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Too soon for Sound Transit to write off Pierce County

Post by Kim Bradford on May 17, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
May 17, 2011 5:05 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

A down economy could leave potential Federal Way and Pierce County light rail users waiting at the station – permanently.

Sound Transit anticipates a $3.9 billion hole in the $18 billion transit plan voters approved in 2008, a hole that would likely swallow plans to extend light rail to the northern end of Federal Way.

Agency officials recently projected that building the line out to South 272nd Street would require at least 11 extra years and the cancellation of all other transit projects in south King County.

The best transit planners figure they can do is get the line to Highline Community College in Des Moines, two miles to the north. Even that plan would require sacrifices – possibly the postponement of parking expansions at Sounder rail stations in Kent and Auburn.

Still, a temporary terminus at Highline is a better outcome than the agency had thought it could deliver: a final station at South 200th Street in SeaTac. Every mile closer to Federal Way helps seed the argument for the line’s build-out to Tacoma.

That’s if there is to be a build-out. Sound Transit board member Julia Patterson, who represents South King County on the King County Council, is raising the question of whether light rail should extend beyond Highline, ever.

Her argument: The farther south Sound Transit pushes light rail, the longer it takes to get to Seattle – and the less useful light rail is.

Such comments reflect an extremely Seattle-centric view of the region. The issue isn’t just how long it takes to get north to Seattle. It’s also how long it takes to get to Sea-Tac Airport and other points south of Seattle – and, amazingly enough, how long it takes to get south to Tacoma or Federal Way.

This region has to rid itself of the notion that commuting is all about getting to Seattle and central King County. True congestion relief isn’t just running more buses or trains to the big city. It’s also about creating new employment centers so that workers aren’t all headed in the same direction.

The South Sound needs to create jobs, and that requires a way to get to them. Companies here won’t ever reach their potential without reliable connections to the region.

Same goes for our educational institutions. The University of Washington Tacoma, which was created to serve South King County as well as Pierce, Kitsap and Thurston, will never fulfill that mission if Interstate 5 remains a roadblock to reaching the school.

The recession may have temporarily derailed Sound Transit’s plans, but the cusp of a recovery is no time to be talking about leaving Pierce County and Federal Way stranded for good. The South Sound should be concerned about any suggestion that it remain a mass transit backwater.

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