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Opinion

Leaner STA plan deserves a chance

The last time Spokane Transit Authority asked voters to approve a sales-tax increase to expand service, we recommended tapping the brakes.

STA has done just that. This is a leaner, better-defined plan than the one offered in the spring of 2015.

The 0.3 cent sales tax increase has been reduced to 0.2 cents (two pennies on a $10 purchase). The increase would be phased in, with half of it beginning on April 1, 2017, and the other half two years later. Plus, the message has been sharpened on how the upgrade would be beneficial for the entire service area, rather than just downtown.

The Central City Line remains in the plan, but let’s be clear: It’s not a trolley.

It is Bus Rapid Transit – rubber wheels on the road, no rails buried in pavement, no overhead electrical wires. The sleek buses would be battery-powered with zero emissions. They have the look of light rail cars, and the rider experience would be similar – tickets pre-purchased for rapid loading, level boarding through multiple doors and frequent service. The stations are nicer than bus stops.

The 6-mile route would run between Browne’s Addition and Spokane Community College, connecting through downtown Spokane, the University District and Gonzaga University. It would service an area that is crucial to the region’s economic growth.

An underrated feature of the line is how it would streamline service outside the downtown core, and allow for some transfers without going to the STA Plaza. The goal is to improve service in every neighborhood. The earliest beneficiaries would be those needing better weekend and night service.

A West Plains transit center would be built, and STA just received a $1 million federal grant for that project, giving it all the funding it needs. The center is designed to be a hub for expanded service to Airway Heights, Cheney and Fairchild Air Force Base.

If riders never use the Central City Line, they still will benefit from more than 20 other projects designed to expand routes and improve current service.

There is some concern in raising the sales tax on the heels of street and park levies. But like the proponents of the street levy, STA has put together a firm project list and timeline. In addition, the proposal comes with a 10-year sunset clause, meaning voters can review progress at that time and decide whether they want to continue the tax. The STA board has managed the transit system more efficiently than its peers.

The cost to local taxpayers is an estimated $192 million. State and federal grants would account for another $85 million, including the $72 million needed for the Central City Line. The region would be getting a much better transit system than it could afford by itself.

The STA board has put together a reasonable package that favors practicality over flash. We recommend a yes vote on Proposition 1.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”


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