County Council member criticizes bill seeking to remove Pierce County from Sound Transit 3 | KNKX

County Council member criticizes bill seeking to remove Pierce County from Sound Transit 3

Jan 17, 2020

A state senator from Pierce County has introduced a bill that would remove the county from the regional public transportation plan known as Sound Transit 3. But at least one leader there is speaking up against the idea.

Sound Transit 3 was a 2016 tax measure that came before voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. It raised property, sales and car-tab taxes to pay for the expansion of light rail, Sounder commuter rail and bus service through the region.

State Sen. Steve O'Ban, a Republican representing part of Tacoma and its suburbs, says recent election results justify removing Pierce County from the transit plan and rolling back the taxes that come along with it.

"It's self-evident that voters and taxpayers in my county, in Pierce County, do not value light rail," O'Ban said.

Sound Transit 3 passed with 54 percent of the overall vote. But a majority of voters in Pierce County, 56 percent, rejected the measure.

Then in November, Pierce County voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 976 cutting car-tab fees, despite warnings it would reduce transit service. The measure passed with 53 percent of the statewide vote, and 66 percent of Pierce County voters supported the idea.

O'Ban says he got the idea of separating from a Seattle Times column suggesting King County take on transit funding by itself.

"The fact that you see that idea starting to take root with light rail supporters I think means this has real possibilities," O'Ban said.

But pulling out would severely limit future transportation options and leave the county disconnected from the rest of the region, says Pierce County Council member Derek Young.

"We're so close," said Young, who represents Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor and part of West Tacoma. "To stop now would just be a shame, and I think future generations would look back at this and think, 'What the heck were we thinking?'"

Young has introduced a resolution urging his colleagues on the County Council to oppose O'Ban's bill. 

O'Ban says his bill mostly targets light rail. But Sound Transit 3 also includes improvements and expansions for Sounder commuter rail and bus service, including projects that are already in the process of being delivered.

Young does acknowledge that many potential light rail riders in his county feel frustrated being at the end of the line. But he says people do see the opportunity for transit to help reduce traffic congestion.

"The voters aren't rejecting transit," Young said. "I think they're reacting to the very regressive way we have of paying for it."

A final vote on Young's resolution is expected later this month. O’Ban’s bill has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.