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Thursday, November 29, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Prop. 1 too big, costly to pass, survey finds

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Voters rejected the Roads & Transit ballot measure this month because it seemed too big, and they would prefer to vote on plans for streets and rail separately, according to new polling done for Sound Transit.

Sound Transit's governing board today will start discussing whether to try again in 2008 — or maybe in 2010, when the public should be able to see the first Seattle light-rail trains running to the airport.

"I think the message from the voters is, Sound Transit should go alone," said board member Larry Phillips, a Metropolitan King County Council member and Seattle Democrat.

Proposition 1, voted on in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, won support from 44 percent of voters. It would have cost $18 billion in current dollars, or $38 billion if inflation, operations and financing were included over the next 20 years.

State lawmakers in 2006 linked the roads and transit packages in hopes of ending fights between road fans and pro-rail environmentalists. Sound Transit's precampaign polling predicted the strategy would work.

"The fringes would be marginalized, and this would appeal to the silent majority in the middle. What this shows is, that did not happen," said Ric Ilgenfritz, policy and planning director for Sound Transit.

In the poll, 72 percent said they preferred separate measures.

Among the poll participants who had voted no on Proposition 1, three-fourths cited "no cost control" and "cost too much" as major factors. However, only 5 percent of all those polled could accurately guess that the price fell somewhere between $10 billion and $100 billion. Most couldn't say what it would have cost them personally (roughly $200 to $300 a year, for an average household.)

Some officials have blamed low voter turnout for the measure's defeat, but Mark Baerwaldt, treasurer of the main opposition campaign, said the proposition "would have failed overwhelmingly in any election."

About 20 percent of those polled who had voted no on the proposition cited "global warming."

The results resemble findings in a poll for the Sierra Club, which campaigned against Proposition 1. The measure proposed 186 miles of road lanes and 50 miles of light rail.

If transit were offered alone, there would be 53 percent support; if roads were on the ballot alone, there would be 50 percent support, the new Sound Transit poll found.

The poll is the first of many, and leaders need to learn more about what voters want, before offering a new plan, said Jon Scholes, aide to King County Councilmember Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac, a transit-board member who backed Proposition 1 in debates.

The survey also showed 65 percent support to build 50 more miles of light rail, in response to a favorably-worded question.

But Sound Transit heard bad news, too. Only 23 percent thought sales taxes — the agency's largest source of money — are a good way to pay for transportation. Car-tab fees, tolls and gas taxes were more acceptable.

The survey, of 1,013 voters in the three counties, was done by EMC Research and Moore Information, in telephone interviews Nov. 11-15.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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