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King County Exec Constantine Wants To Expand Light Rail

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King County Executive Dow Constantine wants the Washington state legislature to allow county to fund light rail.

The 2015 state legislative session kicks off on Monday. One issue that is top of mind for lawmakers around the state is transportation. For King County Executive Dow Constantine it means getting approval from the state to continue moving forward on a Sound Transit high capacity rail program. Constantine sat down with KUOW's Ross Reynolds to discuss his vision for Light Rail in the Puget Sound region.

Dow Constantine: The vision has always been to complete the light rail spine outward to Everett and Tacoma and to Redmond and then also to begin connecting more of the urban centers around the region. Ballard in West Seattle for example are candidates to be connected to the light rail system.

We are asking the legislature for authority to regionally take care of this challenge as we have and pass transit measures. We will be working on the system plan for sound transit at three over the course of this year. And this is one of my big workout times for the year is making sure that we are doing as much as possible to realize the vision for a unified region because it's one big job shed, one big economy here in central Puget Sound that has the maximum ability for the people who live here.

Ross Reynolds: Does any of that rely on the state legislature passing a transportation package and providing funding for this region?

Constantine: So we have a request to the state legislature to provide us authority to raise the funds. There's a lot of talk about that becoming part of a larger state transportation package. This is the package that they've struggled to try to produce over the course of the last several years. State House Representatives voted out a bill that was a good statewide transportation package, the Senate has never taken action on one. The governor's proposal includes our Sound Transit three request along with other state and local transportation items and his transportation proposal.

Reynolds: I just want to clarify when you say you're asking the state for authority that's different than asking the state for money. Are you just asking the state to allow this region to ask voters to approve funding, is that right?

Constantine: Well, that's exactly right. You know in the old days the state provided a fair amount of the funding for local transit. For example, now the state provides virtually no funding, about one percent of the funding to run local transit agencies. When Sound Transit was set up by the state it was clearly expressly a regionally funded program to provide high capacity transportation in central Puget Sound. And, so again, all we're asking for is the ability to conduct our own work here, to build our transportation system to make this region, which is the center of the state's economy, as successful as possible.

Reynolds: Well, there's a lot of issues in this transportation package having to do with what things get funded, where they get funded and how they're going to get funded. It sounds as though granting authority to a local jurisdiction to ask voters for money on their own would be separate from those other issues. Do you think that this aspect of a transportation package is apt to get through this year finally?

Constantine: Well, I think that in Olympia everything's related to everything else and certainly I understand why the Sound Transit funding authority request is being spoken of in the same breath as highway funding or ferry funding or other transportation needs. It can stand alone if legislation chose to pass it that way. I think it's more likely that it will be taken up as part of a larger statewide conversation.

Reynolds:  But that larger transportation package keeps getting voted down. Is that holding back this one aspect of it that was important for our region?

Constantine: There are a lot of things in the state wide transportation package that are important for our region. The state has all of its highways in our region that are under-funded many of them neglected over the years and need to be fixed:  520, 405, 509, 167, I-5.  All of those are state responsibilities. Then we have local transit which is Metro, Community and Pierce Transit and others. And then we have Sound Transit which is our regional high capacity transit agency. We're willing to take on local responsibility for our economy. We have requested over and over again [that] the legislature simply free us to succeed. But you know politics being what it is we are often held back waiting for some sort of state wide consensus or compromise to emerge around funding highways and central and eastern Washington and other transportation needs.

Reynolds: As you mentioned there is a necessity for state funding for roads here in western Washington State. Senator Curtis King the Republican chair of the Transportation Committee wrote it in a Seattle Times op-ed that the governor's package provides amply for King County and much less so around the state, implying that it's more generous here in an unfair way. What do you think about that?

Constantine: Well, this is where a lot of their underfunded highways are and these are their highways and this is where half the state's economy is which is in part why the highways are here. So you've got to expect that more highway money is going to be needed for these multiple state highways in the state's big population center than will be needed elsewhere. Most of what's included in this package that’s specific to central Puget Sound from the governor is local authority.  It’s not the state giving us money to do anything it is simply the state freeing us to be able to make investments in infrastructure here to help keep our economy going.