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Sound Transit 3
The $54 Billion Question

Is the initiative on November’s ballot called Sound Transit Regional Proposition 1 the bold step King, Pierce and Snohomish counties need to address our growing transportation challenges? Or is it an overly ambitious plan with a price tag and a timeline that costs too much and takes too long?

KNKX's Simone Alicea answers some of the big questions about this tri-county initiative as she hops light rail, buses, and the Sounder to see what’s in motion now and how public transit might expand.


Light Rail

62 miles of light rail to form a 116-mile system between Everett and Tacoma and from Redmond and Issaquah to Ballard and W. Seattle.

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An extension on the south line to DuPont, expanded capacity, and more frequent runs as well as improved parking on the north line.

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Rapid Bus

Bus rapid transit, frequent buses with mainly their own right of way, along I-405, SR 518, SR 522, and Northeast 145th Street.

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This election is not the first time a mass transit proposal has come before voters. In 1968, a group called the Forward Thrust Committee put forth a series of ballot measures to approve bonds for various projects around King County, including a comprehensive transit plan. Voters approved some of the other Forward Thrust projects, and one of the transit measures did get a narrow majority. But without 60 percent majority approval, the initiatives failed. Forward Thrust tried for transit again in 1970, but in the era of the “Boeing bust,” the measure failed a second time.

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the 1968 bonds would have cost voters $1 billion -- about $8.6 billion in today’s money -- for 47 miles of rail.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the region built out transit without rail. In 1995, the Regional Transit Authority -- which later became Sound Transit -- proposed a $6.7 billion transit plan that included commuter rail, light rail, buses, and expanded HOV lanes across Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

Voters rejected that plan, but the agency came back a year later with a proposal called Sound Move. Among other things, the $3.9 billion proposal aimed to build light rail between Northgate and SeaTac and in downtown Tacoma by 2006.

Sound Move has a complicated history of cost overruns and delays. Parts of the project were dropped, notably the Downtown Seattle-to-University of Washington leg of rail. Light rail between Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport was eventually finished in 2009. Light rail in downtown Tacoma was completed by 2003. Sound Transit took some of those dropped projects and added them to the Sound Transit 2 plan approved by voters in 2008. That makes it difficult to say exactly how much more the region ended up paying for Sound Move.

A Seattle Times analysis estimates the cost overruns for light rail alone were about 86 percent, from the promised $1.67 billion to $3.5 billion.

Since the early 2000s, Sound Transit's results have been more in line with their promises. Based on the dates and cost projections outlined in ST2, the light rail projects at the University of Washington, Capitol Hill and Angle Lake have come in on time or early and under budget. The rest of ST2, including light rail up to Lynwood and east to Bellevue, is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

Links & Other Information

To learn more about Sound Transit's Propositon 1 and to see arguments from both sides of the issue, please use the links below. If you have a question for Simone or for the KNKX News Team, please contact us here.

Stay up-to-date with all KNKX election news and more here.

Information about Sound Transit 3 →

Mass Transit Now →

People for Smarter Transit →

The Seattle Times tax calculator →

Credits and Attribution

Series by Simone Alicea

Produced by Erin Hennessey

Editing by David Nogueras

Development by Parker Miles Blohm

"The Oxford/City of Sheridan RTD Light Rail Station, 2008" BY Jeffrey Beall IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0 CROP WAS APPLIED

"University Street Station, 2013" BY Frank Fujimoto IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0 COLOR AND CROP WERE APPLIED

"Sound Transit System Map, 2014" BY Oran Viriyincy IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0 COLOR AND CROP WERE APPLIED

"Sound Transit Light Rail, 2011" BY Michael B. IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0 COLOR AND CROP WERE APPLIED

"Sound Transit D60LF 9623, 2009" BY wings777 IS LICENSED UNDER CC BY 2.0 COLOR AND CROP WERE APPLIED