Action Alert: Transit-Lane Cam Bill Stuck in Rules Committee

3rd Ave / photo by Zach Heistand

While the state legislature has shifted from prioritizing wealthy new car owners over carbon-footprint reducing electric mass transit to prioritizing both over education, the bill to allow automatic camera enforcement on transit-only lanes is still getting a chilly reception. Substitute House Bill 2403 got out of the House Transportation Committee back on January 17, and has been languishing in the House Rules Committee ever since.

The committee substitute bill reduces it to a pilot project, but one that could still be rolled out in plenty of time for One Center City’s period of maximum constraint.

Just like over the debate over how much to undo ST3, this is one of those typical Washington transit debates where the legislature isn’t debating whether to spend state money on transit, but whether it will allow local governments to operate transit.

A key piece of being able to operate transit in King County is HOV lanes (and in some cases HOV 3+ lanes) and transit-only lanes. Even in places like 3rd Ave in downtown Seattle, we still have lots of lane violators. Human enforcement requires pulling violators over, either blocking the transit lane, or blocking traffic in the surrounding, already-maxed-out, street grid. Granted, the violation rate would probably drop dramatically if Seattle were to drop its weird woonerf rules that allow cars on 3rd Ave outside of peak hours, and even more so if 3rd Ave were painted red. However, enforcement has been shown to have a significant positive impact even in red lanes, per data provided to the committee by Metro and SDOT.

SHB 2403 has until this coming Wednesday, February 14, to get voted out of the House. (If it impacted the state transportation budget, it would get more time, but it doesn’t.) Before it can get a vote on the House floor, it has to get out of the House Rules Committee, chaired by Speaker Frank Chopp (who also has the power to move bills out of the Rules Committee). This is an opportunity for Democratic legislators to show urban voters that the Democrats aren’t just about going more slowly than Republicans in the wrong direction, but can actually make progress on simple things that don’t involve spending state money. Until then, this is an opportunity to contact your legislators and let them know how important it is to you that buses have some dedicated right-of-way, with practical enforcement mechanisms.

ST Explores Private-Public Partnerships

The future Northgate light rail station under construction.
Credit: Lizz Giordano

Looking for ways to accelerate the delivery of light rail, Sound Transit is considering using private-public partnerships (P3) for ST3 projects. But to take advantage of potential savings, CEO Peter Rogoff warned the Board it “would have to cede some decisions to a private vendor that it customarily reserves for itself.”

P3s are a procurement form which uses a single private entity for the design, construction, and possibly the financing, long-term operation, and maintenance of projects. The partnership offers several potential benefits to public entities, including reducing risk and costs, lowering agency workloads and providing additional debt capacity, without having to privatize the project.  

Reducing agency workload

In the short term, P3s are more work for public agencies, which are still responsible for completing both the environmental review and design specifications for the bid process. In the long term, however, the partnership can eventually transfer a lot of work to the private company, freeing up agency resources.

“When we are facing a project list [for ST3] this long, if there is an opportunity to have a public/private consortium take on an entire project, and not therefore have to grow the staff as robustly… just relieving us of some of that bandwidth would have some benefit,” Rogoff said during the Thursday Executive Committee meeting.

Risk Transfer and Cost Savings

Once contracts are signed, ST would lock in a cost and timeline for the project, along with (if applicable) a long-term operational cost agreement, passing future risk onto the private company. Continue reading “ST Explores Private-Public Partnerships”

News Roundup: Not Transforming

I-5 southbound traffic approaching Mercer Street

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ST3 Must be Built for the Future

How to build ST3 with provision for future lines. Map by Oran.

Sound Transit 3 is the biggest investment in pedestrian mobility the Pacific Northwest has seen since the coming of the railroads in the 1890s. Like what that generation built, the capital projects we’ve committed to build will be around for decades. We can’t know with certainty what the future holds, but for reasons of both climate and mobility, it seems clear that our city’s future will need to involve more high-quality electric transit. It’s therefore essential that we build the core of ST3 so as to maximize its future utilization and value.

The current ST plan involves constructing a new tunnel from the International District to Uptown, constructing an elevated line onward to Ballard, and connecting the existing Rainier Valley line into this new tunnel. The Rainier Valley line is the only line slated to use the new tunnel (West Seattle Link and East Link will feed the current downtown tunnel), and the Rainier Valley Line’s surface-running section constrains it to a best-case headway of six minutes. The ultimate capacity of a rail tunnel depends on several factors, but a typical modern tunnel should easily be able to accommodate headways of three or four minutes.

If the new ST3 downtown tunnel is built without provision for an additional future line, there’s a real risk it will be permanently underutilized, moving ten trains per hour rather than the twenty or thirty it could — or at least, it would require major, disruptive engineering work to fix. Fortunately, making provision for future lines need not be expensive, as we show in Oran’s illustration above. A “stacked” station design with a pre-made bellmouth, as used by LA Metro at their Wilshire/Vermont station, requires slightly more excavation but allows for a new rail connection at minimal cost and disruption to ongoing service.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “ST3 Must be Built for the Future”

Senate Committee Bill Defers Education Funding to Guarantee ST3 Project Delivery

The Senate Transportation Committee completed the first half of its work for this session with its final meeting to pass out senate bills this afternoon. The only bill among the ten on the agenda that didn’t get bipartisan unanimity to move forward was Substitute Senate Bill 5955, dealing with Sound Transit motor vehicle excise tax (car tab) relief.

Sen. Steve Hobbs
The committee substitute bill, crafted by Committee Chair Steve Hobbs (D – Lake Stevens), in the form of a striker amendment, would provide the car tab relief, including retroactive credits, as laid out under the original bill, but under a timeline that would minimize administrative costs for the Department of Licensing.

To begin making Sound Transit whole, Section 5 of the striker amendment bill would defer payments from Sound Transit into the $518 million education fund called for in ST3’s enabling legislation until the ST Board passes a resolution affirming that paying into that fund would not impact delivery of ST3 projects.

Continue reading “Senate Committee Bill Defers Education Funding to Guarantee ST3 Project Delivery”

Senate Car Tab Bill in Committee this Afternoon

Sen. Patty Kuderer

Senate Bill 5955, Sen. Patty Kuderer’s (D – Bellevue) car tab relief bill, has been added to the list of bills scheduled for action in the Senate Transportation Committee today. Today is also the last day for bills to get out of committee, unless they are necessary to the budgets. The committee meets this afternoon at 1:30 pm, and will act on as many as nine bills.

SB 5955 is similar to HB 2201, which passed the House for the second time back on January 24.

Sound Move (ST1, passed in 1996) contained a 0.3% motor vehicle excise tax (MVET), or “car tab”. ST3 added an additional 0.8% MVET. Both are specified by ST3’s enabling law to be under the 1996 methodology until the ST1 bonds are paid off. After that, the 0.3% MVET from Sound Move expires, and the ST MVET will switch to a methology chart the legislature passed in 2006.

SB 5955 would give MVET payers a credit based on how much more the 1996-method MVET is than if it were calculated using the 2006 method. However, those who would pay more under the 2006 method would still get to pay the lower 1996 calculation.

Sound Transit estimated the bill’s eventual impact to Sound Transit at $2.3 billion due to increased debt financing.

Continue reading “Senate Car Tab Bill in Committee this Afternoon”

Redmond Waits for Light Rail

New apartments just steps away from the future downtown Redmond light rail station.
Credit: Lizz Giordano

Before Sound Transit began planning light rail expansion east to Redmond, the city’s then-mayor, Rosemarie Ives, was already eyeing a congestion-free trip via public transportation from her city to Seattle.

Many are glad Ives, who served as mayor from 1991 to 2007, never got her way and a 60-mile monorail system crisscrossing the region was never built. But under her watch, Redmond did begin planning for transit, inaugurating a shift from a pass-through suburban community to an actual destination city.

“It was a strategy, Redmond wanted a better connection to the rest of the job centers of downtown Seattle and of downtown Bellevue,” said Ben Bakkenta, a senior program manager with the Puget Sound Regional Council. “Once upon a time, downtown Redmond was just this sleepy little farm town. They saw an opportunity. And they had both a mayor and a council that were really supportive of looking 20, 30 years down the road.”

And as employment was rapidly growing, current Redmond Mayor John Marchione said, the city needed to be connected to a regional grid “because there was no way the city could build enough housing or widen the roads enough to accommodate that level of employment.” Today, every weekday, Redmond’s daytime population nearly doubles.

Anticipating light rail would eventually come, Redmond began conducting studies and reshaping its urban form.

“Redmond took a philosophy of, ‘Plan for it and it will come,’” Marchione said.

Continue reading “Redmond Waits for Light Rail”

New Swift Green Line Stations and Queue Jumps Going Up in Everett

The new eastbound bus lane on 128th Street SW in Everett (courtesy of Community Transit)

In the last few months, Community Transit has been hard at work on the Swift Green Line, the new bus rapid transit line linking Everett’s Paine Field area to the future Mariner Link station, Mill Creek, and Canyon Park. Last week, they celebrated the opening of a new bus-only lane on 128th Street SW near its interchange with Interstate 5, which will form part of a queue jump for eastbound buses, complete with a merge pocket on the bridge itself.

A queue jump and merge pocket on the westbound lanes approaching the interchange, which will instead have a shared bus-and-turning traffic lane, is planned to be completed by the end of the year. While Swift buses won’t be in service until early 2019, the queue jump will be used by a few of the buses that cross the 128th Street interchange, which previously took up to 17 minutes during heavy congestion.

Continue reading “New Swift Green Line Stations and Queue Jumps Going Up in Everett”

Sound Transit Launches ‘Bus-on-Shoulder” Program

In 2018 southbound buses will be able to bypass traffic using a bus-only shoulder lane along I-5 between the transit centers in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.
Credit: Sounder Bruce

In an effort to improve the speed and reliability of southbound buses along Interstate 5, late last year the Sound Transit Capital Committee approved funding for a bus-only shoulder lane between the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center.

The Committee also approved funding for a feasibility study that would identify other potential opportunities to expand the program.  

The I-5 bus-on-shoulder project is part of ST3’s Early Deliverables Program, a “series of improvements designed to improve existing transit services, reduce travel time through bus-on-shoulder operations and other related transit priority elements, and construct new park-and-ride facilities.”

ST says the 1.4-mile project is basically shovel ready, requiring minimal modifications including the addition of signage and lane striping, and improvements to pavement and drainage. For this project, ST is partnering with WSDOT, who has already completed the design and environmental review.

Construction on the project is anticipated to begin in the third quarter of 2018, with the operation of the lanes starting before the end of the year.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Launches ‘Bus-on-Shoulder” Program”

News Roundup: Still Unfinished

SeaTac/Airport light rail station

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