parking and bus services to handle increased ridership.

Proposition 1 also calls for improvements for non-motorized commuters throughout the expanded system, with more bicycle parking and safer pedestrian access to stations.

The estimated total cost for the project is $53.8 billion over the next 25 years.

$27.7 billion will come from new taxes, including:

  • a 0.5 percent annual increase in sales taxes;
  • a 0.8 percent increase in car-tab taxes and
  • an average increase of $47 per resident in annual property taxes in addition to those approved for other measures such as the recently passed Housing Levy.
  • Existing Sound Transit taxes, bond proceeds and federal grants, as well as rider fares and other system revenues.

Backers of the measure point to the massive population boom that is expected in the region as a justification for such a large project.

“Roughly 800,000 to one million of them [residents] are going to be right here in the Puget Sound Region,” says Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “In order to make sure we are not completely overwhelmed by that influx, we need to have alternative mobility.”

But a number of regional leaders think the massive ST3 plan is too expensive and inflexible. The Sammamish City Council voted to oppose Prop 1.


Roughly 800,000 to one million of them [residents] are going to be right here in the Puget Sound Region. In order to make sure we are not completely overwhelmed by that influx, we need to have alternative mobility.


“We’re trying to social engineer people out of cars,” claims Ramiro Valderrama, Deputy Mayor of the City of Sammamish, whose residents rely heavily on car pools and bus transit. “We’re just going to end up causing more congestion, more traffic and not giving real transit […] I call it taxation without transportation.” 

On Nov. 8, area-voters will make the final decision on Prop. 1 and whether the plan for ST3 will indeed move forward.

Top image: Sound Transit Link Light Rail near SeaTac Airport, photo by Michael Brunk, Creative Commons.



Made possible in part by

Nils Cowan

A native of Calgary, Canada who cut his teeth in the documentary industry of Washington, D.C., Nils moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2009 after working on a National Park Service film about Mt. Rainier and falling in love with the area. He has been producing non-fiction content for thirteen years, from broadcast and independent documentaries to museum films and non-profit PSAs. One of his most recent films, 'Beyond the Visible’ which reveals the inner workings and transformational science of the Very Large Array Telescope in New Mexico, was just awarded the 2014 Cine Golden Eagle Award for non-fiction storytelling.  Nils lives in Seattle with his wife and two kids.

More stories by Nils Cowan

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Sirs - With most all large civil works projects there is some reference made to the economy of the area where it is being constructed eg labor, materials, services, etc. I have seen no reference to this for for ST3 as a significant amount of the cost is being borne by the Federal government. Thanks ---  Fred Karig

​Quote from Sound Transit stated above: "Roughly 800,000 to one million of them [residents] are going to be right here in the Puget Sound Region. In order to make sure we are not completely overwhelmed by that influx, we need to have alternative mobility."What is not stated in the above report is the Sound Transit analysis that the predicted incremental additional daily ridership production of ST3 in 2040 is 64,000 one-way trips.  This is revealed by arithmetic applied to the Sound Transit published mid-point forecast in Table 4 in Appendix C of the Official ST3 Mass Transit Plan.  We measure the impact of ST3 above and beyond the already-funded ST2.  The 64,000 one-way daily trips converts to 32,000 round-trip commuters in our region where more than 800,000 are moving in.  32,000 is 4% of 800,000, assuming all the new riders come out of the new growth, which is unrealistic.   Planners at Puget Sound Regional Council predict 19 million total regional trips per day in 2040.  Slow, four-car trains going into operation decades from now are a weak response to surging road traffic.Expanding Regional Express buses and Bus Rapid Transit makes sense, running in protected diamond lanes on the freeways and arterials.   There is just a little bit of this technology in ST3, and in fact the BRT listed there could be done without raising any ST3 taxes.  Bottom line for voters is that $54 billion is an insane amount of public money for the tiny fraction of new growth that will be served by ST3 "alternative mobility."   The Seattle region needs a better plan than ST3, meaning (1) less expensive, (2) quicker to get done, and (3) having a much bigger influence on ridership than ST3.

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