Regional light rail: It’s coming — at a cost

By Ben Savell

The Seattle light rail promised to be efficient and convenient for the average citizen. Its planned expansions are anything but for the citizens of Mountlake Terrace.    

When first proposed, the Sound Transit 3 ballot proposed the addition of 37 stations and 62 miles of light rail track by the year 2041.  It was estimated to cost around $54 billion, with the majority of the money coming from property, sales and car-tab tax increases.  The Seattle Times estimated that the median household would pay $326 every year for the extensions to the service.

To get the perspective of local citizens, the Hawkeye interviewed George Dremousis on his opinion of the Light Rail.  “I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think it was well thought out.  I think it’s one of those government programs that they are sticking to the taxpayers who won’t use it,” he said.

Now the city of Seattle is looking to extend the rail to other parts of the Seattle area.  Most of the proposals put forward by the city look to add $300 – 700 million to the original bill.  The most extreme of these proposals, a tunnel to connect West Seattle to the main light rail track, would cost $1.2 billion more than the original proposal, according to a report by KUOW news.

“I mean, if it’s going to lead to a lack of congestion, expand it.  I’m just not sure it will lead to less traffic on the roads”, Dremousis added.

This is ever noticeable on 44th Avenue West with the disappearance of McDonald’s Furniture in favor of an open lot for a train station, expected to open in 2024.  “Sound Transit is also working with the City of Mountlake Terrace to construct a temporary parking lot and bus loop on 59th Place West, just east of the Transit Center”, MLT News stated.

However, The Seattle Times reported that elected officials have made no final decisions on what light rail routes will be constructed.  Besides a news briefing by Sound Transit Central Corridor Director Cathal Ridge, no comments have been given on the routes or cost the city will pursue in expanding the light rail.  The transit board has set aside $285 million and five years to finish planning.

“As of this week, eight route options remain in Ballard, four downtown, seven in Sodo and the Chinatown International District, and five in West Seattle. The list needs to be winnowed down in October, or planning will fall behind schedule,” The Seattle Times reported.

Many residents are concerned at the lack of decisions, considering the measure was approved over two years ago.  As of now, the original eight regional rail extensions and two bus rapid-transit lines have yet to be fully delivered to Seattle, concerning many citizens.

Dremousis is one of these concerned civilians.  “I’ll be around 65 when this is complete, so I just feel like it’s something I’m being taxed on that I’ll never use.”

He continued, “Seattle isn’t like New York where you can walk to a subway wherever you want.  The positioning of these [Light Rail] stations is going to be problematic.  Maybe in a hundred years you could extend them to every neighborhood, I guess you got to start somewhere.”

Not only does it look to be expensive, but job losses are expected as well.  “Major work is expected to start this summer with the demolition of two commercial buildings next to the Lynnwood Transit Center: the old Black Angus restaurant and McDonald’s Fine Furniture warehouse,” according to HeraldNet.

“I don’t think you can solve Seattle’s problems.  I understand the light rail will, in theory, alleviate that.  I’m just not confident it will work,” Dremousis said.

The light rail is scheduled to arrive in West Seattle in 2030.  Ballard’s extension will be completed five years afterwards.

“It’s not New York or Chicago, areas that they’ve had mass transit for years and the communities are built around the mass transit.  We’re trying to build mass transit around the communities [we have], I don’t think it works that way.”