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Originally published Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Sound Transit's light-rail expansion plan will be put before voters

Sound Transit will ask voters this fall for a sales-tax increase of a half-cent per dollar, to extend light-rail east to Overlake, north...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sound Transit will ask voters this fall for a sales-tax increase of a half-cent per dollar, to extend light-rail east to Overlake, north to Lynnwood and south to the Port of Tacoma.

The transit package would be paired on the November ballot with a multibillion-dollar highway measure that comes with car-tab taxes and a small sales tax. Both must pass, or both fail.

The more than 40 miles of proposed new light-rail track — the main part of a $17 billion transit plan — would not be finished until 2027, though some segments would open earlier. A 16-mile line is now being built from Westlake Center to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, to open in 2009, followed by an extension north to Husky Stadium.

The system would serve about 300,000 trips a day by 2030, the agency predicts.

Sound Transit's governing board, of elected officials from Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, voted 12-3 Thursday to endorse the draft plan. A final agency vote is scheduled for April.

The proposed sales-tax increase, of 5 cents on a $10 purchase, would cost the typical household $125 per year, the agency says. That's in addition to the existing Sound Transit sales tax of 4 cents on a $10 purchase, and an annual car-tab tax of $30 per $10,000 of vehicle value.

Transit officials think the public is willing to pay, based on polling and citizen comments.

"The public wants us to extend light rail, as far and fast as we can," said transit board member Julie Anderson, of the Tacoma City Council.

Downtown Redmond might get left out, if money for the Eastside line runs out at Overlake. That could happen if officials choose to run a tunnel through downtown Bellevue instead of using a cheaper surface or elevated option.

Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives criticized the failure to guarantee a downtown station in her city, a growing employment center. "This is about dashed plans, dashed commitments and dashed hopes," she said.

Transit-board members said they could reach Redmond if federal funds become available, or if construction is under budget. Chairman John Ladenburg, the Pierce County executive, said officials shouldn't promise a Redmond destination until they are sure.

Similarly, the south route ends at the Port of Tacoma, but board members hope for money to reach the busy Tacoma Dome station.

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Another problem is a suggested $381 million loan from Snohomish County, to support work in King County from Husky Stadium to Northgate. Snohomish County's three board members voted "no" Thursday: County Executive Aaron Reardon, Edmonds City Councilman Richard Marin and Everett City Councilman Mark Olson. They said they would back the plan once they're satisfied the line will reach Lynnwood and the money will be paid back.

Other projects in the "ST2" plan include a Seattle streetcar linking Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Chinatown International District; stations and parking garages for Sounder commuter trains; partial funding for a Burien bus-transit center; and land purchases for a future Lynnwood-to-Everett light-rail corridor.

Sound Transit has not released a financial plan yet, but says the sales-tax increase would bring $7 billion, for a total of $11 billion for ST2 once existing taxes are included, in 2006 dollars. In year-of-expenditure dollars, costs have been estimated at $19 billion, though a spokesman gave a revised figure of $17 billion Thursday.

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

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