Who wants rail on the Eastside? Why, we do!

Who wants light rail on the Eastside?

I do, and according to recent surveys and the vote on last year’s Proposition One — so do the majority of voters on Mercer Island. Now that Sound Transit has a ballot measure this November, we must seize this opportunity to choose what kind of transit investments will help the booming Eastside.

People are struggling with $4/gallon gas prices, tired of all-day traffic jams and rightly concerned about the impact that we are having on our environment. Light rail will open in Seattle next year, carrying thousands of riders per day while Eastsiders will still be stuck in traffic, paying for even higher gas prices and riding standing-room only buses. Is that the future you want?

Of course not. The great majority of Eastside residents strongly support linking Mercer Island, Bellevue, Redmond and eventually other Eastside cities to a regional rail system — the kind of system that our region’s economy depends on to grow and be competitive. Sound Transit made the right choice by putting a package on the ballot that will achieve a 53-mile regional light rail system within 15 years, along with a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system on SR-520 and more express bus service on I-90 and the Eastside right out of the gate.

The battle has been raging over this issue for years (over 30 to be exact) — buses or rail — what is the best investment? Rail opponents typically argue that the region can get great results for less money with a system based entirely on buses. Baloney. What they envision is a future where the rest of the region gets light rail while Eastsiders get to ride crowded buses that sit in traffic, too, and then make a transfer onto Seattle’s light rail. Remember, light rail will be much faster. It has its own lanes and doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

Here is why we cannot wait to bring light rail across Lake Washington to the Eastside:

First: Massive growth projections. We know that over one million more people will call Puget Sound home by 2030. Seattle and the Eastside will absorb most of that growth, making the cross-lake commute the most congested in the region. We are going to need light rail to move people across the lake between the region’s biggest job centers. Light rail on I-90 can carry about 45,000 riders every day. That is a lot of people who will get to work on time and back home again to pick up the kids and fix dinner. That is the beauty of rail — on time, every time.

Second: Staying competitive. We hear it all the time from business leaders.

Congestion is the biggest issue in the region, and if we don’t fix our ailing transportation system, we are going to lose our competitive advantage. Businesses will leave the region. It has happened before and it can happen again. We not only need to fix today’s system but plan for the future. Light rail is a 100-year investment that can move hundreds of thousands of commuters every day throughout the region.

Finally: Rail is better for the environment. Remember, this is electric light rail. Since this region is blessed with hydropower, light rail doesn’t burn fossil fuels. Plus, rail moves the most number of people.

Need to move lots more people? With rail, you don’t have to buy a bus, fuel it up and put it on congested city streets. You just add another train car and increase the number of trains that are running.

We missed a golden opportunity in the 1970s when this region voted against mass transit. Back then, the federal government would have paid 80 percent for a system similar to what we are discussing today. Instead, that money went to Atlanta’s MARTA, and we are still talking about it!

Islanders, it is time to take charge of our future. The longer we wait, the more it costs, and the less we get. It is time to start building now.

Sen. Brian Weinstein can be reached at www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/weinstein.

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