SDOT and Metro gave a presentation (PDF) to the Transit Advisory Board this week after this month’s online open house. According to the presentation, the planning phase is wrapping up and we’ll start design soon. Good to see so many of the ideas from last year’s work still on the agenda.
Sound off in the comments if you spot any important changes.
The Port of Seattle Commission approved funds for a Pier 86 Public Fishing Pier restoration study, in partnership with Expedia Group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Cost and Feasibility study will allow the Port and its partners to determine the technical requirements and potential costs of construction of rebuilding the public fishing pier at Pier 86 with a “ferry float” to support commuter service to the Expedia Campus and surrounding area.
Joe O’Sullivan, at The Seattle Times, on the state’s first carbon cap-and-trade system:
SB 5126 creates a system to cap carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and sets specific limits for individual businesses, according to a news statement. Those businesses would have to then purchase credits for allowed emissions.
Businesses emitting fewer greenhouse gases than the credits allotted them could then sell their credits to businesses that aren’t reducing emissions as quickly, according to the statement. The overall pool of carbon credits are to be gradually reduced by 2050, in order to hit a goal of net-zero emissions.
The money collected by the state would go toward, among other things, projects intended to reduce emissions from transportation and increase resiliency to climate change.
That can presumably include transit projects, though the word “transit” doesn’t appear in the legislative analysis. The Senate’s cap-and-trade proposal beat out the House’s proposed carbon tax.
The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition urges the Seattle City Council to follow the outreach process it mandated when passing a $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) in November 2020. The Seattle Department of Transportation engaged stakeholders and struck a careful balance in its spending proposal that incorporated the City’s stated priorities of safety, climate action, mobility justice, and equity. SDOT’s proposal would invest 73% of the VLF on walking, rolling, and biking, while spending 24% on bridge maintenance.
The SDOT proposal is very reasonable and balanced. Council ought to propose bridge maintenance as part of the next capital levy in 2024. Doug Trumm at The Urbanist has some good suggestions on what such a plan might look like.
One year ago, in 2020, the problem the Board was tasked to address stemmed from a massive revenue shortfall due to a pandemic-induced recession; now, the overwhelming problem is unforeseen cost increases. With this change, we may need to reevaluate our approach. Are the assumptions that led to cost increases in the evaluated projects likely to lead to increases in the remaining realignment portfolio? What has been the average cost increase in recent projects? How should the agency approach a cost-related gap differently than a revenue-related gap?
The concern is that projects will get unnecessarily delayed while the tax revenue shortfalls end up being less severe than expected. I see where they’re coming from, but it’s hard to see how more delay gets projects delivered more quickly.
Reading between the lines, and judging by the signatories, the letter seems like an effort to keep the board from prematurely punting Ballard and West Seattle too far out into the future. Especially since the second downtown tunnel – another priority shared by this trio – fares well in most phasing scenarios.
April 30th is the deadline for the public to comment on Sound Transit’s various options to make up for the current mismatch in projected costs and revenues for ST3. Here’s where we stand:
There is no effect on the Sound Transit 2 projects (Link to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way) and these are expected to arrive in accordance with current schedules, and roughly 1-2 years after the timeline voters were given in 2008.
Updates to the economic model have reduced the funding gap from $11.5 billion to “only” $7.9 billion. $527m from the first Biden stimulus, plus $4.6 billion more in projected tax revenue is partially offset by $595m more in cost inflation. The NE 130th St Station alone has increased $64m as engineering went from 30 to 60%.
This handy graph shows how other considerations have more than made up for lower tax receipts, and it’s exploding capital costs that have put the project in doubt:
Seattle could have a complete Seattle Subway network, but only if the City of Seattle has a plan to champion that future. Currently, Seattle is marching into the future without a plan for a fully connected city. Even when ST3 is complete, nearly 60% of Seattle’s built-up areas will still not be served by light rail. If Seattle City Council doesn’t act now, many of these areas will never be served. Decisions are being made now—without the Council’s conscious input—that may forever preclude parts of our city from ever being added to the light rail network. This includes corridors as obvious as Aurora or a replacement for the forever-late King County Metro route 8.
Currently, 57% of Seattle’s urban villages will NOT be served by the ST3 light rail plan. One would think that all of those neighborhoods could just be added later, but for ST3 planning reasons, they likely will not be unless we determine nowwhat our future system should look like. The reason lies in the details of how Sound Transit plans extensions (or—more charitably—is forced to plan by state law and the FTA).
Sound Transit only plans exactly what voters voted for. In 2016, voters approved light rail from downtown to Ballard, for example. No aspect of that authorization included future compatibility so that some day, an Aurora Line could be added. However, any look at the pre-pandemic Rapid Ride E-Line would tell you that we are already past due for light rail on that corridor.
Since Sound Transit has announced that Northgate Link will open on October 2nd, which is a few weeks behind a widely anticipated September 2021 opening, King County Metro has also changed the Northgate bus service restructure to occur on October 2nd as well. When we reported on Metro’s scaled back plans for restructuring service for Northgate Link, there were a lot of disappointments in how the plan was scaled back to match COVID-19 adjusted revenue expectations. But Metro’s plan assumed no contribution from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), to establish a baseline for the STBD to build on. Now we have details on how the city will spend its STBD money on bus service.
The plan is broken down into three broad categories: West Seattle, Northgate, and service reductions. West Seattle is getting special attention due to the effects of the sudden closure of the West Seattle Bridge last year, increasing travel time for buses on the lower Spokane Street bridge. The closure of the low bridge to general traffic also increases demand for bus service in the corridor. The Northgate area is going to be transformed by the opening of Northgate Link, so much of the service funded by the STBD is going to be adjusted. Finally, there are reductions to the STBD program that are necessary because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Sound Transit announced that Northgate, Roosevelt, and U-District stations will open for service on Saturday, October 2nd. There is no word about any celebration for what, with luck, will be a nice symbol of our emergence from the pandemic. We might not get one, with ST having endured bad-faith critiques about marketing expenses for the U-Link opening, and potential public health restrictions lingering.
It is a cause for celebration. The U-District is an obvious place to put a subway station. Roosevelt is the rare fashionable neighborhood where some growth is legal. Northgate is simultaneously a transportation hub, a blank slate for major redevelopment, and a logical interim terminus for buses coming from further north. Link will provide an alternative to the very worst bit of I-5 congestion, 5 minutes to the U-District and 13 to Westlake.
Better yet, this is the first major Link deliverable from the Sound Transit 2 vote in 2008. It arrives only one year after the proposed date at election time (2020). Combined with East Link 1-2 years late (with City of Bellevue dithering) in 2022 or 2023, and Lynnwood and Federal Way also a year late in 2024, ST2 is going to have an excellent delivery record after weathering an unprecedented recession, far better than Sound Transit 1 and a testament to the abilities of former CEO Joni Earl (2001-2015).
ST3, in year 5, is already in quite a bit of trouble on these terms. Thanks to poor cost estimation, the most likely outcome is some major projects suffering a couple of years delay, and either a large new infusion of cash or the other projects sliding over a decade.
My idiosyncratic habit of scanning the Daily Journal of Commerce headlines paid off this week when I noticed a piece by Brian Miller about plans to replace The Rainier Valley Lowe’s with an Amazon warehouse and shared it on Twitter. It caught my eye as I’ve been a frequent shopper at that Lowe’s since before Central Link opened, and not a visit went by without me lamenting that the former Sick’s Stadium site could be put to better use.
Turns out it a fewother people shared my lament. A few thoughts…
First, it’s interesting to go back and re-read some of the contemporaneous accounts of the debate over the re-zone of that area in 2014. While the city wanted to make the area into a houing-and-jobs hub, many people wanted to preserve their local hardware store, which to its credit had been a long-time presence in the Rainier Valley at a time when many national chains had stayed away. Opponents of the plan wanted “NO REZONE / Jobs NOT Apts.” Mission accomplished I guess?
Second, Bruce Harrell, then about to become a candidate in the new District 2 and now running for mayor, cast the lone vote of dissent. Per Erica Barnett’s reporting at the time, Harrell argued, “The prudent decision would be to do nothing and continue with the dialogue. We don’t have any developers knocking on the door and saying, we need to have the heights lifted.” Mike O’Brien hoped it would become a university campus.
Third, we all need to think harder about the future of retail and what it means for urban spaces. People keep buying stuff from Amazon and so Amazon will need more distribution centers closer to where the people are. This isn’t just a Seattle problem. It’s good to have these distribution sites close to people. It’s bad that Seattle’s zoning means that a relatively small sliver of city land has to do all the work of multifamily housing and industry. How might these distribution centers be made to work better in an urban campus?
Finally, city hall ought to do some soul searching. The fact that no housing developer outbid the warehouse for the land is revealing. How much can we squeeze developers in exchange for affordable housing? Are we confident we’ve set the MHA dials correctly, especially in a world of more remote work? Do we want to encourage housing near transit or are we so confident that it will happen that we can extract concessions from it? And how much should we rely on payments from a few big projects to meet our affordable housing goals? I wish I were as confident as some about the answers to these questions. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t the best idea to pin all our housing hopes on a few large lots while continuing to outlaw apartment buildings in two thirds of the city.
King County Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have been working in partnership on the Route 40 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Project. The goal of the project is to reduce bus travel times by 5-10% during peak periods, improve transit service reliability, and make it safer and easier to access transit.
Lots of Red paint in Fremont and along Westlake Ave, which will benefit not just the 40 but also the 31, 32 and 62. A few rechannelizations on Leary and a Northbound-only bus lane on Leary and Holman to help reliability in the PM peak (where most of the reliability issues occur).
Also welcome is a Southbound bus lane on N 36th in Fremont which could act as a queue jump, moving the bus to the front of the line when the bridge is up.
Drop-in session today at noon if you want to learn more and comment. Be sure to take the survey and let them know you support all this good stuff.