Will a Federal Way state representative’s bill delay Federal Way Link’s opening date?

House Bill 2123 is on the agenda for action by the House Transportation Committee this afternoon (starting at 1:00), but is not expected to pass out of committee yet. Nor have any committee members offered an amendment to the bill by the deadline to do so in order to be part of this afternoon’s consideration. Friday is the deadline for most bills in that committee that aren’t necessary to the state budget. However, this afternoon is the committee’s last scheduled meeting this week.

Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way), prime sponsor of HB 2123, indicated by email that work continues on the bill, and he hopes to moved it forward next week, with the bill being considered “necessary to the budget”, meaning it has no deadline except sine die.

The initial confusion between ST and WSDOT numbers during the bill’s introduction was that WSDOT relied on the backfill ST would get from getting 40 years of discounted leasing (around $550M) [of WSDOT property], while ST was interpreting the backfill they would get from getting only 21 years of discounted leasing (during the time of construction). Those numbers have now been reconciled as a part of the legislative process, and I have been able to bring together the financial experts from both camps who are now speaking the same language with this. We will hopefully soon be able to get consensus and clarity on how to fix the length of time for the lease discount, so we can amend that aspect of the bill to meet the objectives of HB 2123 to make sure that no projects are impacted. My guess is that could push the bill at least into next week.

HB 2123 would alter the formula for Sound Transit’s portion of motor vehicle excise taxes, and give MVET payers a discount based on the difference, if it is positive. Sound Transit has offered various estimates on the total revenue hit (between a half billion and billion dollars, depending on the length of the free WSDOT land leases) and financial impact due to having to go deeper in debt on the front end of the Sound Transit 3 package approved by voters in 2016 (roughly $2 billion over the life of the package through 2041, regardless of how far out the free land leases are extended).

It is unclear which specific projects might get delayed, and the fate of Federal Way Link is more in federal hands. Per ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick:

We have recently received a major federal grant for Lynnwood and are working to secure another for Federal Way and start building the project this year. The agency will be putting particular focus on getting these projects underway. It would be premature to speculate about which specific projects could be impacted and how. If we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of losing revenues the Sound Transit Board would be involved in making policy decisions about how to respond.

A hearing was held Tuesday (starting at 2:07 in the video), in which numerous pro-transit organizations, business groups, and local governmental representatives testified against the bill, with most of them expressing openness to a version that would backfill the financial loss to ST with other revenue sources or new savings (which, per the back-and-forth between committee members and testifiers, the bill, with just the free WSDOT leases as a savings option, does not come close to doing).

Sound Transit Board Chair John Marchione testified that Sound Transit has offered eight ways to backfill funds lost to changing the MVET formula. The list provided by Sound Transit includes the other seven:

  • waiving state sales tax on ST construction contractors ($921 million for 2017-2041)
  • waiving state Department of Revenue tax collection fees for sales tax for ST ($302 million)
  • waiving federal share of land bank obligation ($147 million)
  • exempting rolling stock from state sales tax ($131 million)
  • waiving Department of Licencing fee on reduced MVET taxbase (2006 schedule on 0.8% from July 2019) ($69 million)
  • waiving DOL credit card fee on reduced MVET tax base (2006 schedule on 0.8% from January 2020) ($52 million)
  • allowing ST to compete for state transportation grants ($57.5 million)

Keith Kyle, Executive Director of Seattle Subway, has gone further, suggesting that the carbon tax proposed in the state transportation budget be used to fund acceleration of Link Light Rail construction, since it is not constrained by the State Constitution the way gas tax is. Currently, the state transportation budget proposes that a carbon tax fund lots of road construction.

The Legislature will be spending almost its entire time next week and the first three days of the following week on the Floor, trying to pass as many bills as possible out of each chamber. HB 2123 could, by motion, be pulled to the House Floor for consideration. Doing so would likely cause several other bills to miss the deadline to get voted out, due to the lengthy debate that would ensue, if history is any guide.

32 Replies to “Pellicciotti / Transit Advocates Working to Close the Gap on HB 2123”

  1. While that flyover video definitely looks better than the ridiculous zig-zagging schematic ST released a few years ago I still think we’re idiots for not building straight down highway 99. It’s so obvious. For the next 100 years this will stand as another example of short-sighted incompetence.

    1. I-5 and 99 are very close together in that area. The picture shows it. The zigzagging is no more than the normal curves in I-5, such as between 5th Ave NE to 1st Ave NE and back around Northgate. This minimal amount of zigzagging is insignificant. The issue is where stations are, not where the track goes between stations. The argument for Link on 99 is for stations at 216, 260th, 272nd & 99, and Dash Point Road, as were in alternatives that ST didn’t select. In the end we got the most important station, 236th, for Highline CC, buses access to Kent, and Kent’s urban village. (Des Moines and FW declined to allow more than a token amount of TOD at 236th, none at 216th except its existing plans, and none between 240th and 320th.) But again, we got the most important station, and the zigzagging is insignificant.

      1. A station at 236th is only good for “access to Kent” if there is a bus-only bridge or underpass built at 240th so that transit vehicles can avoid the mess at the I-5 interchange and at SR 99 and Kent-Des Moines Road.

        This absolutely should be a part of the station access for Highline.

      2. Des Moines could have turned it into linear mixed-use TOD and provided a lot of housing at a lower cost than Seattle and Bellevue but it chose not to. Its stated reason was to avoid displacing immigrant business startups in the existing strip malls. It could have built a few city-owned arcade buildings and relocated the businesses and charged them the same rent they’re paying now..That would have made it easier for walk-up customers to access them and walk from one to another.

        Agreed that access to Kent is substandard. Buses will have to turn left onto 99 and again to the station. (Or maybe three turns if the station access is from the south.) It really needs its own access road from KDM Road, but that’s beyond ST’s budget.

    2. I agree. I am actually relieved about the design in this video, if it is indeed correct. Yes, lots of jumping between almost-99 and I-5 like it can’t make up its mind, but overall it does a good job of keeping wide smooth turns and long straightaways, meaning Link trains will likely be able to reach the max speed of 50mph between stations, and be close to that on turns. So not accounting for stops, it will at least be *close* to freeway speeds along the route, at least until the Rainier Valley bend.

      If you pause the video at 2:49, I have to wonder if anyone looked at that and wondered why they didn’t just stick to 99. That’s a lot of oddly-shaped land they will need to buy to build that long diagonal track.

      1. OK, I looked at 2:49 and a few seconds of the earlier parts. Kent owns the east side of 99; Des Moines owns the west side. Kent wanted Link on 99 but Des Moines and Federal Way opposed it. ST decided not to stand up to those NIMBY cities. It insisted on a 99 station at 236th because Highline College students are a significant ridership market. Kent wanted Link on 99 for its proposed urban villages. Des Moines wanted it on I-5 to avoid displacing low-income businesses and car-oriented businesses. Federal Way wanted it on I-5 thinking it would make the trip to Seattle faster.

    3. I’d note that cars are visually flowing on I-5 at the same speed as Link trains. I-5 is signed at 60 mph and cars often move at 65. The Link trains should be moving slower if the video is to be considered accurate.

  2. “the carbon tax proposed in the state transportation budget”

    Tell me more. The legislature is considering a carbon tax? Will weather forecasters have to design an icon for airborne pigs?

    1. “Currently, the state transportation budget proposes that a carbon tax fund lots of road construction.”

      Just let that irony stick in.

      1. We’re going to build the yuuugest, bestest road system ever and make global warming pay for it!

      2. There are some road projects that help transit. I’m not saying that is what the proposal is (I haven’t seen a run down of the various projects) but there are a lot of possible projects that would help improve the transit system a lot.

      3. Hmmm, like the Glorious Kirkland “BRT” station?….
        on the freeway….
        even farther from downtown Kirkland than the ERC, where even if you HATE TOY TRAINS, could have been used as a true BRT corridor?

        You get the same legislation every time when you write it looking through the windsheild.

      4. No, like the 167/405 HOV interchange. Similar interchanges could be built connecting I-5 and I-405 (both directions, so that folks from Lynnwood or Everett could quickly get to Bellevue). Same with I-405 to SR 520, so that riders from Juanita, Totem Lake and Woodinville can quickly get to the UW (and thus downtown Seattle via Link). Speaking of which, if you really want to get crazy, how about a tunnel connecting SR 520 to the UW station (since folks really hate the idea of adding a second Montlake Bridge). Or do the opposite: Build really cheap bus-only passing lanes right next to I-5 in Snohomish County. Like the shoulder driving, they wouldn’t go the whole way, but they would allow a bus to get between Lynnwood and Everett much faster without breaking the bank. (All of those off the cuff ideas are north of downtown Seattle — I’m sure folks could come up plenty of projects for the south end).

        Just because Sound Transit wasted opportunities with the ERC, and built overly expensive crap like the Kirkland station doesn’t mean that the state has to do the same. Focus on saving the most riders the most amount of time and just build it.

      5. The State doesn’t care about bus operations. That’s Sound Transit’s responsibility.

        Sound Transit didn’t ‘waste opportunities’, that’s the pushback from all the NIMBY ruled municipalities that has them following the path of least resistance, and the influence of said representatives on the Sound Transit board.

        In fact, when Sound Transit came up with HOV-HOV ramp designs for the SR520-I-405 interchange, they were told by WSDOT that the design needed to take into account private vehicles with untrained drivers (i.e. carpools).
        That changed the design and the cost.

        You do understand that ‘bus only’ lanes have to be built to withstand the weight of buses, so it’s not cheap or simple. It’s only advantage is it uses about a foot less real-estate than standard HOV lane designs.

  3. barman: yes. ST and the local jurisdictions wanted stealth transit. The Federal Way alignment in the I-5 envelope follows the practice of the initial segment (2009) and Lynnwood Link (expected 2024). Freeways are to pedestrians as dams are to fish. But Link will still be great, just not as great as it could have been. ST made a better choice for Roosevelt.

      1. I’m guessing it means transit that no one notices. You can see that attitude from some people in Ballard and West Seattle. Transit is fine, as long as we don’t have to look at it, or be inconvenienced by it when it is being built.

    1. They also want ‘stealth’ roadways, and if the given municipalities have the financial and political influence they can force the issue.

      Mercer Island gets their lid, same with Medina.
      Kirkland keeps the riff-raff off the ERC, and will probably never widen Lake Washington Blvd as a cooperative gesture for the SOV crowd.

  4. Thanks for the reminder. I put in another call to both of my reps, one of whom is a sponsor of the legislation, to urge them to continue to support the bill, even if it gets out of committee in its present form. This self-imposed MVET mess from the 2015 transportation package needs to be corrected this session.

    “Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way), prime sponsor of HB 2123, indicated by email that work continues on the bill, and he hopes to moved it forward next week, with the bill being considered “necessary to the budget”, meaning it has no deadline except sine die.”

    I would love to hear Rep. Pellicotti’s argument for why he considers the legislation in such a fashion as it seems rather unconvincing on its face. The bill contains no appropriation and as of this writing the required fiscal note has yet to be published.

    “waiving state Department of Revenue tax collection fees for sales tax for ST ($302 million)”

    So then I assume, in all fairness, other transit agencies would get to take advantage of this special carve-out from established statute, eh? I’m not a fan of such carve-outs. (Sen. Liias, my state senator, tried to push a similar carve-out amendment for ST dealing with local permitting during last year’s session.)

    1. I agree on the carve-outs. However, the State needs to make good on its original commitment to SoundTransit. If it taketh away 2 and a half billion dollars for the tab rebates and the extra financing costs that would cause, it needs to figure out a way to replace it.

  5. If I could decide what to build, and if money and opening date were less of a concern, then I’d probably have a Duwamish bypass built, from SODO to SeaTac. From there, have a rail viaduct (with a double decker rail station at SeaTac).

    Then after Angle Lake, have the track descend to street level on 99 and integrate the lower track into the street like at MLK. The lower track would have frequent stop spacing by Link standards (but slightly less frequent than the A-line), whereas the top track would be connected to the Duwamish Bypass and have espress stop spacing (probably just SeaTac, KDM, 272nd, and FWTC, as well as probably Boeing Field/Museum of Flight and Georgetown).

    This would make Link truly competitive with off-peak freeway buses, and allow long-distance trips with direct fast-train access to high volume trip pairs (e.g., FWTC to Seattle, FWTC to Highline College, SeaTac Airport to Seattle, etc…), with other station pairs either being a frequent fast-train to slow-train transfer, or at worst, a slow train all the way.

    The slow train would of course be subject to the same types of traffic issues as Link has on MLK today, but this is less of an issue with an express track above that is always fully elevated. If there’ a disruption on the lower track, there can be higher frequency on the upper track and a bus bridge on the street.

    The lower track, with the slow train, will have frequent enough stop spacing that the A-line will not be necessary, and Metro can reinvest those hours elsewhere. Even the “slow train” will probably be able to complete the A-line trip in 25 or so minutes, vs. the A-line which can take between 45 and an hour depending on traffic. The fast train could probably make that trip in around 13 minutes, or maybe even less than 10 if a BART-style train and track are used for the upper level.

  6. Even if ST gets paid back this bill still bothers me. The car tab rebates would go to newer cars, less than 10 years old. Newer cars are primarily owned by wealthier people. So this is a tax credit for the wealthy. We don’t need to make our tax system even more regressive.

    I’m in the 46th and I’m glad Senator Frockt voted against this last year.

    1. Yep, it’s all about the cars People Like Us have. You see the same thing in the mortgage-tax deduction, while renters can’t deduct anything.

    2. I have to scratch my head when I hear such statements apparently in support of an MVET valuation methodology that even the legislature/state has abandoned and for which the legislature’s own Joint Transportation Committee MVET Study (Jan 2006) concluded that vehicles under the existing schedule were overvalued:

      “Chart 5-3 compares the current MVET depreciation schedule to the market depreciation
      for all cars and light trucks. The MVET depreciation allowance is expressed as a
      percentage of the vehicle’s original MSRP. For purposes of the chart the market depreciation is also measured as a percentage of the vehicle’s original MSRP. The MVET depreciation schedule is above the market depreciation schedule until service year ten. After service year ten the MVET depreciation schedule is below the market value.”

      Frankly, the legislature and the DOL was wise to abandon the valuation methodology when it comes to vehicle licensing (car tabs). Let’s be honest here. The WA State Supreme Court’s reliance upon some very old case law to continue the narrative that MVET is an excise tax and not an annual ad valorem tax, which itself rests on a rather weak argument about “choice to operate a vehicle on public roadways or not”, could and should be challenged again. Additionally, the RTA tax meets all three criteria for deductibility, furthering the argument that it operates like a personal property tax.

      1. How about this: Have a special additional sales tax on new vehicles (so we don’t have to argue over valuation), with a lower rate for battery-powered vehicles.

    3. One of the arguments against the new schedule was that it makes the government dependent on one private-sector company’s evaluations.

      1. “One of the arguments against the new schedule was that it makes the government dependent on one private-sector company’s evaluations.”

        That’s true for the O’Ban bill, but that’s not going anywhere. The Pellicciotti bill only applies a credit between the two schedules that the Legislature has adopted.

  7. I can’t help but notice the irony of the screenshot for the video being where the proposed South OMF site is — and how it’s not shown as an OMF in the video.

    Just a reminder that comments on the OMF sites are now being accepted: https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/operations-maintenance-facility-south

    I still shake my head in disbelief that the facility is 20 minute out-of-service train ride from Tacoma Dome Station yet the technical documentation dismissed any station south of Federal Way as well as heavily weighted against sites that weren’t right on the tracks. It’s as if ST is only concerned with saving track building costs and not 100 years of system operating costs.

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