O’Ban Refiles Anti-Sound Transit Bills

Sen. Steve O’Ban,
R – University Place

Say what you will about State Sen. Steve O’Ban’s package of bills and investigations attacking Sound Transit, but at least he’s not circumventing the normal legislative process. When he didn’t get his way last session, he didn’t wait to catch his opponents off guard and strike fast. He took his show on the road to the affected communities. Last week, he resubmitted some of his bills from last year, with minor changes, all of which will have to go through normal process if they are to become law.

Senate Bill 6164 and SB 6299 would allow voters within a county to nullify their Sound Transit taxes by a countywide vote. The bills do not limit the vote to those in the ST taxing district within a county, nor relieve Sound Transit of any obligation to build or operate transit within a county that votes to nullify ST taxes.

SB 6301 would elect Sound Transit Board members from 11 single-member districts. Besides ignoring the principle that you don’t change a board’s leadership simply because you want the organization to fail in its mission, the devil remains in the gerrymandering details.

SB 6303 would once again try to impose a Kelley Blue Book or lesser private methodology on MVET tax determination, despite it not being bondable.

These bills face a long road to becoming law: a committee public hearing in the Senate, vote out of committee, vote out of the Senate Rules Committee, vote in the Senate, a committee public hearing in the House, vote out of its committee and House Rules, and a vote in the House. That’s still dozens of steps short of the Seattle Process, but it is a lot more than what transit advocates got from House Democrats last week.

Continue reading “O’Ban Refiles Anti-Sound Transit Bills”

To Avoid SR-99 Diversions, Toll All the Roads

Northbound roadway deck in the SR 99 tunnel

The new SR-99 tunnel has a problem.

No, Bertha isn’t stuck again.  This time, problem is financial: setting the toll rates.

The initial results of an investment-grade analysis of tolling options, performed by a consultant for WSDOT, show that setting a price point for the new tunnel continues to be as tricky a proposition as it was for other highways in the region, where new tolls spurred howls of protests from angry drivers and led to worsened traffic on competing routes.

Toll rates must find the sweet spot between two competing ideals. They must be high enough to raise the $200 million pledged to construction costs of the $3.2 billion tunnel and viaduct replacement. But they must be low enough that drivers will pay them, rather than veer off onto Interstate 5 or downtown surface streets, both of which are already at or near capacity.

For any price above $0, their will be some diversion to surface streets.  The only real solution is to toll the surface streets.   All of them.

Congestion pricing – a fee to enter the downtown core – has worked successfully in London, Singapore, and Stockholm.  Drivers are charged via a similar tolling system to the one on the SR 520 bridge.   Congestion pricing allows buses to move faster and, crucially, provides additional revenue for transit service.  Chad Newton wrote a great guest post a couple years back on how it could work.

Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien put $200,000 into this year’s budget to study congestion pricing in Seattle.  The Deputy Mayor, Shefali Ranganathan, has spoken positively of the idea.

Some will argue that congestion pricing is regressive.  It’s true that it doesn’t scale with income, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of the poorest people arriving downtown during the workday come by transit.  Parking costs north of $300/month in downtown garages.

Seattle, with its hourglass shape and water boundaries, is a natural fit for congestion pricing.  The city has tried and failed for 15 years to significantly reduce its carbon emissions.  The best way to get there is to significantly reduce car traffic.  Congestion pricing will help with that goal.

Metro Pilots Two New Safety Projects

Public viewing monitors
Credit: Metro

To “promote safety and deter crime,” King County Metro Transit recently began testing two new safety features: driver shields and public viewing monitors, the agency announced in late 2017.

For one pilot project, Metro plans to install public viewing monitors on the 33 buses serving the RapidRide A (Tukwila to Federal Way) and F (Burien to Renton) lines. The public viewing monitors connect into the security system already installed on the buses. Metro describes the 15-inch color monitors that will be placed above each of the three boarding doors as “simply an extension of the cameras that are already in place.”  

“The idea is when people know they’re being recorded, they’re less likely to engage in bad behavior or put others at risk,” wrote Scott Gutierrez, a spokesman for Metro, in a blog post announcing the safety features.

According to Metro, 56 percent of its fleet is already fitted with security cameras, including all of the RapidRide buses. The video is continuously recorded and stored onboard the bus. Metro retrieves the video as needed for an investigation or incident report. Once hard drives fill up, the old video is overwritten with the new video.

“For video unrelated to investigations or incidents, Metro’s policy states our intent to store it onboard for a minimum of 15 days,” Gutierrez wrote in an email. Continue reading “Metro Pilots Two New Safety Projects”

The Day is Coming for Car Tab Legislation

Washiwiki (Wikimedia)

[Update 2:30pm: I originally misread the tweet below “another day” as “tomorrow”. We’re not sure when this is coming to vote, but it doesn’t appear to be today. Sorry for the error.]

For obscure scheduling reasons, House Democrats delayed action on HB2201, which would take over $2 billion out of Sound Transit’s funding. It’s a good time to call your representatives in the House.

Car tab fees inspire an unusual amount of passion in opponents, possibly because they are assessed in a single, annual lump sum. Nevertheless, it is a curious priority for the new Democratic majority to immediately slap fervent supporters that care deeply about the environment and transit, while so many other policy priorities languish.

I have no particular love for the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, but if legislators insist that it’s too inflammatory, they are morally obligated to make the Puget Sound region whole through some combination of direct appropriations, reduced sales tax exemptions on commerce, and a tax exemption for Sound Transit projects. It’s the minimum they can do for a local electorate that voted decisively for better transit, and are now seeing statewide government chip away at it on behalf of whomever happens to be yelling the loudest right now.

News Roundup: Wrong Getaway Vehicle


This is an open thread.

New Appointments to the Sound Transit Board

Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus (Wikimedia)

On Monday Executive Constantine made five nominations to the Sound Transit Board. Each County Executive nominates their county’s delegation, subject to confirmation by the County Council. King County has 10 members, Snohomish 3, and Pierce 4, in proportion to their populations inside the Sound Transit District. The last member is the Washington Secretary of Transportation, Roger Millar.

Five terms were up this year. King County Councilmembers Pete von Reichbauer, a Republican from Federal Way, and Dave Upthegrove, Democrat from Des Moines, will return. Also returning is Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. von Reichbauer has been on the board for 14 years (!) and has been instrumental in shaping the Federal Way alignment, for better or worse. Upthegrove has only been on the County Council for 4 years, but in that time has worked on the alignment around Highline Community College. He’s been more public in pushing for better late night service on holidays in his County role. Backus has been moving along a third Sounder track through her city in both her roles.

Two other board members are no longer eligible: Ed Murray, who you may have heard about, and retiring Issaquah Mayor Fred Butler. Mayor Murray shaped the Seattle wish list for ST3, including an alignment through South Lake Union and infill stations at 130th and Graham Street. Butler is a big reason that the East King ST3 Link alignment will serve his city more comprehensively than Kirkland.

The departures will be replaced by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Kenmore Mayor Dave Baker. Baker is perhaps best known as the uber-driving mayor, but Kenmore will be at the center of SR522 BRT slated to open in 2024.

The other five King County reps are Executive Constantine, Redmond Mayor John Marchione, King County Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Joe McDermott, and friend of STB and Seatttle City Councilmember Rob Johnson.

High speed rail study predicts low ridership

China Railways High Speed Train at Beijing South Station (Image: calflier001)

WSDOT’s recent study of high speed ground transportation in the Cascadia Corridor raised hopes that much faster rail connections to Vancouver and Portland may be in our future. The Governor has requested a more comprehensive study in 2018.

Depending on the technology and alignment chosen, a high-speed rail service could cover operational costs by 2035. However, capital costs may be large, with estimates ranging as high as $42 billion. Annual ridership in 2035 is just 1.9 – 2.6 million, rising to 3.1 – 4.2 million annual riders by 2055. That seems too low to warrant such a large investment unless costs can be dramatically reduced. Policy makers may conclude the more promising path is to pursue incremental upgrades.

Range of estimated capital costs (Image: WSDOT/ch2m)

Key findings

The study examined high-speed rail and maglev technologies with maximum operating speeds of at least 250 mph. The hyperloop is briefly reviewed, but that technology is too speculative for useful cost estimates. After screening, three conceptual north-south corridors were studied in most detail, all serving the Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver markets. Corridor 1A serves seven stations with a combination of urban core and periphery stations. Corridor 2 serves only the urban cores and Portland Airport. Corridor 4 is a lower cost option serving just three suburban stations. The latter option reduces costs somewhat, but also reduces ridership because the slower local rail connections to business districts increase total travel time for many users. Continue reading “High speed rail study predicts low ridership”

The Lege is Back

Photo by Brylie Oxley / Wikimedia

The State Legislature returns today for a 2-month session, with formal sessions in both houses beginning at noon.

The House Transportation Committee begins work at 3:30 p.m. with a presentation by the governor’s office on the state of state transportation, and a presentation of the governor’s proposed supplemental transportation budget for 2019. The Senate Transportation Committee will hear a similar presentation Tuesday afternoon, also at 3:30 pm.

You can check out the full list of committee meetings scheduled for several days ahead.

As of publication time, there are no pre-filed bills going after Sound Transit or other transit agencies. Bills from the previous year can be brought back in the short session. Usually, they are not.

    Some pre-filed bills of interest that may or may not go anywhere include:

  • House Bill 2403, to regulate transit-only lane enforcement cameras
  • Senate Bill 6043, to standardize regulation of transportation network (“rideshare”, as they usually call themselves) companies statewide.
  • SB 6054, to study passenger ferry service between Olympia and Seattle
  • SB 6096, to establish a carbon pollution tax.

Update: All bills from last year were reintroduced and retained in the status they were in as of the end of the last special session, as is the custom. Joe O’Sullivan at the Seattle Times tweeted a list of nine reintroduced bills scheduled for action on the House floor Wednesday. One of these bills is House Bill 2201, Rep. Mike Pellicciotti’s (D – Federal Way) bill to adjust the methodology for calculating Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax. The bill got unanimous support from House Democrats last year, but got ignored by the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

ST Launches Advisory Groups for Ballard and West Seattle Link Extensions

Credit: Sound Transit

Sound Transit laid out a new process to streamline project development for the Ballard and West Seattle Link Extensions, emphasizing the need for key decisions to be made this year to expedite the delivery of light rail. Major considerations include two water crossings, the configuration of the new downtown transit tunnel and the locations of the future stations.

To reach consensus on a preferred alternative by mid-2019, ST convened two new advisory groups to facilitate public engagement. One, an elected leadership group, is comprised mostly of Sound Transit Board members and Seattle city councilmembers. The other, a stakeholder advisory group, will consist of transit riders, residents, business owners and community organizations. The agency announced ths Thursday during a joint meeting of the Seattle City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee and Sound Transit’s elected leadership group on January 4.

Of the 25- to 30-member stakeholder advisory group, 5 will be chosen by an open application process and confirmed by the elected leadership group. The rest will be appointed by the elected leadership group, 19 of whom were announced during Thursday’s meeting. (See below for names)

The stakeholder group is scheduled to meet roughly every two months beginning in February and will be tasked with recommending a preferred alternative to study during an environmental review phase to the elected leadership group. The group’s application deadline is January 22 at 5pm; for additional questions contact Sound Transit at 206-903-7229 or email wsblink@soundtransit.org.
Continue reading “ST Launches Advisory Groups for Ballard and West Seattle Link Extensions”

Collision Rate Rises in Seattle as Traffic Volumes Remain Steady

Credit: SDOT

As Seattle works toward Vision Zero, data from SDOT’s annual traffic report found that collisions with fatal or serious injury jumped 16.5% in 2016, even as traffic volumes remained nearly unchanged.

In early 2015, the city launched its Vision Zero initiative with the goal of ending all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, with serious funding beginning late in 2016. The number of crashes with fatal or serious injury has remained relatively consistent over the last seven years after a big drop during the last recession (see chart).

Of the 20 deaths on Seattle’s streets in 2016 (down one from 2015), five were pedestrians, three were bicyclists, three were motorcyclists and nine were in vehicles. Exceeding the speed limit was cited as the cause of at least six of the fatalities, with driving under the influence and “unknown driver distraction,” each contributing to at least three deaths.

“We’ve seen data for 2017 and we are seeing a similar level of fatalities, around 20 [per year], which has been the average for the past 8 or 9 years now,” said Gordon Padelford, director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. “We are concerned about stagnation around progress being made for Vision Zero.”

Continue reading “Collision Rate Rises in Seattle as Traffic Volumes Remain Steady”

News Roundup: The Case for the Subway

Light rail in Columbia City

This is an open thread.

Where next for King County’s $20 billion roads program?

Detail from the draft Regional Roads Network Map

Elected leaders from across King County will gather on February 2 to consider legislative strategy and revenue options for the Regional Transportation System Initiative. A Technical Committee of City and County staff have identified $20 billion of regional roads improvements (in 2018 constant dollars) to be funded by 2040. With that analysis in hand, the next step is to consider how to fund this program. Many of the options before the Elected Officials Committee require approval by the Legislature and/or voters.

The RTSI was convened in early 2016 by King County and the Sound Cities Association (King County cities other than Seattle). Staff have met regularly to identify needs and funding options. The scope of the effort encompasses principal and collector arterials and state routes in the County. The RTSI effort does not include freeways and major highways, which are generally state-funded, or transit infrastructure.

The work of the RTSI has its roots in concerns about roads in the unincorporated areas of the County. The 2016 report of the Bridges and Roads Task Force identified a funding gap of $350 million per year for maintenance of bridges and roads. There is a structural gap in funding infrastructure in unincorporated areas because annexations have removed much of the tax base and what remains outside of the cities is small relative to the rural population. Unincorporated King County has 12% of the County’s population, but only 9% of the property tax base and 3% of taxable sales.

That discussion about rural roads and bridges expanded dramatically to encompass many of the roads needs of all the suburban cities. Many communities face heavy demands on their roads due to traffic passing through to other places. It was the task of the technical staff to think systematically about those demands. Bringing the traffic woes of the suburban cities into the conversation meant more local projects to appeal to more voters, but also ballooned the size of the task.

A little less than half the estimated cost, or $9.1 billion, is generally classified as maintenance and preservation. That’s a broad category that includes pavement and replacement of structures, but also enhancements such as ITS, lighting, storm water and non-motorized improvements. The remainder, $10.6 billion, are capacity projects drawn either from PSRC Transportation 2040 models or local comprehensive plan project lists.

Continue reading “Where next for King County’s $20 billion roads program?”

To Bring Lynnwood Link Back Within Budget, Defer the Parking Garages

Conceptual design for 190th Street in Shoreline
Conceptual design for 190th Street in Shoreline

When we last left Lynnwood link, the light rail extension was $500M over budget. Now, per Mike Lindblom in the Seattle Times, that number has dropped to $300M:

By nipping here and tucking there, a Sound Transit manager says his team located $200 million in potential savings to ease a budget crisis in the Northgate-to-Lynnwood light-rail extension.

No major features such as stations or park-and-ride garages were slashed in the latest proposals, which include about 100 changes along the 8.5-mile corridor, said Rod Kempkes, executive project director for Lynnwood Link.

His team negotiated so-called “value-engineering” ideas with suburban staff and mayors since summer, when the voter-approved $2.4 billion cost estimate soared to $2.9 billion.

Even assuming the trimming works, there’s a roughly $300 million gap, which could wind up plunging taxpayers deeper into debt. A preliminary finance update is expected soon.

To fully close the $300M gap, there’s really only one option: defer the 3 proposed parking garages. The garages cost as much as $212M in total, or $88,000 per stall, an order of magnitude more than any of the other cost savings proposed.

To recap, Shoreline’s two stations (145th and 185th) are set to get 500-space garages. Lynnwood’s current 1,400-space surface lot would be replaced with a 1,400-space garage plus 500 surface spots. That makes for a net gain of 1,500 spots across the three stations (Here are all the parking lots planned for the full ST3 build out), or 2,400 total.

We understand that free parking (like free anything) is politically popular. Lynnwood link will run through cities that in many places lack sidewalks, let alone bike lanes or frequent East-west buses, making non-motorized access a challenge. For many residents, especially those who have never experienced the freedom of living within walking distance of rail transit, park-and-ride is the only way they can conceive of using the system.

Spending on parking now is a zero-sum decision. The cost overruns in Lynnwood have already delayed the Link extension by six months while a portion of the budget gap is closed. Every dollar in a Lynnwood garage delays the extension to Paine Field and Everett. At a minimum, we believe parking for a small fraction of future Link users deserves to go to the back of the line in Snohomish County funding priorities.

Continue reading “To Bring Lynnwood Link Back Within Budget, Defer the Parking Garages”

What to Watch for in 2018

Say goodbye to this (VeloBusDriver/Flickr)

2018 is a planning year, not a big one for openings in the Puget Sound region.


  • On July 1st, Metro’s new $2.75 adult flat fare comes into effect. Also, the Regional Reduced Fare Permit — the senior / disabilities version of the ORCA card — will become free some time this year.
  • Amtrak, BNSF, and Sound Transit will get Positive Train Control working this year, allowing Cascades to use the Point Defiance Bypass.
  • Kitsap Transit rolls out passenger ferry service between Kingston and Seattle this summer.
  • Metro and SDOT finish up a series of reliability improvements for Route 8.
  • The Seaway Transit Center opens toward the end of this year.
  • The long-awaited 2nd Avenue cycle track opens in Belltown in January or February.
  • If the hearing goes well, the Seattle Council will vote on the bulk of HALA zoning changes.
  • The Seattle Center Monorail is ready to start accepting debit/credit cards, ORCA cards, ORCA transfers and passes, and implement an ORCA LIFT fare, once it gets final approval from the ORCA Joint Board.

Construction Begins