The Long-Range Plan studies are done, providing the Sound Transit Board with a menu of projects with which they can compose the next ballot measure. That assumes that the legislature, one day soon, gives them the authority to do so. But now that they have the price list for various projects, how much money would there be to spend?
In principle, the legislature can do whatever it wants in granting revenue authority, although what regional lobbyists request will shape the legislation. To provide some form to this exercise, I’ll make two assumptions:
Subarea Equity. Under current law, Sound Transit must use money collected in each subarea in that subarea. In principle, new legislation could change this rule, and no less than the Mayor of Seattle is in favor of doing so. A transfer from high-revenue, low-demand East King to low-revenue, high-demand South King has its merits. However, regardless of the law, a substantial transfer of funds from one area to another is likely electoral suicide. ST sent me the most recent revenue projections for 2009-2023 (below), which state that tax revenue from Snohomish, North King, South King, East King, and Pierce will arrive in the ratio 1 : 2.4 : 1.2 : 2.0 : 1.4, respectively. Of course, different taxes will generate money in different ratios, and the ST3 revenue period will be different than this one, but using this is much better than a wild guess.
(Before you take these actual numbers and start buying stuff, note that these are year of expenditure dollars, while the ST Long Range Plan figures are 2014 dollars. In other words, the LRP projects cost more if you’re using these figures.)
Paced by Everett. The principal objective of the Snohomish County delegation is to complete Link to Everett, and although variants of that differ greatly in cost, there aren’t really any competing projects. As Snohomish County also generates the least tax revenue, it’s hard to imagine regional leaders asking for less than necessary.
In the Everett-Lynnwood study, there were five different options. From cheapest to most expensive, in 2014 dollars:
- D: BRT via I-5, $200-270m
- E: BRT via SR99, $540-740m
- B: Link via I-5, $1.7-2.2 billion
- C Link via SR99, $2.3-3.2 billion
- A: Link via SR99 and a detour to Paine Field, $2.5-3.4 billion
All the routes have the option of extending to Everett Community College for $10m (buses) or $200-300m (rail).
When I wrote about this study, I argued that Link via SR99 was the best option, as Paine Field added more cost for no more ridership. If Paine Field became a proper airport, that calculus might change. In any case, pleasing Boeing is a huge winner in Snohomish County and will likely trump the verdict of Seattle-based bloggers.
No one knows what tax level is truly plausible, but for a basic sense of scaling, Sound Transit collected the following tax revenues in 2013 from each subarea: $81m for Snohomish, $195m for North King, $101m for South King, $163m for East King, and $118m for Pierce. Making the simplifying assumption that construction inflation equals revenue growth, by doubling the current ST tax rate Snohomish could collect $1.2 billion over 15 years or $2.4 billion over 30 years, measured in the same 2014 dollars that the long range plan uses. Another way of looking at it is that the ST2 set of projects costed about $10 billion in 2008 dollars, or about $11 billion in 2014 dollars.
So here’s the table of budgets, in millions of 2014 dollars, using high-end cost estimates to include a reserve and account for the general tendency of megaproject costs to escalate:
|Snohomish Option||Snohomish||North King||South King||East King||Pierce|
The other wild card is federal grants. FTA formulas currently look fondly on high-ridership projects, and some of these (in particular some North King candidates) might get substantial augmentation from Congress.
STB reported on West Seattle/Burien/Renton, which traverses three subareas; Ballard/Downtown; Ballard/UW; the Eastside Rail Corridor; 520 crossings; Kirkland/Bellevue/Issaquah; and Federal Way to Tacoma. There is also the unfinished business from ST2 of getting to Downtown Redmond and Federal Way.
Anyhow, with these numbers and the LRP results, you too can assemble an ST3 package. Feel free to do so in the comments. Better yet, put together a proposal and share it on Page 2.