As Proposition 1 heads toward voter approval, Community Transit CEO outlines ‘New Transit Legacy’

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Emmett Heath
Emmett Heath

A week after Election Day, Community Transit’s Proposition 1 to expand transit service in Snohomish County is headed toward voter approval, and the organization’s CEO outlined plans to move forward with transit improvements starting in March 2016.

With nearly 100,000 votes counted, the proposition holds a narrow lead. While some ballots are yet to be counted, statistical trends would need to be substantially reversed to change the outcome, Community Transit said in an announcement Tuesday.

“This is a narrow margin and we respect every vote and voter, so we caution that official results will come on Nov. 24 with final certification,” said Community Transit CEO Emmett Heath. “Whether you voted for the proposition or not, and whether you use public transit or not, we plan to deliver a better transportation experience for all residents.”

Heath said “it is time to get excited and turn our focus to providing a new transit legacy for Snohomish County.”

Proposition 1 sought to increase the retail sales tax in the Community Transit service district by 0.3 percent, or $33 a year for the average adult, according to the State Department of Revenue. That will generate about $25 million a year for more transit service.

The new sales tax will not be collected until April 2016, and the agency will not see new revenue until next June, but Community Transit will get a jump start by using reserve funds to pay for about 3,300 hours of new service starting March 13, 2016.

“Over the past several months, we have had a dialogue with our community about the benefits of Proposition 1,” Heath said. “One of the benefits is that we can hit the ground running and start getting new service out right away.”

Heath said the March service additions will be modest because there is not time to hire more drivers or buy new buses. However, next spring Community Transit will bring forward a proposal for a “substantial” service increase to be implemented in the fall.

“The September 2016 Service Change will require us to increase our workforce – we will need more drivers, mechanics and other important positions. That recruitment will also begin in the spring, if not sooner,” he said.

Proposition 1’s approval means there will be funding to operate a second Swift bus rapid transit line between Paine Field and Canyon Park in Bothell. Community Transit is in the process of seeking up to $40 million in federal grants to buy buses and build the stations for this line.

“Thanks to Proposition 1 approval, our second Swift line will move forward, with construction starting as early as fourth quarter 2016,” said Heath. “Our goal is to have this Swift line up and running in 2018.”

Meanwhile, other Community Transit projects will continue, including:

· The Seaway Transit Center at 75th Street and Seaway Boulevard, which will consolidate existing transit service to Boeing and will be the eventual northern terminus for the second Swift line. This facility received funding from the Washington State Regional Mobility Grant program and is scheduled to be operational in 2017.

· The Mukilteo Park & Ride on the west side of Paine Field will offer about 200 parking spaces. This facility also received state Regional Mobility Grant funding and is expected to open in 2017.

· A voice and data radio system upgrade to ensure reliable dispatch-to-vehicle communications, and a new electronic rider alert system that will help riders get reroutes, delays and other service information right away.

“In 2016, we will work on a timeline for future service additions to fulfill our promises to the public,” said Heath. “This will include expansion bus purchases and possible other capital investments.”

“This is an exciting time for Community Transit and for Snohomish County,” said Heath. “We thank those who supported this measure and we are enthusiastic to take the next major step forward in the evolution of public transit in Snohomish County.”

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