Revenue is expected to be 25% lower than planned because of the recession.

A 25% percent drop in expected tax revenue will force Sound Transit to re-develop some of its 15 year plan that voters approved in 2008, agency CEO Joni Earl told the board today. She said that procedures that voters also approved meant the agency must identify contingency plans if revenue is 5% or more less than expected.

“All elements of ST2 program no longer affordable within the original 15-year timeframe,” read a slideshow given to the board. The detailed budget proposal is available online.

Northgate Slips to 2021

University Link is on schedule and isn’t affected by the recent news, but the CEO’s budget pushes back the start of Northgate service a year, to 2021, “due to design and construction challenges.”

Additionally Earl told the board that the extension from Northgate to Lynnwood has been identified as risky. It may need to be changed if the recession is even worse than the July forecast, and much of the project’s details are unknown since little  has been done on the extension so far.

North King County (mostly Seattle) had the most mild drop in revenue forecasts. It is “only” facing a 16% shortfall, with the rest of the system facing a 28% shortfall.

South Link to Federal Way Reconsidered

South King County will be particularly hard hit, she said, because of a near 31% revenue shortfall. Link light rail’s extension from S. 200th St to S. 272nd in North Federal Way cannot be completed on schedule because of the drain, according to agency officials.

The agency will not recommend any options for that corridor to the board but instead will recommend a $2.5 million study to evaluate the various options to provide high-capacity transit to South King along the corridor.

All options are on the table, officials said. It seems likely that South Link will be terminated further north than expected, similar to Central Link terminating at SeaTac Airport instead of the originally planned S. 200th St station. The line could also be phased later than planned, like the University Link project currently under construction and expected to open 10 years behind the 1996 schedule. Under any option, South Link will undergo significant changes from what voters approved in 2008.

More after the jump…

The study will also evaluate the effect of any changes on extending the line further south to Tacoma, which Pierce County officials have openly acknowledged they want in an ST3 package. Right of way purchases for that planned extension will also be put off in the CEO’s budget.

The agency will still pursue an accelerated S. 200th St Station construction schedule in the CEO’s budget, hoping to move it up from the planned 2020 opening date. The station could be funded with grants because its planning is so far along.

East Link Risks from City, not Recession

A variety of projects in other areas are expected to be completed on schedule, but are identified as having cost and schedule risks. East Link has schedule risks unrelated to the recession, officials said, because alignment identification and design is taking longer than planned. The Bellevue city council has asked ST to build a tunnel if the city agrees to help with costs, but has also been stuck on pursuing a South Bellevue alignment the board finds uncompelling.

The BNSF corridor project that could have built a rail corridor with a partnership will be suspended entirely in the CEO’s budget. The fallback of 405 Bus Rapid Transit service will also be suspended, and will probably not materialize. The Bothell transit center is also canceled. And preliminary engineering from Overlake (Microsoft) to Downtown Redmond will be slowed.

Pierce and Snohomish See Limited Changes

While Pierce and Snohomish subareas are expected to have significant revenue shortfalls, they had initially been budgeted a comfortable surplus to defray costs for future extensions. Though the planned surpluses are gone, the two subareas are facing less perilous cuts.

Still, extending the Sounder platforms for an extra train car will be suspended in the CEO’s budget and likely won’t be considered until an ST3 package is approved by voters well into the future. And four extra Sounder trips will come online a year later than expected. The CEO would have Tacoma Link riders pay a $1 fare starting next year for the currently free system, but extensions of that line would begin the alternatives analysis process.

ST Express Bus service will be implemented slower than expected, but agency officials say that the “demand isn’t there,” but 17,000 more service hours will still be added. Additionally, five routes with “marginal” or “unsatisfactory” performance will see cuts in 2011 and “scheduling and operating efficiency” will save money on eight others.

Additionally, the agency has identified $112 million in savings in other areas, such as cuts in agency administration and ST3 planning, which was over-budgeted according to Earl. She stressed that no maintenance will be put off.

The agency plans to spend $543 million constructing light rail in 2011. The board will work in the coming months to identify the final budget, and is expected to approve one in December. The agency could have proposed a simpler 2011 budget and put off hanging capital problems until later, agency officials said, but chose to be proactive and bring the issues to the board now.

Correction: An earlier version of this post implied that Northgate was “on schedule.” It has, in fact, been delayed a year in the CEO’s budget.

130 Replies to “Earl: Recession Means ST Can’t Deliver in 15 Years”

  1. Thank you spineless legislature, for only allowing sales tax as a revenue generation option (besides MVET, which is small a slice of revenue).

    1. See RCW 81.104.150. ST could impose an employee tax. I wouldn’t blame the legislature for a collapse in the economy. Every source of tax revenue in the country is being hit.

      1. True, but I just don’t see an income/sales tax combination taking as big of a hit as an almost pure sales tax.

    2. Yes our State Government has some issues, but it could be way WAY worse.

      In my home state of Alabama, a disproportionate amount of our state budget comes from sales tax. So every few years we have these kinds of budget crisises (crisisi?) on our hands. This is due to the fact that when our Constitution of 1901 was written plantation owners were still the dominate force in politics so property taxes were capped VERY low. So low in fact that you could double our property taxes and still have the lowest in the nation.

      Not to mention that something like Sound Transit wouldn’t even be possible. Due to the fact that about a 1/3rd of our counties are majority black, county governments have almost no power. Pretty much anything they wish to do has to be voted on by the entire state as an Amendment (we have the longest Constitution in the world). Honest to God I have voted on a Constitutional Amendment that went something like this… “Mobile and Baldwin will create a fund to promote Alabama Wild Shrimp, with revenue coming from X” (btw I live in Escambia County).

      So yeah, this sucks, but it could suck much MUCH more. If you ever start getting down on Washington and need a pick me up, check this out:

      1. “Due to the fact that about a 1/3rd of our counties are majority black, county governments have almost no power.”

        This came as a non-sequitur to me. Maybe I’m missing something. Can you explain how it follows that county governments have no power due to the fact that a third of your counties have a black majority?

      2. B/c then in those counties you would have blacks ruling over the minority whites. If you put everything to a statewide vote, where whites are the majority then that isn’t a problem.

        At the risk of further derailing, if you were wondering which counties I’m talking about, they are the blue ones on the this map.

        Which is eerily similar to this map.

    3. I don’t agree with what I think is your premise, which is that the tax source is generating less revenue and a source that collects more is some how desirable. The fact is that we’re in a recession and have collectively less money to spend. There is nothing wrong, when the taxpayers have less money, for a government agency to slow it’s spending until those taxpayers recover.

  2. I was wondering what that card i got in the mail that said “high capacity transit” and not “light rail” from Northgate to Lynnwood was about. I’m guessing they’re probably going to tell us they have to build crappy BRT for this segment. Sad panda.

      1. Exactly, we voted for “high capacity transit”. A Boeing 737 could qualify as HCT, and would probably be the fastest way from Everett to Lakewood. But because of its high capital and operating costs, it won’t be considered.

    1. No, the reason it says that is that in order to get federal funds for the project, they are required to do a detailed alternatives analysis that takes into account all modes. However, previous studies have repeatedly shown that light rail is the best choice for the Lynnwood corridor, so it will almost certainly still be light rail. As the article says, the North King and Snohomish subareas have enough money left over to still build the extension, if a little behind schedule.

    2. Didn’t we vote for light rail, not for “high capacity transit”? It seems like ST can delay the extension and perhaps install temporary mitigation (more ST Express), but building permanent BRT was not what we voted for. Otherwise we’d be at the mercy of these agencies building something substantially different than what they told us.

      1. They promised light rail, not an alternatives analysis. Their original ST2 budget assumed no new “New Starts” grants. That way they didn’t have to bother with federal criteria and could promise light rail. Since after the vote with sales tax in decline they probably opened up discussions with the Feds who said they had to look at other modes if they could get more money.

        All “studies” that looked at other modes besides light rail were strategically rigged so as to not be as “effective” as light rail.

      2. We literally voted for HCT, according to the plan. Of course, politically it’s clear the vote was for light rail and the board won’t change course on that without a big nightmare. The use of that phrase is not a back door to changing the mode.

      3. Nice try. This is page 9 of the ST2 plan found here

        **ST2 adds approximately 36 miles of new light rail by extending north from the University of Washington to Northgate and Lynnwood, south from Sea-Tac International Airport to the vicinityof the Redondo/Star Lake area near Federal Way, and east from Seattle to Bellevue and the Overlake Transit Center area of Redmond. Light rail trains will provide service to at least 19 planned new stations up to 20 hours a day and every few minutes during peak commuting periods.

      4. Let’s watch the snark. I’m not “trying.”

        The vote was for adopting the broad goals of the Sound Transit 2 plan. The board can legally choose to delay or cut projects, and must (by federal law) not express a legal preference before alternatives analysis. Obviously, politically, and the common sense understanding of what happened in 2008, light rail was the mode choice that voters moved forward. I agree that it would be a bait and switch of BRT served the north corridor, and that’s why it won’t happen. From that perspective, I agree with Orr’s original comment.

        But while people may vote for aspirations or ideas, the effects of their vote are laws and those laws do not fix the mode. This is getting into details that are unnecessary, but we have to be careful with our language to be logically consistent. Did voters vote for light rail to UW by 2006 in Sound Move? Legally, there’s one answer (no) but practically there is another (of course).

      5. Fact: HCT was not in the ballot proposition language. Light rail was.
        Fact: Alternatives Analysis was not mentioned in the ST2 plan. Light Rail to Lynnwood was.
        An overview of Alternative Analysis under FTA can be found here:
        Fact: Politicians write laws. Therefore laws originate from political deliberations. I don’t see how they can be neatly separated.

        The politics of 2008 demanded light rail. The politics of 2010 needs money. Thus, subordination to federal laws is necessary and light rail may be the sacrifice in an honest analysis of potential alignments and modes.

      6. Voters approved ST2, which enacted certain policies into law. Those policies include:

        1) The express desire to fund and build North Link (light rail).
        2) The express ability to cancel or modify North Link if the board decides funding is insufficient or the costs or too high.
        3) And the ability to build another form of HCT in its stead, consistent with ST’s long-range plan, if the same conditions in part 2 are meant.

        I don’t think that 1 was more of the “real” vote than 2 or 3, as these are all policies expressed by the ST2 vote. So what you’re arguing is the purely subjective measure of what voters emotionally resonated with (you say that’s 1, but what if I only “voted for” light rail to Northgate?, or what if you only “voted for” a Bellevue surface alignment through downtown?) rather than the legal document they enacted. Okay, but just because the phrase alternative analysis isn’t in the ST2 document doesn’t mean that it isn’t the legal process that comes from choosing to construct a large transit project for federal granting.

        Are we quibbling over whether voters “voted for” North Link? Well, I suppose they did but they also voted to allow another HCT option in its stead and the ability to change it or cancel it entirely.

        But luckily that isn’t happening and no one is endorsing it for North Link. It is expressly happening for South Link, where that line will be changed, cancelled, or replaced.

      7. Your broader point, which I’ve ignored until now is that ST did not count on federal funds for ST2 rail capital projects which allowed it to express a preference for light rail. However, in Appendix A of Sound Transit 2, ST plans on $895 million in federal funding. Is none of this money — particularly the hundreds of millions in North King — expected to be new starts?

      8. Re: the grants. Yes, you are right and I was wrong. However, that represents less than 10% of the overall capital cost. It was wise to be conservative. But grants include 5307 and 5309 fixed-guideway money that comes to the region and Sound Transit as formula based upon miles of fixed guideway, population, ridership and passenger miles. Over the financing period I wouldn’t be surprised if that number included no competitive grants (including new New Starts). But I don’t know. It could have.

      9. The issue is just whether changing the mode would require a revote. It sounds like it’s a possibility for Northgate-Lynnwood, South Link, and East Link. (the latter because the I-90 lawsuit isn’t settled, we still haven’t tried to run trains on the bridge — we’re just assuming it will work, and the restiveness in Bellevue is draining money. It would be polite to revote the thing if it switches to BRT, even if it’s not legally required. Although of course revoting has its own problems, in that it takes several months, and people could just vote it down because they don’t like taxes anymore. I don’t care as long as SeaTac-Northgate isn’t harmed. East Link gives the possibility of a quantum leap in transit use on the Eastside, like BART, but if it doesn’t happen it’s not the end of the world.

      10. A revote isn’t required, no. I’m not anxious to refight the 2008 campaign because South Link is a few miles shorter or a few years behind schedule, so thank heavens for that.

      11. 3) And the ability to build another form of HCT in its stead, consistent with ST’s long-range plan, if the same conditions in part 2 are meant.

        . . . they also voted to allow another HCT option in its stead and the ability to change it or cancel it entirely.

        I can’t even find the 2008 ST2 law on the web, John. Cite for the above, please (and an link!).

    3. light rail to Lynnwood is safe, in part because it will qualify for another federal grant of near a billion dollars because of ridership.

  3. Another year of buses in the tunnel, sigh. And another year of riding buses from UW station to Brooklyn.

    But it’s a good time to buy real estate in Pierce County along the future Link line, if you can predict where it will be.

    Bye-bye Bellevue tunnel and B7 alignment.

    1. I doubt the 70 series express buses will be going away entirely once U-Link opens. It would be very inconvenient transferring to a bus on Montlake in order to get to the U-Dist.

      At least, I hope.

    2. I’m sure the 70s won’t go away until Brooklyn station is built. That’s why it would have been better if Brooklyn had been included in University Link. But as an early adopter who would use Link to UW station in the interim, I’ll have to either take a bus to Campus Parkway or walk up Montlake Boulevard to the 75 or 30.

      1. I’m in the same boat, where I continue to scratch my head at how the link/montlake 520 stations are supposed to interact.

      1. I don’t know, there have been rumblings from ST, the pro-B2 contingent on the Bellevue City Council, and even downtown businesses about losing the tunnel. People are afraid of an at-grade alignment. Personally, I think Bellevue deserves a tunnel. If we want to promote the dissolution of superblocks over time, we should not saddle downtown with a long impenetrable stretch of railroad. All the more reason B7 or I-90 would be a pyrrhic victory for Eastside rail opposers.

    3. Do we really know if Metro plans to switch the 7x’s to serving UW Station? Or is that just a widespread assumption?

      Given Metro’s track record so far, having the 7x’s provide duplicate service from downtown to UW, and ignoring UW Station, wouldn’t surprise me at all. Sadden me, yes. Surprise me, no.

      1. No one knows Metro’s plans at this point (even they probably haven’t figured this out), but NE Pacific is pretty congested at peak hours so I’m not sure that truncating the 7X’s would be a good idea until Brooklyn Station opens. Plus, I’m not sure there’s enough layover space at the Pacific Pl triangle for both the 44’s and 7X’s.

      2. Splitting the 7x’s in 2016 to have some coming from downtown and some from UW Station would have the unfortunate effect of increasing headway from the downtown to the U-District to approximately 15-30 minutes, and having really bad frequency of buses stopping by UW Station, which is to say a short wait for and quick ride on the train, and then a wait of 15-30 minutes for a bus to get across campus. Well, at least people will get some exercise walking medium distances across campus.

        There are some clever ways to have some of the 7x’s serve both downtown and UW Station. For example, have the 72 start in the tunnel, head up to 45th, come through campus, drop by UW Station, then head north on 25th Ave NE (hopefully in an HOV lane all the way). The 74 could have a similar routing, but turn east at U Village.

        More north-south buses are needed for the bus bridge between UW Station and campus, even if all the 7x’s serve the station. The problem is not just frequency, but capacity. If we really do expect more than a couple trainloads of people to exit the station every 7.5-10 minutes, that ridership will overwhelm the 7x’s. Students may be a hearty lot, but they aren’t all going to want to take the hike across Rainier Vista up to the vicinity of Red Square day in and day out, especially when dry season is in the summer.

        Looking to 2021 and beyond, we’ll still have the transit-unfriendly HOV lane alignment on Montlake Blvd that will allow the one infrequent bus line that uses it (Kirkland to UW) to get to campus a couple minutes faster, while all the Capitol Hill buses get to swerve over from the lid stop to eventually reach the HOV lane. Did I mention that I think the western northbound HOV lane is a dumb idea that will make the whole 520 project be a net negative for transit?

        The darn lack of connectivity at UW Station will mean we will continue to unnecessarily spend extra money not just on the 520 buses, but also on the 7x’s. We’ll also have continued congestion in the tunnel that didn’t need to happen. That congestion loses ridership and costs extra money in service hours…

        … which, in turn, means less money for building ST2.

      3. It just seems un-Metro to reroute the 70s radically in 2016 and again in 2021. Metro doesn’t seem to like to do things twice, which is why I think it’ll probably wait until 2021. It’s no different from the 194 duplicating the airport shuttle. Plus the Pacific Street congestion issue ericn said.

        However, there has been talk of combining the express portion of the 70s with the 66, which would foreshadow Link for downtown, Brooklyn, Roosevelt, and Northgate. Then the tails could be truncated. I don’t know if this will get off the ground. But then where would it run in the U-district?

      4. Mike Orr,

        It doesn’t seem likely that either the 66 or 67 would run to UW Station. There still needs to be bus service through the middle of campus.

        How many buses does that leave serving UW Station? Zero, zilch, nada, from my count.

      5. No, the combined 66/71/72/73 would go from downtown to the U-district to Northgate. It would bypass UW station. None of those routes go into campus. I don’t remember where I heard this, but it was rumored as “something Metro is considering”, not just a transit fan’s invention. It would provide consistent one-route BRT along most of the North Link corridor. This is standard practice in enlightened transit circles (Vancouver), to provide BRT immediately while the rail line is being built.

        I assume the 67 would be deleted, or a short shuttle provided from campus to wherever the BRT route stops. (Why doesn’t the UW itself provide this instead of Metro?) It would be silly to have a 30-minute route in the same corridor as BRT just to provide a one-seat ride to campus, and it would take service hours away from the BRT.

      6. I guess it could be configured two ways. The BRT could mimic Link by stopping only downtown, Brooklyn, Roosevelt, and Northgate. The 66 would be merged into the 67 for 15-minute local service, or one of them could be deleted to give service hours to the BRT.

        Or the BRT could be express to the U-district and then local to Northgate, in which case the 66 and 67 would disappear. Then when Link comes online, the 67 would reappear for local service between the U-district and Northgate (transfering to the 70 for Eastlake passengers).

      7. I believe the rumor Mike Orr is referring to is described in this STB post, which also includes a link to the relevant RTTF report.

        My understanding is that this report is primarily about different criteria for route reductions, and the examples are simply meant to elucidate how those criteria might affect system design. Thus, none of these should be taken as actually serious plans.

      8. I think routing the 7X to UW station would be a very dumb idea. In the AM peak the amount of time it takes between Campus Parkway and UW station is nearly the same amount of time it takes between Campus Parkway and Convention Place station. The PM peak is even worse. Add in the transfer penalty and Link travel times and the trip would take longer than today.

        On the other hand once Link opens to Northgate I think it is worth taking a hard look at all routes North of the ship canal. A serious service revision centered around a primarily grid system and routes between major nodes and Link stations would seem to be in order.

        Furthermore I’d say both ST and Metro need to plan on using 60′ coaches for any route passing by the UW station after 2016. The buses are likely to get overwhelmed with such a major traffic generator nearby.

      9. “I believe the rumor Mike Orr is referring to is described in this STB post”

        Yes, that was it. So they are “illustrative suggestions”, which means the planners think they’re a good idea. But whether they can get past Metro leadership and the county council is a different question.

      10. The reality is that they will need to design service from UW station to the Ave and 45th Street corridor. People are not going to walk that far.

      11. Between routes 43, 44, 48, 271, and 540 alone, there’s a bus from UW Station up 15th every couple of minutes during the day, and at least every ten minutes or so in the evening until late. Adding extra service from the station would be nice, isn’t needed.

  4. I am resigned to the fact that I will be dead before link ever reaches the East side. And I’m only 20!

    It’s such a shame that the East side corridor is dead and a bigger shame that the interurban line is all but lost. Ancient history.

    Curse you Kemper Freeman! (Jr.)

    1. Well, fear not, Colin. I was 22 when I voted for rail transport in 1970, and 39 years later we finally got it and I’m a mostly healthy 62 years old today, and happily riding Link whenever I can.
      The anti-rail bias in the US runs deep and strong. It will never be easy to overcome, and will be particularly difficult in this decade of major recession and looming Tea Party government.
      Be stron, stay active in trasnport politics and one day you’ll be able to take a train across the I-90 bridge, though I might not.

    2. Suspending the Eastside rail partnership is probably a wise move. There are very perplexing roots behind support for Eastside rail that run with generally conservative pro-BRT groups like Cascadia and the EBA. But aside from the politics of it, that corridor should not be a priority for passenger rail, atm. It’s not worth it with East Link contending for precious subarea funds.

      1. Yeah, that train pretty much left the station with the Wilburton Tunnel. Plus Renton, for reasons I don’t understand, wanted to kill the rail line. Silly perhaps but it’s over.

      2. Renton had several blocks of street running near their downtown. I think they wanted the trains off the streets. However, I think they could have pushed to have a rail viaduct built. I don’t know if the rails have been removed in Renton but I wouldn’t be surprised if the city pushed for that. Not saying it’s right.

      3. The line through Renton is still in active use; BSNF delivers to Boeing in north Renton several times per week. Of course, it’s a fraction of the traffic that the line saw 30 or 40 years ago when it was party of the Milwaukee Road mainline.

      4. The BNSF corridor may be useful for north-south Link someday. Putting heavy rail on it may doom us to low frequency or peak-only commuter service, and the inability to dip out of the corridor for stations in higher-ridership intersections. Light rail would also be able to share the ROW with a trail better than heavy rail, I think.

  5. More information: Here is the resolution by the ST board to put ST2 to the ballot:
    Section 2 allows them to modify the plan to meet funding constraints. Totally appropriate. The ballot language is shown and HCT is nowhere in the ballot language. Light rail was the promise. It is inevitable in times like these that they re-consider the merit of light rail. But do understand the promise was explicitly Light Rail.

    1. I don’t think the merits of light rail are being re-considered. This conversation is not occurring. And regardless of what was politically promised, what was legally promised was a much lower bar.

      1. Yes, well-written contracts (especially one-way contracts) always have clauses to eradicate the party who can’t follow-through with the contract as advertised.

      2. M-Man, chill dude. ST assumed a big federal grant for Lynnwood. While it’s maybe 10% of the overall ST2 capital program, it’s more like 40-45% of the lynnwood project-level funding. OK? Now, getting that federal money requires ST to start with “alternatives analysis”. Basically the feds won’t rely on the local planning process, so they are making ST jump through the mode choice hoop again. It’s all good. Whatever makes the feds comfortable enough to give the region another $600 million large is OK with me. It’ll be LRT to Lynnwood, and it will be a kick-ass system.

    2. “Totally appropriate” Really?

      Every democracy in the world is based on the idea of representative democracy. We elect politicians to make decision and just because the economy tanks doesn’t mean we need to vote on anything again. The stated goals of ST2 are clear and ST board, made up of elected officials, will do what they were elected to do, make decisions.

      ST is required to do alternatives analysis because of the EIS and transit funding process but they can make any choice they want at the end of the day. For example WSDOT is building the tunnel regardless of what the EIS says. It is necessary to have the information but that in its self doesn’t mean agencies have to change their decisions.

      1. WSDOT is building the tunnel primarily because they have been directed to do so by the Governor. Let’s just be clear, WSDOT is not a policy making organization. There is not a WSDOT Board as there is a ST Board setting policy. I’m vehemently against some of the projects that WSDOT is doing but as a State agency they’re pretty efficient at doing what they are told to do.

    1. I agree. The story is that Northgate light rail is pushed back and South Link is at huge risk of changing radically, or not coming at all. And we’re talking about the use of the word “HCT” — probably required to adhere to federal law — in one slide.

  6. Tacoma Tomorrow has an article up about how this budget also puts a $1 on Tacoma Link, along with a few other small things in Pierce County. I think it’s good that they’re charging some kind of fare, although I think it would make more sense to make the Tacoma Link fares the same as Pierce Transit’s fares. This is especially in preparation for a Tacoma Link extension, which would almost certainly not be fare-free.

    1. Instead of charging a fare on Tacoma Link why not just start charging for parking at the garage? It seems like the issue of converting Park and Ride to Pay and Ride is the third rail of local transit politics.

  7. How can Western Australia, a state with a population of just around 2 million, build a 65 km long high speed 130 km/h) rail line through mostly established suburbs and bring it online in less than 4 years for 1.5 billion while in the same time period Seattle is still just talking about finishing theirs? I grew up in Seattle and I used to be proud of it. Now I just wish they would get their thumbs out.

    1. I sooooo Agreeeeee.
      This news ruined my day.
      The national gov’t needs to establish that infrastructure bank they are talking about right away, so we can build our transit system!!

      1. Because the US is broken. You want a vibrant, forward-looking, can-do country, move somewhere else — there are dozens of choices.

        At its root I think the problem lies in unwillingness to fix centuries-old governmental design errors (like the malapportioned US Senate), or perhaps in unwillingness to provide education which would cause voters to recognize that these ARE design errors. The design errors result in a dysfunctional federal legislature, and most of the rest of the trouble follows directly from that.

      2. Another factor is the deep US dislike of cities. This is unique in the western world. Europeans see cities as their defense and the achievement of civilization: the walled cities protected them from robbers roaming the countryside. But Jefferson disliked cities, as did a lot of southerners and others, because they saw them as concentrations of wealth and power and elitism and immorality which was anti-democratic and often used against them.

        As cities grew in the industrial revolution and the workers lived adjacent to the factories in slum conditions, the cities literally were “unhealthy, polluted, crime-ridden, rat-infested”, etc. In the 1950s and 60s, pollution and smog and dirty water was a more serious problem than it is now, due to a lack of environmental controls.

        So for both imagined and real reasons, Americans have long moved to suburbs and small towns and rural areas. And with the anti-urbanism comes religiosity and a hatred of taxes. Not by all anti-urbanists of course, but by enough of them to influence the nation’s trends.

    1. A pretty lame response, Bernie. This isn’t about how pie-ful the plan was, but the fact that revenues are down for every level of government dramatically.

      First, there’s nothing to say we’ll pay longer (yet). But there is evidence we’ll pay less than the initial plan because many projects have been cut to the bone.

      1. There in lies the fallacy. I will continue to pay the the full sales tax increase on everything I buy until these projects are completed (which looks like for all practical purposes, never). The fact ST has less money than they’d optimistically “budgeted” for during a boom cycle doesn’t mean I have any more money in my pocket. The record stands, every measure, be it STx or the nickle gas tax consistently over promises and under delivers. When you vote, remember that.

      2. Every measure over promises and under delivers, except when it doesn’t.

        You didn’t point out a fallacy and I suppose I missed it. I don’t think ST budgeted ST2 optimistically, since they had a 15% buffer between engineer estimates and expected revenue. They assumed a lower tax revenue growth year-over-year than entities like King County, and lower than what had historically occurred in the proceeding decade. I wouldn’t guess that any revenue estimate, from any entity public or private, from July of 2008 was over the last few years but I suppose you can attempt to find a counter-factual.

        This is different from Sound Move, where ST made a real mistake in its cost estimates. This recession has affected every level of government, from Bellevue City to Sound Transit to Washington State. No one lied about or gussied up their revenue estimates, or at least the burden of proof for that claim would fall on the accuser.

        Do you think the world is as simple as a few simple axioms? Is your solution to vote down every measure that asks for tax revenue or to simple lower your expectations? Do you believe the summer of 2008 was a “boom cycle”? Did you foresee (or, was it obvious) the depths of this recession in the summer of 2008? Or November 2008? Why aren’t you rich from shorting?

      3. Bernie: You, if you behave like the average resident of the area, are paying less because you are buying less stuff on which you pay sales tax. That’s what it means when sales tax revenue goes down.

      4. I’m not rich from shorting because, 1) that’s not allowed in a IRA where most of my money which I could possibly avail myself of this strategy is held and; 2) highly leveraged investments invariably fail. I was primarily in cash when things collapsed. Of course I was in cash two years “early” so I didn’t “time the market” and make a killing. I also haven’t put any money into hording gold but if I could short that I sure as heck would!

        Every measure over promises and under delivers, except when it doesn’t.

        The original 520 bridge paid off the bonds ahead of schedule. Since then what ballot measures have over delivered? If a business fails because it over estimated profit based on a boom then they’re smucks. When ST does it it’s a “revenue problem”. Too big to fail? Some how, Kemper Jr. the guy folks really seem to rally around hating but has been through a few of these boom bust cycles isn’t throwing in the towel. He’s been on the ropes before and learned from that experience. Government, not so much.

        No one lied about or gussied up their revenue estimates, or at least the burden of proof for that claim would fall on the accuser.

        The issue is, just because I’ve got this great job now do I mortgage the future on the assumption it’s going to last.

        Is your solution to vote down every measure that asks for tax revenue or to simple lower your expectations?

        You don’t have to lower your expectations if they aren’t artificially inflated to begin with. Let’s look at the second Narrows Bridge. That’s something I didn’t really like but it was done for a fraction of what 520 is costing and will be there a century after the new 520 temporary pontoon bridge is crab habitat. It is being paid for by tolls. To cover cost of the silly 520 project with it’s freeway parks for Medina and Hunts Point (where our legislator live) that is supposedly funded would require a $30 toll. At that point you could run ferries.

      5. If a business fails because it over estimated profit based on a boom then they’re smucks.

        Do you not agree that nearly every company, if asked to create a 20 year revenue picture in the summer of 2008, would have completely over-estimated their profits? I think that this is likely the case.

      6. The record stands: when the state and federal legislatures refuse to fund any public transportation infrastructure properly (i.e. significant, straightforward grants from corporate and income taxes), local governments have trouble managing to fund them locally.

    2. What is new? We were going to pay how much it takes to implement ST2. There’s a difference between paying more and paying longer. Notice how a lot of government plans happened to “underdeliver” after the recession? Pretty convenient for the ST critics.

      1. “The original 520 bridge paid off the bonds ahead of schedule.”

        Uhh, Bernie, even you have to admit that was a terribly weak example.

      2. I also pointed to the new Narrows, or Second Narrows as the “new” Narrows replaced the one that fell down (still confusing since the 2nd Narrows is really the third one). The “Parallel” Narrows was a public private partnership where the builder actually makes their invenstment pay off using the tolls. There’s arguments over “commuters” vs. Joe Blow rates but there’s no arguement that users are willing to pay the construction costs. Nobody is willing to pay fares that would support light rail. It’s only being built because the cost is spread across a tax base that for the most part will never use it.

        There’s a difference between paying more and paying longer.

        Paying longer costs more, much more. If you’re 8 years into a 15 year mortgage and refi for another 15 years you’ll get a better rate right now and your monthly payment will decrease significantly but in the long run you’ll pay more…. a LOT more.

        I didn’t refinance the house or run up the credit cards during the boom. If I’m spending less it’s because we now have a car payment on a brand spanking new automobile I would never have bought if Patty and Maria hadn’t kicked in $4,500 of free money… THANKS! Double thanks since sales tax on the purchase was refunded! Gee, not enough sales tax for transit but no sales tax on new cars… hmmm.

      3. Paying longer costs more, much more.

        Only if you’re borrowing the money. If you’re saving until you can make the down payment, it won’t cost you much except time.

      4. “Paying longer costs more, much more”

        Not necessarily. Sound Transit has a AAA bond rating which would give it access to favorable rates. With construction costs what they are it *may* make sense to borrow. Somebody who took far more math in college would need to do the numbers to see if it makes sense though. It’s a gamble, either way you look at it.

  8. The problem with North Link is the proposed alignment. Yes, it’s probably five or six minutes faster between Alderwood Mall and Northgate to hug the freeway, but it’s a transit desert. The ONLY place that might possibly support TOD between NG and AM is SW236th at the Mountlake Terrace station.

    That’s a long effing way with no density.

    You simply cannot densify very much at 145th because two quadrants of the interchange are occupied by rural environments. To the southeast is Jackson Park and to the southwest is Lakeside School. Those are both venerable establishments and aren’t going away any time in this century.

    The northeast quadrant has an existing Park ‘N’ Ride which will probably be the station and it’s surrounded by fairly inexpensive homes, so perhaps some development can occur in that quadrant. I’m sure the neighbors are going to yell at me for suggesting it though.

    The northwest quadrant has similar housing stock so it could be re-developed too, especially if a pedestrian walkway across the freeway to the P’N’R/station were built. And there are a couple of churches who might be willing to sell out for the big bucks. Again, the people who live there will have a say about that, though.

    At 185th the northwest quadrant is mostly occupied by Shoreline School district and its athletic field. Now that might be a bit of an evening and weekends destination, but it’s certainly not going to be a big commute generator or draw. The other three quadrants are typical very low-density Shoreline housing.

    There are 500-car garages planned for each station, 800 cars at Mountlake Terrace a honking (pun) 1,900 car garage at Lynnwood TC and 1,300 cars at Ash Way.

    OK, that’s a total of 4,800 cars, most of which will deliver one person to the train. Since there really can’t be much TOD anywhere except Mountlake Terrace (and maybe Lynnwood TC although only to the south of the TC is there any buildable land) how are they gonna fill up the trains?

    Of course they’ll be full south of the U-district, but it’s a darn long way from Lynnwood to the U with nowhere to do TOD.

    Unless they divert to Aurora north of Northgate.

    But they say it’ll take six to ten minutes longer and they’ll have to “elevate” it the whole way. To which I say, “If you’re not going to do reserved ROW at-grade in the boonies, why didn’t you just use heavy rail technology? It carries more people and you don’t have that damned catenary to maintain.”

    1. I think Aurora/99 is the wrong corridor for North Link. Don’t get me wrong I think some form of rail all the way from Everett to Seattle is a great idea with lots of TOD potential. However it should be its own line rather than some half-assed thing tacked on to North Link.

      I will say 15th between Northgate and Montlake Terrace is a great idea. It still sllows the TC’s in Snohomish County to be served while putting the Shoreline stations in better locations. Both 145th & 15th as well as 185th/175th & 15th have substantial amounts of retail around them, mutilfamily housing and lots of potential for greater development. While ST would have to find land to build parking and a station there are suitible sties both at 145th and at 175th/185th. Even better if the parking can be incorporated in some sort of mixed use development.

      1. Besides, RapidRide E and Swift take care of that. You could also take Sound Transit’s frequent 510 if you’re in a hurry. If ST were to allow a transfer between Link and the 510 an Mountlake Terrace, you’d avoid the Seattle traffic issues.

      2. I don’t consider RapidRide to be a serious answer to anything. If the implementation was closer to Swift then I might be inclined to agree with you.

        Besides in the long-term I see BRT on Aurora/99 as an interim measure until a rail line can be funded. Note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% grade-separated light-metro style rail but something along the lines of MLK or the MAX Interstate line could work, at least North of 105th. South of there the line would need to be elevated with either an expensive tunnel or bridge across the ship canal.

      3. I always thought it’d be an interesting idea if they put a fast streetcar in the current bus lane and got rid of the street parking after the bus lane ends. If there wouldn’t be any wire switches, a simple rapid trolleybus line would also suffice. 45 MPH should be maintainable in an ideal world.

      4. What’s wrong with Link turning to Aurora around Northgate Way? Then a future Link line from downtown or even RapidRide can simply go up Aurora to meet it and terminate there.

      5. “You could also take Sound Transit’s frequent 510 if you’re in a hurry”

        Not if you’re coming from Ballard or Greenwood. You’re supposed to go downtown to catch the 510 and then backtrack?

      6. Chris,

        There is nothing south of 105th that’s worth serving in the Aurora corridor. It’s all completely developed and fully gentrified at relatively low density. The east-west street access is uniformly horrible. so you really can’t put a string of high density along Aurora south of Evergreen-Washelli. And as you noted, crossing the Ship Canal would cost well in excess of a billion dollars.

        Ain’t gonna happen.

        But, north of there you certainly can have plenty of “string of pearls” centers. The land between Linden (where the tracks would run) and Aurora is uniformly auto-oriented low end-retail and is ripe for mixed use developments.

        Sure, leave some of the auto shops, but most of the stuff there could move into the lower level of a four story mixed use building without skipping a beat.

        If the line turns from the Interurban ROW right at the southwest corner of the cemetery, the line could hug the south boundary of the cemetery over to Meridian, taking only eight houses. Now it is certainly true that those houses are very desirable because the back up to the cemetery, making them quiet with no through traffic. They people who own them should certainly be very well compensated for the taking.

        There will never be parallel lines along both Aurora and I-5. They are too close together and would drain each other’s drawing area.

        Keep express buses on I-5 for morning peak ridership and build a transit spine along the already well-developed Aurora corridor.

        Yes, it has to be elevated between 165th and 220th in Sno County, but that’s only four miles. Everywhere else it can go at-grade.

        Your idea of using 15th NE has some attractions, but I would venture that it will have to be tunneled at least to 145th. The good burghers of Jackson Park are not gonna stand for an “El” on 15th NE. That make the 15th NE route impossible, superior to I-5 for TOD though it is.

        As to the 65 acres of school land, well, that does sound pretty good until one realizes that “downtown Shoreline” is 2/3 of a mile to the west, along Aurora. What will be allowed there? Will it be a mixed development of the sort that Aurora supports? Or will the Shoreline City Council knuckle under to the demands of the nearby neighbors and insist that it be high-end housing? I expect the latter.

      7. Anandakos,
        There is plenty of TOD potential South of the cemetery, lots of crappy low-rise development at the end of its useful life, seedy motels, large parking lots and the like. The corridor has the advantage of having the sort of density that supports transit today. Especially between Woodland Park and Seattle Center.

        For E/W connections you have 105th, 85th, 46th, 38th/Bridge Way, Fremont, Mercer, and Denny (though I’d expect such a line to divert off Aroura to pass the East side of the Seattle Center if it was built).

        As for crossing the ship canal it wouldn’t be cheap, but I don’t think it would necessarily be $1 Billion to do it. Heck if you really want to do things on the cheap you could have the line swing over to Fremont Ave down across the Fremont Bridge and back up Dexter. Run streetcar style in mixed traffic where the ROW isn’t wide enough to allow the line its own lanes. That said I’d rather see a tunnel under the ship canal so an underground station could be built in the middle of Fremont.

        In any case the notion of such a line is all pie-in-the-sky at this point. Heck even getting real BRT along the lines of Swift between Downtown Seattle and Aurora Village seems like some far-off dream. Instead we get “RapidRide” which promises to be little better than the existing 358 service.

        If Link North of Northgate swings over to Aurora/99 it is very likely going to need a tunnel between Northgate and Aurora and probably won’t actually turn onto Aurora until just South of 130th. Furthermore I don’t think the old Interurban ROW is the best place for a light rail line as it is a bit off 99 proper and is hard to access from the other side of 99.

        An additional issue is unless you use the old Interurban ROW between Aurora Village and Lynnwood you miss the Lynnwood TC area (the next Bellevue) you also can’t serve Alderwood or Ash Way in a future expansion.

        I’d say the challenges of getting from Northgate to Aurora are about equal or greater than getting from Northgate to 15th. That said I’m sure both alignments will be considered along with I-5 at some point in the scoping/EIS process. Frankly I won’t begin to speculate on how the Pinehurst and Jackson Park neighborhoods would react to an elevated light rail line. Given the fairly high transit usage in those areas they might welcome it as a huge mobility improvement.

    2. Actually, one of the reasons Shoreline favors I-5 is that there is a surplus 62 acre site owned by the school district at 185th that is ideal for TOD.

      1. I didn’t realize that, are there plans in place for development? Or are we too far off to think about that…

    3. I agree with this comment. The I-5 line to Lynnwood will carry pretty much the same market as current express buses – that is, extremely peak oriented and directional towards Seattle. At very high cost is adds little value, but will increase travel time the farther it goes due to intermediate stops. There is precious little opportunity for any transit-oriented development around this line; it will have almost an entirely commuter/park-and-ride orientation.

      An Aurora alignment would be a completely different animal. It would have the opportunity to develop pedestrian nodes along its length and develop an all-day, two-way market over time – while maintaining an excellent commuter bus service for the freeway to Seattle park-and-ride commuter crowd.

  9. A couple things:

    1) Why not build now since construction contracts all seem to be coming way below estimates? Maybe the lower construction contracts will match the lower revenue forecasts thus allowing us to build the system?
    2) Why can’t we ask the federal government for more money a la the initial segment and U-Link?
    3) Why don’t we build “light rail” and not “light metro” like it seems like we’re building now? Copy more of Portland than Vancouver?

    1. 1)Not enough cash flow
      2)I’m sure they are trying to get as much money as possible
      3)Because it is the only way to serve capitol hill and UW.

  10. “East Link Risks from City, not Recession”

    That makes it sound like it’s Seattle’s fault. “East Link Risks from Bellevue, not Recession” sounds correct.

    1. I agree. But I would suggest we try to fan a groundswell that says build it faster and cheaper and smarter.

  11. Origonally no fare was charged on LINK because they calculated that the costs of fare collection would outweigh the revenue brought in by the fares. It’ll be intresting to see how they implement the fare collection, either by using onboard equipment which would probally work just as well for LINK, or installing full schidt and bachmann machines, or the smaller parking kiosk types with orca stand alone equipment. Also it’ll be intresting to see if they just offer link only valuyes for the monthly passes and the like.

    1. One assumes that ridership on Tacoma Link is now up to levels where the costs of fare collection would be covered by the collected fares, then. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if ridership has gone up significantly since initial estimates.

  12. I keep hearing about revenue shortfalls…but never the explanation.

    Wouldn’t a region that is having stratospheric population growth (rolls eyes, but plays along) have record high tax revenue?

    1. The explanation has been quite clear: people are buying much less stuff, so sales tax receipts are down. They are down much more than expected because of the protracted recession. Therefore, even the most realistic models made prior to the recession have been optimistic. Population growth in the region hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for drastically lower sales tax receipts.

      It’s also not “stratospheric.” A very interesting video explaining the exponential function recently made another round on the Internet. For example, at 7% population growth, the population will double in 10 years. This is irrespective of the size of the current population. In terms of raw magnitude, 7% may or may not seem like a large number of raw people.

      We know population growth behaves more exponentially than linearly, and model it as such. In fact, quite a few things in our world benefit from exponential or logarithmic responses rather than linear ones.

      1. I’m trying to think about what people could cut back on during a recession that would create such a catastrophic decrease in revenue.

        The only thing I can think of is automobiles.

        Do you think that car sales are the main contributor to sales tax…and ironically to “mass” transit?

      2. You remember the big drop in gas prices in 2009? Some of it was people driving less (no job; frugality) but most of it was industrial production being curtailed. Less production means less jobs means less spending means less taxes. Housing construction and furnishing was a big chunk of the market (read: sales tax). In Las Vegas and Phoenix it was the majority of the market; in Seattle less so but still significant. As people move in with relatives they don’t buy furniture or hire painters. SUV sales are down, and with it the big profit margins they commanded. I suppose tourism in Seattle is down too? If you don’t buy big-ticket items or toys or eat out much anyway, your purchasing habits may not have changed much, but other people’s have.

      3. Not necessarily. It’s a reflection of perceived demand for housing (or offices, or…). It can also be affected by the ability to get credit.

      4. “So, surely “construction activity” is a measure of population growth. Yes?”

        In some cases, but not where I live. “Construction activity”, at least during the boom, was mainly related to the building of bigger homes to replace older and smaller ones. A family of 4 used to live in a home that averaged around 1200 square feet 30 or 40 years ago. A few years ago the “average” house built in South Bellevue was pushing 3-4000 sq feet. It was so bad for a while that even the city of Bellevue was looking at code changes to restrict the growth of McMansions.

  13. I want my train to Lynnwood. I’m fine with paying more. I’ll pay double if they can make it all the way to Everett.. :)

  14. It’s probably going to sound like a silly idea to a lot of people, but what if we just took up a collection? Getting these light rail projects done is important, to me anyway, and I don’t mind paying a little more to help move things along. I wonder if Sound Transit has a way for people to make donations? Or for that matter if they’re even allowed to take donations?

    1. I don’t see why not. Public schools take donations all the time as do public hospitals, parks, zoos, etc… Why not public transportation? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of someone giving donations to a public transportation agency.

  15. Absolutely pathetic. It takes too bloody long to build anything here …except for freeways of course; highways recieve massive amounts of funding while transit gets like 2% of that. I would’ve thought these clueless politicians would see the trend: roads keeps expanding and the traffic worsens.

    Way to go Seattle, keep expanding those roads…
    …and I once thought Seattle was green, smart and evironmentally friendly; I stand corrected.

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