Sound Transit 3

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Most Prominent Transportation Initiatives in Puget Sound

By William Hillis

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William Hillis

Broker & Research Editor, Realogics Sotheby's International Realty

"Facilities will drive location decisions by transit users. This creates a positive feedback cycle." 




With Sound Transit 2 projects yet to be completed, more projects and financing were approved by Puget Sound voters under Sound Transit 3 last year. Although the yeas won handily, approval was not evenly spread across the region. With most new projects concentrated in northern and eastern King County, Pierce County and south King County residents voted against the $54 billion plans with their new car tab and property taxes. These included voters in Auburn, Federal Way, Kent and Renton. Not coincidentally, these are cities that bear the highest proportional property taxes in King County.


Residents of neighborhoods nearest the facilities to be built were most favorable. Redmond residents approved the plans by three votes to two, and Seattle approved them by seven votes to three. Mayoral candidate Cary Moon has suggested that to expedite projects benefiting Seattle, Sound Transit issue bonds payable to the City under the latter’s own debt capacity, but this would not be allowed under Sound Transit’s debt limits

The new car tab tax raises the rate charged from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent of vehicle value—still just half of the 2.2 percent rate charged under the old state motor vehicle excise tax in the 1990s. The ST3 property tax increases add $25 to be levied against every $100,000 in home value. King County property taxes have been raised every year since 2013, and by 35 percent in the past four years.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)

Modern transit systems aren’t built just to connect communities where people already live. Today there is an expectation that these facilities will drive location decisions by transit users. This creates a positive feedback cycle. Transportation investments guide residential, commercial and industrial location decisions. This limits urban sprawl, conserving land and energy consumption. The cycle is complete and begins again with future transportation investments concentrated at nodes along the existing network.

Natural, demand-driven transit-oriented investment (TOD) complements this process, but Sound Transit has formally adopted TOD policies to promote such investment. Sound Transit’s enabling legislation also included a $20 million revolving fund to support affordable housing that meets TOD objectives. However, policies that emphasize diversity and equity in outcomes have been used to promote housing that does not relieve supply constraints, but instead serves demographically targeted groups of users. 

Impact: TOD policies will be most helpful if they aid in countering local limits to development, such as height restrictions, and less helpful if they are employed in a divisive way. The first strategy will enable better and more affordable service to be provided to all communities, and help to keep real estate investment concentrated within the urban growth boundary.