The Seattle Times reported last evening ($) that Governor Inslee and legislative leaders from both houses have reached agreement on a transportation package. Of highest relevance to STB, the package contains the full $15B requested authorization for Sound Transit 3.* This could either give the ST board some flexibility in choosing its revenue sources while still meeting some regional goals, or the whole sum could fund very close to all of the main regional priorities. (See here for a guess as to what $15 billion — as well as some smaller sums — could come out to in terms of project budgets).

Apparently one key Democratic concession was acceptance of the “poison pill” provision that essentially negates any chance of a low-carbon fuel standard in the short term. Gov. Inslee’s quote is worth reproducing in full:

I oppose [the poison pill] and have worked hard to find a better alternative,” Inslee said in a statement. “But legislators tell me it is essential to passing the $15 billion multimodal transportation package and authorizing an additional $15 billion for Sound Transit light rail expansion.

And then there’s the matter of the highways, which have been there from the beginning thanks to bipartisan enthusiasm. As always, the package doesn’t adequately fund highway maintenance and actually makes the problem worse by adding many more decaying lane-miles on SR 520, I-405, SR 167, and in North Spokane. Highway expansion is a futile response to congestion, encourages environmentally damaging driving, and literally destroys neighborhoods. About the only good thing to say about it is that it’s funded by gas taxes, which in a small way offsets a little of the environmental carnage.

A deal isn’t a vote, so we’ll see how Democratic and Republican backbenchers react to what the leadership forged. Those highways, together with the poison pill, have been enough to turn some climate-oriented environmental organizations against the deal and lobby legislators to vote no. As much as I want the ST3 rail investments, it’s hard to blame them.

*According to House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island).

137 Replies to “The Full $15 Billion”

  1. Question: let’s say the $15 billion for highways is voted down by referendum. Will sound transit’s taxing authority be repealed at the same time?

    1. It probably depends on the structure of the bills, which isn’t clear at this time. If they’re smart they’ll combine it all into one.

    2. Chetan,

      Not a chance. This isn’t Roads and Transit which was voted on only by Puget Sound counties. The rest of the state would be voting as well. Given that Sno and Pierce would be strong “No’s” on such a Referendum even a moderately strong “Yes” in King — and that’s all you’d get even with Seattle’s 75% “Yes” — would be washed away by all the boonies voters who’d be about 80% “No”.

  2. Well said, Martin.

    I add add one thing. If you are a fan of light rail and transit in general (as I am and I would imagine everyone on here is) be careful what you wish for. I’m afraid that it will be more difficult to pass a set of projects that uses the full $15 billion (and hard for Sound Transit not to propose it). We are getting diminishing returns in the suburbs with the really expensive projects, and the more expensive projects discussed in Seattle (e. g. West Seattle light rail) are unpopular with transit experts. I personally think that it will be much harder for us to pass a transit package if we are granted the full amount (although I hope I’m wrong).

    1. I totally disagree with this theory of how measures pass. I don’t think anyone who would vote against a $15 billion package is going to be thrilled with $10 billion or even $8 billion. In this specific case, it may be that a smaller package may eliminate an entire type of tax, which could make an electoral difference.

      On the other hand a smaller package means fewer benefits, which means fewer yes votes. As much as you don’t like West Seattle rail I think it’ll get votes in West Seattle, etc.

      All that said a $15 billion package might fail, but under conditions where nearly any large light rail measure would fail.

      1. I disagree. I think there are clear examples of where someone would vote for a small package and not support a bigger one. As a contrived example, consider extending light rail to Redmond, or extending light rail all the way to Duvall. The first would be very popular, not only with people in the area, but with people everywhere, Not all voters vote for their personal benefit; some look at a project, any project, and vote for it (or against it) based on its merits.

        That is a contrived example, but there are many examples where Sound Transit might fail for that very reason. Someone in Bellevue might look at the Redmond extension and think “of course”, but look at Issaquah light rail and think it is not worth it, even though the guy has a friend in Issaquah. This person has looked at the situation, and feels (rightly so, in my opinion) that bus service is just fine to the area. You could, of course, put all the money into bus service (and I would put most of that subarea’s money into bus service) but you still run into an “it’s too big” attitude.

        This is all hypothetical, but let me just mention that this happened before, with many votes. It has even happened with Sound Transit specifically! The first Sound Transit vote failed, and it failed in part because the “no” campaign called it too big. I believe the term was “a Cadillac plan”. It is a reasonable argument. I don’t agree with it, but it is quite reasonable to say “sorry, that is just too much — we want something smaller”. This has happened before, for this very issue (and this very organization). Could history repeat itself? Absolutely.

        As far as West Seattle is concerned, this is another great example of why a smaller package could save Sound Transit from itself. The best value of any Sound Transit project they are studying right now is UW to Ballard light rail. It is by far the cheapest project and arguably the best one overall (in terms of improved mobility). If Sound Transit was only able to allocate enough money for it, then I believe it would be very popular in Seattle (and the region as a whole). Those that want West Seattle light rail would simply be told that there wasn’t enough money — Sound Transit’s hands were tied. Those that want Ballard to downtown (Corridor D or otherwise) would be told the same thing. Sorry folks, we only have enough money for this — arguably the best line we could build anyway. It is like you went to the dealership in 1980, looking to buy a Fiat, but were told you only had enough money to buy a Honda. Sorry, honey, I couldn’t afford the more expensive car, so I had to buy the better one.

        On the other hand, if the state doesn’t tie the hands of Sound Transit, then they have a very tough political problem on their hands — even in Seattle. There are many people on this blog — we are talking about people who love public transit and love light rail — who have said they would oppose a proposal that includes West Seattle light rail. Not because we hate the idea, but because we think it is a terrible value. You only have so much money, and spending much of it (if not most of it) on something that adds very little is just not very wise. Again, if we built light rail everywhere (including more populous areas like Lake City) then of course we would be thrilled with light rail serving only a handful of spots in West Seattle. Why not? But until that point, it is crazy to spend huge amounts of money when over half the people in West Seattle would be better off with BRT, or just bus improvements. There just aren’t enough people in West Seattle — even if you include those that are fooled into thinking it will improve their lives — to make up for the rest of the city that will question the value of the project.

        But if Sound Transit gets the full money and leaves out West Seattle, then West Seattle is pissed. This might not matter (again, there aren’t that many people in West Seattle). But it could, especially if the region isn’t that thrilled with the package. If the voters in Snohomish County and Pierce County and south King County all vote no, and the folks in the rest of Seattle vote yes, then it might very well come down to those voters in West Seattle.

        This is why it will probably be easier to pass this thing if the state gives Sound Transit an excuse (sorry West Seattle, we would love to build a light rail line for you, but the state wouldn’t let us).

      2. I think the history of ST measures is much more dependent on off-year/on-year elections than anything in the content of the packages.

        I agree that the legislative “excuse” might have been useful to not build rail to West Seattle, if that’s a priority for you. But I just don’t think it’s important. I’m more focused on getting what I think is important than denying others what they think is important, unless what they want is highways that have enormous negative externalities. I’m relaxed about the overall tax load on the region and don’t think that there are other projects with big momentum behind them that we should be building instead, assuming Ballard is adequately funded.

        I’m simply not going to vote against good projects because some other project might have lower $/rider. If we’d applied that litmus test from 1995 we still wouldn’t have any light rail, as the most productive initial segment would have been Northgate/ID via UW.

      3. If BRT in the absence of light rail for West Seattle means the WSTT, then yes, that would be a good transit infrastructure deal for West Seattle. If BRT merely means throwing more rapid ride runs at West Seattle, then it is nothing more than a half measure that keeps transit for West Seattle at an unacceptable status quo with an increasing population using outdated infrastructure to exit the peninsula.

      4. It should be noted that more people actually voted against ST2 than voted against Roads and Transit. It’s just that so many more people voted for ST2 than voted for Roads and Transit.

        People vote for what they think they will use. The key is to have enough good quality projects that 50%+1 voters see something they will use. The more projects, serving the more people the better.

      5. To understand West Seattle Link, you have to look at how many councilmembers live in West Seattle, and ST board members, and former councilmembers, and the large number of candidates. West Seattle seems to be the “elected official district”, and that apparently skews their vision of West Seattle’s significance. Since we need elected officials to build anything, we have to allow some pork in West Seattle.

      6. To understand West Seattle Link, you have to look at how many councilmembers live in West Seattle,

        Yes, it’s certainly natural, when your neighbors and social circle constantly talk about a specific problem, to think that that problem is more important then the numbers might suggest.

        But also, I think it’s a matter of organizing. The Everett business community very much wants rail so it’s in the plan. In Tacoma it’s the same. The City of Federal Way has a coherent voice on this issue. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition has formed a coherent message that they want Link. For all its regional interests, Seattle Subway’s core priority is quite obviously rail to Ballard, so it’s in the plan. Look for the interest groups and you’ll see where ST is building. Kenmore just figured this out but they’re way late in the game and may not be able to generate any momentum.

        Anyone really fired up about a Denny line needs to hope that 2016 fails and then spend a lot of time getting Uptown, SLU, and Capitol Hill interests together to push for it.

      7. It has even happened with Sound Transit specifically! The first Sound Transit vote failed, and it failed in part because the “no” campaign called it too big. I believe the term was “a Cadillac plan”.

        Ex hoc ergo propter hoc. This is one theory about why it failed in 2007. As far as theories go, it’s a lot less plausible than the theory that you get a much more transit-friendly electorate in a presidential election than in an off-off year. Elections are much more about which demographic shows up than messaging and details. Voting behavior research suggests that the kind of attention to detail you’re imputing to voters is vanishingly rare.

      8. I’m simply not going to vote against good projects because some other project might have lower $/rider. If we’d applied that litmus test from 1995 we still wouldn’t have any light rail, as the most productive initial segment would have been Northgate/ID via UW.

        I think you are missing the point with West Seattle light rail. It isn’t good for West Seattle. Spend the same money — or just spend half — on BRT improvements and you provide something better for West Seattle. Of course a substantial investment in BRT would include the WSTT (to answer EastCoastCynic’s point). Otherwise, it isn’t BRT. Just to be clear — RapidRide is not BRT. Agencies that rate such things would clearly mark it “Not BRT” because it gets stuck in traffic.

        I have no trouble with people jumping in line. You are absolutely correct — light rail to the UW should have been built before light rail for Rainier Valley. But light rail for Rainier Valley is probably the best thing for Rainier Valley. BRT wouldn’t make any sense without another tunnel, and there is no way another tunnel would be built just for Rainier Valley BRT. What would Open BRT give you that light rail doesn’t — a one seat ride from Seward Park? Who cares. Might as well run the trains.

        West Seattle is unusual if not unique. There is no area in the region — certainly no area in Seattle — where open BRT is so much of a better value than light rail It isn’t close. Really, start looking at the projects (in the order I would build them):

        1) UW to Ballard BRT — Ridiculous, really. You save nothing, since the cost of the tunnel is essentially the same. In fact, it would be more expensive, since you either run multiple holes into the tunnel, or you can’t handle the capacity (of feeder buses). BRT just won’t work.

        2) Metro 8 Subway BRT — Another ridiculous idea for BRT. You save nothing in terms of cost, and open BRT (e g. Madison) really gets you nothing.

        3) Ballard to downtown — BRT (including the WSTT) might be a better value, but to make it work as well as West Seattle BRT you have to build a brand new bridge. This means that it saves you very little, if anything. The BRT and the bridge is the bulk of a west side alignment. Other alignments are worse as far as value. Going through Queen Anne (Corridor D) is in the same boat as Metro 8 (all the money is in tunneling, might as well put a train in there). A Westlake route could have a bus running on the surface for a while, but either you tunnel or go elevated in various sections. Either way, it ends up costing just about as much and gets you very little (where would a bus enter the tunnel, and what would it serve?).

        This is the key here, and why there will be a backlash against West Seattle light rail. It isn’t that the area is jumping in line, it is that West Seattle light rail is such a profoundly bad idea. If we had to vote for light rail, for example, that cost more than our existing U-Link line, but lacked a Capitol Hill station, would you vote for it? I wouldn’t. One station, several billion dollars and you skip over the very densely populate area. I love transit and I love light rail and the UW to downtown is by far the most important connection we have make but still — more expensive and skips Capitol Hill? Sorry, no.

        West Seattle light rail is like that.

    2. I’m not a transit expert, but I can see plainly that the need for high-capacity transit between downtown and West Seattle is readily apparent. Getting between the two involves taking the West Seattle or Harbor Island Bridge. That bottleneck is more relevant than land-use density in determining demand for such service.

      I don’t think anyone will vote against ST3 because it contains West Seattle light rail (if it does), but might vote against it if their neck of the woods doesn’t get theirs. A larger package means more neighborhoods served, and more Yes votes at the polls.

      1. Don’t be so certain. While West Seattle Rail isn’t a litmus test for me, it is warning sign. If I feel that more important proposals have bee damagingly shortchanged so as to fund West Seattle Rail, II may well vote against the package.

      2. Until West Seattle is willing to accept the density and other facets that come with urban living (like Ballard has started to), they can sit in traffic and rot as far as I’m concerned. And I live in West Seattle.

      3. You can’t build a winning coalition with spite.

        Insofar as West Seattle light rail causes the Ballard line to be unsatisfactory, that’s a problem. But I have no desire to keep their transit unreliable to save money for some other line for which there is no political movement whatsoever.

      4. Where do you get the idea that West Seattle does not accept density? Have you seen what’s happening near the Junction lately? Sure, parts of West Seattle have homeowners who push against any change, but that’s true of the city as a whole. You don’t write-off central Ballard for transit when neighbors in Crown Hill argue against density; you don’t write-off the U District for transit because of the complaints of people in Roosevelt; why would you write-off the junction because of what some people in Admiral and Alki say?

        West Seattle bashing is a consistent pattern in STB comments. It’s short-sighted, and it doesn’t help anyone.

      5. Martin,

        Nobody wants to keep West Seattle’s transit “unreliable”. What people are saying is that given the four miles of low-density between the Triangle and downtown Seattle and the existence of an existing high-quality corridor with in most places available capacity, spend money to add bus only capacity to the two bottlenecks which currently make bus transit “unreliable”. Then add the sorts of amenities that Rapid Ride boasts to two or three more highly used routes in WS.

        More people will benefit from such a plan than will the relatively few who will have quicker single-seat rides from the Triangle or Alaska Junction. Everyone else will be transferring to go downtown, and for riders in the Delridge and Alki corridors, that transfer will occur in a pretty unpleasant place.

      6. A few people will vote against it if it contains a project in another neighborhood that they don’t think deserves it. Many times more people will vote for it if it contains a project in their neighborhood. People aren’t willing to play the “No transit is better than too much transit” game anymore because that’s precisely what caused the pickle we’re in.

      7. >> I can see plainly that the need for high-capacity transit between downtown and West Seattle is readily apparent.

        I think you meant to say “improved transit”, not high-capacity transit. Do a little thought experiment. Assume that all buses in West Seattle traveled all the roads without being impeded by traffic (and rarely impeded by traffic lights). Also assume that they all operated like real BRT (off board payment and level boarding). This means that basically they would operate just like trains, but without the capacity. By having the buses run without traffic, you save money. Assume that this money is pushed back into the system — the buses run more often. Do you really need the extra capacity of light rail? I think the answer is obviously “no”. Those buses aren’t that full, and they wouldn’t be that full, even if they ran unimpeded. Would a train be more popular? Only if you walked to the train. Most people in West Seattle (if they only built one line) would not walk to a train station. They would take a bus. For almost all of those riders, you would be better off taking that unimpeded bus. It would run more often (the West Seattle rail plans call for ten minute frequency at peak) and it would not require a transfer.

        Would it be cheaper to make those unimpeded bus lines? Yes, absolutely. That is really the main point. To simply get a light rail line from SoDo to the first station in West Seattle costs billions. To add HOV lanes is cheaper. It is cheaper because you can leverage the existing bridge. Unlike I-90, the trains can’t go over the West Seattle freeway. Otherwise, we would probably be all in favor of light rail to West Seattle (it would be fairly cheap).

        I don’t agree with Hutch, or at least think that argument is a distraction. It isn’t about the fact that West Seattle doesn’t look like South Lake Union, or downtown Bellevue. Very few communities do (Ballard doesn’t). But the key thing with West Seattle is that light rail is just a horrible value for the area, and BRT is such a great one. West Seattle light rail is a horrible value because:

        1) There are no stops between West Seattle and SoDo.
        2) Just building that first stop in West Seattle costs billions.
        3) West Seattle is spread out. The logical convergence location is, in most cases, right where a BRT bus would continue unimpeded right to downtown.

      8. Any proposal that deliver quality with buses, and still win votes in West Seattle, needs to explain why this time will be different, as BRT has in practice been vastly inferior to light rail. It’s not answering the question to say that West Seattle doesn’t warrant that investment: it’s not a question of costs, it’s one of benefits.

        You keep saying that BRT is better for them, but I don’t see any real effort to get anyone in West Seattle to believe that. Superficially, it doesn’t really help that you’re a strong proponent for light rail in corridors you really care about.

      9. Based on conversations with SDOT engineers, as well as the fact that I’m married to someone who does legal condemnation work for ST, it’s my understanding that the West Seattle bridge can’t be expanded in any practicable way. There are similar issues creating new bus-only on- and off-ramps.

      10. @Martin — Superficially, it doesn’t really help that you’re a strong proponent for light rail in corridors you really care about.

        Careful buddy — that is close to an ad hoc attack. Seriously, who the hell said I don’t care about West Seattle. Really, that is insulting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I support BRT to West Seattle because I think it is better for the area. It is not only a better value, it is just clearly better. For the record — and I really shouldn’t have to defend my motivation, Mr. Duke — I have three (count them three) relatives who live in West Seattle. My brother, my sister and my mom. Oh, but maybe I don’t care about them or their transit needs.

        Believe me, none of them are excited about light rail because — hold on to your hat — they consider what is better for the region, just not for themselves. They really can’t see the value of forcing everyone on Delridge and Alki to transfer to a train right at the point where a bus would be able to quickly get them to (and through) downtown. Open BRT — which includes improvements on the freeway as well as the WSTT — is just better.

        This makes it different than Kirkland to the UW light rail. That would be great for Kirkland. Nothing even comes close (not BRT, certainly). Light rail would be faster than driving any time of day. Spectacular. My brother (yeah, I’ve got a big family) who lives in Kirkland would be thrilled. But he, like me, figures it will just be too expensive. That makes it different than West Seattle light rail, though. West Seattle light rail only makes sense if you have at least three lines. That just won’t happen, which is why BRT is a better value than a single line West Seattle light rail system.

        You keep saying that BRT is better for them, but I don’t see any real effort to get anyone in West Seattle to believe that.

        Well, I managed to collect three votes :)

        Seriously though, what the hell is this: That is an essential part of BRT for West Seattle. It isn’t like those in West Seattle are completely opposed to BRT, either. Check out this blog entry from this group that is obviously focused on West Seattle:
        Look at the bullet point. To quote

        Provide a fully funded, integrated, West Seattle Peninsula ingress-egress plan with a scope of work, timeline, and funding source. Its structure should be fully compatible with conversion to a future Sound Transit dedicated right-of-way, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit system.

        Read those last four words. Bus Rapid Transit system. So, someone is getting the message, if not from me.

      11. Hey Ross,

        Didn’t mean to question your motives. Put more carefully, the reaction in West Seattle after you give your spiel and then say “but North Seattle needs a train” is not going to be awesome. I’m familiar with the SE Seattle version of the chip-on-the-shoulder and it’s the same over there.

      12. Ross,

        It was probably “ad hoc” (meaning “cobbled together on the spur of the moment”). I think you meant “ad hominem” ;-)

      13. Thanks Anandakos — I most certainly did (I sure wish I double checked my comments more or that we had an edit feature). I never studied Latin but even I know what those two phrases mean :)

      14. @Jason —
        Based on conversations with SDOT engineers, as well as the fact that I’m married to someone who does legal condemnation work for ST, it’s my understanding that the West Seattle bridge can’t be expanded in any practicable way. There are similar issues creating new bus-only on- and off-ramps.

        I would be surprised if that is the case. Obviously parts of it (Spokane Street Viaduct) just went through an upgrade. That is where a new ramp would be built (connecting the freeway with the SoDo busway). That is where additional HOV lanes would be put as well.

        At the other end (off of 35th) the freeway sits on the ground. This could most certainly be expanded.I don’t see why the Delridge ramp can’t be expanded. Just proper metering would go a long way (HOV lane on Delridge with a free pass to the ramp, while everyone else has to wait for a light). That right there would probably be better than light rail because it avoids the transfer. The biggest problem (by far) is getting to downtown (or I-5 or 99) not getting away from it.

        In between it gets tricky, and this is what you might be talking about. The freeway is very high over the ground, and expanding this might cost a lot of money. In general though, building freeways isn’t cheap, but it isn’t as expensive as building a rail line, even if you do it all from scratch (and you most certainly wouldn’t, in this case). It is even cheaper in this case, because a freeway can be very steep, but a light rail line can’t.

      15. It’s really quite simple, Martin:

        West Seattle rail would cost billions, and it would run empty.

        The masses would still be stuck on their (unimproved) bridge bottleneck and on their (unimproved) pathways through SoDo, complaining about how the zillion-dollar train doesn’t work for them.

        Worse, they would demand (or beat up on transit forces for not instinctively providing) gargantuan park-and-ride facilities, as this would be the only way 95% of West Seattle would ever have reasonable access to the rail line.

        Care to squander vast amounts of literal and political capital? With guaranteed pressure to throw good money after bad, and to render West Seattle more suburban than ever? Then West Seattle rail is your project!

    3. Diminished returns?

      Sounder rail boardings are increasing beyond belief.

      And Sounder could be reflecting real local commuting usage, at least during rush hours…while LINK is heavily influenced by Sea-Tac passenger traffic. (Both are influenced by sporting events.)

      1. Year-to-date 2015 compared to to 2014, South is up 14%, North 17%. I don’t know how much of that is attributable to fewer mudslides this year, and unlike Bailo I find both of them relatively easy to believe, but when discussing increases (rather than absolute numbers) there’s no reason to separate them.

      2. I should have been more explicit. I meant light rail has diminishing returns in the suburbs.

        Sounder is pretty cheap. So are extra buses. That is my point. If light rail is extended to Tacoma, that will be expensive, and a lot of people will wonder why we bother. But if we can’t, then money will naturally flow into the buses (and Sounder). It makes it much easier for Sound Transit to say (as they will with West Seattle) sorry, we can’t deliver light rail to you, but we will increase the number of Sounder runs, and increase the number of express buses.

      3. Joe, what reasons do you have to think Sounder North is in political trouble? I agree that it’s obviously a wasteful and ill-conceived project, but as long as the mayors of Mukilteo and Edmonds care about it, I don’t see Sound Transit messing with it. Until such a time as the political elites of the served communities become open to scrapping it, I don’t see it happening.

      4. ST has not said one word about canceling Sounder North. They view it as a voter mandate to keep it running. It would take significant opposition from Snohomish County officials and residents to change their mind. I and others have pointed out that canceling Sounder North would free up money for that Everett Link extension, and that replacement buses could fit all the existing passengers (as they do on mudslide days), but so far ST has not been willing to acknowledge it.

      5. Frankly it’s going to take some serious salesmanship & political coalition building OR G*d Forbid a nasty slide in December putting a Sounder North into the drink with casualties & resulting litigation to finally force the issue.

        Problem is, too many politicians who don’t understand better to be proactive and not wait to plan for replacement & maintenance. As if some of them in a ferry community didn’t learn a key lesson from the Steel Electric fiasco or from all the slides of recent years…

      6. Ross,

        Actually Sounder is “pretty cheap” to operate, but only if you’re talking about the existing runs. Adding runs is muy espensivo because of the “capital cost” of “slots”. The only way to lower that cost is to add a Sound Transit owned track or have Sound Transit pay for a second main track on the UP south of Black River Junction and then pay for the trackage rights on BNSF trains that use it.

        So, “No”, Sounder really isn’t pretty cheap.

      7. @ Anandakos — Right, but it still isn’t as expensive as miles and miles of light rail, is it? How much frequency could we buy on Sounder for the cost of completing the spine? My guess is plenty (but then again, they may charge more the more we use it). I don’t know the deal we have with BNSF and how easy it would be to add more frequency (without adding a new line).

    4. I’m afraid that it will be more difficult to pass a set of projects that uses the full $15 billion (and hard for Sound Transit not to propose it).

      The theory of voting behavior that underlies this assumption isn’t really supported by what we know about voting behavior and how voters make decisions. There probably somewhere exists a voter who might decide that 11 or 12 billion is an acceptable price to pay for an expansion, but 15 billion is not, but that kind of voter is sufficiently rare that the odds they’d exist in sufficient numbers to impact an electoral outcome is pretty implausible.

      1. As I said above, there have only been three Sound Transit votes. The first one failed, and it failed in part (if not entirely) because voters considered it too big. That was the focus of the “No” campaign. The second vote was a scaled down version and it passed. The third vote was an extension, and it passed.

        It’s not like this is hypothetical — it happens all the time in politics. Propose something, and someone somewhere will say “that is too much — I like the idea, but I want a scaled down version”. It is probably hard for some of the youngsters out there to imagine, but Seattle school levies were like this. Many failed in the 1970s. To the point where the Seattle school district ran a campaign where they talked about “cutting the frills”. They even had a T. V. add with someone taking a meat cleaver to a steak. The idea was obvious — this levy was a scaled down proposal. It only included what was necessary. It passed (while previous levies failed). Of course, then the teacher layoffs came, and they went on strike and paraded around in signs saying “I am not a frill”. Ah, good times.

        Anyway, this is nothing new. I would bet you ten to one that if we get the full package that the “no” campaign will focus on the size of it, and say it is simply too big (as they did with the first package that failed). To make matters worse, in some areas (like Lynnwood or Bellevue) the folks there are looking at what is planned and thinking “that is good enough”. They may be thinking “Maybe a few more express buses — those are nice. But light rail to Everett or Issaquah — that just seems like overkill”. I think we are really whistling in the dark if we think that there aren’t huge numbers of voters that feel that way (especially since, in many cases, I think they have a point).

      2. “The first one failed, and it failed in part (if not entirely) because voters considered it too big.”

        That was the one connected to the huge highway menu, wasn’t it? So people weren’t voting against too much Link as they were too many highways.

      3. Again, a much better theory, one that’s consistent with the findings of actual research on voter behavior, is that it failed because it was voted on by a very different slice of the electorate that’s far more conservative about taxes and anti-transit.

      4. I would bet you ten to one that if we get the full package that the “no” campaign will focus on the size of it, and say it is simply too big (as they did with the first package that failed).

        They’ll do the same whether the package is 11 billion or 15; those numbers are both very large from the perspective of voters, and the difference between them is too abstract to matter. The notion that scaling down an ambitious infrastructure project in order to prevent political opponents from selling the message that it’s too big and too expensive is possible is not plausible.

      5. I personally think that the vast majority of people who say things like “$15 billion is too much right now, but if you come back with a smaller proposal I’ll vote for it” are lying. It’s just their “polite” excuse for voting no. Case in point on a seemingly unrelated issue.

        In 2013, Walla Walla proposed a $50 million bond to renovate the high school which is decades out of date. It was rejected 53 yes -47 no (it required 60% to win) with many people saying it was just too much money. In 2014, Walla Walla proposed a highly reduced $10 million bond to make smaller renovations. It was rejected 52-48.

        So what that means is that the 1st bond failed because people said it was too expensive. But then the smaller bond actually got LESS votes. So a whole bunch of people who said they would vote for a smaller bond were just plain lying.

        I suspect similar issues would be at play for Sound Transit.

      6. who say things like “$15 billion is too much right now, but if you come back with a smaller proposal I’ll vote for it” are lying.

        Lying is a bit strong; they probably actually believe it when they say it. It’s the same phenomenon with “independent voters”–the vast majority of them are effectively Rs or Ds, and are just as reliable and predictable party-line voters as those who identify with a party. They flatter themselves in thinking they’re more flexible than they actually are.

        This dynamic is fairly common; I strongly suspect the best way to make sense of referenda about transit is to recognize that there are anti-transit and pro-transit voters; the outcome of elections is largely determined by how many of each show up. Voters who swing both ways depending on the details are just not a significant enough block to matter much. It’s hypothetically possible to imagine a proposal so bad it would break this dynamic–if Snohomish were to, say, blow their money on a high-speed Gondola from Lake Stevens to Granite Falls, it would fail very badly. But even though ST is going to propose some stuff that we transit geeks will know is not a wise use of limited resources, it’s very unlikely to be so obviously bad as to turn any real number of pro-transit voters into anti-transit voters.

      7. were just plain lying.”

        Larry, it’s not “lying” when R’s do it. It’s “strategic re-evaluation”.

    5. Rightly or wrongly, ST views rail to West Seattle as a political necessity in order to get the votes needed to pass ST3. I’m inclined to agree given the large population. There’s no potential scenario where the only North King project goes to West Seattle, so as long as Ballard gets a decent quality project, I don’t see any risk that a significant number of people will vote against ST3 because it includes a West Seattle project. But a substantial majority of SW Seattle residents will likely vote against ST3 if West Seattle doesn’t get rail. And again, rightly or wrongly, a BRT proposal just isn’t going to get votes.

      Hutch: what does West Seattle accepting density look like? Developers develop and the rest of us watch. As a lawyer with experience in real estate and land use, there’s generally nothing residents can do to stop or substantially alter proposed developments, so there’s honestly no way for us to not accept whatever density the city and developers decide to provide.

      1. Jason,

        The problem is, you can’t do both! [e.g. West Seattle LRT and true LRT to Ballard. You’ve seen the options list: LRT to West Seattle means “Rapid Streetcar” to Ballard.

      2. Residents can and have put political pressure on local politicians to downzone anytime they feel their neighborhood “character” is at risk. Residents control what the city “decides to provide,” so it’s inaccurate to say they have no impact on density and zoning.

      3. Sorry, but I have to take issue with both comments.

        Anandakos: Those weren’t actual options and that doesn’t reflect what is going to be offered to voters. The only place I can recall that appearing was in that weird “potential scenarios” bit presented by ST a couple months back. ST never explained what that was about, but every other planning document and survey I’ve seen includes higher quality options for Ballard.

        Dave F: I can’t recall a single “downzone” that has occurred. Cite?

      4. @Mike Orr. Neither of those examples is really germane to the question at hand, which, please remember, is whether West Seattle is particularly, and uniquely (at least relative other parts of Seattle who have been given the same level of consideration for HCT) opposed to density. My understanding is that most of the backlash against apodments came from North of the Ship Canal: am I mistaken? Additionally, in the case of the linked item, it’s not even something the City has done yet — TFA makes it clear that there’s almost no chance the proposals would survive a mayoral veto [while not making any guess about whether one would be forthcoming], and that it is far from certain that anything proposed will even pass the full council.

      5. >> Rightly or wrongly, ST views rail to West Seattle as a political necessity

        Precisely my point. If the state ties the hands of ST, then ST can tell West Seattle “Sorry, we tried to get light rail, but couldn’t. Blame the state (damn state). But hey, we will provide BRT for you. It won’t cost as much, and for most riders it will actually be better. Most riders will have a faster trip overall, because the transfer is avoided. So, yeah, it will be better overall, and cheaper. Sorry about that (damn state)”.

        As to West Seattle voters, there aren’t that many, really. Obviously it is best not to piss anyone off (which is proposing nothing for West Seattle would be a bad idea) but West Seattle is not huge from a population standpoint.

        As far as density goes, I think it misses the point. There are just areas that make a lot of sense for light rail, and those where BRT makes a lot of sense. Given the geography of West Seattle, it falls into the second category (by a huge amount). It isn’t even close. Just to repeat:

        1) There are no stops between West Seattle and SoDo.
        2) Just building that first stop in West Seattle costs billions.
        3) West Seattle is spread out. The logical convergence location is, in most cases, right where a BRT bus would continue unimpeded right to downtown.

        Obviously a train is capable of carrying more people, but West Seattle would have to get huge — I mean really huge — before building that really expensive train makes sense. Something on the order of South Lake Union, if not downtown Seattle. I just don’t see that happening any time soon (if ever). It isn’t the fault of anyone in particular, it is just geography, that’s all. The hills are huge, the river valley is wide, and there already is a freeway that can be expanded. No other place in Seattle is really like it.

      6. We are headed toward a district-based council, which was instituted mainly by low-density advocates and whose borders were drawn to maximize single-family influence. It’s not certain that the next council will be more anti-density than the current one, but there’s a clear danger of it.

      7. @Mike — The people who are leaving seem to be the most anti-density, so I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. The council districts might have been drawn that way, but like many things, they can switch in a hurry. For example, the district that includes Maple Leaf (a very anti-density, ridiculously SFH area) also includes Lake City (which is the opposite, and growing like crazy). Magnolia is paired with Queen Anne and downtown. View Ridge is paired with the UW. I don’t think we can assume that the set of districts will result in an anti-density council, and more than the election of a self proclaimed socialist would end up being anti-density.

        What gives me hope is that soon we will have a report from a group of people tasked with looking at rent affordability issues. They may focus on subsidies, but I would expect (for the first time in a long time) that they will also mention density. This could be huge. It is hard to express how ignorant people are about the subject. They really don’t see how changing the ADU laws or removing the parking requirement could make it more affordable to live here. But (I hope at least) this commission will make that clear. Of course, commissions in the past (like the one that looked at the viaduct replacement) have been ignored, but at the very least, I hope that this will stir things up (as will getting a new council).

      8. Ross,

        Do you honestly believe that people who already own single-family homes in Seattle care one fig that “it’s too expensive to live here?” Saying “too expensive” simply means “my equity is huge! Seattle folks aren’t uniquely bad or selfish, but neither are they uniquely altruistic. Folks like it that “affordability” is low in Seattle. It makes them richer.

      9. @Anandakos — Its a mix. First of all, about half the people in Seattle rent, so there is that. But, like most cities, our home owners are leftists. I guarantee you, a housing levy will pass easily in this city. That is altruism in its purest form (no theory involved). But liberals love that king of thing. A housing levy is not unique. Most voters in this city who don’t have kids still vote for the school levies. They vote for all sorts of things. The only thing I remember them not voting for (in the last twenty years) was a new jail — like I said, they are liberal.

        Housing regulation is a lot trickier. The first step is get people to make the connection. This is not a given. If you read the comment sections of newspapers (from The Seattle Times to The Stranger) it is obvious that people don’t understand (or don’t believe) that supply and demand works in the housing market. It may not be a completely free market, but it still applies. It takes a bit more thought to realize that things like parking requirements actually hurt every renter, and everyone thinking about buying property (not just the renter moving into the new place). By pushing up the cost of new rental units, old rental units become more expensive. Lots of people don’t understand this, and until they do, there is little you can do.

        I disagree with the idea that people are focused on property value. For one thing, it isn’t clear at all that density has a negative effect on it. There are clearly things that can screw up your property value: a new freeway, a new bar next door, etc. But just about every home owner realizes that once they buy a house in Seattle, they are pretty much set. If the neighborhood remains single family, then it is the one they moved into (fairly desirable). If apartments are added, then there are fewer houses. Scarcity increases value. Folks might not understand (or play through in their mind) the complexities of supply and demand, but they know a house in Capitol Hill is expensive as always, because there aren’t that many. Meanwhile, this house: is worth may more than if they had set the zoning to be SFH. I do think zoning changes that allow restaurants and bars would be unpopular for exactly the reason you mention — it might lower the property value. But any of the changes that would be proposed (getting rid of parking restrictions and density limits on apartments or changing the ADU laws) would be fine. Even if an area gets upgraded (more apartments are allowed) I don’t think it would scare the neighbors into thinking their property value would go down. Quite the opposite — the land may be worth more now. Areas like Fremont (both upper and lower) are quite valuable for that very reason (and a lot of houses remain houses).

        No, the toughest part is that people don’t think it costs anyone (but the developer) when restrictions are placed on development. Force developers to build parking and it is no big deal. Some of the people that do understand it, still don’t care. This is where the lack of altruism comes in. There are people who will gladly support paying a levy, but they sure don’t want that new apartment going in to lack parking. What is true of parking is true of setbacks, FAR limits, density limits and the like.

        Like I said, though, about half the city rents, and they certainly want lower rents. So all you need is a significant number of home owners (who are overwhelmingly liberal) to support the easing of restrictions. I honestly don’t think this is as difficult as people make it out to be.

    6. I don’t know why it is so difficult for STB readers to understand the demand for West Seattle Link… It’s not a matter of density and ridership catchment — although I think we compete just fine with other corners of the City on that account. West Seattle (and South Park) are 1/7 of the City’s population. If you set aside I-5, the amount of traffic across the West Seattle Bridge(s) puts that transportation corridor in the Top 2 or 3 in the ENTIRE city. Our two main bus routes crossing that bridge have some of the highest ridership in the City. And the Bridge(s) create a pinched corridor that has no additional capacity to carry already planned increases in traffic.

      The demand for Link in West Seattle isn’t about whether or not politicians get “pork” or lobbying, but about addressing a traffic problem that has actual economic and life-threatening implications to it. ST3 will fail if it does not include a solution to this problem.

      1. Mickymse,

        Thanks for your perspective. I don’t oppose West Seattle Link, because although I understand the technical arguments for why it shouldn’t be a high priority, I’m inherently skeptical of arguments for how we can achieve the same quality with buses as a practical matter.

      2. What measures are you including in the plan to make sure BRT implementation doesn’t go as before?

      3. > The solution is BRT — real BRT

        RossB – I would agree with you there.

        But realistically, what are the chances of Sound Transit actually accomplishing “Real BRT”? And what are the chances of West Seattle voters having the confidence that ST won’t just do a RapidRide-style bait-and-switch yet again?

        ST already took its shot at West Seattle BRT: I sit on it every morning and afternoon as it trudges through the same traffic SOV drivers sit in.

      4. I agree that the politics will be difficult. It doesn’t help that Metro has screwed up the term “BRT”. Other cities have done that with light rail. In this city, however, people think of light rail as being largely grade separated and fast. They think of BRT as a different colored bus, with level boarding and occasional off board payment.

        So this will be an education effort. We will need to point to examples in other cites. When it comes to West Seattle, we will have to propose specific projects (to answer Martin’s question) such as:

        1) WSTT — This is essential for any BRT plan. This doesn’t solve the West Seattle bridge problem, but this makes life easier (much easier) most of the day. It is only the morning rush hour that is terrible.

        2) Build ramps connecting the SoDo busway to the Freeway. This is part of the WSTT plan (you can see it on the picture — but I think it is worth mentioning.

        3) SOV Metering. This is pretty cheap and is done throughout the city. Basically, this pushes the traffic back onto the streets, and away from the freeway itself. For example, at the Delridge ramp, you have two lanes — one for HOV and one for SOV. The SOV waits, the HOV doesn’t. This allows a bus to jump ahead quite a bit. This isn’t perfect (by any means) but it is still much better than before. Traffic is much worse heading out of West Seattle, rather than into it. By adding metered traffic lights, you reduce the number of cars on the freeway. You also (even without additional work) get the buses up to the HOV lanes. This would be controversial (for sure). A lot of drivers won’t like it, but they should be used to it. I don’t think anyone feels that a trip on I-5 is substantially slower because of the metered entrances — they realize they only apply when I-5 is slow (and it doesn’t matter where you wait).

        4) Add HOV lanes on Avalon (it sure looks like that would be cheap). The fact that this isn’t done is really crazy, and shows that Metro never took BRT seriously. In contrast, the city considers this sort of thing essential (and is just trying to decide whether to take the left lane or the right lane on Madison). In this case, there aren’t many cross streets that back up (I would guess) so I would just take the right lane.

        5) Add HOV lanes on other streets as well (Delridge, Admiral Way, Fauntleroy). In some cases this will be very difficult or unnecessary, but in many cases, this is a really big deal. This is where you start to clearly get a better result with BRT improvements. Not only do you avoid the transfer, but the trip is faster in areas away from the freeway.

        6) Signal priority along all the major routes. There are a few places where this would be tricky, but in most places it is looks pretty simple.

        7) Double down on the Avalon “bypass”. So I would have the 116 head to Avalon. When traffic is light, this will be annoying, but that is how a typical light rail line (or real BRT) works. The 41 goes straight from Northgate to downtown — the light rail line will make stops along the way. If Avalon is fast (as it should be) and getting on the freeway is fast, it really isn’t much of a detour.

        8) Improve the bus lane weave. I’m not sure how bad this is, really. It is a tricky thing. Cars have to cross over the HOV lane (which is second to the right) if they are getting on the freeway or getting off of it. There are really two different use cases you want to eliminate:

        * People trying to get from the west to 99. They need to change over into the right lane. I would move the paint back and force them to get into that lane before the steel mill. This basically eliminates that merge. Once the buses enter that lane, the cars coming from the west have already moved over.

        * People who entered around on the steel mill (Delridge, Admiral or Avalon) need to get onto the “main line” (to head towards I-5). Ideally you build a new bypass lane. Right now, that right lane is an exit only lane for 99. Change that so that you can go straight in the right lane. Eventually the lane has to merge, but eventually the HOV lane ends (as the buses take the ramp). Work would have to be done in the area to build the ramp (and build the next suggestion) so that could all be done together. Then again, none of this may be necessary. If those ramps are all metered and folks headed to 99 have already moved over, there may not be that much traffic there.

        9) Lastly (and this is the most expensive part) I would add more HOV lanes and ramps. If the buses avoid the 35th street on ramp, then you really don’t need to add that much. Metering will help a lot. It may be all that is necessary for buses to get into the existing HOV lanes. If not, then you might have to widen some of the ramps. Either way, though, you want new HOV lanes from around 99 (where they fade out) to the new ramp. This isn’t a huge amount of new freeway, and it is where recent work was done. It isn’t that expensive — it isn’t like dealing with the freeway west of there (that area has very high bridges).

        Like I said, I’m not a civil engineer, and there may be problems with this idea. The first two ideas are essential, and have already been discussed a lot. That is the most expensive part. The next five are relatively cheap. They would be controversial, but that is life. People will lose their parking spot — they will have to wait on the surface street instead of waiting on the freeway. Boo hoo. That sort of thing is happening all over the city. People get used to it.

        The last one is the most expensive (and the second to the last one is as well if a new lane is added). But as I mentioned, it isn’t that expensive. The widening of the Spokane Street Viaduct cost 163 million, according to this:
        This might be more expensive, but not a lot more.

        So basically, by my estimation, after you paid for the WSTT, you would have to spend another 250 to 500 million (and I think that is being conservative) to have buses run essentially unimpeded from Queen Anne to various spots in West Seattle. It wouldn’t be like light rail from downtown to the UW (that never stops) but more like light rail along Rainier Valley (fast, just not super fast). Overall though, I’m convinced that for the vast majority of riders, their point to point trip would be much faster than if we built a single light rail line to West Seattle. Ideally we would build three or four lines to West Seattle, but that is ridiculously expensive, and simply won’t happen. This is the next best thing — by a long shot.

      5. Or RossB, tell King County Metro to take a copy of the Community Transit Swift manual and use that.

        Basically, that’s how BRT is supposed to work – as a cost-effective surface street level subway.

      6. I agree, Joe. I think we can start by saying “It will be like Swift, not like RapidRide”. I’m sure a lot of people will wonder what that is, but they will quickly figure out how good it is and how popular it is.

    7. I think there’s something to the worry about ‘too-big’ packages, but less so in this round.

      Three of the five subareas are hung up on the ‘need’ for a spine-rail extension. Whatever the dubious merits of those rail lines, two-thirds of a rail line is even more useless.

      Yes, some transit advocates recognize the case for terminating Link at Ash Way or thereabouts, but not one in a thousand Everett voters will see that. They’re either for a rail line, or against it. All the very important people have told them that they need this to “solve traffic”.

      The Eastside is more complicated. If a larger package means we get to send yet more money to Everett, the larger package will hurt the electoral prospects. But if it means the Eastside gets to do more projects to more places, it’s a positive. That SAE/package size dynamic has yet to play out.

      1. The thing is, there aren’t that many people in Everett, relative to the other areas south of the new station:

        104,655 – Everett
        18,671 – Mill Creek
        36,275 – Lynnwood
        40,400 – Edmonds
        20,198 – Mountlake Terrace

        So there are more people to the north (in Everett and places along the way) but not a lot more. That’s the “diminishing returns” thing I mentioned. If you are in Everett, then you voted for light rail to Lynnwood. That will make your trip to Seattle much better. But if you are in Lynnwood, then extending Link to Everett gets you very little. There is no reverse commute there. Buses handle that just fine.

      2. Agree wholeheartedly with you on the actual merits of this thing. But, in a place with South Snohomish’ transit mode share, a technical argument about LRT to Everett vs LRT to Ash Way and BRT beyond is going to exceed the attention span of most voters. Most non-transit users just don’t have a very intuitive grasp of how good transit works. (a lot of riders don’t either, but that’s for another day).

        But voters have been told, for many years, that they are going to solve traffic by stuffing growth into Everett and building a train so they don’t clutter up I-5.

        Snohomish leadership has also stoked up quite a bit of anger over how their County has paid so much for Sound Move/ST2 and gotten nothing back (yes, it’s delusional, but that’s the perception out there).

        So I think the feeling out there in the broad expanse of low-density Mill Creek and North Creek and Bothell is that ST3 is how they get the new residents out of their neighborhoods, up to Everett, and off their highways. Remember how much of Everett’s growth target is a reaction to unwanted growth and congestion in the South Snohomish SFH sprawl. It’s like Totem Lake on a 10x scale.

        And their feelings about how it will work (or not) will large turn on whether they think somebody else will take the train to Everett. Not many voters are planning to take it themselves because they recognize it goes nowhere near most of them.

    8. “the more expensive projects discussed in Seattle (e. g. West Seattle light rail) are unpopular with transit experts.”

      But those get you more city votes, so your mileage (no pun intended) may vary.

      1. Well my worry is that the city folks will simply reject it. If that is the case, then we are doomed. I really don’t see how you can build West Seattle light rail, Ballard to UW light rail and UW to Ballard light rail with the budget we are talking about. If this is what is proposed, then I’ll shut up about the idiocy of West Seattle light rail and fully support the whole thing (hell, I’ll probably take the train — although I will whine about the transfer). Other combinations might work, but seem really problematic, from a political standpoint:

        1) UW to Ballard light rail plus Ballard to downtown light rail. West Seattle voters would have a major hissy fit. This would be a bad idea, politically.

        2) West Seattle light rail plus Ballard to Downtown light rail. This might pass (Viva la monorail!) but you would still get lots of people asking why we aren’t building projects that are clearly better (UW to Ballard light rail). If this was half ass (and it would likely be half ass) then it would fail (folks like me would have a hissy fit).

        3) UW to Ballard light rail plus West Seattle light rail. A weird combination, and I don’t know what people would do. Would folks in Queen Anne be pissed? Maybe. Maybe not.

        This is why I believe it is best if we save Sound Transit from itself. There won’t be enough money to dilute the idiocy of West Seattle light rail (again — I think it is stupid for West Seattle) yet there will be political pressure to built it. If they only had enough money for:

        1) UW to Ballard — I think this would pass. West Seattle voters would be pissed, but they would be pissed at the state, not ST. Besides, it isn’t like Ballard got a quick connection to downtown, so it doesn’t look like Ballard was picked over West Seattle.

        2) WSTT — Half a loaf is better than none. Again, if someone in West Seattle is pissed about the lack of a light rail line, they are pissed at the state. Meanwhile, they ask the state (and city and Sound Transit) for other improvements, so that the line can be made better. When the dust settles, more people will get a better transit connection. Meanwhile, Queen Anne is OK. Ballard is OK (a bit disappointed, and they have to deal with a bridge that goes up) but OK (again, half a loaf is better than none).

        Of course Sound Transit could propose (should propose) these two together (along with West Seattle bus improvements) if they get the full package. I just doubt they will, which is why I don’t think that assuming that “the more money the better” is true in this case.

  3. And again, all this money spent on building new roads without raising sufficient money to maintain the roads we already have. The transportation maintenance backlog in this state is enormous – building new anything (roads, transit, bike facilities, etc.) without providing appropriate maintenance funds is just making the problem worse.

    Sometimes I wonder who is more short-sighted, voters or the politicians who represent them.

    1. Why do politicians do it? Because that’s how they get re-elected. They probably understand the need for maintenance but there’s no political value in it, especially when it can be construed as “Raising taxes without providing any visible benefit.”

      One thing that should be made more clear is whether maintenance means incremental improvements, replacing worn-out parts only. Seattle is going through maintaining roads and making complete streets at the same time. Could that also be done; e.g., to put a sidewalk on 520 that was forgotten originally? Incremental improvements would make people see they’re getting something for their maintenance dollars. Likewise, I’m opposed to the “We should just maintain what we have and build nothing” argument because that locks us into a skewed high-energy-dependent car-and-truck infrastructure forever.

    2. I think the problem is politics, and the fact that it is often fought in the middle. There are Republicans that will vote against any gas tax proposal, even one focused on maintenance. There are Democrats that will support almost any package (as long as it has some bit of transit attached). So all the Democrats have to do is find a handful of Republicans that will go along with the rest of the package. This leads us to the crap that has been proposed (specifically 167/509). It is no coincidence that the project cuts right through swing districts.

      A coalition focused on maintenance might be possible, if Republicans were more focused on accomplishments, instead of demagoguery. A few Republicans (along with a lot of Green Democrats) could pass a bill focused on maintenance, along with letting voters pass transit package (no skin off the nose of those Republicans — it wouldn’t occur in their districts anyway, and if it did, then why stand in the way of the voters). But either there aren’t any Republicans willing to do this, or the Democrats can’t find them. Either way it shows that the state is dysfunctional.

      1. I think the problem is politics, and the fact that it is often fought in the middle. There are Republicans that will vote against any gas tax proposal, even one focused on maintenance. There are Democrats that will support almost any package (as long as it has some bit of transit attached).

        I think this greatly understates the genuine enthusiasm for highway expansion among Democratic legislators, and the Governor.

  4. I assume the Sound Transit vote will not come packaged with roads, so I suppose that’s a plus?

  5. Can anyone comment on the blue route identified on the map by #5, HCT from Tukwila to Bellevue and beyond? I’ve never heard of this before.

    I am disturbed by the lack of high speed East-West routes in South King. There are now multiple northwest corridors (LINK, bus, Sounder), but no chance to cut between them in the area bounded by Sumner, Tacoma, Burien and Renton.

    1. That sounds like 405 BRT. It’s not #5 or #13 so it doesn’t seem to have a number. The numbers are just for things that were changed in the December 2014 update. It looks like it’s officially a “potential rail extension”.

    2. #5 is the dark blue HCT between Lake City and Bellevue through Bothell. It doesn’t go to Tukwila.

      The light blue between Burien and Lynnwood through Tukwila and Bellevue is denoted “Potential Rail Extensions” in the Legend. It is unnumbered, which I assume means it is a pre-existing plan, not part of this proposal.

      I would think you should be able to get information about all of the numbered routes on the map by reading the proposal.

      I don’t have any actual information here about either of these lines beyond my interpretation of the map.

    3. The map does not directly relate to ST3. The long-range plan is a wishlist of things that ST might want to do in the future. The only relationship is that ST3 can’t have anything that’s not on the map, unless it gets added to the map.

  6. I think we should seriously consider asking our reps to vote no on ESSB 5987 which contains ST3 authority and ask to get clean authority next session. The Sierra Club, 350 etc have come out against the bill which will certainly make our reps weary to vote yea. Certainty would be nice for ST, but it may be a good idea to make the agency come out with its proposals to get good stuff in there.

      1. The “poison pill” is a short-term problem. A democratic legislature could easily strip that provision from the bill if we win more seats in the state senate. But if we lose two more years of revenue, engineering, and construction, then its two more years we’re waiting for light rail.

      2. @Dave — But it isn’t clear we will get light rail anyway. There is no guarantee that any proposal will pass.

        I’m honestly torn on the whole idea. I would hate to see good projects delayed, but it isn’t clear that Sound Transit will probably good projects anyway. Furthermore, there are a few trends that we should keep in mind:

        1) People are moving to Seattle much faster than they are moving to the suburbs. I crunched the number (based on this — and the numbers are much more dramatic than the chart implies. If you take Tacoma out of the equation for a second, then in absolute numbers, more people are moving to Seattle than are moving to all the other cites combined. That includes the cities like Lakewood and Everett. All this means that political power is moving to the city, not away from it.

        2) The next state election is a general election. This means that it is possible that we will get a more friendly state legislature. The legislature might allow individual areas (like Seattle) to vote and pass individual proposals (to be run by Sound Transit). This could mean Seattle could craft their own proposal, and not worry about pleasing the Sound Transit board (or any other jurisdiction). The same is true for other areas as well.

        Like I said, I’m torn on the package. The roads package is crap (which is why the Sierra Club and other organizations oppose it). Killing those projects and replacing it with a package focused on maintenance would be better for the state. But it might delay light rail (or it might not). Whether replacing that package with a smaller one is even possible is hard to say. If we simply ended up with nothing, then it would be embarrassing to the governor. But I think he misplayed his hand horribly on this one (and I’m a big fan of the guy — I’ve personally campaigned for him, putting up signs together, when he ran for congress). He should have proposed a more “complete what we started and focus on maintenance” package and tried to get a few fiscally responsible Republicans on board.

      3. The legislature might allow individual areas (like Seattle) to vote and pass individual proposals (to be run by Sound Transit

        I think this is highly unrealistic. Suburban legislators, especially Democratic ones, would correctly see this as a gambit to kneecap their suburban rail aspirations, and have more than enough votes to strangle this in its crib. The only thing that *might* clear that obstacle is if ST3 went to the ballot and was decisively crushed in the suburbs but passed in Seattle, kinda like the last Metro Prop 1.

      4. Yeah, what Martin said. A lot more needs to change about Washington state politics than a bare D majority in the Senate for the state government to allow Seattle new authority to buy themselves nice things. The political calculus for suburban legislators is obviously stacked against this possibility.

      5. Why should we get it done when this specific legislation is terrible? Why should ST have to have 3.25% into the general fund for no reason? Why should everywhere else get roads ‘for free’ while we have to fight so hard for light rail?

        This is a terrible deal, and we need a hard reset to get something close to rational.

      6. I don’t like all of this deal, but it’s a compromise deal.

        I would have preferred the gas taxes go to a public vote too.

        But we’re out of time. Take it or leave it. Take a deal that gets us votes on Community Transit, Sound Transit & new transit grant money… or wait a few more years if ever. Uh, not realistic.

        I’m also seeing reports the Tri-County Connector in NW Washington State is getting new money. Sorry but time you sucked it up and supported this. Too many vulnerable people need this patch.

      7. Please explain to me in what world it is acceptable for ST to pay $518M for no reason into the general fund.

      8. No personal attacks.

        State transportation construction projects are exempt because they are not “a regional transit authority” which the law restricts. Considering ST is the only regional transit authority….

      9. Well then my apologies. I think the State Senate Rs are really playing rough.

        Problem is, they’ve successfully run out the clock and we have to take the best deal we can get.

    1. That would be incredibly short sighted. It would make the perfect the enemy of the good. There has not been a transportation package in Oly for a decade. Oly is not the region– you can’t just snap your fingers and count on the progressive leaders in Oly doing what the locals did here in 2008 (bringing forward a transit-only measure after Roads & Transit failed). Oly is controlled by Republicans and non-Puget Sound legislators, and there are many other issues competing for attention. and ot my knowledge, no tax increase vote has ever been taken by the legislature during an election year.

      I appreciate the fight Sierra Club and other climate advocates bring to the LCFS issue. But it poses a puzzling schism in the environmental community, where one bloc advocates for curbing climate change and another pushes for more transit. It puzzles me that the climate advocates haven’t embraced what transit can do for the climate issue. There probably is no single thing we could do, aside form mandating electric vehicles, to curb tailpipe emissions than complete the regional electric light rail system. That appears to be the Governor’s logic in embracing the package. It’s pretty sound.

      1. That is exactly what the argument was for Roads and Transit. That is why I went against the Sierra Club and voted yes for the thing. I thought there was no way that we would get anything “greener”. I was wrong.

        Meanwhile, no one knows what the legislature will look like in a couple years. No one knows if ST3 will even pass (if the state gives it approval). The trend is towards more urbanization, not less. Eventually this will lead to a “greener” legislature, if not the next election (a general election) but in 2022 (after redistricting occurs). If I knew what Sound Transit was going to propose, or if this was a case of Sound Transit getting the money, then I would definitely live with the road turkeys to get the transit swans. But without a guarantee of anything, I am torn.

      2. … and it took a historically great youth-mobilizing presidential candidate, an well-timed spike in gas prices, and the looming recession holding off just long enough to keep voters feeling flush. Opposing R&T is a gamble that worked out, unless you hate highways more than you like rail.

      3. The House is run by Puget Sound Democrats. The Senate is narrowly in the control of Republicans largely because of people like Steve Litzow (Education committee chair), Joe Fain (majority floor leader), Andy Hill (chair Ways & Means), Mark Miloscia (chair Accountability & Reform), Pam Roach (chair Government Operations & Security, vice Chair Rules [the lt. gov. is the chair]), Steve O’Ban (chair Human Services, Health & Housing), Bruce Dammeier. While I agree that trolls like transportation chair Curtis King have entirely too much influence, the notion that the Puget Sound area is is an unwilling victim of an Eastern Washington Republican cabal doesn’t pass the sniff test.

      4. Yes if Andy Hill, Litzow, etc really wanted more light rail Curtis King wouldn’t really matter.

      5. What will a few bad light rail lines to nowhere do about climate change? Jack shit! 2°C forget about it. That’s not gonna happen anyway. We’re heading towards 4+°C despite whatever the hipster greenies want to tell us (but that’s another topic). It’s much more important to avoid those stupid highways that are setting up the state for long-term fiscal and environmental problems. That would actually be meaningful.
        In the meantime it seems ST needs another wack on the head as a learning experience. In this case the bad is the enemy of the good.

      6. My problem is not with the carbon tax poison pill thing, my problem is with the composition of the package where Seattle gets no state money and ST has to pay 3.25% to the general fund as ‘tribute’ (as the twitter page said).

    2. There’s an extreme air of unreality around the Sierra Club/350 posturing on this. I don’t know if they’re just preening for their base or if it’s a fund-raising gambit.

      But the notion that there’s some better bill out there where the Seattle left gets everything it wants, and the rest of the state gives up its priorities, is ridiculous. This is the deal, and nobody in the Legislature that has worked for this will vote against it.

      If a handful of House Dems vote against it, it’s only because they know their votes won’t be decisive.

      1. We all know Jessyn Farrell is a no.

        Yup, the transit community really erred on endorsing her. Big mistake.

        The political left in this state is frankly in worse shape than the ideologically inconsistent political right I’ve been slagging a good slice of the past 24 hours.

      2. I think many of them aren’t nearly concerned about Link expansion as stopping the highways. Given general gridlock, a policy of obstruction isn’t a terrible strategy. If we never get the rail expansion, that’s just collateral damage, secondary to their project.

      3. Here’s what the Seattle enviros are thinking:

        What’s going to be better for climate change? Massive freeway expansion, no clean fuels, and suburban light rail, or no freeways and no light rail?

        If your number 1 concern is climate change, opposing this bill is a very defensible choice.

        If they fail in stopping this bad-for-the-climate transportation package and light rail is on the ballot in 2016, most of them will probably still support ST3.

  7. Great news for most.

    The problem is that once again, the gas taxes do not have to seek voter approval. As if there are so many voters clamoring for more new roads – where are they???

    But Community Transit/CT & Sound Transit must seek voter approval. It is no secret where I stand on the former – firmly for CT and on the latter – a bit wobbly.

    The mealy-mouthed representation why by Senator King’s spokeswoman I got several months ago tells me the Republican-led State Senate has gone wobbly. If we Republicans had State Senators with integrity, we’d demand the gas tax go to a vote as well. As I wrote last night on the open thread, I think the game is rigged.

    1. One, at least in my opinion, fairly significant difference between the two cases is that both Sound Transit and Community Transit lack elected legislative bodies. Overall, I believe that this is a good thing. In the past, others have explained at length why they hold this opinion too, and I see no reason to expand upon what they have said here. However, when coupled with a not unreasonable desire for electoral control of taxes, this lack creates a need for popular votes when these boards want to raise money.

      I’m on record as saying that I think we vote on too many things, that I am opposed to legal requirements that particular taxes be applied exclusively to particular expenditures, and that I am opposed to constant electoral second guessing of competent, elected legislative bodies through referenda. I am also, in general, opposed to attempts to require supermajorities to conduct business.

      There are situations where I think extra hurdles may be appropriate. They all have the form of making it difficult for legislative bodies to legislate the actions of future legislative bodies. The obvious example is constitutional amendment. However, for bodies that aren’t empowered to print money, issuing large amounts of long term debt may also be an example, especially if the debt is sold as being backed by particular revenue streams. Another possibility would be when the legislative body, while elected, is less than perfectly representative.

    2. Yes, I agree. It is too bad that there aren’t a set of “Dan Evans” Republicans that push for a smaller road package focused on maintenance. I’m afraid that most Republicans want to play games — they want to go back to their constituents and say “See — I voted no”, which means basically they accomplished nothing. Meanwhile, a very small handful will be able to say “See, I got us a road, right here in our very district”, while ignoring the fact that traffic will still be a mess, and roads everywhere are falling apart.

      I honestly think that a set of Republicans (it wouldn’t have to be too many) along with just about all Democrats could push a package consisting of maintenance and the Sound Transit authority. Whether those Republican politicians exist or not is hard to say.

    3. It’s not because of elected bodies. King County and Seattle are elected bodies, and they also have to ask the state’s permission to raise taxes beyond previously-granted levels. The reason they don’t go to the state every year is that they don’t use all of their granted authority: they leave some tax capacity in reserve for emergencies or planned growth. Metro and Community Transit are using their full tax authority. Pierce Transit is not but it can’t get voters to approve the rest. CT and PT are transit benefit districts, so they’re separate bodies, but Metro is a county department so its leadership is the elected county council.

      1. And King and Snohomish County _don’t_ have to go to the voters every single time they want to raise a penny.

      2. … which is because most of their things are ongoing and the system was set up decades ago when legislators first asked “What do cities need?” rather than “How can I make cities live within an arbitrary amount?” But that wonderful system had an oversight on high-capacity transit: it wasn’t included. What we need is more than the existing or step-by-step capacities allow, which is why ST has to go to the Legislature every time.

      3. The complaint at hand is that the new gas tax won’t need a vote of the people, but ST will. To quote @Joe AvgeekJoe Kunzler, in the message to which I was _directly_ replying.

        “The problem is that once again, the gas taxes do not have to seek voter approval. … But Community Transit/CT & Sound Transit must seek voter approval.” [Ellipses mine]

        How you somehow morphed this into an discussion about how (if at all) we should limit the scope of government I don’t know.

  8. I agree with Avgeek Joe. Let’s stop making perfect be the enemy of great. If this really means $15bn of taxing authority, it is a huge win for us. I wasn’t even sure we’d get this far. Will full authority, I think we’ll get a package that stands a strong chance of passing in 2016.

  9. It’s just such a shame that there must be this legislature dance about one referendum vote. I’d rather have all this political energy being spent in Olympia be instead spent on a sincere discussion about the appropriate role of the state in transit operations funding, and a permanent abdication of this state pre-authorization of major transit capital funding referenda as long as methods and guidelines are in place.

  10. Vote for me – 4 cars in every garage and a mule.
    Tacoma to Dupont has one of everything.
    Light Rail, Commuter Rail, Express Bus, and BRT.
    Where’s the mule?

  11. Poor Orting. It’s only being considered for high capacity transit, whereas DuPont is being considered for bus rapid transit, Sounder commuter rail, and light rail.

    I see Sound Transit has its priorities straight. Go where the density is(n’t).

    1. It’s because of the lahars. Can’t put all your eggs in that basket. /snark

      1. Joe, these are unacceptable comments and will not be tolerated on this forum.

  12. I wouldn’t worry about the so-called “low carbon fuel standard”, which is all about fossil fuels. It doesn’t do a damn thing to promote *zero carbon* alternatives such as renewable electricity.

    1. On the radio today, I heard an advertisement saying that the Democrats had passed anti-renewables legislation this session. I suspect that the truth is far more complicated, and am curious whether anyone knows what is really going on.

  13. [ot] I think we need to reassess in the transit community who our real friends are and aren’t in the state legislature.

    Allowing a massive highway tax hike with a supposed ally of transit speaking against the referendum clause is not being a friend of transit.


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