In the last ST Board meeting video,  Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl described how stimulus funds could be given to Sound Transit. I learned some interesting facts on how the stimulus package will work in our region. Obviously, these could change as amendments come around, and as the conference committee meets after the Senate passes their bill.

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Paula Hammond, Greg Nickels and Joni Earl from WSDOT's flick pool

The House Bill:

  • Some of the money is going to go through the Puget Sound Regional Council before making its way to agencies. For the highway funds based on the House version of the bill, $60 million of the state’s $530 million would go through the PSRC.
  • The PSRC has asked King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to prioritize projects for the $60 million they are going to give out.
  • The New Starts money in the House bill will not be new funding agreements, in other words, it’s not going to go to new projects the FTA hasn’t approved yet. Instead, it will either accelerate payments or increase the grants for projects already getting funding from the FTA. This means more cash sooner for U-Link, and could mean a faster start date for North Link.
  • The House bill set aside $9.5 billion to be distributed under what Earl describes as transit “formula programs”, for which the House bill, the Seattle-Everett urbanized area should get about $239 million. The PSRC will distribute the money, and Sound Transit would get about $39-$46 million if the money was distributed based on the national formula for service levels. The rest would go to Community Transit, Everett Transit, and King County Metro.
  • Another possible distribution scheme is one based on what Earl “readiness to obligate” the money and “jobs creation”.  Sound Transit could do better in this scheme, since they have more “shovel ready” projects.
  • The $1.1 billion in “rail” cash includes $300 million for passenger rail, some of which could go to the D to M project, and $800 million for Amtrak capital, which Amtrak could send however they choose to.

The Senate version:

  • The Senate version has $495 million in highway funds and a very needed $60 million for ferries. 5% of the roads money would need to be spent on Congestion Mitigation Air Quality. That money likely would go to the PSRC.
  • The Senate has $8.4 billion to the “formula programs”, which is $235 million for transit in our area.
  • A big difference in the two bills, is the Senate bill requires 50% of the funding to be obligated within 180 days and the house bill says 90 days. The other 50% rest would need to be obligated within a year in both versions.
  • The Senate version has $200 m for transit agencies to spend to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Senate version has $5.5 billion in grants to state and local governments that could be spent on roads or transit, with priority given to projects that need to be completed within three years. According to Earl, the State DOT Secretarie, ours being Paula Hammond, would have a big role in determining the criteria for these grants. Each grant would be no less than $20 million but no larger than $500 million.
  • The Senate bill includes $250 million for grants to intercity rail projects, for which Pt Defiance bypass is competitive.
  • There’s $850 million in grants to Amtrak capital, with no more than 50% to be applied in the Northeast corridor in the country.

Here’s the projects Earl thinks are competitive:

  • Pt. Defiance bypass (D to M in Tacoma, and M to Lakewood portion)
  • Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station
  • Tukwila Sounder Station
  • Clean Fuel Buses
  • University Link
  • I-90 two-way transit (the state’s portion has been pushed way out)
  • Light rail to Northgate (30% design complete, and environmental record of decision)
  • Light rail to South 200th (some design, and environmental record of decision)
  • First Hill Street Car
  • Operation & Maintenance Base Yard Expansion

Paula Hammond and Joni Earl point out that this bill is to create jobs programs, not necessarily to go to the perfect projects, and if the money isn’t spent by the date, it’ll go to another state or program. Should be interesting.

42 Replies to “How the Stimulus Will Work”

  1. So in 90 to 180 days the out of work baristas, bankers and programmers can start building roads and infrastructure? Accelerating projects tends to drive up cost. A few people will work a lot of overtime. Free money will tend to bring forward those projects people didn’t really think were worth it without the spend it or lose it funding.

    Sure companies like Caterpillar will see a spike in demand (so will Komastu and Mitsubishi) but short sighted planning based on this type of funding is sure to result in a boom bust cycle. The idea of creating an infrastructure bank which makes funding available for projects people feel are worth assuming the debt for makes a lot more sense.

    The CCC was a jobs program. We’re lucky Roosevelt didn’t base the New Deal on projects that were shovel ready or we wouldn’t have gotten Grand Coulee and Boulder Damns.

    The economy is in the toilet because of speculative spending and the government giving away money with little thought on long term effects is going to help?

    1. You can mend the step that broke your leg, but at the end of the day you still have a broken leg. Not setting that leg can have dire consequences at worst and at the very least will prolong the hurt.

      Unidle the idle economy and get people on their feet until the credit markets unfreeze and companies are able to hire at a normal pace again. Pretending that temporary jobs mean we’re throwing good money at bad works is forgetting that it’s not the worthiness of the project that determines funding, nor is it the need.

      1. The broken leg analogy is more in step with 9/11, an acute problem that can easily diagnosed. The economic problems today are chronic, more like a cancer. Unless you understand what’s wrong the treatment can be worse than the disease.

      2. Wait but you’re confusing things. The problem was that there was a massive over investment in housing, and that banks were blowing money in dodgey investments.

        What does that have to do with Boeing laying people off? How about the states slashing medicare?

        Why should swedish hospital lay people off because WAMU blew through $400 billion in bad loans? They have nothing to do with eachother, and you misunderstand the problem. The problem wasn’t borrowing, that can be a big boon to an economy (look at Japan in the 1950s and 1960s) the problem is what you spend that money on.

        And if you tell me that U-Link is a bad place to spend that money, I’ll say you’re wrong.

      3. Housing loans were certainly the most visible aspect but what drove housing prices up was rampant speculation fueled by an easy money policy. People took the “new found wealth” in their homes through dodgy refi schemes and spent more than they saved (living beyond your means). When that 20% bonus every year on your home value dissappeared put the credit card bills and mortgage payment kept coming in people stopped buying lattes, new cars and computers.

        Borrowing can be a big boom or a big boondoggle. A young family can get a mortgage on a home and build equity rather than pay rent. Buying a $600,000 home instead of a $400,000 home because you expect to $40,000 a year more on rising home prices is a pyramid scheme. That’s what government policy allowed to happen in in some ways encouraged. Piling up unnecessary debt on a credit card is fool hardy. That’s what the government has been doing for years.

        I think U-Link is a good use of money. In fact I wonder if it shouldn’t have been the first part of the system. The density between downtown, Capital Hill and the UW can probably support high frequency trains 18-20 hours a day.

      4. What road/suburb proponents don’t seem to realize that a home mortgage at all is often also a pyramid scheme. You might “build equity” in a home assuming prices don’t fall too much, but all the while you are paying interest and increasing costs in maintenance, not to mention spending a lot of time on the road. If you look at historic trends, inflation adjusted home prices barely moved from about 1975-1995. In other words, that “build equity” argument is itself based on rosy assumptions.

        When my wife and I moved to Seattle we were pressured by a financial counselor to move to the suburbs in order to get on the equity treadmill. We just couldn’t stomach the change in lifestyle and chose to rent near where I work. We walk almost everywhere we need to go, enjoy parks, libraries, and the farmer’s market. We don’t need to own a car because there are plenty of Zipcars or traditional car rentals in our neighborhood for the few times we need to drive. I get to spend a lot more time with my family, and overall I believe we’ve saved money. (It also turns out that would have been the worst time to get into the housing market, but no one knew at the time.)

        We may still choose to buy a home someday, but it will be for other reasons.

      5. There’s plenty of in city homes and condos so it’s not a ‘burb vs city thing. In fact as cities grow the closer in you are the more likely you are to see the relative value of the investment rise.

        Buying more than you can afford or at the peak of a bubble are bad but there’s long term trends that make it pretty easy to identify. I made it a priority to own a home as soon as I was able. The way I looked at it I could rent a home or rent the money. The tax break on home interest made the monthly outlay almost equal. Locking in a rate is something you can’t do with rent. Prices may go up down or stay the same but whatever happens you can sell and buy a comparable so it’s a hedge against inflation.

        Zip cars are pretty cool :+)

      6. Well, for a “young family” the only current options are suburb or rent; my wife and I certainly don’t make enough to afford a home or condo in a close-in Seattle neighborhood at the prices today (or the last few years). I’m glad it worked out for you and we may revisit the question someday. For now, we are happy renters just like millions of other families in cities around the world.

      7. You kind of already need a lot of money to buy even now, and what’s weird is that renting can be very affordable: the same house that sells for $450K might rent for $1K/mo. I think it shows that the housing market has a ways to fall yet.

      8. The idea is people who get hired by the contractors for say the D to M rail project or as a result of speeding up U-link will go out and spend their money in the local economy which is indirectly good for restaurants, bars, retailers, and even Swedish Hospital.

        In addition there will be purchases of equipment and supplies related to the projects and downstream demand inducement from that.

        That said I don’t see anything on Earl’s list of projects that might receive stimulus money I would call a “waste”. They are all needed and any money ST receives will go to speeding up the project timeline, starting another project sooner with the money freed, or in the case of Pt. Defiance and I-90 HOV not delaying other related projects because the state can’t fund its portion.

      9. The I 90 HOV lanes is a waste. The whole East Link project is a kluge as it’s currently proposed. Lots of pictures and press on the reconfiguration of the floating bridges but the East Channel bridge and it’s approach from Bellevue Way will be a choke point; especially if any of the B1-3 alternatives are constructed. BRT could be in place a decade earlier at a fraction of the cost and provide better service into the foreseeable future. Yes that may require lane reconfiguration but not the permanent loss of lane capacity an accelerated East Link will bring.

        I question the value of the South 200th extension.

        Clean fuel buses? Hope that’s something way better than biodiesel.

        First Hill Street Car? Don’t know about this but the SLU version sure seems like a waste. The water front trolley wasn’t exactly a winner either.

      10. Bernie,

        Even for BRT bi-directional HOV lanes are needed on I-90, with commute patterns running both directions there is no other way to maintain reliable service. I don’t think East Link is a waste in any case. Between Downtown Bellevue and Overlake the transit demand is there. Light rail will also be driving major TOD redevelopment in the Bel-Red corridor (assuming an alignment other than D5 is selected).

        I can’t speak to the ridership projections for S 200th but it at least seems like a more logical Southern terminus than the Airport. Though assuming everything goes as planned Link will reach Star Lake by 2023. So S. 200th and points South are scheduled to happen in any case.

        Not sure what they want to buy for more buses, could just be more hybrids. In any case more buses will be needed for expanding ST Express service (or for running BRT).

        The First Hill streetcar is to replace the link station they were promised. Given the proposed routes, ridership will probably be pretty high.

        SLU is exceeding it’s ridership projections and has a very good ridership per mile. Remember the area isn’t even close to being fully built out.

        AFAIK the Waterfront Streetcar actually operated at a profit. During the summer people often got left at a station due to the car being full, particularly when a cruise ship was docked at pier 66. The way the city and Metro dropped the ball on a replacement barn is downright criminal. Especially since having the Olympic Sculpture Park at the North end of the line would have only increased ridership on the line and visitors to the park.

        BTW the Waterfront streetcar is a great example of people preferring rail over buses. The old streetcar was crowded whenever the tourist traffic was heavy even though you had to pay to ride. The new free replacement bus has hardly any passengers even when the waterfront is packed with tourists.

      11. You are right that bidirectional HOV, HOT or transit only lanes would need to be added to have a well functioning BRT system over I 90. The problem is those lanes are lost forever to the East Link trains and even if the floating bridge can handle the traffic the east channel bridge and the approach from I 405 will be gridlock. East Link does nothing for people on the I 90 corridor west of I 405 (especially with the B1-3 proposals) and nothing for the huge numbers that live south of I 90. It really does nothing for people north of SR 520 either.

        “Between Downtown Bellevue and Overlake the transit demand is there.” You’re 100% on the money here. The problem is that link is the very last part of the project to get built and it doesn’t go to Redmond which is way more important than connecting Overlake/Microsoft to South Bellevue or downtown via the I 90 corridor. With Bellevue almost assuredly to tell ST that the preferred (take it of leave it) route though downtown is a tunnel funding for segments D and the already deferred segment E are unlikely to happen for decades.

        The Bell/Red development, whenever that happens (could be sooner if it’s not held up waiting for Link), would be ideal for a streetcar trolley solution. It can be wander all over heck and back and be added to or revised relatively easy (compared to light rail). It could tie into light rail at Overlake Medical and Overlake Transit. The huge advantage here is that this area is basically a clean slate. The roads and development can be designed around the trolley like the original Seattle streetcars.

        The Bellevue Subway (aka tunnel option) should also be decoupled from the Link. Ridership patterns in downtown Bellevue are way different than peak commute demand into downtown Bellevue. A Bellevue subway that loops between Old Bellevue, Overlake Medical Center, the Transit Center and Bell Square could support 10 minute headways all day and well into the evening.

      12. I think you’re misunderstanding the I-90 HOV plans. East Link will get the express lanes, and additional HOV lanes will be added to the sides of the current lanes. So, we’ll get East Link AND bidirectional HOV lanes all the way to downtown.

        As far as the East Channel Bridge goes, I don’t see how East Link would affect traffic there aside from taking the express lanes. The trains will have their own ROW, so it shouldn’t affect or be affected by traffic on I-90 or Bellevue Way. Plus, the ramp realignment has already been completed at Bellevue Way/I-90, so there are dedicated ramps to get between Bellevue Way and the I-90 HOV lanes; the 550 uses these right now. Those should still be there regardless of what route East Link end up taking.

        Also, East Link will be very useful to people south of I-90. There are already good transit connections from there to the South Bellevue P&R, and I would assume that they’ll be improved once East Link comes online since routes B1-3 all go through there. I for one would like to see 15-minute service on the 240 during the day.

      13. Yeah, Bernie, I think you have only partial knowledge about East Link. As someone who commutes across the lake every day – it’s very, very useful.

      14. Bernie,
        Others have addressed the I-90 HOV issue so I’ll talk about the rest of East Link.

        First if East link doesn’t go to Overlake Transit Center it isn’t going to happen.

        Given the ridership numbers in the DEIS for East Link, ST may very well go with a tunnel (C3T) for downtown Bellevue on cost effectiveness alone. I know they will need to find the additional money somewhere, but Bellevue will likely kick some money in, and assuming a slightly larger Federal share of the project may well cover the rest of the tunnel cost.

        I don’t know where you get the rather odd idea that East Link is useless without the downtown Redmond segment. Based on the DEIS the ridership is marginal at best. While I think the numbers are lowballed, Microsoft/Overlake and downtown Bellevue are going to have much higher ridership. Much of that ridership is going to be heading to/from Seattle.

        If you are going to do segment D then you might as well serve the Bel-Red corridor. While a streetcar might be a good idea for the area, it doesn’t really do anything for the area unless it connects to other transit. The D5 alignment doesn’t really save much money or time over the D2-3 alignments\. As you say it is a blank slate so why not do it right the first time and drop in a Light rail station or two?

        A circulator subway in downtown Bellevue is a crazy idea that will never happen. A streetcar serving the light rail stations and other parts of downtown (mall, old Bellevue, etc.) would be much more likely.

        The at-grade and elevated alignments through downtown Bellevue all have serious problems. C4A adds way to much to the travel time, killing ridership system-wide. C8E is too far from the downtown Bellevue core (112th!) and has sucky ridership. C7E isn’t much cheaper than the C3T alignment.

      15. It’s great to hear all the Seattle-centric rationalization for East Link. As part of the project they should rename Bellevue Way Rainer Ave North.

      16. Bernie you have it wrong.

        If I was being “Seattle Centric” I’d just tell the East Side to be happy they get any transit service at all.

        If I was being “Seattle Centric” I’d demand East Link take the cheapest route with the shortest travel times to the Microsoft Campus and screw impacts or service to any neighborhood in between.

        Sadly the reality is the travel demand is mostly to/from Seattle. A majority of the trips during AM peak on East link are going to be toward Seattle. Some are also going to be toward downtown Bellevue or Overlake, but most of those riders are going to be coming from Seattle.

        The segment E stations just don’t have all that much ridership compared to the system as a whole (3,000 riders per day). You may think a Downtown Redmond/Microsoft/Downtown Bellevue shuttle is where the need is, but that isn’t my experience nor is it supported by the EIS.

      17. >>Sadly the reality is the travel demand is mostly to/from Seattle.

        “There you go again.”

        Look at SR 520 during peak commute you’ll see peak demand is to/from Redmond. It’s not all about Seattle anymore. The Leave it to Beaver ideal of living in suburbia and commuting to the city has been steadily replaced by yuppies that want the city lifestyle but commute to their high tech job on the eastside. Where is the bulk of the new office and condo development?

        At the very least Seattle sub area equity should be paying for a significant portion of segment A.

        The eastside is all about avoiding rail through neighborhoods and using the most economical alternative that gets people to work the fastest. That’s what gets the overwhelming support from people I’ve heard at some five hours of public testimony in Bellevue and Redmond. The idea of routing the project with the goal of driving development makes sense when you’re talking about revitalizing old neighborhoods. That’s not the eastside.

      18. Yeah but still most of the new office space construction is in Seattle. for example, South Lake Union by itself has built an entire Downtown Bellevue’s worth of office space in the last 8 years, and so has downtown proper, plus there’s various fringe spaces in Pioneer Square, Interbay and sodo.

        So I think that reverse commute stuff will become more rare really over time.

      19. Bernie,

        Aside from ST Express, the bus system on the Eastside is entirely oriented towards getting people from the Eastside to Seattle in the morning. Trust me, as someone who tries to get from Seattle to Bellevue using Metro.

        That’s the great thing about LINK: you don’t run trains “peak direction only” in the way they often do with buses.

        Segment A is actually being funded largely with North Link subarea funds.

        You don’t seem to realize that “avoiding rail through neighborhoods” and being “economical” are directly in conflict. The more dense residential areas are encouraged near stations, the lower the cost per rider.

      20. Bernie,

        Of course most traffic on 520 is going to/from Redmond; the easiest way to get between downtown and most of Bellevue is I-90. As far as commute directions go, take a look at Eastgate P&R in the morning. Between the 212, 225, and 229 (express to downtown), there are 25 trips to downtown, and only 4 going to Eastgate via T-Mobile. And speaking from personal experience, those 25 trips to downtown are all pretty packed. Like it or not, lots of Eastsiders do work in Seattle.

      21. Bernie,
        I really don’t understand what you are trying to say. An isolated East Link would have very low ridership compared to one that connects to the rest of the system.

        Taking the AM commute again: The vast majority of riders will be trying to get to jobs in Seattle. The second largest group will be riding from Seattle to jobs in Overlake or Bellevue. The smallest group will be riding between destinations on the Eastside.

        As for “avoiding rail through neighborhoods” who is complaining other than some in Surrey Downs and Southwest Bellevue? As for “using the most economical alternative that gets people to work the fastest” that ends up with a solution that doesn’t serve Bellevue well and essentially turns East Link into Microsoft Link.

  2. That might be true in normal times, but when so many people are out pf work, its easy to start soon. also, some programmers and accounts are needed to design these projects and manage the finances

    1. I remember after 9/11 the economy tanked. President Bush told us we were at war and the best thing we could do was to go to the mall and spend. Change?…. Buddy, can you spare a dime?

      1. The difference between 9/11 and today is that the 9/11 recession was caused by some buildings being destroyed and today’s was caused by a systemic prbolem with the economy.

      2. By systemic problem do you mean cheap money that encourages speculative spending? Let’s say the stimulus package works. Housing prices start to rise. The stock market starts to go up. People jump in for the “free ride” with no thought of the under lying value of the property or equity. Buy, buy, buy… sell, sell, sell.

        One thing the 9/11 recession and today have in common is a lack of confidence in the economy. The big difference is that today people might be starting to realize that it really is a systemic problem and we can’t just spend our way out of it.

        Huge government spending on a quick fix isn’t “Change we need”. It’s just a different shade of lipstick.

      3. Sure, but they’re doing it anyway. I just want to cover the transit aspect of that activity.

        I don’t like the idea of money to prop up housing either (mostly because I don’t own a house!) but that’s outside the scope of this blog.

      4. Fair enough. I think there’s plenty in the transit portion that reflects the overall waste. Amtrak is once again the poster child where the congress directs the money to be spent regionally rather than where it makes the most sense. The director of Amtrak knows how to turn that program around but Congress insists on rails to nowhere. Money wasted, and in Amtrak it’s a huge portion, is opportunity lost. In the end all programs, transit, highways, housing will suffer from that lost opportunity.

        Of course I too want to see our state get is share of the pie. We can hope that at least where there is local control it’s spent wisely. Since the emphasis is on spend it ASAP much of the game is going to be shuffling numbers so that where ever possibly the existing funding is deffer to future projects or those not eligible for bail out bucks.

        FWIW I think Tukwilla station is one of the best things they can do. It’s ready to build and would be heavily used today if it were ready. It makes no sense to accelerate projects that are going to have to sit and wait for some other vital link before they do any good.

      5. I think the 2001 recession was a result of the tech bubble popping, not just 9/11. Things were starting to get rough as early as 2000, IIRC.

    1. Absolutely. Sound Transit cannot award many of these contracts until they have all the money, and if they got the $813 million in one payment, they would be able to award a ton of contracts they would have otherwise had to award later. Not just that, some of the money that would have gone to U-Link contracts could be put into North Link contracts, and that line could open sooner.

      1. > some of the money that would have gone to U-Link contracts
        > could be put into North Link contracts,

        That makes sense. When the tunnel pops up around Huskey Stadium (I don’t know which side they’ll start from, maybe both) it would certainly be nice if the line extended farther north. Also, the sooner it’s started the cheaper it’s likely to be to build.

      2. Right, it’s good to get started on this project when the economy stinks and the bids are coming in below expectations.

      3. How about at least extending U-Link to the Brooklyn Station as part of the initial, 2016 opening of the line? Brooklyn Station should be part of U-Link, anyway, not North Link. With the line ending at Husky Stadium, only a fraction of the University is linked at all.

      4. chh, there are two big problems with extending U-Link to Brooklyn.

        One, the negotiations with the UW about tunneling underneath were bad enough already. I don’t think they need to be reopened (if they’re even done).

        Two, you’d have to redesign both UW and Brooklyn stations to move the crossover (to switch the trains at the end of the track) to Brooklyn. That design/engineering work would add time to both projects.

      5. Ben,
        I believe the negotiations for North Link with the UW are more or less finished. Even if not they will need to be before North Link can proceed which will be sooner rather than later, especially if the money comes through to accelerate both projects.

        But yea, at this stage the next step beyond UW station is Northgate. I don’t think it is possible to have the UW station to Northgate segment ready for operation by the time the downtown to UW station is. There is going to be some lag, say anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.

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