Sound Transit is updating its Long Range Plan later this year, and they have released their Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for for public comment through July 28. Please take the survey here!
Though it may seem a distant exercise for the average transit rider and advocate, this is a critically important process because it determines the range of outcomes that are possible a decade down the road. This is the visionary, big picture stuff. If you want West Seattle-Downtown-Ballard rail, or eastside BRT, or a range of other options, this is your official chance to make sure the Board adopts them as options for the next round of development.
If you’re confused about the multitude of scoping studies, corridor studies, environmental impact statements, etc, you’re in good company. I mean, haven’t we been talking for months about Downtown-Ballard? Isn’t that already long-range planning? Yes, and it’s complex, but here’s an analogy.
Think of Sound Transit as a restaurant. Though it may be tempting to think of the long-range plan as the restaurant menu, it’s more like the wholesaler sheet. It’s the unconstrained list of all the things the restaurant could choose to order to make its food. Right now Sound Transit has had the same list of options since 2005, has bought a few of the items for its customers (U-Link, East Link, North Link etc…) and has passed on others temporarily (Federal Way Link). The current update will decide what if anything should be added to this master list. Because Sound Transit is owned by its customers, they are asking you to help them choose what to buy.
But Sound Transit isn’t just any restaurant, it’s a co-op. The restaurant takes out a bond for the approved amount, and co-op owners (taxpayers) pay an agreed rate (sales tax and fares) spread over a number of years. Because of this, Sound Transit knows roughly how much money they are going to get over the next decade or so. They also know that the co-op owners are usually hungry when they order and like to ask for more than is feasible, so the restaurant uses this master list to whittle down its choice to ones it thinks it can afford. But once the Long Range Plan is finalized, the Sound Transit Board will develop a system plan, and that’s more like the restaurant menu. They develop a series of menu offerings from the Long Range Plan based on their projected income and the peculiar legal requirement
to spend equally on all to make sure that each of the 5 separate co-op associations (named the Pierce, Snohomish, East King, South King, and North King ‘subareas’) pay for only their own meals. Once they have their system plan, they present it to their Board to predict if 50.1% of the co-op owners will approve the plan. It may tell the North King co-op delegation that “We can serve you both the Ballard Link Souffle and the Downtown-Burien Custard, but you’ll have to agree to let the Pierce association have the 6th Avenue steak, the Fife cookies, and the Tacoma-Dupont truffles you so dislike. Oh, and they’ll want free refills to continue on Tacoma Link and they want larger Sounder portions.” And so it goes until the 5 subarea representatives and their constituents agree on what each other should eat, and ensure that all their meals cost the same the money raised by the subarea groups stays with them.
As you work through the survey, you’ll notice several previously unmentioned, somewhat bizarre proposed corridors. Corridor 21, in which a West Seattle to Ballard line is routed through both the Central District and Queen Anne, is a bit like a customer telling Sound Transit that yes, they really do want them to offer ketchup on their ice cream. STB asked Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick if they consider all of these to be viable corridors or if they just aggregated public comment, and they said, “The latter. We studied corridors identified in comments during the scoping process last fall.” So if you’re a Tacoma advocate who’s been trying to get high capacity transit on Pacific, or Portland, or 6th Avenue, don’t be worried when you’re asked to review Tacoma to Ruston as a corridor instead. ST is asking you about it because someone asked them to ask you about it. Next time make sure you’re the one asking.
Once the restaurant decides what to offer its customers in its system plan, the co-op association (all of us!) votes on it. We’ve done this twice, and we ceremonially named these votes Sound Move and ST2. The next one will be ST3! If we approve an ST3, then Sound Transit will spend a couple years asking its angel investors (the federal government) and its hundreds of chefs (representatives from cities and counties) to give them recipes for just how each item should look and taste. These chefs negotiate about which menu items should go where, how much they should cost, which to debut first, how they should be salted and spiced, and even how to spend the 1% set aside for garnishes and presentation. It gets complicated when, yes, there are occasionally too many cooks in the kitchen. Tsk.
When it’s all said and done, the menu reflects the items least objectionable to the greatest number of co-op owners. The patron who really likes it spicy might find it a bit bland, the purist connoisseur will notice every cut corner, and the simple meat-and-potatoes diner might think the whole menu to be overthought and wonder what all the damn fuss is about. But the restaurant is looking for something both that it can afford and that 50.1% of its co-op owners will find tasty enough to give a thumbs up.
And that’s how you cook a train. Please comment by July 28, and tell them what you want to be able to order. Of course we’re pretty fond of Corridors F (Downtown-Ballard) and G (Ballard-UW), so we’d love votes for those.