Federal Way Targets Sound Transit With Toxic Legislation

Federal Way Transit Center (thanks to Atomic Taco)

Last week, a group of legislators led by Rep. Katrina Asay (R, 30th) and Senator Margarita Prentice (D, 11th), dropped several bills on behalf of Federal Way, all potentially damaging to Sound Transit and expansion of light rail.

The bills should end any real discussion of whether certain Federal Way politicians actually want or support light rail. None of them address the problem of low sales tax revenue in South King County. None of them address the low density and lack of zoning for transit oriented development where Sound Transit plans to build. None of them appear to have any positive impact on building rail at all – they seem to be simply retaliatory. They are all asinine, making Sound Transit go to ballot separately with capital and operations costs, letting cities pull out of the Sound Transit district without a public vote, or reorganizing Sound Transit with only five directly elected board members. That last would open up Sound Transit to direct expenditures during an election – a perfect opportunity for Kemper Freeman to buy a board. Another would help nickel and dime Sound Transit by charging them, rather than the auditor’s office, for Tim Eyman’s new performance audits. The auditor’s office would still pay for all the other audits they perform – this would just charge Sound Transit.

Any of these bills, if passed, would hurt Sound Transit’s ability to connect light rail to Everett, Redmond and Pierce County, specifically hurting Federal Way mayor Skip Priest’s stated goal of getting more light rail. None of these bills help solve the real problem: Federal Way was and continues to be designed to be low density and unwalkable, making higher fuel prices take a lot more out of residents’ pockets. Places with more density are seeing less of a drop in sales tax revenue, probably because people who can walk to the store have more money to spend after their basic needs.

The real impact of these bills, assuming transit advocates can kill them, was to let us know who puts politics over good planning. While Senator Eide (D, 30th) declined to sponsor the Senate bills, recognizing that they have no place in the discussion of how to get light rail to her district, Prentice sponsored every piece of legislation – her district already has Link and Sounder service and the fantastic Tukwila/International Blvd station, so hurting Sound Transit now has no impact on her constituents.

In a letter sent to Sound Transit by all three 30th legislators – Senator Eide and Representatives Asay and Mark Miloscia (D), they lauded Sound Transit’s commitment to an alternatives analysis to identify cost savings to get light rail to Federal Way sooner. At the end of the letter, they say: “We hope more information, strategies, and ideas will follow close behind. For our part, we stand willing and ready to help with these practical solutions.”

The alternatives analysis referenced in their letter is not yet complete. So while Senator Eide clearly meant this in earnest, Rep. Asay must feel that attack bills are “practical solutions.”

What’s especially interesting about Mayor Priest’s reaction here is how different it is from the reactions of others in the same position. According to a source at Sound Transit, they’re currently projecting that instead of 2023, with the current tax revenue coming in, Federal Way could have light rail in 2034. That’s actually quite similar to how economic impacts in the late 90s and early 2000s brought University Link, now under construction, from a potential 2006 opening of Brooklyn Station to only Husky Stadium by 2016. But in the same situation, Seattle didn’t attempt to sabotage Sound Transit with the kinds of public and legislative attacks Federal Way is now. Instead, they accepted financial reality – and Mayor Nickels went on to be the vanguard of Sound Transit 2, funding Brooklyn Station and far more. Perhaps Mayor Priest would be better served with that approach?

Senator Prentice and Representative Asay do their own constituents a disservice with asinine attacks on an agency that can only work with the funding it has. Given that it’s Transportation Advocacy Day, transit advocates who meet with these legislators today should point out that bills like this do nothing to get us more transit – they only serve to move the discussion farther away from real solutions.

Edit: Even if you’re not going to Olympia today, Chetan and Bruce point out that we should be contacting them anyway! Sen. Prentice’s phone number is (360) 786-7616, and her email is margarita.prentice@leg.wa.gov. Rep. Asay is at (360) 786-7830 and katrina.asay@leg.wa.gov. Please be respectful, but let them know this is abusive and counterproductive – Sound Transit has to spend a lot of time in Olympia defending themselves from things like this. And if I have anything to say about it, Seattle Transit Blog will be organizing and fundraising against anti-transit legislators in this year’s races. It’s a good year to be 501c4.

Comments

  1. chetan says

    Can you update this post with the contact information of the relevent legislators (and possibly the mayor) so that we could more easily tell them what we think about the legislation/letter?

  2. lazarus says

    All this ballyhooing by FW is totally unproductive. It’s not ST’s fault that South King is paying 31% less into their sub-areas pot. ST just has to deal with the aftermath.

    Maybe if they spent less time whining and more time on economic development they wouldn’t be in this situation….

    • Mike B says

      FW and SKCo need to admit that things aren’t as rosy as they were when ST2 was passed and the money isn’t there anymore. Substituting their fantasy into reality isn’t going to bring Link down any faster.

      Spending time on all things productive would simply make too much sense, get too much done, and would require unrewarding work on the politicians part. It’s just easier to blame someone else.

      • lazarus says

        Well, whereas I certainly do agree that sometimes it is easier and more politically productive to grandstand instead of actually doing something productive, there does seem to be a fairly prevalent “clown factor” when it comes to SKing politicians. After all, this is the same part of the county that gave us Pam Roach, Anthony Hemstad and now Priest.

        But this just hurts FW. If they succeed in blowing up ST what does FW get? Maybe they get lower taxes, but they certainly wouldn’t get more transit or more investment. And they would never get LR. Link would remain terminated at Highline CC and FW would still be just one stop away.

    • Cinesea says

      lazarus…

      Damn straight! I was at The Commons a few months ago and shocked at how empty it was. So many black holes where there should be thriving shops and relatively few customers. And after all these years, they still haven’t upgraded the food court! Not only The Commons, but so many of the strip malls in the area have empty slots, too. So, Federal Way can only blame itself for such a huge drop in sales tax revenue. They certainly have more potential for sales tax revenue than say, Shoreline.

      • Brent says

        I would settle for some sort of decently direct foot path from the transit center to the Commons. None exists that I can find.

        Oh, and I wouldn’t depend on the Mirror getting anything right. They ran multiple hit pieces claiming Federal Way was getting “nothing” for the taxes they pay into ST. Basic homework and fact-checking doesn’t seem to happen there.

      • TLjr says

        Footpath FROM the transit center? Shouldn’t shopping be IN the transit center? What exactly is in this “center” other than a handful of bus stops and a parking garage on steroids?

  3. Adam Bejan Parast says

    What committee is this going through. I don’t see any bills in the Senate transportation committee… or have the bills not yet dropped?

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Click on the links! Transportation won’t give any of the House bills a hearing. Local government will probably get a couple of them. Look at SB 6499-6503 to see where the Senate bills are going.

  4. AP says

    What does Kemper Freeman have to do with Federal Way? Is he just a placeholder for “threats against transit” or is it because Federal Way isn’t Seattle so it must be Eastside?

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Kemper Freeman, among his many baseless complaints about Sound Transit, has complained specifically about the federated board structure, and how the ST Board is “unaccountable”. That, combined with his willingness to bankroll anti-transit candidates and initiatives, suggests that making the ST board popularly elected would provide him with yet another avenue to attack transit. That threat is not specific to Federal Way, but these bills are put forth by their sponsors as “fixes” to Fed Way’s problems.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      What Bruce says. If the ST board were directly elected, Kemper would buy the seats by running his own candidates, and kill East Link.

    • Sally says

      Wow. Just think about how much more Freeman Development Corp.’s holdings would be if East Link is built! Is he really so stupid he’d shoot himself in the foot by opposing East Link? Just doesn’t make sense . . . .

  5. says

    There is so much traffic going between Federal Way and Seattle…working commuters…they seem like they would be a natural for rail.

    Unfortunately the reality is because of the circuitous routing, it’s easier to take an express bus with no stops from Federal Way transit center to downtown.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      A little off topic, but remember that I strongly support a bypass through SODO. We need a fast line through the 99 corridor south.

      But something else: those express buses sit in a lot of traffic, are very expensive to operate, and Link runs twice as frequently. When a bus runs every 15 and Link runs every 7-8, that means your average trip time is really several minutes faster with Link than the scheduled time – there’s less waiting, and even more than that, less *perceived* waiting.

      • Cheesewheels says

        Right, and even if the buses have good ‘nominal’ time, they are occasionally spectacularly late.

        I, too, am a huge supporter of a SODO bypass, but unfortunately, wouldn’t that also be a S.King County subarea project? And therefor have no funding? Or does Seattle/N.King stretch all the way to the Tukwila border?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Just like ST Express runs in North King but isnt funded by it, a bypass would probably be more of a shared expense than just a North King project. But I don’t really know! It’s something we’d have to advocate for a long time before we would be ready for that discussion.

      • Anandakos says

        Well, you’ve attacked the most cost-effective plan for a SODO bypass, haven’t you, Ben?

        Using the existing loop at the Maintenance Facility for the interlocking and running 90% at-grade in the otherwise almost unused strip of land between I-5 and the rail tracks would cut the cost of such a bypass by 2/3 versus the wet-dream of “serving the Air Museum!”

        Yes, five old buildings between Spokane and Georgetown would have to be demolished or flown-over on elevated, but you’d have even worse problems getting through Georgetown to East Marginal, and once there you’d be on stilts for two miles. And Boeing would want you to trench in front of their hangars.

      • Joanna Cullen says

        What is the difference between the busway and a bypass? Do you mean building yet another road to bypass SODO?

      • Joanna Cullen says

        I understand now that you are proposing rail bypass. There are far more pressing needs to spend money on. Per dollar savings not worth it.

    • lazarus says

      Yep, I guess all people in FW care about is getting to DT Seattle as fast and efficiently as possible. I mean, who in FW would ever want to go to Highline CC? Or the Airport? Or any other station along the line? Transportation is all about getting to DT Seattle, at least for FW.

      • Mike Orr says

        What’s the holdup for Link going to Federal Way? The South King piggy bank doesn’t have enough money. Link is definitely going to 200th and it looks like it’s going to get to 240th by 2023-2024. But there’s no money for the 240th-272nd segment unless ST cancels all other South King projects or does it ten years late. 272nd, of course, is not downtown Federal Way anyway, it’s the edge of Federal Way. So it’s of limited use for revitalizing the Commons area, enhancing Federal Way’s pedestrian access, or giving Federal Way residents a transit alternative. The city’s fury is a bit hyperbolic in light of this: why are they so in a knot about a station that’s on the edge of the city?

        320th was left out of ST2 because it was even less affordable. Presumably, ST3 could finish 320th and start going further south, if this budget hole is resolved, and if ST and Federal Way are still on speaking terms then.

    • reality based commute says

      This is a crap argument. The routing through the Rainier Valley adds about five minutes to the trip south. Five minutes isn’t worth a billion dollar investment for a SODO bypass. A few minutes is not what gets folks out of their cars–reliability and frequency are far more important.

      • lazarus says

        I concur 100%. The RV routing only adds a few minutes, and has both more frequent service and more reliability. On average it is probably actually faster between FW and DT Seattle than an express bus.

        And if you are going to spend $1B, there are certainly other places to spend it where the need is higher and the impact to ridership greater.

      • Cheesewheels says

        I disagree…

        A line traveling at 55+mph, stopping once in Georgetown and once at Boeing would shave closer to 10 minutes or more off that trip. (Preferably, we could get it fully aerial, and bump the speeds to 75mph+).

      • Zed says

        The difference in distance between the current route and a bypass route is only ~1.5 miles, how do you save 10 minutes over that short of a distance? The most you could hope to save with a bypass would be ~5 minutes, and that’s if there were no stops. Is that worth sacrificing building light rail in other parts of the city? The MLK routing is not really as big of a detour as everyone likes to think it is.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Zed, milepost 0 of your 1.5 miles is half a mile on its own, with Beacon Hill and Mt
        Baker stations. It really would be a big savings to go straight south, and even more if you went up 599 instead of reconnecting with Link at boeing access road.

      • Zed says

        1.5, 2, 3 miles, doesn’t make a difference, at 60mph it still doesn’t save 10 minutes. We already had an airport express that made no stops and traveled at 55mph through South Seattle, the 194. It was 3 minutes faster than Link.

      • Brian Bundridge says

        FTA does not allow light-rail vehicles to go above 55mph except for testing purposes only…. Just figure I’ll toss that out there now… Still, 5-10 minutes and $1 billion and maybe a few extra stops?… I don’t even see that happening in our lifetime.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        If a new 2nd Ave tunnel has a 99 corridor line, I do believe it would go 80mph, not 55mph. :)

        And the 194 took as little as 28 minutes to Link’s 37, I believe – and that, again, went along 518, not down 599. A grade separated train would be more like 18-20.

      • Mike Orr says

        It’s ten minutes by my count. We can look at a Georgetown bypass AFTER building Ballard, 45th, West Seattle, Lake City, and Aurora, and upgrading the 8, 11, and 48 to rapid-trolley RapidRide.

      • Bernie says

        I agree with Brian, not in our lifetime. Of course I’m a lot older than most of you so maybe in your lifetime ;-). I don’t think the RV detour was a smart decision but what’s done is done. As far as Federal Way I agree with Ben, it’s a suburb first of Tacoma. When it makes sense for that line to be built (probably not in my lifetime) then it only makes sense to connect the two lines. Until then it will always be faster and cheaper to use express buses. At some point a Boeing Access Rd. “flyer stop” for transfers may make sense. Maybe even in my lifetime; if medical advances continue to keep us kicking longer and longer :=

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Matthew – for sure. It means a Graham station, and even a Boeing Access Road or S. 133rd station, wouldn’t impact trip times to the airport (depending on where your bypass went).

      • Nathanael says

        _When_ Link is full, _then_ you build the bypass.

        Local route first, express route once local route is full.

        That will be quite a long time in the future.

      • Mike Orr says

        The argument for a bypass is not whether the local route is full, but whether the travel time advantage provides sufficient benefits to riders and to the region’s commerce as a whole. We can’t go the “no more service until the existing buses are full” path or we’d never add any service where it’s needed. If I’m going from SeaTac to downtown, or from Shoreline to 85th, I can do nothing to help make the Rainier Valley trains or the #5 and #75 buses fuller. Yet I still have a need to get to my destination faster/more frequently. Should that need just be ignored because there are 20 seats available on the 75, or the 358 has 20 standing spaces available?

  6. says

    And b/c Seattle doesn’t have any way to fund/build our own Rapid Transit, all we can do is sit back and hope the suburbs and the rest of the State don’t succeed in their attempts to derail our progress. *sigh*

  7. JayH says

    I am on Federal Way’s side here. At the end of the day that end of the line is paying for a service that they were promised in the ballot measure, but will not receive. This is plain and simple breach of contract. If you signed a contract to pay for a car, and did not receive it, but still got the bill for it, wouldn’t you sue? Even if you were “promised” a car “eventually”? At the very least this measure was deliberately deceptive when ST3 went to the voters. It is why I voted no. Oh, and I live in Seattle, not Federal way. And yes, I am still pissed off at the broken promises of ST1. And I believe Seattle should have sued to stop the building of Central Link until the finances were thoroughly understood and the funding was assured. Someone has to stand up and demand accountability and clarity.

    I am not against light rail. I am for light rail. I just want it managed by people that comprehend the problems and will present them to the public honestly and clearly.

    • Brett says

      No car dealer would give you a car if you had only paid 60% of the downpayment. They’d say, “You can take delivery of the car when you’ve finished paying for it”. This is subarea equity in action. That is why Sound Transit is telling FW that it will be built later than originally planned.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      You talk a lot about “clarity”, “honesty” and “accountability”, but none of those terms seem to have a place here.

      When the state released new expectations for sales tax revenue, Sound Transit started a discussion with Federal Way proactively about what they’d like to do. Mayor Priest had no reasonable answer. Sound Transit is doing an alternatives analysis to find ways to get light rail to Federal Way sooner. How is attacking Sound Transit with legislation in ANY way helpful to that analysis?

      It seems to me that Sound Transit is doing *exactly* what they should do in this situation. Federal Way is generating far less tax revenue than was projected. If anything, isn’t that Federal Way’s fault?

      And as for the tax money Federal Way is producing now – it built a huge transit center – one of the largest in the region – and runs express bus service. What’s left over is going into a fund to build light rail.

      You say you’re for light rail. Right now, University Link is under construction, and Sound Transit had an open, honest discussion with the region in 2000/2001 about when and how that could happen, just like the discussion they’re having with Federal Way today. It seems the voters agree, as even before Link opened, we voted strongly for more in 2008. But you propose Seattle should have stopped light rail from being built – that doesn’t sound like you’re for light rail.

    • lazarus says

      A totally false argument. FW is not paying for the line. The South King subarea is paying 31% less than the promised to pay. They need to put on their big-boy-pants and start acting like adults. If you put 31% less in, you re going to get 31% less out. It’s pretty simple math, and it is most certainly not “breach of contract”.

      And your car analogy is completely wrong. This is more like a mortgage for a house that you agreed to pay for, except suddenly you aren’t paying for it and are skipping every 3rd payment. In that situation the bank will eventually foreclose on the house and throw you out on the street. “No pay for house, no live in house.”

      Get a clue – under subarea equity you only get what you pay for, and ST is prohibited from transferring money from other subareas to cover SKing’s shortfall. Get over it — raise taxes or just wait.

  8. Whelp says

    This would be terrible. Voting for boardmembers would mess everything up. There could be people elected on the grounds that they would use more federal grants instead of tax revenue, or other “feel-good” promises that just would be broken!

    • Mike says

      Yes, so unlike the feel-good promises made ST1 (rail to Northgate) and ST2 (rail to 272nd) which were kept.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Northgate wasn’t part of Sound Move any more than downtown Everett was part of ST2.

        Frankly, agencies can’t predict the future. They can just work with what they have. And Sound Transit has done a good job of working with what they have.

        What, specifically, would you have them do differently?

      • Mike says

        Sorry, but Northgate WAS part of ST1; I’m pretty sure we didn’t vote on LR from Huskey Stadium to SeaTac. They just couldn’t do it, though they were happy to use it to sell the proposal to get votes.

        Why would ANYONE vote for ST3 at this point? Who would believe they will actually build what they say they’re going to?!

        Ben, you don’t do the cause of transit any favors by giving the Agency a pass, you’re not encouraging accountability. You’re part of the problem dude!

        Also, your usual MO when challenged is to say people are anti-transit, which is always good for a laugh. Next time, you should consider not name calling, and actually replying. I would guess most people reading this are NOT anti-transit, don’t insult people’s intelligence.

      • Bernie says

        Anyone who believes they are going to get everything promised in any tax package is a fool. The nickle a gallon fell way short of what ST promised/delivered. Who’s going to put forward a tax increase and the down play what it’s going to accomplish. Figure about 1/2 of what’s promised when you’re voting and it’ll come out about right. When was the last time government under sold and over delivered?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Mike, we voted on NE 45th St (brooklyn station) to S. 200th St in Sound Move. Design from 45th St to Northgate was included, just as design from Overlake to Redmond is included in ST2. Go look it up! I’ve linked it before.

        Here’s the problem – when I ask you what the agency should do differently, you just don’t say it. You just repeat buzzwords. You’re actually not being very accountable yourself. ;)

  9. Lack Thereof says

    I’m currently apartment-shopping (due to a rent hike), and it’s shit like this that makes me leery of renting outside of Seattle city limits. With my personal commute-time budget, there’s a couple of places in Burien and Tukwila that give me a quick enough ride to my CD work place, with affordable rents. But local and regional government out there just seems so dysfunctional, and I don’t really want to put myself in their hands.

    My budget is very low, but there’s still a few apartments in the city proper I can afford, and I’m probably going to go that direction, even if it means a few less square feet and a slightly longer walk to the frequent bus.

    • lazarus says

      Yes, but don’t forget that in the city you typically you will have more walkable destinations close to your residence. So unless you spend all your time in your apartment, you often will have more to do and more people to interact with.

      And if you can lower your transportation costs by living in the city, then the city actually becomes more affordable than the outer neighborhoods.

  10. sven Goldmanis says

    I do not believe that the bills will go anywhere.. Federal Way is not going to blow up ST or the direction that they are going with Eastlink… Bellevue and the Redmond area are an economic driver for the area with the high level of employment and will continue to grow.. Federal Way as much as they think they would like to have light rail, this will not happen if they do not have the sub area equity to generate the need dollars for the expansion.. It is sad but true that this will not happen for them and anything they try to do to short circut the ST progress will not help them in the long run..I believe we are way ahead of thinking and speculating on what if’s!!! and thinking to much on what outcomes are the result of all of their nonsense… Just a thought!!!!

  11. eddiew says

    the bills will probably not advance.

    Federal Way would get much better transit service with more express bus service frequency and less Link. South Link could stop at South 200th Street. Routes 577, 574, and 594 could all run on tight headways. Toll I-5 for improved flow. The capacity of Link is not required in that market. A bus-based system could be improved quickly and riders today, not decades from now. Make the center access ramps at South 317th Street and the transit center sing.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      The problem, of course, is that people don’t really care about a bus based system, so they won’t fund it with $18 billion…

  12. eddiew says

    Ben: in both 1996 and 2008, the ST district voters approved measures funding three modes. the board should use all three where they are most cost-effective. Link cannot reach downtown Federal Way for decades. the riders need service today.

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