King Street Station Update

The top of the tower is currently being worked on but the clocks are still slightly off by a few minutes as shown in the picture above. The green tiles for the new roof have been spread and laid out around the station.

There is no work going on inside the station for the moment. That work probably won’t start until after the King County Odor Control facility is built next door to the station.

King Street tracks 6 and 7 will be extended next Summer to allow trains, like the Coast Starlight, to be held on the stub track instead of being restricted to King Street 3 which is normally used for the train. The platforms at King Street Station will be extended in 2010.

For those curious, I took the photo Saturday night along with several others. Click on the picture to see the rest.


We’re having a meet-up, 7 pm this Wednesday at Collin’s Pub underneath the Smith Tower.

Should be very fun, hope you can make it!

Election’s Over

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice series of posts here and over at STB recently on what to do next, now that we’ve got a 15-year plan to bring light rail to the region.

I agree that improving on the Amtrak Cascades is a good priority. Seattle’s west side is still out there, as is that hypothetical streetcar network we heard so much about last spring.

Me? I’m gearing up to fight the 2009 “Recall Sound Transit” initiative…

(kidding!… sorta… I hope… gulp.)

The Blue Duwamish

Sound Transit’s latest photo of the week is the first I had heard of this project. It looks amazing.

Earlier this week, the recently installed artwork on the Link light rail elevated guideway over the Duwamish River was turned on. The artwork is a series of steel “ribs” that include clear plastic tubes filled with blue LEDs (light-emitting-diode) lights. The lights will turn on just before a light rail train crosses the Duwamish, and turn off soon after it passes. The Blue Duwamish artists are Dan Corson and Norie Sato. (photo by Dan Corson)

Amtrak Cascades – SEA-PDX Part One

I’d like to first say that I’m thrilled that Prop 1 passed by a comfortable margin. I’m also very pleased that the California High Speed Rail passed. It’s been covered already by various folks here on what should be done next locally, however I will be taking it a step further by going into detail what needs to be done to the Amtrak Cascades to make it a viable alternative to the shuttle airlines, Greyhound, and driving. Part one of this series will cover what is being done currently, how the Cascades is funded, and what projects are being done to increase the frequency of the trains.

In order for Amtrak Cascades to be competitive to this market, the trains need to achieve a 3 hour travel time between Seattle and Portland. Washington State DOT has a long-range plan which will bring SEA-PDX travel time to 2 hours and 30 minutes but not until at least 2020 if funding holds up. Before we get to ahead of ourselves, let’s look at the projects being worked on now which will increase the frequency and on-time performance of the Amtrak Cascades.
More below the fold.
Continue reading “Amtrak Cascades – SEA-PDX Part One”

Transportation Secretary

Matt Yglesias thinks Paul Weyrich would make a good transportation secretary in the Obama cabinet. The argument is that  Weyrich wants a balance between urban transit and highways, and is a bona fide conservative, and he therefore helps satisfy Obama’s promise to appoint Republicans in his cabinet. The second part seems genuine enough, and Weyrich’s mass transit credientals are not in doubt, so I think he’s a good pick.

In the comments, AJ mentioned Earl Blumenauer as a good pick. Portlands US House Rep, Blumenauer is a fierce advocate for Light Rail, streetcars and bicycles. He doesn’t seem to be a strong supporter of highway expansion, so he might be unpopular with a good deal of the country.

More speculation here. Who else is there? What would you like to see in a transportation secretary?

What’s Next

I don’t want to move away from Prop 1’s amazing and inspiring victory this week, but I want to talk a bit about what the future holds, both for this blog and for transit in Seattle. My main motivation for starting this blog was to provide a (virtual) place to go for those interested in a transit in our area to become keep informed and to meet like minds, as well as to advocate for a Sound Transit exansion. Even though thankfully the second goal is no longer necessary, there’s still plenty going on to keep activity here into the future.

The following stories will certainly be among those that we track here over the near future:

  • Link Light Rail Opening
    Obviously, Light Rail in Seattle has not been complete yet. Central Link’s opening is going to be a huge news story here over the next 14 months. I have taken one ride on Link, and I can hardly wait to take it again. The opening is going to be a huge step for transit here, and honestly, a really fun one.
  • Metro’s funding gap
    Light Rail will be a major part of our transportaion future, but it cannot be successful without a healthy Metro. Our hugely popular bus system still has a massive funding gap, and what it takes to close that gap is an open question. Fare increases, increased advertising and possibly even service cuts are on the horizon. This is a huge issue, and Metro expects the gap to continue into 2010, so I anticipate this story to continue for some time.
  • 520 replacement
    The plan for the 520 replacement has becomclearer, but we still have no idea how it’s going to be paid for.
  • Alaskan Way Viaduct
    On the viaduct, we don’t even have agreement on an approach. Will it be a tunnel? A new elevated freeway? A retrofit? Surface and transit? And how are we going to pay for it?
  • Streetcars
    Seattle still has plans to create a streetcar system, and with Prop. 1 passing, we are gauranteed at least one more line, the First Hill streetcar. Will streetcars get expanded? Can the Waterfront Line be resurrected? Also, Tacoma also has a growing movement toward building a streetcar system.
  • Rapid Ride service
    I really worry that if Metro is forced to cut service, this will be the first to go. Hopefully service won’t be cut, Rapid Ride will be completed, and will become a great success. The first Rapid Ride route is slated for a 2010 opening.

On the advocacy side, I see some potential causes for the greater public transit good:

  • Getting Metro More Funding
    Metro is a critical part of transportation in King County – more than 17% of commutes in Seattle are taken on Metro buses – and we need it as healthy as possible. Metro has maxed-out its sales tax capacity as provided by the state law, and has a massive funding gap of about 10% of costs. Metro may be forced to cut service, which will be a tragedy not just for those who use or rely on Metro, but for traffic in our region. Other than fare-box recovery and increased advertising, there is essentially no mechanism whereby Metro can secure more funding.
    There are a few ideas floating around on how to allow for more greater funding. There do seem to be provisions in the state code to allow for the creation of transportation districts levied by either business taxes or property taxes. Ron Sims has been floating the idea of legistlation around creating such a district, and I would support this whole-heartedly. I am not completely sure about the state law surrounding this, and I will follow up on this in coming weeks. If state law does not allow such levies, we should push for either an initiative allowing for other funding sources or for our legistlators in Olympia to pass law allowing for it.
  • Light Rail transportation investment district
    It might make some sense to pass a light rail investment district to bring rail to the western side of Seattle. The monorail had massive public support before the taxes came up short and the organization fell apart. Prop 1 does provide funding for studies of light rail expansion to West Seattle and Ballard. If the numbers work out, it could be an idea worth pursuing.

There are certainly more than the list above, what’s on your mind? What do you think about these ideas?

Past and Future

The Times and P-I provide nice bookends this morning to the passage of Prop. 1.

First, Mike Lindblom of the Times looks back and how the Yes Campaign won against such strong economic headwinds.  No mention of blogs, but oh well.

Then, Larry Lange takes a look at what’s next: details to be hashed out, cost and revenue projections to refine, etc.  In my opinion, the more informative article; if you have time to read only one, make it this one.

Mea Culpa

Along with Martin, I apologize for doubting a transit-only package would pass. I was clearly wrong. I have a very strong feeling that much of the credit for this year’s Prop. 1 passing goes to Barack Obama, and the enthusiasm around the candidate that drove people to the polls. We’ll never know whether last year’s Prop. 1 could have passed this year, though I doubt it would. I also don’t know if last year’s package could have passed in 2007 without roads, though it seems obvious now that it would have done better than it did tied to roads. So I was wrong, and I apologize.

Part of my bitterness last year with the Sierra Club and the Stranger was because I supported the roads portion of the proposition. Most of the roads were new HOV lanes, which are very important to good bus service, or necessary investments like the 520 bridge or the South Park Bridge. I still want many of those roads projects completed.

What I didn’t understand at the time was the actual motivation for tying the RTID roads to Sound Transit. Those in Olympia who put forth RTID don’t know how they will come up with funding to replace these bridges and create those HOV lanes, and are scared of the backlash in their districts of raising funds statewide to build roads projects in the Seattle area. The political cost is apparent in the large failure margin of I-985 in counties outside the Central Puget Sound area, where most of the benefit would have been concentrated. I know now that last year’s transit package wasn’t married to roads because anyone thought that the roads would help transit pass, they were married because the roads supporters knew the transit would help the roads pass, and Olympia wanted to punt the State’s responsibility to taxpayers in our area. I was wrong on each of these counts.

I know I upset some people by arguing that defeating RTID wouldn’t prevent global warming – global warming being the Sierra Club and the Stranger’s main argument against the package – and I still believe with that. The solution to global warming lies entirely in investment in non-fossil fuel energy sources, and the best way to achieve that end is through a carbon tax, especially an escalator carbon tax. With a carbon tax, auto makers will be forced to make more efficient cars, inventors and researchers will be encouraged and subsidized to find effective alternatives, and energy companies will be incentivized to invest in clean energy solutions. Cancelling roads projects won’t have any effect other than the statement to politicians encouraging them to get their act together on climate change. I don’t apologize for my opinion, though I am sure most of you don’t agree.

This year’s measure was also much better than last year’s. There is a little more Sounder service, and a lot more buses than last year. Sure there is less light rail, but I am confident that ultimately, we will get all the light rail from last year’s plan and more. I was wrong last year, and I am very glad that I was.


Before we resume celebrating, I’d like to make a personal note of apology to Erica C. Barnett, Josh Feit, the Sierra Club, and all other friends of light rail that advocated the defeat of Proposition 1 in 2007  I underestimated the wisdom of the region’s voters, and thought it foolish to hold out for a better package.  I thought the road measures were a critical sweetener to win suburban and exurban votes.

It took a lot of work to make my judgment wrong and theirs right, but that verdict remains true nonetheless.  In particular, I’d like to thank the Sound Transit staff, Mayor Nickels, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, my blogging colleagues, and everyone who worked, volunteered, or donated to the campaign.  This is your victory.  Savor it.

Construction Costs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

For a while there, the construction costs were rising at 10% to 15% annually. This was making infrastructure projects incredibly expensive. Competition for cement and construction workers were among the factors driving these cost increases. Sound Transit got one lousy bidder for SeaTac station, and the bid was double their budget! Construction companies had too much work on their hands to bother.

But with the bursting of the housing bubble and the overall slowing of the economy, infrastructure projects should become less expensive. Also, the cost of acquiring land will likely go down. California is set to spend $3 to $4 Billion just buying land for their high speed rail link. How much would that land have cost if it were purchased two years ago, at the height of the California housing bubble?

Point being, these costs should subside in the coming years. Of course, they’re subsiding because the economy is cooling overall, meaning that tax revenues are going to go down. Will Sound Transit suffer a revenue shortfall because of this? Will the decrease in construction costs be more than enough to cancel it out? Hard to say. If anyone has answers to these questions, feel free to drop a line.

Thank You

This one isn’t about wanting more Amtrak service.

It’s about how we just got here. I know everyone here talked to all their friends, talked to their family, figured out good talking points, understood what people feared and wanted, pitched and sold until they were blue in the face.

So thank you. On behalf of everyone on the blog, thank you for everything you’ve done, because you helped Proposition 1 win. On behalf of me, thank you for making me a little more open to other people’s opinions.

We don’t have to worry about Sound Transit being dismantled. We don’t have to worry about not getting to Northgate, or Bellevue.

I said a while back that we should focus on this and worry about what comes next after the election. It’s after the election. We still haven’t got Ballard or West Seattle. We haven’t gotten the streetcar to the UW. Metro and Community Transit have budget shortfalls. Andrew’s right – Sims is going to work with the legislature to get more Metro funding. We need to do the same for Sound Transit if we want another expansion.

Thank you so much for getting us to where we don’t have to fight the same battle again.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well, they’re still counting the final votes, but it looks like Prop. 1 is passing and I-985 is failing, both of which are promising developments. High Speed Rail in California also looks headed for a win.

This was probably our last shot at getting light rail passed. It looks like Seattlites, like millions of other Americans around the country, finally did the right thing last night, after, in Churchill’s words, exhausting every other alternative.

Fear not, there are plenty of arguments and discussions to be had in the days ahead (Bellevue tunnel, at grade or elevated? Viaduct? 520?), so I’ll still be here, though I acknowledge I’ve gotten slack in the past few months as other responsibilities have taken priority.

On that note, to all of you who knocked on doors and otherwise supported Prop. 1, I salute you. The city’s a better place for your work.

A Mandate

We’ve been talking about change all year.

Not just a change from the politics of fear – a change from believing the only way is the highway. A change from pumping money into our airlines when there is an alternative.

This is a new beginning. In California, high speed rail will become a reality. I’ve ridden trains at 200mph – they’re talking about as high as 225. Here, all three counties seem to be passing Proposition 1. This was unthinkable a year ago. We were worried about having just enough votes in King County to overcome opposition in both Pierce and Snohomish.

Not so this time. Everyone wants solutions, and Sound Transit is perfectly poised to offer them.

Assuming both of these measures survive the next day… I want Amtrak Cascades local option funding next.

U.S. Transit Measures + Cali HSR Prop 1A

Currently, Most of the transit measures that was out for rail, buses, etc are passing except for a few.

California High Speed Rail – 50.6% Yes – 49.4% No with 30% reporting in

Sound Transit Prop 1 – King County 61.9% Yes – 38.1% No – Snohomish County 55.4% Yes – 44.5% No. Pierce County 50.82% Yes – 49.18% No.

I-985 – 39.6% Yes – 60.6% No

New Mexico Transit (Including RailRunner) – Winner

Kansas City Light Rail -Defeated

Honolulu Elevated Commuter Rail – 53.0% Yes – 47.0% No

St. Louis Metrolink Tax – 48.0% No – 52.0% Yes

LA MTA Sales Tax – 64.5% Yes – 35.5% No

Sacramento Streetcar – Passing per SF Gate

BART – Passing per SF Gate