Sound Transit recently delivered some disappointing news about their estimates for ST3 project costs. When paired with decreased revenue due to Covid-19, the projected 50% increase to Ballard and West Seattle cost estimates present a gloomy outlook for the projects. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but it’s still possible for Sound Transit to deliver the high quality system voters approved. Transit improvements are still essential to our city and these projects must be delivered. We need to look hard at a combination of new funding sources and value engineering to get this plan back on the right track. However, making major decisions about the quality, scope, and schedule of ST3 this year is a mistake with long reaching consequences.
The underlying reasons to build transit in Seattle haven’t changed. Seattleites still want fast, reliable, convenient, low-carbon ways to get around the city. Voters have repeatedly reaffirmed their desire to make progress on transit — including November’s vote that passed by over 60 points in the middle of a pandemic. Seattleites believe in a post- pandemic future, and we need to make sure Sound Transit delivers the progress they demand.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about whether transit will thrive post-pandemic have been floating around. In our long term view, the human tendency to gather and the need for urban mobility has not gone away. While the pandemic has paused life for a while, and Zoom has made working from afar possible, none of that has changed human nature, or radically affected the tools we need to combat climate change.
Our species still requires connection. If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are. We will do these things because we are hardwired to value them. Not only does human nature point to this need for cities, climate science demands we double down on them. Don’t just take my word for it—let’s dive into a city doing it right.
The (thankfully) ex-First Lady likes to say “Be Best.” On transportation, we just say “Be Paris.”
As the Sound Transit 3 news gets worse and worse, Sound Transit 2 continues a stream of good news as the bulk of the projects converge on opening. Today, we found out the South Bellevue parking garage will open in September, which restores the spaces for route 550 and 241 riders, and then some. This may be as much as two years before the Link line itself.
The garage has 1,500 spaces.
This publication is not a big fan of parking garages. But if there’s anywhere in the Link system there ought to be a garage, it’s here: hemmed in by a wetland and a neighborhood that won’t countenance upzoning (also up a steep hill), this station exists because it is on the way to downtown Bellevue, sits at an elbow in the line that allows it to draw from a wide swath of the Eastside, and proximity to two interstates.
Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee heard a deeper dive on the recent increase in costs for Seattle Link projects at their meeting Thursday. A long list of revisions to property costs and construction plans contributed to a more than $4 billion increase in the overall cost of the project just since last year.
The incremental cost of tunnel alternatives, however, are now much closer to elevated alternatives, though only because the representative elevated alternatives are so much more expensive. Board members gave no hint of how they would respond to the affordability gap on the project, though there was enthusiasm for adding tunnels as they would not make the needed delays so much greater.
In 2019 dollar terms, the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) had an estimated capital cost of $7.1 billion in the ST3 plan. By 2019, that had been revised upwards to $7.9 billion, reflecting some mix of the preferred alternative choices made by the Board and underlying inflation in costs. The most recent estimates, with the benefit of more detailed investigation since the Board selected preferred alternatives for the EIS, raises this to a range of $12.1 billion to $12.6 billion. The lower number is for an elevated Fauntleroy terminus in West Seattle, the higher for an elevated station on 41st/42nd in West Seattle.
As the County returns to full economic life, Metro is ramping up service. In keeping with their normal service reorganization procedure, there will be a citizen advisory board:
We are looking for participants for a workshop to provide input on how we prioritize what service to restore.
· Attend a virtual workshop in the first two weeks of February 2021 to review Metro’s response to the COVID outbreak,
· Help Metro planning staff evaluate what types of service are most important to communities,
· Be compensated for their time and participation, and
· Be accommodated through interpretation and ADA access, as needed.
If you are interested in this opportunity to participate in Metro’s planning, please respond to email@example.com by January 21, 2021.
Longtime readers know I did one of these boards back in 2008 (unfortunately for me, well before one got paid to do so). It was an interesting window into the many considerations planners actually balance, as well as an education into what ordinary people in your community really think.
As always, I think people with a solid grasp of planning principles and a system view can be a useful corrective to narrower interests, as long they are willing to listen, open-minded, and empathetic.
Beginning today, January 11, 2021, the automated photo enforcement system on the Spokane St Swing Bridge (low bridge) will turn on, and unauthorized low bridge users will be subject to a $75 citation for every trip across the low bridge.
To keep the low bridge clear for emergency vehicles – as well as transit and heavy freight – we’re saying, “don’t go low.” Instead, please use alternate routes when traveling to and from West Seattle by car. We will be monitoring low bridge traffic volumes in early 2021, and the data from January and future months will inform whether we can expand access. See our webpage for more details.
West Seattle folks – let us know in the comments if anything’s improved.
Sound Transit has revealed sharply higher capital cost estimates for several ST3 projects that are in development but not yet baselined (i.e. the Board has not yet selected the alternative to be built or finalized the cost and schedule estimates). The worst news is in Seattle. The West Seattle to Ballard Link extension (WSBLE) is now expected to come in at $12.1 to $12.6 billion for the preferred elevated alignments, $5.0 to $5.5 billion higher than projected in ST3 (all 2019 $). $4 billion of that cost increase has emerged in just the last year as the initial alternatives selected for the EIS have been fleshed out.
The news was delivered to the Sound Transit Executive Committee earlier today, and further detailed in a memo released after the meeting. Cumulatively, the cost estimate increases across all projects run to $7.9 billion in 2019 dollars. That would be about $12 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars on current project schedules, though those schedules will be inevitably extended.
If realized, such costs would make it very difficult for Sound Transit to complete Link extensions to both West Seattle and Ballard anywhere close to the ST3 timeframe, even if Seattle forgoes more expensive tunneling and other options that could add up to $1.7 billion more to the price tag (though the relative cost of below-ground vs above-ground shifts in favor of tunnels as above-ground land acquisition becomes more expensive).
Much of the Rainier Valley community “doesn’t really want the RapidRide R,” Kidde [of Rainier Valley Greenways] said, adding that they don’t like the reduction in the number of stops, the removal of the Prentice loop at the south end of the route nor the RapidRide-style fare enforcement where officers check payment on the bus. Advocates fear that the new fare enforcement will result in disproportionate enforcement against people of color.
Important source material includes longtime 7 driver Nathan Vass’ essay opposing the R line. It has some valuable firsthand testimony and some ideas I completely agree with. It also has not a lot of data and a weird assertion that RapidRide “counts as gentrification.”
Notably, Metro is going ahead with the BAT lanes, probably the most important substantive improvement. But really, what is RapidRide?
As this tumultuous year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on what the year has brought us. It all started with Connect/2020, which now feels like a distant memory. From there, we saw COVID-19 spread throughout the world and into our communities, with major repercussions on all aspects of life in 2020 and beyond.
A “diverging diamond” interchange ($) seems like it might help some I-5 chokepoints in Seattle; kudos to Lindblom for acknowledging bikes, pedestrians, transit, and climate in an article about Lacey roads (!)