Photo by Oran

Sound Transit’s annual Citizen Oversight Panel report is always a good read. Written by an unpaid group of interested and technically qualified citizens who are given inside access to the agency, the report won’t satisfy Sound Transit’s most dedicated detractors, but is usually a candid assessments of agency problems without too much press-release happy talk.

This year’s entry focuses a lot on internal organization issues that don’t directly impact riders much. However, it does mention ” the need for better systems to handle service disruptions and [how] the agency actively responded to this need with increased staffing and new procedures, especially in Central Link.”

We’ll have to see, but at this point I’d have to give them an incomplete. The reaction to service disruptions has undoubtedly improved, but it’s only with tonight’s track work that we’ll see if ST is following through on its reported commitment to make Link usable during maintenance times.

The COP also has some issues with cost reporting, ORCA customer service, and the delays in picking an East Link alignment, including the final EIS that was supposed to be done last year.

The appendices are especially interesting for in depth progress reports. U-Link and East Link are below the jump.

For example, for U-Link:

The overall U Link project began with 176 days of schedule float. Due to inclement weather near the end of the year, ST granted four additional days to the contractor for this delay, reducing the project float to 172 days. U Link continues on schedule to begin service in September 2016. The project is also within its estimated baseline budget of $1.948 billion. The project began with $422 million in contingency funds which have been drawn down to $383 M. The contingency draw-down rate is slower than construction progress, an encouraging sign.

For East Link, there are four big risks:

  • Bellevue’s $150m commitment to a tunnel has not identified a funding source, and ST’s financial situation makes finding the other half difficult.
  • Bellevue’s disagreement with ST over the B segment: ” While the ST Board has the ultimate decision authority to select the best alignment… the City Council has the ability to create road blocks, delays and added costs for the project.” This is expected to use up most of the project contingency.
  • Technical concerns about placing rail on the I-90 bridge, which can be explored by construction of a prototype track on an expansion joint.
  • The Washington Supreme Court, which should rule soon and which ST can do little to affect.

There’s much more on Sounder extension, transit security costs, and Link ridership in the report.

71 Replies to “2010 Citizen Oversight Panel Report”

  1. However, the current Council majority’s preferred B7 alignment does not meet these criteria and, most recently, the Bellevue City Council is requesting yet another extension that would cost ST time and effort and further delay the project. COP commends the Board for its focus on the fact that any alignment decision must serve not just limited interests in Bellevue but must serve the system needs to connect urban centers throughout the region. We believe the Board recognizes the need to serve the entire Bellevue community and the larger Eastside.


    1. Between the scandals, self interest, and mounds of data, I really doubt this will open their eyes or make them think differently :-(

  2. “Technical concerns about placing rail on the I-90 bridge, which can be explored by construction of a prototype track on an expansion joint.”

    What “technical concerns”? All that was worked out before the ST2 vote. There is no problem with this proposed conversion. All the experts say that, and nobody can prove otherwise!

    1. No, not all the technical concerns were solved prior to ST2. Today, the design of East Link and the Lake crossing isn’t even complete. The passage of ST2 funded the design. More info on how a transportation project works:

      One of the biggest concerns of the project is stray currents from the electrical systems (rails and OCS). If not controlled, stray currents can corrode the rebar inside the concrete faster and weaken the bridge. These currents are very dangerous to the bridge and could easily cut the lifespan in half if not properly dealt with. This was a concern problem with the ULink project, but it was much, much easier to solve since an electric train in a tunnel is a 100-year old concept.

      Some other technical challenges:
      -Degradation of a rail and direct fixation system in a marine environment
      -The bridge and steel rail expand and contract at different rates, so the issue is how to deal with this difference
      -Weight of the additional infrastructure
      -How to fix all this stuff to a 3″-6″ thick bridge deck slab
      -The shape of the roadway (it’s not level in any direction)
      -The bridge moves, a lot

      Keep in mind this is the first time in history a rail line will be installed permanently on a floating bridge so there is very little data out there to examine. Engineers are carefully designing it as they go along. A test section would be a great aid in assistance to design and to make sure the system has the highest level of safety.

      I’m a bit curious, are you an expert in this field? If so, what is your background and technical knowledge of this situation to make this sort of claim? I’m curious because as someone with technical knowledge of the situation and who has worked on this project in the past, I disagree.

      1. If he was, he fooled me pretty well! If not, hopefully I can shed some light on a complex problem.


        They have done a reasonable amount of homework, especially about the weight issue. As they point out, suspension bridges aren’t perfectly level, fixed or rigid either, and that has been done in that past.

        Note that I’m not claiming to be an expert on the subject, just reading some of their docs.

      3. OK, so the FLOATING bridge thing is unique to Seattle, but rails across bridges — with expansion joints even — are NOT new. Even electric railroads. Even electric railroads across suspension bridges, which move. A lot.

        Most of this should be pretty straightforward to address, although I would expect a lot of research into prior best practices.

      4. There’s a ‘youtube’ video of the Manhattan Bridge in NY that shows how it twists and turns every time a subway train runs across – looks almost like Galloping Gertie in Tacoma during the windstorm that brought that bridge down.

        I suspect the floating bridge has less movement.

        Interesting that the original Tacoma Narrows bridge, and the Manhattan Bridge, share the same designer…

    2. There is no problem with this proposed conversion. All the experts say that, and nobody can prove otherwise!

      Yeah, the same experts that designed the bridge to be “rail compatible” yet we just finished replacing those expansion joints that failed with just rubber tire traffic. Of course since you learn from your mistakes we must have the best pontoon bridge engineers in the world since we’ve got the world record for sinking bridges.

  3. Oran, I see you captured one of the new ULink vehicles in action! Nice catch. They must have gotten them tested and certified pretty dang quick!

    Also, very glad to hear ULink is on time and on budget so far. Looking forward to September. Only 2000-some odd days!

  4. Can anyone answer why there are so many floating bridges around here? What is the benefit of a floating bridge over Lake Washington?

      1. and besides, nobody else builds them. It’s an easy way to get world records for longest bridge of type x.

      2. Being as it’s actually the fifth-longest, I would say that was not the motivation.

      3. So it’s due to the depth of the lake. I wonder nobody proposed an underwater bridge, which wouldn’t need nearly such tall pilings. :-) I suppose that would be more expensive.

      4. When it wad built, it was the longest. The 520 bridge is now the world’s longest.

    1. The water is really deep–any other type of bridge would require no fewer than one support (and that’s being REALLY generous) that would have to go all the way down the floor of the lake. It’s definitely possible to do such a thing–it’s just really expensive. Floating bridges are cheaper.

      1. Can’t the same be said for the Golden Gate crossing of the bay? I’d imagine that water is deep. A nice little suspension bridge to Mercer Island (perhaps double decker, one level for Link) would look amazing.

      2. The currents under the Golden Gate are also a lot stronger than in Lake Washington, which makes a floating bridge unfeasible.

    2. When the crossing’s long, the water deep, and the bottom muddy, floating bridges are the cheapest option.

      1. Floating bridges are the cheapest to build but they have a short life. Shorter when maintenance workers fail to follow procedures, storms hit on holiday weekends, etc. but what are the chances of that happening? And besides two out of three ain’t bad :=

        On a suspension bridge you don’t put towers in the middle; they’re actually pretty close to shore but that can be adjusted with the arc of the cable. With a cable stay bridge you have even more options on tower location and can even turn a corner midspan. They also are built high enough that they don’t need to open for ship traffic. The new 520 won’t open either because they are significantly limiting the height of ships and putting the tallest passage at the other side of the lake from the ship canal. I’d note that bridges are also opened to relieve stress during storms. We won’t have that option any more with the newer Lake bridges.

      2. Yeah, well when gas hits $500/gallon in two years all of the oil is going to have to be transported by sailing ships again :=

      3. Bernie: looking at the maps linked by DWHonan, a suspension bridge where I-90 crosses would have to have an exceptionally long main span and/or towers in very deep water. I suspect a new floating bridge every 50 years or so still comes out cheaper.

      4. No, a new bridge every 50 years is not cheaper because you can’t buy a bridge in 50 years for the cost of a bridge today. Compare the cost of what the 520 project is to what the original bridge cost. Conversely, Julie Meredith P.E. from WSDOT estimated the cost of rebuilding 520 as a suspension bridge as $4 billion (the “floating” design saves only 10% and has less than half the life expectancy).

        The only good thing about a new temporary pontoon bridge is that maybe in 50 years we’ll be able to get rid of it entirely.

      5. Bernie: Either your 10% number or Julie’s statement that the suspension bridge “would exceed…the likely cost of the entire SR 520 corridor from Seattle to Bellevue Way” must be incorrect, unless the bridge itself is 90% of the total corridor cost.

      6. Also, it’s hard to tell but I don’t think the towers of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are in 200′ of water.

      7. I just published the letter I got in response. To the credit of WSDOT if you pose a reasonable question you do get an answer. WSDOT for years exaggerated the depth of the lake by 100′. It’s amazing how transit advocates are willing to drink WSDOT Kool-aid when it suits the purpose. Well, not that amazing. Sort of like how when I proposed the current Link alignment in Overlake to hug the freeway was ridiculed instead of the stupid route on NE 20th which was abandoned. News flash, it’s the politicians in charge that dictate what’s published and they have no engineering expertise. The engineers do what they’re told or look for another job. If they stand by principle they’re replaced with someone that will tow the line and is likely a lousy engineer.

      8. Another problem with floating bridges is they can’t tolerate the water sinking or rising beyond a narrow band. I was at the locks once and the operator said that one of the main reasons they regulate the height of the water in the lake (dumping water out during the spring melting season) is for the floating bridges.

  5. OK, I’ll say it….The report sucks, big time. Not one mention of the fiasco at Mukilteo with its missing shelter, but talks about the gargantuan waste of meoney at Edmonds.

    Also from the report: “ST also worked hard to listen
    and respond to customer feedback and to become more nimble in responding to service
    disruptions which some customers were frustrated and angry about.”

    Lets face reality, it was the continued media coverage and persistent complaining about how ATROCIOUS their customer service was while “on the fly” during slide disruptions. If it wasn’t for people yelling at their congresswoman or man and also King 5, KOMO, etc, then in turn them notifying/talking to ST, we would still have customer service levels equating to garbage, imho.

    Hard to see why one would take this report with any sense of accuracy. The knuckleheads didn’t even visit Mukilteo, and didn’t even suggest more stations be put in on the north end. The south end has plenty of info about it, and ST’s new Sounder yard and facility.

    ST is a joke for the most part. I’ve adamantly voted pro-transit for years, but ST has royally messed that up. Guarantee now on I will vote the opposite. If they cannot or are unwilling(which is the case) to not even put up a shelter for its paying passengers, then in my opinion a few of their upper crust guys should be left out in the Alaska cold for a day or two, maybe even a week.

    Cheap agency with expensive tastes…..

    1. You draw interesting conclusions: The lack of a shelter at one locations means the entire report should be disregarded.

      1. Of course I’m drawing conclusions, why shouldn’t I do so? With only four stations on the north end, the one that needs the most work, and would do wonders for rider morale and help push the pro-transit agenda along, doesn’t even get mentioned.

        I’ll say it again, ST is a ridiculous joke hoisted upon the tax paying public. I admire many of the hard working blue collar women and men at the street level, and I thank them on the spot for doing their job, but someone at the top should have their a** canned, period. They obviously don’t give a hoot about many aspects of Sounder, or maybe they’re biased towards the south end of the line.

        Prove me wrong by putting a shelter up there, or get it on the ST god leaf table next to their lattes so they can finally get some real work done. Yeah, I’m mad at ST and I have a right to be. If they did at least half a job I wouldn’t be complaining.

      2. I don’t even know what you’re talking about with the Mukilteo shelter. I can’t find anything about it online. I do see that ST has a capital project to replace the current temporary shelters there with a full station.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if Sounder north is low priority. It’s easily the least cost-effective service ST runs. Far more people use Sounder south.

      3. I’m certain they’re biased towards the south end of the line — the north end of the line can never be very productive until they get (1) protection from landslides and (2) double tracking, and for some reason those are going very very slowly.

      4. Looking at it from a purely economical standpoint, it makes sense that they would favor the Sounder South Line over the North Line. It has higher ridership and thus brings in more revenue.

      5. And I wasn’t questioning your right to draw conclusions, but rather the methodology in which you did so.

      6. Also, Sounder south improvement projects in Pierce and South King don’t come out of North King subarea money, and thus don’t compete with Central Link the way Sounder north has to. Once again, I suspect ST is putting its money where its riders are.

      7. Bruce, North King hasn’t paid anything for North Sounder (that’s at least partly why there are no Sounder stations between King Street and Edmonds), all of its maoney has gone to Central Link, U Link and Notth Link. North Sounder was paid for by Snohomish, and South Sounder was paid for by South King and Pierce.

      8. Also, just to drive the point home, North King hasn’t paid for any ST Express service or capital projects, but I do believe there are some ST buses that serve Seattle downtown and U-District and Northgate.

      9. How would you double-track it without cutting into the hillside or moving the entire line elsewhere? Likewise, how can you prevent slides without moving the track elsewhere?

      10. Good point, Mr. Orr. ;-) That line is not in a good location, and global warming’s only going to make it worse.

      1. Brent, I rarely use the shelter because more often than not I ride either 1700 or 1702 back to Mukilteo, and in the morning I take CT’s 417 or 880.

        The shelter issue I have is simple, I’m not asking for a fancy piece; like I said a container w/cutouts will suffice.

        As for commutes, I feel the pain. I just got home half-hour ago here to Coupeville after my usual three hour plus jaunt. I often have to ride out the elements here for lengthy time. I’m into this shelter not solely for myself, but all riders deserve it.

        I don’t fault ST wholly for giving the south end more attention. But if they want the north end to succeed then more has to be done. The slides and dt’ing the mains are of course imperative.

        But in my experiences, say for example on the Oaxaca line; or the CH-P Copper Canyon; and Mexico’s most elusive passenger run in Felipe Pescador, Zacatecas to Torreon; these all have one thing in common. They know how to improvise. I know here we have to deal with litigation….thats the biggest hindrance.

    2. Talk about a lack of interagency communication – the Sounder stops at both Edmonds and Mukilteo could be seamless Ferry > Sounder transfer points if WSDOT and ST could ever come up with a transfer schedule that works. Due to the fight for fares, WSDOT wants to encourage as many car drivers as they can and would never make the transfer easy. Imagine if you could pay one fare for both the ferry and the Sounder ? Only in a perfect world…

    3. I don’t remember all of the issues involved but the delays at both the Edmonds and Mukilteo Sounder stations aren’t entirely ST’s fault. Originally both were planned as ferry/rail/bus intermodal terminals, I think the idea of combining with the ferry terminals has been dropped due to WSF’s budget problems and inability to play nice with other transit agencies.

      Past that ST has attempted to accommodate the cities in the station design. Even once all of that is done there is still a need to go through the permit process.

      Finally as others have pointed out North Sounder is a pretty low priority, even compared to other Snohomish county ST projects. I believe the freeway stations and P&R along I-5 have gotten much more of ST’s budget and attention.

  6. Bruce, I completely concur with your statements about the north end being the least cost-effective. Clearly Sounder north is a low priority, not even mentioning it in the report proves that.

    So, why should one even pay for the service at all if its that low on STs “radar”, so to speak. Just try and evade is a valid option for some, I don’t blame those who do.

    The proposed shelter is now just one big hole in the ground, with bits of rebar sticking out for good measure. Combined with the cyclone fence, its really starting to look like the beginnings of an eyesore.

    I’ll say it again, and again. This cheap-a** agency decided to use all of the funds at Mukilteo, and not finish the job. They could’ve had the foresight to have a back-up plan, in this case a twenty or forty-foot long container with cut-outs like those you see next to construction sites downtown that doubel as a sidewalk.

    Its a cheap and easy solution, but ST WANTS to blow money out the water, my money no less. They could’ve done something, but chose to tell the passenger to jump in the lake instead.

    If they want the north end to succeed, then fix the shelter. expand service to more stations(Richmond Beach, and Ballard Interbay). Put up a simple one stall platform for handicapped access, and we’re good to go. More riders on the north end is what’s needed to make it more cost effective. They should make the last northern Amtrak Cascade train stop at Mukilteo as well. Current service puts it at 6:15 pm for the last arrival, whereas with Amtrak it would be close to 7:30.

    The fact that all the other trains except for the Builder that don’t use the Mukilteo platform is a joke. Here again is a case of agencies within the same govt. not being able to get their act together to have a maximum efficiency plan for this and other platforms. Total joke. I don’t want to hear excuses as to why it can’t be done.

      1. No station, just a container. I agree, spend as little as possible. The future is up in the air as to the dock vs. train platform.

      2. A container would be an eyesore, get tagged and then someone would call the media who’d then run breathless stories about how Sound Transit was making passengers stand in something that looked like an old dumpster.

        The lack of a shelter (and Amtrak service, for that matter) at Mukilteo have been reasonably explained. I hate to break it to you, but there are other places with much more ridership potential and fewer construction issues, and ST is focusing its money on those places right now. There are uncovered bus stops near my apartment in downtown Seattle that have more passengers in an hour than Mukilteo would even if Sounder ran every 15 minutes all day.

    1. The fact that all the other trains except for the Builder that don’t use the Mukilteo platform is a joke. Here again is a case of agencies within the same govt. not being able to get their act together to have a maximum efficiency plan for this and other platforms. Total joke. I don’t want to hear excuses as to why it can’t be done.

      No excuses, but simple reality: Because the WSDOT/Amtrak Cascades service is not designed, nor intended to be, a commuter operation stopping at every possible populated location along a route. If that’s your last-resort option to get a train north from Seattle, take the train to Everett, thank the conductor for a smooth ride, and transfer to a bus back to Mukilteo. (Likewise, Stanwood Station was a waste of taxpayer funds because it has low ridership, interrupts a long distance of 70+mph running, and spoils any opportunity of Cascades ever achieving 3-hr Seattle-Vancouver service.)

      An unfortunate consequence of ST choosing to run Sounder North along the BNSF mainline (which, as I pointed out a couple weeks ago, was the cheapest alternative) is that it utilizes an existing line that was built to move freight traffic with the best economy. Half of the area that *could* supply riders is, instead, open water. Nevertheless, ST chose to implement a service that topography makes all but impossible to duplicate with buses. If ST had chosen the alternative with potentially higher ridership — the Woodonville Sub through the I-405 corridor — then there wouldn’t be any Sounder service at all in Mukilteo or Edmonds.

      1. Mukilteo is defintely more than a commuter stop, its immediate proximity to the island guarntees it as a bona fide passenger stop.

        Your point about east side via Woodinville is well taken, and one where I’ve advocated for years. I rode daily on the Burke to Bothell for work, and consider it as a bike path a waste.

        But west side needs service as well. I’m not asking for gobs and gobs of gooodies, just a freakin’ container.

        The platform is also under utilized, so install a Quik trak machine, make a deal with Amtrak and get the Cascades to stop, especially on the weekends.

        Otherwise, what the heck? Under utilize it, why?

      2. I don’t understand why Mukilteo Station’s platform is so far away from the ferry dock. Seems like putting it under the 525 overpass would have made more sense. Maybe they needed to put the platform in an area that has siding? Anyway it makes the potential Ferry > Sounder transfer more difficult for passengers.

      3. “I don’t understand why Mukilteo Station’s platform is so far away from the ferry dock.”

        At least partly because WSDOT is planning to build a new multimodal ferry terminal. This is a long-delayed project that ST was waiting on to do a more improved station. ST is also stalled on a property transfer for the Air Force tank farm property.

      4. I believe the reason for Stanwood station was largely political. Something about a certain Transportation Committee chair from Camano Island.

      5. ST chose to implement what the voters approved: a line on the coast track from downtown Seattle to Everett. How would a line from Everett to Bothell get to Seattle, and would it take twice as long? It already takes twice as long to get from Seattle to Everett via Sounder/Amtrak than to drive (not counting traffic). An Eastside Sounder may be a good thing but there isn’t the huge concentration of jobs as there is in downtown Seattle, so it couldn’t be the first line. Suburbanites expect transit to downtown; they don’t expect it as much to other places. That bias is really strong in Snohomish and Pierce counties. They don’t want to hear about other regional transit routes until you’ve got the one to downtown covered.

    2. Why should one pay for the service at all? Well, perhaps because people outside the taxing district will use it. Right, Anthony? The job of the Oversight Committee is to get value for its taxpayers. Riders and tourists are secondary.

      I guess the answer to your desire for a decent shelter, then, is to ask the ST Board to raise the fares on North Sounder, so they can provide these amenities. And then ask your local representatives to add Coupeville to the ST taxing district.

      1. Brent, fair enough. I believe that people should pay for the services they use, and I regularly vote for Island Transit when it comes up on the ballot here in Coupeville.

        As for riders and tourists, the more the merrier. They only help increase ridership and spread the word about passenger rail being back along the shores of the Sound. Doesn’t matter whether its commuter or Amtrak, having the options is a very good thing for everyone.

      2. I’d sure love to hear more about the state of Island Transit and Skagit Transit.

  7. ST really needs to work with partner agencies more in streamlining service along a given corridor. Reduce duplicative routes for everyone; streamline service should be the motto of the day. John doe dosent care if its a metro bus or a ST bus on a given route, he wants a bus that is there and ontime and clean and well kept.

    1. That’s up to the other agencies. ST can install all-day express buses from Seattle to Snohomish and Eastgate. It can’t force CT and Metro to stop running duplicative routes.

      1. ST does respond somewhat to the duplicative service. The 554 has more runs off-peak because of the 212, for example. Of course, one runs in the tunnel and one runs outbound on 2nd Ave. Oy!

Comments are closed.