Senators Agree to Transportation Package with ST3 Authorization

A bipartisan group of Senators yesterday announced that they had reached agreement on most elements of a transportation package that included authorization for Sound Transit 3. The authorized tax levels were lower than the Sound Transit request, which limits the potential size of the package and increases the reliance on sales tax. However, the agreement would still allow the agency to proceed with a package roughly the size of Sound Transit 2 (ST2).

The Senate agreement would permit up to $11 billion in tax revenue over 15 years. There is some confusion resulting from there being two different $15 billion sums in the discussion. The original Sound Transit request is for $15 billion, would provides room for the Board to explore which tax types are least unpopular and find the optimal package size.

The second $15 billion is a potential overall capital project package size, which ST staff used in an exercise and Martin speculatively mapped to projects. Staff picked this number because it was the same size as ST2 and therefore considered politically practical, but the ST board has not decided on the package’s size. Due to bond financing, a $15 billion package requires about $9 billion in taxing authority.

In other words, the lower authorization restricts Sound Transit’s options. If enacted into law, the agreement means that ST3 would be largely supported by an increase in the sales tax, with smaller increases in the MVET and property tax, and there would be much less scope to go beyond the size of ST2.

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Presidents’ Day Service Levels

Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore

This coming Monday, February 16, is not only the first weekday in King County Metro Transit’s, Sound Transit’s, Pierce Transit’s, Community Transit’s, and Intercity Transit’s service change, but it is also Presidents Day.

Metro will be running a “Weekday & No UW” schedule (which really means reduced runs on certain UW routes).

Sound Transit will be running regular weekday schedules on ST Express and Sounder. However, Central Link will be running the Saturday schedule, and Tacoma Link will be running the Sunday schedule.

Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit, Everett Transit, the Seattle Monorail, the South Lake Union Streetcar, and Washington State Ferries will be running a regular weekday schedule.

Community Transit will run regular weekday levels on local service, but will only be running commuter routes 402, 413, 421, and 855.

Kitsap Transit will be running most services on a weekday schedule, except that certain buses serving the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard will not be operating.

The West Seattle and Vashon Water Taxis will not be in service.

News Roundup: 12 Weeks

Sounder Bruce (via Wikimedia)

Sounder Bruce (via Wikimedia)

This is an open thread.

Sounder to Olympia is Not Out of Reach

This is a guest post.

by BRIAN BUNDRIDGE

Sound Transit EMD F59PHI

For years, doubters have said that Sounder to Olympia is impossible, or prohibitively expensive. Recently a News Tribune article reported Senator Sam Hunt as saying it would be “eons away.” None of these objections are necessarily true.

Extending Sounder to Olympia is far easier than some many think, as they don’t realize that the Capital Division branch line from East Olympia into Downtown Olympia runs within walking distance to the Capitol. The former Lacey branch line (now Woodland Trail) that would have been the preferred route and served a far greater potential for ridership was ripped out nearly 10 years ago. To rebuild the Lacey branch line would be nearly cost prohibitive considering the bridge over I-5 would need to be rebuilt, and many homes on some parts of the former right of way would have to be condemned.

The Capital Division is a branch line that serves Olympia and the Port of Olympia with roughly 10 miles of total track. Tacoma Rail leases this route from Union Pacific on a long-term agreement and UP has hinted at selling this branch line. Sounder would use 7 miles of this line between East Olympia and Downtown Olympia.

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Seattle’s Streetcar Fare Proposal is a Step Backwards

Transfer mockup via Oran

Transfer mockup via Oran

A week ago, Publicola’s Darren Davis invited his readers to submit “impassioned, prosy comments” on the Seattle Department of Transportation’s fare change proposal for the one, soon to be two, streetcar lines the department manages. Intrigued, I decided to take Darren up on his idea, and drill into the details of SDOT’s proposal, to see if there were any devils worth writing about. It turned out there were.

SDOT’s fare proposal has four central components:

  1. Harmonizing the streetcar fare with Link Light Rail, by reducing the adult fare by a quarter, and raising the youth/senior fare by a quarter.
  2. Implementing the ORCA LIFT program, a regional reduced fare for low-income adults.
  3. Implementing a new, streetcar-only day pass, available from streetcar ticket machines.
  4. Ceasing the acceptance of the paper transfers issued on King County Metro buses. Transfer credit will be available only when using ORCA.

(Currently, streetcar-only day passes exist, but are sold only in advance, to bulk purchasers. The existing day pass is pretty obscure: I didn’t even know that fare media existed despite regularly using and writing about transit for the 4.5 years I’ve lived here. This is the first time Seattle will be selling streetcar day passes from ticket machines on the street, and for all practical purposes, this will be the first time the public will be exposed to them.)

Parts (1) and (2) of SDOT’s proposal, harmonizing single-ride fares, are grand ideas, and I support their implementation wholeheartedly. They achieve the stated purpose of the streetcar fare change, which is to enhance regional integration of transit, and give transit riders a more predictable, comprehensible experience.

More after the jump. [Read more…]

Feb 2015 service change brings long-term reroutes to western CD

This is a guest post.

The February, 2015 service change wasn’t expected to be all that exciting since June and September are when the big Prop 1 additions hit the streets. Western Central District residents, however, will see long-term reroutes on three major routes through the area beginning in early April. Metro is making these in conjunction with the 23rd Ave reconstruction being done by SDOT. The reroutes are expected to be in place from early April until approximately December, construction schedule permitting. As part of the street rebuild, 23rd Ave will generally be southbound only in the construction area; northbound traffic, including buses, will travel on Martin Luther King Jr Way. This will be the beginning of reroutes through the area. According to SDOT, these reroutes correspond to phase A of construction; phases B (E Cherry to E Union) and C (E Union to E John) are scheduled for 2016.

Since Metro doesn’t have maps published on its service change alert, I made some to show the changes.

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February Service Change Details

Bell Street Park, now with 25 fewer rush hour buses. (Photo by Oran).

Bell Street Park, now more parklike with 25 fewer rush hour buses. (Photo by Oran).

On Valentine’s Day, Metro and Sound Transit will implement their February service change, bringing a handful of small changes to the transit network. This is the last ‘quiet’ service change for a while, as upcoming service changes promise to be much more extensive. June will bring a taste of Prop 1 improvements, September will fully flesh out Prop 1 while restructuring tunnel service for ULink, and next March will bring the big ULink bus restructure. In the meantime, here’s what you can look forward to next week.

Metro 

  • Route 7: Tweaks the schedule to improve the Prentice Loop
  • Route 50: Reinstates the VA loop
  • Routes 55, 111, 114, and 143: These routes will no longer serve Bell, removing 25 buses from Bell Street Park during the PM peak.
  • Routes 193, 303: These two First Hill peak routes will have their last trips leave much later (7:40pm).
  • Route 204: Sees its evening service span expand by one hour.
  • Routes 212, 255, 312: Minor schedule changes.
  • DART 913: Route revision in Kent.
  • Route 628: A new peak-only route serving North Bend, Snoqualmie, and Issaquah Highlands.

Sound Transit

  • 522, 592: Minor schedule changes.
  • 590, 594, 595: Major schedule changes to better meet demand.
  • 574: Southbound frequency reduced from 15 to 20 minutes from 12-3pm.

Fare Changes (March 1)

  • Metro fares go up by $.25 across all fare categories except Access, which rises by $.50.
  • Link fares go up $.25.
  • The new Low-Income Fare, “ORCA Lift“, begins.

Construction Detours

In early April, routes 4, 8, and 48 will begin an 8-month detour, on which more this afternoon.

The 628: A Different Kind of Bus

Multi-Use Trail in Issaquah Highlands

King County is a large and diverse area, including the populous region in and around Seattle and much more rural spots like Vashon Island and the Snoqualmie Valley. That leaves King County Metro with a widely disparate service area.

As part of the ongoing efforts to streamline Metro service over the last few years, the County has been developing a program called “alternative service delivery,” whereby it creates or adjusts transit service for rural communities that might be better served by something other than a fixed-route Metro bus, such as a community shuttle or Dial-a-ride (DART) service.  These alternative services, according to Metro, can cost half as much to operate as a fixed-route bus (which generally costs between $140-$160 per hour).

This week Metro announced a new route as part of this service, the 628, which will traverse I-90 between North Bend and Issaquah Highlands during peak hours. Metro will contract with Hopelink to provide the service, and riders will be able to call ahead to schedule off-route pickups.  Metro’s Rochelle Ogershok says that this peak service will complement the all-day 208 (which had some service reduced in the September 2014 cuts), providing access to difficult-to-serve areas of the Issaquah Highlands.  Additionally, riders will get a reverse-peak express between Issaquah and North Bend on I-90.

Alternative service delivery came out of the various performance audits and improvement measures that Metro undertook during the belt-tightening days of 2009-2014.  Providing more flexible transit options will be a big benefit to rural areas and allow for better service at a lower cost.

HB 1180 Moves to Finance Committee, Hearing Tuesday

Reuven Carlyle, Chair, House Finance Committee

Reuven Carlyle, Chair, House Finance Committee

Last Monday, House Bill 1180, which would give Sound Transit authority to take a new capital and service improvement funding package (“ST3″ as we like to call it) to the district’s voters, was passed out of the House Transportation Committee. On Thursday, the bill was referred over to the House Finance Committee.

The next step for the bill is to get a hearing in the Finance Committee, at the discretion of Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle (D – representing the Ballard, Queen Anne, and Magnolia neighborhoods of Seattle).

Update: HB 1180 is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday at 3:30 pm. You can view the hearing live.

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Cell Service Contract Proposed for Tunnels

A while back we told you that Sound Transit was going to put out an RFP for vendors to install cell service in light rail tunnels, including the downtown tunnel and U-Link.  Well, the bids are in and we have a winner.  The winning vendor, Mobilitie, will install cellular service for all 4 major US companies, and pay Sound Transit for the privilege of doing so (Mobilitie will, in turn, charge the telcos for the service).  Per ST (pdf):

The vendor will completely fund the design, installation, operation and maintenance of the wireless project and will pay Sound Transit a monthly fee of $7,500 for the entire license term, including any option years. There will be no cost to Sound Transit for the installation of the system aside from some administrative costs that are expected to be less than the monthly fee Sound Transit receives from the vendor. For future light rail expansions, the vendor will make a one-time capital payment of $250,000 for each additional link segment, including the University Link Extension, East Link Extension and Northgate Link Extension. Upon the completion of the Northgate Link Extension, Mobilitie will provide an additional one-time capital payment of $50,000.

Timing for the installation is not given. Hat tip to reader Joe S.

Update: Sound Transit’s Bruce Gray let us know that the board still needs to formally approve the proposal in a few weeks, but this is the staff’s recommended vendor and approach.  It should be operational by mid-2016.

News Roundup: Chatter

Wikimedia

Tukwila Station – Wikimedia

This is an open thread.

Last Day to Weigh In on Madison BRT

SDOT is conducting an online survey about the Madison Street BRT project, which is in the planning process.  This project is intended to provide fast and frequent bus service along Madison Street between downtown and 23rd Avenue, using dedicated right-of-way.  The last day to take the survey is today.

Madison BRT project map, courtesy of SDOT.

The survey asks for community input on design priorities for the BRT right-of-way; priorities for transfers to and from the BRT; the location of future bike routes serving the corridor; and priorities for pedestrian improvement.  The transfer question is particularly important because transfers from Madison/Marion to 3rd Avenue bus service and the downtown transit tunnel are currently bad, and would have gotten even worse under early draft Madison BRT plans.

If you care about the future of the Madison corridor, please take the survey this afternoon.

Obama Budget Chips in for Tacoma Link

Image via tacomatransit.com

Here’s the press release:

The Obama Administration’s FY 2016 budget proposal includes $74.99 million in Small Starts federal funding for extending the Tacoma Link light rail line… Expansion of the 1.6-mile light rail system between the Tacoma Dome and Theater District stations requires partnership funding before the expansion can be built. The 2.4-mile expansion requires approximately $75 million in Small Starts funding, $50 million in ST2 revenues, and $40 million from the City of Tacoma, a key partner in the project. To date, Sound Transit and the City have worked together to secure $13 million in grants for the City’s contribution to the project.

So if Congress were to actually enact this, they’d still be $27m short. ST has long anticipated this grant and the news therefore doesn’t really alter the status quo.

The extension would go up to the Stadium District and then turn south on MLK Way.

ST District Expansion Bill in Senate

wikimedia

The Sound Transit bills are thick on the ground in Olympia. Josh Feit found this one, and it’s got the Senate Transportation Chair as a sponsor:

The legislation, sponsored by the Democratic contingent from the 22nd Legislative District in Thurston County around Olympia—senator Karen Fraser, D-22, Thurston County, and representatives Chris Reykdal, D-22, Tumwater, and Sam Hunt, D-22, Olympia— would allow Sound Transit to expand its boundaries west so that I-5 corridor cities which are in counties that are “contiguous” to existing ST counties, like Thurston county’s Olympia, could be included in the future if voters wanted.

The bill is SB 5780 and the House version is HB 1921. Aside from the 22nd District, sponsors include Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima), Sen. Randi Becker (R-Yelm), and Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Snohomish).

If I read the text correctly, the ST Board and local councils would have to agree to annex. The new territory would form its own subarea and be taxed at the prevailing rate elsewhere in the district. Although it’s not entirely clear, I believe the only election would be in the annexed territory, not in the ST district as a whole.

I have mixed feelings about this proposal. I have no objection to ST Express or Sounder service to Olympia, and giving state employees a visceral stake in ST is probably wise for the agency’s long-term health. On the other hand, in practice the rail line is quite far from the center city. More fundamentally, a bigger district means annexing a relatively anti-transit electorate, likely raising the hurdle to pass a Sound Transit package.

Josh has lots of quotes about the bill.

ST3 Bill Passes House Committee

Rep. Ed Orcutt

Yesterday HB1180 — granting Sound Transit taxing authority to fund an ST3 measure — passed the House Transportation Committee by a 13-12 vote, advancing it to the House floor (video here, starting at 47:20 and again at 51:00). You can see the list of committee members here.

In a remarkable display of anti-tax ideological purity trumping any notions of local control, all 11 Republicans voted against the bill, including all 5 that represent part of the Sound Transit District. Rep. Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way) said it was

not clear to me how much the average property owner would pay. I’m not sure when the bonds are going to be repaid from ST2 [while ST3 MVET would be in addition to that.] But the bigger problem, though we do have people and businesses that want Sound Transit in my district, is that I don’t have any guarantee. My subarea pays $13m per year for nothing. The money basically went to the Eastside to extend light rail to Bellevue and Redmond. I need a guarantee that subregion money will benefit that subregion, and I need to know how much this is going to cost.

Setting aside that “nothing” includes a significant amount of express bus service and a Link line coming ever closer to Federal Way, it is simply not true* that South King dollars have gone to fund East Link. The deferral of the only ST2 station in Federal Way is a result of collapsing South King revenues; if anything, a loan backed by East Link performance may help to restore some of the Federal Way funding. On the other hand, if Rep. Kochmar’s concerns are sincere, a little education and some assurances from ST board members that Federal Way is a core priority of ST3 would probably win some important votes.

Ranking Republican Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) made an equally interesting statement:

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Smokey Point Transit Center dedicated, to open on February 16

This is a guest post.

Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger cut the ribbon to dedicate Smokey Point Transit Center Saturday morning

Braving Saturday morning’s cold conditions, onlookers watched Community Transit Board Chair Mike Todd and artist Julie Berger dedicate Smokey Point’s new transit center with a traditional ribbon-cutting, complete with oversized scissors. The transit center features five bus bays (four at the center island and one on Smokey Point Boulevard), improved lighting and shelters, and the notable exclusion of a park-and-ride. The $4.4 million project began with the demolition of the previous, smaller transit center that closed in 2005 after reconstruction of the nearby I-5 interchange limited access for buses. The Smokey Point Transit Center was originally proposed as a 200-stall park-and-ride at 169th Place NE, but the plans were scrapped in 2008 in favor of the cheaper option of renovating the old transit center and an adjacent vacant lot.

The transit center’s most visible aesthetic features are the shelter’s white, pointed fabric roofs and the use of light green paint on the benches and information boards. The centerpiece of the complex is Julie Berger’s “Honoring” Tenses of Time, a large “story pole” beacon adorned with metal shapes representing the past, present and future of the area, in the form of a phoenix, forestry and an airplane, respectively.

[Read more…]

This is a guest post.

First Vote on Sound Transit 3 Authority Today

Ruth Fisher, Former House Transportation Committee Chairwoman; Instrumental in creation of Sound Transit

Ruth Fisher, Former House Transportation Committee Chairwoman

Last Wednesday, a long line of public officials and organizational leaders showed up to testify in front of the State House Transportation Committee in favor of House Bill 1180, which would grant Sound Transit the authority to take a new tax package, commonly referred to as “ST3″, to the voters for the next round of light rail construction and other new ST services.

Rep. Jake Fey (D – Tacoma), the prime sponsor of HB 1180, invoked the memory of Ruth Fisher, who as Chair of the House Transportation Committee, led the way for creation of Sound Transit. Fey represents the 27th District, which Fisher represented. The hearing can be viewed here.

The bill is scheduled for a vote in committee Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Watch today’s meeting live.
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HOV 3+ not happening any time soon

wsdotA few weeks ago I attended the TCC organized Transit Talk. Along with transit champions Marko Liias and Jessyn Farrell, WSDOT Public Transit Division’s Stan Suchan rounded out the panel. During the Q&A I brought up the failure of our HOV system and asked what could be done, specifically mentioning HOV 3+ as a possibility in those stretches where even WSDOT admits the HOV lanes aren’t meeting reliability standards.

In my opinion, the answers were underwhelming. Senator Liias stated that it was very hard for a politician to take away something from a constituent without giving back something in return. Representative Farrell seemed to agree.

WSDOT’s Stan Suchan basically said the agency needed more time to study the situation. The agency has questions on whether moving to HOV 3+ would result in breaking down some current 2 person carpools into 2 SOVs, thus increasing congestion. To my mind the obvious question is if WSDOT’s definition of congestion is looking at person throughput or only vehicular.

Multiple times both Mr. Suchan and Senator Liias stated that we need to wait for the I-405 widening project to finish up and the results studied before anything could be done on other corridors. Considering that in many places our HOV lanes are worthless right now during peak hours, being no faster than the general purpose lanes, I found the need to wait years to fix the situation disappointing.

That was just my impression from an on the spot answer so I wrote Mr. Suchen in order to make sure I got the whole story. He was gracious enough to write back with substantive responses. Below are my questions and his full responses.

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