Thurston County’s Intercity Transit hopes to tie its operations more closely to those of Western Washington’s regional transportation authority Sound Transit—allowing commuters to eventually travel easily from Yelm as far north as Everett. But can they afford to?

“Because our tax initiative failed at the ballot box, we’re currently looking at about a 9 percent reduction in service,” explains Intercity Transit (IT) Director of Marketing & Communications Susan Hanson.

Hanson refers to a vote earlier this year in which Thurston County voters rejected a sales tax increase which the transit company insisted was required for continuing operations. IT directors responded by cutting one Yelm-Tenino route and reducing service on virtually all others.

“We’re in touch with Sound Transit on a regular basis,” Hanson says. “We work to coordinate the Olympia Express with busses coming into Pierce County, to create convenient transfers, for instance.”

IT has also agreed to accept PugetPass—a pass issued by Sound Transit that will allow riders to board busses and ferries throughout the region.

Now, however, with the spectre of further budget cuts looming—if Initiative 695 passes—Hanson says IT can’t focus on any further coordination with Sound Transit. I-695 threatens to slash automobile license registration fees to a flat $30, which would reduce funding that currently goes to mass transit.

Conversely, Sound Transit Chairman (and Tacoma City Councilman) Paul Miller has some classic “good news-bad news” information he wants you to know—the good news is that, even if I-695 (the initiative that would limit car license registration fees to $30) passes, Sound Transit should have sufficient money to continue its ambitious plans to unite mass transportation systems across much of Western Washington.

The bad news is that you’ll still be paying for that when you register your car.

“I’ve spoken to our lawyers about this,” says Miller. “and our opinion is that—because Sound Transit was created by a special vote of the electorate, authorizing us to collect such fees—we would not fall under I-695. We would still be entitled to collect our surcharge, as we have been.”

Unfortunately, Sound Transit’s board is pressing to meet a deadline. The board is scheduled to present its final decisions on routing, scheduling, necessary construction, et al, on Nov. 18.

U.S. Senators Slade Gorton and Patty Murray have already sent a letter to the board cautioning them “we are particularly concerned that the region stay focused and on schedule so as not to lose your place in the federal funding ‘pipeline.”

However, Sound Transit’s board has been beset by difficulties from both within and without. The board has canceled several meetings because a quorum of members were unable to attend. The King County contingent has turned in particularly poor performances.

From the outside, citizen activists and local politicians have assailed the committees route choices for failing to meet their priorities. Schell and Sims, in particular, have responded by proposing a significant rethinking of Sound Transit’s proposed plans.

Additionally, the state legislature requires that a supermajority—or 12 of the board’s 18 members—will be required to approve any plan.

Miller sounds relaxed, however, when speaking about the momentous decision that is looming. “It’s like the old saying that politics, like sausage making, is never pretty to watch,” he observes. “Any time you’re bringing a large body to a decision this important it”s going to look messy.”

Miller concludes that he believes, “We are close on the fundamentals. I think the board will reach Nov. 18, with a decision.”

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff