Eyman seeks vote on light rail - Statewide initiative aims to halt central Puget Sound project


OLYMPIA, WA - 2/17/03-- Tim Eyman filed an initiative yesterday that seeks to halt Sound Transit's light rail program in central Puget Sound.

He called the agency "the poster child of bad government" and said voters statewide should get a crack at stopping the multibillion-dollar project in its tracks. He said the local leaders who run the transit project have proven immune to citizen calls for a new vote.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Sound Transit," he said with a laugh after filing a one-page initiative with the secretary of state.

In a statement in response, King County Executive Ron Sims, chairman of the Sound Transit board, said: "Mr. Eyman appears not to be listening to the people, especially here locally. His last initiative also tried to kill light rail. Not only was I-776 unconstitutional, but 70 percent of the people paying for light rail voted against it."

Sims said, "Local control is the issue at stake. People in this area want light rail."

The latest initiative comes amid a string of good news for the beleaguered agency, which has had to contend with a voter initiative, lawsuits, proposed legislation in Olympia and campaigning by groups favoring other technologies and routes.

Last week, Sound Transit learned that the Bush administration had recommended $75 million for the Seattle area light rail project in its 2004 budget and that the project had been given a "highly recommended" rating by the Federal Transit Administration, one of only two projects in the country to achieve that rating.

The two developments indicate that it's highly likely that Sound Transit will be awarded the long-sought-after $500 million federal grant that will allow it to begin construction on light rail in Seattle this summer.

Sound Transit says it will start digging within three weeks after the federal grant is approved.

Federal officials said the agency under the leadership of Executive Director Joni Earl and a reinvigorated board has turned itself around.

Eyman also is pursuing an initiative to reimpose strict state government spending limits and to make it harder to raise taxes. Originally, he had planned to push only one ballot measure this year, but a King County Superior Court judge this week invalidated his voter-approved I-776, which would have removed 20 percent of Sound Transit's funding and possibly forced a revote on the rail program.

Eyman said voters deserve a simple, direct up-or-down vote. Sound Transit will have a full opportunity to defend its Link light rail plan and then voters can decide. The commuter rail line to Tacoma, bus service and the Seattle monorail would not be affected.

Voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties approved the Sound Transit mass transit project in 1996. Eyman said the original plan was for 21 miles of light rail for $2 billion, but that the project now is expected to cost $7 billion for a shorter line connecting Seattle to the airport.

But Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said the 14-mile line from downtown to near the airport would cost $2.49 billion, adding that the agency has confidence in the figure, because the design and engineering of the project is more than 60 percent complete.

Eyman critic Christian Sinderman called the latest initiative "another desperate attention grab" and said it allows state voters to undo a region's decision about its own destiny. "It's a Valentine's Day Massacre on transportation alternatives," he said in an interview.


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