And more ferries go down for the count

The Washington State Ferries are encountering even more issues with the boats in disrepair, 3 more boats need to be repaired – R.J. Knapp and Jill Vader describes the State run ferries the best.

“They should have been doing something years ago. But No! Let’s put it off! It’s the put-it-off mentality that we have around here that’s killing everything,” said R.J. Knapp.

Aboard the Tillikum, Jill Vader says the problems are in lines with the rest of the state’s transportation problems.

“It would be hard to imagine. The roads aren’t kept in very good shape. The bridges aren’t kept in very good shape. Why would the ferries be in good shape? I mean, realistically, why?” she said.

Just weeks after the Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond ordered four, old steel-electric ferries out of service, new inspections have turned up hull or engine problems on four other vessels.

The December inspections led to decisions that the Evergreen State, Kaleetan, and Tillikum must have work done in the next 120 days and the Rhododendron must be fixed before it is returned to service. The ferry system on Friday moved two now-scrapped ferries, the Quinault and the Illahee, from dry docks at Todd in Seattle to Bainbridge Island. On Monday, another boat on the Vashon run, the Chelan, will move into a now open dry dock. The Rhododendron will be moved the other. But the ferry system has no available replacement for the Chelan.

The ferry system isn’t saying when the Tillikum, Evergreen State and Kaleetan will be moved into dry docks for examination and repair. But the transportation secretary reportedly told the Legislative Transportation Committee that it will be a challenge to keep service running while maintaining the repair schedule.

The rest can be found at Komo 4 News

More on 520 Tolls

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Variable pricing, up to $7 at peak, and also tolls on I-90. Great, I’m all for that. Starting in 2009? Genius.

About the lack of light rail, Ben at STB makes a good point that by the time Sound Transit ever got around to putting trains on 520, even a new bridge will be halfway to the end of it’s natural life. So it’s not as big a deal as I’d made it out to be yesterday. Greg Nickels agrees.

M/V Snohomish resumes Port Townsend – Keystone route on Friday Monday

The M/V Snohomish passenger ferry will return to the Port Townsend – Keystone route on Monday at the earliest after completing it’s scheduled maintenance. It is expected to run for 1 to 2 months as the M/V Christine Anderson is prepared for the run. The Christine Anderson needed to have updated safety equipment and a new plan before it can be used on the run due to the frequent rough water on the crossing. The ferry crossing will go from about 25 minutes to 35 minutes.

The M/V Snohomish is able to make the crossing in 15 minutes.

Post updated at 6:17pm – January 11th, 2008

Port of Seattle on track to purchase BNSF corridor

Port on track to purchase BNSF corridor
by Jeanette Knutson
Staff Writer

On Dec. 11, the Seattle Port Commission gave Port CEO Tay Yoshitani authority to complete the purchase of the 42-mile Eastside rail corridor with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

The price for the corridor is $103 million; another $4 million was added for contingencies such as legal fees and other costs associated with the purchase, said Mike Merritt, Port of Seattle’s government relations manager.

“We expect to close the sale around September 2008,” said Merritt. “A lot of due-diligence has to take place before the sale closes. … The Port is committed to the idea of dual use for the corridor, including both rail and trail uses. When and how those uses might take place will be the subject of a public process that we envision will happen in the coming months. Details of that process are not settled.”

In the meantime, King County has expressed an interest in buying segments of the corridor from the Port, namely the southern portion of the corridor between the Wilburton tunnel and Renton, and most of the spur between Redmond and Woodinville just south of Woodinville.

“The Port (will negotiate) with the county over their interest in having the right to purchase some of the corridor section, among other issues,” said Merritt. “The County Council adopted what the council considers to be the outlines of that agreement on (Dec. 17, 2007); then the County Executive will negotiate the actual agreement with the Port.”

The framework of the agreement that the King County Council approved “ensures the rails in this corridor will not be removed,” said King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert. “Preserving future transportation options in this corridor is essential for the fast-growing Eastside as well as for regional mobility.”

County Councilman Bob Ferguson said, “Now the hard work begins to initiate a conversation with the public for determining the specific details regarding the future of the corridor.”

King County originally wanted to remove the tracks from Renton to Woodinville to build a recreational trail, saying in a couple decades, things would change and the Eastside corridor would become a good rail corridor.

Kurt Triplett, the County Executive’s chief of staff, said last summer, “Our premise, Ron Sims’ premise, is that it will not be a commuter corridor for several decades. … In the meantime, we can have a magnificent trail that connects to 125 miles of trails. We would be creating a huge amenity.”

Triplett did not mention that trails already run along much of the distance from Renton to the South Bellevue Park & Ride lot and between Redmond and Woodinville, a fact Eastside Rail Now!, a grassroots movement opposed to pulling up miles of railroad track to build a bicycle trail, brought to light last summer.

Paul Zimmer of Eastside Rail Now! said, “Regarding the existence of trails parallel to the corridor, it is surprising that it has taken the mainstream media such a long time to catch on to this. It is just one of several things that has made some of us wonder what is the real reason for Ron Sims’ obsession with scrapping the railroad – and for doing so as quickly as possible.

“Regarding commuter rail service on the (line), there is a rapidly growing and broad-based interest in launching it. It is technically possible for it to be in limited operation within a matter of months, and there now appears to be a good chance that such service could be implemented in 2008. There is absolutely no need or desirability for waiting 20 or 30 years.”

Zimmer cited several reasons why he thought rail service along the corridor was receiving renewed consideration, including (1) acquisition of the corridor by the Port, as opposed to King County; (2) the mounting concern about global warming, traffic congestion and homeland security (The corridor could serve as a backup to the railroad’s mainline or Interstate 405.); (3) the failure of Proposition 1 and the consequent search for less costly and more effective transportation solutions and (4) the disclosure that the Puget Sound Regional Council’s “BNSF Corridor Preservation Study,” which recommended scrapping the railroad, was flawed and thus not useful for making decisions about the future of the railroad.

“The Port clearly does not appear to be interested in rushing to remove the tracks, in sharp contrast to Ron Sims,” said Zimmer. “Remember, the Port’s legally mandated role is to promote freight and passenger mobility, not to destroy transportation infrastructure. The concept of a ‘public process’ could be a very good one, and it is something that Sims tried to avoid.”

It bears repeating what Eastside Transit Now! has stated on its Web site, “What has not been emphasized is the fact that once a railroad gets dismantled and the right of way paved into a trail, it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, both politically and financially, to reinstall the rails for transit use and/or for other railroad purposes.”

Both the Burke-Gilman Trail and Snohomish County’s Centennial Trail are former rail corridors.

The Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a transportation policy think tank, made a big push at the end of last year to promote utilizing the existing corridor for both transit and trail. The Center hosted a rail forum in Woodinville Nov. 26, where it introduced the community-based “Eastside TRailway” demonstration project, a $10 million pilot program using a DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) running from the City of Snohomish to Bellevue.

Colorado Railcar and Siemens manufacture these self-propelled rail cars, which operate or will operate in corridors in West Palm Beach, Fla.; San Diego, Calif.; Washington County, Ore.; and Alaska. DMUs are widely used in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Korea and Japan. They are lighter than commuter rail, more fuel-efficient, quieter, require shorter platforms and can carry bike racks. They can operate on regular freight rail track or on rails embedded in streets. A bi-level car can carry up to 188 passengers.

Cascadia’s plan is to develop a strategy to finance the development of a rail and trail corridor that will improve Snohomish and King County mobility, improve economic development and tourism, and promote healthy recreational activities. It is sponsoring two more community forums to bring together train and trail advocates, local leaders, and finance / development interests to discuss the Eastside TRailway Partnership.

The first will be held in the Peter Kirk Room of the Kirkland City Hall, 123 Fifth Ave. on January 16, 2008. Reception: 5:00 p.m. Program: 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Karen Guzak, newly elected Snohomish City Councilmember, will co-host the second event on January 17, 2008, at the Angel Arms Works, 230 Avenue B, City of Snohomish. Reception: 5:30 p.m. Program: 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Although there is no cost to attend, space is limited. Attendees are asked to RSVP to Jennifer Zucati at (206) 292-0401, extension 157 or

The Woodinville City Council has supported a transit / trail corridor for several years. It recently sent letters re-stating its support of a dual-use corridor to the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, the Eastside Transportation Partnership, and the Seashore Transportation Forum, amongst others.

Former City Councilwoman Gina Leonard said, “This opportunity (to utilize existing rail infrastructure) may never come up again.”

Councilman Scott Hageman said, “There are too many possibilities to pull the rails.”

“We have a huge opportunity right in front of our noses,” said Councilman Chuck Price. “Something needs to be done.”

Steve Pyeatt, who took on the Eastside rail corridor as a pet project when he ran for the King County Council in 2005, called using the corridor for transit “something we can do.” He said, “When people think of ‘commuter rail’ they think of the Sounder, which is incredibly expensive and cumbersome. DMUs are the way to go.”

Pyeatt supports Cascadia’s proposed demonstration project from Bellevue to the City of Snohomish.

Greg Stephens, longtime advocate for the incorporation of Maltby, also favors a rails and trail combination along the corridor.

“Three state highways converge in Maltby, State Routes 9, 522 and 524,” said Stephens. “(Using the Eastside rail corridor for commuter transit) makes all the sense in the world to those of us who live out here. In my opinion, we need to have both. We need a place where you can ride a bike and not get run over by a car, and we need to have a transportation link to get to work.

“All you have to do is go back East. People can commute to work for 40 minutes by train, and (their hometowns) can still keep their small-town atmosphere. Buses are fine for short trips, but if you have to go a long way, you’d have to stop every few miles. Self-propelled trains make sense.”

Stephens also likes Cascadia’s demonstration project between Bellevue and Snohomish. “As soon as someone rides it a few times,” said Stephens, “they will continue to use it.”

He said politicians were so-often wedded to the use of consultants to prove their points.

“They need to pay attention to real people who will pay for the service and use it. We could do something now for very little money. Let’s do it while we have the chance. This takes political will. I applaud Ron Sims for wanting to bring the corridor into public ownership and to build a trail, but we need to have rails as well. It is time to do the courageous thing.”

Gregoire’s 520 Plan: Interesting Positives

As I’m looking over the recently announced 520 plan and discussing it with other transit supporters, something very unlikely seems to come out: Positive effects on future cross-lake transit.

The original 6-lane alternative for 520 would have been built to support light rail later. This really only means making the pontoons wide enough to handle more weight, but the effect it’s had on the cross-lake transit discussion in the wake of Proposition 1’s defeat has been to create sudden interest in building transit across 520 instead of across I-90. This is bad for several reasons – 520 would be much more expensive to engineer, it would be hard to serve both Bellevue and Redmond, and a train transfer at Husky Stadium would reduce ridership and cause commuters into downtown to endure crush loads. I-90 is built to handle rail transit, and because Eastside commuters would come into Seattle from the south, they wouldn’t be forced to cram onto trains already packed with people from North Seattle.

The design change proposed as part of this plan would cut $400 million from the cost of the 520 project. It would narrow the bridge and pontoons: Each lane would go from 12 feet to 11 feet, and future support for light rail would be eliminated. But light rail over 520 isn’t anywhere in near-term planning, and won’t be until well after we build rail to Northgate, the East Link extension and likely a project in the Ballard-West Seattle corridor. By the time we talk about putting rail on 520, any new bridge could already be halfway through its operating lifetime.

Bus transit across 520 to several major destinations already exists. Many daily commuters use these routes for only some of the week – but with tolling going into effect, some of these commuters who have the option of transit can ride more often, possibly reducing congestion. This small shift combined with those who choose to switch from their cars to a cheaper transit trip will also boost cross-lake transit use, making potential ridership for the East Link project higher and more likely to receive Federal Transit Administration grants – and votes here at home.

How To Go Broke Saving Money

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The new plan to save money on a new 520 bridge:

Depending on the final design, trimming the size of a new bridge could save the cash-strapped project $100 million to $500 million, said state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the House Transportation Committee, who has been briefed on the proposals.

The current $4.4 billion cost estimate would be reduced, to a range of $3.6 billion to $4.1 billion, by spending less on floating pontoons, said state Treasurer Mike Murphy, who said he was briefed by a senior Gregoire aide.

That idea will be controversial, because the state Department of Transportation had envisioned a series of twin, 75-foot-wide pontoons to provide extra buoyancy, allowing future light-rail or other trains to be added. Instead, the state would look at a single-pontoon design, Murphy said. But any downsizing might hinder a transit retrofit two or three decades from now.

Really? We’re going to nibble around the edges here?

[I really don’t understand why this 520 bridge thing is so complicated. It’s far more straightforward than the Viaduct. Everyone agrees we need a new, bigger bridge and we need it now. Why not just tear down the 4-lane bridge and replace it with a 6-lane, with shoulders and bike lanes, and be done with it? Why all the sturm und drang?]

Look, I have no problem with running light rail across the Lake exclusively on I-90. I think it’s more efficient to have one Lake crossing, and from Bellevue the rail line can fan out in multiple directions: Kirland, Overlake, Issaquah, etc. That’s basically how BART works in San Francisco. But BART is running out of capacity on the Transbay Tube and is planning a second one.

And while I’m all for saving money, you have to look at the opportunity costs. The other way to save $500M it to use the Montlake Interchange option instead of the Pacific Interchange option. What’s so great about the Pac. Interchange that it’s worth depriving future generations of potential rail capacity? That’s the implicit tradeoff here.

Update: The Governor announces $2B in State funding, the rest in tolls. But will she toll I-90 as well? She’ll have to, I’d guess. Tolls could also reduce congestion on 520 in the interim decade or so until the new bridge is completed.

Streetcar Network

Yesterday, there was pretty interesting piece in the Daily Journal of Commerce (behind paywall) about the city’s streetcar plans, and Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting:

The preliminary plan shows a line running from Ballard through downtown to West Seattle, lines connecting Fremont and the University District with the existing South Lake Union line, a line extending from Pioneer Square through the international district, and lines running to Capitol Hill and through the Denny Triangle to Uptown.

The plan was done by the Seattle Department of Transportation, the Streetcar Alliance and Heffront Transportation, a private consultant hired by the city last year. Most of the lines are similar to ones presented in a report by the Seattle Streetcar Alliance last month. Heffront recommended adding the line connecting Fremont and Queen Anne with South Lake Union based on projected growth in those areas.

I like that route, I really like the “Uptown route” as well as the University District Extension of the SLU car. The Ballard-West Seattle route I dislike, because it sees a cheap way out of getting real rapid transit through that area, and let’s face it, a street car average 10-15 miles an hour would take a long time to get from Ballard or West Seattle to downtown.

The monorail folks (these guys are still around?) have the same fear I do with regard to that line:

But transportation activist Michael Taylor-Judd, president of Friends of the Monorail, testified to the committee that a streetcar network cannot be a substitute for rapid transit.

“They are not a rapid transit solution,” Taylor-Judd said. “Streetcars running in the street with traffic do not solve public transportation problems.”

The get more development and more riders than buses, but yeah, it’s not real rapid transit.

The next steps:

A network plan with specific route options will be presented to council May 1, said Ethan Melone, SDOT’s streetcar project manager. Between now and then, organizers will work with Metro, Sound Transit and others to see how the streetcar fits into existing transit systems and how to pay for it.

Finally, concerns for the bicyclists among us:

Several other members of the public also testified that the right-hand location of the streetcars has been a hazard for bicyclists, who traditionally travel in the right lane through traffic. They testified that bicyclists have been injured when their wheels got stuck in the tracks of the streetcar.

Crunican said SDOT is looking into ways to mitigate the impact of the streetcar on bicyclists and will report back to council monthly on the progress they’re making. She said options include running the streetcar in the center or left-hand lanes in certain areas of the city.

I think it’s overall a positive development, though I hope it doesn’t turn into a way to get transit on the cheap to places like Ballard and West Seattle.

What do you think?

520 getting tolls, never getting light rail

Today at Bellevue City Hall, the Governor did a press conference with Sims and others about proposed tolls on 520. The short of it: we’re getting them, and the state should kick in half, about $2 billion, for the replacement. Here’s a short PI blurb, and here’s the release from the Governor’s office. No information on the price of the tolls.

As long as the pontoons are wide enough to accomodate future rail lines, I’m happy.
Updated 12:35

Reforms at the Port?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

in an open letter to the community, Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani is adamant that the Port hadn’t actually wasted $97M. Here’s an excerpt:

First, I want to clarify one of the biggest concerns raised in this audit – wasted money. The Port did not waste $97.2 million in taxpayer money. Here’s where I’m coming from:

$60 million of that number relates to the Port hiring a national contractor, instead of hiring more Port staff, to manage the redevelopment of SeaTac’s terminals. This contractor has to date been paid $120 million over the past 10 years.

The auditor states that we wasted $32 million because the construction contract for a portion of the third runway exceeded our initial cost estimate by $32 million. Bids often vary from estimates – particularly when the construction market is booming, as it was at the time. People involved in construction – whether public or private agencies or homeowners contemplating a remodel – understand that even thoroughly researched cost estimates can change as the project nears. Ultimately, the market dictates the cost to build something.

But at the same time, despite Yoshitani’s protestations of innocence, the Port is offering a slate of reforms in the wake of the audit. It’s a fine line to walk, since Yoshitani is new and needs to get the respect of the staff — staff that have been themselves implicated in the audit. And with the feds about to come to town, it’s only going to get trickier.

I bet this isn’t what Yoshitani had in mind when he took the gig!!

Central Link Testing Update – Tentitive Schedule

Just a notice for everyone – Sound Transit’s Central Link will start regularly scheduled testing tomorrow (Thursday, January 9th, 2008) starting around 6:30am and will last for about 16 hours.

Starting in June or July, 2008, the Overhead Contact System will be completed from Beacon Hill Tunnel/Mt. Baker Station to South 154th Street/Tukwila International Blvd Station. Dead wire testing will start in June with a LRV being pushed through the Beacon Hill Tunnel to South 154th. Once these tests are completed, along with the testing of crossovers and signal systems, live wire testing will begin along the entire initial segment.

The first vehicle, ST 101 needs 2500 miles for it’s “burn-in”, ST 102 needs 1500 miles and the rest of the fleet will need 750 miles before they can be used in revenue service.

Here are the speed limits for the curious.

Pine Street Tunnel – 20mph
Pine Street to Westlake – 30mph
Westlake – University Street – 35mph
University Street – Pioneer Square – 30mph
Pioneer Square – International District 15mph
International District to Stadium Station – 30mph
Stadium to Lander Street – 45mph
Lander Street to Beacon Hill Tunnel East Portal – 40mph
Beacon Hill Tunnel – 55mph
Beacon Hill Tunnel West Portal – Martin Luther King Jr Way/Henderson Street – 35 or 40mph. TBD by City of Seattle once construction is fully finished
Henderson Street Station past middle siding – 40mph
Middle Siding to Boeing Access Road – 45mph
Boeing Access Road to I-5 – SR-518 Interchange – 55mph
Curve from I-5 to SR-518 – 45mph
SR-518 to Tukwila Station – 55mph
Tukwila Station – Sea-Tac Airport – 55mph

Total Estimated trip time, 35 minutes from Westlake to Sea-Tac Airport with latest speed limits.

I’ll be out tomorrow getting photos of Link

RTC and the South Sound

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

John Stanton, who co-chaired the RTC and who supports “governance reform,” paid a visit to RAMP, which is sort of a South-Sound-centric version of RTID to pitch them on the idea.

They were nonplussed. RTC would end sub-area equity, a phrase that, in Tacoma, translates roughly as “give all your money to Seattle.” So it’s not exactly surprising that a group co-chaired by John Ladenburg would be against the idea.

I’m beginning to wonder if ending sub-area equity is the carrot designed to induce Seattlites into swallowing the RTC proposal. But either way, it’s a dodge. The problem is not governance, it’s cash. Re-drawing lines on the map won’t change the simple fact that no one wants to pay taxes.

Rapid Ride: This is what 0.1% buys you?

Earlier, I linked to the first details Metro released about RapidRide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the Eastside and to West Seattle. I assumed all the details were the same as for the Pacific Highway segment, but after scrutinizing things more carefully I see I was wrong about that. Metro is promising almost nothing above what we see with a conventional express bus.

Let’s go through Metro’s promises one by one. I’ll use the text from the Eastside line:

After RapidRide service begins, Metro’s plan is for buses to arrive every 10 minutes during the busiest morning and evening travel hours. At other times between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., buses will come every 15 minutes. Between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., buses will come every 30 minutes.

We’re talking about less service than Metro route 7. Woo hoo!

RapidRide buses will have low floors and three doors, so people can get on and off quickly. Depending on the outcome of a pilot project, a new fare payment system might be used that would allow riders with passes to pay before they board the bus, and enter through any door.

So we “might” see off-bus payment. I assume they’re referring to ORCA, but doesn’t Metro want to implement that system-wide anyway?

RapidRide stations and stops will be placed where the most riders gather, at reasonable walking distances along the corridor. Bus stops will be farther apart than they are on typical routes, so RapidRide trips will be faster. Metro planners are working with the local communities to choose the best places for stations and stops.

In other words, an express bus. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

Other features might be added to speed up RapidRide service. For example, as buses approach intersections, they could send signals to traffic lights, requesting that green lights stay green longer or red lights switch to green faster.

It’s nice that they “might” actually do something to actually make the buses run faster. I wonder if that’s contingent on getting more revenue from somewhere, because God forbid that Metro get anything done with a mere $50 million extra per year.

Note what’s not mentioned: any sort of transit-only (or even HOV) lane anywhere along the route. This bus is stuck in the same traffic as the old bus. But it might make a couple of green lights it didn’t before!

All RapidRide stops will be lighted so people can see around themselves and be seen. With buses arriving more often than they do today, people will spend less time waiting at bus stops. Metro Transit Police will be on buses and at bus zones more often for fare enforcement and other security monitoring.

Bus safety is one reason people don’t take transit, but is far behind speed and inconvenience, which this plan does nothing to solve.

At the busiest stops, where many people catch buses each day, Metro will build stations with more room for the expected number of riders. These stations-placed about every mile along the route-will have shelters, benches and trash receptacles. The shelters and signs will look different from those you see at regular Metro stops-they will have a special RapidRide style and color scheme. Waiting areas will be well-lit, increasing security. Electronic realtime signs will tell people the actual number of minutes before the next bus will arrive.

Incidentally, now that they’ve thoughtfully added a legend so that we can actually decode the route map, you can see that not all of the “stops” are actually “stations”. So half the time on this route, you still might be standing next to nothing but a pole in the ground with a route number of it, with no electronic signs, enhanced security, or anything else.

And you can see from the map there are tons of stops, many more than a light rail line would have had. Again, this bus will be anything but “Rapid.”

Between the major stations, RapidRide bus stops also will have signs and other features to give them the distinctive RapidRide look. In some cases shelters and benches may be added or improved. Stop-request signals, which people can use to alert the bus driver when they are waiting for a bus at night, may be provided at these stops.

The buses will be easily recognizable with the RapidRide design and color scheme. All buses will be high-capacity, low-emission hybrid vehicles designed especially for RapidRide.

It’s slow, but at least it’s rebranded! As for nice shelters and so on, what they’re really describing is just bringing up a lot of really crappy Metro stops to some kind of minimum standard. That’s nice and all, but it isn’t a replacement for Light Rail.

In fairness, the West Seattle page adds this:

Other features might be added to speed up West Seattle RapidRide service. Business Access & Transit (BAT) lanes would help buses move faster through the corridor. The City of Seattle is considering transit lanes for portions of work in conjunction with the transit-only lane on SW Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge.

It sounds like this depends on other funds from the city rather than the Transit Now package. But hey, it’s better than the Eastside situation.

This is really pathetic. Metro could very easily have hired a few transit cops, spruced up a couple of stops, bought a couple of extra buses, and run a “253 express”. They could have even posted instructions on how to get bus arrival information using the SMS service, and gotten about 95% of the benefit for around $1 million. They would also have avoided the confusion that will arise from appearing to add another transit provider to join Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit buses operating in this area. And oh yeah, it’ll take till 2011 for this to get realized.

Compare with Community Transit, which was creative with Federal grants and was able to start planning for a superior BRT line without a tax or fare increase. Examples of shoddy projects like this make me wonder why anyone would want to disband Sound Transit and move its responsibilities to the county agencies.

The 0.1% Transit Now levy generates approximately $50 million per year. Collected for 12 years, it would have gotten us half the money required to get to Northgate by 2018! It’s ridiculous to suggest that incremental improvements like these would produce anything like half the effect of the Northgate line.

To argue that Bus Rapid Transit is viable alternative to Light Rail is to insult our intelligence. Won’t someone truly interested in alternatives to sitting in traffic please run against Ron Sims?

State Auditor Gives High Praise to Sound Transit

Expanding on a point from Martin’s post yesterday, the state auditor had a lot of nice things to say about Sound Transit. Here’s the press release.

Check out the video of the auditor’s presentation, especially around 7:38 and 12:45. At the first point, the auditor mentions how good the audit was and that good the performance audit was also good. Then he “steps outside (his) boundaries” and compares and contrasts the Port’s audit against the Sound Transit. At 12:45, the auditor does another backhanded compare and contrast, idenifying ST as an agency in “the good camp” when it comes to full cooperation, as opposed to other un-named agencies (ie, the port) which view audits as a “negative thing” and are unreceptive and unresponsive.

So let’s sum up, according to the auditor, Sound Transit is “definitely” in the “good camp” when it comes to audits, and is doing a “good job” when it comes to accountability. The elected agency Rice-Stanton wants to use to model the Sound Transit replacment? $100 million dollars in waste, criminal investigations, art projects that cost four times their promised cost and the taxpayers can’t even see, and denials from the elected officials that are supposedly more accountable?

Accountable to whom? Definitely not to the taxpayers or the state auditor’s office. If there’s any question whether governance “reform” is about destroying light rail before it’s even born, we can ask anti-rail billionaire Kemper Freeman or anti-rail writer Ted Van Dyk.

Seattle 2 Port Townsend – A Deeper look

I want to thank everyone for your comments and kind words! I wanted to break down some more deeper costs and also looking at a new passenger only ferry dock and a parking garage which would be located to the South of the ferry terminal. Let’s start off with the deeper costs and costs of other transit systems.

The State of Washington says the run costs around $13,700 a day. Let’s round this number up to $14,000 to off set some extra costs for the example. To run the ferry Snohomish for 365 days (All Year Long) would be $5,000,500 +/-. To run the ferry Chinook for 182 days (Spring and Summer months) would be $2,500,250 +/-. The cost of the run per passenger is $6.70 round trip instead of one way (Free returning to Seattle).

Here is an actual break down of a SOV using the ferry. I know this very well since I took the Bainbridge – Seattle run for 6 months before moving back to the “mainland” but the example is pretty spot on to my life and wishful thinking.

Let’s take a typical 30-35mpg Honda or Toyota car with a single driver. At current gas prices $3.15 a gallon or more depending on the location, it would take around $30-35 to fill up your car if you take it down from just about Empty back to Full. This car should get around 280-320 miles on a tank of fuel if maintenance is kept up and using good fuel. Now, let’s take a drive to Downtown Seattle for say, a trip to the Seattle Aquarium. This trip from Port Townsend to the Kingston ferry terminal would be about an hour or about 35 miles. Now we need to wait for this ferry to arrive or if you happened to miss it we need to wait for another boat. This can add anywhere between 30 to 80 minutes on waiting and on top of the 30 minute ride but in this example, we will say we got on the ferry at $11.50 and made it over to Edmonds, 30 minutes later. We took the Kingston ferry since the Bainbridge Island run has a 1 hour wait.

After unloading and driving to I-5, there happens to be a game in Seattle – Mariners are in town for a 3:05pm game at Safeco Field and traffic is backed up from the University of Washington into Downtown. Since you have never been to the Aquarium and going by directions on Mapquest, the easiest is to stay on the freeway… add 40-50 minutes to your travel time and it’s now over 2 hours, the kids are uneasy and doing the famous “are we there yet” over and over and people are cutting you off, flipping you the finger and all that fun jazz. Once you get down to the waterfront you encounter the thing called “The Battle for Parking” This is where you have to decide if you want to shell out the parking meter amount which the maximum is 2 hours on the Waterfront in Seattle or find a parking garage where you can pay upwards of $5, $10, $20, or even upwards of $40 bucks for parking if there is a game at Qwest or Safeco Fields. For this example though we’ll pick the medium, $20 bucks. Once your all done, you have to repeat or take the Bainbridge run. You decide to take the Bainbridge run for the more scenic trip home and shell out another $11.20. Well, it’s only scenic until you deal with the traffic from Bainbridge to Hwy 3 and get lucky by the Hood Canal Bridge opening (though I would like to see that open some day)

So, for those keeping track, $30 for fuel, $11.20 for ferry one-way, $20 for parking, $11.20 return = $77.40 for the day.

Now lets take a look at the Port Townsend – Seattle ferry run at my $9.80 one way fare structure with the Coast Guard 149 passenger limit still in place, new dock, parking garage, and the Passenger Ferry Chinook also in service for a total of 8 round trips per day.

When you park at the new garage, a short walk to the ferry terminal to purchase tickets and wait or board the Snohomish or Chinook for a 90 minute journey to Pier 52. Direct access from Downtown to Downtown, Waterfront to Waterfront. Sure at times the water can be choppy but it’s no different than your pot holed roadway and your also not getting cut off by Big Rigs, huge Suburban’s and or speedy pimped out Honda’s. When you arrive in Seattle, relaxed, at ease, you make a short walk to Pier 56 and the Seattle Aquarium. After that, could have time to check out the rest of the Waterfront and what it has to offer. If and when the Streetcar (bus just isn’t the same) is back in service, hop aboard that to the Olympic Sculpture Park or up 5 block walk to the Seattle Center and Pacific Science Center. Once your all done, head back to Colman Dock and wait or board the Chinook for a 90 minute trip back to Port Townsend while enjoying the sunset with your loved one. Something both of you can enjoy instead of worrying about rear ending a car in front of you. Stress free, relaxed, and a simple way to travel.

Back to reality and there is a reason why I wrote both of those examples because they were both true. Driving and dealing with traffic, people trying to drive onto the ferry is a huge hassle and when you add any type of event traffic in either City, it only makes life that much more stressful and difficult to plan and organize what you really want to do. Taking the ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend and back was incredible and could rival some of my best scenic getaways. Both times I was relaxed, happy, calm. I wasn’t at edge for any reason but most importantly, I was ready to tackle a place I haven’t fully discovered. That is the same feeling I get when I deboard from Amtrak to Portland or Vancouver, an eagerness to see something new, even if you already been there.

A parking garage which would support 300-400 vehicles would a hub not only for passenger ferry service but also Vanpool. The garage could also be used for merchants in the corridor. The garage would be a support of the on-street parking since I have heard that parking is an issue during the busy tourist seasons.

The new dock would prevent doing costly upgrades to the Chinook should the State of Washington keep the boat and it would not interrupt Car Ferry service to Keystone. This dock could also be a resting point for either of the boats. Somebody would have to take a gamble on how much a dock for these boats would be roughly plus electrical and other needed equipment.

One poster asked about the possibility of running the ferry to Whidbey Island on select runs. This is possible but again we are trying to keep the run as cost effective as possible. In the future however, we could also look further North – like Friday Harbor or Lopez Island for a final destination and would be the mid morning run and mid-afternoon run that would go completely to those locations. Fare for Whidbey Island or Friday Harbor/Lopez Island would increase since it is not the main destination. It’s design, use, and purpose is to serve Port Townsend but the additional revenue could allow for the continuation of the run further North. That is however dependent on if people would take the service and if the boats could be used at it’s designed 350 passenger limit.

The question we need to ask ourself after look at the numbers and the probability is what do we expect of this service, what do we want of this service, and how far do we want this service to go. Should it be exclusive to the Seattle – Port Townsend region or should other regions be included. By adding more locations could add unknown service interruptions due to weather or late arrivals will be a ripple affect for the rest of the day. It’s quite difficult to digest all of this in 2 posts, especially when the author isn’t a stellar writer but I do try to get my point across and have confidence that this service between Seattle and Port Townsend can be a cost effective, money gaining solution. This is something that the State of Washington needs to look good and hard at and for it’s short existence that it had 818 people ride the boat one day.. only 334 passengers short from being completely sold out for that day should be a hint to many people that this route would be heavily popular once word got out about it.

Once ridership and operating cost numbers are released for the rest of it’s short existence, those numbers will give us a better understanding of where the ferry stands for it’s future and the petition to return the Snohomish and maybe the Chinook on a run that will not only break even but be a revenue generating service for years to come. People will understand fare increases if it is explained to them clearly and with consideration. $9.80 one way is a little bit of money that can go a very long ways to having a strong, self-sustaining service the State can use as a model to not only King County but other agencies that are in a similar predicament. This will give the State of Washington hope that it can do passenger only ferry’s successfully like the Seattle – Vashon Island run.

This is something we all will benefit from and if we lose this opportunity to harness it, it will not be restored.

Keep yourself updated here and at

No Sound Transit in ’08?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Postman says don’t hold your breath:

Haugen said that following last November’s voter defeat of a gas tax increase for roads and light rail in Central Puget Sound, that it would be “very unwise” for Sound Transit to try again to ask voters for more money. The Sound Transit package was tied to the road projects by the Legislature in the hopes that a unified ballot measure would win voter support. Haugen said she still thinks “we need to look at the whole package.”

Clibborn said that the state should not prevent Sound Transit from trying again now. But, she said, “I think cooler heads will prevail” and she doubts there will be another attempt before 2010.

Cooler heads, eh? Wouldn’t cooler heads want to put light rail back on the ballot as soon as possible, since we’re already decades behind in building out a modern transit system? Just askin’.

Bring Back Port Townsend?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It was disappointing that the Seattle-Port Townsend passenger ferry started and ended so quickly. I was hoping to take advantage of it for a weekend getaway.

Could the passenger-only service be a money-maker? Or at least not so much of a money-loser? WA Transportation Blog investigates.

Number Crunching the Port Townsend – Seattle Passenger Ferry run

I couldn’t post this for some reason on the Seattle-PI Forums so here it is in it’s full grit.

Number crunching time – bare with me.

When you look at the current gas prices for Seattle ($3.10-3.45) and Port Townsend ($3.15-3.30) and your typical Honda or Toyota that has a 10.9-11.1 gallon fuel tank, it would be around $30-35 to fill up your vehicle and about 2 to almost 3 hours driving time depending on the route you decide to ultimately take and account for traffic. This is also dependent if you take the ferry round trip (Fares are current off-peak fares per WSDOT website); Keystone/PT ($17.80), Kingston/Edmonds ($23.10), Bainbridge/Seattle($23.10), or driving around and taking the Tacoma Narrows bridge ($3.00)

The PT-Seattle does it’s run in 90 minutes, 8 trips per day or 4 round trips but for this we’ll break the numbers down.

At it’s peak, the PT-Seattle run saw 818 passengers, that would mean about 102 passengers for the 8 runs and a total of $5480.60 @ $6.70 Round Trip (Free to Seattle). Remember, there was a very short notice and not heavily publicized run. Keep this number on the top of your head.

If the boat was used at the Coast Guard recommended, which is 144 passengers or 1152 for 8 runs (4 round trips) it would bring in $7718.40

If the boat was used at Maximum Capacity, which is 350 passengers or 2800 for 8 runs (4 round trips) it would bring in $18,760.

To make the run break even on fuel at 102 passengers, the fare would need to increase from $6.70 to around $9.80 which would be slightly over $8000. To break even on the entire route at 102 passengers, the fare would need to go from $9.80 to $16.75.

With all of this knowledge and the fact that 818 people did take the passenger only ferry to Seattle during the Winter months can only leave promise for the Summer.

To widen the spectrum on this run, during the Spring and Summer months when the Summer concerts, the Seattle Mariners and Sounders are playing at Safeco and Qwest Fields along with the parade events in Seattle and Port Townsend fairs and the festivals, you can not beat the ability to take a passenger ferry from Downtown to Downtown and Waterfront to Waterfront while having the walk ability of Port Townsend and Seattle along with the combination of great transit (Ride Free Zone) to be able to get you around. The possibility of having not only the Snohomish but the Chinook running an additional 4 round trips during the Spring and Summer months is very possible if the fare is adjusted to $9.80 one way. The people will pay for it, the people will come for this service, not only the commuters but tourist as well and tourist are huge in Port Townsend during the Summer months.

My trips on the Snohomish were nearly full and the return to Seattle we left about 20 sour and pissed off passengers on the dock. That isn’t acceptable neither.

WSDOT could make a killing on this route, people could leave their cars in Port Townsend when vacationist visit from Victoria, Vancouver, BC, and other places around the Northwest since they won’t need to pay $10, $15, $25 or even $40 for parking in Downtown Seattle. A simple ferry and simple transit and the flexibility of scheduling could prove to be a regularly near sold out to overflowing run and a deal breaker not only for the State of Washington Ferry System but also and more importantly for the businesses of Port Townsend.

For more information on the Seattle 2 Port Townsend and to sign the petition to let lawmakers know you want the service to continue, please head over to the Seattle2PT website