Yesterday, we broke word that Susan Hutchison favors putting light rail across SR-520. She re-iterated this position at last night’s debate. This isn’t the first time someone has held this position, but that makes the suggestion no less tired. Hutchison would do very well to read our past research on the subject because her current position is simply irresponsible.
- “We should build light rail on the new 520 with a designated lane”
But in June of last year, we showed why light rail has to cross I-90 first: The University Link tunnels cannot handle Eastside passenger traffic. Light rail across SR-520 would lead to significant overcrowding and poor service performance unless we build another expensive tunnel to downtown. In January of last year, we noted that plans to eliminate future capacity for light rail from the SR-520 bridge saved $400 million dollars — a number Hutchison will somehow have to recover. The engineering challenges of going from the elevated 520 span to the underground Husky Stadium light rail station are significant and difficult. For these reasons, Sound Transit notes that light rail across SR-520 is much more expensive. Most importantly, the current alignment is voter approved: In November of last year, an overwhelming 62% of the voters in King County passed a plan that put light rail across I-90.
- “We should not take lanes away from I-90 for light rail”
But in June of 2007, we showed that I-90 does not lose lanes after light rail. And we showed the corridor actually gains capacity from new HOV lanes in each direction. In March, we pointed out that the federal government funded our center lanes expressly to be converted to rail transit. The state has borrowed those lanes for decades.
- “In fact, [building light rail across I-90] is a violation of the 18th amendment which says roads money can’t be used for any other purpose”
But we reported in July that transit agencies have purchased roads right-of-way in the past before without issue. WSDOT is working with Sound Transit to value the center lanes so Sound Transit can purchase them. Sound Transit is funding the two-way HOV lanes across I-90, and that work can be used as credit toward the purchase. The state is not giving Sound Transit the lanes.
More after the jump…
Over the summer, this blog helped push the state legislature to fund two-way HOV lanes as a precursor to I-90’s light rail crossing. Our actions resulted in “a deluge of emails set off by bloggers,” according to one legislator. The message was clear: Do not delay East Link. We cannot wait. Moving light rail to a new SR-520 span is not only impossible without significant cost increases as well as major compromises in service quality, it would push East Link’s completion date back by years — if it were to even be finished.
The Sound Transit Board has identified a preferred alignment for East Link. The environmental impact process is very far along. Any sort of major disruption for political reasons would be dangerous at this stage, and could very well lead to the collapse of the entire East Link project.
The post was updated at 10:30am to add more clarity about the technical problems with putting light rail across SR-520.