Bill, Suit May Threaten Transit Plan -- Everett, Renton Want To Opt Out Of Rta
Everett-area officials say they are not trying to derail the $6.7 billion regional transit plan - they simply want off the train.
And they are not alone. Renton and at least one other city are expected to lobby against the plan.
An Everett-area legislator was to introduce a bill today that would allow any city of more than 30,000 people to withdraw from the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) plan under certain conditions.
State Sen. Gary Strannigan, R-Everett, wants to allow those cities to opt out if a majority of their voters reject it in the March 14 election, even if the RTA proposal wins regionwide support.
Strannigan said Everett city officials approached him several weeks ago to gain his support in drafting the bill. Everett Mayor Ed Hansen and Renton Mayor Earl Clymer were expected to help lobby for the bill today in Olympia.
Both cities would not get light rail in the first phase of construction, even though they would help pay for the entire system.
The Renton City Council on Monday applauded Everett's legislative effort, voting unanimously in favor of Strannigan's bill.
Last night, the Tukwila City Council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the RTA proposal, arguing that the plan would make only token stops on Highway 99 and would not serve Southcenter, the Duwamish corridor or east-west travel, and wouldn't relieve congestion on Highway 405 or intersect with the commuter rail in the South End.
The Tukwila council did not address the issue of the Everett legislative effort.
The bill and the threat of a lawsuit are the latest attacks orchestrated by Everett city officials, who are not happy with the RTA plan to build a network of buses, light-rail and commuter rail on existing railroad tracks.
Earlier this month, they wrote to state Attorney General Christine Gregoire demanding her office file a lawsuit against the RTA. Gregoire's office declined the request.
And on March 1, the Everett City Council plans to consider suing the RTA and to decide whether to file that lawsuit before or after the March vote. The council intends to make its decision after a public hearing on the plan.
"I do feel this is a matter of equity," Strannigan said. "I don't think the average Everett citizen would have anything to gain but would have quite a bit to pay for this proposal."
The plan going to voters in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties wouldn't take light rail to Everett, although the city would receive enhanced bus service and commuter-train service along existing railroad tracks. According to the plan, light rail would link Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue by 2010. As now designed, the light-rail system's northern terminus would be at 164th Street west of Mill Creek.
Strannigan and Hansen insisted yesterday that they were not trying to disrupt the March vote.
"That's not the intent. The intent is to give the voters the ability to have a voice," Strannigan said.
RTA officials have tried repeatedly to persuade Everett to delay litigation.
"We have indicated to them that we should bring the matter to court together, and we have asked them to hold off until after the election," said Bruce Laing, RTA chairman.
Laing and other RTA officials said they are not concerned about Everett's threat of a lawsuit, but they worry it could disrupt the election if it is filed before March 14.
"We have conducted all of our discussions of possible litigation in a very low-key way," Hansen said. "We have not gone to the public. We are not trying to interfere with the election process.
"If our goal was to create confusion, we would have filed a lawsuit already."
Although Everett has declined to discuss any legal issues that could lead it to sue the RTA, most of its ammunition appears to involve decisions made by previous regional planning boards, according to the city's Feb. 8 letter to Gregoire.
Some if not all of those issues are expected to surface at the March 1 public hearing. Among them:
-- The city argues that the failure to include light-rail service to Everett is inconsistent with regional plans adopted in 1990 and again in 1993.
-- It claims state and federal funding cited by the RTA may not be realistic, considering results in recent state and federal elections.
-- It says the RTA failed to meet state statutes by not submitting information on costs, ridership figures and benefits to county councils before those bodies approved the March ballot measure.
"The RTA's vague hope that Seattle and Tacoma taxpayers may at some future time vote to tax themselves to pay for the extension of some form of light-rail services to Everett does not qualify as a `plan,' " the city's letter to Gregoire says.
Some of these concerns are shared by Renton city officials.
Renton officials already have passed a resolution against the plan, saying the proposal mostly funnels money to improve traffic along Interstate 5 instead of trying to alleviate congestion along the I-405 corridor. Traffic along I-405 is projected to increase by 42 percent by 2020, as opposed to an estimated 18 percent traffic increase for I-5 during the same period, Renton officials said.
According to city officials, Renton's taxable sales would generate about 3.8 percent of total revenue in the RTA district, but the city is to receive less than 1 percent of the funding.
Seattle Times South bureau reporter Flor Angela Davila contributed to this report.
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