by RIC ILGENFRITZ, Executive Director of Planning, Environmental and Project Development, Sound Transit
Last week Martin Duke posed the question of whether Seattle Transit Blog readers should be concerned about conceptual scenarios surfaced by Sound Transit staff to start a conversation about Sound Transit 3. He and the STB team have graciously offered us space here to answer that question.
First and foremost, the answer is no, you shouldn’t be concerned. Why? Because this is just the beginning of a year-long process of engaging the public, analyzing project and service ideas and supporting the Board of Directors in crafting a new system plan.
We are literally just getting started. The field is wide open for considering a full range of possibilities for investment that could be included in ST3. We are about one month away from launching a public process to engage everyone about what should be included.
Boardmembers have spent the past few months advocating in Olympia for legislation to provide high-capacity transit revenue authority. Legislators across the region and state are making encouraging progress toward a transportation package that includes the $15 billion in new revenue authority. We should all feel encouraged by that.
More recently, the Board has started discussing the key criteria the want to use in considering and shaping a new system plan. Some key themes have started to emerge from those discussions. For example, the Board has said it wants to make good on the promise of completing the regional spine connecting the area’s major cities, and also serve other areas of high demand for mass transit. Seattle-area members of the Board have emphasized the agency must focus on how to reach both Ballard and West Seattle as part of ST3.
The Board also wants to emphasize some other key priorities that have received a lot of attention in recent years as we’ve worked on ST2: system integration, multi-modal access to station areas, catalyzing density, social equity, and long term operational efficiency. And, the Board made clear they want us to lay the groundwork for ST4 while planning ST3.
That brings me to the question: what are the conceptual scenarios all about? First, let me say they are most assuredly not proposed system plans.
The scenarios are a way of asking the Board for direction on sizing the ST3 package. If you look at the full spectrum, what you see is a range of investment levels, or package sizes, from pretty modest at the low end to quite aggressive at the high end. All but one scenario fall substantially below the funding authority we are seeking in Olympia.
The scenarios are part of our legal responsibility to examine multiple investment levels [RCW 81.104.100(2)b]. They give the Board a way to take a preliminary look at the tradeoffs it would need to consider at varying levels of investment. The analytical results the Board gets on May 28 will help it confirm its direction on how to scale ST3.
So what’s next? We move on to the really fun part: developing a project list and analyzing at a more detailed level a wide range of investments that could be included in ST3. And this is where you come in.
Martin’s post generated a record number of comments—more than 500 and counting—that prove the passion and commitment of the region’s transit advocates. The type of feedback we see from that post is exactly what we are looking for going forward. What should be included on the initial project list? What corridors need service most? What design and operational characteristics should be emphasized?
Your initial message was received loud and clear, and reflects why the Board has advanced an ambitious funding proposal that would enable multiple major projects in Seattle. Looking ahead, I encourage you to get ready to help us answer the question of what should be studied next.
The public involvement period will focus on a Draft Priority Project List. For each project on the final list that the Board advances, Sound Transit will produce an overview outlining its projected ridership, conceptual cost range and other criteria such as how well it would advance transit-oriented development. What advocates will want to pay attention to is promoting the study of projects they think represent the highest importance for the next round of investment. Studies of the various corridors will document the vital statistics for higher performing and higher cost options such as tunneling and elevated alignments, as well as tradeoffs that could reduce costs.
Once all that information is on the table this fall, the Board — and you — will be positioned to begin the more detailed process to consider a draft Sound Transit 3 Plan that aligns specific cost and revenue assumptions with public priorities. Even at the full funding level we are seeking, there will be compromises shaping a financially constrained measure. It will undoubtedly get tense. That is why it is so important to get all the cards on the table and not jump to conclusions yet about what can and cannot be accomplished.
Our goal is to secure the funding authority we need and support the Sound Transit Board in shaping a draft Sound Transit 3 Plan for further public involvement in early 2016. There is growing awareness across the region that we cannot build thriving communities, a strong economy and a sustainable environmental footprint without continuing investments in mass transit. The stakes are high, and your support and involvement will be essential.