Light rail to the South Kirkland Park and Ride has been included in a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) update, which if approved in November would authorize a station to be constructed by 2041.
In addition to the Kirkland station, bus rapid transit (BRT) would be established on Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Burien and along State Route 522 with buses running every 10 minutes during peak hours.
The expanded plan comes with a price hike of some $4 billion for a total of $54 billion, funded through property and sales taxes and costing taxpayers in the service area around $200 more annually.
A .5 percent addition to the current 9 percent sales tax, a .8 percent increase on the current 3 percent motor vehicle excise tax, and an extra 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value would fund the project in conjunction with federal grants and other external sources of revenue.
ST3 would create some 62 miles of light rail line. The south Kirkland station was added due to what ST3 spokesperson Geoff Patrick said was a priority they heard during public engagement.
“That’s responsive to the tremendous interest that exists in the area,” he said.
He said while there is a large amount of interest in getting across Lake Washington, people were also concerned about more rail options on the Eastside.
The south Kirkland station would be built as part of the Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah line which is projected to cost between $1.7 and $1.9 billion, according to ST3 analysis.
BRT would also be added along I-405 in the toll and carpool lanes, Patrick said, but without dedicated lanes the buses are often stuck in traffic.
One of the major advantages light rail has over BRT is they have dedicated lanes and are much more predictable, Patrick said.
A study on where to place BRT or light rail running through Kirkland up to Bothell would also be commissioned. Sound Transit project development manager Karen Kitsis said Sound Transit would be looking at all options including the length of the Eastside Transit Corridor, which includes the Cross-Kirkland Corridor.
“The idea is to give people in that area multiple options on connecting with light rail so if you live in the Kirkland area… you could utilize bus rapid transit or other means to access light rail in Bellevue,” or to Lynnwood or cut across SR 522 to the Shoreline station, Kitsis said.
The Kirkland to Issaquah rail would be the last project completed in ST3 and bear the highest cost-per-rider estimates at $20 per project rider and $141 for a new transit rider. These figures are generated through breaking down the cost of the whole project with projected current and future ridership among other factors, Patrick said.
According to a June 6 projection from Sound Transit between 305,000 and 371,000 daily light rail boardings are expected in 2040 if the measure does not pass. If it does, Sound Transit projects up to nearly 600,000 daily light rail boardings, composing the lions share of total transit boardings.
King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci is a Sound Transit board member and advocated for placing the Kirkland station into the final plan.
Creating light rail to get ahead of regional population growth is one of the arguments both she and Patrick pushed.
“It seems to me that if we were trying to connect activity centers on the Eastside, well you couldn’t really do that without having strong connections to Kirkland,” she said. “I thought that this piece was very important because it’s our regional transit system and Kirkland as a regional city should have access to it.”
Light rail also provides more reliability than buses and due to their larger size can transport more people, Balducci said.
But ST3 does have its critics. At the June 23 meeting which saw the Sound Transit board approve changes to the ST3 plan, a group called People for Smarter Transit announced they had launched a new website opposing the plan.
Their top concerns include an increasing tax burden, questions on how effectively light rail would address congestion issues and concerns over whether light rail would be able to compete with emerging technology like Uber or self-driving cars.
Twenty-four current or former area officials and citizen activists signed on to a letter questioning the ST3 proposal, including Kirkland City Council member Toby Nixon and Bothell City Council member Tris Samberg.
But Balducci said ST3 would give a rapidly growing region a chance to get ahead of the transportation curve.
“We’ve seen growth outstrip our projects before and I believe that we’re going to continue to see that,” she said. “But rather than just let it get worse we should build out a transit system that will serve us well even if we have much more growth than is expected.”