SAN FRANCISCO - Sound Transit, the Seattle-area regional transit operator, is making plans to return to voters to ask for a slimmed-down - but still sizable - expansion plan that would be financed with increased sales taxes.

The agency's goal is to create a "faster and lower-cost package" than that rejected by the region's voters last November.

More than 55% of voters in the three-county region in 2007 voted against the measure, which combined a $10.8 billion mass transit plan and a $7 billion highway plan financed with a total 0.6% sales tax increase and an increase in property taxes on vehicles. The Sound Transit district take in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties

Since that measure was defeated last year, Sound Transit has worked to develop an alternative transit-only plan that would be brought before the region's voters either this November or in 2010. As with the previous proposal, the agency would issue bonds backed by the sales tax.

"We've done a lot of work developing ideas in response to the public's rising demand for mass transit," Greg Nickels, the mayor of Seattle and chair of the Sound Transit board, said at Thursday's board meeting.

The board of the agency, which is formally named the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, voted to proceed with a public involvement process designed to help them determine what projects to include in the ballot measure, how much of a tax increase to request, and when to do so.

Sound Transit's public involvement effort is slated to launch in May, allowing the board to consider the outcome of those meetings in June and July when it selects its priority projects and decides if it should go forward with the ballot measure this November.

The draft plans project that a 0.4% sales tax would support $6.8 billion in capital spending in 2007 dollars, and that the 0.5% tax would support $7.8 billion. Those draft plans all call for a mix of new light rail, bus, and traditional commuter train services.

Sound Transit currently serves 50,000 commuter train and bus riders each workday. The agency expects to double that number next year when it opens its first light-rail line, connecting downtown Seattle and Seattle's airport.


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