Voters in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties reject regional transit plan on March 14, 1995.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 9/24/2000
  • Essay 2677
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On March 14, 1995, voters in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties reject a $6.7 billion regional transit plan. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) proposal for rail and bus transit improvements wins majorities in Seattle, Mercer Island, and Shoreline, but is soundly defeated on King County's Eastside and in Pierce and Snohomish counties. A scaled-down "Sound Transit" plan is adopted the following year.

The plan proposed to construct light rail rapid transit lines from Tacoma to Seattle and north to Mill Creek via the University District, Northgate, and Lynnwood. Light rail would also cross the I-90 bridge to Bellevue and reach Redmond. The plan included standard-gauge commuter rail service from Everett to Tacoma, expanded HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes on major freeways, and a new express bus system. Construction costs and initial operating subsidies totaled $6.7 billion in 1995 dollars, to be collected chiefly through higher sales and Motor Vehicle Excise taxes, federal grants, and operating revenues.

Region's First Transit Vote

The RTA plan gave the tri-county region its first opportunity to vote on an integrated transit system. King County voters had previously rejected rail transit plans in 1958, 1962, 1968, and 1970, but they endorsed accelerated rail transit planning in a 1988 advisory ballot.

The plan was prepared by the Regional Transit Authority, which was authorized by state law in 1990 as part of a larger growth management initiative. The RTA absorbed many staff members from Metro Transit, which merged with King County after its federated governance structure was found unconstitutional in September 1990. The RTA is governed by a board made up of selected public officials from King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties and their larger cities.

Critics of the RTA plan included advocates of a simpler "Rhododendron Line" streetcar system and Eastside developer Kemper Freeman Jr., who supported a cheaper "bus-way" alternative. In addition, Snohomish County officials and citizens were offended when light rail to Everett was eliminated in the final proposal.

On November 5, 1996, the RTA submitted to voters a revised, 3.9 billion "Sound Move" plan. The new proposals saved money chiefly by scaling back initial light rail development to a line from Tacoma to the University District in Seattle. It passed with a large majority in King County and narrower margins in Snohomish and Pierce.


David Schaefer, "Looking at the New Transit Proposal," The Sunday Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 6, 1996, p. 1; "It's Your Move" pamphlet, Regional Transit Authority, February 1995; Walt Crowley, Routes, An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993).

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