Yesterday’s exercise on ST3 budgeting was unclear enough to prompt a friendly email from ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. So I’d like to clarify that subarea equity isn’t a matter of strictly dividing money along subarea boundaries; I’ve always understood it to be a negotiation process based on the interests of each subarea. For example, I’d expect Pierce County to contribute a significant portion of any run from Federal Way to Tacoma, as that segment is a much higher priority for them than for South King County. As Mr. Patrick put it:

State law on this topic is mainly about reporting. As long as a ballot measure identifies where the funds originate and are spent, Board members can define equity in whatever fashion they believe serves constituents. Note that the past ballot measures have included investments outside subarea boundaries spanning all three of our transit modes, and particularly Sounder and ST Express. The decisions weren’t about where the service is located but about desired destinations and what the Board understood the priority for each subarea to be. It is only after a measure passes that its provisions become legally binding, and a future ballot measure doesn’t have to use the same approaches as past measures.

Emphasis mine. Given the limited value of Snohomish County rail to other subareas, and the limited value of the other projects to Snohomish County, I don’t think it in practice affects my choice to dimension the project according their needs. But it does provide would-be package builders with more flexibility if they can make plausible arguments that a project outside a boundary serves that subarea’s direct interests.

27 Replies to “Clarification: Subarea Equity”

  1. I think that in reality the amount of subarea money that crosses subarea boundaries is pretty small, but it is easy to see why it happens.

    For example the Sounder maintenance facility is located in Seattle, but four of the five subareas benefit from it. Thus you would expect that all 4 subareas should contribute something to the facility even though it is located in only one of them.

    I think in practice there is some horsetrading that occurs (“you pay for this and I’ll pay for that”), but the goal is to have each subarea pay for the services it uses/gets.

    Subarea equity was forced on ST by the burbs who were sure that their tax dollars would be diverted to spending in Seattle, but North King is actually the subarea that benefits the most from this policy. And thank gawd because that is where the most demand is and where the construction costs are highest.

    1. The nature of transportation though is that it involves people moving from place to place.

      People from East County go to Everett or Lynnwood, or maybe even Vancouver BC. People from Tacoma sometimes visit Snoqualmie Falls, and have to go through East County to get there.

      Efforts to divert traffic off of the major roads thus benefit those who live outside the subarea. True, it is diminishing amounts the further away it goes, but benefits are not just clumped by area.

    2. Since when has north Kind been benefiting from Sounder? The schedule and stop locations make the train all but useless for anyone living in the north Kind sub-area. The two reverse-direction trips to Tacoma (which require leaving downtown Seattle no later than 6:50 AM) hardly cut it. That leaves 3 sub-areas (Pierce, South King, Snohomish) that receive real benefit from Sounder, not 4.

      1. Since when has North King contributed to Sounder or ST Express. The city still benefits from both.

      2. The value is based on where the person lives, because they’re the one generating the demand for transit. The company isn’t forcing them to live in a different city from where they work. In fact, the company would be better off if the worker lived nearby because then they wouldn’t be as affected by traffic bottlenecks or closures.

        The reason it’s “suburbs pay” is that the suburbs depend on the city more than vice-versa. The suburbs wouldn’t exist without the central city; or at least they’d still be tiny towns with few jobs and no regional transit like in eastern Washington. So the city pays for its own circulation (and also because it has more transit demand per capita), and the suburbs pay to connect to the city and to each other, because in most cases it’s suburban residents going to the city for work or entertainment.

        In some cases it’s more evenly two-way all day, but the 550 is the only substantial manifestation of it, and perhaps the 545. You don’t see Seattlites going en mass to Federal Way, Lynnwood, Issaquah, etc, either at all or every weekday. The 150 and 255 have some notable reverse traffic, but they’re not ST and they’re funded by both ends if I remember right. Only Metro’s unidirectional peak expresses are “suburb pays”.

      3. Would just point out that this was North King’s choice, as they fought against the Richmond Beach station, and never fought for the Ballard or North Downtown stations.

      1. North King is Seattle? Not any more than Bellevue is Seattle. Heck, I even consider West Seattle to be the burbs.

        Mike Orr articulated a reasonable bar above.

      2. AP,

        I mean the “North King subarea is essentially the same as the City of Seattle”, not “Shoreline and Lake Forest Park (which, yes, are in the sub-area boundaries) are dense like Capitol Hill and Ballard”.

        This is an article about “Sub-Area Equity”, and Lazarus said

        Subarea equity was forced on ST by the burbs who were sure that their tax dollars would be diverted to spending in Seattle, but North King is actually the subarea that benefits the most from this policy.”

        as if they were two radically different things.

        Now it’s likely that he was attempting to point out that Seattle was benefiting from the system even though the suburban voters did not want it to. However, the use of “but” without some sort of correlative makes it sound like he’s saying they’re not the same thing.

        And, for all intents and purposes, they are. Anon (and I guess you) are thinking that “North King” is only Shoreline and Lake Forest Park and that Seattle is somehow a separate sub-area. Not true.

      3. Yes, “North King” is Seattle, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park. The “suburban” funding arguments don’t apply to them. It’s only three miles from 145th to the county border.

  2. Why not do a regional plan across the whole area, then have area specific measures to accelerate construction or add more service? Seattle should not be held back by rural areas that need less service than we do, nor should they have to pay higher taxes for service that won’t benefit them.

    Unless ST3 has some immediate (pre-2020) benefit to Seattle, I can’t imagine giving two fucks about it. More light rail 20 years from now, when I may or may not even live here, is not going to get my vote, money, or time.

    1. Scott,
      What you ask is impossible. You simply can’t build urban rail other than streetcars on the timetables you’d like to see.

      The earliest we would likely see a ST3 measure would be 2016 and 2018 or 2020 is more likely.

      Central Link opened 13 years after Sound Move passed. U-Link is opening 20 years after Sound Move. North Link is opening 13 years after ST2. East Link and Lynnwood Link are opening 15 years after ST2. Even the First Hill Streetcar is opening 6 years after passage of ST2.

      So even under the best case scenario (passage of ST3 in 2016) I wouldn’t expect anything other than Overlake/Downtown Redmond to open prior to 2029.

      1. Since the EIS and preliminary engineering are already underway for South Link extensions, they might also be fast-tracked in ST3.

        And a difference with SoundMove is that at the time that was voted on, ST didn’t have the planning that’s in the LRP done, nor did they have a track record of actually building things.

      2. After reading the June Link Progress Report, I see that PE for South Link is only funded to Kent/Des Moines station. So a one station extension to the south might be fast-tracked.

      3. I kind of ignored South Link mostly because I hope sense will prevail and the.line will stop at KDM.

        The OP was talking about lines in Seattle which still have an EIS process to go through along with the engineering necessary to start construction.

        He wants lines to be complete by 2020 and I doubt they will even start construction by then.

  3. Martin– I do not believe it is simply enough to state rail to Snohomish is of “limited value” to other subareas. I think it’s actually quite the contrary. The corridor models well– there is real ridership there. And most of it isn’t to/from Boeing; it’s in the I-5 corridor to/from UW, downtown Seattle, and Bellevue. So there’s 40K trips on Link that are not cars on I-5, not buses on HOV lanes & downtown arterials, nor carbon producers in & out of the urban core. That is a real benefit to King County, both in terms of climate and capacity utilization.

    1. While that is a gain, I think it’s pretty clearly a “limited” one. There are few suburban projects oriented towards bringing commuters into Seattle that would pass the “take the cars of city streets” test you suggest, and it is well down the list of desirable projects for a Seattle resident. There is no way most North King residents would prefer this to almost anything else on the table for King County, except perhaps Federal Way to Tacoma.

      1. While I’m atypical I’d prefer Lynnwood/Everett to anything I see on the table for East King or South King except Burien/Renton.

        Of course North King projects have the highest priority in my mind.

        But I’d rather overbuild for the next round than fall into the trap of thinking too small because the needed infrastructure is thought to be too expensive.

        Exhibit A is NYC where politicians propose streetcars and BRT because the needed subway and regional rail investments are thought to be too expensive.

  4. This.
    The sooner folks realise that ST is here not to build rail for Seattle but to provide express connections between the region’s centres, great, little, and suburban, the better. Then advocates can stop sitting around, fingers crossed, hoping that this time they’ll get it right for Seattle, and push for something better. Something Seattle-only. ST’s mission has little to do with serving Seattle with the urban rail that it needs.

    1. Isn’t RCW 81.112.100 the problem with this point of view (with which I more or less agree).

      1. “An authority shall have and exercise all rights with respect to the construction, acquisition, maintenance, operation, extension, alteration, repair, control and management of high capacity transportation system facilities that are identified in the system plan developed pursuant to RCW 81.104.100 that any city, county, county transportation authority, metropolitan municipal corporation, or public transportation benefit area within the authority boundary has been previously empowered to exercise and such powers shall not thereafter be exercised by such agencies without the consent of the authority. Nothing in this chapter shall restrict development, construction, or operation of a personal rapid transit system by a city or county.

        An authority may adopt, in whole or in part, and may complete, modify, or terminate any planning, environmental review, or procurement processes related to the high capacity transportation system that had been commenced by a joint regional policy committee or a city, county, county transportation authority, metropolitan municipality, or public transportation benefit area prior to the formation of the authority.”

        I’m not understanding the conflict.

    2. Elise,

      You are absolutely correct, which is why the region should agree to mothball the planning portions of the agency as soon as the build-out of ST2 is completed and the entire agency when the bonds paid are off. There should be no “ST3” because it prolongs the agony of “Linked” projects (meant as a pun).

      It makes sense at that time for KC Metro to become the rail operator and for Snohomish County to compensate it for the proportion of Link operating hours which are consumed north of the 185th Street station.

      If Seattle wants to build Ballard-U District — by far the most valuable line yet unbuilt it should do so itself, using whatever combination of tax receipts the legislature will allow it.

      If the legislature refuses to allow Seattle to have greater taxing authority it just won’t happen. Maybe then the City Council will collectively grow a pair and put exclusive bus lanes full time on North/NE 45th, 15th West and Avalon.

      1. Under your proposal who runs Sounder? Regional express service? Where does the money to pay for Sounder, regional express, and LINK come from? Note that Metro, Community Transit, and Pierce Transit aren’t exactly rolling in excess cash.

        Do we really want the City of Seattle or Metro to have to go through the same learning curve Sound Transit had to during its first decade of operation? Do we really want to dismantle a public agency that has proven itself capable of delivering complex capital projects on time and on budget?

      2. The problem isn’t taxing authority. Seattle has plenty. Finance whatever using excess levy property tax backed bonds. As I recall, these require a 60% vote, but that shouldn’t be a problem. They aren’t subject to either of the crazy 1% rules, so the only limitation is Seattle’s maximum indebtedness. ST has a state granted monopoly on decent rail, but that shouldn’t be too hard to work around.

      3. I think there are two parts to what you are proposing, Anandakos. The first is that Seattle (and other areas) fund their own projects. I agree completely.

        The second is that Metro (or some other agency) take over the operation of the system from Sound Transit. I don’t feel that strongly about it, but I don’t think this is necessary, nor a good thing. As Chris said, this means someone else has to learn the ropes. I don’t think this is necessary any more than it was necessary (or desirable) for Seattle to take over control of the buses even though it will now be funding them in the city. Perhaps a better example is the streetcar. Seattle pays for it, decides where it will go, but it is Metro that runs it. I see no reason why Seattle (or other municipalities) can’t do the same sort of thing with light rail, but have Sound Transit run it. Sound transit would have a much smaller budget, and cooperate with other agencies when it comes to new construction.

        The interesting thing about this sort of proposal is that it keeps subarea equity, but not the part of the current system that requires that we spend (roughly) the same amount in each area. Seattle will pay for Seattle’s system. Snohomish county, if it wants, can extend the light rail (it may want to simply increase its already outstanding BRT system instead). There are some areas that cross city or county boundaries, and it will require some cooperation between those groups to better the system (which is why the original organization was first put in place). But unlike the first few lines, they represent a much smaller set of needs. We don’t need (or can afford) another line across the lake, nor another line going north or south from Seattle. Different agencies can cooperate with funding proposals for specific projects without trying to pass one big project for the entire agency. For example, Kirkland and Bellevue could cooperate to pass a light rail line connecting Kirkland to East Link. Or maybe Kirkland pays for 40%, Bellevue 40% and the county pays 20%. This same sort of model could work for other areas as well. Obviously these sorts of cross jurisdictional projects are more politically problematic, but they represent a much smaller part of the entire system in the future.

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