Something underlying the entire downtown Bellevue light rail tunnel conversation is the attitude present in many that since Seattle is getting a tunnel under Beacon Hill, and another from the ID up to almost Northgate, Bellevue deserves one as well. I could never argue against that: obviously, the fewer automobile intersections Link has to make the better, and a tunnel through downtown Bellevue is a way for Link to avoid several long-wait intersections that it would have to cross but would not have signal priority in. However, the more people throw around “multi-core” and “regionalism” when discussing Link, the more I fear events like the following quote, below the fold.
Despite a projected shrink in ridership and escalating costs, the BART board on Thursday approved a funding plan to build a people mover connecting the Coliseum Station and the Oakland airport.
The project was billed as a chance to create thousands of new jobs and the 3.2 mile airport connector would transport passengers on an elevated track that bypasses street traffic and would cost as much as much as $552 million, according to current estimates. At the start of the decade the project’s price tag was just $130 million.
The automated Oakland airport connector would replace the shuttle bus service, known as AirBART, which runs on surface streets and can be slowed by congestion. The goal is to have the airport link running by 2013.
It would be the second Bay Area airport, after San Francisco, to be linked to BART. The round-trip fare would cost $12 under the current plan. The price doesn’t include the BART fare to and from the Coliseum Station.
Opponents of the airport connector long have proposed improved bus service as a less costly and comparable alternative, but BART officials have shot down the idea.
The number of riders projected to use the people mover has dropped significantly in recent years. That’s due, in part, to fewer people using the Oakland airport and because earlier plans to add one or two stations along the route have been put on hold.
Emphasis added. Thankfully, Sound Transit’s sub-area equity protects sub-regions from having to pay for other areas’ attempts at regional one-ups-manship. But nothing could be worse for transit expansion and riders than political stances that ensure that high-cost, low-ridership extensions and routings there just to appease interests that want their section to be special or underground just to compare well to Seattle or be more glamorous for potential investors. Hopefully the city of Bellevue will not try to force Sound Transit to pay for the tunnel, which would have virtually the same ridership of the at-grade alignment, at the cost of a delayed opening or a truncated line. Still, it’s something that commentators are already arguing for and against and this would already be the second leap in a short time down into the abyss of sub-regionalism, something that really played out last year with Sound Transit’s Snohomish County delegation.
Our region is way behind on mass transit and we’ve finally arrived to a place where we can actually move forward on a regional rail system. The first expansion is just about extensions to the most obvious places, so petty sub-regionalism has been subdued to a large extent. However, sub-regionalism keeps rearing its ugly head and because it’s already bad enough that some leaders Olympia seem to be trying to extort Sound Transit, we really don’t need sub-areas competing for funds within themselves. I really hope Bellevue has a plan to pay for its downtown tunnel, so we can avoid decisions like the one BART just made. We need to work together to build the best transit system we can afford, and not compete against eachother.