Traffic

Intercity Transit will ask for a tax increase in November to fund ‘transformational’ changes

Buses line up at Intercity Transit’s downtown Olympia Transit Center. The agency will ask voters to approve a sales and use tax increase in November.
Buses line up at Intercity Transit’s downtown Olympia Transit Center. The agency will ask voters to approve a sales and use tax increase in November. Olympian file photo

Intercity Transit will ask voters to approve an additional 0.4 percent sales and use tax within its jurisdiction in November to maintain existing service and fund improvements.

The public transit agency’s board approved putting the measure on the ballot at its Aug. 1 meeting. Intercity Transit serves Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and Yelm, with about 80 percent of its operating revenue coming from sales and use taxes.

The increase would be about 4 cents per $10 taxable purchase.

The agency has been working for more than a year on a long-term plan. As part of that, it surveyed people about what changes or improvements they wanted to see.

“Overwhelmingly we heard that the community would like us to improve and expand services,” said Rena Shawver, IT’s spokeswoman.

That includes more frequent buses, shorter wait times, early morning, late night and weekend service, new routes and express service on high-volume lines. Officials are also looking at faster, more frequency service along major corridors and to Tacoma or Seattle.

“Some enhancements we could start immediately, others take much more long-range planning,” Shawver said.

In its survey, 83 percent of respondents wanted these “transformational” changes, but only 67 percent were very or somewhat supportive of a tax increase to pay for the changes.

Without new revenue, IT says it will have to look at making service cuts in the coming years thanks to growing costs and traffic congestion. (More traffic means buses can’t travel their routes fast enough to stay on schedule, so more buses are added to the routes to fill the gaps.)

IT also points to expected population increases — a 43 percent increase in its service area by 2040 with more seniors — and growing neighborhoods and employments centers with little to no public transportation.

The agency last raised sales taxes in 2010, when voters approved a 0.2 percent increase.

This year the Legislature gave it the OK to ask voters for a 0.3 percent sales-and-use tax increase. The agency already was allowed to ask for a 0.1 percent increase, meaning it can now ask for 0.4 percent above its current sales tax level of 0.8 percent.

Separately, the agency is preparing for a $8.5 million expansion of the downtown Olympia Transit Center. The project will be paid for using federal construction grants worth $4.3 million and $4.2 million in IT reserves.

Construction, which was expected to start this summer, is now slated to start in September.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869
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