Waterfront Streetcar Tracks

I know we talk about the waterfront streetcar way too much, but the process is pretty opaque, so we have to expend a lot of effort to find out what’s going on.

Anyway, I emailed WSDOT about the mysterious paving over of the streetcar tracks. Here’s what I got back:

Yes, we’re using it as a temporary detour for bikes and pedestrians while we repair several viaduct columns between Columbia Street and Yesler Way. Construction on that project should be done by the end of April, and the streetcar tracks will be restored.

So there you go. No need to panic.

Rail Costs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One more thing about the P-I article I referenced earlier. They should not be using quotes like this without context:

It is possible to have passenger trains and pedestrians both use the corridor at a much lower cost, said Bruce Agnew, the director of the Cascadia Center at Discovery Institute, which just commissioned a study that found it would be possible to modernize the 42 miles of track to accommodate small diesel commuter trains for $37 million.

“We need to look very closely and not make hasty decisions, like ripping out 31 miles of perfectly usable track,” Agnew said.

$37M is just the cost of upgrading all the track. You might ask Mr. Agnew why, if the track is “perfectly usable,” it will cost $37M to “modernize” it. And indeed, if you read the Cascadia Center’s report, it advocates “ripping out” nearly all of the track and replacing it:

Costs were preliminarily estimated by Fay as follows: tie and rail replacement, $33.6 million ($800,000 per mile X 42 miles); bridge replacement, $3.42 million(1,140 feet of bridge at $3,000 per foot). Other costs are yet to be determined, including stations; equipment plus storage and repair facilities; project EIS and engineering.

The PSRC estimates it will cost $300M to do a proper rail line, including stations and, you know, actual trains. That’s the number the P-I should be using.

More Eastside Rail-Trail Drama

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ron Sims will take his ball and go home if the Port doesn’t commit to ripping out the tracks. But it sounds like the port has the votes on the commission to buy it anyway, even if Sims won’t lease it for a trail.

There’s a lot of posturing going on here, and so it’s hard to know what people’s real motives are. The Port does not want the corridor for freight use. If it was a viable freight corridor, BNSF wouldn’t be selling it. Remember, this whole thing got started because of King County Airport (Boeing Field). The Port’s ultimate, ultimate goal is to keep King County from building a passenger terminal at Boeing Field and luring away Alaska and Southwest Airlines.

Earlier this month, I praised Sims for getting such a good deal out of the port, since he’d get to keep the airport and get cheap use of the corridor. Now it turns out that the deal may be too good to be true. Sims hasn’t left himself many cards to play here, assuming the Port is willing to buy the right-of-way with or without him. His ace-in-the-hole is the airport. With the Port’s decision expected soon, I expect we’ll be hearing more about how Boeing Field fits into this in the next few weeks.

Photo of the Wilburton Trestle by Wikipedia user brianhe. Do you really want to jog or bike across that thing? Not me!

Prop 1. too big, costly, but…..

The survey also showed 65 percent support to build 50 more miles of light rail, in response to a favorably-worded question.

But Sound Transit heard bad news, too. Only 23 percent thought sales taxes — the agency’s largest source of money — are a good way to pay for transportation. Car-tab fees, tolls and gas taxes were more acceptable.

More at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004041565_transpopoll29m.html

My thoughts:

I really don’t go off the results of these surveys anymore simply because the number of people are so low. If we went by these small polls each and every time, we wouldn’t need any real elections other than to make it “official” This is based on only 1,013 people…when I start seeing numbers of 5 to 6,000 people surveyed then I would take it a bit more creditable.

Yes, we are taxed out here to death in regards to sales tax. I would be comfortable paying a State Income Tax and reducing the Sales tax to say, 2.5% from it’s current 9.4% and I also would not mind using Toll or HOT lanes to fund transportation and maintenance projects.

We need leadership in this State however to get us moving and not crawling along on our knees. We should have had a light-rail system going by now and in the process of expanding it. We should have had plans to replace the trolley barn that was destroyed to make room for a park. It is a shame that our leaders are too self absorbed to not think ahead and let things go to waste before it’s time to replace them (86 year old ferries ring a bell?)

Something needs to change and I’m really starting to see that it isn’t the public attitude but our older leaders that no longer have a vision of keeping us going and what makes him/her look good to the people that support them. Look at Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas, Charlotte, New York, Washington DC, that all are in the process of great, huge transportation projects…then look at us…It’s a sad comparison.

Times Opinion: Passenger ferries

Here is a good opinion by Dow Constantine of the Seattle Times on the upcoming passenger ferry system. I wholeheartedly agree with this and glad to see more focus on it. I still am puzzled on why the State was going to sell the Chinook and the Snohomish when they are barely just out of ‘warranty’ One of the ferries is now on the Port Townsend – Keystone run.


Columbia River Crossing

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I found my way to the Columbia River Crossing website today, and I was duly impressed. It outlines all the potential alternatives in a clear way, shows cost estimates, and even includes an event calendar with an RSS feed!

We have several megaprojects here in Puget Sound, and I can’t recall any that have such an informative, easy-to-use website. The downtown tunnel site is decent, but limited in scope.

The crossing project is estimated at $3.1B – $4.2B, which puts it in range of the Viauct and 520, neither of which have websites that are at all comparable. Sure, there’s the WSDOT project pages, but with all due respect, they’re pretty meager.

In the meantime, for each of these Seattle-area projects, independent advocacy groups have stepped in to fill the void, such as the People’s Waterfont Coalition and BetterBridge.org. But they both have a single point of view. And while it’s fine and

When Sound Transit releases a poll showing that 95% of Puget Sound residents had no idea how much that huge, much-publicized ballot measure acutally cost, it’s a wakeup call to all public agencies: your outreach efforts aren’t working.

Now, maybe WSDOT looked at the traffic on the CRC website and decided no one was visiting it and so it wasn’t worth trying again, I don’t buy it. If anyone out there has more information on why Seattle-area megaprojects haven’t done this sort of thing, drop us a line.

Another Prop 1 Survey

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This time, commisssioned by Sound Transit, and starring your well-informed electorate:

Among the poll participants who had voted no on Proposition 1, three-fourths cited “no cost control” and “cost too much” as major factors. However, only 5 percent of all those polled could accurately guess that the price fell somewhere between $10 billion and $100 billion. Most couldn’t say what it would have cost them personally (roughly $200 to $300 a year, for an average household.)

Also interesting is that MVETs and gas taxes are viewed more favorably than sales taxes.

There are some differences here with the Sierra Club’s poll from a few weeks ago, but the overall point still applies: people. want. transit. They just don’t really want to pay for it.

Ottowa Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I can’t say that I really want to move to Canada (though I toyed with the idea after the ’04 elections!), but it’s sorta fascinating to get a glimpse at how light rail is being talked about in Ottowa:

City council set the municipality on a new $2-billion transit path Wednesday when it approved a series of projects as immediate priorities, but the questions of what to build first and how to pay for these things remain.

With very little dissent, council set its top priorities as a downtown tunnel, light rail to the south of the city, completing and extending the bus transit way the west and Barrhaven, and developing a new dedicated transit route in the east.

That’s right, folks — the city council just decided that they wanted a $2B light rail system, and so they made it happen. I can’t imagine any of our elected representatives here in the Pacific Northwest being so bold as to, you know, represent their constituents instead of punting the decision to the people in a big, confusing public vote.

Now, I won’t pretend to understand Ottowa politics, but from what I can gather, the old city council approved the rail system, then got booted out of office, the new council killed the contract, and then brought it back but without the expensive and controversial downtown tunnel (any of this sound familiar?). So it’s not all wine and roses up North. Still, the differences are telling:

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen said it is going to be a challenge for the cash-strapped city to come up money for its share of the cost of the plan, but he’s confident a way will be found. He said both the provincial and federal governments have been saying they want to get into the transit funding business in a big way, so it will soon be time to hold them to their word.

“Once we are ready, we will be asking them for money, which they have and we don’t,” he said. “It’s time to get moving, and we are. We just have to keep focused and see this through.” [Emphasis mine]

Can you imagine Governor Gregoire saying “man, we sure are excited to give Seattle money for light rail!” The feds, certainly, have been generous (due in no small part to Sen. Murray’s work on the Appropriations Committee). But I certainly wouldn’t say that either the State of Washington or the U.S. Government “want to get into the transit funding business in a big way.” But it sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Bonus Fun Fact #1: Ottowa has a very successful BRT system, but it wasn’t getting the ridership they projected and the buses were crowding.

Bonus Fun Fact #2: The current light-rail, the O-Train, is a Diesel Multiple Unit on a single-way right-of-way, not unlike the BNSF corridor being proposed for Seattle’s Eastside.

Prop. 1 Survey Released

Sound Transit Commissioned Moore Information to make a post-Prop. 1 survey earlier this month. The results were not terribly suprising, I’ll make a summary of the ones that stuck out to me:

Most people (72%) support expanding light rail. Not suprising, Seattle leads the way with 84% supporting it, while the rest of the subareas are between 65%-72%. I was suprised to see that Snohomish is the most pro-light rail region after Seattle.

Every Subarea supports future transit packages focusing on light rail over express bus service (52%-62%). Seattle leads the way on this side again. This shows that BRT may be popular amongst talking heads, but not the man on the street. That guy knows better.

Every region supported splitting roads and transit (70%-77%), and every sub region other than Pierce County (only 31%) support a mostly transit package in the future over a mostly roads package.

Every region also supports a series of smaller individual ballot measures for specific projects rather than large comprehensive packages (53%-65%). I reckon this is because people vote know on confusing packages with long time frames and large bills.

65% of people supported the light rail package in Prop. 1, though only 53% of people would have voted for it on its own with 38% against, and 9% undecided. Suprisingly, the roads had a similar result, with 50% for it, 10% undecided and 40% against. Seattle and Snohomish(!!!) were most for the package 73% for Seattle, and 70% for Snohomish. East King was least for it, with only 54% supporting it.

Only Seattle (43% vs. 49%) supports safety and maintance for roads over Capacity, safety and maintence. East King is most for more capacity (69% vs. 29%), but every other subarea is around 56~58% for capacity as well as maintenance, and 35~39% for just maintenance. This shows the Sierra Club side is in a mild minority outside of Seattle.

Another weak point for the Sierra Club/Ron Sims argument is that a minority supports congestion pricing, with only Seattle (53%) being more than 50%. Congestion pricing is going to be a really tough sell.

Sound Transit is more favorable overall than WSDOT, but less favorable than the local agencies (Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit).

Amazingly, Light Rail North and South were the most important issues after Fixing unsafe roads and bridges. Even replacing 520 fell short of that. Light Rail East was important to only 55%, but still more important than widening 405 with it’s $11 billion dollar price tag. Yeah and people say transit is expensive.

Amazingly, the $157 billion tactic didn’t work well against prop. 1, because as many people (16%) thought it cost less than $10 billion as tought it cost more than $100 billion (11%) Most people just didn’t know 67%. That what happens when 10 different numbers float around.

The final blow is that people hate sales taxes. Only 23% of people support using sales taxes to pay for transportation projects. Of course people hate taxes, but the MVET was the most popular with 51% of people supporting it. Unfortunately, there may not be much that can be done on this front, Sound Transit doesn’t have much taxing authority beyond sales tax.

In all, the poll makes a good case for smaller incremental packages, with small taxes that aren’t sales taxes and without roads attached. Let’s hope it gets on the ballot next year.

Update Here’s the a summary, and the full results. Thanks to Bill LaBorde for the link, I was going off a hard-print out.

What’s interesting about the board minutes, is that they authorized $1.5 million to PB Americas to come up with more planning for a phase two, which shows they are serious about getting it back on the ballot!

Street Car opens December 14

The SLU street car will open December 14th, with an opening ceremony on Wednesday, December 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the corner of Westlake and Olive Way. There will be speeches by politicians, a “Golden Ticket” memento and a chance to ride the street car before it opens.

Sounder in South Tacoma

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s been a battle brewing for some time now over the Sound Transit track being built (.pdf) between the Tacoma Dome and Lakeview. In order to avoid taking the long route around Tacoma along the BNSF corridor, ST has wisely decided to build its own track through the city. As best I can understand, some local business and residents want an elevated overpass, fearing that the grade-level crossing will cut off parts of the neighborhood.

The Tacoma City Council has scheduled a vote for December, although the vote will be largely symbolic. Sound Transit has the final say. The TNT’s David Seago sums up the debate here, including maps of some proposed alternatives.

My guess is that they’ll go for the cheaper option, which is to run the train at-grade. It would obviously be better to get the train out of traffic, but since we’re only talking about a few trains a day, it’s probably hard for ST to justify the added expense, even if it could come up with the money.

You have to wonder about the long-term cost/benefit, though. If Amtrak is going to start using those tracks, too, the grade-level crossing will start to become another bottleneck in the system (and forget about high-speed rail, of course!).

Where I grew up, we had heavy-rail commuter trains running every 30 minutes or so at grade-level, stopping traffic and roaring through leafy suburban backyards. No one complained, though, probably because no one could remember a time when the trains weren’t there. When you’re building new tracks, it’s a whole different story.

Rails, Trails, and Trains on the Eastside

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Danny Westneat wants to cancel the proposed I-405 widening, divert the money to a new 520 floating bridge and set up passenger rail on the BNSF Eastside rail corridor.

The other day, I advocated using viaduct money for the same purpose. I still prefer that, since a wider 405 could strengthen the case for not rebuilding the Viaduct (by adding regional North-South capacity).

But hey, why not do both? We can take Danny’s idea for 520, then use the money saved by not rebuilding the Viaduct to build a sweet little monorail between, say, Ballard and West Seattle.

Meanwhile, Westneat’s passenger rail proposal comes via this reprot, which pegs the cost of track upgrades to the eastside line at $37M. That sounds compelling, until you realize it doesn’t include the costs of building stations and buying trains. PSRC pegged the costs at $300M, though that’s still a bargain when you consider the costs of building new light rail can be upwards of $300M per mile.

Congestion Solutions Around the Country

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

CS Monitor has a sampling:

Coming soon to a bottleneck near you:

•”Queue-jumper” lanes such as one in Lee County, Fla., where harried drivers paying a 25-cent toll can get around backed-up intersections.

•Trucker toll lanes, already under consideration in Atlanta, that will in effect segregate big rigs from the rest of the freeway public.

•Privately managed zoom lanes, similar to the South Bay Expressway that opened in San Diego on Nov. 19, that allow motorists to move at a heavenly 65 miles per hour.

Housing Prices

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle is no longer the hottest housing market in America:

Seattle’s 12-month reign atop the nation in annual home-value increases came to an end in September, according to a report released Tuesday.

Charlotte, N.C., posted a year-over-year increase of 4.72 percent, just ahead of Seattle’s 4.69 percent, according to Standard and Poor’s S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

How could that have happened?! Let’s see… Charlotte opened a brand-new light rail system this month, and Seattle voted one down.

Coincidence? I blog… you decide.

All paved up

The King County Road Services Division took advantage of dry fall weather to wrap up the 2007 countywide paving program for 2007 in October.

This year, more than 103,000 tons of asphalt were used to overlay 52 miles of roads in unincorporated King County and the local cities that contract with the Roads Division. Even through the cost of asphalt increased about 17 percent over last year, the division was able to meet its paving goals by adjusting the thickness of the overlay on the less-traveled roadways.

In conjunction with the paving, the division also built 143 ramps at intersections in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

King County Road Services Division

Ferries might not be fixed until next year

Washington State Ferry officials reported today that “It could be the first or second week in February before the Port Townsend-Whidbey Island ferry routes offer vehicle service again.”

WSF has pulled the 80-year old Illahee and Klickitat from service for hull inspections after “serious metal pitting” was found on one of her sister ships, the Quinault, while it was in dry dock.

The Quinault is expected to return to service in February, 2008 and the Illahee might return in January depending upon what issues are uncovered during inspection. Dry dock for the Klickitat has not been scheduled as of yet.

Responding to WSF officials who claimed that the more serious problems were obfuscated by the hull’s paint, State Representative Lynne Kessler (D-Hoquiam) asked why the ferries had been “continually repainted without looking for problems underneath.”

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond explained that certain inspections were not performed on these vessels because until 18 months ago WSF was planning on replacing all four 1927-era Steel-Electric Class boats (including the Nisqually, also out of service). However, the decision to keep the smaller Keystone Terminal changed all of WSF’s plans, leaving them without any short-term options.

Troubled Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders has reportedly offered to construct a 216-foot-long 54-car ferry for $20 million using an already-developed design, however it could take upwards of 4 years to produce a ferry using a brand-new design.

Chief Executive Matt Nicholshas stated the new boat “would be maneuverable in the narrow Keystone ship channel, carry up to 325 passengers, and would travel at about the same speed as the older vessels do on the run now.”

The Steel-Electric Class boats carry 75 cars and more than 600 passengers.

State Representative Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) has questioned whether a smaller boat would be able to accommodate planned and future traffic growth and no decision was made by the end of the meeting.

State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camino Island), chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, as well as State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond have both expressed interest in the quicker solution suggested by Nichols Bros. Boatbuilders.

International Air Service Changes for Seattle (Pax/Cargo)

The following international airlines have applied to offer service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

AEROFLOT Cargo: Khabarovsk, Russia – Seattle
Application filed 14NOV07.

China Airlines (Taiwan): Taipei, Taiwan – Seattle

China Airlines once will again will increase Seattle service from 3 to 5 weekly from 09JAN08.

CI016 TPE1640 – 1130SEA 343 257
CI022 TPE2235 – 1725SEA 343 13

CI021 SEA0015 – 0600+1TPE 343 24
CI015 SEA0055 – 0620+1TPE 343 136

CI016/015 extends to/from Houston.

Hainan Airlines: Beijing, China – Seattle
Application filed 09NOV07.

In the application, it plans to operate either Boeing 767-300 or Airbus 330 on this route, effective June 2008. Eventually it’ll be operating Boeing 787 on this route, which its own configuration will be between 184 – 215 seats.

Lufthansa: Frankfurt, Germany – Seattle

Lufthansa is continuing to expands its global coverage when service to Seattle, Lufthansa’s 17th US gateway, will be launched on 30MAR08.

LH490 FRA1005 – 1120SEA 333 D
LH491 SEA1430 – 0925+1FRA 333 D

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Wins Overall Griesbach Award of Excellence in ACI-NA Concessions Contest

While most people will never equate food and airports, the delays caused by our nation’s antiquated Air Traffic Control system have made this relationship all the more important.  Anyone who has had to spend more time in an airport than originally planned will appreciate a good selection of concession options, be they shopping, food, or drink.

Therefore it is good news that our local International Airport, Sea-Tac, has won the Richard A. Griesbach Award of Excellence for its’ concession options by the Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA).
At the 2007 Concessions Conference Awards luncheon today, Richard White, Director of Properties for the Memphis-Shelby International Airport, winner of the 2006 Griesbach Award, presented the Griesbach award to SEA-TAC.

SEA-TAC’s excellent mix of national, regional, and particularly local brands in the areas of food and beverage, retail, and consumer services, has created a dynamic new experience for its passengers. The positioning of the retail and food service outlets throughout the terminal maximizes visibility and passenger movement. The design and fixtures contribute to establishing a unique Pacific Northwest sense of place. The store fronts are eye catching and the financial performance is superbRichard White
Director of Properties for the Memphis-Shelby International Airport

More …

Entries for this year’s contest were judged by an independent panel comprised of high-level professionals from each of the various disciplines reflected in the contest (i.e. food and beverage, retail mall development, consumer groups, architecture and academic communities). In addition to the independent panel, one representative from the previous years’ overall winner was also involved in the judging process.
The contest, which began in 1998, is named for Richard A. Griesbach, a long-time industry professional in airport concession programs from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.