Light rail isn't top issue for Gregoire or Rossi
Gov. Christine Gregoire questions whether a possible Sound Transit light-rail plan, being considered for the 2008 ballot, would give commuters enough near-term relief.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Despite rising demand for more transit service, neither Gov. Christine Gregoire nor Republican challenger Dino Rossi is pushing to expand light rail.
Gregoire said Wednesday that she hasn't decided whether to support a possible $15 billion, 15-year light-rail plan, which could be on the ballot this fall in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
In the past, Gregoire has declared general support for a Seattle-to-Bellevue train line. But this year, Gregoire's voice on the transit board — Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond — has raised many objections and has said she's "leaning no."
Meanwhile, Rossi says he considers Sound Transit a local issue: "I don't even have an idea what they're interested in doing."
Sound Transit's governing board is divided over whether to propose a sales-tax boost of a nickel per $10 purchase. The plan may offer light-rail lines to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Federal Way; more Sounder commuter rail from Seattle to Pierce County, and a small boost in express-bus service.
Gregoire's administration has just one of 18 transit-board votes. But the governor would control whether rails are installed on the I-90 floating bridge, and can affect transit legislation or use the bully pulpit to promote projects.
Hammond has complained that the plan would not do enough in the near future to get people to leave their cars behind. The rail lines wouldn't be done until 2023. "I want to see more bus service," she said.
In an interview, the governor emphasized that a final transit plan doesn't exist yet. For now, Gregoire said she is leaving Sound Transit issues to the expertise of Hammond. If a ballot measure emerges, Gregoire said she would then decide to support or oppose it.
"I share the concern that we have a crisis before us right now," Gregoire said.
"We have our park-and-rides that are full. We have our buses that are full. So one of the questions she's raising, as I understand it, is what are we doing to address the immediate crisis? We absolutely have to look at long-term solutions, but we've got to look at short-term solutions to the immediate crisis that we have right now."
Another dilemma is paying for an I-90 bridge retrofit. A state-appointed expert group recently said the bridge should be seismically strengthened if rail is built. Gregoire said she wonders where the money would come from, considering that state highway budgets are already strained for years to come.
"I'm a light-rail proponent," the governor said. "I haven't deterred from that at all. The devil is in the details."
Rossi said he hasn't involved himself in any debates over a Sound Transit measure. He said the agency ought to help the state pay for a high-occupancy vehicle connection from Highway 167 to Interstate 405, among the state's worst bottlenecks.
"I'm going to do the best job with what I'm in charge of — the state highway system," Rossi said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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