Sound Transit expects better revenue recovery, but still lengthy project delays

The latest financial plan anticipates a moderate recession scenario requiring a four year average delay to future projects (image: Sound Transit).

Sound Transit’s latest financial plan is much more optimistic about a recovery in tax revenues than forecasts of a few months ago. But predictions of project delays have not improved so much. The more favorable revenue outlook is offset by operating cost pressures. Ahead of the ST3 realignment decisions next summer, staff are still talking in terms of a four to six year delay in projects depending on how revenue forecasts evolve.

As economic activity declined sharply in the early months of the COVID pandemic, Sound Transit hypothesized it might be in for an $8 billion to $12 billion reduction in tax revenues through 2041. That would translate to an average five-year delay in all projects not already in construction.

The most recent projection is for a $6.1 billion shortfall in tax revenues vs the year-ago forecast. Some $800 million of that is likely offset by extra federal grants (both CARES support received in 2020 and expected greater grant support in future). A $5.3 billion net reduction in revenues would seem to put Sound Transit on a path for much reduced delays to projects, but the latest financial plan analysis draws attention to several risks on the cost side.

Continue reading “Sound Transit expects better revenue recovery, but still lengthy project delays” | 19 comments

Elevators & escalators add $500 million to Sound Transit’s 20 year plan

This DSTT escalator broke when misaligned steps crashed into the comb segments (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is preparing a multi-year effort to replace aged escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Poor conditions in the DSTT and escalator reliability problems at UW station have prompted an extensive evaluation of Sound Transit’s planning for vertical conveyances. The latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair, anticipating more robust expenditures on maintaining and replacing this equipment through 2041.

We reported last month how Sound Transit would focus on improving the poor state of vertical conveyances in the DSTT as it takes ownership in 2021, somewhat delaying efforts to remediate the UW station escalators which have recently been performing better. The latest budget sets aside $96 million for DSTT capital improvements through 2025, much of that for escalators, but also upgrading lighting, ingress and egress improvements, and general safety and security issues in the tunnel. There is another $45 million for escalator modernization at UW station, and upgrades to emergency egress stairs at UW and Capitol Hill.

A condition assessment of DSTT conveyances in late 2019 detailed problems facing Sound Transit as it took ownership of the tunnel. Elevators were in generally fair condition, but were 32-34 years old creating issues with future serviceability and acquisition of materials. Several elevators were out of service due to vandalism and misuse.

With a single exception, escalators in the tunnel stations are of similar age, and well past their optimal life. Their condition was assessed as poor with a high level of wear, and most require major repairs. The consultants called out that “there is a lack of repairs that is required for the escalators to maintain a level reliability for a transit station with high pedestrian traffic”.

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To solve the housing crisis, build more housing

Microsoft Köln, RheinauArtOffice, Rheinauhafen Köln-3603

Before (lightly) criticizing Microsoft’s specific choices, it is important to say that their investment in local affordable housing is generous, one that their investors would probably not prefer, and that we are fortunate that that a global company is directing a disproportionate amount of its surplus to its home county.

With a total $750m commitment to the cause, the latest $65m allocation includes

$40 million into a fund operated by Urban Housing Ventures, a privately funded company focused on creating affordable apartments. UHV will use the funds to reduce the rent for 40% of units in three apartment buildings to middle-income levels.

UHV says the novel model allows investors such as itself to purchase apartment buildings and then lower the rents on some of the units without losing financial viability. The reduced rent allows buildings to operate at lower vacancy and turnover rates, offsetting some of the costs of converting the units, according to UHV.

Monica Nickelsburg, Geekwire
Continue reading “To solve the housing crisis, build more housing” | 50 comments

New details on Ballard-West Seattle link stations

14th Avenue in Ballard

Sound Transit has another online open house up, now with more details on station locations and elevation. We’ve covered the alignment alternatives in previous posts, so let’s focus on the stations. Two notes to start with: first, if you like mezzanines, you are in for a treat! Second, opening dates are pushed out past 2035 due to COVID, though that could slip further pending reprioritization discussions at the board level.

Links go directly to station images or pages where appropriate.

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SDOT will repair the West Seattle Bridge

SDOT blog:

Today, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that she has instructed the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to restore travel across the Duwamish by repairing the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. SDOT has nearly completed Phase I of this two-part repair process, as the stabilization work concludes in December. She also directed SDOT to continue early design work for an eventual replacement of the bridge.

“Fast, cheap, good: pick two” is the old project management saw and the city appears to have chosen “fast and cheap.” The bridge could be open just around the time (2022) a COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed and “normal” commute patterns reassert themselves.

Neither Sound Transit nor the city seemed super keen on a joint car-rail bridge, which could have put the light rail schedule at risk. So the options came down to a 1-for-1 replacement or a repair.

Kicking the can down the road and waiting to see what happens in a post-COVID world makes some sense, but won’t come without a cost. A replacement would have been eligible for outside funding, while repairs will likely have to come out of the city’s general maintenance funds, which are already stretched, or via a car tab fee, taking money that used to be earmarked for transit.

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News roundup: reopening

Jefferson Car Barn-1941

This is an open thread.

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Link service levels at risk when Northgate opens as LRVs delayed

New Siemens S700 railcar alongside older Kinkisharyo model at the OMF-E in Bellevue (image: Sound Transit)

{Sound Transit contacted us to clarify that they will be able to support 8 minute peak headways with 30+ qualified vehicles in Fall 2021 if the recovery schedule proceeds as planned. Clarifications in text below with new commentary in bold.}

Sound Transit has contracted to acquire 152 new light rail vehicles to support network expansions through 2024. Of those, 40 were to have been available ahead of the opening of Northgate Link in Fall 2021. must be available to enable the planned 8-minute headways to Northgate opening Fall 2021. Just 12 are mainline-ready at this time. That number is expected to rise to over 30 before Northgate opens, less than planned but enough to operate 8 minute service if no further delays are encountered. ,still 10 vehicles short of what is needed.

There’s no single reason for the schedule slippage, more a cascading series of holdups each of which delayed the next step in getting vehicles ready for service. 68 new vehicles have been assembled by Siemens to date, and manufacturing is now on schedule and on budget. But there were earlier delays that rippled downstream. Those challenges included supply chain holdups and re-work on some cars due to unacceptable quality. A handful of vehicles received in Seattle were returned to Sacramento for repairs to exterior panels and those are now back in Seattle. 26 vehicles are now on-site in Seattle.

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Brickyard BRT station could bridge both sides of 405

The Brickyard in-line station would lie approximately between the sign span on the left and the bus on the right.

The future Brickyard Stride BRT station in the median of I-405 could provide access to more than just its namesake park & ride lot. Instead of crossing only halfway from the parking lot, WSDOT’s latest concept now has a footbridge extending across the entire freeway, creating a new non-motorized crossing as a shorter alternative to the busy NE 160th St overpass.

The east entrance at 116th Ave NE & NE 155th St puts more of the Queensgate/Kingsgate neighborhood within walking distance to the station and creates a new gateway to the Tolt Pipeline regional trail. The west entrance at the Brickyard Park & Ride is in a more central location, making it more convenient for people parking in the southern lot.

As a former regular user of the Brickyard station, the lack of a bridge to the east side was glaring when I first saw the early concept in 2019. I gave my feedback during the open house in February this year and it is nice to see the project continually refined even as it faces delays.

This latest concept comes from plans included with environmental review documents prepared by Sound Transit for the I-405 BRT project in September. Let’s look at the details.

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News roundup: getting going

Incoming Colourful SWIFT BRT Blue Line

This is an open thread.

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KC Council quarrels over Metro service guidelines

As Metro applies its new, equity-focused framework, some North King representatives have questions

Northgate Station

Beginning last year, Metro developed a “mobility framework” that expressed the values that would guide service allocation. Alongside technocratic measures like ridership potential, the new framework considers notions of economic and racial equity to correct longtime disparities in investment. An “equity cabinet” of representatives of various disadvantaged groups would shepherd the production of derived documents like the service guidelines.

Those derived documents don’t exist yet, but the framework clearly points to substantially more investment in places like South King County. And here the framework collides with the ongoing North Link bus restructures. Specifically, the 47,000 hours that used to operate Route 41 between Northgate and Downtown, now entirely obviated by North Link.

Continue reading “KC Council quarrels over Metro service guidelines” | 43 comments

The next transit measure

The future Northgate Link Station under construction Image: Lizz Giordano

Tom Fucoloro, Seattle Bike Blog:

Many walking, biking and transit investments promised by the 2015 Move Seattle Levy vote face delays and cuts while major high-dollar car-centric projects got priority. Perhaps we need to rethink how we fund these projects in our city. And we also need to go a lot bigger. The Move Seattle Levy is set to expire at the end of 2024, the first time the 9-year levy renewal pattern will fall on a very-high-turnout Presidential election year.

I think this is right, and it’s also the story of Sound Transit. Recall that the original ST2 was a a combined “roads and transit” measure that flopped in 2007, only to come back as a transit-only package and win handily in 2008.

Give Seattle specific transit projects to vote on and they will generally say yes. Heck, even the Monorail needed five tries to finally lose at the polls.

ST3’s finances and COVID delays mean it’s unlikely we’ll see a regional ST4 package in 2024, but Seattle can absolutely be thinking about an ambitious capital project in that timeline, perhaps something from Seattle Subway’s list.

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ST considering more changes to fares, fare enforcement

Proof of Payment Required beyond this point

At its October 22 meeting, the Sound Transit Board heard proposals to reduce concession fares for Sounder and reduce the law enforcement footprint in fare enforcement.

In community discussions about fare enforcement, ST has heard four main things:

  • fares are confusing;
  • the law enforcement character of enforcement causes “discomfort;”
  • fares are a hardship for some; and
  • riders appreciate a security presence.

In response to this feedback, and broad board settlement to meet the moment in decriminalization, ST is launching a “fare engagement ambassador” pilot program. These ambassadors will be agency employees rather than private security contractors. They will have new, less threatening uniforms, more emphasis on education and warnings, and less on infractions. Ambassadors will only call law enforcement for “other aggravating factors.”

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Metro restructures in 2021

With Northgate Link opening in Fall 2021, route 41 will no longer go downtown and the hours saved will be available for service elsewhere (image: Oran Viriyincy)

Metro has sketched the outlines of service restructures in 2021 and 2022 in budget discussions with the King County Council. The proposals include a reduction in bus service in north Seattle after Northgate Link opens, and a rebalancing of bus service throughout the County to conform with the new equity framework.

The largest change in service levels is in northeast Seattle. Nominally, the budget anticipates a total reduction of 170,000 service hours, of which 47,000 are deleted Metro hours annually as Route 41 is truncated. The balance are funded by the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. The budget assumes those hours will go away too with the expiration of the STBD taxes this year. After last week’s voter approval of new STBD taxes, the reduction in bus service will be less.

The new STBD taxes are expected to support only 170,000 hours citywide, not enough to replace most of the 121,000 STBD-funded hours in northeast Seattle, and anyway the focus of STBD efforts will shift somewhat to support more routes elsewhere. The new STBD legislation makes “any King County Metro route serving historically low-income communities in Seattle” eligible for support however many stops it serves outside of the city, and that will favor routes in the south of the city.

Metro staff indicated the level of STBD funding wouldn’t affect the map of service in northeast Seattle. Instead, the new STBD taxes would pay for increased frequency and span of service on the same network.

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Voters reject TriMet expansion in measure 26-218

MAX
TriMet MAX light rail train in Portland

While King County decided not to run a county-wide ballot measure this year to fund King County Metro (though Seattle still running its measure, which cruised to victory), Portland (and the surrounding area) still had its own measure 26-218 on the ballot in 2020. TriMet (which operates in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties in Oregon), as part of their plans for the SW Corridor, would have constructed light rail from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin. This 11-mile, 13 station extension would have given riders southwest of Portland a more direct ride into downtown Portland than the existing WES commuter rail (which requires a transfer in Beaverton). The measure would have also funded four different bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in the area.

Unfortunately, the measure is losing quite decisively, with (as of Wednesday evening) 56.78% of voters rejecting the measure and 43.22% of voters approving.

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News roundup: slipping

ALASKAN TRAFFIC

This is an open thread.

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Prop 1 cruises, Washington Democrats in control, Feds TBD

Seattle’s Proposition 1, which partially preserves existing transit taxes, has 82% of counted votes. There aren’t enough uncounted registered voters to mathematically change the result.

As expected, Gov. Inslee is winning easily. Joseph O’Sullivan says ($) that if current results hold, Democrats may gain a Senate Seat at the expense of Sound Transit nemesis Steve O’Ban, extending their new majority.

Everything is still in play at the Federal level, except the House is clearly still Democratic.

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