Today at 12:30, the state Senate Transportation Committee released their 2009-2011 budget proposed project list (see LEAP Transportation Document 2009-1, Highway Projects).

R8A, the I-90 HOV lane project that MUST be complete for East Link to be built, is completely missing. This blocks a $4.5 billion investment that we’ve already funded.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of money for I-405 widening, a project regional voters voted against in the 2007 Roads & Transit measure.

If no change is made here immediately, this decision will delay East Link, as well as up the price tag by hundreds of millions for every year of delay.

Update: Senate Transportation includes Senator Fred Jarrett, who has thrown his hat in the ring for King County Executive. I want to point out that his district voted for Proposition 1 by a fair margin (although I think this map has the preliminary results, not the final counts, but it’s close enough). King County as a whole went over 60% for Prop 1 – a 20 point margin. Now, Senator Jarrett supported Proposition 1 during the campaign and he was one of very few legislators to do so. This is his chance to show that support — he could be a hero for the Eastside come November. What’re you going to do, Fred?

Update 2: I used to live on the very edge of Senator Ken Jacobsen‘s district. He’s also on Senate Transportation, and I sent him an email just now asking to help make this right. If you live in the 46th, you can too!

51 Replies to “Legislature Blocks East Link”

  1. Thanks for covering this, Ben. Is the hearing today streaming on TVW?

    Whenever public will is thwarted, you can guess other forces are pulling the strings. At least Sen. Jim Horn was honest in his opposition to transit. The current bunch if Eastside Dems pretend to be progressive, but each and every time they are forced to go on the record, the battle cry reverts to: “freeways 4ever!”

    1. Ugh, and I get to hear “give them the benefit of the doubt!” from all the new people.

      The hearing today was streaming. It’s over now (I actually missed most of it), but it’ll be available again shortly here, all the way at the bottom:

    1. Seriously, it’s not time to say goodbye quite yet.

      As our previous posts on the subject have indicated, there’s still a lot of negotiation to be done. This doesn’t formally block East Link, so much as fail to fund the state’s funding of it in a timely fashion.

      If the funding is found elsewhere, and the state doesn’t cause further trouble by not negotiating lease rights on the bridge in good faith, then East Link could still go forward on schedule.

      1. It’s not a matter of in a timely fashion – this removes all funding. There’s only a proposed budget to 2015 – they only do six years in advance. Most of the funding is ‘budgeted’ sixteen years out.

  2. How’s this for a plan? Governance reform that gives metropolitan areas in the state to option to keep all state transportation revenues and spend them by existing local or regional agencies. Where such agencies do not exist (i.e. for regional highways) create a regional equivalent. This would keep good agencies like Sound Transit intact while encouraging money on all projects to be spent according to the wishes of people in the region.

    This would take things out of the hand of even our local and regional legislators, who often go against the wishes of their constituents or in favor of a very narrow constituent base (e.g. Mercer Islanders who like their private freeway) instead of the broader populations served by city and county officials such as those on the Sound Transit board.

    1. If we can’t even get R8A funded, the only governance reform you’ll get will be the kind that makes Sound Transit build highways.

      But yeah, we need governance reform for the legislature so they can’t pull stunts like this. Step one? Start fighting for better Democrats.

  3. Ben what can we do?

    I campaigned heavily for Mass Transit Now, and I don’t want to stop fighting now.

    Other than sending emails to the members of the House and Senate transportation committees, is there a public comment hearing coming up that we could go to and state our concerns?

    Do we contact local papers such as the Bellevue Reporter or blogs like Publicola to get the word out?

    I’m a university student so I could have the time to take a trip to Olympia if I have to.

    I want to do something, and I don’t want to see what we all worked so hard for go to waste.

    1. I think this issue hasn’t gotten nearly enough visibility, and no attention from any opinion leaders not on Mercer Island. If you live between Seattle and Redmond, along I-90, this affects either your commute or that of your friends and neighbors.

      I’d encourage you to contact your local news organs and legislators. If you’re not in Judy Clibborn’s district you’re probably not going to have much impact on her.

      The larger issue, however, is that most Seattle-area legislators have negative views on light rail or don’t really care that much about transportation as an issue. For those of us that live in Democrat-dominated districts, the long term solution is to start showing up to precinct meetings and supporting candidates that think this is a priority.

    2. First steps are easy. Do you have a legislator on Senate or House transportation?
      Senate transportation’s members are here:

      House’s are here:

      Send them email explaining that you just looked at the budget, and it looks like the light rail you voted for will be blocked.

      Yes, contact local papers. Publicola’s already on the case, but there are a bunch of local newspapers who we need to get engaged on the issue. Bellevue Reporter, Mercer Island Reporter, the Times, others. You can even write an op-ed – I plan to.

      The City of Mercer Island isn’t going to be happy about this, nor will Bellevue. How about the Bellevue Downtown Association? If you come up with others, comment with them! Maybe we can make a list.

      1. Add to your list the City of Redmond, Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, Greater Redmond Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, Puget Sound Energy, Nintendo of America.

      2. And I was planning on buying a house along the East Link ROW so I could hop a train to MS, so count me in

  4. This isn’t just about whether the legislature is trying to tank light rail, right? Two-way bus/carpool/vanpool travel is also something missing from current bridge operations. R8A would provide for that, too, right? Sounds like the legislature isn’t just shooting itself in the foot. Our wonderful state legislators have decided to shoot their other foot – and blow their legs off – as well.

    1. Yes, R8A is in fact the effort to add one HOV lane in each direction. That benefits reverse commuters to the Eastside, whether they come from Seattle or Mercer Island.

  5. So…..on the flip side, ST opened bids today for the first U-Link tunnel contract and the low big was almost 25% under estimates. Of course this is prelim as the bids need to be vetted, etc, but it looks good.

    So a little bad news, a little good news….

    1. Yeah, but with a huge drop in sales tax collections, we won’t get any ‘extra’ money there. :P

  6. Ah, the drop in sales tax collections is short term whereas these bids are forever. It’s good to lock in the low bid price now and let tax collections catch up later.

    Now the one thing that is certain is that any savings on U-Link can’t be transfered to E-Link. Sub-area equity is still in place, right?

  7. Exactly how much was it that the state took away from the project? I want to be able to tell this to my legislators.

    1. Depends on when you mean. They cut this initially in 2007, then made an agreement in 2008 to fund some $24 million (the remaining need), but never funded it – in fact, they cut the last bit.

      I think the amount that was agreed to was some $24 million.

      Edit: Yeah, it was $24 million.

  8. Legislature Blocks East Link

    “There you go again.” ;-) Reneging on $30M in promised funding on a $3B project doesn’t block anything. It amounts to 1% of the cost of the project. Fortunately ST isn’t going to hold up construction because a two year delay until the next budget debate would certainly add more than 1% to the cost of the project. ST has plenty to do and $30M isn’t chump change but it’s far smaller than ST’s own range of cost estimates for the project. In fact every Segment D alignment save one has a $30M or larger range of cost estimates. There’s no way to even make revenue projections +/-1% so the only way this stunt from the legislature would block East Link would be if the ST board decided shoot themselves in the foot by delaying construction.

    1. Actually, I don’t think that Sound Transit has the money right now. This isn’t a matter of $3B or $30M – that $3B is mostly bonds, and it’s mostly bonds scheduled for 2015 – six years from now.

      Sound Transit has a tight budget, and that budget is a lot smaller than you think when you’re looking at only one subarea.

      The ST2 taxes haven’t even begun yet. And even then, it’ll be a quarter before ST gets any at all, if I understand our sales tax system right. This money is needed *now* to keep East Link on track.

      1. The eastside sub area equity fund has a reserve right now. Presumably to jump start construction of East Link. The total for the R8A was something like $60-70M. If bids come in 10-20% below estimates that would make up ~$10M of the $25M shortfall. I may be critical of ST on some issues but lack of contingency planing and attempting to undertake ambitious projects on a shoe string budget aren’t among them. I know it doesn’t seem like the promises from the State are worth much there’s a chance an IOU would get paid back in the next budget cycle.

        Alternately, and I bet you like this one, doesn’t ST have a fairly significant amount of funding slated to contribute to the cost of the HOV lane construction on I-405? Sorry, WSDOT, that’s going to have to wait while we fix your bridge.

      2. Bids aren’t going to come in that far under estimates in a year or two.

        Current ST2 funding for R8A is $90 million.

        You can’t just reprogram HOV funding – we voted on that.

        And I think that reserve is planned for!

      1. Whew. Just that we always vote for stuff then the State does other things with the money. So this is just due to the lack of sales tax revenues and other dollars, yes?

      2. Read the R8A primer post! :)

        The state promised to fund a portion of the HOV lanes on I-90 with their own money – a combination of the 2003 Nickel tax and 2005 9.5c gas tax increase. Sound Transit is picking up most of the tab.

        The state reiterated this promise last year when Paula Hammond voted to put ST2 on the ballot.

        Now the legislature has pulled those funds. It’s gas tax revenue.

  9. Somebody has to stop throwing roadblocks to building something that should have been built decades ago. Perhaps East LINK should be deferred, it’s about time to play hardball with Olympia. First propose to extend it further into the Eastside, but say can’t be done because of obstructionism by people fighting for parochial interests of the carpool lane. I don’t care if it is going to be put in in the next budget, certain state representatives are saying that every time, Just admit you don’t want Light Rail on the Eastside. It is going to be going to the Eastside one way or the other. Bypass Mercer Island, avoid the floating bridge, go around the South of the Lake if you have to, this should have been built decades ago, we got the momentum, but a small minority of legislators want to tell the voters that put them in office, that they don’t get Light Rail because they say so. It used to be the voters that were in the way of this. Maybe the legislators are punishing their own voters.

    1. EvergreenRailFan: deferring and rolling over to transit opponents is exactly what they want ST to do. Would be bad to give them what they want. This is 30 years in the making. No need to quit now.

      As for Fred Jarrett: what the hell happened to this guy? When he’s out on the campaign trail talking to residents who are excited about the prospect of light rail, he supports better transit on I-90. Jarrett spends a couple months in Olympia, and he turns back into Mr. Hyde.

      The simple excuse that “we’re out of money” might be taken seriously, if all these eastside D’s hadn’t been pecking away at East Link since 2007. When they had the cash.

      1. What I meant by deferring it, is studying the possibility of bypassing Mercer Island, make it look serious. I have had enough of the obstructionist efforts on all fronts to block this transportation alternative. Bad enough it has to fight off the think tanks that are there to preserve the automobile’s victory of Public Transit, now we have politicians that are blocking it, and saying it is not what it seems. What is to stop it from being taken out in the compromise budget? This bridge was built for future conversion to Light Rail, in those HOV lanes, just in case the voters ever warmed up to it. Now that they have, the voters are being told they are wrong. I want LINK on the Eastside one way or the other, if R8a is perpetually extended until the next budget cycle while supporters are being told to not think of the obstructionist as a doomsday scenario, it will look cheaper to come up from the South.

        30 year wait, how many more years are going to be added before it gets built if Olympia keeps finding excuses to scuttle the state’s portion of the funding?

      2. Also, Spokane Legislators need to wise up, if their voters ever do go for Light Rail, and the way a lot of Eastern Washington city streets can be state highways, they might see interference over building it. The state saved the grain hauling Palouse River and Coulee City RR from abandonment by purchasing it, provided the contractors rebuild it. The operator of the CW Branch has seen it’s lease contract pulled for non-performance, just as it gets a good profile in TRAINS Magazine(they got lead time, it does not have cushion for Washington State politics). Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad complained that part of the reason they were behind, was locomotive fuel costs. There are more fuel efficient locomotives out there, and once the tracks are upgraded, they might be able to handle them, but first the tracks need to be upgraded. Almost the catch 22 East LINK will be in if this keeps up.

      3. Hey EvergreenRailfan is there a statewide blog for people who want more rail? i know some folks in the east side who farm who are interested. They don’t think Spokane will EVER go for light rail, though…

      4. The STA took one no vote as an answer and pretty much had given up, but things might change. I have been supportive of the PCC Acquisition but because of it’s grain hauling essential service. At least on the CW Branch, between Cheney and Coulee City. I have seen it, it needs a rehab. It’s loss, being in Washington’s grainbelt, would see more trucks on the two-lane roads in that area. Speed Restrictions include FRA Class I and Class II, which are slow, but some stretches are FRA Exempt, which is less than 10MPH. A derailment at Baetz Road and SR904 crossing will block the highway, and not all the EWU students and staff live in Cheney, Many drive or take STA routes 65/66. Now as for passenger service, I would not mind upgrading the branch to the south, since it serves Pullman, but right now Northwestern Trailways is doing a good job serving it with buses.

        In 1980, Spokane purchased Milwaukee Road Right of way in Spokane Valley for future transit use, but much of it has become the Appleway section of the Valley Couplet.

  10. The state transportation budget is completely SEPARATE from the sales taxes authorized for light rail construction in the vote last fall. So nobody’s doing anything w/ST money.

    I’d note that this is the SENATE budget … which is different than the GOVERNOR’S budget and different than the HOUSE budget. The two chairs of the transportation committees will get together and reconcile their differences. There will likely be discussion with governor’s representatives before the FINAL transportation budget is settled.

    I have HEARD that there are still risk and other apportionment issues being negotiated between ST and WSDOT for the R8A project, but I don’t know that for sure and don’t believe that should hold up a funding commitment … although that sort of issue might hold up the actual project. I’ll try to find out what the Senate was thinking …

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rep. Eddy. I’m sure people will get back to you about the risk (we’ve had a lot of studies that have said it’s fine), but the key quote you’ve said is “I don’t know that for sure and don’t believe that should hold up a funding commitment […]” I definitely agree with you, and I hope changes are made for the positive here.

      No one here minds if engineering delays the project, but for bureaucracy and politics to get in the way of funding — that’s not good!

      It looks like the Seattle Times is on the story, too:

      1. It’s not the construction risk that got expert-reviewed last year, John, it’s generalized risks of the over-all construction project that I understand are still subject to negotiation … e.g., who bears the risk if certain things occur, like delays and etc. Normal apportionment stuff that needs discussed before this sort of major project begins.

      2. WSDOT would handle that process, right? I agree with your sentiment that this shouldn’t hold back a funding commitment and that commitment should be for the short-term so ST can move forward on the project, assuming the agreement is worked out as you indicate.

      3. Construction risk is assumed by Sound Transit, not the state. Why are you telling people this is an issue?

    2. Rep. Eddy: doesn’t the House come out with it’s own version of the budget?

      If so, what are the general funding plans for R8A in that document, if you don’t mind giving us a preview?

      Or, do you just amend what the Senate sent you? I don’t know how this budget process works.

      1. I think the Senate and House both submit, as does the Governor. Then they get together in committee and hash out the details.

        I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case this year, though.

    3. You can’t say the state transportation budget is entirely separate.

      Sound Transit has picked up the slack on many WSDOT projects – like the $45 million Sound Transit agreed to add to R8A last year, HOV lanes on 405 and 5, and a fair number of freight mobility projects that Sounder just happened to solve as well. Those were WSDOT projects that Sound Transit ended up funding.

      I’m well aware that this is the Senate budget. Did you have some information you wanted to share about the House budget being better?

      Now, risk and apportionment issues? Sound Transit has already assumed the risk for R8A and Link, as they have on every project where they operate in state right of way. These are governed by GCA 2941 and GCA 3361, and the airspace form agreement under the Restated Land Bank Agreement. Here’s the letter from Joni Earl to Paula Hammond making this crystal clear, nearly nine months ago. There’s nothing to be worked out, the state has no risk.

  11. Okay, guys, no need for me to weigh in here. You already have Ben, who clearly should run for the legislature and straighten everything out down here.

    1. Huh? What do you mean, Representative? This isn’t about some blogger who thinks he’s got a better handle on the issues than you do – and I doubt Ben wants to move to Kirkland or Mercer Island to run for office. The issue at hand was raised by you: the status of responsibilities and management of risk surrounding WSDOT and ST retrofitting I-90 for two-way bus transit, and eventually rail.

      By ditching out abruptly, are you trying to indicate Ben was right? Or Ben was wrong? Ack. Maybe that committee staff person could weigh in again and help us out.

    2. Rep. Eddy I appreciate your input and participation here.

      I think most people don’t really understand the process of getting a bill or a budget through the legislature nor the political realities involved. You give a unique and personal perspective on what things look like from under the Capitol Dome.

      I hope you continue to participate here as I think everyone can learn something from the interaction.

  12. I’ll second that. I wish more legislators participated on these boards. By more, I mean somebody besides Rep. Eddy, who seems to be the sole blog officionado in Olympia. Most legislators focus only on district communications. Rep. Eddy sees value in leaving the district box. Which is good for all of us.

  13. Sorry to have been remiss in getting back. Right now, I’m probably more annoyed with this place (Olympia) than any of you. Trying to work the tolling bill to a positive end is proving to be a challenge.

    Rahm Emmanuel had a really interesting take on Washington, from an insider’s perspective, through a “Talk of the Town” piece, I think, in the New Yorker a few weeks ago (I’ll come up with the citation later). The point of the piece: Damned easy to see how it should be done from the outside. Damned hard to accomplish, from the inside. That’s called a representative democracy. Who knew it could be this difficult.


    1. The comparisons between lawmaking and sausage making seem particularly apt.
      I don’t envy you or the other members of the Legislature this session. Even in the best of times getting the budget passed is a difficult thing.

      I’m sorry to hear there is difficulty with the tolling bill. Though those who are opposed to tolling on I-90 need to ask themselves how they expect the 520 replacement to be paid for. Furthermore there is the question of how to avoid increasing congestion on I-90.

      I suppose there is always the option of letting the issue fester until the bridge sinks or the approach causeways collapse in an earthquake.

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