Sound Transit won't sue yet against I-776

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times staff reporter


Seattle, WA - The Sound Transit board would love to take on Initiative 776 in a courtroom but decided yesterday to restrain itself for the time being.

After an 80-minute discussion behind closed doors, officials couldn't agree on the best strategy and delayed a decision about legal options until at least Dec. 12.

One reason for caution is fear of a political backlash, board chairman and King County Executive Ron Sims acknowledged afterward. This week, Tim Eyman, co-sponsor of I-776, accused Sims of wanting to "sue the voters" after the initiative passed statewide on Nov. 5.

The measure cuts license-tab fees to $30 a year. One goal was to cancel Sound Transit's controversial $2.4 billion light-rail line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila, but it also affects transportation money in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, and in Douglas County, east of Wenatchee.

If transit agencies lose the inevitable legal fight, Sound Transit would be deprived of one-fifth of its local tax income.

A second reason the board didn't back an immediate lawsuit was to let counties act first.

The Pierce County Council has voted to sue to prevent the loss of its $15 car-tab fee for road projects, County Executive John Ladenburg said, while Sims said King County would sue to protect Metro Transit's revenue from tab fees.

Sound Transit board members differ about what to do next, Sims said. Asked if that signals an erosion of support for light rail, he replied that the board is united and its debates are only about strategy.

In an open session at the transit-board meeting, several people gave speeches against the Seattle-to-Tukwila light-rail route, which is shorter than the original proposal to go from the University District to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by 2006.

Renton-area resident Gary Powell coaxed a smile out of Sims by suggesting that light-rail cash go to regional monorail.

"You're going to be governor," Powell said. "Do the right thing. Change technologies. You've got the tax, you've got the money, you've got the corridor go for it!"

Despite the statewide vote for I-776, only 40 percent of King County voters supported it and only 43 percent in the three-county Sound Transit district.

Ladenburg said Sound Transit should "stand up for the voters." Other parts of the state should not be able to interfere with locally funded transit projects in the urban Puget Sound area, he said.

Sims and Sound Transit Executive Director Joni Earl portrayed the local vote trends as proof that citizens in the urban Puget Sound area back the agency's projects.

But on a local level, the pattern dissolves.

In Pierce County, where Sound Transit is establishing its combined bus, commuter-rail and streetcar system the fastest, a majority voted for the initiative. And Shoreline, likely to be among the last communities to receive service, voted overwhelmingly against the Eyman initiative.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or Computer-assisted reporting specialist Justin Mayo contributed to this article.


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