Los Angeles is asking for a federal loan as an advance on its transit tax revenues, in a plan that would take a 30-year rollout of transit projects to just a 10-year schedule that saves money in the process. Would a plan like that work for Sound Transit 2’s regional light rail expansion? Publicola reports that it just might:

This week, Bill LaBorde, policy director with Transportation Choices Coalition (a mass transit advocacy group), is in Washington, D.C. meeting with staff from Reps. Jim McDermott’s and Norm Dicks’ offices and Sen. Patty Murray’s office to make the pitch. (LaBorde was also planning on dropping in on Reps. Jay Inslee and Adam Smith.)

Sound Transit has not reviewed or put their official stamp of approval on TCC’s play for a light rail cash infusion from the feds to speed up construction, but LaBorde says Sound Transit told him that lacking cash flow is a factor in the elongated timeline.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick tells PubliCola “more money sooner is better … there are [Sound Transit] projects that could probably move faster if there was money sooner.”

However, he said Sound Transit would need to look at the details of any plan before signing off on it.

With a relatively tight schedule already, we could probably save just a few years with a federal loan, and we’ve already heard from sources at Sound Transit that experienced project managers are hard to find. But a loan of some kind may simply be needed to keep ST2 on schedule, as the “conservative” part of ST’s revenue forecasts have largely been eaten up by the deep recession well before most design work has even began.

And building sooner has some benefits…

This post continues after the jump…

While getting projects done years sooner would be a boon to the region for obvious reasons, an earlier completion date would also have some less apparent benefits. Construction costs are at a low point due to the recession and getting projections done earlier would dampen the effects of inflation — which affect construction materials stronger than consumer goods as nations like China modernize.

The Transport Politic notes that this is exactly what a national infrastructure bank, which Obama and some national legislators have proposed, would be perfect for:

If anything, L.A.’s proposal is the best example yet of a project that could really take advantage of a national infrastructure bank, which could provide low-interest loans to governmental agencies to pursue major projects of future importance. The bank would be able to rely on Measure R as an assurance that it will eventually get its money back, and L.A. will be able to benefit from a quick advancement of its rail and bus systems, creating a veritable rapid transit network that in the United States would rival only New York’s in route length.

But the national infrastructure bank does not yet exist. Nor does the Federal Transit Administration have the funds or mandate to pursue a similar policy. So, unless Congress acts on its own, Los Angeles’ transit plans will continue to be relegated to a thirty-year timetable.

Congress seems unlikely to develop a national infrastructure bank in a reasonable time, so if LA is going to get a federal loan against future tax receipts it seems only fair to trade some votes for a similar plan for Seattle.

22 Replies to “Could ST2 Benefit from Federal Loan?”

  1. Fantastic proposal.

    I have advocated much the same in this blog.

    We need to do it now.

    I think this is also a good time to buy up foreclosed and derelict properties and raze them to build bigger right of ways, more boulevards, avenues and free up cramped streets.

    The basic template for light rail is set. We can do many lines in parallel. No need to build them one-by-one.

    1. Bigger right of ways and boulevards are the *opposite* of what we need. Most of our streets are too wide – widening them makes congestion worse, not better.

      1. You think Broadway, all the way to Roy is too wide?

        You think 45th through Wallingford is too wide?

        You think Rainier Avenue is adequate?

        You think West Valley with only two usable lanes is wide enough?

        You think Central Avenue in Kent is wide enough?

        You think Lake City Way is wide enough?

        You think….

      2. Yes, all of these could be put on a road diet. 45th, especially. Build rail from Ballard to Children’s and then put bus lanes on 45th.

      3. Yep. And narrowing the lanes and road width makes for safer pedestrian crossings, tends to get drivers to stay closer to the speed limit, and provides lots of other benefits as well. Road widenings, in most places, are a really really bad idea.

      4. Well, maybe we won’t need wide roads if GM builds this:

        http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9174128/GM_unveils_2_wheel_self_driving_concept_car?taxonomyId=11

        GM unveils 2-wheel, self-driving concept car

        “General Motors Corp.’s vision of the city driving future includes entails two-wheeled, two-seater electric cars that can automatically navigate through traffic while connecting passengers to their favorite social networks.

        A concept car, dubbed Electric Networked-Vehicle or EN-V and showed off in Shanghai by the automaker yesterday, tops out at 25 miles per hour and uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and vehicle-to-vehicle communications to find the least congested and fastest routes. The vehicle can be run manually or driver-less, according to GM.

        The company said it hopes such vehicles will be populating city streets by 2030.”

      5. The ones that you mention as not being wide enough are the perfect width to get great pedestrian-oriented retail going on along the street. A wide street is for going through; a narrow street is for going to. Rainier is plenty wide enough, as is Lake City Way. I don’t know much about Kent but in general adding more roadway space creates more congestion. They’re thinking of slimming down 23rd to just one lane in each direction, and one thing they’ve said about that is that other arterials with one lane in each direction carry about the same number of cars as the four-lane 23rd.

      6. with the amount of money it would take to buy up property, and widen all these roads would be astronomical, not only to the city’s budget, but also that of local businesses, and forget about calm residential streets.

        That kind of money could easily build more underground light rail.

      7. You think Broadway, all the way to Roy is too wide?

        You think 45th through Wallingford is too wide?

        You think Rainier Avenue is adequate?

        You think Lake City Way is wide enough?

        You do realize that any attempt to widen these roads would be quite expensive. The property needed to add a lane or two isn’t going to be cheap.

        In addition you have the problem that buildings on one side of the street or the other would need to be demolished which isn’t going to be popular with the public, not to mention the lawsuits on environmental and historic preservation grounds.

        Furthermore tearing out one entire side of the street would destroy neighborhoods like Broadway, Wallingford, Columbia City, Hillman City, and Lake City.

        It would be far cheaper and far less controversial to build a light rail subway through these areas.

      8. I don’t know. I kind of see Aurora being turned into a Haussmannian “grand boulevard” sort of thing.

        Not Broadway or 45th, but definitely Aurora…

      9. I’d love to see Aurora given the same treatment as MLK was through Rainier Valley. I don’t think it needs to be widened, just tamed.

      10. In general the entire Puget Sound is rife with North/South routes and devoid of East/West.

        Trying to get cross town anywhere on a weekend in Seattle is horrible.

        You can try 45th, 65, 85 and so on, and they’re all clogged.

      11. What would really help is if less people had to get into their own personal giant metal box when going crosstown.

    2. Agree completely.

      I wonder why they wouldn’t be willing to lend at the federal reserve rate to transit agencies who are doing viable large scale projects. If the cash flow is there to pay it back, seems like a no-brainer.

      In today’s construction environment, projects across the nation are coming in at well below estimates because everyone is hungry for work.

      General Contractors I talk to who used to go turn in a bid and there would be maybe 2 other GC’s bidding the work, now they show up and there are 10 other contractors at the bid opening. Now is the time to be a customer in construction.

      1. edit: i agree with the first part of his post. not with the bit about widening roads… I guess i should’ve read the whole thing first.

        IMO, Lake City Way, which I drive every day, is just fine.

  2. Lord knows we didn’t have qualified project managers on the Sounder extension project through Tacoma, the Berm vs. Post and Beam issue – a prime example of a corporate boomer f**k up.

    Also, we should start expecting greater efficiencies from both Sound Transit and our Contractors as we go forward building additional lines.

    1. Sounder’s Lakewood extension actually appears to have been designed with exemplary engineering, *and* exemplary consultation/social standards.

      Certainly they should have figured out that a grade seperation would be needed a long time ago; the delay from the failed all-at-grade plan was substantial.

      They designed just about the best possible grade separation, however, and explained it with really maximum public involvement. I don’t know why some idiots thought that a long fenced-off post-and-beam structure with vagrants and garbage collecting under it would be better than a low berm with a wide three-span bridge, but people are strange….

  3. Just because we get a wider ROW doesn’t mean we’ll widen the road. There are lots of great things we could do with more ROW. We could make sidewalks wider, provide more bike lanes, and most importantly, we could create planting strips that are actually large enough to allow for healthy street trees.

    1. …and those same planting strips could be wide enough to lessen the sometimes-difficult pedestrian-tree interactions we have now :)

  4. I hope the infrastructure bank gets some traction. The Federal government can afford to be a tad less risk adverse than the market for muni bonds is. Also the Federal funds rate is cheaper than even what AAA munis can get.

    Another advantage is project funding by the Federal Government can be done somewhat retroactively by forgiving principal rather than construction grants. So say ST could start a project now, work on the FTA FFA and have the money pay down what is owed once the grants come through.

    There is still the issue of debt limits which are state and local laws and would need exemptions for infrastructure bank projects. Even with such exemptions the ratings services are likely to look at what an agency owes the infrastructure bank when issuing bond ratings.

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