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Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sims won't take stand on measure for roads and rails

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Four years ago, when Sound Transit asked the federal government to approve construction of a Seattle light-rail line, King County Executive Ron Sims was the chairman and public face of the agency.

Now, Sims won't endorse a tax measure on the November ballot that would extend those tracks to Lynnwood, Overlake and Tacoma over the next two decades. The measure, Proposition 1, also would fund road projects in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

"I'm neither going to support it nor oppose it," Sims said in a brief phone interview Tuesday.

Sims, a Seattle Democrat, gave similar answers earlier Tuesday to KING-TV reporter Robert Mak, who caught up with Sims at an event in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Mak fired off eight questions in 90 seconds — and each time, Sims said voters should decide for themselves.

At a light-rail groundbreaking ceremony in 2003, he declared: "We're going to dig and dig and dig and dig until the light-rail project gets to Bellevue, gets to Everett, gets to Tacoma."

Since then, he has won acclaim for backing projects that would reduce greenhouse gases, the emissions linked to global warming. His Transit Now package, a sales-tax boost to add bus service, won voter approval last fall. The new buses will be clean hybrids, he says.

But Sims, who still serves on the Sound Transit board, said that even if this fall's measure were for transit only, he would not take a position.

"My position of neither opposing or supporting [the measure] is inconsequential. I think the point here is for voters to engage this issue, and decide how they want to proceed on the future of transportation," he said.

Lately, Sims has embraced a different strategy to address traffic congestion: so-called congestion pricing, which aims to reduce traffic by charging drivers a variable toll at busy times of day.

Mark Baerwaldt, founder of NoToProp1.org, which opposes the roads-and-transit ballot measure, applauded Sims for not endorsing Proposition 1.

"As a former chair of Sound Transit, no doubt this was a difficult decision for him, and we sincerely appreciate his publicly acknowledging his unwillingness to support the Prop. 1 package," Baerwaldt said.

Aaron Toso, communications director for the Yes on Roads & Transit campaign, said the measure enjoys broad support from businesses, the three county councils, and the Democratic Party.

"It's important for voters to keep in mind, what they're voting for is 50 miles of light rail, 12,000 new park-and-ride spots and repairing vulnerable roadways," Toso said.

The proposed new sales and car-tab taxes would fund $18 billion in construction and trains, or a total of $38 billion including inflation, administration, operations and finance costs, through the estimated completion date of 2027.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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