House Funds R8A, Sets Stage for East Link Negotiations

Earlier this month we asked readers to reach out to legislators to make sure that Link light rail to the Eastside was able to be delivered on schedule. The proposed budget had stripped funding work on two-way HOV lanes across I-90 (called R8A), work which is necessary to build East Link on schedule. It looks like your emails worked!

The House came through today and funded R8A by an amendment (pdf) offered by Rep. Clibborn (D-Mercer Island). Clibborn, chair of the Transportation Committee, had earlier shifted funding away from this budget but told Seattle Transit Blog that her change of heart came about when she “found out that we needed to do the engineering in this budget in order not to get behind on the R8A ramp.”

Also adopted was Rep. Simpson’s amendment clarifying the negotiating process (pdf) for light rail use of the I-90 center lanes. This amendment was offered in contrast to dramatic language in the proposed budget which excluded Sound Transit from the valuation of those lanes. Simpson’s (D-47th) amendment brings Sound Transit in the process, states that negotiations on these lanes must conclude this year, and doesn’t prevent WSDOT from signing the final EIS. A much better piece of legislation is the result. (We’ll have more on these lanes in the coming weeks.)

This blog has long made the case that Rep. Clibborn has long been opposed to Link crossing I-90, so we hope that this is the first sign of a House that is friendlier toward transit — perhaps due to advocacy pressure. One legislator described our outreach campaign as “a deluge of emails set off by bloggers,” but we think it’s important that transit advocates let the state know how important voter-approved light rail projects are to the region.

Comments

  1. Nathan says

    Way to go, Representatives! Well done. Thank you for listening to us:)

    STB community–W00T!

  2. says

    Funds shall be used solely for preliminary engineering on stages 2 and 3 of this project.

    If this language is still in there then R8A can not remain on schedule. Construction was due to start in 2010 and without funding bids can’t even go out. Even if this is addressed in a supplemental budget next year it will set R8A a year behind.

    Political slight of hand. With luck a reconciled Senate/House budget will fix this.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      That’s not really true. Remember, Sound Transit has $90m funded for R8A stages 2 and 3.

      • says

        Remember, their hands were tied with the lack of $24M in State funding. Now your saying ST can guarantee all construction costs for 2010?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Bernie, everything is a matter of degree. ZERO funding from the state would have meant the state would stop design work that was already under way, and Sound Transit would have to start over, so that would have caused a delay.

        I know damn well you’re not this dense, please stop acting like things are black and white.

      • says

        What the house budget does is allow money to be spent while still preventing construction. Throw money at it make it look good but still prevent one yard of concrete being poured. This isn’t an engineering marvel. The pre-construction money is there to formalize the drawings so that it can go to bid and move the process forward on schedule. If you think a law preventing construction is a win then you’ve been duped.

      • John Jensen says

        Bernie, I doubt this is the case because Sound Transit would let us know. More likely, the $10mn here will let work on R8A continue while Sound Transit’s funding will allow things to go up for bid. I don’t know the exact situation, perhaps you could tell us while you’re so certain about things — but Sound Transit has told us (me) they think they ended up getting what they needed from the House budget (sans the regional mobility grants).

      • says

        If ST is making up the $14M difference then the whole charade was designed to extract more money from ST. That’s what I said at the beginning but Ben and others said ST didn’t have two nickels to rub together and without the $24M in State funding R8A was delayed indefinitely. For construction to begin by 2010 funding will have to be in place before the legislature even discusses a supplemental budget. If ST says this is going to happen on schedule then I’d take that to mean they’ve found the additional $14M to move things forward.

        I’m still deeply suspicious that the wording in the house budget can be used either as a tool to tap further in ST’s “pot of gold” or derail the entire East Link project. Why else is it there? I mean they can’t spend the money on concrete until the engineering and regulatory approval process is complete. Remember the Senate budget simply failed to fund the project. It was the house that has insisted on inserting the poison pill language every step of the way.

      • John Jensen says

        ST isn’t making up the $14mn difference because there isn’t one. Sound Transit is already funding the majority of R8A. Its money — already budgeted, not new money — isn’t limited to preliminary engineering, addressing your concern about things not being able to go up for bid.

        This budget covers 2009-2011, it’s a two year budget. The next budget will cover 2011-2013. The one after that will cover 2013-2015.

        And since the Two-Way HOV lanes project construction lasts through 2014, this budget, the next one, and potentially the one after that will have to provide funding for it. The entirety of R8A funding wasn’t needed in this budget.

        The $24mn number is misunderstood by a lot of people. The state has to contribute a total more like $29mn. The governor asked for around $5mn for this budget (29 – 5 = 24!). As far as I know, this $5mn commitment wouldn’t have delayed R8A.

        Look at the governor’s budget (search for “two way”). Note that instead of planning to fund Two Way HOV in 2011 and again in 2013, it’s just listed under “future.” This is the $24mn we talk about. This problem still hasn’t been fixed, and will probably be a fight in another two years. Given this year’s response, it will hopefully be easier to address. (I think that some in the legislature want any tolling on I-90 to fund this project, which is why they may not want to budget it yet.)

        So yes, this entire thing has been about $5mn — it was needed to keep R8A and East Link on schedule. The House ended up boosting the state contribution this budget to $10mn, which is good but it’s just a transfer of funds — it’s $5mn now that ST won’t get later. So, really, the $24mn has nothing to do with this budget. It is money (now more like $19mn) that needs to be budgeted for the next budgets and is needed to complete East Link on schedule. (All of these dollar figures are indexed for inflation at budget time, obviously.)

        And if $5mn worked for ST, couldn’t they have just funded that themselves? Maybe, but if the state won’t fund $5mn of their commitments they probably won’t fund the full $29mn either. And that’s the House budget said: No funding, $0, on this until after 2015.

        To summarize: This was a fight we originally thought for two years from now instead of today. When the House and Senate removed funding for this budget, it changed the story and moved us to urgency. ST isn’t picking up for a funding gap because there isn’t one. The state has still not budgeted its future $19mn commitments which is something it should fix so future budgets won’t inappropriately put East Link on the line.

      • says

        What ever the cost for stage 2 the wording in the house budget still prevents construction from moving forward in 2010. That puts the project at least a year behind schedule and likely increases the cost.

        It still begs the question, why is the wording “Funds shall be used solely for preliminary engineering” in the house budget other than as a tool to leverage ST’s “pot of gold” or to derail the entire East Link project?

      • John Jensen says

        Sound Transit’s contributions to stage 2/3 are not limited to preliminary engineering.

      • says

        The $24mn number is misunderstood by a lot of people. The state has to contribute a total more like $29mn. The governor asked for around $5mn for this budget (29 – 5 = 24!). As far as I know, this $5mn commitment wouldn’t have delayed R8A.

        According to the WSDOT website the following funds were committed to R8A by the State:
        # 2005 Gas Tax (Partnership funding) – $30 million
        # 2003 Gas Tax (Nickel funding) – $15 million
        # Existing Funds – $6 million

        According to the budget $11.5M was appropriated for Stage 1 (A little over $14M was originally budgeted). $10M in this budget should cover engineering and design costs for stage 2 and 3 but it leaves $29.5M to be appropriated for stage 3 construction in the next biennium. Not likely given the States attempts at pulling funding from this project. More likely is the legislature is planning that most or all of this $29.5M will be paid for out of ST’s “pot of gold”. Some amount, maybe $6-10M could be saved if the project comes in under budget but on the flip side ST assumes all responsibility for cost overruns and zero benefit from any savings.

        At best this was a well executed shell game by the legislature to divert about 1/2 of the promised funding for R8A to other pet highway projects around the State. They’re not done yet; the end of the rainbow is this December when the price for use of the center roadway is decided.

      • John Jensen says

        You’re right about what the state is doing. They’re definitely expecting ST’s “pot of gold” to come on and/or to use this wedge during the center roadway negotiations. See: http://horsesass.org/?p=15016

        I do think for now (until 2011) the project is on a good funding schedule.

  3. Jojo says

    Yay!!!! I guess there’s no need to print the 2000 flyers I was planning to plaster all over Mercer island about Clibborn delaying the I-90HOV/East Link project. Transit backers (er, the 56%+ that voted for ST2) need to step up and be more vocal rather than assuming our legislators will do what we voted for.

    • Chris Stefan says

      BTW given what I saw in the video of the ST board meeting of 4/9/2009 I’d be sure to contact Mercer Island city officials in the future if there are any further political snags in getting East Link across I-90. They seem to be rather enthusiastic supporters of light rail and are well aware of how their citizens have voted in the past (significant majorities in favor of every rail plan that has been put to a vote in the past 15 years).

  4. Jessica says

    It was well worth sending out emails and making phone calls (and learning Intercity Transit schedules in case I needed to lobby in person)

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