by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board

CPSRTA Election Pamphlet (also note the old agency logo on the train)

With just over ten weeks until Sound Transit Light Rail opens, this is my fourth installment on how we got here.

After the three County Councils agreed to place the RTA plan on the ballot, the RTA’s first actual service began on January 28, 1995. Called TRY Rail, this demonstration of commuter rail service carried passengers between Tacoma and Seattle for a few weeks and then between Everett and Seattle. In total, 35,000 passengers rode TRY Rail. Commuter rail was one of the elements of the ballot measure.

The first vote to decide Mass Transit for King County in 25 years (and the first ever for Pierce and Snohomish Counties) was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 Special Election. In addition to commuter rail, the plan contained a mostly surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood (actually 164th St SW) and east across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond.

The campaign in favor was called “Citizens for Sound Transit,” and the opponents, “Families Against Congestion and Taxes.” Early polls looked favorable with some 60% of respondents likely to vote yes. According to the Pro campaign FAQ:

There are basically two opponents: Ed Hansen, the Mayor of Everett and Kemper Freeman, Jr., a Bellevue developer. Mayor Hansen opposes this project because it doesn’t include light rail to Everett – in other words, it’s not enough. Freeman opposes this plan because he thinks it’s too much.

The campaign was nasty and the proponents often found themselves on the defensive, responding to FACT’s charges that the ($6,700,000,000) cost was too high (compared with buses and freeways), the ridership numbers inflated and it would not put a dent in congestion.

Despite carrying King County 50.3% to 49.7%, getting 61.7% in Seattle and winning in Lake Forest Park and Mercer Island, the measure got only 42.8% in Bellevue, lost Pierce County and did so poorly in Snohomish County (especially Everett) that Prohibition looked popular in comparison. It went down RTA district-wide 46.5% yes to 53.3% no. The region rejected mass transit. History repeated itself – mass transit was once again treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political roadkill. It looked like another dead end for rail transit.

The mayor’s previous installments: Counting Down to Link, Light Rail’s Beginnings, 81 Days

56 Replies to “Guest Post Series: Sound Move, The First Try”

  1. Dear Mayor Nickels:

    Enjoying your posts and appreciate your strong support of light rail.

    Could you please consider pushing forward a light rail link to West Seattle? It would have to help mitigate traffic issues associated with the Viaduct, and encourage environmentally friendly commuting. Branch it off from Link by the SODO station and run it across the Duwamish on an elevated guideway, like the one by the airport. In the future, extend it to Fauntleroy and/or White Center. Why not?

    1. DPR, come to the meetup, I plan to start talking about this tonight.

      1. You’re quite welcome. You’ll see more on the blog about Ballard-West Seattle in the next few weeks, as well.

      2. Looking forward to your blog post on the subject. It seems like downtown and Belltown business owners might be more supportive of a LID to pay for expanding light rail instead of a 1st avenue streetcar. Especially if stops at Belltown and lower Queen Anne were included. A lot of bus traffic through downtown could be eliminated with a Ballard-West Seattle light rail line.

      3. I’m thinking of something like an LID for stations, and a citywide Transportation Benefit District for the line itself. It could take two votes – one for the 2nd avenue tunnel, the other for the rest.

    2. It would have been nice to have something in place before taking down the viaduct. Yes it’s not a replacement for the truck traffic but it would have given people an alternative to sitting in traffic.

      Even with the tunnel proposal, this would still be a plan worth doing. I originally wanted this route to be the Monorail/Green line, but an all elevated Light Rail system would be better than the traffic mess we are going to get. I always figured that this was a low priority for Sound transit because it’s so Seattle centric. With the available funds from the allocation by region, it’s not possible and it’s not politically possible without first getting the long reaches to Tacoma and Everett and Redmond done first. Which is why Seattle should run it’s own taxing district to fund this spur and something (monorail or Light Rail) toward Ballard. The Green line had the ridership numbers right, just not the funding. And both extensions would vastly increase the ridership of the main trunk line. (And yes if I had my way, I’d run the line down to the airport but on the West side to make the faster West Seattle & White Center connections than having to go back to Seattle and then South which few people would do.)

      1. I thought the Viaduct didn’t carry trucks anymore?

        But yes, the idea is a new taxing district. I don’t think it’s feasible to build elevated in downtown, though.

      2. I would rather see a taxing district to support light rail extensions to West Seattle and Ballard instead of streetcars. I like streetcars, but Seattle really needs to invest in high-speed transit first. Imagine the riders a 5-10 minute ride to Ballard or West Seattle would attract. I would like to see an extension of the DSTT through Belltown or maybe a parallel tunnel under Second Avenue with a transfer point at University Street.

      3. We’re on the same page. “Not elevated” doesn’t mean a streetcar, it means a 2nd Avenue tunnel. ;)

        We can’t extend the DSTT, once ST2 is online we won’t have the capacity available for another line to share it.

      4. Trouble is… the failure of the Monorail Project’s financing plan shows that it’s near impossible to fund such a line with a Seattle-only tax base and bonding capacity.

        Now perhaps we’d be better off with ST bonding capacity based on a Seattle tax, or lower expenses since light rail could connect to the existing operations and maintenance base in SoDo… but someone would have to run some realistic numbers, perhaps with the ST3 planning funds that were approved.

      5. It’s impossible to fund it with MVET alone, yes. Sound Transit proves it’s possible to build with Seattle-only tax. Remember we have subarea equity, Seattle money (well, up to the county line at the north edge) went to Seattle projects.

      6. Outside of downtown the line could be built for significantly less than the monorail. It could run at-grade in the median of 15th Ave. W to Ballard. The street is plenty wide enough and there are far fewer left turns and cross streets than on MLK. The Paris T3 line runs at-grade in the median of a very busy boulevard and easily carries 100,000 people per day over 7km. The most expensive parts outside of downtown would be crossing the Ship Canal and the Duwamish. I know that 15th is slated for Rapid Ride, but the bus lanes could be easily turned back into general purpose lanes if light rail is built.

      7. No for now on all light rail we build should be grade separated. I think Link should be in a tunnel between downtown Seattle and downtown Ballard, then it should come up at around 60th or 65th to be elevated along 15th.

      8. That would be nice, but it’s probably not necessary and the cost would be astronomical. At-grade systems work just fine in the rest of the world, what makes Seattle different? I think tunnels or elevated should only be built where geography or lack of right-of-way dictates. Trains could run along Elliot and 15th nearly unimpeded by cross traffic.

      9. What about through the rail yard? That seems like an even easier and faster solution. I don’t know how crowded it is down there though. Is there room for more tracks?

      10. Zed, at-grade systems don’t work just fine in the rest of the world. Although many other cities around the world have at-grade light rail, the most successful rapid transit systems in the world by far are completely grade separated, and Link can be that. In fact, the eight highest ridership rapid transit systems in the US are completely grade separated, and the top light rail systems, the MBTA Green Line and the SF MUNI, both have substantial tunnel sections and are integrated with a completely grade separated rapid transit system that has far more ridership. If we want to be like Portland or Houston, that’s okay, but if we want to be like the great cities in the country like New York, DC, Chicago, and others, we need to have a fully grade separated light rail system, in a tunnel in dense areas and elevated in spread out areas or along highways. Then we can have a truly rapid system and make our city be one of the premier cities in the country.

      11. If you would read my previous posts in the thread you would see that I wasn’t advocating for having the entire alignment to be at-grade. Tunnels are fine where land costs, density or geography dictate, but they’re not necessary in a lot of locations. Ballard and Interbay don’t have the density of New York or Chicago. Do you have proof that at-grade alignments don’t work? I can give plenty of examples where they do. Why are some of the largest cities on the planet choosing to build new light rail lines at-grade instead of underground? Most large German cities have systems that include at-grade alignments. Zurich choose streetcars over a subway system and now has the highest transit ridership in the world. Paris is choosing to build at-grade light rail instead of new Metro lines. I just don’t think that the cost to tunnel to Ballard could ever be justified and the cost would limit the ability of the city to build other lines. The solution needs to be tailored to the problem, and the beauty of light rail is it’s construction flexibility.

      12. The advantage of light rail is its flexibility. You can have it running at-grade in the street or you can have it totally separated, as you need it. In ten years, Central Link through Seattle will be basically a light-metro system, with three-or-so minute headways and four car trains. That’s great. But in other places it will be good to get Link there but not practical to invest the same infrastructure. Places like Redmond, Issaquah, Tacoma (past downtown) don’t justify the expense of grade separated. Ballard, I think, obviously does justify that kind of investment, though tunneling all the way through Interbay seems like it would be a big waste when there are many easier solutions there.

      13. It would have been nice to have something in place before taking down the viaduct.

        I saw on Q13 this morning that the construction on the deep bore tunnel is already underway. They show the site of the southern entrance where one building has been demolished and a staging area is being set up. Gesh… the ink’s not even dry on the budget. I guess the idea is to sink enough into the project before a voter initiative is on the ballot that people will feel it’s too late to kill. Sort of like the crippled “almost 6 lanes” 520 corridor do over.

        EIS, we don’t need no stinking EIS.

      14. The voter initiative is being run by the ‘yes on an elevated replacement’ people, unfortunately. They don’t get that they have to separate the two issues to win, and they will lose – they may not even get the signatures they need.

      15. The news interviewed a lady at the UW taking signatures. She said something about elevated being cheaper. I didn’t know that was in the initiative. If so there is the problem of it being deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that it deals with more than one issue.

        I be surprised if there is only one initiative attempt. I’m not sure which group the lady at the UW was representing. I see now that the West Seattle Herald is pushing for an elevated roadway using a cable stay bridge along the current viaduct alignment. I don’t know; it could work. “Not for Public Disclosure.” should help bring the conspiracy theory crowd on board ;-)

        Just about anything is better than a four lane roadway that costs a billion dollars a mile and has not HOT or transit priority component.

      16. The elevated part isn’t in the initiative, she just keeps bringing it up. It’s really stupid. We just need to stop the tunnel.

      17. Well, if the “she” we are talking about is Elizabeth Campbell (and I think it is) the I-99 No Tunnel Initiative does try to simply stop the tunnel. But, it’s targeted only at the City of Seattle. I know the State normally won’t try to force a transportation alternative on a city the size of Seattle if the city is genuinely opposed but if the opposition is just for show I’m pretty sure the officials could hide behind “the State forced us to” excuse.

        I would think a State wide initiative would have a good chance at passing and a prohibition on State funds would kill it. Of course it’s more difficult and expensive to run a State wide petition. I wouldn’t be suprised to see Eyman sponsor one but then it’ll undoubtedly have some unconstitutional aspect so that it can be recycled on the next ballot.

      18. Well it is a state highway.

        So Ben’s theory is kill the 99 tunnel and instead dig a second Ave Tunnel for a second downtown transit line?

        I could live with that, but I didn’t want to see a 6 lane highway along Alaska way either and that was the alternative to the tunnel.

        What I do find crazy is that the tunnel is proposed so that Ballard truck traffic can get to Harbor Island and West Seattle. And yet the tunnel didn’t have an access point to make that happen!

        As for truck traffic on 99, I can see it from my office window now. So yes it’s still in use.

      19. Truck traffic on the viaduct was restricted following the Nisqually earthquake. Trucks can only use the right lane and there are gross weight and per axle weight limits.

        What is the truck traffic that has as part of it’s business model driving during the day through the most dense and congested part of the State? I know the fishing fleet is at Fisherman’s Terminal and that is still a fairly big part of the economy. Fisherman’s Terminal space is leased by the Port of Seattle at far below market rate. There have been numerous attempts to open this up to private yachts and put in high end condos where the net sheds are. I don’t think we should abandon the comercial fishing industry but how about building a new state of the art facility south of downtown but close enough that it can be a working market place? I think the value of the land the Port is sitting on at the current location would fund new facilities, put the fleet in contact with a much larger market and closer to the major industrial base.

        A second thought, the Port and BNSF cooperate on a second RR tunnel with the agreement that BNSF will run or lease shortline service to connect South Seattle with Ballard.

        I know neither idea does anything to replace the traffic capacity provided by the current viaduct. Long term Seattle has to move toward less automobile traffic along the waterfront. Take the savings from the dig deep in your wallet tunnel and start improving I-5 and east/west connections. I-405 improvements should be helpful in removing some of the through traffic north/south through Seattle. As far as surface street improvements there’s nothing that decreases congestion like cutting down on the number of cars! That seems so obvious but it’s rarely spoken by any public official. Old 99 was the major north south corridor through the Puget Sound; that started to change back in the early 60’s when they built I-5. Time to retire the viaduct.

      20. Gary, you can fix the surface street, you can’t fix the tunnel. Take the surface street now, fix it later. If you don’t go for the surface street, you get a tunnel and then you’re screwed.

      21. That construction work you see is not for the big-bore tunnel per se, but rather for the Phase I viaduct work, to take down the south end of the structure and replace it with a 6-lane expressway; south of about King St.

        Coincidental timing does not make a substantive connection

      22. True but the construction foreman made no bones about this being the start of the tunnel construction. He’ll probably get chewed out for that! Everything is being staged around the new entrance. It doesn’t really make sense to build the road there unless the tunnel option is used. So, build the road and leave no option but the tunnel.

        It’s sort of like building pontoons isn’t building a bridge. They’re life rafts in case the old bridge starts to sink…. yeah, that’s the ticket.

  2. I didn’t realize Kemper Freeman Jr. had been fighting against transit for so long.

    1. That’s not even the beginning. This is why I laugh when people talk about ‘reasoning’ with these folks!

    2. I’ve never quite understood why Mr. Freeman has been so against transit. You’d think that if it were easy to get to his properties that he’d make more money from the leases and he wouldn’t have to spend so much money building parking garages from which he collects no revenue.

      Bellevue itself with it’s super blocks is not very pedestrian friendly but it has gotten better in the last 5 years. First by having stores like Crate and Barrel open up to the street. Second by having a block of restaurants along Bellevue Way from Main street North to 8th. It’s too bad that the Meydenbauer Center is so far to the East that it doesn’t drive any foot traffic.

      Really Bellevue needs an elevated circular system like a PRT to make it so you don’t have to drive from one corner to the other. If you’ve been down there on a Friday night you know what I mean.

      1. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth watching that.

        That video is totally right, I AM trying to kill the American Dream by using public transit – this guy is a GENIUS!

        At least that crazy thinking will end GIDLOCK as we know it….

      2. GIDLOCK will be the end of civilization!

        There’s been more. If you look deep enough, you’ll find that he’s called public transit communist. He also talks about people wearing ‘sweat pants and flip-flops’ at Southcenter, and not wanting those people to come to Bellevue Square. He’s both racist and classist.

      3. More Socialists!… even Communists can’t have what we have.. huge foreign debts, terrible balance of trade.

        He is right though Public transit does only move 3% of people’s trips. That isn’t very efficient, but of course when we finance personal transit by having to buy the rolling stock, a personal “transportation tax” which most people don’t see it that way, thanks to marketing… See the USA in your Chevrolet… for another month or two…

      4. It only moves 3% of trips, but they’re the most congested trips – we don’t need to put people walking to the corner store onto transit.

      5. So one of his biggest arguments against public transit is the fact that only 3% of trips are on public transit?

      6. Also, Freeman says “If light rail worked, I’d be its biggest proponent.” So all we need to do is convince him it works. Then 95% of our opposition will be converted.

      7. Oh wow, “overdependence on public transportation”. Our overdependence on the automobile and the unsustainable living arrangement that accommodates it, will be our undoing.

        End Gridlock Now was such a flawed plan, nobody really took them seriously. It’s a joke. Nobody even mentions it anymore.

        I don’t shop at Bellevue Square or any of his properties, haven’t been shopping there for years, even if it’s a 12-minute bus ride away from my house on Sound Transit. In fact, I don’t go to Bellevue anymore except for the rare occasion I have to change buses at the transit center.

      8. You won’t buy as much crap from his stores if you don’t have an automobile trunk to put it in for your trip home.

        And c’mon now; he does not want the hair-curler and flip-flop crowd spoiling his demographics!

      9. hahaha yeah, except the last time I went to Bel Square (didn’t buy anything) it was full of flip-flops!

      10. He was pretty furious that the husband of a hair-curler and flip-flop wearer was made the logo of King County, I heard.

        Oops, did I cut through the meaning of his hateful euphemism? Darn.

    3. And his father before him – the Freeman family have anti-transit genes in their veins!

    1. My memory is that a locomotive and 3 cars were borrowed from Miami-Dade’s commuter rail. Somewhere in a box I have photos, buried deep in a storage locker…

      1. I still have my “TRY-Rail” whistle somewhere. And I know someone who got a “TRY-Rail” jacket for helping out as a volunteer. Those trains were PACKED!!

  3. OMG… A bus with 20 passengers gets anywhere from 60-80mpg per passenger. A packed articulated bus gets anywhere from 210-280mpg per passenger. I’ve heard figures that state 5% of the vehicles going over Westbound 520 carry anywhere from 33-45% of the passengers across the bridge. (This includes carpools, vanpools, buses, and the odd HOV violator with one or two dummies in the back) All this on a substandard ad-hoc HOV lane built on the shoulder of his precious general purpose lanes. “Not very efficient”? Please…

    Inefficiencies in our current transit system can be traced to base (core?) level service for the Transit Dependent population, commuter service dead-heading, and lax land use planning for the past 40 or 50 years. A more “efficient” system could be had by killing night, weekend, and some mid-day service and focus transit resources only on the most congested areas. Of course, that means throwing the disabled, elderly, or those too young to drive out in the cold to fend for themselves. Fixing the land-use issue is a long-term issue, one that Mr. Freeman’s family has contributed to. Of course, as you fix it, adding transit trips to serve the “reverse-commute” crowd is incredibly cheap.

    It’s sad that he talks about how much transit is subsidized but completely ignores the subsidy given to those who drive in the form of “free” parking, property taxes, and sales tax used for roads to his mall. Admittedly the mall generates a lot of sales tax revenue as well as property tax so I’d love to see whether his business is “paying it’s fair share”. I suspect it isn’t.

    Grrrr…. Ok, done ranting now.

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