Gas Explosion at PT Facility

[UPDATE 5:00pm 3/1: PT's website indicates that service interruptions will be worse than previously thought, lasting several days.]

[UPDATE 6:13am - Pierce Transit's website announces that "Emergency fueling efforts were successful and all Pierce Transit service is operating on schedule." Very nicely done on a logistically difficult operation.]

[UPDATE 7:50pm – video from KING5 above]

[UPDATE from Martin 7:31pm: PT Spokesman Lind Simonsen says the explosion occurred at 5:05pm in the building that houses the natural gas compressors for the fueling station. The damage was limited to that building. All PT staff are accounted for and there are no  injuries.

The site has not yet cooled down enough to be properly inspected. PT has a contingency plan to fuel PT and ST buses that run on CNG, but there are likely to be service disruptions in the morning. Check the PT website for service updates, possibly tonight but certainly by 5:30am or so tomorrow.]

Just after 5pm today, a natural gas explosion occurred at a bus barn behind the Pierce Transit administration building.  From what we can gather, it looks like it might have occurred while a bus using compressed natural gas was being refueled.  According to a radio report I heard shortly before 6, at least one bus is a total loss but thankfully there are no injuries.  We don’t know much more than what local media is reporting right now.  We’ll post any major updates so stay tuned.

$590M in Intercity Rail Funds Guaranteed to WA

'Amtrak Cascades in Seattle' photo courtesy KDavidClark

After some worries that the recent House bill to cut transit funding would wipe out money for the state’s intercity rail projects, agreements signed between the FRA and WSDOT have finally guaranteed the $590 million in federal stimulus funds that were granted to Washington earlier last year.  According to WSDOT, the funds not only help upgrade track and separate crossings, they also add two additional roundtrips to the Cascades between Seattle and Portland:

  • “Two additional daily Amtrak Cascades round trips will be added between Seattle and Portland, for a total six, by 2017.
  • On-time reliability is expected to increase from 62 to 88 percent.
  • More consistent speeds will be possible throughout the corridor, resulting in faster travel times between Seattle and Portland.
  • Major construction projects will be completed that will include building bypass tracks to allow for increased train frequency and multiple upgrades to existing track.
  • Several safety-related projects will be completed, including grade separations and the latest technology in advanced-warning signal systems. This will reduce passenger/freight congestion, making passenger travel times shorter with more reliable on-time service.”

The press release from WSDOT has much more on this.  USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood also had a few words to say about the agreement:

I am thrilled to congratulate the State of Washington, BNSF, and Amtrak for their contributions to the agreement signed today by the Federal Railroad Administration and Washington DOT that will make $590 million available for work to begin on significant improvements to the popular Cascades corridor, which connects Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.

While the agreements do secure the first round of grants, the state has yet to finalize the roughly $160 million refused by Wisconsin and Ohio.  Governor Gregoire has also said that she will vie for additional funds recently returned by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Route 240 Diversion to Eastgate

Route 240 Proposal (Metro)

One feature of Metro’s planned Eastside service reorganization is shifting Route 240 to serve Eastgate. Here’s Metro’s writeup of the change:

Why these changes are being considered

  • Attract more riders through improved connections and reduced wait times.
  • Provide two-way, all-day service to portions of Richards Road and 112th Avenue SE, which have significant mixed-use density (offices, housing, courthouse, and hotels).
  • Provide a new all-day connection between Renton and Bellevue College via Newcastle, Factoria, and Eastgate.
  • Connect at the Eastgate Park-and-Ride with routes that serve Issaquah, Overlake, and Crossroads.

Tradeoffs

  • Trips to and from Bellevue would be about five minutes longer for riders in areas south of Factoria, such as Newcastle and Renton Highlands, but those riders would have improved connections with Eastgate, Bellevue College, Issaquah, Overlake, and Crossroads.
  • Riders along 112th Avenue SE, Richards Road, and SE 26th Street would have more frequent service and longer hours of service.
  • Bellevue High School would be served via revised Route 249 on 108th Avenue SE and Route 550 along Bellevue Way SE.
  • Riders between Clyde Hill and the Bellevue Transit Center would be served by revised Route 246 instead of Route 240, with shorter hours of service.

Much more below the jump… [Read more...]

Sunday Open Thread: Ballard Driving Academy

Kirkland Transit Center Reopens

The new Kirkland Transit Center on Friday

[Correction: route 255 and 540 continue to serve 6th St and will not serve State St]

Today, the new Kirkland Transit Center reopens to transit service. The twenty-two year old on-street transit center was upgraded to improve transit operations and create a pedestrian-friendly environment in the heart of Downtown Kirkland. New passenger shelters, lighting, and an in-pavement flashing crosswalk improve the safety and comfort of users. A green trellis and public plaza welcomes people to the downtown park. There is new sheltered bicycle parking next to the library. The street was completely rebuilt with a landscaped median and 10-inch thick concrete pavement over a 6-inch subgrade to withstand heavy bus loads. More photos of the transit center can be viewed here.

Bus routes 255 and 540 Express return to their original routing along State Street and will no longer continue to serve 6th St S between the transit center and NE 68th St in Houghton.

The project has a budget of $13.3 million and is one of the last bus capital improvements in the 1996 Sound Move program. Construction started in October 2009. At an open house meeting during construction, I asked Sound Transit about the cost breakdown and I checked the figures in the budget. Roughly speaking, $8.5 million was budgeted for civil construction work, $2.6 million for the environmental review (EIS), engineering design and specification, just under $1 million for permits and overhead, with the remaining million for contingency. Some might wonder why it cost so much. The transit center project worked in conjunction with a King County wastewater pump station upgrade project. That project required digging up the entire street to install a new sewer main. I have a call in to Sound Transit to see whether the stated cost includes the wastewater and excavation component.

An interesting tidbit: did you know that the Eastside Interceptor, the main pipe that collects wastewater on the Eastside follows the length of the BNSF east side rail corridor? The wastewater gets treated in Renton.

In Defense of High Speed Rail

Taiwan High Speed Rail

High speed rail in Taiwan, photo by Jiadoldol

[Note from Martin: This is not the "bash Republicans" thread. Please keep the discussion on high speed rail and subsidies for other modes of transport.]

The Republicans are very keen on scrapping Obama’s high speed rail initiative, but I think there’s a fairly solid conservative argument in its favor. [Read more...]

Emergency Transit Funding Buys Two Years

photo by Zargoman

[NOTE: To be clear, the figures are from Kevin Desmond, the analysis is mine.]

As Adam linked to yesterday, an “emergency” transit funding bill, SB 5457, survived the Senate Transportation Committee, which had been the chief obstacle to previous transit bills. PubliCola has a lot more on the bill’s prospects and how it might change before becoming law. I had a brief chat with Metro GM Kevin Desmond about the short and long term implications of the Senate bill.

Although the long-term deficit is wider, the 2012-2013 shortfall has long been reported as about 400,000 service hours, or about $40m annually. That’s around a tenth of total service. Metro projects that concessions by the ATU and other unions late last year will save $9m this year, $13m in 2012, $14m in 2013, and $20m by 2015. A $20 license fee generates about $26m $28m a year. Assuming the bill passes and the County Council acts, that means that Metro will not face immediate pressure to cut service before 2014, unless fuel prices increase steeply or Congress does something bad.

Afterwards, the funding gap widens further to $60m annually, just as the new revenue authority would expire.  The payroll savings cut that to $40m, but that’s still a large cut. It also implies non-delivery of 360,000 hours of non-RapidRide, non-service partnership bus service that was promised in Transit Now but deferred due to the crisis.

As Erica Barnett points out, Community Transit, Jefferson Transit*, and Sound Transit are the other agencies that don’t have any other taxing authority to solve their problems. The House version helps CT out but the Senate bill does not. Still, this bill is likely to delay disaster in King County for two years, which gives everyone time to build a stronger legislative coalition to support bus service.

* Jefferson just increased to the limit to solve their problems, so they shouldn’t need to go back to the well.

U.S. House Cuts Transit Funding

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Streetsblog DC reports on H.R. 1, which passed last weekend:

The “base bill” of HR 1 – not the amendments – would do the following:

  • Eliminate the entire high-speed rail program.
  • Cut $430 million of the $2 billion allocated for the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, the federal government’s primary means of support for transit capital investments.
  • Eliminate TIGER, which provided more than $2 billion to innovative state and local transportation programs around the country last year, and rescind all unspent funds from last year.

I’m having trouble finding a report with the final provisions of the bill, but in any case it appears likely the Senate will restore many of these cuts. But if not, or the if the conference committee goes awry, the local implications would be large:

  • $34m of high speed rail funding is going to the D to M Sounder extension, and another $9m to Tukwila Station. That’s in addition to the long list of Amtrak Cascades projects funded under that umbrella.
  • According to Metro, the House Bill cuts $21.3m in 2011 from the RapidRide C budget and $38m in 2012 for RapidRide E and F.
  • Any shrinkage of the New Starts funding pool of course makes it harder for upcoming projects, like Sound Transit 2, to obtain federal funding. In general, the project list assumes a large federal contribution and will suffer serious casualties if the federal government reduces it commitments.
  • University Link already has a Full Funding Grant Agreement. It’s Sound Transit’s understanding that the House bill does not intend to renege on those agreements, and in any case U-Link is extremely competitive even in a tighter environment.

One presumes Sen. Patty Murray has our back on this, but it never hurts to send her a note letting you know how important it is for you.

TCC: Urgent Action Alert

A modified version of the bill has just passed out of the Senate Transportation committee. Publicola has the details.

Via TCC’s blog:

Senate Transportation Committee has 24 Hours to Save Transit Service

Below is an action alert that was sent out this afternoon.  The ability to save transit service rests in the State Senate Transportation Committee’s hands.  Please note the action alert only works if you are a constituent who lives in the district of a Senator who is on Transportation and represents agencies affected by the bill. That said, if you live in the 11th, 21st, 30th, 34th, 41st, or 44rd district please TAKE ACTION!
More below the jump. [Read more...]

News Roundup: Scaling Back

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

Demand for Housing Near Transit

Transit oriented development at 4th & King Streets, SOMA, San Francisco

TOD in San Francisco's SOMA, photo by flickr user LA Wad

On my way home from work the other day I caught this Marketplace program about the increased demand for housing near transit. As may seem obvious to the audience of this blog, but there’s a massive sea-change afoot in consumer demand for housing near transit, but this is likely news to the typical Marketplace listener.

I got to thinking about the numbers. Exactly, how much does transit availability specifically effect real estate prices? Is there a similar effect for walkable neighborhoods? Are we doing enough to keep supply in pace with this increased demand? What second-order effects does transit construction and the demand emanating therefrom have?

Rather than write 4000 words on the economic data around TOD, I’ll focus on just the first two questions today, and I’ll visit the others in future posts. I apologize in advance for all of the links and quotes.
[Read more...]

Snow Thread II

Metro’s snow routing is in full effect outside the West subarea.

About half of ST Express routes have routing revisions to avoid hills.

Sounder is experiencing delays due to frozen switches.

Community Transit canceled a number of trips (and the 435) to improve reliability of what remains.

PT is on snow routes too.

Snow for the Evening Commute

Photo by Oran

It’s likely the evening commute will get hit by a snowstorm. South Sounder is running an early train from Seattle at 2:30pm and Tacoma at 3:50pm.

Metro just announced they’re expecting to move to snow routing in the next few hours, which you should check here when you leave.

Flee now if you can. Consider this the snow comment thread as well.

West Seattle Transportation Panel


West Seattle Blog has a roundup and full video (part 1 is above) of last night’s event. It was a blast to participate, and I was pretty pleased with the things I had an opportunity to say. I’d also like to thank whoever it was at Sustainable West Seattle that decided to distribute copies of Oran’s frequent transit map, which turned out to be a useful prop.

I didn’t have a particularly good response to Tom Rasmussen’s second question to me, about RapidRide, parking, and business interests, but fortunately everyone else on the panel (including Tom) and several audience members covered the points I would make upon further reflection.

You’ll have to go to WSB to get the other two portions of the video. West Seattle Herald also has a summary of the event.

Taxes on Development

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Charles Royer has a thoughtful essay on the future of Pioneer Square, which is worth reading. It contains this aside about obstacles to development:

But there’s a catch called Incentive Zoning. To get 60 percent of the increased height, the developer has to include within the project a certain number of housing units that are affordable to a person making 80 percent of area median income. And to get the remaining 40 percent of the increased height the developer has to contribute to open space, green streets, or other specific amenities.

Many developers say these requirements, on top of the additional difficulties of building in Pioneer Square, probably mean no market-rate housing will be built.

Of course, developers would say that about what amounts to a tax on their business. There’s a certain logic to using developers to achieve some other public goods in the built environment. Finding the right balance between achieving those goods and maintaining incentives to build is a genuinely difficult problem, especially because there are few honest brokers to assess the impacts of each regulation.

On the other hand, infill development is very much in the public interest. It’s crazy to place a tax on something desirable while so many undesirable things (carbon emissions, congestion) go untaxed. It would be far more efficient to actually fund the other public objectives through a different revenue source. Tax increment financing, although it has its drawbacks, will potentially be enabled by a bill in Olympia and would be superior to simply taxing development.

That’s not to say that the City should immediately repeal the requirements*, because the alternate revenue sources don’t yet exist. But in the long term, it would be a healthy thing for the city.

* Although one could argue that supply of affordable housing is not an issue in Pioneer Square.

Keep Taxing Gasoline

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I just don’t understand the enthusiasm for $100 electric-vehicle fees, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) taxes, and all the other workarounds for simply raising the gas tax. It’s true that gasoline usage is declining, but gasoline is far from disappearing from our economy. Indeed, from an environmental or balance-of-trade perspective that would be a great problem to have, and one that can be addressed when it arrives.

Gas tax increases are unpopular, but less so than the alternatives. License fees have been a continual initiative lightning rod; VMT taxes require a transponder to track movements, which requires a whole new infrastructure and will have privacy advocates up in arms.

If you’re going to tax something tax something undesirable. Gas usage is a good choice, and so is driving at congested times. But merely owning an electric car, while not exactly benign, is well down the list of negative externalities.

Congestion is Welfare Reducing


Video by Oran.

It’s sort of obvious that congestion is bad and makes people’s lives worse. But what actually causes congestion? I promise you it isn’t bad drivers. I’m going to try to explain a little bit of the economic theory that shows just how it makes people’s lives worse – known in economics speak as “reducing welfare” – and why charging people to drive makes society better off.

[Read more...]

SR 99 On Ramp Demolition Photos

SR 99 off-ramp demolished

SR 99 off-ramp demolished, photo from WSDO

If you like images of road destruction – or you like construction photos – you might enjoy this photo series from WSDOT of the First Avenue On-ramp to SR-99 demolition.

Bus Riders Moving to Rail

Photo by SD70MACMAN

[UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, riders who access Link by bus will generally not be "new to transit", but will not count among the 1.2m "lost" from buses. For reasons described before, I don't think this is a particularly big group. Nevertheless, we should add this to the 7/36/39/106 riders described below and consider 5.8m rides to be a ceiling on the new riders figure.]

Towards the end of this Erica Barnett takedown of the Washington Policy Center was this tidbit:

Metro attributes [reduced ridership] to several factors, including the loss of 87,000 jobs in King County during the recession, four fare increases in four years, lower gas prices, and the opening of light rail, which lowered ridership by 1.2 million rides a year.

That’s out of a total of 6.96m rides on Link in 2010, implying over 80% of Link trips are new to transit. I asked Metro Planner Jack Lattemann, the source of the figure, how this quick-and-dirty estimate was computed, below the jump:

[Read more...]

West Seattle Transportation Forum Tuesday

Sustainable West Seattle is hosting a transportation forum Tuesday night from 7 to 9 pm, with socializing starting at 6:30:

Our February Community Forum will be held in the Senior Center of West Seattle, on SW Oregon St. literally around the eastern corner from California Avenue SW.

The panelists are Seattle Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Constantine staffer Chris Arkills, SDOT director Peter Hahn, Brice Maryman from SvR Design, and yours truly. So that’s three insiders, a professional, and an outsider with a big mouth. Should be fun.