Seattle votes on light-rail solution to horrendous traffic congestion

Bruce Brown
Digital Trends
Seattle votes on light-rail solution to horrendous traffic congestion
In Tuesday's election, Seattle voters make a vital $54 billion transportation decision with a decades-long impact. If voters give Sound Transit 3 the nod, 62 miles of rail service will take 25 years to complete.

Seattle is a fast-moving city, except for the traffic. Ranking in the top five fastest growing U.S. large cities, Seattle’s population has grown as its highway arteries have become increasingly clogged. Now Seattle trails only Los Angeles for clogged roads, claiming the dubious distinction of the second worst traffic congestion in the country. An important vote on Tuesday could decide Seattle’s transportation future for decades, according to The Ringer.

The measure in question is whether to give the go-ahead to a light-rail system expansion called Sound Transit 3 (ST3). Powerful regional voices want ST3, including tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Uber. Government officials, transportation groups, and environmentalists are on board as well. Doubling the area’s current light-rail public transit, ST3 comes at a heavy cost of time and money.

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ST3’s 62 additional miles of light-rail service will cost $54 billion over the 25 years it will take to complete the system. The Ringer quoted an estimate from The Seattle Times that the ultimate cost will be $20,000 per household during those same 25 years.

If the region is going to expand light rail as the traffic solution, now is the time. Voters nixed heavy rail in the 1970s at a time when federal funding that would have picked up most of the tab. As the region grew voters approved the first 25 miles of light rail as part of a $3.9 billion system. Sound Transit 2 was approved in 2008 to expand the system for $17.9 billion. Sound Transit 3’s price tag will cover building tunnels, bridges, and elevated tracks.

“We’re playing catch-up to build that basic transportation infrastructure, which is why ST3 is so big and so bold,” Shefali Ranganathan, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition said. Ranganathan is a major ST3 backer. “It’s kind of a moonshot, but the magnitude of the issue we’re confronting reflects the response in terms of this plan.”

Some see autonomous cars as the better, more realistic solution. Bob Pishue, a senior economist with INRIX, a transportation analytics company, is opposed to ST3. “We just see a lot of opportunity in the autonomous, connected, electric, and shared vehicle space,” Pishue told The Ringer. “Rail is a long-term investment, and it’s not going to be fully built out until 2041. What is the world going to look like in 2041? Light rail way out to the suburbs doesn’t make much sense from a mobility aspect.”

The voters get the final say on the issue. Sound Transit 3 is on the ballot for residents of Seattle’s King County and neighboring Snohomish and Pierce counties.