Well, that stunk.

I sincerely hope that left-wing Roads & Transit opponents are correct, and that transit will come back soon and pass. I’m skeptical, but we’ll see.

Regardless, we will at least have light rail from Downtown to the Airport in 2009, and that can only help to build support for transit, although it means delivery of less rail, later, for more money.

In the meantime, as Seattle transit supporters, what should be our priorities over the next few years? Here’s my layman’s stab at a list:

1) Scrutinize (and probably oppose) “governance reform.” This is usually code for scrapping Sound Transit and replacing it with some other agency to oversee transit. Although in principle there are almost certainly governance structures superior to the current one, in reality it’s virtually certain that any replacement will spend its first years mired in mismanagement and incompetence (see: Sound Transit, 1996-2001; Seattle Monorail Project). That’s not what we need as the University LINK project comes close to getting seriously started.

2) Protect University LINK. The light rail line from downtown to Husky Stadium is supposedly all set to open in 2016. However, not one spade of Earth has yet been turned, nasty financial and engineering surprises are no doubt ahead, and God knows what legal and other challenges are lurking in the wake of the Prop. 1 failure.

This segment has the highest ridership projection of all, and the clearest time advantage for rail. An 8-minute travel time easily outclasses any conceivable alternative, including a streetcar. We must remain vigilant about this project. Like the airport, the University provides all-day traffic demand that justifies non-peak operation.

3) Get to Northgate. We must find the $1.2 billion (2006 dollars) to get to Northgate. This is the obvious terminus for southbound commuters to get on the line, and will increase the exposure of light rail that is critical to future expansion. Ideally, this would be part of a reduced regional package, but even if Seattle alone must fund it, it’s “only” $4,300 per household spread over many years — a lot, but not backbreaking.

4) Get to Bellevue. The two bridges are the most obvious chokepoint in the region. Getting to downtown Bellevue at least allows connection to the “RapidRide” BRT service that will continue to Overlake. Not optimal, but something we can accomplish. The high-end cost estimate is $2.2 billion, something that will probably require at least King County to fund. Paging Senator Murray…

5) “A Thousand Little Things.” There are lots of little things we can do that cost little compared to these mega-projects: streetcar extensions, bus lanes, arterial fixes, etc. These generally occur at the municipal level. A lot of these are being discussed on earlier threads. Expanding Sounder park-and-rides is another inexpensive capacity increase.

UPDATE: A point I should have made more clear is that there is zero chance a package involving these points would pass the three county district: there is literally nothing in it for Pierce and Snohomish Counties. To move forward, we probably need to restrict the taxing authority to the city of Seattle or King County.

In the case of King County, perhaps that involves a few hundred million for Sounder park-and-rides to win over the Southern part of the County. Whatever it takes.

20 Replies to “Stepping Back from the Ledge”

  1. Good points – I ‘m disappointed but optimistic that a tighter, more focused plan will come down the pike (1 year or so is not the end of the world).

    As you mention, we absolutely must concentrate on the more important segments (U-District, N-Gate, Bellevue/Redmond) – the Tacoma to Seatac link should be off the table.

    I would like to see a much more powerful and finely targeted mass transit proposal on the ballot next time.

  2. The point is that I only think it works if you don’t poll the whole ST district. Snohomish and Pierce will never get on board with this.

    Of course, that means taxes may have to be higher on King County folks than they’d otherwise be.

  3. Great points, Martin. Especially protecting university link. Without that piece, Link isn’t whole lot more than the monorail: a couple of stops but can’t really take you anywhere.

  4. The update is great too. If we do come back with a king-county only proposition, we should make it so that each area needs only pass on its own, that we don’t need all three “districts” of the county to pass inorder for any one piece to get their portion.

  5. But the REALITY is that the people in King County don’t support this, and never did. They didn’t support it when it was ‘Forward Thrust’ in the Sixties, and they don’t support it now. Even with the lure of federal funding LINK would have never been votrd for as a stand-alone proposition…and that was BEFORE Sound Transit went way over budget, way over schedule, and still didn’t provide neaarly what they promised the voters in 1996.

    What’s more, some of the things that were plus factors then are minus factors now….Sounder for instance. How many hundred million did we pay to BNSF for access to Everett….only to have the actual number of rides seriously restricted? And what is the per ticket O&M subsidy on each butt in the seat on that ride…even if we blow off the capital costs (and we’ll be paying taxes to pay off some of those capital costs for thirty years) we are massively subsidizing the pathetically small ridership. http://www.globaltelematics.com/pitf//soundercosts.htm

    The fact is, we sold the 1996 package on the promise that we could do most of it with “other people’s” money (ie, feddy bucks), and that promise too we underperformed on.

    But as for LINK…you are probably right as regards Snohomish and Pierce, they neither want it nor are willing to pay for it. The King County transit lovers want it…but not enough to pay for it with farebox revenue, and the non-transit lovers aren’t willing to pay the cost either…not with the poor performance of Sound Transit.

    It has been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I think Sound Transit has poisioned the well for mass transit in the Puget
    Sound region for the next 40 years…

  6. anonymous – a majority of voters voted for Forward Thrust. The only reason it failed was that a bond issue required 60% then.

    And actually, King supports Sound Transit – just not RTID. Polling backs that up very strongly. What do you think would have happened if Sierra Club and Sims had come out in support?

  7. anonymous – a majority of voters voted for Forward Thrust. The only reason it failed was that a bond issue required 60% then.

    NOT SO! I was there. True, the transit part of the package got a very bare majority (50.8-49.2) in 1968 in the same election that rater sustantially approved the Kingdome, but it was roundly defeated on it’s second attempt in 1970. But if you don’t believe me, see the link below.

    PARTS of it passed…for park purchases and the like. The mass transit part got 46% in 1970….despite Warren Magnuson, the prince of Pork, coming up with federal funds to cover three-quarters of the cost if Forward Thrust passed the transit part…but they didn’t….

    King County wasn’t willling to tax themselves to pay even as much as one-fourth of the cost of rapid transit.

    “Mass transit did the worst with only 46 percent approval. Regional leaders such as Metro founder James Ellis disbanded Forward Thrust, and federal transit funding earmarked for King County was allocated to build Atlanta’s MARTA system instead. “


  8. Other Anon:

    I’m sure you’re aware that macroeconomic conditions had a lot more to do with the 1970 defeat than anything fundamental about rail. Similarly, that’s why I think any new referendum on ST is at least 3-4 years distant: the housing bubble collapse has barely begun, and we’re going to have a fairly deep recession.

  9. King County approved a 0.1% Transit measure only last year!

    Seattle approved the Monorail under a very punitive tax regime, until its reputation predictably collapsed due to financial incompetence.

    That’s not to say County-wide measures are a shoo-in, but they have a decent chance. By containing fewer projects, it also reduces the headline cost, which is what people seemed to gag on.

  10. That 0.1% was for Ron Sims ‘Transit Now’ which only funds buses. Not rail or roads. Transit Now since it was voted in last year, won’t see any real changes until 2009 and 2010. Some minor changes have been applied, now Metro is and has been struggling to fill positions for drivers to even support Transit Now, let alone regular service.

    The bulk of Transit Now is for Bus Rapid Transit which is slated to start construction in 2008 and 2009 with service starting in 2010.

  11. BTW, I want to add and stress that the limitation of the Everett Sounder service is because of the construction windows needed to double track the 5 sections of single track right of way.

    There are 5 sections of section track railroad that needs to be double tracked before BNSF will lift the 4 train restriction.

    MP 3 to MP 5.4, MP 7 to MP 8, MP 17 to MP 18, MP 27 to MP 28 and single track from Howardth Park through the tunnel, the sharp curve and into the station. There is Lowell Siding just to the East of the station. MP 7-8 is being worked on right now, MP 3 to 5.4 is scheduled for 2009 or 2010. MP 27-28 is under construction for Mukilteo Station. MP 17-18 for the Edmonds Station won’t be completed until 2012-2014. Construction is at the digression of BNSF Railway, not Sound Transit.

  12. Some folks keep portraying this all as a general referendum on mass transit. It was most assuredly not.
    The specific proposal was rather shaky from the start, overly broad, and had outright opposition from the most powerful potential sponsors / supporters.

    While I certainly voted yes, the arguments put forth by Ron Sims and the Sierra Club were well reasoned.
    Obviously, both of these parties are *very much* pro-transit.
    The public have not been ‘poisoned’ against mass transit (having lived in Chicago for years I can assure you, past public transit corruption there makes our scandals seem quite minor indeed – and things keep rolling)

    Many people living in King County haven’t ever really lived with true inter-connected urban ‘mass transit’ in any major way. I can’t imagine the visibility of both Link and the streetcar line(s) will do anything but increase awareness of the value of transit.
    Vancouver B.C. and Portland are both great examples of this ‘experience then expand’ pattern.

    “King County transit lover?” – absolutely guilty as charged! :)

  13. Brian,

    Once all the track improvements are completed, will that mean that trains can run after 6pm?

    I have relatives in Edmonds that would use Sounder were it not for that. The Amtrak service is simply too unreliable and expensive for irregular users.

  14. Yeah, The latest any Sounder excluding Special Events (IE, Mariners, Seahawks trains) will run no later than 8pm departing Seattle for Everett. Most of BNSF’s freight trains bound for Vancouver, BC or points East is at night. Track speed is also slated to be increased slightly which will cut off time by up to 10 minutes. Currently the equilateral (looks like (Y)) switches between Seattle and Everett are 30mph. The more modern mainline switches and crossovers are all typically 50mph.

    The big restriction are those mile long freight trains that from a dead stop would take between 4-7 minutes depending on signal indication. Most railroad dispatchers are good at holding their trains for passenger but there are times when things go beyond what is viable. Double track and multiple crossovers (the same treatment that Seattle-Tacoma got) will not only increase capacity, it will also allow for more flexible freight and passenger schedules.

    The good thing about this delay however is that with the expansion going on at King Street Station, longer trains or multiple trains can be on the passenger tracks. WSDOT will be expanding the Sounder and Amtrak platforms and relocating the BNSF mainline. This will speed up movements and no longer delay freight movements.

    Once this is all said and done, BNSF and WSDOT will be installing a 3rd main line from Tukwila station to Pacific (South Auburn) This is why there is aspault on the Southbound platform at Auburn. This will open the window to allow Sound Transit to add 6 more trains, including mid-day service.

    Really, the only thing left is finishing up the North line projects and getting Sounder to Lakewood which is scheduled to happen in 2011. Many, many delays due to project mitigations and design issues, the City of Tacoma’s

  15. Brian,

    I’m confused by your “8pm statement”. Am I to understand that they could have Sounder trains running after 6pm to Everett, but simply choose not to?

  16. While we may not be ready for an uber-agency just yet, I would love to see something put forward to merge the three county bus agencies with Sound Transit, to create a ST-district bus service. I think that’s a step in the right direction that could maintain the current set-up of having elected government officials in control.

  17. For whatever reason, BNSF has stated at one point or another that North Sounder trains can not run beyond 8pm. I’m trying to find the article that states this.

  18. I like the idea of the district bus service because it would be easier and cheaper to maintain, you could combine routes that duplicate ridership, etc.

    And it would take Metro’s power out of Ron Sim’s Hands!

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