HSR Grants

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


I’m excited to see Washington State receive $590 million in high-speed rail grants. It’s pretty remarkable that our state, with just 2% of the nation’s population, managed to snag 7% of the $8 billion in federal dollars.

As much as I adore Sen. Patty Murray, I’m not sure we can give her office the lion’s share of the credit here. To my knowledge, this didn’t go through the typical appropriations process where Sen. Murray has disproportionate clout. Rather, this is the result of 20 years of work by the states of Oregon and Washington to seriously invest in rail when not many other states were doing so.

In addition to shaving several minutes off the Seattle-Portland trip, we’ll also get a couple of new round-trips per day, and some significant work towards systems which will allow our Talgo trains to hit their maximum speed of 125mph.

This is, also, the perfect use of stimulus money, IMO. You have a long-term plan (pdf) for infrastructure investment that might have been cut because of state budget issues, so the feds come in and play the counter-cyclical role of keeping the project and the jobs afloat until the economy recovers.

Finally, one of the criticisms of the $8 billion fund was that it wasn’t enough to do a national network, and so you had a choice of either putting all the money on one “showpiece” project, or doleing it out piecemeal and maybe not seeing any HSR actually get built. Overall, I thought the DOT did a really good job of balancing those two goals. California and Florida, with projects in the advanced planning stages, got over half the money, and the rest was largely doled out to a few projects in substantial amounts that it could actually make a difference.

SR-520 News Roundup

SR-520 Alternative A+
SR-520 Alternative A+

Well none of us were able to make it to the press conference this morning but here are some news clippings.  [Update from Sherwin 5:34pm: The Seattle Channel has full video coverage of the event here.]

From what I have gathered it was an interesting showing of elected officials from all level of government, something very unusual. It appears that there are divergent opinions among those advocating for something besides the A+, i.e. better transit connections for some, narrower footprint for others, less traffic for others, but the fact that House Speaker Chopp, Senator Murray, Rep. Pedersen, Mayor McGinn and City Council members Licata and O’Brien were all in attendance is interesting never-the-less.  Stay tuned.

Coverage from those that actually get paid to report below the jump.

Continue reading “SR-520 News Roundup”

Editorial: Plan New Light Rail Carefully

West Seattle from the air (wikimedia)

I think a lot of the Ballard-to-West Seattle light rail speculation is getting bogged down in routing arguments.  It’s fun but ultimately colored by our experience of those neighborhoods, and really needs some study data to capture the tradeoffs.

One line of opposition is that some sort of grade decision (e.g., at-grade through downtown) is grounds for opposing the package.  As I’ve mentioned before, despite loose talk of 2012 or 2016 ST3 votes, ST3 is not necessarily close at hand and a regional package faces much higher barriers to passage.  Moreover, no matter how soon ST3 comes, the more the city gets done in the meantime the larger the system will be at any particular point in the future.  Indeed, there is no concrete idea of how big the funding package for ST3 will be, so it’s unclear that it would unlock huge amounts of funding to allow more tunneling.  Lastly, the political takeaway from the defeat of a measure will not be “the package was not massive enough” but instead “even Seattle isn’t willing to support more light rail in the current climate.”

All that said, I’m not really worried about the measure passing in Seattle.  I’m not a magnificent political prognosticator but there’s a solid record that suggests that whether this measure goes to the ballot in 2010 or 2011 or 2015 it’s going to pass.  The real danger is that this plan, due to insufficient preparation, will overpromise and under-deliver.  As project engineering progresses, costs (mitigation and otherwise) go up.  That sets up the traditional Puget Sound funding crisis (see: Sound Transit circa 2000, Monorail circa 2004) where the entire enterprise has a near-death experience or worse.  That’s the real political risk.

It may very well be that the city can put together a reasonably high-fidelity plan for the 2010 ballot.  And of course, at some point before 100% engineering you have to take the planning you’ve got and go to the voters.  However, I hope the McGinn administration heavily weights the maturity of the plan.  For the comments: can anyone articulate what the benefit of going to the ballot in 2010 vice 2011 is, beyond everything potentially opening a year earlier?