Sound Transit
Sound Transit

The most disappointing thing about the PSRC stimulus list is the failure to include any funds for the completion of the I-90 two-way HOV project.  Under current state budget plans, the last tranche of funding ($24m) is programmed for the 2017-2019 biennium.  Since it will take approximately 5 years from the completion of this to opening day of the Seattle-Bellevue segment, this could potentially delay its opening from 2020 to 2024.

The project consists of three stages:

Stage 1 extended the westbound HOV lane from Bellevue to mid-Mercer Island and was completed last October.

Stage 2 would upgrade the same stretch in the eastbound direction, and it’s here that the state’s contribution of $24m is required.

Stage 3 is to complete the HOV lane into Seattle in both directions, and was fully funded by Proposition 1 last year.

Of the $188m total cost for all three stages, the state and ST agreed that the split would be $51m and $138m, respectively. Until 2007, the last chunk of state funding was scheduled for 2009 (pdf, page 20), so that Stage 2 could be complete by 2012.  In early 2007, however, ESHB 1094, implemented a “LEAP” plan that pushed back the $24m (pdf, page 15) to beyond 2017.

ESHB 1094 was sponsored in the House by Rep. Judy Clibborn* (D-Mercer Island), Rep. Fred Jarrett (D-Mercer Island), and Rep. Al O’Brien (D-Bothell).  O’Brien was probably interested in an interchange in Bothell, but it’s clear what the big impact in Clibborn and Jarrett’s district was.

Rep. Jarrett, incidentally, is running for King County Executive this year.

It seems ridiculous to hold up a $4 billion project for want of $24 million, so one has to hope that the relevant parties will find a way.  It may be that this delay is an opening bid by the state, since there’s a pending negotiation over whether or not WSDOT will charge Sound Transit rent for the express lanes.

On the other hand, that assumes good faith on the part of both parties.  If the legislature wants to, it can certainly create enough obstacles to prevent Sound Transit from ever using the I-90 right of way.

As the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel put it in their report:

Very significant schedule and budget risks continue for the I-90 Two-Way Transit Stages 2 and 3 projects. Sound Transit has funded its share of the projects as well as the entire current estimate for Stage 3, contingent on WSDOT’s commitment to work collaboratively to manage scope. But  WSDOT’s $24 million contribution to Stage 2 is currently budgeted for the 2017-2019 biennium.  Funding authorization by the state is urgently needed to be moved to the current biennium as these projects are on the critical path for East Link over the I-90 bridge and they are essential to provide needed capacity during the 520 bridge reconstruction. Also, we want to highlight that WSDOT and Sound Transit must work earnestly and cooperatively over the next year to resolve the terms of the agreement for the conversion of the I-90 center roadway for use by East Link to avoid further significant risks to the I-90 Stage 2 and 3 projects and East Link light rail.

*UPDATE: A source in Olympia points out to me via email that as Transportation Chair, it’s customary for Rep. Clibborn to sponsor the transportation budget.  That isn’t to say that she was unaware, opposed, or somehow not responsible for the fate of a project in her district.

48 Replies to “East Link in 2024?”

  1. Pierce County lost several billion dollars in funding recently on a similar basis – all to preserve funding for another ‘premature’ project, the Deep Bore Tunnel.

    Sound Transit needs to get the engineering nailed down on this project, not produce studies which express confidence at doing it without specification, and requests for a blank check.

    I, as many others, remain sceptical – presumably including WSDOT as well.

    Functionally the ROW should also include HOV bus access at a minimum, but again feasibility has not been assured and costs remain completely open.

    1. Okay, this is where I say “what are you talking about?”

      What blank check is this? The state and Sound Transit have an agreement for a certain amount of money.

      It’s a bridge. We’re going to put rail on it. It moves less than many other bridges with rail on them. We’ve ensured that there isn’t a problem designing that.

      The engineering will come in a few years when it’s funded. We haven’t even started collecting tax for Prop 1 yet.

    2. You cannot infer that WSDOT is skeptical. This isn’t a WSDOT decision. This is a budget decision from the legislature.

      HOV bus access will be on the outer bridges of the I-90 span.

    3. I agree they should complete the full engineering design. It should have been done before the new expansion joints were designed and fabricated for installation this summer. If they do find a show stopper then it’s best to find out early. At least early enough that they might be able to incorporate what they learn in the design of SR520 so that it’s actually capable of supporting rail. As it stands now the state wants to start building pontoons immediately that don’t have sufficient buoyancy to add rail (the so called 6+2 proposal, 4 general purpose lanes + 2 HOV lanes all with lane widths and shoulders that meet minimum federal guidelines which could be “re striped” later to add rail without losing the HOV lanes).

      If rail can’t get across the bridge by 2021 and that holds the rest of the project hostage I don’t think there’s going to be much in the way of continued support for the project on the eastside.

      I believe the rail ROW is going to be sunk into the surface of the bridge deck to minimize freeboard issues with the trains. That would preclude buses from sharing the ROW (it’s not like a hot rod street car). I was wondering though about the access ROW. Couldn’t that be used as a reversible BRT lane?

      1. We already know there aren’t showstoppers. That’s what the two engineering studies were for.

        I think that rail over 520 is likely an ST4 or ST5 project. It could be 2050 before we even vote on it. I wouldn’t hold your breath and worry about the design of the current structure.

      2. One of the possiblities for East Link is to have trains share the D2 roadway (I-90 HOV ramps to transit tunnel and Airport way) with buses. Though I suspect East Link won’t be sharing the transit tunnel with buses since DSTT headways will likely be 5 minutes or less by then.

  2. What is interesting is that this mock up photo has roughly 37 cars and 3 buses going East and one Sound Transit Link Car. If one says roughly 1 person per car and 60 per bus that’s 220 people and the ST Link car capacity is 200. So there are roughly the same number of people traveling East in the main line as there are in the HOV/Train lane. (note that we are only looking at 1/2 of the bridge and given the train spacings it’s unlikely that there would be another train on the bridge going East at this same moment.) So we could assume another 40 cars… but probably not 3 more buses.

    1. Gary, it’s actually worse than that. Those are 3-car trains on the bridge, so you’re looking at up to 600 people.

      1. And 800 assumes 3 people standing per square meter, and I’d say we’ll probably crush up to 5. :)

    2. What is interesting is that this mock up photo has roughly 37 cars and 3 buses going East and one Sound Transit Link Car.

      Not to nitpick but… Assuming everybody is going 55mph those buses are actually spaced too closely. In clear weather articulated buses are required to maintain a spacing of 6 seconds (4 seconds for 40 foot coaches). At 55mph that translates to approximately 480 feet. If a supervisor saw this scenario in real life, the drivers in the last two coaches would be written up for following too closely. You’ll frequently see supervisors enforcing this policy so drivers try to maintain this level of spacing. (I say try since other drives love to move into this gap. We are then forced to slow down slightly to reestablish spacing)

      1. That’s really amusing. :) That makes sense, they look really close together.

        To quote Monty Python: “It’s only a model!”

      2. My guess is that the original pre Photoshopped picture was taken prior to the repeal of the double nickle national speed limit.

      3. No, it’s probably because the I-90 speed limit will be reduced to 55mph to coincide with the narrower lanes.

      4. Ah, so that’s how they fit an extra HOV lane into the existing structure. Narrower lanes means lower speeds, basic traffic engineering principles.

      5. Looking more closely at the picture it does look like the speed limit signs are photo shopped in. But I think they inadvertantly grabbed some 55 mph clipart.

        I’d thought about the narrower lanes. 520 has a 50mph speed limit on the bridge because of this. The 20% reduction in throughput over six lane is something that hasn’t really been discussed. A reduction in speed over the bridge will have the effect of backing up traffic well beyond the bridge deck. 520 is a (non)working example of that now.

  3. Eh, just put it around the south end of the lake and bypass Mercer Island.

    Heck ST should pull out of MI completely.

      1. Oh, I know! I think the word needs to get to the residents so they know how they’re being shoved around here.

    1. As I understand the City of Mercer Island actually wants link there. It is certain residents of poverty rock along with their Legislative representatives who seem interested in keeping the private “Lexus lane” the center roadway currently provides.

      Haven’t Bellevue, Redmond, and Microsoft got some juice in Olympia? Why haven’t they applied pressure to get the HOV project done?

      1. Well considering it is needed to keep things sane during the 520 replacement I’d think it would be somewhat important.

        The various cities along East Link as well as companies like MSFT need to be informed of the screw job ST is getting from the Legislature and WSDOT on this project.

  4. I have another theory. In 2007 the same crowd wanted to get us to fund a large roads package by tying it to Sound Transit. We rejected that and then went on and approved Sound Transit without it. But they can still hold up one part of ST2, and in another year or two they can give us another RTID package which funds this project and billions of dollars worth of other roads, and if we approve it we can get to work on East Link!

    I am by no means certain that is what is going on, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  5. Is it actually a binding part of the prior bridge agreement that outside lane HOV will replace lost capacity when the express lanes are converted? Or is that just to create goodwill now? Because if it’s the second I say move forward with converting the center lanes on schedule. If Mercer Island wants an extra lane on the outside roadway once the center is closed to traffic I’m sure they can find a way to make it happen…

    1. It’s actually in state law that the state can’t hand over the express lanes until the I-90 HOV project is complete.

    2. WSDOT has to declare the center roadway as surplus before it can be taken out of use for vehicles. Good luck with that without completing replacement HOV lanes on the outer roadway. It’s going to be contentious even with the re striping and the farther it’s pushed out the harder it’s going to be to push through.

      The amount we’re talking about ($12?) is so small in the scheme of things that it can only be taken as the legislature using the purse strings to effect policy. There are so many different interests in play I think it’s an organic coalition rather than any one “master plan”. A lot of the players probably have different end games in mind.

      WSDOT doesn’t really make policy. They try to do the best they can with what they’re given. About the only thing they can do is shut down something if they deem it unsafe. The old steel electric ferries for example. If they decided that the viaduct or SR520 was unsafe and needed to be shut down I wonder what the legislature and the governer would do?

      1. It’s about $25 million, I believe.

        There’s one interest in play: The region voted for a $2.3-$4 billion investment. It creates jobs, it moves people. There’s really no justification for what the legislature did with the budget.

        I don’t understand your claim of anything being ‘contentious’ – the state has approved the HOV project. Restriping is fine, WSDOT has given that a thumbs up, there’s no discussion there.

        The farther it’s pushed out, the madder constituents will be that they’re not getting what they asked for and funded.

      2. I was talking about just the portion that the funding squabble is about; maybe it is $25M. I can’t find the breakdown for the stage 2 budget. Best I can come up with is this SOUND TRANSIT STAFF REPORT from 2007 which pegged ST’s total contribution (in 2007 dollars) at $19M and I thought they were the majority of the funding on all stages. That $19M included design which I believe is already paid for if not complete (shovel ready?).

        I’m guessing there’s considerable sentiment from legislators outside the Puget Sound that figure the State is broke and ST is flush with cash. ST needs the mega projects to continue to exist so they can force them to make up the shortfall on I90. That same group would probably prefer that rail never went across the bridge. Pushing this out four years will undoubtedly raise the cost, perhaps considerably if inflation follows a turn around in the economy as many predict. ST may actually find it’s cheaper to capitulate than wait.

        The contentious part I see is what the State comes up with as fair compensation for the center roadway. It could be a sale with for anything from “$1 and other valuable considerations” to funding the full cost of adding two lanes of floating bridge. It could be structured as a lease with the payment terms fixed in perpetuity or renegotiated after some fixed term. Maybe it will “just happen” but I wouldn’t be surprised to see lawsuits and initiatives flying.

      3. The agreement between Sound Transit and WSDOT was referenced during the ST board meeting where ST2 went on the ballot last year.

        It’s Motion 2008-73 that increases the ST2 funding for R8A from $45m to $90m:
        http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/pdf/about/board/motions/2008/Motion%20M2008-73.pdf

        ST’s total contribution by 2007 was $19 million, I think you’re right. But that was two years ago. :)

        The state agreed to pony up that $25 million remaining if Sound Transit would take care of the additional $45 million referenced in that motion. Now the state is essentially reneging on that agreement.

        The big issue here is that this was a complex negotiation. Sound Transit agreed to frontload 100,000 hours of additional bus service at the request of the state in order to get the agreement to use these lanes. Now the state is thumbing their nose at ST, even though the state just got stimulus money to spend on shovel-ready projects (like these HOV lanes).

      4. If I’m reading the LEAP document right the $25M the State pushed out to “Future” is for both Stage 2 and Stage 3 which means it’s some smaller amount of funding that’s holding up Stage 2 construction; construction that was supposed to be finished by 2010. Maybe I’m wrong in assuming stage 2 and 3 can be split.

      5. It’s my understanding that Stage 2 is WSDOT, and Stage 3 is ST – it’s just that the projects are grouped together in state law as “2 and 3”. I think it’s the full $25 million holding up stage 2.

      6. Stage 2
        Improve eastbound I-90, Mercer Island to Bellevue
        Design 2007-2010
        Construction 2010-2012

        Stage 3
        Improve eastbound and westbound I-90, Seattle and Mercer Island
        Design 2008-2011
        Construction 2011-2014

        That’s from WSDOT. Since the construction dates are staggered but overlapping it’s not clear to what degree they can separate it. If so it could save one or two years on the schedule and I’m thinking smaller amounts are easier to slide through. Especially when you get the final stage.

      7. I think the “contentious” part is that certain pro-auto interests will whine about what they see as a reduction in capacity on I-90. Some may be motivated enough to try lawsuits or blocking things politically.

        Don’t forget the usual anti-transit types, the “screw Seattle” attitude in much of the rest of the state, and people under the mistaken impression ST is some pot of money that can be tapped for other purposes.

  6. I have been also pondering what we could do about this, and specifically whether we can force this through the initiative process or through threat of initiative. One route is a Seattle only initiative forbidding any work on an elevated or tunneled Viaduct replacement until this funding is in place. The tunnel isn’t particularly popular and means a lot more to Olympia than it does to Seattle, so it might pass and might get them to put up $24 million, and if we have it forbid the construction of the Wall of Chopp outright, it could trigger preemptive funding. The other route would be simply funding it, preferrably through congestion pricing. I’m not certain either of these can be done through the initiative process, though.

  7. Well tying this in with the next post, can I-90 tolls be used to pay for that?
    And also, if it ends up that you can’t get Link across the bridge for a while, can we just start with the Microsoft-South Bellevue part by 2020 and then have the bridge part open in 2023?

    1. Can they be used? sure. But that’s not the problem. This is a far better expenditure of funds than any number of other projects. I leave it to you to decide why the legislature would fund them over this.

      And no, we can’t start with the eastside part, we’re not building a base on the eastside.

      1. Even if they don’t run trains they can start building the eastside portion first. The section through Bellevue, assuming they get their tunnel will take years. By starting a couple of years sooner we might actually get the whole thing built before inflation and dissolution turn it into yet another footnote in NW history.

        It will be very interesting to see what ST comes back with after mulling over Bellevue’s “none of the above” choice for perfered route. I’m especially interested in the choice for maintenance facility. The one that makes the most sense if Marymoor which would of course mean building at least a single track portion of Segment E. That would probably be the same or cheaper than dealing with the Bellevue preference for MF.

      2. Bernie, the whole route (pretty much) would be under construction simultaneously so you wouldn’t be able to move forward Bellevue stuff at all. It is probably completely unfeasible to open a South Bellevue < -> Overlake line. It really shouldn’t get to the point where the state is changing engineering schedules. I mean, this is less than $30mn, right?

      3. The yearly increase seems to grow exponential irregardless of the rate of inflation. Just look at the oft quoted 2007 number vs today. The build all at once approach would have to increase contractor bids just by the nature of consolidating demand. Phasing this in ASAP, given that there is currently a surplus in Eastside sub area equity funds and construction capacity makes a lot of sense. I’m really baffled by the we must be foot soldiers of the ST ideal that I keep hearing. Bellevue “broke the mold” by offering an alternative ala carte proposal. What I see as encouraging is that ST is open to new ideas. The special interest funded agenda like Transportation Choices are the ones with a vested interest in towing the “party line”.

      4. The biggest challenge to openning a South Bellevue Overlake line is that there is neither space nor budget to put a maintenance facility.

        Another huge challenge is that ridership drops by half for East Link: a lot of initial segment Eastlink riders are traveling cross-lake.

      5. I probably should explain a bit better. The lower ridership not only is obviously worse, it jeopardises federal funding, which jeopardises the whole damned thing.

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