taxesSound Transit staff presented a financial analysis at Friday’s workshop in support of ST3 planning. Perhaps in response to Seattle Subway’s ST Complete proposal, or the general desire to fund more projects than the new revenue authority allows in 15 years, the analysis explores breaking the rule of thumb (from the 2007 and 2008 votes) that 15-year packages are more politically palatable.*

As someone interested in the ultimate shape of ST3, there are three things you should take away from this analysis:

1) Don’t confuse different types of dollars. This is probably the most boring of the points but also the most important. This mistake will result in lots of unworkable projects and lots of misleading talking points for the no campaign.

All of the corridor study cost estimates are in 2014 dollars. All revenue figures are in Year of Expenditure (YOE) dollars.

We all know what 2014 dollars are. A YOE dollar’s true value varies over time, and is worth less than a current one. Thus a $15 billion revenue package sums up numbers in different units, and doesn’t actually communicate much. But it’s much easier to compute for the boffins, because fewer assumptions are built into the model.

So how we turn 2014 dollars into YOE? The short answer is, you can’t. You’d have to understand the phasing of various projects, how cash flow varies over those phases, and then apply the correct inflation rate over those years. Last year, I very roughly took some historical ST1 phasing information, and made a guess that $3 in YOE dollars buys you about $2 in 2014 dollars. That’s a bit better than a wild guess, and in any case only valid for a 15-year time frame. ST will have to do some detailed staff work to work out the translation.

2) 20 years buys a bit more, 25 years a lot more.

The headline figure in the legislature last session was $15 billion. That figure referred to total (YOE) collections over 15 years. Because ST will also sell bonds, apply for federal grants, collect fares, and so on, any amount of collection enables a larger amount of capital spending. A 15-year revenue cycle using all three taxes (sales, MVET, property) provides about $26 billion (YOE) for projects, which may involve tough choices and/or some value engineering.

Another five years, as one might expect, gets you 33% more taxes. But due to bonding limitations and so forth, the total budget goes up to only $30 billion (YOE), which may be about enough to build the Board’s apparent highest priorities. But give it another 5 years (through 2041) and ST1 and ST2 bonds start retiring, restoring ST’s bonding capacity and raising the total budget to as much as $48 billion (YOE). Of course, that far out the actual purchasing power of those dollars is likely quite a bit diminished from today. That should be enough to build everything the Board seems to prioritize, and a several additional projects (Ballard-UW, anyone?) to boot.

3) Subarea Equity may not mean what we think it means.

Most observers probably learned something when ST CFO Brian McCartan explained the true origins of the policy that taxes collected in one subarea must (roughly speaking) be spent in that subarea. As it turns out, the statute only requires that the proposition ”identifies the degree to which revenues generated within each county will benefit the residents of that county.” The restrictions on spending are a matter of board policy, and the board can change it.

Josh Feit’s report quotes several board members expressing sentiments that a project’s physical location has little to do with who really benefits. That’s a good thing, as subarea accounting is a futile exercise only necessary due to excessive parochialism.

In Sound Transit 1, Subarea Equity was generally understood to advantage the suburbs over Seattle. Around the time of Sound Transit 2, I was one of the people arguing that Link reaching the city line meant the valence had reversed. Today, I’m not sure what to believe. Mayor Murray certainly believes the case for Seattle projects is convincing.

Moreover, the corridor studies suggest that the most productive system would involve shipping at least some dollars from East King County to Snohomish County, leaving the traditional Seattle/suburb rivalry entirely out of it. As always, the board will have to balance regionwide merit against electoral feasibility, and the outcome is unclear.

* It is debatable, to say the least, that package length had any impact on differing outcomes in those years.

131 Replies to “Sound Transit 3 Financial Options”

  1. The longer timeframe with the larger total expenditure is NOT in response to Seattle Subway’s ST Complete. The ST3 package has been in work for something like a year now.

    The problem ST faced was that in order for ST3 to be meaningful it had to be larger than the $15B originally targeted. In particular Ballard and WS could not fit inside the $15B number, and it was thought that adding these two destinations was a must for ST3 to pass (both the board and at the polls).

    So ST had already gone to where Seattle Subway eventually ended up.

    I’m curious how some in the legislature will react however. They thought they had approved only the $15b package

    1. If the legislature wanted to have limited taxes by time limit, they could have put that in their legislation. They specifically avoided doing that to give flexibility.

      1. I wouldn’t give the state legislators that much credit – they can’t even close a cross-state trail without screwing up the language and shooting themselves in the foot.

      2. The legislature did not limit it in ST1 or ST2. It followed the same pattern in ST3. If it had wanted to limit it, there would have been a visible political rhetoric for that and it would have been explicitly added. But the $11 billion vs $15 billion debate was really about the tax rate not the duration. Anti-tax legislators want to say they raised the tax rate as little as possible.

        It’s possible that some legislators are surprised that ST can build as much as it wants now without coming back to the legislature and being a pawn in another highway deal, but that’s just speculation. Legislators should remember it’s the same as they did in ST1 and ST2. If some legislators are too stupid or new or fundamentalist to realize that, their staffers and finance advisors aren’t.

  2. I’m not sure sure about that timeline Lazarus.

    The last time ST staff presented to the board basic sizes of packages, they only used a 15 year timeline with different levels of taxation. See Martin’s post here:

    Also, Seattle Subway started working on ‘Going Big’ back in July:

    1. That was supposed to be in response to Lazarus. Can we get an STB edit feature for Christmas?

      1. +1E16 for edits, and darker fonts in posting mode. I can barely see what I’m typing until it’s posted, then it’s too late to fix.

      2. I have the same problem, mic. The font went to grey after the last software update and I find it annoying. I can think of several blogs that have much better interfaces. Some allow you to edit. Others allow you to preview. But I shouldn’t complain — I’m way too lazy to help.

      3. @Morgan — Firefox on Windows with a big monitor being read by fading eyes. I can read the previous comments quite well, but what I type is a bit fuzzy (periods are hard to pick out, etc.).

    2. Anyone who knows anything about ST knows that they wouldn’t junk 1year plus of work and re-tool in 2 weeks with a new design concept, new technical plan, and new funding plan. This isn’t software design where you got some kids playing around at a whiteboard. Heck, it would take significantly longer than 2 weeks just to get a legal opinion on this, and trust me ST spends a lot of money on lawyers.

      And anyone who believes ST re-tooled in response to Seattle Subway hasn’t had their ear to the ground over the last year. If they had, they would know that 1) LR to Ballard and WS was a min requirement that was driving the package, 2) that #1 above meant that Ballard-UW was dead, dead, dead, 3) that #1 above was a funding stretch that would take some creative financial planning. This has been the state of affairs regarding ST3 for about a year now, even if the more casual observers didn’t know it.

      Na, I suspect the opposite is true. I suspect that the folks at Seattle Subway heard that ST was heading down this path and developed a similar plan to help buttress support. This plan will take a lot of support, and if Seattle Subway can help make the case then more power to them

      1. There have been voices for some time arguing both ways (smaller package, larger package). Seattle Subway has been putting support in the bigger package for some time and so over time that has had some effect.

        The biggest new piece of this was the margin by which Seattle passed the Move Seattle levy in an off year election. This combined with the continued activism along with the reality of the numbers not adding up for a 15 year package has created a reality where the big package is not only doable, but the desired alternative.

        You’re probably right that this hasn’t been turning on a dime but its been like a big slow motion correction. I think until the big vote in Seattle there was a lot more caution about potentially keeping the package smaller (while also considering a bigger package). Now it looks like the bigger package might be the safer option and things will probably continue to trend in that direction as long as we keep up the vocal support for a bigger package, it will continue to become closer to reality.

      2. Again Lazarus, the facts doesn’t back up your statement.

        As previously stated, Seattle Subway started publicly pushing extending the time line back in July.

        And when ST staff provided the board with various funding options back in April, they were only using a 15 year timeline with different levels of taxation. See Martin’s post here:

      3. I don’t think anyone doubts that ST had at least considered extending the timeframe, but it needed the absolute deluge SS was able to wroght upon the board to allow for expanding the timeframe.

      4. I think the lack of a SLU stop also doomed the UW-Ballard line. We have to remember how much our city is changing…
        UW-Ballard was a good idea when we thought we didn’t have enough money to do it right and go Downtown to Ballard but it looks like the bean counters have figured out a way to make it happen.
        The high ridership numbers to Ballard should also ensure they don’t cheap out and go at grade.

      5. But, Bill, don’t forget how UW-Ballard also serves Fremont and connects Ballard to everywhere else in the north part of the city. SLU definitely needs service, but it’s not the only neighborhood that does.

      6. Ballard-UW is not doomed. It just doesn’t have high board priority like Ballard-downtown does. A lot of the Ballard-downtown preference was because of former mayor McGinn who’s gone now. However, Ballard-UW has to compete with a multiline downtown tunnel, which Ballard-downtown can use and contribute to but Ballard-UW can’t. The board kept Ballard-UW in the project menu to keep its options open. We’ll know in April whether any of the draft system plans include it. And if they don’t, we can ask for it again before the plan is finalized in June.

      7. To be clearer about the either/or or both/and situations, ST’s current direction is unlikely to choose Ballard-UW instead of Ballard-downtown, and it’s now part of the multiline downtown tunnel issue and regional downtown circulation, which favors Ballard-downtown. But if ST “goes big”, then it can add Ballard-UW in addition to Ballard-downtown.

      8. If Ballard to Downtown is built, I don’t see how the numbers will justify doing a UW- Ballard line just for Fremont, Wallingford and a connection North. Fremont is fun to visit but doesn’t have the density. Too many other areas are also left out. Lake City, Renton, Southcenter, Bothell, All those areas have the numbers over Fremont and Wallingford. They will be an easy Pronto ride away from a Ballard station or U District… I would love to go to the Fremont Sunday market by link but I would be just as inclined to train and bike…

      9. It seems apparent to me that ST has hedged its bets on Ballard – UW. If the 15th elevated option is chosen, past Market the natural alignment is elevated north to Ballard High and eventually presumably Northgate. If the Salmon Bay tunnel is chosen, you’ve got a tunnel station under Market Street pointed east towards the UW. A larger budget could fit both segments of that alignment.

        The real question is what the city is going to push for – I believe they asked specifically for the 65th extension to be studied, and they want a multimodal replacement Ballard Bridge, so they seem to be leaning towards the old monorail alignment. It’d be nice to have a 70ft high bridge for 15th that opens less, but I see the wisdom in a crosstown route if its an extension of the radial Ballard-Downtown line. No need for a separate O&M base or the highly dubious possibility of building even a maintenance track connection to the spine.

      10. A Ballard-UW line would be very competitive because of the number of people who live within walking distance of 45, are prepared to use transit for non-work trips, and sometimes don’t even have a car or would like to get rid of it. There’s no corridor that deserves a line more than 45th except Denny Way/CD.

      11. @Rick Sanchez

        SDOT also asked for investigating branching the Ballard line near Market Street:

        Ballard to UW is still on the project lists, so its conceivable to extend both towards UW and Crown Hill from Ballard if the budget is big enough. The tunnel Ballard will be attached to will also have plenty of spare capacity for such an expansion since trains would only run every 6 minutes. The trains would just have to turn back before getting to the Rainier Valley segment.

      12. @Lazarus — While I have previously questioned your basic understanding of transit systems and transit geography, I have never questioned your knowledge of the Sound Transit Board and the way they think. I see no reason to change my opinion of either.

        So, folks, there you have it. Sound Transit was focused on getting light rail from West Seattle to Ballard regardless of the cost or the efficacy of it. Any doubt about the honesty, integrity, knowledge or competency of Sound Transit can be summed up in the second paragraph of your excellent comment.

      13. By the way, Lazarus, your first paragraph is a gem, and I completely agree. The idea that Sound Transit would throw away all the planning they have done and suddenly plan hundreds of miles of additional rail just because an organization started a letter campaign is absurd. If this passes we will be saddled with huge amounts of debt, with very little to show for it. But we won’t have anyone looking at the “big picture” and planning light rail where it could do the most good (like UW to Ballard or a Metro 8 subway). So Seattle Subway got half of what it wanted. Sound Transit will “go big”, they will just “deliver small”.

      14. @Charles — So Sound Transit wants to split the Ballard to UW line and send half of the trains to the UW. This would enable a one seat ride from, say, Wallingford to Interbay or maybe from 50th and Aurora to Denny and Aurora (via Ballard). Got it. To think that they opposed a branch at the UW (to Ballard) but are willing to go the other way is yet another prime example of how Sound Transit failed geography.

        Or maybe they just don’t care. As long as each neighborhood gets a shiny light rail station, it really doesn’t matter how they are connected.

      15. Ross, I don’t understand this complaint at all. There was never going to be a revenue connection to the spine at UW, so what does it matter that there is a connection to a north-south line in Ballard? Transfers at UW, which spur supporters generally found acceptable when it was pointed out that interlining was off the table, would still be possible. For someone, say, by the zoo, they can go east and transfer or have a one seat ride to downtown going west. That’s a better network outcome than a disconnected ‘rib’ on the spine

      16. Why was there never going to be a revenue connection at the UW, even though it obviously would be of much greater value than a revenue connection in Ballard? The answer is … well, just because. That is often the answer that Sound Transit gives. Why isn’t the Ballard to UW light rail line given priority over the Ballard to downtown line, even though it is cheaper, would have higher ridership (according to previous modeling) and provide much better connections to the bus system? Just because. Why isn’t a Metro 8 subway a higher priority than West Seattle light rail? Just because.

        Oh, and someone at the zoo is likely to be on the bus, coming from Aurora or Greenwood. If they want to go downtown or to South Lake Union, they will simply stay on the bus. On the other hand, someone headed to Capitol Hill will get off the bus, and, well, deal with a transfer at the UW. Just because.

      17. Interlining Ballard imposes a capacity limitation for SnoCo that wasn’t part of the original deal. Dicey political negotiation. Ridership forecasts say demand enough to run every 3 minutes peak, possibility of 6 minute branch setup further north (eg 522 or 525) foreclosed with interline. The design is already well under construction and a ‘Y’ isn’t in it. You’d have to go back to the table with the FTA, the city, the UW with their sensitivity about vibration, etc. Years of delay, or a prolonged closure if you finish the line then cut in the junction.

        The Ballard-West Seattle line was a victim of the monorail cult. ST2 could basically ignore it in favor of suburban needs, saying SMP would handle that. It’s always been the highest priority after a spine.

        And the metro 8 problem is solved in a more realistic intermediate way with the SDOT plan. Stations in LQA, SLU west and east, transfer at Westlake for the hill or UW. Build a Y in this time so it can eventually interline with a crosstown line. I think SLU is a popular and growing trip pair with all parts of the city, certainly growing much faster than the hill.

      18. Right — more “Just because”. Planning on branching at the UW should have been obvious from the beginning. Mike even contacted them (correct me if I’m wrong Mike) about doing exactly that before construction began. Their basic response was “maybe later”. Now, of course, the answer is “its too late”. Why didn’t Sound Transit plan for an obvious connection? Just because.

        Three minute peak demand to Lynnwood? Ridiculous. But even if you accept that, this won’t be the case in the middle of the day. During the middle of the day the train won’t run every three minutes, so have the trains interline then. The central core of our entire system is UW to downtown. This is the most traveled section in the state. This is the area that should have very high frequency, even in the middle of the day. You could add a turn back station at the UW, but it makes a lot more sense to just split the line. Run trains every six minutes up to Lynnwood and every six minutes over to Ballard, allowing for three minute frequency in the core.

        Not that this is the worst mistake that Sound Transit ever made. Not even close. It just shows a lack of vision and a lack of understanding of the importance of bus to rail interaction. Ballard to UW never occurred to them, because they were concerned about getting to places a lot farther away.

        The Ballard-West Seattle line was a victim of the monorail cult. I agree. Somehow the folks at Sound Transit got obsessed with this idea, even though it really should be low priority.

        I’ll admit, the term “Metro 8 subway” is very broad. The 8 does not end at South Lake Union or Capitol Hill. It continues south, through the Central Area (or Central District). The broad area comprising the Central Area and Capitol Hill is the largest contiguous high density area in Seattle*. A Metro 8 subway would help fix the problem that Link created when they only added one stop between Westlake and the UW. There are a number of options, but here is one that assumes a WSTT: — This would work just fine with a similar tunnel for trains. Here is a station listing, from south to north.

        Mount Baker Station
        Judkins Park
        23rd and Jackson or maybe Yesler — This would enable good bus connections east-west and north-south while serving a fairly dense neighborhood.
        15th and Jefferson — Good bus service heading east-west right now with the possibility of good bus service heading north-south in the future, thus creating more of a grid in the area. Also serves Swedish Cherry Hill and the south end of Seattle U (and the people living there).
        Madison and 10th — Connects to buses heading north-south as well as the Madison BRT (finally a light rail stop on Madison!). This is the edge of First Hill, one of the most densely populated and high employment areas in Seattle.
        Capitol Hill Station
        Terry and Harrison — This would be a station in the heart of South Lake Union.
        Aurora and Thomas — Connection to Aurora buses. This is very close to the previous station, but this connection (Aurora) is worth it. If the WSTT was built, then it would be essential.
        Belltown — The most densely populated area in the state and a major employer.

        I agree that South Lake Union is a popular and growing trip pair. This would connect it much better to the rest of the city than the SDOT plan. Not that I have any qualms with their route — given the parameters (a line to Ballard) I think they did a fine job. But this connects to Belltown and the Central Area while requiring a simple transfer for those coming from Ballard (assuming a WSTT or Ballard to downtown tunnel). The SDOT plan also suggests a station right at Denny, which is less than ideal. To be fair, that is a crude rendering, so maybe they plan on adding an entrance a few blocks to the north. A station several blocks to the north makes more sense (given the proximity to Westlake station and the possibility of fast and frequent east-west bus travel once Bertha is done).

        A line like that would enable a true network for the area, involving both buses and trains. You could get anywhere in the greater Central Area very quickly from anywhere on Link (Bellevue, Rainier Valley, UW, Northgate) or anywhere served by the bus tunnel (Belltown, West Seattle, Queen Anne, Ballard, Greenwood/Phinney/Aurora, South Lake Union, etc.). What is true for the Central Area is true for Belltown and South Lake Union. My guess is that building that plus the WSTT cost around as much as the new monorail route (AKA Ballard to West Seattle rail).

        * The high density area I’m talking about is roughly north of I-90, east of I-5, south of Aloha and east of MLK. It is obvious when you look at the census maps ( even without looking at the street labels.

      19. Ballard to West Seattle via interbay has been on the agenda since Virgil Bogue. I appreciate your passion, but doesn’t it make more sense to push for the possible (Ballard-UW as an extension of the radial line, bellmouth stub for an expanded 8 interline) than to relitigate design choices made two decades ago and set in stone at this point?

      20. Whether or not this is in response to Seattle Subways proposal, I would venture a guess that if the package is passed as a 25 year funding plan then SS’s proposal to cross Lake Washington with another bridge or tunnel is DOA. Should ST3 pass I doubt we’ll see another mass transportation package out of ST for perhaps a generation or maybe even longer.

      21. RossB,

        But we won’t have anyone looking at the “big picture” and planning light rail where it could do the most good (like UW to Ballard or a Metro 8 subway)

        I have no idea why you continue to call ST “incompetent” for not building the Metro 8 Subway when for the last few months all the DT/Ballard concepts have featured the key benefits of such a subway.

    3. If Seattle Subway first came up with the idea of a longer phase, that’s a remarkable achievement, but ST’s timeline and network coverage are still different from Seattle Subway’s (30 years, more Seattle service) so it’s not a complete victory. On the other hand, the board had a basic problem of fitting the loudest boardmember demands (Everett, Paine Field, Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle light rail) into a 15-year package, so it could very well have independently come up with the idea of a long phase.

      1. Mike: I’m fairly certain we were the first to push this idea, though, as others have noted – it wasn’t this week: It was nearly a year ago when we started this effort.

        Also: As you note, the may have gotten there on their own. What I do find interesting here is the rush to discount transit advocacy.

        Re: Ballard/UW. 100% still on the table.

  3. Thanks for the write-up Martin. This really drives home how complicated the financing is, and how it is easy to talk about this project or that project or a various slate of projects, but actually crafting a system plan that meets the many varied political interests while being technical grounded AND affordable is extremely difficult.

    I think the overriding takeaway here is that ST3 can probably include most (or even all) of the good candidate projects. The real interesting issues will be 1) How does the Board deal with subarea equity from an electoral politics standpoint, and 2) How long (and therefore big) of a package are we going to end up with, and consequently what gets built when? Fred Butler’s comments/questions at the workshop were really on point regarding phasing, because it appears timing will be everything.

    1. Concur 100%. Insightful post.

      I still wonder how some of the legislators will reacte when they realize that ST has found a way out of the small box they thought they had been put in, but we will see on that.

      1. The thing that is constant in all of this is the tax RATE. It’s always been within the ST Board’s purview to determine the length of the plan. Just look at past behavior to see evidence of this. The 2007 Rodas & Transit plan was a 20-year plan. The first plan proposed by then-ST Chair Nickels was a 12-year plan. They eventually settled on 15 years for ST2. So it should come as no surprise that they are considering multiple time horizons.

  4. “In Sound Transit 1, Subarea Equity was generally understood to advantage the suburbs over Seattle.”

    I’m not sure how you can say that since North King paid nothing from Sounder or ST Express. Seattle certainly benefited from them since they transported a lot of workers into the city. Of course, it makes sense when you consider that every available penny needed to be spent on Central Link.

    1. North King paid nothing for

      I also fail to see how shipping East King dollars to Snohomish benefits East King. Are there people that will ride Link for the Eastside to Lynwood and beyond? Are there people who would do the reverse commute?

      1. Maybe – just maybe – you could make that argument about 405 BRT? But I’d rather use East King dollars for a Renton – Rainier Beach shuttle, or BRISK.

        (Though, thinking cynically, it’s better that East King dollars are shipped north rather than Seattle dollars. Of course, it’d be better if the East King dollars are shipped to Seattle – those projects really would benefit East King.)

    2. By that definition the vast majority of transit lines in the region benefit Seattle because they take workers there. This is technically true, but not very useful for apportioning credit in a subarea formula. Likewise, transit entirely within the city of Seattle benefits suburbanites how use it for the last mile(s) to their jobs.

      Which goes to show that all the subarea accounting is pretty arbitrary.

    3. “I’m not sure how you can say that since North King paid nothing from Sounder or ST Express. Seattle certainly benefited from them since they transported a lot of workers i to the city.”

      It’s where people lives that matters, because they’re the ones that generate demand for transit. The company doesn’t generate it because the company isn’t moving. Companies hire people without regard to location. It’s not like Seattle companies favor Eastsiders and Snohomans because it somehow benefits from them more than from Seattlites. The person could move into or out of Seattle the day after hire and the company couldn’t control it. Most city-suburban trips are still suburbanites coming into Seattle. The main exception is the rise of reverse commuting to the Eastside, which is now 50/50 for work trips but not so much for non-work trips. Eastside reverse commuting was small enough to ignore when ST Express was set up but it’s now 50/50. Still, the model of Seattle paying for the core of the network and the suburbs paying for peripheral lines and extensions still works, has not been opposed by the suburbs, and East King even got a concession on Judkins Park Station when North King agreed to pay for it (even though North King would not have built a line to Judkins Park on its own).

  5. “Subarea Equity” was the means by which to keep the anti-transit loons from outshouting everybody else with their hyped up victimhood. Without it every ST proposal would be subject to hyperbolic claims that “my group is being reamed”. Subarea equity previously allowed the politicians making deals on cross-subsidization to say “We’re not doing that; it’s just a loan and will be paid back.”

    Give up the pretense and the Reich-wing “me” caucus will be in full voiced clangor. Not to mention that doing so means lots more stupid sprawl.

    1. That is the danger. I’ve already had the conversation with some coworkers from the fringes of the ST taxing district and that is exactly where they went, and they went there in about 2 secs. This time I couldn’t shut them up because it looks like subarea equity is becoming Swiss cheese.

      The “our tax dollars are going elsewhere (Seattle)” is a stupidly easy argument to make, and it has legs with the suburban crowd. Expect the critics to make this argument over and over again.

      It will be interesting to see the actual numbers, but I am already concerned.

      1. Bluntly, Seattle residents will feel the same way as your suburban coworkers if subarea equity is scrapped and all of Seattle’s money goes to lines to the boondocks while Seattle residents slog through traffic on slow buses. The grumbling has already started at this blog…

  6. ST 3 is going to be a very tough sell at the ballot box for the east subarea, especially if they’re going to be asked to send money north to extend Link to Everett.

    1. Yeah it is quite odd. East King has lots of monies but not a lot of needs. They’ll even have left over monies after an issaquah line and the 405 brt. ST should just spend the rest of the money on low income/mixed use TOD.

      1. Don’t forget about Renton. They’re in East King, and they can suck up a lot of money too.

        (And don’t forget about BRISK either!)

      2. It isn’t so much a case of East King having few needs, but more an issue of East King having few/no good candidate projects. BRISK, for example, would be a good project but isn’t technically a candidate project, although I’m sure ST staff could work it into the 405 BRT project list. I’m sure there are other projects that would be worthwhile, but they simply haven’t been studied or considered yet.

      3. East King could suck up some of those funds by accelerating some of their projects. Go full speed ahead on getting the East Link extension to Redmond into final design and maybe the construction can piggyback on the current work. Get I-405 BRT completed sooner, and it will be sucking up operating funds for a longer period. Then spend a lot of time figuring out how to do Kirkland-Issaquah right.

      4. The Eastside’s problem is it’s difficult for transit to serve. It’s so peanut-butter sprawly that there’s low-level demand from everywhere to everywhere, but not concentrated demand that light rail or BRT could really serve well. Even when you find corridors, few people live next to the stations. The primary demand is from everywhere to downtown Bellevue and Overlake-Redmond, so that’s something to start with. The Kirkland-Issaquah line tries to bring those cities into that axis, but is rather oversized leaves Renton and Bothell out. 405 BRT covers both of those but doesn’t serve Kirkland very well, and many of the 405 stations are in the middle of nowhere. So what else could you do instead?

      5. I look forward to the conversation with folks from Kirkland and Issaquah. No rail or other huge construction projects because it just isn’t worth it. But why don’t you chip in and help extend Link to Everett so that a handful of riders can sit on a train a bit longer instead of a bus?

        The first may be true (I think it is) but the second is absurd.

      6. I don’t know why you’d think the east side doesn’t have many needs. With a 25 year package the Issaquah area will likely have a much larger population than it does now when the funding authority is over. Bellevue added almost 40k more people over the last 25 years. The east side is going to look much different than it does now by 2040.

      7. With a 25 year package the Issaquah area will likely have a much larger population than it does now.

        Yep, a much larger population sprawled over an area that can only support the P&R model of transit. Build more P&R lots == build more sprawl. Unless it really hurts to commute people will move farther and farther away from where they work and complain like hell about how we don’t have enough GP freeway lanes.

        Bellevue added almost 40k more people over the last 25 years. The east side is going to look much different than it does now by 2040.

        DT Bellevue is almost a real city. Microsoft is a huge employer. DT Kirkland and DT Redmond are somewhat dense. But it’s all isolated pockets that don’t add up to the eastside being anything that can be efficiently served by a transit system that covers “everywhere”. Until we kick the habit of thinking public transit should be an anywhere to anywhere frequent service across most of the Seattle metro area it’s doomed to be crap transit that almost gets you somewhere… sometimes… but never on time.

      8. I’d venture a guess you’d have said the same thing about Bellevue 30 years ago.

        Nah, I was barely out of college then and to afford our first house moved from Lake City out with the cows in Woodinville. But it would have been a correct prediction. Bellevue doesn’t have the density to support high capacity transit; not even close. Sure DT has big buildings and following the Kemper philosophy , “lead with the parking” has become a major choke point in our freeway system. And there’s a transit center there that will in a few years have a light rail connection “not that far away” that’s not too much slower than a bus taking the much more direct route via 520. 30 years from now; Issaquah is still what it is. No 400′ buildings like DT Bellevue; they have no Kemper. DT Kirkland is almost all new construction. It’s not going to be torn down in 30 years. Totem Lake is Kirkland’s hope to emulate DT Bellevue. Lynnwood wants a piece of that too. For the next 30 years my money would be on the Bel-Red Bellevue to MS corridor. All the big money has already locked in their returns their.

  7. Martin, perhaps I misunderstand your discussion of 2014 vs YOE dollars. How can ST put together an ST3 ballot proposal with inconsistent accounting of expected revenues and costs? It would make not only easy, but convincing talking points for the “No” side.
    I’ve been a boffin. It’s not that hard to make reasonable, canonical assumptions about inflation and include corresponding deflators in spreadsheets. The problem is political, not technical.

    1. They’ll put it together, but it’ll take some detailed staff work. The point is it’s hard to do that reliably from the outside.

  8. The financial analysis is amazingly simplistic at this point, especially for the level 3 scenario. In addition to the confusion between using YOE and 2014 $$, so that nothing balances, one line item of $21,000,000,000.00 labeled “Other Revenue” is one hell of a leap of faith. I’m sure they’ll refine the numbers going forward to see how these numbers were arrived at.
    40% Link fare recovery? Maybe, but it’s not close to that now, and the fringe of the spine is included in that number. Ask BART how expensive it is to run nearly empty trains to Livermore each day.
    Bonding can still occur up to 2041, with 30 year bonds, so this is a long way off, considering such things as sea level rise of up to 5 feet may be with us, or the 9.0 Big Rip Quake gets closer to being a certain near term event,
    and who knows what mother nature has in store for us.
    In other words, it’s a big bite to swallow for a 55 year commitment
    Add in the ‘New Definition’ of sub area equity (who saw that coming), and Seattle better get twice as dense if this thing is going to pass.

    1. Note: 21B is:
      A stack of dollar bills 1,425 miles high, or 5.7 times higher than the space station.
      2,300 dump trucks full of dollar bills, each loaded to 20,000 pounds.
      In short, it’s a lot of money.

      1. And in dimes it’s 14,250 miles high. And in 100 dollar bills it’s 14 miles high. But thanks for sharing totally irrelevant measures of how much something costs, without any context of time span, what’s it’s buying, or what the practical alternatives are.

        If you think high-quality transit isn’t worth investing in, just say so.

      2. Thanks Martin. It got your attention so the point has been made.
        There is a big difference between high quality transit, and highly effective transit so let’s not fool ourselves that purchasing Mercedes for everyone is by default better than cars costing half as much. If they both carry 4 people, travel the speed limit and get the same mileage, then most would settle for keeping the difference in their pocket, and not yours while driving the Chevy.

      3. A standard balance sheet has two columns, Mic. Red numbers don’t need to be absent. They just have to have a black number indicating what the money was spent for, Nor is it necessarily wrong for the red to be more than the black for a certain period of time- just so the sheet is being read by someone who knows what the money is being spent for- and how well the project is being managed.

        Example. You own a machine shop. You’ve got an excellent reputation both finance-wide and product quality-wise. But your machines either have become worn out, obsolete, or othewise in need of upgrading. Not only will your extremely conservative banker be glad to lend money to you, but your share-holders won’t have any trouble with necessary amount of red ink either.

        But if you decide to let your shop fall apart to avoid borrowing money, nobody who understands- or invests in your plant will give you credit for the resulting pile of rust. Which, by the way, is red. Machine shop, transit system, or country…same/same/same.

        Mark Dublin

      4. To put things in perspective:

        The Second Avenue Subway ( :

        First phase (just about complete) — $4.45 billion, 200,000 daily riders.
        Second phase (not funded) — $12.55 billion. Additional 360,000 daily riders.

        Did you catch the “not funded” part? It is quite possible that New York City (which is way wealthier than us) will not pay for a 17 billion dollar subway that would carry 560,000 people a day.

        But we want to spend $48 billion so we can have rail from Everett to Tacoma and maybe a line connecting Ballard to the UW (but nothing for the Central Area — that would be excessive).

      5. The MTA also has 600+ miles of aging revenue track to keep in good repair, CTC and other upgrade projects, and most importantly the east side access project sucking up capital funding ($6.5b in cost overruns!), which is indicative of the total dysfunction of MTA Capital Construction.

        And that’s leaving out the perennial political tussle between Albany and the city over funding and governance of the MTA. In short, I don’t think it’s a useful analogy.

      6. New York City has 99.5% of its transit network already built, and people can go almost anywhere at any time without traffic except for a hole at 2nd Avenue. We have like 20% of it built and we should have done a lot more decades ago so now we have a huge backlog, and people can’t go almost anywhere at any time without traffic, and the legacy bus network is cracking at the seams under the demand.

      7. the legacy bus network is cracking at the seams under the demand.

        Except for all the buses on the eastside driving around empty. There’s no doubt that some of the routes in Seattle have high demand. And the buses hauling commuters to/from Seattle are packed (one direction). But outside of the Seattle city limits there’s nothing that requires huge amounts of high capacity transit. The commuter routes are constrained by the amount of parking. The fact is we’ve been operating way too many marginal routes for decades. And that won’t change as long as bus routes are used to buy marginal voting blocks or some tin pot mayor “wants a pony”.

      1. That’s a pretty amazing stat! How does it compare to NY Subway? Of course BART has ~50k parking stalls; how many does LINK have?. I’m betting the cost of building those isn’t figured into farebox recovery. OTOH, they actually charge for parking… what a concept.

    2. But mic, the fare recovery will be very high when we run trains up to Everett every 3 minutes (snark).

  9. The entire subarea equity conversation is misapplied. Transit advocates shouldn’t be worried about subarea equity making things “unfair” – and I don’t think we really ever did – but they should only worry about the right projects getting funding. The reality is the best projects for the dollar are almost entirely in the city of Seattle. If less money is spent in Seattle than was raised in Seattle, it’s a sign of a bad project list.

    Of course YOE dollars make those comparisons nearly impossible.

    1. @Andrew,

      Concur. That is indeed the issue. Most of the really beneficial projects are in North King, and they are expensive. It is not that subarea equity is unfair, but that a strict interpretation would cause ST to underfund Seattle while right-funding the burbs. Or conversely, right-fund Seattle while overfunding the burbs.

      Relaxing the interpretation of subarea equity solves this problem to some extent, but it also has risks with the opponents and at the polls.

      Differential taxation, or supplemental taxation, would also solve the problem, but we aren’t allowed to go there (yet).

    2. Well I think we also have to worry about the thing passing, which is why a package with the majority of investment in Seattle is doomed.

      1. You may notice that no one has at any point ever said that ST should spend the majority of money in Seattle. We setup a proxy “spend as much money in Seattle as raised in Seattle”. Any more than that, great. Any less than that, something is definitely wrong here.

      2. they should only worry about the right projects getting funding. The reality is the best projects for the dollar are almost entirely in the city of Seattle.

        I recognize the sentence immediately afterwards sets a different test, but I read this as “the vast majority of projects worth doing are in Seattle”.

      3. “the vast majority of projects worth doing are in Seattle”.

        Certainly a lot of people feel this way, I don’t go quite that far. But I think there really can’t be any debate that many of the best value for money projects are in the North King area.

        It’s more than just politics that mean we would build projects out side before completing every great project in Seattle, but you need some way of evaluating if enough money is being put into the best value for money projects. I would say “Spending all money raised in Seattle on the best projects in Seattle” is actually a very low standard, and we shouldn’t accept anything less than that.

      4. I would disagree with Andrew, actually. I think there are very good projects that can provide very good value outside Seattle. But the high value big, expensive projects are in Seattle. That may have been what Andrew meant (and my guess is it is) but I just want to clarify.

        Swift is a great value. Improved bus service in Pierce county is a great value (and long overdue). But running light rail to Fife is not. Different tools for different areas. No one is building a light rail line in Yakima, while New York could use a few more subway lines.

    3. As life is now, people who demand to be subarea-identified by their home address now live and work in ways that make them use utilities that somebody else pays taxes for. As they themselves do for people who live elsewhere, but use public things in the first voter’s own neighborhood.

      Might it work better to redefine “subarea” as a transit corridor rather than an entity on a survey map? Do route 550 regular passengers really count in the Bellevue area where they presently- but not necessarily permanently live? Or in the multitude of places they work, which themselves locate in many different subareas?

      In cases like this, in many ways, passengers’ real community is becoming increasingly determined by the transit- or for most of them, the cars stuck in traffic alongside them. Right now, in both cases, as punishment for their sins. But still, objectively better defined as a community not by where they live or work, but where they travel.

      I don’t think most people want to be “re-villagized.” Meaning being forced to live walking distance from where they work. True,many people would like that arrangement just fine, because by English common law, village residents have to deal with only one idiot ,who by definition is a good boy, though not the brightest candle in the Squire’s chandelier.

      Anyhow, it seems to me that at this stage of history, good fast moving public transit is better bet to give people most living choices than bad present combination of transit crippled by cars which no amount of new highway construction can rescue. And which no responsible idiot would ever vote for.


      1. I guess I live in “Red Line” then, because my commute is three miles on or parallel to I-5 and three miles perpendicular to it. But for those Bellevue-Seattle commuters who live in “Blue Line”, if they move somewhere else they’ll have to be reassigned to a different corridor. And what if the corridor closest to someone’s home is not the one they use the most; for instance somebody living on Mercer Island who takes the Blue Line to downtown and a Red Line and Bothell Line to Lake City.How will the tax authority know which corridor to assign him to? Send him a postcard and ask which corridor he uses the most? Read his registered ORCA card (and disallow unregistered cards)? The complexities change but perhaps are not better. So maybe then we’d just abolish the subareas.

  10. From a subarea accounting perspective, a 25-year project list looks more balanced than a 15-year list would.

    (1) The biggest strain on ST3 subarea equity was the requirement that East King pay for much of Everett Link. In a 25-year package, that’s not so necessary, maybe not at all if they skip Paine Field. In a 15-year package, it would have been accomplished via a loan from East King to Snohomish to be repaid in ST4. At that point it would pay for Issaquah Link. But in a 25-year package, it all gets accomplished within a single program.

    (By loan, I just mean that the accounting would keep track of how much money was going north. But the accounting is politically important, which is how we got subarea equity in the first place).

    (2) The downtown tunnels have really meaningful multi-subarea impacts. In a 15-year program, it’s not clear there’s enough money to do the downtown tunneling the right way and not value-engineer Ballard and West Seattle too much. Particularly if the suburbs were queasy about letting the tunnels get in the way of completing the spine. In a 25-year package, it gets built the right way the first time.

    (3) I-405 BRT has a large Snohomish component (and somewhat lesser South King component). But they couldn’t afford it, so that would have to be fudged in a 15-year program.

    1. Exactly how balanced would it be, though? There is a very strong consensus amongst many members of this blog that the following projects would get us to (roughly) Vancouver levels:

      * UW to Ballard light rail
      * Metro 8 Subway
      * WSTT
      * Cheap, fairly easy, yet critical improvements to bus infrastructure.

      This would, oddly enough, have none of that. Which means that we either build out to ridiculous levels (more rail mileage than Mexico City) or build something out of whack (like DART, only way more expensive and less functional (which is quite an accomplishment)).

      1. I think the accountants still need to come up with a way to divvy the costs of the shared elements. There may be a reasonable set of assumptions (or at least, not ridiculous) that make it appear that every area is getting an ‘equitable’ share.

        Though I winced at John Marchione’s remark that “increasingly, people go north”. I lived two blocks from his office when I commuted to Everett. Unless travel patterns have changed a great deal, they don’t.

        Having come this far in the process to switch gears from a 15-year to a 25-year program, I wonder what projects were left off the draft priority list that ought to now be in play. There are surely some that didn’t make the cut for a 15-year program that deserve to be in play for a 25-year program.

      2. I’m less interested in every area getting its fair share as I am every area getting something good. You don’t pay for extra frosting before you buy the cake. But that is precisely what Sound Transit is doing, and they count on ignorant voters and overly generous transit enthusiasts to support them.

      3. On the Eastside, the project that could not fit a 15-year package, but will surely be in a 25-year program, is rail to Issaquah. Perhaps the Central Issaquah Urban Core will be teh awesome by then. Or maybe not.

        But the Eastside’s project priority list is very short. I don’t know there’s any appetite for re-opening it. There are good projects like the Bellevue College busway and UW-Redmond BRT that deserve another look.

      4. The Eastside’s project list is short and sweet. I have been very impressed with what they have designed and the thinking behind it. Very high value projects. In my opinion the best of the bunch (better than Seattle’s). I agree that the projects you mentioned are good ones.

        I don’t see why anyone on the Eastside would support sending money to Snohomish County. Transit experts see extending the spine as ridiculous. People from other parts of the country are probably laughing at us. It also does very little for the folks on the Eastside. The handful of folks who work up there will not take a long train trip to downtown, then ride a train back up north. They will take a bus on 405. Even if they do go through downtown (e. g. Renton to Everett) the reverse commute from Lynnwood is simply not an issue. Run buses from Everett to Lynnwood and call it a day.

        This makes it different, than, say, a Metro 8 subway. If this connected from Judkins Park to First Hill to South Lake Union to Belltown, then it would be fairly popular with Eastside residents since it would connect to a lot of employment spots that are hard to get to (and would remain hard, even after East Link is built).

      5. “Transit experts see extending the spine as ridiculous. People from other parts of the country are probably laughing at us.”

        Yes, we’re laughing at you, though mostly because of the Deep Bore Tunnel, which is probably the stupidest transportation thing done in the US in my lifetime.

  11. Maybe I’ve just been missing something out of sheer disinterest- but are highway projects ever subjected to this kind of financial scrutiny? Because it seems like with a highway, all the questions are: “At last! A counter attack for the War on Cars!” Followed by: “Will it damage my property value?” 2014 dollars or chunks of fossilized mammoth chunks with interest in saber tooth tiger teeth? Nobody gives a coprolite!

    There’s also a cure fore subarea problems. It’s called “leadership.” Which unfortunately happens when followers demand it because they’re out of ammunition and they’ve got goats to feed and crops to plant.

    So when the “areas” finally get “sub” enough that all their residents decide they’re a nuisance…that’s when you get things like the State of Washington and the United States of America.

    Often precipitated, interesting enough, by region-long parking lots with Federal shields on the signs, and numbers like -5. Maybe it’s still called that because of the devastation of the War on Christmas, the Feds won’t ever name a highway Interstate Route 666- except if it goes through Hibbing Minnesota in honor of Bob.

    Who took his present last name when the Minnesota anti-refugee police wouldn’t let him flee across the border with a name like Zimmerman when he fled from the war on Channukah!

    Mark Dublin

    1. “are highway projects ever subjected to this kind of financial scrutiny?”

      No. They mostly don’t get a public vote either. The gas tax is kind of like a perpetual ST tax, except it’s assumed to always be there and the state can unilaterally choose what to spend it on. Another way to look at it is, with highways the tax comes first and must be spent on something. With transit the projects come first and have to raise specific limited taxes to fund them.

      1. Presumably some part of ST tax is permanent, right? Or who pays for operations if no more STX are approved?

      2. The taxes will be rolled back some 90% to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance. That’s equivalent to highway maintenance. It’s not equivalent to new freeways or widening 405.

      3. The tax levels are determined by the voter-authorized spending. Once the capital projects are completed and paid for, the taxes continue at a level necessary to support operations and maintenance. But that’s a smallish proportion of the level the Legislature has authorized.

      4. @Mark, Mike, and others- and perhaps rehearsing an old discussion: To the extent that the gas tax funds highway projects, it’s arguably a user fee, and (stretching further), such highway projects are “paying for themselves.” In classic-talking-point contrast, sales-tax based transit funding explicitly ask everyone (users or not) to pay for transit.
        Yes, most of us agree that externalities and network effects make this way less than the whole story. But. For many (including me), users’ actual collective willingness to pay is still a really important factor, and for example I’ll be looking at (long-term) farebox recovery when deciding my vote on ST3. If it’s not close to that of mature, heavily-used networks elsewhere, that’s a problem – then we WILL be funding the wrong projects, and that will displace the right projects. 40% is way too low a bar to set for farebox recovery for a rail system, but that’s ST’s stated assumption for financial planning.

      5. 40% is higher than the buses make. There are other factors than just user pays. Having a good transit system is important for the region’s economy and well-being. The fare has to be what people consider fair, what the working class can afford, and less than driving. Driving a personal car is a luxury so it should be paid for by user fees. There’s also another aspect to the roads, namely freight, emergency vehicles, buses, work trucks, and moving loads. These should maybe be paid by a general tax rather than the gas tax “user fee”. But luxury use of the roads accounts for 75% of the traffic and lanes. If all that switched to transit and the transit network was expanded to them, then I-5 could have been just two or three lanes and the other roads two lanes, without all the expense of widening.

      6. @Mike – some bus systems are over 40%; Amsterdam (bus and tram) is 75%. Noted elsewhere – BART is 70%. NJ Transit (bus and heavy rail) is over 50%. And rail systems are generally higher than bus systems.
        You and I have a different view of markets – too long a discussion for here, and it goes better with beer anyway.
        “Driving a personal car is a luxury” – well, maybe there’s a nuanced, long-term story related to climate change that leads to that conclusion. But if that’s an axiom in the argument for ST3, good luck with THAT election, and it will not be the rich who vote it down. Driving certainly has large external costs that we unfortunately don’t price but dismissing it as a luxury is not a good way to find common ground with a very large number of folks who are NOT wealthy, and who would be in deep stuff (today) without a car.

      7. Jim, to the extent that gas tax user fees fund highways, does a 25% fare recovery look good? Or at least in the ballpark?

      8. The bus recovery is around 25% so that implies a $2.75 fare is $11 unsubsidized, or $4.40 at 40% or $8.25 at 11%. There’s already a belief that fares here are close to their tolerable ceiling, which is one reason why LIFT was enacted. If fares were to double, people would be rationing their rides or switching to driving. Rationing rides hinders the region’s economy and well-being, while driving adds congestion and pollution and clamors for more road widenings and parking spaces. In some cities rail is prices higher than bus but in other cities they’re the same, and some cities have multiple kinds of rail at different price levels. It depends on what you want to position as the omnibus or proletarian mode and what you want to position as a luxury. Link and RapidRide are high-volume modes compared to regular buses, so it makes sense to funnel most of the trips to them by keeping their price competitive. There’s an argument that Sounder should be viewed the same way, and that the express buses duplicating it should be priced higher than Sounder rather than lower. As more people switch to trains, the cost per passenger goes lower, and eventually becomes lower than buses, as Link already has for Seattle trips under 5 miles.

        “Driving a personal car is a luxury” – well, maybe there’s a nuanced, long-term story related to climate change that leads to that conclusion. But if that’s an axiom in the argument for ST3, good luck with THAT election”

        I’m talking about the ideal position of transit and road funding. Obviously the environment around ST3 is not like that, so ST3 can’t be like that. But the argument is not new or limited to climate change. It’s that mobility is a basic need of a city like libraries or parks or police or paramedics. So there needs to be a basic way for people to get around, and not just a minimal coverage service but a good service, which in a region the size of Pugetopolis means light rail and RapidRide+ or equivalents. That is paid out of general funds like the libraries, with perhaps a nominal fare. If people want to opt out of the system and drive a personal car or own a book, they can pay the cost of the roads or go to a bookstore. That’s more or less how Europe looks at it, where cars are increasingly deprioritized from road space and transit is increased, and gas taxes are several dollars higher and go to transit. The US went a different direction and tried to depend completely on cars and expressways, forcing everybody to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car and $8000 a year to use it if they can’t fit their lives into the limited transit service. That’s really bad and needs to change, but it can only change incrementally.

      9. Speculating… if gas taxes were $3/gallon higher, and 60% if it were available Thurston-to-Whatcom transit (the rest for statewide and national transit), then how long would it take to build SounderBruce’s comprehensive network. (this map reaches to Stanwood and Olympia but I think SounderBruce has thought beyond it to more of western Washington).

      10. The bus recovery is around 25% so that implies a $2.75 fare is $11 unsubsidized,

        It costs me $5.50 a day out of pocket to ride the bus. Using $.55/mi my cost of driving is $7.70. But using 25% fare recovery I’m paying $16.50 a day in taxes to support that commute via bus whether I use it or not? Anyway, out of pocket I’m saving $2.20/day. Bus commute ~2.5hr/day; drive alone 35 minutes. The only thing that tips the scale is 1/2 hr of the “bus” commute is walking which I can write off as exercise. Time on the bus is sleeping or reading but I can sleep in if I drive in the morning and have multiple options of how to “spend” time in the afternoon/evening.

        Others have said it, the Eastside is peanut butter where people want to go from anywhere to everywhere. It’s not dense enough that public transit can come close. So it’s defacto a drive alone economy. ST3 realy needs to address reallity if it is going to pass. More layers on the cake doesn’t cut it outside of Seattle.

      11. You’re not “paying $16.50 a day in taxes” because what you’re paying is sales tax on purchases which has little relationship to how many bus trips you take. What your taxes are paying for is a network which is available to you even on days you don’t use it, so that on days you do need it it’s there. And it’s paying for a network that other people can use perhaps more than you, which keeps the county humming. And it lets poor people, disabled people, and children get out of their house.

      12. You’re not “paying $16.50 a day in taxes”

        The point is the huge amount of tax money being spent for the service, 4X what it’s worth. On average every household in King County shells out $650/yr in sales tax revenue to Metro. Only $1.80/day which is a good deal if you actually use transit. There’s the rub, for years the meme has been to spend a a little on transit so that other people ride the bus and reduce congestion. Remember, any tax increase for transit you’re trying overwhelmingly to sell to a demographic that doesn’t use it.

        Metro rakes in over a 1/2 billion dollars a year in sales tax. 40X the amount divvied out to Criminal Justice, more than 100X that for “Children and Family” (what ever that is) and 5X the General Fund Sales Tax. It’s the 800# swine in the room.

        it lets poor people, disabled people, and children get out of their house.

        If you really want more services for the poor the let’s cook some bacon. Render out the fat from Metro and the poor will have more money in their wallet; sales tax being highly regressive. And there will be a better chance of taking some of the windfall to provide actual services that help. Unless of course you think buses running laps around Mercer Island really helps the poor. It sure as heck doesn’t help the environment.

      13. Highways are mostly funded by sales tax (and federal income tax, and bonds) in Washington State. Same as in most states: the gas tax contributes a minority of funding. So they ought to get scrutiny.

    2. @aw – not sure what you’re getting at. It’s hard to find the info (and i’ve tried) but I believe big highway projects are funded way more than 25% by gas taxes. Would be glad of pointers to info you have.
      Metro is actually getting over 30% farebox recovery these days, and mature networks in Europe and Asia are often are much higher than that.

      @Mike – agree (roughly) about Europe – lived in Amsterdam for 3 years in the 1990’s, owned a car (40 mpg station wagon!) and also used transit and was happy to – it works really well. But – even with that level of taxation, car ownership was and is widespread, and at all income levels (though not so many multi-car families). Not a luxury there either. For me this isn’t about cars vs transit, but about good policy. Hiding costs from users – external costs of car use, actual cost of operating transit – is generally bad policy. ALL transportation is more expensive in Amsterdam than here, the bus/transit system has been partially privatized, and the official policy is to go to 100% farebox recovery in the next several years.

  12. >> the most productive system would involve shipping at least some dollars from East King County to Snohomish County,

    Right, because East King County is a sprawling, largely residential area with very few people commuting to it from outside while Snohomish County is an increasingly urban area with both high pockets of density and very high pockets of employment. Yeah, right. [ad hom]

    1. It’s not comparing the entire subareas but the ST3 projects vs the ST2 infrastructure. East Link covers a greater percent of the Eastside’s easy-to-serve transit needs than Snohomish. The main thing missing is a small piece to downtown Redmond that’s the size of a miscellaneous project. The Kirkland-Issaquah line, while it will vaguely serve the other cities, is not exactly a predominent trip direction, and 405 BRT also misses half the population centers it nominally serves. On the other hand, demand from Everett southward is obvious and large (and Marysville is growing and some Skagitonians and Islanders would use it). Some people argue it’s not enough to justify a light rail extension, but in relative terms it’s more productive than the Kirkland-Issaquah line or 405 BRT. Also, there’s a large amount of interaction and pent-up demand between Snohomish County and north Seattle even before you get to downtown, and pent-up demand for more transit in that area, which has no counterpart in the Eastside or especially the south end.

      1. “Driving a car is a personal luxury.”

        Wow. Is your right to free speech a personal luxury too?

      2. “Driving a car is a – luxur[ious]” use of “personal” space.

        Hence, the best reason for tolling…on 405, if not every lane of high-capacity roadway in the region.

        Charge what the market will bear. Larger vehicles with higher axle loads pay more, and if more ‘personal space’ is desired, charge for that, too.

        It would change the way people commute, even if the buses were tolled. Just add that surcharge to the fare. Divided by the # of riders on a full bus, even a $10 toll would add maybe between 10 – 20 cents.

        Here’s a great idea, deed the rest of the various corridor’s ROW to the trucking companies and let them build a roadway for their private use. Ship freight unimpeded, and if you have capacity to spare, invite the travelling public to use it,.. for a fee, of course.

      3. OK, so let me get this straight. The east side tax payers paid entirely for a light rail line connecting their moderately urban areas to Seattle with ST2. So now they should chip in for a Snohomish County rail line serving a ridiculously suburban area. That makes no sense.

        Issaquah to Kirkland is a stupid project, but it is less stupid than extending the spine. The answer in all cases is buses, bus infrastructure and a little paint (changing the HOV 3+ to HOV 2+). There are only a handful of places in the Puget Sound area where (very expensive) light rail makes sense. One is the one you mentioned (extending to Redmond). All the rest are in Seattle.

      4. RossB,

        The answer in all cases is buses, bus infrastructure and a little paint (changing the HOV 3+ to HOV 2+).

        Head on down to Olympia and let us know when you win the HOV 3+ fight. We won’t wait up for you.

      5. Head on down to Olympia and let us know when you win the HOV 3+ fight. We won’t wait up for you.

        The HOV3+ fight is a good one. Yes it’s hard to win in the short term. But baby Jesus, it’s one that needs to be fought. As I understand it there is law in place that says <35mph == HOV3+. Is it that hard to enforce existing law? /rhetorical question

    2. I honestly can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not, Ross. Of course East King has plenty of employment, but the Bellevue/Overlake/Redmond axis that most of it lies along was funded in ST2. A Kirkland to Issaquah line plus getting to downtown Redmond, with some modest investments in 405 BRT connects the rest, leaving a lot of revenue chasing few productive projects in the east.

      SnoCo has only 3 miles of rail funded in ST2. It’s the fastest growing county in the state. Ridership on ST and CT commuter routes is robust and growing. I’m not necessarily endorsing Paine Field, but it’s unreasonable to think that getting rail to Everett is something you’d have to be high to support.

      1. Sorry, I’m being ridiculously sarcastic. East King County has pockets of very high density. It has very high employment. The “reverse commute” is basically the same as the standard commute.

        Snohomish County is a sprawling residential area best served by buses. The reverse commute is pretty much non-existent. It is trivial to drive north in the morning (I’ve done it many times) and gets only moderately congested heading south in the evening (until Northgate, which is miles past Link). This is in the regular lanes. The HOV 2+ lanes are much smoother. With a little paint you can change those lanes to HOV 3+ and most riders would get there faster than light rail (since they would travel in an express manner).

        I’m not suggesting that east King County spend oodles of money on extra light rail lines (you got that right). But building a light rail line from Kirkland to Issaquah is no more stupid than extending light rail from Lynnwood to Everett (regardless of the path). In both cases, the answer is buses, not rail.

      2. The answer is what East side residents feel is a worthy future investment.

        Better Buses is a transit solution. It pays off in the short term.

        They might feel spending more for a longer term solution is worth voting ‘YES’ on.

    3. RossB,

      Right, because East King County is a sprawling, largely residential area with very few people commuting to it from outside while Snohomish County is an increasingly urban area with both high pockets of density and very high pockets of employment.

      In your sarcasm you miss the key point that the Eastside already will have a Link line running through its heart, which seems to be a pretty big hole in your smugness. Meanwhile, the actual studies, which actually have a methodology (unlike what you happen to believe in your heart), indicate ridership perhaps at least 3 times higher on a Snohomish Line than a second Eastside line.

      1. I haven’t missed it at all, I just wonder why they should chip in so that a different area of the country should have a service completely inappropriate for it. New York City already has its subway, so now it should pay for Yakima to have one. Got it. Sure.

        Oh, and it’s not my heart, it is my brain that dismisses the modeling of an organization with a history of failed estimates. Not just Sound Transit, but PSRC, which is how they get to such ridiculous numbers (Poulsbo will soon be a major metropolis, but Ballard should be ignored).

        Look, in my heart I want all of this. Of course I do. In my heart I want light rail to Tacoma, to Everett, to Issaquah and to every little burg and hamlet in Washington. I voted for the first Sound Transit proposal, only to see it go down in flames. I’ve been a strong supporter of Seattle Subway from the very beginning. I’ve stuck with them when they dreamed about covering Seattle with dozens of miles of rail, and still stick with them when they want to cover the region with hundreds of miles.

        But the more I’ve learned about transit, the more I’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t, I’ve come to the sad realization that we are building a failed system. BART (outside the core city) is not that good, Vancouver is great. These are two contrasting models. One works well, the other doesn’t. If it was free I would want both (San Fransisco proper has both). But it isn’t free. Oakland and Berkeley get screwed out of the deal. They should have a grade separated light rail network connecting the major destinations (along with connections to frequent bus service). But they don’t. All the money was spent on rail to places like Concord. Concord has more people than Everett and more than four census blocks over 30,000 people per square mile (and a couple over 50,000) clustered by the station (in contrast, the best Everett can do is the occasional solo block of 15,000). Concord is largely a bedroom community, highly dependent on its connection to Oakland/Berkely and San Fransisco (areas way bigger than Seattle). Yet with all of that, with everything suggesting that extremely fast rail to Concord should be a winner, the stations in Concord carry fewer people than the 41.

        Vancouver works and works well. It’s not perfect. I’m sure there are people that can tell you all about their flaws, just like they can tell you all about the flaws of similar systems (Toronto, D. C., Montreal, etc.). But they all are way more successful than most cities because they follow the same pattern, a pattern that transit experts will tell you is the key to a successful system: Fast, frequent rail connecting the most urban parts of the city in a convenient manner combined with relatively fast, frequent bus service that work together. For the suburbs you also have commuter rail (when appropriate) along with more connecting bus service. What they don’t have is light rail going dozens of miles away to cities that resemble suburbs (or even to cities that resemble cities, e. g. Baltimore). That just doesn’t work. It never has, but somehow people think it will work because traffic on I-5 is really bad.

        Oh, and they don’t run light rail to the equivalent of West Seattle. Vancouver, with per capita transit ridership third in the North America (and triple ours) does not have rail to North Vancouver. It isn’t that North Vancouver isn’t urban — it is way more urban than West Seattle, resembling Belltown — but North Vancouver sits across a big bridge from the main city (sound familiar?). There are just too many miles of nothingness that a train would have to travel before connecting to the main urban area again. Too expensive — there are other priorities and other ways to serve the area (like a frequent ferry). The other reason is that density beyond this core is not very high. It looks like … West Seattle.

        If anything, it is you who is being irrational, and rooting for rail at any cost, anywhere. Just answer me a few questions:

        1) Do you think that building light rail to the airport should have been a high priority and built before other lines (UW to downtown, etc.)?

        2) Do you think it was smart to have only one station between Westlake and the UW?

        3) Do you think that West Seattle light rail should take priority over other, more urban subway lines offering a greater improvement in speed and connectivity (like the Metro 8 subway or Ballard to UW subway)?

        4) Do you think a station should be added at NE 130th, or do you think it will only result in a minor increase in ridership (as Sound Transit estimates suggested)?

        5) Can you think of any light rail line that is similar to one connecting Everett to Seattle that has been as great a success as you think it will be?

      2. You make lots of transportation points, Ross, but you ignore the political context. Just about every decision you lament was driven by the fact that ST nearly died at the hands of technical incompetence and a political setup (dictated by the legislature) that privileged suburban interests. And at the time, a majority of those suburban interests wanted light rail dead, rather than wanting a piece of the spine. So, risk minimization was the order of the day. That drove the design of ST1. ST2 reflects the conversion of suburban interests to believers in rail. ST3 will balance that with building the west side line Seattle’s needed since forever, and a crosstown line too if we get our ducks in a row.

        I think the conversion of suburban interests from ranting about ‘loot rail’ to arguing about how to preserve their busiest McDonalds when the rail gets there is progress. The fact our suburbs are building TOD is progress. That’s the problem with BART, the suburbs there are more NIMBY than SF itself. We have two real urban, if faded, cities at the end of the spine, and a lot of redevelopment possibility in between. The Yakima comparison you keep making is insultingly wrongheaded.

  13. I have infrastructure burnout.

    I would delay St3 for five years.

    Finish up the current stations.

    See if we have to take writeoff on Bertha.

    And give people a rest.

    1. What did you decide about the car? Are you going to fix/replace it or get rid of it? The idea of hourly Sounder South with a third track and faster speed is gaining traction. Would that interest you or would you be willing to press for it in ST3? Would it be worth delaying ST3 for five years meaning it would open five years later?

    2. FWIW, when ST2 is complete Sounder will be “almost hourly” with two larger gaps before and after noon. ST has enough vehicles for hourly service, and I understand it’s negotiating with BNSF on the price of a time slot package for hourly day and evening service. The Sounder expansion project, S-08, has “TBD” for the cost because it’s not yet known, but it could become clear next year and it may be low enough to make it possible to push for it rather than Link to Tacoma. The third track seems to be happening or at least preparing anyway.

  14. Did the drafters of our Constitution really intend for the First Amendment to mean (dip the goose quill in the ink-pot, Mr. Jefferson) that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom to state that spending three score years and ten stuck in traffic is a Female Dog of a way to live?”

    However, since this was the Age of Reason, the Founders were fervent in their belief that their Shining City reside on The Hill, rather than on a foundation and a travel system ten feet deep in Natural Mobility-Device-Created plant food. (Thank you for calling this Assembly’s attention to this agricultural matter as befits a gentleman farmer who owns slaves, Mr. Jefferson.)

    History proves you right, Kevin!


  15. So, now that the numbers are in, where’s the love for the Kirkland CKC BRT project?

    3/4 of a Billion dollars to build and ridership of… wait for it… three thousand peeps/day on electric buses running every 6 minutes. I’m pretty sure they actually mean boardings which double counts “riders”. Sure would like to see the station to station numbers to know how many of those are rides from Bellevue TC to S. Kirkland P&R. A route now served by the 234/235/249 and not even part of the CKC. It might save a whole 2 minutes if your goal was to get to the P&R and transfer to a 255/540. Whoo who! Those buses are so crowded you have to sit within a couple of rows of another rider sometimes. Of course there’s the whole thing about ST building their maintenance facility on that land. But hey, Kirkland wants a pony; even if most of the people saddling up are trying to get from Bellevue to their bus into Seattle.

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