Stimulus Update

According to this article P-I, the state is looking at something like $250 to $500 million in stimulus spending for infrastructure. That leads me to believe something like about $50 or $100 billion will be spent on the federal level for transportation. So that’s the good news.

The bad news: I heard Christine Gregoire on NPR say she wants the stimulus money to be given directly to state governments, and have the states spend the money as they see fit. Our state government’s Department of Transportation is basically a highway and ferry organization, so if Gregoire’s state grant concept does happen, I am not hugely optimistic that many of the transit projects mentioned in this post would be funded.

So take a minute and let our congressional delegation know that we want some transit to be funded in the stimulus package.

A Better Vote Map

Oranviri has posted a new improved King County vote map, appended here.

Transit on Colossal Construction

STB tipper Gordon sent a mail saying that Discovery’s Colossal Construction is airing a show on constructing the new South Ferry Station on the NYC subway’s 1 and 9 lines. Should be a good show. It’ll air tonight at 8 and tomorrow at noon.

ST 2009 SIP available

In case you’re not up on your acronyms, Sound Transit’s draft 2009 Service Implementation Plan is up on the web.  There’s over 100 pages of stuff; some of it (as the name implies) is the service plan for next year and several years afterward.  The big service changes in 2009 are the route modifications to the 554, 555, and 556.  You may not have heard this, but there’s apparently some sort of train opening up next year as well.

The real meat, however, is extremely detailed ridership data for every route in the system.  If you have a couple of hours to spare, it makes for pretty informative reading.

Forget Olympia, It’s Congress

Contra Ben’s post, chalk me up as doubtful we’ll get anything out of Olympia. I gave up on that place a long time ago, and the current budget situation means we’re getting nothing for a good long while.  I’d be thrilled if they just fixed the bridges that are about to fall down.

On the other hand, President-elect Obama has declared his intention to put forth a $500 ~ $700 billion infrastructure plan that would generate some two to five million jobs.  To be an effective stimulus, of course, the money has to be spent soon, so projects that require years of public hearings aren’t going to be helpful. Obama has set a time frame of two years for for the projects.

Here’s a handy guide to some things that could be done right away, if only the money were in the bank, helpfully organized by Congressional District:

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Transit Governance

 BART at sunset
Photo of BART from blmurch on flickr.

Not governance reform, but just governance. Andrew Villeneuve went to San Francisco and was surprised by the number of transit agencies in the Bay Area. Andrew notes about 27 transit agencies in the area, compared to, by his count, just four (Metro, Pierce Transit, Community Transit and Sound Transit) here.

I think Andrew’s a bit off. He goes way outside of what would normally be considered the Bay Area. Rio Vista? Healdsburg? Cloverdale?? That’s 94 miles out of San Francisco, and 140 out of San Jose. Vancouver, BC is 110 miles out of Seattle.

We do have a bit more than four transit agencies here. An incomplete list of others that he is missing here: Everett Transit, the Seattle Streetcar, Amtrak, Intercity Transit and Island Transit. He is also counting specific branding of transit services in the Bay Area as separate agencies. In reality most of the agencies in the Bay Area are planned and governed under the Metropolitan Transportation Commission or Caltrans.

Enough with the nitpicks: he has a great point about ORCA. As our systems grow and become more and more intertwined, we need more and more coordination, and a more and more seemless experience commuting. It might be difficult to get a single agency in charge of transit in our area, as the MTC does in the Bay Area, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Partial Prop. 1 Vote Breakdown


We don’t have the precinct maps yet, but I found the breakdown of Proposition 1 votes by legislative district on the King County Website.  Semi-official illustrator of STB Oranviri generated this map for your viewing pleasure:

Note that the results apply to the King County portions of the districts only; in many cases only a fraction of the district was eligible to vote on the measure.

The results, in tabular form, are below the jump.  A big pat on the back to the 36th district (Ballard, Magnolia, Belltown) who supported Prop 1 overwhelmingly, despite those neighborhoods largely not being served by light rail.

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Municipal League to Metro: Control Costs, End 40-40-20

As reported by the Seattle Times, the Municipal League of King County has written a draft report outlining four ways to improve King County Metro and make it more fiscally solvent. As you may recall, Metro is currently facing a $90 million budget shortfall.

The four findings are:

  1. Performance Transparency: Allow more transparency in performance measurements and reporting. Be more transparent about how performance findings are used to guide future service.
  2. End 40-40-20: End the 40-40-20 service allocation which mandates that 40% of new service hours go to East King County, 40% go to South King, and the remaining 20% go to the most populace Seattle subarea. The report: “Instead of being based on broad geographic subareas, service should be targeted at activity centers, corridors, the type of demand, and the best mode for each.” It is worth having this debate again, and the County Council should be forced to make its position clear on this matter — is it worth continuing to abide by this policy even during a crisis like this? We covered the issue of subarea subsidies last week.
  3. Better Strategy Planning: Have a better strategy for future transit planning as well as financial strategies for cost controls. The report: “The strategies for delivering service in particular are too numerous and too vague. The plan needs a much sharper focus on a back-to-basics approach: set clear priorities to fix service problems first, then allocate service to follow demand and land-use standards.”
  4. Agency Transparency and Clarity: Make the agency more transparent and its findings more clear. Agency meetings and budgets should be more accessible. (Note that this blog believes that transparency is a win, as well. To find out some information about future RapidRide service, we have to file a formal request for information with a long turn-around time. This is not ideal.)

The report does touch on Metro’s higher operating costs and labor costs compared to other transit operations. It also warns that these higher costs may be passed on to other agencies, as Sound Transit contacts some of its bus service and will contact all of its Link service to Metro’s operators. For its part, Metro has a detailed response that agrees with many principles of transparency and says that Metro’s operating costs are because it has much more long-distance commuter service compared to many bus agencies. Metro says its cost-per-passenger-mile is relatively low, which illustrates its focus on commuter service.

Definitely read the Seattle Times piece for a little bit more context. Hopefully we can have deeper analysis in the coming days. For what it’s worth, both Metro and the Minicipal League seem to be acting in uniquely good faith. The Minicipal League is not anti-transit, and they supported the light rail expansion that passed just a few weeks ago.

Ride Free Zone

Erica Barnett wants to get rid of the ride-free area because it “makes fare collection a nightmare”. The ride free area is there because boarding in downtown would take a really long time if everyone getting on had to pay right then. Right now everyone can just walk on and off and the buses can get through downtown in a reasonable amount of time.

So here’s my question: is fare collection really a nightmare due to the ride-free zone? Would you want to trade a more complex fare collection process for buses getting gummed up downtown with fare payments?

$6 Billion 520 Bridge?

520 Bridge
Photo from novon on flickr
In a my continuing series on how expensive roads are, I offer this P-I article that points out the rising costs for the 520 bridge. So-called “option K” has a price tag of $6.6 billion, and the cheapest option is $4.5 billion. For a constrast, all the light rail in the Prop. 1 package passed this month had a price tag of about $7 billion.

News Round-Up

The new roof going in a King Street station. The green tiles are the new ones

  • The UW Regents approved construction for the Husky Stadium station. Construction on the U-Link extension to Link will start in January or February.
  • Metro isn’t the only transit agency with funding problems. MTA, the agency that runs the NYC subway and commuter rail in the New York area, will get a 50% fare hike on the subway (from $2 to $3) along with hikes elsewhere and some pretty serious service cuts.
  • The price of oil is in free fall, with a barrel of crude below $50, a decline of about two-thirds from a peak of $147 in June. The change is showing up a the pump, too; I saw $2.05 a gallon gas in West Seattle.
  • People are getting really worked up about the possibility of paying for parking. Come on, people! Ride the bus already.

Obama Transition Team on Mass Transit

Yesterday in his weekly address, President-Elect Obama announced that his transition team is working on a two-year, nationwide plan to create jobs rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. The President-Elect specifically mentioned improving roads, bridges, schools, and investing in clean-energy.

A member of the Obama-Biden Transition Energy and Environment Policy Team posted a followup video specifically mentioning the need to invest in mass transit as part of this plan (around 1:50 in the video).

We all have an amazing opportunity to have a part in ensuring the success of this plan, and seeing real change throughout the country in the near future. Here on STB, we’ve started talked about what’s next, and we’ll continue to post about how everyone can get involved. It sounds like we will soon have an ally in the White House, and I am hopeful that 2009 will turn out to be a very interesting year.

You can share your ideas at Be sure to also let us know in the comments what you propose.

BNSF One Last Time

I lied when I told you the previous would be post being the last on the BNSF eastside route.
Here is a map of possible downtown Bellevue alignments for East Link. For the BSNF rail line to be useful, it would have to be alignment C1 or C2, which one depends on the alignments for the South Bellevue Section.

Americans still driving less despite lower gas prices, are you?

From USA Today:

Americans are driving less despite falling gas prices, reflecting the deepening recession and signaling a shift in lifestyles and driving habits that could outlast the current turmoil.

Tony Douglas is a good example. Douglas, 46, gave up driving the 26 miles from Gallatin, Tenn., to his office in Nashville in September, when gas prices were still high. He took a bus instead.

Driving cost him $8 to $10 a day while the bus was $6. Now that gas prices have dropped and the cost benefits are gone, he’s still on the bus.

“It’s much more relaxing: reclining seats, TVs … and it takes about an hour, too,” Douglas says. “I’m able to watch CNN in the morning.”

Amusingly, I saw this article a few hours after talking to someone about how I thought there were noticeably fewer cars on the road back in summer when gas prices were at their highest, and that I thought roads were looking more crowded again recently since gas prices have fallen. Am I crazy? What are your observations? Have you or anyone you know made any driving habit changes this past year? Share your stories in the comments.

Viaduct Costs

Alaskan Way Viaduct
Here’s the details on the costs of the various viaduct proposals (from the WSDOT website):

A: Surface Boulevard $800 million
B: Surface Boulevard $800 million
C: Surface Couplet $900 million
D: Independent Elevated $1.6 billion
E: Integrated Elevated $2.2 billion
F: Bored Tunnel $3.5 billion
G: Cut & Cover Tunnel $2.7 billion
H: Lidded Trench $1.9 billion

Not suprisingly, the surface options are cheapest. These don’t include $1.1 billion in so-called “Moving Forward” costs, which are the projects related to strengthing the most northern and southern pieces. Those projects have already started.

C was my favorite, and is only slightly more than the absolute cheapest. Dino Rossi’s bored tunnel was by far the most expensive.

Ridership Again

I keep hearing that the 5,600 riders a day number is too low. Let me put this argument to why I think that ridership estimate is realistic. Sounder, which goes through the downtowns of many cities up and down the the central coridor – including Seattle and Tacoma, has big park-and-rides near many of the stations and has modal transfers at ferry terminals and bus depots at others, gets about 10,000 or so riders a day.

The BNSF route does not have clean transfers, since it does not go near bus park-and-rides, and it does not go through the downtown of any city on its route. Why would the BNSF route get that many more riders?

At best the number would be 10,000; it couldn’t possibly be more than sounder. And if that’s all it is, than it’s not worth the investment with the number of higher-ridership possibilities available.

Promise this is the last post I’ll write on this for the time being.

Not a lot of riders

Unlike Brian, I think the $1 billion number is probably right. I’ll give a few reasons why.

The Sonoma-Marin comparison is not apt at all, since that train goes through rural areas, and has relatively few crossings. There are scores of crossings for that BNSF corridor, some of them in the downtowns of major employment and residential areas, and the track crosses major arterials. There’s even a “double crossing” at Totem Lake, and it runs in the middle of the street in Renton.

There are two huge bridges that would need to be re-built for the BNSF corridor, the Wilburton tunnel and the Wilburton tressle. The Wilburton tressle is a 975-foot-long bridge over a ravine in South Bellevue, and is not in good enough shape to carry large passenger trains. The Wilburton tunnel was a bridge over I-405 where the BNSF tracks were. The Tunnel was removed. Building 1000-foot long bridges or bridges over major interstates is very expensive.

Those are just two major reasons. The track and the track bed are in terrible shape. New right-of-way would need to be acquired to building passing sides, and to connect the disjoint pieces of the track in Woodinville. Stations are expensive, and so on.

But really, who cares? $1 billion or even $500 million for 5,600 or so riders? Forget it! McClellan station will get more than that many next year. There are more spending options than there is money, and 5,600 riders doesn’t justify the expense.

Eastside Rail Corridor = $1 billion dollars?!

The Seattle Times reports that the Eastside Rail Corridor will cost around $1 to 1.2 billion dollars to develop the corridor according to the study that was completed. I am for one simply and 100% baffled and blown away about the cost. It does NOT seem right at all. Why?

The Sonoma-Marin corridor which is 70 miles long would cost $450 million for the rail line and $90 million bike trail along the entire length of the corridor. This includes several new bridges, train sets, maintenance facility, etc.

The Sprinter also pegged out around $450 million for 22 miles, new train sets, several new viaducts, maintenance facility, no bike trail. The viaduct and mainline relocations were the most costly aspect of Sprinter.

The Eastside Rail Corridor is 45 miles (Downtown Snohomish to Tukwila Jct) and there is already a trail for the majority of this route as seen from I-405.

I’d love to see this report on just why this is so expensive but I can take a guess that the entire corridor is double track, every crossing has wayside horns, fancy stations, etc… something that only needs to be basic, single track, and a simple bike/walking trail.

This project should peg out at no more than $750 million at the maximum WITH the extension to Tukwila Station.

More on this later….

Groundbreaking for Swift

Community Transit "Double Tall" Bus
If you’re in Everett December 3rd, you might want to check out the groundbreaking for Community Transit’s Swift BRT construction:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 11:00 a.m.
11915 Highway 99 and Airport Road
Southwest Corner of Home Depot Parking Lot
Everett, Washington
Site of the first Swift station
in partnership with Everett Transit

More details on Swift are here.

Photo from the indispensible Oranviri.

Capitol Hill Station Discussion on KUOW

I missed this, so sorry for telling you a day late, but they were talking about the Capitol Hill Station construction on KUOW. You can listen to the whole conversation in the podcast. It’s pretty interesting, and everyone seemed pretty satisfied with the community involvement that Sound Transit is taking part in with the Capitol Hill. There’s also a good discussion on transit oriented development, and what will be done with the staging area after construction is finished.

The funniest part for me is how Steve Scher seems to wish there was some contentious issue that was dividing the Capitol Hill community leaders and Sound Transit, but is unable to find one. It does seem that Sound Transit has learned from building the first line through the Rainier Valley.