A Tacoma Link streetcar. Credit: Oran Viriyincy.

At the Sound Transit board meeting on Thursday, the board voted to extend CEO Peter Rogoff’s contract and give him an 11 percent raise. Rogoff will earn $365,000 per year, until the contract ends in January 2022.

The vote was nearly unanimous. The lone vote against was by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who aired out a number of objections to Sound Transit’s recent work.

“I am very concerned that our processes right now for West Seattle are going to add perhaps another $700 million to that project,” Dammier said. “I’m very concerned that the expectations in the Ballard area could add as much as another $500 million to it.”

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier. Credit: Sound Transit.

Dammeier also cited the rising cost for the Federal Way and Lynnwood Link extensions and faulty Husky Stadium escalators as reasons for his no vote. (Other board members attributed the rising cost of the extensions to market conditions, and pointed out the award of the escalator design-build contract predated Rogoff’s tenure.)

Dammeier’s comments about the new Seattle lines dovetail with comments by Snohomish County board members, including Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. Dammeier’s fellow Pierce County member, Mayor of University Place Kent Keel, has also said that he fears rising costs for capital projects will hamstring Pierce County projects.

ST staff is completing community outreach and working on initial engineering for the Seattle lines. According to Somers, the board expects to see locally preferred alternatives in early 2019.

At that point, depending on the expense of the designs, the board could see much more contentious votes. Presumably, a suburban coalition could vote down ambitious and expensive Seattle designs.

That wouldn’t be hard. According to the state law that created Sound Transit, “major decisions” of the agency require two-thirds supermajorities to be implemented. The list of “major decisions” includes “system plan adoption and amendment; [and] system phasing decisions.”

Pierce and Snohomish counties have seven officials on the board—eight, if Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus counts as a Pierce official. If those officials vote as a bloc, with or without Backus, they could shoot down an expensive Seattle design. The board has eighteen members, so a supermajority vote requires 12 ayes.

Each of the Snohomish officials, plus Dammeier and Lucas, have all expressed fiscal opposition to the most lavish Seattle projects. That gives the fiscal hawks five votes already. 

41 Replies to “Rogoff’s contract is renewed, but opposition to Seattle Link spending continues to form”

  1. 11%?? That’s nuts. Acting like jusf every other corporation tgat people love to hate for the very same thing. While grandpa and grandma struggle to pay increasing property taxes, this guy gets an 11% raise.

    And more and more overbudget we go.

    1. I agree. It is crazy in this day and age to give someone like Rogoff (who is very well paid) an 11% raise. Just give him a cost of living increase, and be done with it. He hasn’t done anything exceptional, and has even come under fire recently for mismanagement. It is crazy that six months after ST hired a coach to train him how to do his job, they vote to give him a whopping huge raise. (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/a-550-per-hour-coach-is-helping-sound-transits-chief-get-along-with-his-employees/).

    2. I agree that it’s nuts to give him a 11% raise, but on the property tax thing, most of the burden of higher property taxes falls on more well-off people and for seniors, at least, there are programs for property tax relief. Property tax is probably behind only income tax as a progressive, not regressive tax that doesn’t hurt the poor.

    3. Yes, what is the argument for this 11% increase? Is it just that other companies are giving their CEOs 11% increases? That gets into how CEOs and shareholders in private companies have hijacked the revenue-distribution process for themselves, and is not a good model for public entities. Even if we accept the argument that public entities have to give large increases in order to attract non-bottom-of-the-barrel candidates in this environment, it could be say 6% instead of 11%. Inflation is still only at 2.5% according to usinflationcalculator.com (due to volatile energy prices, so not necessarily sustained).

    4. Yes, 11% may seem like a lot but but yourself in his shoes. Do you think you could run an agency that is responsible for billions of dollars of construction and further millions more in operations and maintenance? Rogoff is paid to make a small amount of high quality decisions that will be with the Seattle area for many many years. Most employees make many decisions of lesser quality that usually only have a lasting effect of a couple months if even that.

  2. “If those officials vote as a bloc, with or without Backus, they could shoot down an expensive Seattle design.”

    If it means elevated stations vs. underground, this isn’t a big deal. Nor is it a problem if the West Seattle line gets delayed a few years to open at the same time as the new downtown tunnel, rather than the crazy proposal to have a line that’s truncated in SODO for 5 years.

    But, if it means that West Seattle gets its tunnel, while Ballard gets a streetcar that rides the existing Ballard bridge in mixed traffic, then, it becomes a huge problem.

    1. There will indeed be quite the scene if one of Ballard or West Seattle gets its expensive choice and the other doesn’t — for political expedience, it should probably be both or neither. But there’s a bigger-picture problem to address too.

      A suburban coalition shooting down expensive Seattle-focused locally-preferred options is a bit of a scary thought. While it would nominally be about keeping to the voter-approved budget (something I’m really okay with), it would ignite a far larger (and ultimately detrimental) proxy war between member-blocs of the ST board. Seattle’s own local decision-making processes are contentious enough; if after all of that, enough people are satisfied locally but then are dismissed out of hand by a suburban bloc, things can only get ugly. I can hear the shouts in WS and Ballard now: “We came up with something we could live with, and then cheapskate Pierce county politicians dumped our plans!” ST’s political capital in WS and Ballard disappears immediately, and risks torpedoing Seattle-wide political support for ST in the long run: this is a terrible outcome for the entire region. ST has to solve this problem before it ever gets there by not even bringing the shiny-cadillac versions to the final table.

      Practically speaking, this means elevated guideways in WS and Ballard. (Full disclosure: I live mere steps from where any future Avalon station will go, above or below ground.) Locals in each would obviously prefer tunnels for the sake of “community character” and reducing local disruption brought about by having to construct elevated guideways. But as this publication has noted before, there are no operational gains to be made in choosing elevated over tunneled.

      1. I agree. Any change that costs significantly more has to be sold to the entire community, not just the handful that are discussing it. ST3 was a region wide vote, with folks in various communities basically saying it was a good plan. To spend dramatically more would require buy-off from everyone. Realistically speaking, that means going with elevated in both places, since there is nothing from a transit perspective that is better with the more expensive plans (and in the case of Ballard, it would be worse).

        This is different than, say, adding a First Hill station. Such a station would not only benefit the people of First Hill, but the larger community. You could go to the folks in Snohomish and Pierce County with a straight face and say “I know this is a bit more expensive than what we originally proposed, but it is a lot better. Even folks from your community will have a substantially better transit opportunity, as you will be able to get to First Hill, a major employment destination”. You really can’t say that with any of the proposed changes, which are merely designed to placate parochial interests that should have been involved a lot sooner in the planning process.

      2. Agreed. We voted on a plan with a certain budget, and you can’t just retroactively change the plan to something with a significantly higher budget, then expect the rest of the region to pay for it – especially when the extra money is about improving aesthetics, rather than actual rider experience.

        Overall, the alternative I’m most afraid of is if the community stakeholder process leads to the tunnels becoming such a high priority that we build them, but make massive sacrifices in the usefulness and ridership of the lines in order to pay for them. For example, imagine a West Seattle line that has no Delridge or Avalon station, with the Alaska Junction station down the hill, 1/4 mile from the actual junction, on the wrong side of Fauntleroy Ave., to save a few hundred feet of tunneling, and allow the underground station to be less deep, with lower property acquisition costs. Or, in the case of Ballard, maybe the build their tunnel under the ship canal to please the Port and the Fisherman’s Terminal, and pay for it by eliminating one of the underground stations around Lower Queen Anne, and locating the Ballard Station at an awful location, like 14th/Leary (even worse than 14th/Market, but cheaper to build, since it’s a few hundred less feet of tunneling, plus further down the hill, allowing for a shallower station, plus the land needed to build the station would be less expensive).

        The STB editorial board has pointed out multiple times in their podcasts that ST listens to a whole bunch of stakeholders who represent the interests impacted by the construction of the lines, but there is no stakeholder representing the actual riders, who are going to be using it for the next 100 years.

        This is the scenario that we really need to be careful about, and be willing to push back on.

      3. I think that it’s important to put the increase in rough percentage terms as well as in millions. $700M more for West Seattle doesn’t resonate as significant as 45 percent more — not for something better for riders like a new station but merely for a tunnel in the Junction.

    2. I think a Ballard streetcar is extremely unlikely. It was clearly rejected in assembling the ST3 ballot measure. ST had its largest-ever revolt over the streetcar alternative, with STB and Seattle Subway saying it would vote against ST3 in that case, and the transit-fan community divided half-and-half like it is over the Seattle streetcars, and their influence on others would have lost a large chunk of North King and East King voters which were essential to counteract the probable Pierce and South King No votes. Reverting to a streetcar would raise all that controversy again, and be seen as a bait-and-switch.

      And another huge factor has emerged since then. It’s clearly untenable now to build highrise SLU without high-capacity transit. If you lose Ballard Link, you lose the SLU tunnel too, and the second downtown tunnel. The SLU tunnel is a major part of Ballard’s cost, and the second downtown tunnel is needed if you believe the estimates that DSTT1 might get overcrowded and downtown might develop a circulation-capacity gap without it. So for that you’d have to complete the tunnel at least to Smith Cove, to avoid terminating it underground (which would be hard to get to for any later extension). So you’d have run the streetcar on Westlake in parallel with the SLU subway, which would look redundant and wasteful.

      The suburban boardmembers aren’t obstructing the representative alignment (elevated in both Ballard and West Seattle), but simply arguing against expensive extra options. If they target the representative alignment, that would backfire on their Paine Field detour and Tacoma Dome extensions. They are perfectly correct that Ballard and West Seattle are arguing for luxuries that are maybe out of proportion with the rest of Link. The most essential thing is grade-separated transit to Ballard (and not a streetcar in traffic or even a streetcar in a 35 mph exclusive lane). Beyond that you’re just getting into which level of grade-separated transit is slightly better than another.

      1. So instead of a Ballard Streetcar, it’s more likely that ST would be forced to make the kind of hard decisions it has heretofore been able to avoid. I don’t think those will automatically go down in West Seattle’s favor. It will be harder to claim a “West Seattle privilege” than it was the first time around, because there would be a lot of scrutiny over West Seattle’s low density and high Link costs. We’ve already agreed to West Seattle elevated and opening before downtown or Ballard, but the case for a tunnel would be much harder, even with the “right” people advocating for it.

        Asdf2’s worst-case scenarios are more alarming, like deleting Avalon Station, truncating the lines, or putting the stations in more awkward locations. I’d hope that at that point there would be strong pushback saying a tunnel isn’t worth these usability-reducing tradeoffs.

      2. “The suburban boardmembers aren’t obstructing the representative alignment (elevated in both Ballard and West Seattle), but simply arguing against expensive extra options.”

        Thank you. Can you say that again so that it’s heard loud and clear? (RQ)

        “If they target the representative alignment, that would backfire on their Paine Field detour…”

        But why would they do that? The alignment for Everett Link that includes the southwest Everett industrial center, what you’ve called the Paine Field detour, was included in the ST3 proposal’s representative alignment. As I recently stated in a comment to another post on the matter, the Paine Field alignment option goes back to at least early 2005 with the Issue Paper N.2: I-5 Corridor Northgate to Everett HCT Assessment.

        Good luck finding it now on the new website though. Perhaps you’ll have better luck with the wayback machine.

  3. I’m in total sympathy with the suburban members. None of the proposed $$$ alternatives in Seattle add any transportation value, and some of them are downright negative (200 ft underground stations in downtown/ID? A massively expensive tunnel…to 14th?).

    The representative project is fine. Nobody will notice a practical difference from a lift span over the canal. Move the Junction station down to 41st so it doesn’t spoil “neighborhood character” and is pointed the right way for White Center/Burien. Good enough.

  4. 1) I would prefer we give Ballard what it wants, make the Paine Field deviation a spur somehow – it will be hard – and make the political elite of West Seattle chill their heels a bit. There.

    2) This was a terrible time to give Rogoff a huge raise. It will be used against Sound Transit, period.

    3) Not mentioned in the report but at the same meeting: Happy with the long overdue new rules for Board public comments. I’ll leave it at that.

    1. I really like the spur idea because it could be extended further to Mukilteo station/ferry terminal and make an easy transfer for those passengers. But that would be really hard to change now that we’re 2 years past and it’s a pretty big change to make.

      1. East Link will terminate at 128th, so if you build Paine Field as a Y it could theoretically serve that branch.

        Going to the Mukilteo Ferry gets into building Link in really low density areas, and the biggest beneficiaries are those outside the tax area who are already subsidized more than those in the district. How about Island County or WSDOT pay for the extension. It’s performing the same function as highway 526, which the state has long considered its responsibility.

      2. Mike;

        At the risk of going deep into open thread territory, frankly I not just agree with you but think since the State of Washington is ALREADY funding Oak Harbor to March’s Point on Fidalgo Island bus trips on State Hwy 20; ought to do the same from the Mukilteo ferry terminal to the Seaway Transit Center which is mostly State Hwy 526. However, gotten zero enthusiasm from both the State Senator representing that area nor from Community Transit for that approach. BUT I can speculate publicly based on good intel that by 2022 and possibly sooner Everett Transit’s Route 70 will be no more also.

        Joe

  5. The solution to this is pretty simple –– start identifying where the additional funding is going to come from. Will the Port chip in, given its opposition to certain alignments on both the West Seattle and Ballard routes? Will the City of Seattle provide additional funding? Maybe area employers, like Expedia, which will see outsized benefits? Right now, a lot of the funds will have to come from local sources, although that could change if Democrats do well in the 2020 federal elections.

    It’s time to start making clear who’s going to come to the table with additional funds.

  6. It isn’t deserved imho. I could go through a whole littany of items where Rogoff has underperformed expectations (An aside: I keep hearing promises about securing the Lynnwood Link FFGA, so where is it?) but I keep coming back to the abusive and unprofessional behavior for which he has been admonished and for which he has needed “corrective coaching”. That essentially amounts to putting the CEO into an employee probationary period. In much of the private sector that alone would be a disqualifying factor for such a pay raise. I certainly hope the board reconsiders these matters at length when they are evaluating Mr. Rogoff’s 2018 performance bonus next year.

    Good for those five “fiscal hawks”, as the OP has designated the above-named board members. I wish we had more like them on the board.

    1. No one wants to talk about how Rogoff has never really managed the operation nor the construction of a light rail system. We aren’t paying for practical experience.

      I suspect the past ST Board thought that he could butter up FTA — and that Trump would not be elected. His usefulness to ST is now less relevant than when he was hired — and there should be no shame in admitting that we need a head with different talents and experience.

      Of course, Rogoff is pleasing the right Board members (or perhaps has some compelling secrets about them) and no other agency would want him bad enough to lure him away.

      1. “I suspect the past ST Board thought that he could butter up FTA….and there should be no shame in admitting that we need a head with different talents and experience.”

        I agree. I think as pressure mounts on the CEO (and the agency as a whole) over these next few years to deliver ST2 projects on the already delayed timeline, already over initial cost estimates, along with unrealistic cost assumptions for ST3 projects, I expect more board members to reevaluate the CEO’s stewardship with greater candor. Frankly I think the prior CFO McCartan foresaw the challenges that lie ahead and said “no thanks” and headed off to the UW.

        FWIW….Rogoff’s move to Sound Transit has certainly benefited him financially as he has now more than doubled his base pay compared to what he earned at the FTA.*

        https://www.federalpay.org/employees/federal-transit-administration

        *Notice the info at the top of the page:
        “President officially authorized a 1.4% pay raise for 2018. View 2018 GS Pay Scale and localities now!”

      2. Just for discussion, Al S. but any chance Peter has kept his position because he meets leadership’s prime qualification: Nobody else wants the job.

        Usually they want it even less, but the chairman gavels them out of order if they resist. Maybe in this case, the judge calls it Community Service. Reading today’s comments, makes sense to me.

        My best choice….I don’t think either Hawaii or Cleveland has an extradition treaty so Ron Tober is safe. But…Hey, how’s this for a posting: Everybody write in their own favorite! Though sudden up-tick of suicide could make the Medical Examiner shoot himself before he gets nominated.

        Today, I’m seeing small early sample, but my own take is that ST-3’s main danger isn’t loss of funding, but from unsolvable deadlock over which end of a single line gets naming rights. Make whole line same subarea. Turf wars with other areas will at least let them get one line right while they fight some other one.

        And over time- which every huge project in the world underestimates- a streetcar line lane reserved and signal-preempted will be a good thing to have for local service while the the cutter’s being rebuilt because the driver mistakes the giant cast-iron meteor for same pipe that wrecked Bertha. And local arterial transit forever.

        Any chance we can start the Ballard-West Seattle line from under Queen Anne after we get the meteor out of the way, and build outward, letting terminals concentrate on their streetcars? Though dead serious about this:

        Best move to handle real financial trouble could be to have on the boards a region-wide rail-convertible busway system. Structured with footings in the trackway to get those elevated pillars up ASAP. Or as much prep as possible for going subsurface when time comes. Could be some sections we could duplicate DSTT: trains as we can, buses ’til we can get to them.

        Because best use for this idea could very well be to hold the system together, in voters’ and officials’ minds, in the face of a “down” worse than the “slow.” But whatever happens, most important thing is not to keep size larger and speed faster.

        It’s how much we can keep moving under our own control.

        Mark Dublin

  7. Given the cost escalations of Federal Way and Lynnwood, the inadéquate contingencies of 10 percent (FTA recommends 30 percent at this stage) and the insanely 2016 low budgets for the tunnel Downtown ($1.7B) and Ballard ($2.5B) and West Seattle ($1.5B), even the original program can’t be afforded to be built without new money.

    Rather than add hundreds of millions to the capital budget, a future ST Board is instead going to have to figure out what to cut. At least the exercise has utility when ST asks for more money in the future (probably 2024). Either that, or Olympia or DC will need to bankroll lots more.

  8. Rogoff came under disciplinary action recently. He should not get a raise.

    That said, Seattle is relying on a suburban-area transit authority, Sound Transit, to build high capacity transit for Seattle. This is not something realistic for Seattle. SDOT should make appropriate organizational changes to build out Seattle Transit, focusing on serving Seattle. Similarly, King County Metro should split off into King County Metro and King County Rural transit authorities, in order to cope with the variant demands of the stakeholders and the fundamental political reality.

    1. The state allows only a few limited tax authorities. Seattle can’t raise billions of dollars for grade-separated rail; that’s why we’re going with Sound Transit, which is the only one the state has given enough tax authority for large capital projects. It did that because Pugetopolis convinced it we need regional transit and the county-based agencies weren’t up to it because inter-county service was always last in their priorities. So the state allowed us to tax ourselves for regional transit, which means connecting the urban centers to each other. Pure Seattle-centric lines don’t fit into this. The biggest untapped capital authority Seattle has is the monorail authority, estimated to raise up to $1 billion. That could build most of a Ballard-UW line but probably not all of it. It also has a restriction that it can’t be used for “light rail” technology, although there’s a debate whether that clause is enforceable. If Metro split, it’s not clear that Seattle would be able to claim half of Metro’s tax authority because that’s granted to the county. We could ask the state but it would just as likely say no or only a little, because the legislators are more concerned about keeping taxes low and supporting drivers than they are about transit. Otherwise we would have more Seattle transit already.

  9. They’re right. The options on the table for West Seattle as of now are too expensive and won’t provide better service. I second the comment above about political elites in West Seattle needing to chill. As a West Seattleite, I’m sick of our “community input” being hijacked by a loud but influential minority, on this and other issues.

    1. As one who was born and raised over there – this has been a trait of “Westsiders” for generations. There is insufficient density to warrant construction of light rail to WS at this time, and such will be the case for another generation or more. Shut it down – now.

      1. Don’s misunderstand me, I strongly support light rail to West Seattle, but I strongly oppose tunnelling to apease the West Seattle elites.

  10. There’s no practical difference between West Seattle and any station along Central Link beyond Northgate. The money could have been invested in true BRT (unlike the C-line which is an embarrassing excuse for rapid transit), but given the cost of rebuilding the West Seattle Bridge – 99 interchange to solve the bus bottleneck they may as well send the train to West Seattle.

    1. North Link is going to Lynnwood, where it will replace hundreds of express buses with a more energy-efficient alternative and bring reliable transit to Snohomish Ĉounty. West Seattle Link has nothing, except maybe Burien someday. And longer term possibly Southcenter and Renton.

      West Seattle Link is not about insurmountable problems on the bridge or 99. ST barely even studied the possibilities there at all. West Seattle Link is about politically powerful middle-class people wanting a train (and a tunnel) because other neighborhoods have them.

  11. I agree with “Joe, A 12 for Transit,” that Boeing-Everett should have been a spur for Link. Or, even better, the Swift Green line should have been a loop to downtown Everett, which could have opened by 2020. The idea, for a Link spur, to take it to the Mukilteo ferry would’ve been great. It’s terrible that the 70 is slated for extinction, it should be a two-way route (carrying revenue passengers in both directions), connecting not only people to Paine Field area jobs, but also taking those who live in the Paine Field area to the Sounder, Amtrak and the ferry.

    In the meantime, ST can do a couple of things to make this equivalent. The first is to route the #513 to the 112th Park & Ride. Their present plans for implementation next spring are to start this route at the Seaway Transit Center, serve Casino Road and Evergreen, then the lightly-used Eastmont Park & Ride. If they inconvenience the handful of passengers on board at this point (in my experience on this bus) to include 112th, it takes folks to and from their #532 going to and from the Eastside, a connection that’s lacking now, as well as the 510 and 512 going north.

    The second is to split up Everett Link into two projects. The first would be from Lynnwood Transit Center to Mariner (128th) Park & Ride: 6.5 miles, 3 stations, no tunnels, all except the latter about the same as Northgate Link. Open that segment when it’s done, which opens additional connections from the Swift Orange Line to/from Mill Creek (at 164th) and the Swift Green Line (at 128th), to/from Boeing, Paine Field, Mill Creek, and Canyon Park/Bothell. It also shifts the platoon of buses going to and from Everett to and from Link north from Lynnwood Transit Center, which would be greatly improved efficiency-wise by completing the north side of the 164th direct access ramps, no weaving anymore and freeway bus traffic off of Ash Way and 164th.

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