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Wednesday, July 7, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Regional Transit Unit Gets Go-Ahead -- King County Vote Clears Way

Chug. Or choo.

Choo choo would be an overstatement. And chug chug would be exaggeration of the worst kind.

The King County Council - which risked becoming known as the Little Engine that Couldn't Quite - yesterday narrowly approved the county's participation in a regional transit authority.

The County Council approved the authority by only one vote after adding several of its own proposals to the transit plan and after one council member who favored the plan nearly defeated it by voting for an amendment pushed by the opposition.

King County follows Pierce County in approving participation in the transit authority. The Snohomish County Council will vote tomorrow and is expected to approve it.

A three-county planning group, the Joint Regional Policy Council, this spring recommended the counties take the first steps toward a 20-year, $9.3 billion project to build rail transit connecting Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Bellevue.

In addition to 86 miles of rail, there would be increased bus transit and other improvements.

Under state law, King County and either Pierce or Snohomish were required to approve the plan for the regional transit authority to be formed. With yesterday's vote, the RTA, as it will be known, becomes reality. Hearings, legislative support and the search for money are the next steps.

The transit system would be financed through a combination of state, federal and local taxes.

Legislators will be asked to increase gas taxes or extend the sales tax to gasoline to aid the local governments.

Those proposals were rejected this past legislative session, however.

The counties will get another chance to vote the transit authority up or down after getting a look at the financing plan next year. After that, voters would be asked to approve the tax increases.

Those in King County voting to approve the plan were Greg Nickels, Bruce Laing, Paul Barden, Larry Phillips and Cynthia Sullivan. Opposed were Brian Derdowski, Kent Pullen, Ron Sims and Audrey Gruger.

Phillips and Sullivan reluctantly agreed to support the plan only because the county added guarantees of enough time to mount a political campaign before the taxes are put on the ballot and that seats on the transit authority go to the chairmen or chairwomen of the council's growth-management and transit committees.

Even so, Sullivan almost endangered the vote by agreeing to an amendment proposed by Pullen.

Pullen tried to add a provision that King County could back out unless the transit authority agreed not to take over the more-popular bus routes in the county.

After the council's attorney warned that the amendment could allow a legal challenge to the transit authority, Sullivan changed her vote.

"The only reason I am voting for this is because the King County Council will get to vote on the financial plan," Sullivan said.

But Nickels, a transit supporter, said the region hadn't had a vote on rail transit since Forward Thrust bonds were defeated in 1970. "This generation has a right to vote on rail," he said.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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