img_4628The Stranger recently wrote about seven things they learned when they rode light rail for the first time. The last one caught my eye – we need to speed this up.

There’s a big shrug from Sound Transit about accelerating University Link or Northgate – we can’t do much without immediate infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars, and I keep hearing they’re already working on a Northgate acceleration plan. But we can definitely do something about ST2’s other components. We could speed up Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Redmond extensions with more cash in the next few years, and we could accelerate planning for a new line in the city. This is why we’re starting to try to talk about new funding sources.

At the national level, there’s not much. There’s pressure on the Federal Transit Administration to improve their New Starts grant process, but we’re all here in Seattle, where it’s tough to have an impact in DC. It makes more sense to me to fight for new funding at the local level – we’re going to have to go to the state, and that’s a tough task on its own.

The options that stuck out for me are the basics:

  • State or local MVET using a smarter approach than the tables the state used to use.
  • Local option property taxes, both at a city level and through LIDs.

Were there other obvious funding sources I missed? I know there are lots of other options, but these seem like they’d be the easiest. Sound Transit already collects some MVET for Sound Move, but they won’t be able to continue using that revenue after the bonds are repaid, probably around 2023. Would that be a good place to start? How about allowing local voters to double it?

146 Replies to ““We need to do everything possible to get new stations built quickly.””

  1. That list is dumb. We need to build LRT so we can be cooler than portland? They’re missing the entire point of rail transit!

    1. I like to think about it this way – we’ll take our coalition where we can get it, not worry too much about their reasoning, just thank them for their support. :)

      1. Two reasons why that point is moot:

        1. That was back when the monorail and light rail were competing head-to-head. That article is not so much anti-mass transit as it is pro-monorail piece, as evidenced by the last sentence in the article: “With a simpler technology like the monorail available, it’s time to get real about solving our transportation problems.”

        2. Most of the people working at The Stranger now, did not work at The Stranger then. Case in point, that article is written by Josh Feit, who has not been associated with The Stranger in awhile.

      2. I don’t think Josh is necessarily anti-transit or even anti-rail based on what he has been posting over at Publicola, especially with his coverage of the nonsense the Legislature tried to pull this last session.

      3. Yeah, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a transit vote in Seattle in 1812. Glaring factual error.

      4. I was talking about the Josh Feit article from 2000 (the one this thread is about), not the one ben linked to

      5. Yeah, but Josh Feit has become a high-profile transit supporter in the meantime. :)

      6. “THE BIGGEST BARRIER that prevents people from taking the monorail seriously is Sound Transit and its proposed $1.9 billion light-rail line, the anointed answer to our transportation problems.”

        Oh man, how completely opposite that turned out to be!

    1. Still, seeing this quote in a Stranger article is absolute gold:

      “But “I’m going to catch the Stellar!” is a little gay”

      1. Have you read the Stranger before? This is the style of writing you’ll find throughout the paper. It’s not the most professional paper in town, but it’s not trying to be. If you haven’t read it, you should pick one up — they’re free.

      2. I’ve lived in Seattle for 36 years now, I’ve read the stranger before.

    2. i’m pretty sure “sound transit: link light rail” is not the official name, too.

      1. Ooh, but then we could call ST2 “Sound Transit: The Next Generation”.

        By the way, congrats on graduating! :)

      2. lol that would’ve been much catchier than the not too original “Mass Transit Now!”. And I didn’t graduate, just played Pomp and Circumstance in the band… but I appreciate the sentiment! :)

      3. congrats on graduating! :)

        Thanks! just goes to show what 33 years of perseverance can do for you. I finally got to see what it’s all about; glad I skipped my ceremony, the horse show was lots more fun and made a much bigger difference in my life. The other upside, I wasn’t gagging as they played P&C over and over again :+)

    3. Yeah, and it’s not like it says “Link” on the side of the trains or anything.

      Giving it a nice short name like “Link” was a good move by ST. “South Lake Union Streetcar” is such a mouthful that it’s no wonder everyone and their mother calls it the SLUT.

      And my high school newspaper had better reporting than this article.

  2. I like the idea of speeding up light rail. But as we’re talking about new state & local funding sources, let’s please include King County Metro and other bus systems in the picture. Folks who depend on Metro to get around every day are facing deep service cuts in February – that’s coming fast and will directly affect the daily commute for thousands of people. And I think MVET is a good potential funding source for Metro.

    1. Just because we haven’t posted about it yet today doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention! Don’t worry. :) There should be a post coming up about 40-40-20, which is the biggest issue for Metro today – people are starting to call for changing the way Metro allocates (and de-allocates) service. Without any new funding, we can approximately halve the number of riders lost by those cuts just by taking the hours from low productivity routes.

      But there is a bigger issue here. When you build rail, it becomes *more* cost-effective over time as density grows around it and your capital investment matures. When you build a bus, it becomes *less* cost-effective over time as fuel becomes more expensive, environmental regulations come into play, and often as sprawl requires it to travel farther and farther.

      At this point, it might not be a good idea to put more money into Metro past some temporary fixes. It might be a better idea to replace Metro’s highest ridership routes with rail, so that the cost of operating service doesn’t slowly eat more and more money.

      1. I’d agree with both Ben and Melanie. There is no question that Metro needs assistance on a variety of levels, but Ben’s “temporary fixes” as well as a permanent funding solution may have to last us decades as rail is not going to happen overnight. Buses and trains will need to get along for years to come.

      2. The issue is, if we use a new MVET for Metro, we’ll never get it for anything else. Because most of the cost of rail is capital, you can recycle your tax authority to build more later.

        Look at ST versus Metro in King County right now. Both collect 0.9% sales tax – ST actually collects less, because it’s only in the urban area – and ST is building Link all the way through the county north-south, and across the lake, with less money. When all that Link is built, it will carry more people than Metro does, AND we’ll have most of the tax revenue available to build more.

      3. That’s not really accurate. ST is building rail up down east and west with money they don’t have. They’re using the taxing authority to open a line of credit. Operating budgets have to be funded every year with real money. What ST is building now will take a generation to pay off. With sales tax nearly 10% now in King County I think you’re going to have to find some new and creative way to pick peoples pocket to expand beyond ST2. The idea of an additional 1.5% B&O tax sounds like a sure fire way to discourage development in the light rail corridor.

      4. The operations costs are some 15% of the total taxes required to pay for building it. Some of our bonds are paid off in 2023, enough to keep building extensions. Some more are paid off in the early 2030s.

        Before you attack this, please look at the numbers. Sure, more funding will speed things up, but we’re going to want more in 2020, 2030, 2040, and the vast majority of this money can be recycled with another vote to do that, without raising taxes again.

        Also, the operations cost requirements in terms of taxes will drop over time, as ridership increases. U Link will be covering over 50% of its operating costs shortly after it opens.

      5. I believe you’re right that there won’t be any additional sources of funding to expand beyond ST2 until after some of the debt is retired. That’s why I think cuts or efficiencies have to be made somewhere in the East Link project to get the line to Redmond now or it’ll be 2030 if ever that it gets built.

        Run the numbers on even $10B over twenty years (I expect Link will end up being more like $15B). At 6% for 20 years it works out to $860 million a year, more than Metros operating budget, just to service the debt. All of Link may recover 50% of it’s operating cost but that other 50% is all new expense. Some may be recovered by eliminating duplicate bus service but that’s largely offset by the need to add feeder lines so that Link can achieve it’s ridership goals.

        It boggles the mind to think some people believe this is being paid for as it’s built. No wonder outfits like Countrywide were able to bamboozle so many folks into mortgages they couldn’t afford.

      6. I believe financing for the various Sound Transit projects is a mix of pay as you go and bond financing, in addition some projects like Link are getting a fair sized chunk of Federal grants. I expect East Link will be able to get some Federal money as well. In the case of East Link also remember there is a fair sized chunk of money in the East sub-area surplus account.

        As for bus service do remember that Sound Transit and Metro are separate agencies with their own budgets. Metro adding or cutting service really has no effect on Sound Transit other that what effects it might have on ridership. Sound Transit for the most part isn’t going to be providing feeder lines to Link other than truncating routes like the 554 at the South Bellevue station. The money currently used for operating the 550 will most likely go directly to operating East Link.

      7. some projects like Link are getting a fair sized chunk of Federal grants.

        That’s true. U-Link got a whooping big chunk but then again it turned out to be way more expensive than preliminary estimates. Remember $1.67 billion was originally supposed to get from the U-District to the Airport. Now U-Link alone is a $1.9 Billion dollar project.

        Sound Transit and Metro are separate agencies with their own budgets.

        Also true but the money comes out of the same peoples pockets and all of the capital outlay for Link is well within the geographical boundary served by Metro. That’s why I don’t see any significant increase in funding coming down the pike any time soon. As far as the eastside sub area piggy bank I think it’s somewhere around $400 million. That’ll get about half way across I-90. Then again, I don’t really understand the accounting. Supposedly (2008 Q4 numbers) ST has 2.7 billion in “Invested Capital Assets” yet the only place I see to place revenue from interest earned would be “Other” (it’s not taxes, farebox or grants) and that total which should include advertising comes to only $27 million. A 1% return?

      8. Bernie, the $860 million a year is pretty clearly inaccurate. :)
        As Chris says, ST uses some pay-as-you-go and some bonding, there’s quite a bit of federal money, and of course, the big issue is what year’s dollars you’re thinking of.

        And it’s only a 1% return if you’re not considering the economic value of the trips taken.

      9. Bernie, the $860 million a year is pretty clearly inaccurate. :)

        Yeah, I thought they were issuing 20 year bonds but if you take the ST numbers and say only half of the total is financed $9 billion over 30 years is $650 million a year once completed and it means an additional ten years before that revenue source can be tapped for new projects.

      10. Bernie:
        The $1.67 Billion was the Sound Move number. At the time no engineering had been done on the line so they made the best estimate they could. The reason U Link got such a large Federal grant had everything to do with getting one of the best scores ever under New Starts and nothing to do with the estimated cost being higher than it was in 1996.

        Sound Transit now has much more experience in building projects and has gotten pretty conservative about pretty much everything. U Link is actually coming in under the estimates for the Montlake alignment. I have no reason to believe the estimates for East Link and North Link won’t prove to be similarly conservative. Furthermore I believe Sound Transit will receive far larger FTA grants for East Link and North Link than they are currently planning on. Perhaps even enough to build segment E.

        As for funding we really don’t know do we? Sound Transit has maxed out the taxing authority granted to it by the Legislature. Similarly Metro has maxed out it’s dedicated taxes as well (OK not the ferry district ones but that is brand new as far as being able to use it for things other than ferries). King County could perhaps use other taxing authority it has access to (a property tax levy?) to fund Metro but I’m not sure of the legality of that.

        In any case the voters both in the Sound Transit district and in King County have shown a willingness to raise their taxes to pay for transit and other things they support. Witness the ST2 vote or Transit Now. I suspect if the legislature extended additional tax authority to Sound Transit and/or Metro the voters would likely approve it, especially if it was something other than a sales tax.

      11. The $1.67bn number is in 1996 dollars. $2.4 billion is in YOE dollars. So it’s not totally crazy that in 13 years the price went up 50% in a time when there was 4% average annual inflation. From 1996 to 2008 based purely on inflation, that means $1.67 billion would wind up being $2.3 billion.

        Surprisingly close.

        Second, the Eastside piggy bank is about $700 million.

      12. Thanks Andrew, I had no idea the $1.67 billion ST critics like to toss around was in 1996 dollars and moot YOE. I suspect much of the remaining $100 million can be accounted for by construction costs rising faster than inflation due to shortages of materials and labor.

      13. The big cost run-ups were unexpected tunneling costs. That’s what scares me most about the deep bore tunnel for the viaduct.

        Back in 2000 we were told Link was going to be operational in 2006 so running behind schedule (50% longer) accounts for part of the increase from inflation.

      14. Where do you check the piggy bank account. I was basing the $400 million on the Sound Transit 2008 Q4 report. I guess subarea lending has been allowed but must be repaid by 2009. Is there more in the pot that the Eastside is owed from other areas?

        The bond info in the financial plan is interesting. So far they’ve been able to get 5% money. But, they’re 30 year bonds with no payments for the first five years. That’s a bit sketchy. You’re principle is increasing for 5 years before you start making payments. They also have an up front cost of 1.5% of the total issue. When U-link is complete they will have issued about $2.1 billion in bonds but the debt will be higher because of the “no payments for five years” clause (every dollar turns into ~$1.25 worth of debt. This will be paid off between 2030 and 2050.

      15. I’m pretty sure Sound Transit knows what they are doing with the bonds. Otherwise they wouldn’t have a AAA rating and wouldn’t get such good scores from the FTA on financial management.

      16. Well, the bond rating outfits have a pretty big black eye right now. But, I’m not objecting to the methods ST is using to calculate the ability to repay the debt. More about the way we live high on the hog now and pay for it over the next 30-40 years. There’s good reason to borrow for capital projects and 5% money over 30 years is an OK way to do it. The no payments for 5 years, although it’s not reckless in the sense of not being able to pay it back is, in my opinion, a bit excessive as far as spending. It pushes the retirement date out five years (hurting future expansion). And by upping the principle to be repaid pushes the payments up higher than 20 year bonds. That’s a 15 year delta in when those tax dollars are freed up for future expansion just to accelerate the building now.

      17. Bernie,

        You’re assuming that construction inflation < interest rates. I suspect that in over the period of Link construction that's been a pretty bad bet, and with China still in infrastructure overdrive it'll still be true.

      18. You’re right that inflation is your friend so to speak when you’ve paid by issuing debt. It’s been especially true lately with interest rates very low. Over the near term, 10-15 years or so I can’t see how we won’t have massive inflation and rising interest rates. Not because of China and other developing countries so much as a weak dollar as the government is forced to monetize a large portion of the national debt.

        However, you still have to make the payments and the term over which you make those payments will have a big effect on when the system can be expanded. So while it looks good now that inflation that drives up costs is going to take a much bigger bite when you go to expand if you have to wait 35 years to retire the debt instead of 20. I just don’t think you get enough up front with a five year float before you start paying off 30 year money. The big advantage of a 30 year term is lower payments so you can buy more. By letting the interest add to principle for the first five years you end up with the same payment amount as if you’d financed with straight 20 year bonds. Actually the 20 year payments would be less because you get a better interest rate the shorter the term. It’s those payments that determine how much ST can bond so buying power at the front end is almost a wash.

      19. Bernie,

        The context of our discussion is when we can retire the Sound Move bonds. Most of those are already sold, so we’ve locked in relatively low interest rates. If the CPI takes off, that just boost sales tax revenues and lets us pay off the bonds faster. On the the other hand, that implies higher interest rates, so it would probably make more sense to hold the extra revenue to avoid issuing bonds for ST2 at a higher interest rate.

        Now for ST2, no one knows what interest rates and inflation will be, so that may turn out to be a bad play. But it’s the Sound Move bonds that determine when we’ll have space for ST3.

      20. Right, as the early bonds retire the sales tax can be reduced or the revenue used to float more debt. They were purchased at a very good rate and there’s nothing wrong with using 30 year money. My preference would be 20 year money; that’s what I’ve opted for personally when buying a house. You pay off the principle much faster and pay a lot less in interest. The down side is you can’t afford as much. Anyway, with rates this low and the need to start from scratch I can see the 30 year bonds. The really bad idea, in my book is letting the interest accrue for five years before making payments. That defeats the purpose of getting 30 year money (lower payments) because your payment schedule ends up being the same or more than 20 year notes. It also pushes the retirement date out another five years. What you gain by buying now (at a lower rate because of inflation) you give up on the back side when you want to expand the system. It’s actually worse than that because opting out of the 5 year float doesn’t mean the project has to slide 5 years. It just means that for the first couple of years the implemenation would have to be less grandiose. Remember you’re building a revenue stream to to support a substantially lower payment (about 25-30% less). That decreased debt burdon rolls forward with each bonding issue so by the time you’re in say the third round of financing you’ve probably accelerated your bonding capability.

      21. Totally agree on the 40-40-20 craziness, glad you’re working on it.

        But we do need BOTH light rail & buses – like most great transit cities in the world. When I lived in DC, Metrorail got all the attention and it’s a great system, but Metrobus in DC also carries hundreds of thousands of riders everyday. We still need a strong bus system. (Okay, have to get back to work now.)

      22. Be careful not to fall into that false dichotomy. Just because we need a system with both buses and rail doesn’t mean we need more money for buses than we have today. Building rail in the mainline corridors will dramatically increase reliability, bringing new passengers to Metro and freeing up hours for them to use elsewhere.

        It’s very, very dangerous to give buses more money when we’re having trouble finding funding at all. That’s exactly why we’re in the situation we’re in.

      23. North Link to Northgate will free up a huge amount of Metro Service hours just by truncating the 41 at Northgate, and truncating the 71/72/73/74 in the U District. Further service hours could be gained by truncating peak hour express routes that get on I-5 to downtown at Northgate, Lake City Way, Ravenna and the U District like the 76, 77, 79, 306, 312, 316 etc at the appropriate rail station (most likely Roosevelt for the routes I listed.

        On the other hand some way of funding bus operations for the next 10 or so years needs to be found. Transit ridership is only likely to increase with rising fuel prices and increased traffic congestion. Unfortunately rising fuel costs also makes providing bus service that much more expensive.

      24. It’s going to be a hard fight to truncate routes at Northgate when the express lanes are in buses’ favor. You’ll increase travel times, I think Metro won’t want to do it in some cases.

      25. Well the big gain in service hours is off the 41 and the 71, 72, 73, and 74. It makes no sense to keep the 41 running downtown once Link starts serving Northgate. I’m not sure about the other downtown bound express routes passing through Northgate but the Express lanes are hardly free flowing during peak hour. It can take as long as 20 minutes to get from Roanoke to the tunnel during peak hour. Even with transfer time and station dwell times Link is going to be able to beat a bus in the express lanes on many days. The other factor is travel times on Link are predictable, a bus on the express lanes not so much.

      26. @Ben: “Just because we haven’t posted about it yet today doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention! Don’t worry. :) There should be a post coming up about 40-40-20”

        Good, I was just about to ask that today. Is there anything we can do to help repeal the 40-40-20 rule?

      27. Yes, lobby the county council. Look for more on that from us this weekend.

      28. As a side note County Exec candidate Fred Jarret has spoken in favor of repealing 20-40-40. I’m not sure if the others have, though I would expect both Larry Phillips and Dow Constantine to support repealing the rule as well.

        One thing about Jarret proposing to repeal 20-40-40 is since he is from the Eastside he might be able to get more political support as opposed to the two Seattle candidates who might be seen as “stealing” from the rest of the county to improve Seattle service.

      29. Well, you really have to read between the lines on the “solutions” page to see that’s what he means but that seems to be the gist of it. He also seems to be calling the foot ferries a waste of taxing authority. But he seems pretty proud of the billions the legislature approved for the deep bore tunnel and building the necessary? infrastructure for the electric cars which don’t exist. And of course none of this was political because he takes the tough stands “without regard to political consequences.”

        Campaign season, I can smell it in the air. Now, how do I get up wind from it?

      30. Well Jarret has spoken more directly to getting rid of 20-40-40, I’ve seen him quoted on it. Probably something he said at a candidate forum. Not sure why the web site would obscure that.

        I have to agree the foot ferry tax is likely a waste. The only routes I can really see are downtown-Vashon, downtown-West Seattle, and possibly something from South Lake Union to Wallingford or Freemont.

      31. I don’t see any of the foot ferries making sense but the real dog would be Lake Washington, Kirkland to Seattle. I think the reason specifics are in short supply on a candidates website is they want to try and weasel the middle ground on everything. It’s easier to say you’re for abolishing 20-40-40 if you’re in front of a group that wants to hear that. It’s just politics, if you don’t play the game you don’t get elected but it’s damn frustrating and makes it hard to support anybody when you can’t figure out what it is they want to do or if they even have a plan. “I’m for increased efficiency and better service.”, I’ll vote for that!

      32. Well I think Vashon should have a foot ferry to downtown to discourage people from driving and so “commuter cars” aren’t such a problem in the Fauntleroy neighborhood. The Elliot Bay water taxi supposedly covers most of it’s operating cost from the farebox which indicates it is a route that makes sense. As for the rest of the proposed King County foot ferry routes I just don’t see it.

      33. As for the exec race I’m very undecided between Phillips, Constantine, Jarrett, and Hunter. Though I’m favoring the two from Seattle a bit over the two from the Eastside.

      34. Vashon could have a bridge. It would be across Colvos Passage but the residents would fight it tooth and nail. They want the rural existence and the rest of the county to support it. Forget the bridge. Just run a water main and sewer over to the Island so they can support density. Yeah, see how far that goes. Yet they want the rest of the county to subsidize a free ride into the city. What a crock!

        I haven’t seen anybody in the exec race that stands out. Rep. Hunter is a sharp guy and from my district. Yet when I’ve contacted him he’s had no answers. His education “solution” was to defer financing to future legislatures. Great, I know what needs to be done but can’t finance it. And he’s supposed to be a money guy?

      35. Passenger-only ferries (POFs) are actually really important, for a couple reasons.
        First of all, we have a lot of water around here and so the foot ferries are great tools to allow people to get around. Routes like West Seattle-Downtown, Kirkland-UW, and Kenmore-UW get lots of people off of roads and to their destinations more quickly, and routes like Downtown-Vashon, Downtown-Bremerton, and Downtown-Kingston can get a lot of people to downtown a lot more quickly, while avoiding the awesome but extremely inefficient and quite slow car ferries. The POF that they had running between Bremerton and Seattle for a little while made the trip in three-quarters of the time of the car ferry, and new technologies can make that even faster.
        Second of all, more people like to ride foot ferries than buses. The ride is much more pleasant, scenic, and spacious than a bus. This especially applies to the Kirkland and Kenmore to UW routes, as they duplicate buses, but will attract a lot more riders.
        So I think we shouldn’t all be discounting POFs this easily. Once they are in place they will be one of the many important facets of our public transit system.

      36. The reason the Bremerton Seattle POF was discontinued is because it was a money pit. Barges move goods efficiently. As soon as you start to go faster the fuel costs go up in a hurry. Exceed the hull speed the fuel consuption goes through the roof. The State took a bath on the purchase of those boats. There’s was also the issue of shoreline errosion which limits speed through Rich Passage. The Kirkland Seattle run was second only to Des Moines Seattle in subsidy per rider. The PSRC study pegged it at something like $25 per person.

        The West Seattle POF has done OK running in the summer and as a contract service. Going year round, buying the boat and turning operations over to State Ferries I don’t think we’ll even be close to the break even point.

      37. I could see a Kingston-Seattle run (Aqua Express?). A private company ran this for a little while, but couldn’t make it pencil out financially.

        With a top speed of 7 knots, anything through the canal will not compete with other modes. I think the Lake Union Water Taxi has everything covered for Lake Union, so there is any need for additional ferry service. During the summer, they operate a schedule service on each side of Lake Union. Other times, they provide on-call service.

      38. The reason the Washington State Ferries got out of the passenger only ferry business had everything to do with losing the MVET funding and nothing to do with ridership or other factors.

        The boats they bought for the Bremerton-Seattle run were probably a bit large for the actual ridership too, but that was another horse of a different color. I’m guessing WSF would have moved the boats to a Kingston or Bainbridge to Seattle run if they proved too expensive for Bremerton to Seattle and the Rich Passage issues couldn’t be solved (the Clipper Navigation boats they leased a couple of times seemed to have less problems with scouring, something to do with the hull design).

        I’d also like to point out that except for the Bainbridge to Seattle run none of the WSF routes take in more in fares than they cost to operate (Kingston to Edmonds supposedly comes close though). Like all forms of transit and roads ferries tend to require a subsidy. As long as passenger only ferry routes have a farebox recovery somewhere between buses and rail I don’t see the need for a subsidy as being a huge problem.

        I think cross-Sound POF routes from Southworth, Bremerton, Bainbridge, and Kingston to Seattle make a certain amount of sense. However with the current funding structure those routes are the responsibility of Kitsap County. I’m not really sure where they are in their POF ferry program currently, but I suspect one problem they are having is the relatively small tax base in Kitsap County.

        Another POF route that might make some sense is Port Townsend to Seattle. This seemed to work pretty well when WSF was running passenger only boats after the Steel Electrics were pulled from service and before they leased the current Pt. Townsend to Keystone boat from Pierce County. Again given the current funding this would most likely have to be paid for by a Jefferson County Ferry District and again I’m not sure if the tax base is enough to provide the operating subsidy that would be required.

        As for King County, remember even if it was politically feasible a bridge to Vashon would require a substantial amount of up-front capital to construct. Keeping the rural character of Vashon is just as important as keeping the rural character of the parts of East King County outside the Urban Growth Boundary. The lack of direct highway access makes that much easier than it is proving to be in some parts of East King County.

        In any case I believe a passenger only boat between Vashon and Seattle does make a fair bit of sense. Ideally it would be faster than driving onto the Vashon to Fauntleroy ferry and then into downtown Seattle. But even more important than speed is to ensure the service frequency and hours are sufficent to make it a viable commute option. That route has been in the downward spiral of service cuts leading to lower ridership, leading to more service cuts, etc. The current two AM and two PM peak-direction runs are a joke. Furthermore there are no weekend runs which might be used by tourists and people who want to visit Vashon for the day.

        The only other King County Passenger Only Ferry route I see as making much sense is the Elliot Bay Water Taxi. Even with year-round service this route is likely to have a pretty good farebox recovery compared to bus or rail. I don’t see the other proposed routes as making much sense though. On the other hand the ferry districts plan to do two year demonstrations for the 5 additional proposed routes should show how much real demand there is if any.

      39. By any measure ferry traffic is more expensive than every other form of public transit. The County is being forced to cut back on bus service in Seattle. People made decisions about where to live and work with the idea they could count on that service. People moved to Vashon knowing full well what to expect so it’s nuts for the county to be expanding passenger only service while cutting back on buses. It’s not the revenue, its the spending.

        Vashon’s a nice place to ride a bike and ferry service has never been a problem when I’ve wanted to get there. You’re out for a day trip, you plan around whenever the ferry runs. There’s nowhere to walk to on Vashon. There never will be. Blake Island, that would make sense but it’s a luxury. There’s enough pressure on the Parks budget that ferrying tourists around shouldn’t be a priority.

      40. Not sure about the ridership on the Vashon route, but the water taxi has very high ridership and a decent farebox recovery ratio. I’m not sure any of the other routes will match that, but that is why they want to do the demonstration routes.

        The main reason I see the Vashon route making sense is a number of people who live on Vashon are commuting to downtown. With the auto ferries only many will either drive or walk-on then go to a commuter car parked somewhere near the ferry terminal (this is a real problem for all of the East Sound terminals other than downtown). I’d rather run a somewhat expensive passenger only ferry to downtown than have people drive from Fauntleroy to wherever they are going.

      41. Bernie claims, “By any measure ferry traffic is more expensive than every other form of public transit” Yet this is not based in reality. Passenger ferries are a success around the world wherever there is water. The Sea Bus in our neighbor to the north carries over 5 million passengers a year. Ferries in the Bay Area carry 8 million annually with plans to triple that. Ferries work all over the world.

        Ferries compete well because the right of way is free and docks are plentiful. They are adaptable to the crossing and market for service. And important to transit…people actually like them!

        The average Metro bus in the system returns 21% of farebox revenue. The King County Water Taxi covered 46% of its costs and 32% when you factored in the free shuttle service that takes riders to the dense Junction and to Alki/Admiral. It carried 182,000 riders in five months and is already open a month earlier this year and has carried 60,000 riders in two months before summer even starts. It is entirely possible that the West Seattle boat will carry a half-million people annually a few years after it goes to year-round service next year.

        The Vashon boat carries a consistent clientele that is cost-effective to serve. A car and driver to the island costs $18 bucks this summer. Islanders will pay a premium price for a good service. Would we rather have 500 more cars on the streets of Seattle? Farebox return has typically been strong.

        As for the other demonstration routes, I believe this is a modest investment and a good idea. It is a ten-year plan to raise $200 million to fund West Seattle, Vashon, and five demonstration routes with the money to make them permanent. One boat would go from Shilshole to downtown. This route has the potential to stimulate development around the dock, attract cash-paying tourists, and help during viaduct unrest. Another would go from Des Moines to Seattle with high-speed catamarans that would compete well for relatively dense coastal neighborhoods and could help the downtown area.

        The route from Kenmore offers relief for the 522 corridor which will be slammed during 520 construction. Kirkland to the UW makes sense with light rail and the huge employment center at the campus and hospital. And Renton is building a whole new dense urban core on former Boeing property and they want those people to have good connections to Seattle and elsewhere.

        As other posters have said, there are lots of opportunities for ferries all over the Sound. The average Metro bus costs between 650,000 and 1.1 million for a 14 year life. Boats can be leased, bought, or commissioned at pretty competitive prices.

        Oh, and did I mention, people like them!

      42. I guess it’s time to pull out the PSRC Passenger Only Ferry Study again.

        Vashon to Seattle. Fare $3.75 (well above peak bus fares) 18% recovery. Somehow people living on five acres in Duval are evil denizens of sprawl so their property taxes should be used to subsidize a banker on Vashon to the tune of $30 a day to commute from downtown to his island estate.

        The west seattle run is about the best of the bunch and it’s still a hole in the water the county is throwing money into. The fare recovery ratio isn’t anything close to what the ferry district wants you to believe. They’re counting bus transfers as cash. In other words they’re count the same money twice; once to calculate fare recovery for buses and then again for the boat. Even with the funny money accounting the fare recovery ratio for Metro buses is terrible. Holding boats up to that low standard is the mindset that has the county in the deep hole that it’s in. Instead of expanding into new and creative ways to tax and spend get the fare recovery at least up to the national average. Better yet mandate 30% fare recovery like Minnesota.

      43. The PSRC’s Passenger Ferry study is seriously flawed as their own staffers will admit. It did not even take supporting shuttle service into account, which makes a huge difference. I sat in on some of the meetings leading up to the study. The ferry district does not count bus transfers as cash. They count them as riders, but not cash. Tourists and staycation folks pay the cash to make the West Seattle route.

        Boats can operate at about the same capital costs as a bus. Operating costs are somewhat higher, but people have shown they will pay for a premium service. The fare to West Seattle is $3.00 each way.

        The Ferry District is joining the Orca system, so any claims of funny money will be moot.

        If you want to raise the farebox recovery for boats and buses up to 30% you will see millions less riders at the higher fare. Metro is already raising fares again a quarter in January which will bring them up to about 25% farebox. All transit is subsidized heavily as are roads. We simply have a poor funding structure to support transit.

      44. @Ben: “It’s very, very dangerous to give buses more money when we’re having trouble finding funding at all.”

        Um, maybe. But this may be too theoretical/radical of an argument. We already have a problem getting things past the transit naysayers, and this would require convincing the pro-transit advocates too. The voters have shown unusual confidence approving ST2 before Link was running, but I’m not sure we can count on that kind of support on an ongoing basis, especially with money drying up all over the place. So I’m afraid that pushing for pie-in-the-sky rail might leave us with nothing except deteriorating stock.

        But I look forward to your article in any case. And if you can convince me I’m wrong and we can really pull off a major increase in rail, so much the better. Maybe people will be more receptive when gas reaches $5/gallon and stays there.

      45. Look at the rest of my comment, though – what’s been happening for a long time is we push for more ‘transit’, the people afraid of losing again say “but we can’t win if we go for rail”, so we ask for bus service… which gets more expensive every year.

        We have PLENTY of bus funding for a city this size. ST just has to go to ballot in presidential election years. :)

      46. Ben,

        You write,

        When you build rail, it becomes *more* cost-effective over time as density grows around it and your capital investment matures. When you build a bus, it becomes *less* cost-effective over time as fuel becomes more expensive, environmental regulations come into play, and often as sprawl requires it to travel farther and farther.

        That’s true as a conceptual matter. But the question is whether the lower operating costs of rail are worth the huge upfront investments in capital costs. In other words, is a light-rail line, taken as a whole, more cost efficient than a bus route (or some other transportation mode)?

        I have a feeling that the answer to this question depends on the corridor. If ridership potential is very high but is not quite served by buses, then rail might be the better technology.

        Anyway, do you have a report that you can share with us comparing rail with buses? We’d love to learn from it.

        The best such analysis that we’re aware of was done by University of British Columbia researchers, who concluded that trolleybuses and electric trams (basically a streetcar model that is longer than used in South Lake Union) are the most cost effective and environmentally friendly (performing better in these respects than light rail, SkyTrain, diesel-powered articulated buses, and of course cars).

        Here’s a link to the report, “A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes”.

        Again, we think the results will probably depend on the circumstances. For longer trips and corridors needing to carry a greater number of rider, light rail and heavy rail might make more sense.

      47. Ridership potential depends on not only today’s development, but also future development. With rail, you can encourage upzoning and higher density, making it more cost effective in the future.

        Part of the problem with going for rail only in places that are already high density is that those are the places where it’s most expensive to build!

        For all of the 2000 ICT study corridors, rail is a better option than buses. Let’s worry about building those before we start having yet *another* bus versus rail conversation.

      48. Heh… in the paper linked where they compared bus vs streetcar capacity: “Below is a picture of a modern streetcar at peak capacity.” It really, really looked like the South Lake Union Streetcar inaugural run. Hey that’s the Bank of America’s windows outside, oh that’s the orange RIDE sticker, and the orange toned line map up there.

  3. While I live in Pierce county, snd would like to see Link to Tacoma Dome Station, I think it is more important to build East Link first. Why you ask? If I was to commute to Seattle I have the fantastic Sounders and 59(X) buses. I’d say I’m covered. I dont need another mode yet.

    That said, when Link is extended further south, it needs to come all the way to Tacoma and not stop at Redondo.

    1. “Needs to” means you need to start a campaign to fund it. Pierce County leaders said they wanted more Sounder service instead of extensions to Link.

      But Link at Tacoma Dome won’t really be for the commute to Seattle. It’ll be for people in Federal Way to come to Tacoma, or people from Lakewood to get to work at the Port, or people in Tacoma to get to the Airport, or any number of other short-haul combinations. The big ridership will come from the shorter trips!

      1. It’s true that the existence of Sounder reduces the urgency of getting South Link to Tacoma, but I think a lot of Tacoma opponents miss the point you make. A lot of people worry about Tacoma being a bedroom community for Seattle, but what Link would do would be contribute to Tacoma business. Frank Russell is leaving largely because they have a hard time getting enough qualified people to work in Tacoma. Getting South Link to Tacoma, especially if Tacoma Link is converted to integrate, would be a boon for Downtown Tacoma businesses in finding employees from suburbs where people don’t currently consider Tacoma as an option for employment.

      2. Exactly! It’ll take a concerted education effort over the next few years to help that mentality take hold.

      3. “But Link at Tacoma Dome won’t really be for the commute to Seattle”

        … because it’s already 40 minutes from Seattle to the airport, so it will be another 40 minutes to Tacoma. That’s 80 minute on Link vs 60 minutes on Sounder and the 594, and 30 minutes in a car (with no traffic). The only way to get a real express to Tacoma is to get it down to 30 minutes, and Link is never going to do that. But you will be able to get from Federal Way to Tacoma in less than 30 minutes, and from Federal Way to SeaTac, so that’s where it’ll be most attractive,

      4. It’s 36 minutes from Westlake, I think?

        What’s really exciting is that it’ll be 40 minutes from Capitol Hill, and 45 minutes from Campus Parkway.

        The 594 is often as little as 40 minutes outside of rush hour from Seattle to Tacoma, but I think I was measuring from Union Station.

        Of course, even at 60 minutes, Sounder’s guaranteed at that time! Sometimes that’s better than even a nominal 30 minute drive if there’s risk of congestion.

      5. If building up the Tacoma CBD is a goal, reverse Sounders are just as good if not better. Sounder has the speed to make a reverse commute from Seattle/Bellevue to Tacoma a reasonable proposition. Link, fast and smooth as it is, just isn’t fast enough for a commute trip.

        Of course, as Mike points out, even Sounder is not quite fast enough, but with appropriate investment, it is possible to get Sounder close being competitive with driving. Ironically, the same track upgrades necessary to get Cascades up to 100 MPH could do the same for Sounder.

        Furthermore, extending Tacoma Link south (as per the current plan) would do far more to serve the Tacoma CBD right now than extending central link all the way to Tacoma.

        As much as I hate to rain on the “Light Rail from Everett to Tacoma” parade, past Lynnwood and Federal Way, the distance is just too long for light rail technology, even if you stick to the freeway the whole way (which kills your TOD potential). Everett and Tacoma both would be better served by having their own light rail systems radiating from their downtowns into their immediate suburbs, then connecting to Seattle via 100 MPH commuter rail.

    2. The first expansion farther south will stop at Redondo. However I’m sure an extension down to Tacoma will be in ST3. And it’s not just for Tacoma; a lot of it is for Federal Way and its fledgling downtown, and for Fife. And personally, I hope they don’t convert Tacoma Link to Central Link Technology. I think they should extend Tacoma Link and change its name to the Tacoma Streetcar, and extend Central Link in a Tunnel under downtown Tacoma, and possibly to TCC, UPS, University Place, and Lakewood. At some point it would come out of the tunnel to be elevated, or in MLK-style at-grade on some of the wider streets.

      1. I don’t think Pierce county collects enough taxes to be able to afford extensive tunneling.

        As far as I know the current long-range plan is to have Link end at the Tacoma Dome station and to use the streetcar to reach further into Tacoma (Tacoma General, UPS, TCC). Though I can see the merit to extending link at least as far as downtown Tacoma.

      2. Well I’m looking towards 50 years in the future when we have 80% taxes and live under a transitocracy. But in the near term, yeah, downtown Tacoma is far enough for Central Link and the streetcar can take the rest of the city. But the long-range plan is pointless anyways because we’re already studying several extensions that aren’t in the long-range plan.
        And speaking of which, I just stumbled across this page:, which is totally awesome for all us transit nerds. It includes relatively detailed preliminary route, station placement, travel time, headway, and ridership info for Link extensions to Everett, Issaquah, Totem Lake, and a Burien-Renton Line, as well as Sounder to Fredricksburg and Orting and several Tacoma Link extensions to the east and west.

      3. I think these discussions might be better served by a few numbers. Because Tacoma is an old city, the so-called third largest city in Washington and second largest in Puget Sound, and because at one time long ago it was actually bigger than Seattle and long ago there was a rivalry between the two cities, many people have an image of Tacoma as a close second to Seattle, as a city in its own right and not a bedroom community or a suburb of Seattle.

        As a Seattlite, I actually wish that were true. It sucks being the only economic engine in the state and it would be wonderful to share the burden with a sister city. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t bear this myth out.

        According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, in 2010 Seattle CBD is expected to be home to over 200,000 jobs. The Tacoma CBD is expected to be home to about 35,000 jobs. That is less than Bellevue, less than Overlake, less than downtown Redmond NOT counting Overlake, less than Kent, less than Renton, less even than central Everett. By the way, the definition of Seattle CBD used by PSRC excludes south lake union, Seattle Center, Capitol Hill and First Hill. Those would add another 100,000 jobs to the greater Seattle CBD.

        The industrial district in South King County is a far greater economic presence than the entire city of Tacoma. The East Side taken as a whole dwarfs Tacoma with 3 times as many jobs as there are in the entire city of Tacoma. Seattle has 5 times as many jobs citywide, and from a transportation gravity standpoint, Seattle and the East Side function like a binary star, amplifying each other as they pull traffic north from South King and Pierce counties and south from North King and Snohomish counties.

        Economically, speaking, Tacoma is a bedroom community of Seattle and the East Side, as is Everett. These cities may want to be something different and perhaps someday they will be. The rise of the East Side proves that it is possible for very substantial subcenters to develop outside of Seattle, but that’s not the reality on the ground in Everett and Tacoma today.

      4. Where did you get the 200,000 number? I wonder what the definition of CDB is. According to the city, 240,000 people already work in the “center city” with another 80,000 in Sodo and 90,000 in the U-Dist.

  4. Bike tabs as a funding source! But thats political hell…

    You’ll be glad to know we’re starting 30% North Link (UW to NG) engineering soon. Just picked up the 15% designs, eying them over, and are beginning the nitty gritty design stuff come late summer. Did a perlim cost estimate last week for the rail & switches used between UWS and NGS. But the idea of accelerating the design is a little hard. Construction is where it’s acceled.

    North^2 Link (NG north) design on the other hand? HA! At least that one will be “quick” and easy. At grade, some elevated, no dang tunnels…

    1. What we advocates really need is one of those fantastic one-page Sound Transit PDFs saying “This is how much money it would take in years x, y, and z to accelerate this project this much.”

      Want more money for construction? Tell us how much you’d need! :)

    2. One key problem whenever bike tabs come up…. Which is non-residents. Car plates are recognized continent wide, and are required the same. If we place a requirement on tabs, it could prevent out of service area visitors from riding when here. Also, some people who are just outside the service area of a transit route (and therefore not required to have them at home), ride their bikes to the nearest transit service.

    3. We want to encourage people to bike, not just take transit. Any mode of transportation that is more efficient and gets cars off the road is important, and we can’t be creating disincentives for it.

  5. Can we donate to ST2? I use a company provided bus pass, so my contributions to Metro and ST are minimal beyond that. I don’t want to put money in the machine because I hate dealing with cash and it slows the bus down, but if we could donate some money to ST to speed up the light rail construction, I’d be all over that.


    PS: Apparently I’m posting comments too quickly. This is my first comments in months!

    1. Unless you’re talking millions or tens of millions, I can’t imagine it’d be worth the administrative overhead necessary just to take donations and do the paperwork.

      If you want to donate to something, set some money aside now, there will be transit campaigns to donate to. Really! Set up an online savings account for it. :)

    2. Andrew and Ben

      I am going to be asking Rep. Clibborn if she can introduce a bill into Olympia at the next legislative session in 2010. When I met her in April, I asked her if we could have an MVET opt in payment plan for those of us outside the Sound Transit taxing district but who would like to contribute. I am currently outside of the RTA taxing district, but use the 554 from Issaquah all the time. I am not paying for Sound Transit but would obviously like to. Representative Clibborn said I could bring it to her attention again in January, 2010 and I intend to do so. At present we can opt out of funding the state parks on our MVETs so I am hoping that we can opt in for Sound Transit. It is one more box on the form and the choice would devolve to us whether we opt in or not. This measure would not of course apply to those already living in the RTA taxing district. I am sure some of those living in North Bend who commute to Issaquah and take the 554 would be happy to opt in?

      This is a great time for transit generally because the mood in Washington, DC has changed dramatically towards public transit since President Obama took over from an administration that was only too happy to kill Amtrak each year.

      As for Light Rail pushing forward faster, then yes, I would agree with that totally. This is one of the lessons from ST1 we need to address – the glacial pace of some of the projects. Endless comment periods seem pointless to me because the principles of ST2 have already been voted upon and comment periods only give opportunities for opponents, who failed through the ballot to convince enough people to their point of view, to seek other means of derailing projects.

      I would certainly think we could speed up Link to Federal Way. I am also thinking that SEATAC Airport probably needs a station at its southern end – nothing elaborate but some kind of platform to assist folks arriving from international flights to board a train without having to walk about a mile to the main station. Either that, or a shuttle should run to the International Boulevard Plaza once the full line opens in December(?)

      Meanwhile, I would like to see the streetcar accelerated and what is to prevent East Link from starting at both ends of the line simultaneously and meeting up in Bellevue? Do we have to only start at one end?


      1. Please don’t start fighting comment periods. Those are for design, they’re *required*, they get communities involved, and they’re a small portion of the overall time from vote to completion. Getting us more money is what will speed things up.

        Maybe Sea-Tac will later get a southern station, but remember, they walk to the parking garage already. I wouldn’t worry about that until people are complaining en masse in ten years.

        You don’t get any benefit from starting East Link at the other end. We’re money-limited here.

      2. I believe the next station after the Airport is S. 200th which IIRC is close to Alaska Air Group’s headquarters but not near the airport in any meaningful sense for pedestrians. I seriously doubt there will ever be two Link stations at the airport terminal.

        Much more likely would be for the port to build a skybridge to the station with moving sidewalks or some sort of people mover to get people to the station, garage and both ends of the terminal.

  6. In france, where about 20 tramways have been built in the last 10 years, local authorities can implement a ‘transit tax’ which can only be used for transit projects, on businesses over 30 people or something like that, of 1.5% or similar, i can’t remember the specifics but thats the gist of it, also i think they are bringing a similar law through the Lords here (UK) at the moment,
    if seattle had a supplementary business rate (as it’s called here) then they could have a protected source of funding?

  7. I’m not sure why it costs more to go faster on the construction.

    They’re already planning to drill 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the tunnel to UW. We’re not going to accelerate that. What I think needs to happen is we need to have ST review their schedule. The schedule has a hell of a lot of float as it sits right now, and I don’t know if it’s going to necessarily cost any more to do some things concurrently, as opposed to sequentially.

    Why, for instance, aren’t we starting North Link at the same time as U-Link? Maybe this is the plan anyway, but whoever is developing the bid documents for the U-link should be transitioning RIGHT NOW to the North Link. Tunneling has a 2-3 year duration before anything else can happen, so there’s no reason that the U-link station contracts can’t be put off until the North Link tunnel contracts are done. during the economic downturn, construction projects are coming in huge amounts under budget, so it would actually probably save money in the long run to get them under contract while the economy is still down. Wait 2 years to do the N-link tunnels and we will not get the same level of discounts we’re getting now.

    Construction across the country is slowing down. Construction companies are hungry right now. This is the time to be bidding work. The North Link project is past EIS stage, and just needs contract documents prepared and go out to bid.

    Now, if it’s a concern about cash flow for ST, i’m sure they could be given extra authority to borrow money until they get paid back by the sales tax income. Aren’t they going to have to borrow money via bonds to finish anyway? Why not issue some now to pay for early construction?

    The rest of the project (North to Lynnwood, East and South links) still has to go through the EIS process. And i’m not sure what the status is of those areas, and whether they’re preparing one EIS at a time, or tackling all concurrently. If they’re not being tackled concurrently, they should be. That would be an easy way to get it all out of the way quickly, so both other projects would be able to be constructed within a reasonable time. There are fewer tunneling segments on these segments, so construction should go more quickly, once EIS is completed. But that’s no reason to sleep on the later phases of the project until the looming deadline compels action.

    1. Aren’t they going to have to borrow money via bonds to finish anyway?

      You really thought this was pay as you go when you voted for it? It’s no wonder transit is popular when so many people think that it’s free.

      1. You quoted me about borrowing money and then asked if I thought it was pay as you go. I know it’s not pay as you go. that’s why we have to borrow money

        I’m not sure English is your first language.

    2. We’re not starting North Link at the same time as U Link because we don’t have that money yet! We only get so much at a time.

      We could go faster if the state government backed the bonds, I think.

      1. ST is going into debt as fast as the revenue stream will allow them to. You can’t issue bonds without the money to pay the interest. The State could back the issue of new bonds (paid for by who knows what because they’re broke right now too).

        BTW, from the report “For each dollar borrowed, Sound Transit will pay an estimated $1.24 in interest”; that’s 30 year money folks. That’s why the MVET won’t be retired until 2028. Nothing is getting accelerated or expanded until then without higher taxes. Even if ST’s estimates are right there’s $9 Billion in debt to be paid off.

      2. Approximately 51 percent of Sound Transit 2’s capital costs will be paid directly with cash revenues and grants. The finance plan funds the remaining cost by issuing long-term bonds at competitive interest rates during construction, expected to be 15 years. For each dollar borrowed, Sound Transit will pay an estimated $1.24 in interest, a typical ratio for borrowing by public agencies and consistent with industry standards for public projects. The Sound Transit 2 finance plan assumes $895 million in federal matching grants.

        You ignore the first part of that where Sound Transit is financing 51% of the capital costs with pay-as-you go or grants. In theory they could change the mix of debt vs. cash but that would likely result in them paying a higher interest rate and possibly jeopardizing FTA grants.

      3. I’m not ignoring it and the grants are a huge part of it. But look at it this way, if you’re running a balance on your credit card and your balance is increasing every month is there any way to pretend that it’s in any way pay as you go? ST2 is a lot more than just Link. You can’t issue 30 year bonds to buy and operate buses for instance which is why part of the revenue stream has to be spent now but Link by and large is “charge it”.

        I really don’t see how eastside subarea equity can possibly pay for East Link; even with the historically low rates being charged now. The ST tax revenue for east King County are around $100 million per year and about half goes to operating expenses. So even if we zero out other capital expenses that’s only sufficient to make payments on about $750 million in 30 year bonds. I guess we’re banking on major growth to bail us out but even if those projections bare out increasing interest rates between now and the issuance of the construction bonds could wipe it out. I guess we just pray that any major inflation happens after the bonds are issued and then we’re golden.

      4. Well some government capital projects are nearly 100% bond financed so using bonds to finance only 49% is pretty good. Think of taking out a mortgage where you have a 51% down payment vs. 0% down.

        The general thinking is borrowing for public capital infrastructure projects really isn’t a big deal since these tend to be one-shot expenses that last a long time. Where governments get into trouble is where they borrow money for operating expenses since in effect you are just digging the hole deeper.

      5. It’s not 49% of the capital projects, it’s 49% of everything which includes the operational budget. Obviously funding operations with long term debt would be a folly. Buying buses with 30 year money would be irresponsible. ST does a pretty good job with the financing. They are doing a great job of getting federal grants. But outside of the federal money the capital spending is pretty much financed. That’s OK, it’s how you build large infrastructure.

        Look at it this way. Why would they issue 30 year bonds with no payments for five years if they had extra cash? The best investment you could make with excess cash reserves would be to pay down debt. Putting money in CDs that pay 2-3% while running up 5% on the bonds would be silly. They have to keep a certain level of cash on reserve to make sure they can pay bills but if there was more they wouldn’t issue bonds with increasing principle.

    3. East Link is the furthest along of the Link projects still in the EIS process. The DEIS was released last spring and it isn’t too much longer until the Final EIS. North of Northgate and South of S. 200th haven’t even really started yet, but there is quite a bit of time as I don’t think construction on either of those segments is supposed to start for at least 10 years.

      With both East and North link I’m sure a bit of the construction schedule is going to depend on what kind of Federal funding both segments get. As I understand it the expected FTA share for both is fairly low so there is a good chance ST could ask for more money and get it though that depends on future transportation bills and what kind of budget the FTA is given.

    4. To me, even though there isn’t as much as far as the money goes, that makes a lot more sense, to start on North Link. They’re saying three stops-Brooklyn (which makes sense-it’s right in the thick of the U-District), Roosevelt (I would go for something around 75th/15th because you can transfer to the 66, 67, 68, and very easily to the 71, 72, 73, although I have a feeling the 72 could very easily go because many other busses follow the same routing, and one could catch a bus to Lake City from Northgate very easily), and then Northgate (to me, the best place for Northgate Station would be in the land that is just right along the freeway, to the north of the small P&R on 1st NE) and 145th (that being for later). Granted there would be quite a bit of tunnel work, but a lot could be done while U-Link is being worked on. If they are saying that it won’t be opening til 2016, then why not get some North Link stuff knocked out? Not to mention it’s smart because the discounts are higher and people need jobs-this will help create some, so that maybe instead of Link being at Northgate by 2020, we can be up to Lynnwood or who knows, even Ash Way. Lynnwood won’t have a lot of tunneling segments because the freeway medians are a lot wider, and you only need to make 3 stops: Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Ash Way. The latter two already have freeway exits (busses and carpools), so you could attach a station to them. Mountlake Terrace is getting a separate kind-a flyer stop-by 2011, I think it was. It would make a lot of sense to have a station there, in the median.

      1. Well, keep in mind that we’ve known where the stations will be already, for years.

        If you want them to build faster, help them get more money! Why not get some North Link stuff knocked out? Because there’s only so much money! :)

      2. The Final EIS is done for link all the way to Northgate so station locations aren’t likely to change location without a good reason. NE 66th & 12th NE is right in the heart of the Roosevelt commercial district with very good nearby TOD potential (the Sisley properties). On the other hand 15th and 75th has absolutely nothing nearby other than a lot of single family houses. Since Link is currently supposed to surface just North of the Lake City way freeway ramps a station at 15th and 75th would also require additional tunneling.

        I believe the plan North of Northgate is to be in the I-5 right of way but to either the East or West of the actual freeway rather than in the median.

      3. There is no tunneling north of Northgate, and the stations are Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood TC. Roads & Transit had in extending up to Ash Way with a stop at Alderwood in between.

    5. More revenue means you can borrow more, don’t need to borrow as much and can pay back the money you borrowed more quickly. Current bonds will not be retired until 2028 it sounds like, which means its a long time until that money can be “recycled” as Ben suggests, but with a wider revenue pipe, that money could be paid back by 2020, allowing a much faster “recycling” turn-around.

      Also with a wider pipe, a larger percentage could be PAYGO, meaning less money spent on interest and more money for projects. Finally, if you really want to build like there’s no tomorrow, your bonding capacity is directly proportional to your revenue stream, so a wider pipe means you can borrow more and build faster.

      No matter how ST does it, more money = more light rail, faster.

  8. I think we should try to go for funds for accelerating some construction, but I’m not sure how much quicker it could go for a lot of the projects. I think we should also be going for federal money for the Ash Way, downtown Redmond, and downtown Federal Way extensions.
    Just thinking about all the transit projects in our area get’s me so excited! Link opening in July, all the Link extensions in the works, Sounder extension to Lakewood, Tacoma Link extensions (what’s going on with those?), King County Water Taxi year-round service and demonstration routes, Swift, RapidRide… are there any others?

    1. At best we might be able to shave 2 years off construction of ST2, but the real advantage of thinking about acceleration and new revenue now comes with ST3. Money is the only thing that is stopping us from beginning work on ST3 right now. For a single segment like North Link, you really have to do things in sequence, so any single segment is going to take at least 6 years, probably 10, but money is the only thing stopping ST from working on a dozen segments simultaneously. We won’t see major light rail in this region until 2018 at best and probably 2020, but we could, in theory start the Ballard, West Seattle, Issequa, Kirkland, Bothel, Everett, Tacoma and Renton lines right now and have them all done by 2020 if we wanted to raise our taxes high enough.

      I’m also really not opposed to bonding out 50 years or more for this sort of stuff. This infrastructure will last hundreds of years. Why should we have to pay for it all over 20 to 30 years when the benefits will only increase over time. Ask the citizens of New York if they would rather still be paying for the subway today, or not have it at all. I think the answer is pretty clear.

      1. You’ve got a good point about the benefits increasing over time. However, if you bond out 50 years, you run into all kinds of financial risks like higher interest rates and insurance on the bonds.

  9. The main problem as I see it is Sound Transit would need to have additional taxing authority granted to it by the legislature. As for what kind of tax to use I’d say a MVET or property tax would be the way to go. The sales tax is pretty much maxed out as a funding source.

    Another possiblility would be for local governments to come up with funding for additional transit services within their borders. This could include funding additional Sound Transit facilities and services.

    As for where the local governments would get the money, I believe there is some ability for local governments to put property tax levies on the ballot (see parks levy or Medic One). This authority may extend to funding transit capital projects and operating expenses. However I don’t see this as too likely other than maybe for funding the Link tunnel in Bellevue. The City of Seattle is much more likely to want to use a levy for funding expansion of the streetcar network and King county most likely would want to fill the hole in Metro’s budget.

    1. MVET and property tax are my big interests, yes.

      I believe local government would have to ask the legislature for transit funding authority as well. Remember what a big fight the TBD was?

      1. As I said I’m not sure what the exact rules are. But Cities and Counties have a bunch of taxing mechanisms Sound Transit doesn’t have access to. For example using a LID for part of the SLUT funding. I also know there are a bunch of things Counties and Cities can put on the ballot as property tax funded bond measures or levies. Perhaps these can’t be used for transit, but I don’t really know.

        The reason there was a big fight in the legislature over the TBD is the legislature has to authorize any MVET taxes. When that proposal died the other idea was to allow money collected as part of the ferry districts to be used for other transit. The ferry districts don’t require a public vote to impose or raise the taxes

      2. Both proposals made it through the legislature – the governor just vetoed the MVET part.

      3. Oops, my bad, I’d forgotten both the MVET and ferry district taxes were in the bill as passed. So the question is why the heck did the goveror veto the MVET? Irrational fear of Eyman?

  10. Put sales tax on gasoline-devote it to transit.

    Would not violate the constitution since it is not a “gasoline tax” it is a tax on a purchase.

    Also peg the gas tax to inflation so that WSDOT can do its job and pay for WSP services too.

    1. I’ve heard that before, but I don’t know if the legislature would allow it.

      Pegging the gas tax to inflation might require a 2/3 majority vote every time it increased.

  11. I have an idea, how about state lottery scratch tickets featuring the link trains. I believe something like this was done to build the baseball stadium but I’m unsure how much was raised. While we are at it, why not sound transit license plates for our cars?

    1. Okay, I really like the license plate idea. Maybe an opt-in program, a couple hunded bucks at tab time?

      1. The special license plate idea is great!

        In the ST financial plan there’s also reference to taxing authority of $2.50 per employee on business. I don’t think this has been tapped and I’m not sure it’s a good idea but I’m surprised it hasn’t come up more.

  12. Could the merger of Sound Transit and Metro bring in more capital for light rail and buses? Maybe they should combine their resources?

    1. That’s a huge political fight. The county doesn’t want to lose the control they have over transit, and Sound Transit probably doesn’t want to deal with 20-40-40, or the pressure to use capital funds (like Metro seems to be planning on) to fund operations.

      1. I agree, it will be be a huge political fight, but there has to be middle ground somewhere to make it work. Can you imagine the possibilities? More light rail, new trolleys and buses and maybe even cooler name and color scheme. SOUND METRO anyone?

    2. ABSOLUTELY UH-UH. A merger like this will cause many secondary routes to be abandoned. I know this because, through the time of mass railroad mergers, the merged companies abandon any an all lesser-used lines in the system within a few years of the merger. So, to preserve all of Metro’s secondary routes, a Metro/ST merger is a definite no-no.

      1. However, you can argue that some of those secondary routes will eventually be eliminated anyway because lack of funding and resources the two agencies are facing right now. True, some things will get cut out/back, but thats happens with any merger deal(give some take some). I just believe more things can get done quicker and even better if they where to merge rather than be their own separate entities.

  13. Historically, a year or two after the initial segment is opened, the people in the community vote for an extension.

    What I think would be fun would be an ad campaign describing the costs of owning a car as a car tax. “Sure, the road is free…after you pay your car tax. For a lot of people that’s between $500 and $1000 a month- a non-trivial sum. Call them out- list the insurance, fuel, car payments, property taxes spent on roads- and describe it as a tax that the majority forces you to pay when they vote down transit measures.

    And, incidentally, have you paid your car tax? Get that monkey off your back and you’ll have more money to donate to associations (the most effective way of lobbying for change in our society), politicians running for office, and the beverage of your choice. Plus, if you move close to a transit line or your place of employment, you’ll get that pleasant “ahead of the curve” feeling that helps you stay relaxed when others are trying to deal with change they did not expect.

    1. I like that idea quite a bit. Instead of “cost of owning a car”, just make it your “car tax”. Very simple, and gives it a negative spin that ‘cost’ just can’t muster up.

      1. And, when petrol gets to US$5 or US$6 per gallon by the summer of 2011… those trains are going to look verrrry inviting.

    2. Yeah I’m guessing by 2012 a lot of residents in the entire area will have gone on Link and will all be saying “I want one of these in my city!” On the streetcar, too, I hear everyone saying the same thing. That would be awesome if we had extensions to Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, Issaquah, Ballard, and West Seattle done by 2028 or so…

  14. This is completely off topic. Is there anyone else having an issue with Firefox crashing when you visit stb

  15. Dallas Area Rapid Transit expects to make history with its record $1 billion bond issue today . . . For DART, the availability of such a large financial package allows Texas’ largest light-rail network to expand dramatically, bypassing financial roadblocks that threatened to stymie an important new Orange Line that will extend to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport through the suburb of Irving. The authority also has another new line under construction and is extending an existing line.”

    Wow. Can ST get some of these “Build America Bonds”?

  16. Put sales tax on gasoline-devote it to transit.

    Would not violate the constitution since it is not a “gasoline tax” it is a tax on a purchase.

    Also peg the gas tax to inflation so that WSDOT can do its job and pay for WSP services too.

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