- [Note: The opinions expressed below are those of the author alone.]
SB 5001, a bill that would change Sound Transit into an 11 member elected board will be making its way to the House Transportation Committee soon as promised by Judy Clibborn according to The News Tribune
BART of course has the favorite 2003 extension to SFO Airport. An airport connection has political will and motivation given the wide benefit to users. At the time the project was billed at $580 million, by the time construction started, it was closer to construction in 1999, the cost escalated to $1.167 billion and ended up costing $1.483 billion by the time 2003 came. The schedule at the time had completion in 2001. The project was overbuilt given 3 terminus tracks for less than 10 minute frequency on the ends of each line, and forcing transfers from Milbrae to SFO between BARTs Red Line, Yellow line and then to the SFO People Mover if heading to a domestic terminal. See BART to SFO Study for more information. The Oakland Airport Connector played out similarly with a starting cost that is low and ends up costing 3 times as much by the time construction comes around with a fare much higher than the existing options for little to no benefit.
Warm Spring In Trouble
The Warm Springs extension is only 5.4 miles for one additional station. It was initially supposed to open in 2014 and supposed to cost $890 million. Now the opening date is unpredictable with a target of Winter of 2017. The San Francisco Chronicle stated BART’s aging infrastructure with power lines and communications system and tying new and old into each other has been the biggest difficulty and they cannot determine when it will be open. These issues should be planned around with extensions due to rapidly changing technology. As Link extends into the next decade, I hope Sound Transit has considered these possible challenges of tying into existing systems and will plan this into any capital program.
BART over the years has enjoyed great voter support and the Bay Area understands the need for frequent reliable transit. The system however has fallen upon aging times and just recently asked for maintenance dollars. Sound Transit at least planned that into Sound Transit 3 for maintenance.
In reality, this makes Sound Transit’s U-Link extension look pretty decent given the preferred alternative in 2002 dollars was projected at $830 million to $1.1 billion. Using an inflation calculator, the cost was about $350 million over the projected range given inflation to today. At the time of construction in 2009, the schedule was to open in September 2016 and was beat by 6 months.
To add onto everything eBART to East Contra Costa County was supposed to open up in 2015. Now it is projected to open in 2018. There has been a trend with BART even as an elected board which transit critics have come out after Sound Transit for with Sound Move. Over budget and behind schedule have been the trends at BART and continue to be so even with an elected board. It is difficult to determine if the Metropolitan Transportation Commission plays a large role in this or aging systems but one thing is certain. An elected transit board does not change the factors Republicans point to with projects. Many of the complaints are coming from suburban and rural constituents who do not use transit on a regular basis and have chosen to live further out. There are three Democrats who supported SB 5001 within the ST District being Bob Hasegawa of the 11th District, Guy Palumbo of the 1st District, and Steve Conway of the 29th District.
BART as an elected board has had a history of cost overruns with projects behind schedule and still does. California might be a different animal, but an elected board does not create immunity from poor leadership decisions. If the Republicans really want to help things out and ensure all citizens of this state receive a better bang for the buck with transportation costs, maybe it would be better to evaluate what delays and holds up projects and having a conversation on both sides of the aisle of what do we want to prioritize? There are only 3 directly elected transit boards in the country. BART is one, RTD in Denver is the second.
Given the evenly divided legislature and the bill receiving bipartisan support in the Senate 29-20, there needs to be a push in the House Transportation Committee. Knowing history and Mary Margaret Haugen, the chair of the Transportation Committee is a very powerful position.
I would recommend the following.
1) Allow rural Pierce County that isn’t within the Pierce Transit PTBA and have regularly voted down Sound Transit packages to annex out of the district. There needs to be some reasonable standard to allow the rural areas to be outside the district given rural King and Snohomish Counties are not inside the district.
2) Reform the way vehicle depreciation is done. Get rid of the current state formula and implement something that closely follows Kelly Blue Book values. It was one reason voters likely voted in I-695 and significantly reduced transportation funding throughout the state. If taxes are more reasonable that may dial the pressure back.
3) Allow for better citizen participation in some form or another. The Citizen Oversight Panel should have a bit more say at the table rather than a rubber stamp on proposals. I personally would be open to having citizen appointments to the board with up to and no more than half the members. Citizens would get to know elected representatives with experience. Given Senator Liias’s and Conway’s remarks in the Senate Floor debate, change will need to occur. see 50:00
There are many routes this bill could go
1) Inslee could veto the bill given there isn’t a 2/3rds majority in both chambers to override the bill given the current vote totals.
2) The bill ends up not making it out of the House Transportation Committee given Democrats have a majority there.
3) The bill ends up not making it out of the House Rules Committee for a hearing on the House Floor.
4) The bill makes it out with or without numerous amendments and to the House Floor for a vote.
I would not count on Democrats to hold a party line on this vote.
I would follow through on discussion with voters in order to bring the temperature down. We want to ensure taxpayers are receiving what they asked for in a cost effective manner.
If transit expansion is important to you, I would contact your legislators and tell them that a full directly elected board will not bring about the changes desired and may hinder the ability of Sound Transit’s work on system expansion and project delivery.