A Link station in Everett, previously scheduled for 2036, is certain to slip until much later (Image: SounderBruce)

Last night’s returns indicate I-976 is likely to pass. The next step is likely a court challenge, or several. What if the initiative is sustained? Let’s look ahead at the implications for Sound Transit.

If Sound Transit is forced to stop collecting the MVET, that reduces 2021-2041 revenues by $6.9 billion, or 12.3% of what was previously estimated. (Sound Transit mostly relies on sales taxes with a smaller contribution from property tax).

The impact of losing the MVET revenues is multiplied because it is front-loaded. The MVET is 18% of tax revenues through 2028, and just under 10% thereafter. That’s because the 0.3% Sound Move MVET must end in 2028 as a result of a previous Eyman initiative. When that happens, the 0.8% ST3 MVET would have moved to the lower 2005 car valuation schedule reducing those revenues about 30%.

In theory, if Sound Transit were to make up the lost MVET revenues with debt, it would accrue another $13 billion in interest and debt servicing expense. Practically, that’s impossible. Sound Transit runs up against statutory limits on debt long before that. Projections in the current financial plan indicate the agency may already be on track to approach the statutory limit in the 2030s. They also risk hitting limits on debt coverage as revenues are reduced.

Therefore, the impact of I-976 will mostly take the form of slower spending and delayed projects. Before the ST3 spending program peaks (i.e. when limits on debt are most constraining), they must slow outlays by about as much as the loss in MVET revenues. If the Board chooses, all promised projects can probably be built eventually because there’s no time limit on the authority to collect other taxes. But there’s no pathway to delivering the ST3 plan on the schedule anticipated in 2016 because there’s no longer enough money.

The first question the Board must consider is whether to conserve resources on active projects. Most ST2 projects and a few early ST3 projects are in construction. It may not make sense to re-open contracts to slow these down. Proceeding through 2024 would build out the core of the system through Federal Way, Lynnwood, and Redmond.

Powering ahead with planned projects through 2024 adds debt and operating cost commitments. After all, we want to operate the newly expanded system to its potential. But delivering current projects on time means a greater delay to later projects because they must shoulder the entire burden of bringing the financial plan back to balance.

The typical run rate of capital spending 2025 through 2035 is about $2.4 billion per annum. That means the MVET revenue loss is about three years of capital spending on projects. That’s just the starting point, however. Add to that the cost of the debt added to complete current projects through 2024. If current trends in land and capital goods costs are sustained, the system will cost more to build as it is delayed. Lower revenues may also increase the cost of issuing debt. (Sound Transit will have some room to manage this because they already assume conservatively high interest rates after 2021).

With all these factors, the cumulative impact is to delay ST3 projects by at least four years, more likely five years. That’s on average. Suburban projects are likely to see greater delays.

The loss of MVET revenues is a bigger problem for the suburbs than for Seattle, if subarea equity is followed.

Car tabs contribute a greater share of revenues in the suburbs than in Seattle. Just 8.5% of North King’s 20-year forecast tax revenue is from the MVET, but it’s about 15% in Pierce and Snohomish. Subarea financials suggest extending the spine north and south may take a back seat to completing the Seattle lines. Don’t expect all board members to see it that way, however.

Some questions for the subareas:

  • For Seattle, the $1.7 billion in potential added costs building tunnels and high bridges to West Seattle and Ballard come immediately into focus. The suburbs were already insistent Sound Transit would not fund these. The lost MVET adds another $1.5 billion revenue gap for North King. The combined effect seems far beyond any plausible “third-party” funding.
  • Snohomish County always had the most aggressively stretched finances (that’s why those Board members are so attentive to the cost of Seattle projects). Do they focus their reduced resources on opening a Link extension to Mariner approximately on schedule? Or insist on completing Everett Link all at once with the schedule for all stations north of Lynnwood sliding into the 2040s?
  • The second downtown tunnel is the highest ridership segment in ST3 (and it’s not close). The costs are shared across subareas according to their share of ridership. Snohomish and Pierce, facing more acute budget challenges locally, will not want to prioritize delivery of a project elsewhere, even if ownership is shared.
  • Should the BRT projects be scaled back? Unlike the light rail projects, the Board can pick and choose higher priority BRT elements, and it may not be too late to defer some. I-405 BRT capital is largely about a handful of stations, some of which look vulnerable to a cost-effectiveness analysis. The BRT projects are less far along than the rail projects to be delivered at the same time, though some construction is underway or contracted.
  • South King and Pierce have two major projects to balance; the Link extension to Tacoma vs a $1.3 billion program of Sounder South improvements and extensions. Should one be prioritized, or both delayed equally?
  • The tax-rich East King subarea will have completed most of its ST3 program by 2024, with only the Issaquah-South Kirkland still in the queue where construction wasn’t even scheduled to begin until 2036. Obviously, the Issaquah line must now recedes into the late 2040s if it isn’t cancelled outright. Nevertheless, the Eastside may otherwise get off lightly, despite a nearly $2 billion loss of MVET revenues. During the window when several billions must come out of the budget, East King has little to cut because it didn’t plan on expending significant capital dollars anyway.

241 Replies to “What next after I-976?”

  1. Yup. There you go. Can the parking garages! That will definitely save some serious Dow.

  2. I gave up trying to read the i976 text…do you know if there is any ability to raise MVET in a future ballot initiative in say 2024 after several years of growth and traffic and fun light rail stations opening? Also, does i976 affect ST’s sales tax or property tax authority?

    1. Yes, a new MVET can be voter approved but it must use KBB value, which I’m not sure is even legal. Basically the whole thing is a typical Eyman-mess.

    2. I think transit is categorically ineligible for future MVET votes but I can’t find the provision. When Eyman was asked in an interview about the loss of TBDs, he said sales tax would still be available for them, implying that MVET wouldn’t.

      The ironic thing is that the two MVET programs we most care about, Sound Transit and Seattle’s TBD, were both voter-approved, yet the rhetoric suggests they’re just minor exceptions in a sea of non-voter-approved taxes. Add to that that Eyman is specifically on a crusade to strangle Sound Transit.

      1. Per today’s Herald:

        “The initiative doesn’t preclude the cost of tabs from rising above $30 again. It would require any proposed increase — be it by the state, a local government or Sound Transit — be approved by voters.
        And going forward, any new MVET collected by Sound Transit would have to be calculated using Kelley Blue Book values for vehicles rather than the outdated depreciation schedule now in use. It tends to overvalue some vehicles which drives up the cost.”

        I think we should call Tim Eyman’s bluff and vote on it. 2020 is a presidential election year so it’s likely to pass.

        I’ll bet you the clown will be back with another initiative to repeal it.

      2. Anyone who voted FOR this fiasco has no longer the right to bitch about potholes. You deserve them.

      3. “It tends to overvalue some vehicles which drives up the cost.”

        It overvalues some vehicles and undervalues others. Newer, higher-end cars pay more under the old schedule and their owners are powerful and vocal, while it’s the opposite for cars older than ten years. But the ones who have recent SUVs are more powerful and vocal and more incensed about their bills.

    3. If Steattle’s TBD came had a reconfirmation vote in 2020 it would surely pass. If ST3 had a reconfirmation vote it’s less clear but it might still pass. The subareas that are most vocal about $30 car tabs are the same subareas that voted against ST3 in the first place, yet they didn’t prevail.

      A significant number of people probably voted yes to both ST3 and I-976, either not seeing a connection between the two, or assuming ST could make up the shortfall elsewhere (tapping into the huge wasteful spending it must have like all bureaucracies have).

  3. I-976 would hit Ballard and West Seattle the hardest. In 2015, ST3’s primary mandate was “completing the Link Light Rail spine connecting Seattle, Tacoma, Everett and Bellevue, followed by prioritizing ridership and socioeconomic equity”. So we’d likely see East Link terminated at Bellevue, lose all the infill stations, and kiss Paine Field goodbye. But cost cutting measures like a Lynwood truncation are by definition not really possible. Even DSTT2 is more likely to be stalled than Everett and Tacoma Link lines. Due to paying into the ST program for decades with little to no rail to show for it, the Snohomish and Pierce County subareas have essentially banked their subarea equity long enough they can’t be denied.

    The more critical question is whether or not I-976 would end the ST cooperative in the future. After completing the spine, Seattle or King County may well decide to go it alone. The repeated voting pattern is clear. Pierce and Snohomish are not big on light rail. So they may get their bare minimum spine as mandated, but nothing else. ST already plans on route truncation. They may focus more on route elimination, letting local transit agencies worry about getting people to the spine.

    There is a small light at the end of the tunnel. By dropping all future plans in subareas unwilling to pay for it, the subareas more willing to pay for it could receive much better service. Seattle Subway’s King County/Seattle lines could be built faster and with less political opposition.

    But in the short run, I-976 would hit ST hard. Everything but the bare minimum spine would likely be on the table.

    1. I don’t see East Link terminating at Bellevue, given that the construction between Bellevue and Microsoft is already well-underway, although the section from Microsoft to downtown Redmond might get delayed a few years.

      The bigger issue is how ST prioritizes West Seattle and Ballard vs. the spine. Brace yourself for ST stretching sub-area equity to the limit in order to prioritize the spine, including reversing its prior decision of the 2nd downtown tunnel being a regional asset, and billing North King with the entirety of its cost.

      One short-term effect we are likely to see from this (if it’s not overturned by the courts) is big cuts to ST Express service, in an effort to preserve every possible dollar for rail. Get ready for hourly weekend/evening service on nearly every ST route, across the board, and elimination of Sunday service on the 560 and 578 altogether.

      1. Redmond certainly deserves light rail from a job center point of view. I could sadly still see it deferred to a post ST3 funding.

        I do agree that we’ll likely see subarea equity stretched to its very limit. I’m not sure we’d see changes in the 560, as there are already plans to do away with it in the works. I think one other place we might see cuts is in the end spots of the spine. We may see Link only go to South Everett and North Tacoma, again leveraging local transit to fill in the gap

    2. Those are all longstanding issues; I-976 does not fundalmentally change them. ST’s charter mandate is the Everett-Tacoma-Overlake spine. That’s Overlake, not Bellevue. Microsoft is the second- or third-largest regional employer, and most of its jobs are concentrated at the Overlake campus and within walking distance of the station. Leaving out Overlake would be like leaving out UW.

      West Seattle and Ballard are just extras which are allowed if they don’t jepordize the spine’s schedule. However, they’re protected somewhat by subarea equity. Snohomish and Pierce joined ST on the condition of subarea equity because they didn’t want their money going to Seattle subways while they got nothing or had to wait decades. But now with Spine construction completely out of North King, the tables are turned. Subarea equity now protects Ballard and West Seattle from raiding. The other subareas could push to repeal it but so far it has held strong, and the most likely technique would be inter-subarea borrowing (“You build mine now and I’ll build yours next”). Of course they could pull the rug out from under it after they got theirs. However, just as Snohomish resists Ballard and West Seattle tunnels cutting into Everett’s financing options, North King will not be keen to defer the representative alignments for Everett, and North King does have several boardmembers.

      I don’t see DSTT2 funding completely reversing. The entire spine depends on downtown Seattle. That’s unlike Judkins Park Station which was originally East King’s, but Bellevue got North King to take it on so that Bellevue could afford its downtown tunnel. The downtown tunnel is much more fundamental and essential than that. If North King took on all of DSTT2, that would be a huge pill to swallow, much more than any other subarea or station disputes have been, so I don’t see it happening, or at most maybe partially.

      The easiest thing for ST to do is truncations/deferrals at the ends. So north of 128th and south of South Federal Way had better watch out. I could see Ballard truncated at Smith Cove or Dravus, because that would still serve SLU and Expedia. West Seattle is harder to envision because there’s no job/activity center at Delridge or Avalon to justify a Duwamish crossing. The argument that West Seattle has only two roads out of the penninsula may be persuasive; the justification for Link is mainly due to those bottlenecks.

      Making subareas autonomous over tax/project rates would require splitting the tax district. This would probably require splitting the board, or allowing only subarea boardmembers to vote on subarea projects. That would make Sound Transit into a significantly different institution. And Pierce and South King would not have enough yes votes for any large project. Southeast Pierce is ideologically opposed to taxes, and South King thinks it’s too poor to afford them.

      1. ST’s 2015 mandate, as shown in the direct quote above, does not include Overlake.

        “The easiest thing for ST to do is truncations/deferrals at the ends.”

        No. As per the 2015 mandate, end truncation that doesn’t push the spine into Tacoma and Everett is the hardest thing to do.

        Inter-subarea borrowing has been happening with ST since Day 1. Everett, Tacoma, and Bellevue taxes paid for the light rail we have now. That’s why truncating the line isn’t possible anymore. We robbed Peter to fund Paul. We have to fund Peter now. A few corners can be cut, like infill stations or mid line stations. But Everett and Tacoma have paid their dues. Their reward can’t be tossed in the trash.

      2. “Everett, Tacoma, and Bellevue taxes paid for the light rail we have now.”

        Evidence? From what I heard at a board meeting in 2015, Pierce has been saving up in ST1 & 2 for a large down payment on the Tacoma extension. Maybe in ST’s cash-flow operations that money has gone into King County projects and paid back in time for ST3, but that’s not really the same thing as raising up bonds that won’t be paid back until after Link reaches Federal Way and Pierce is ready to start the extension.

      3. ST doesn’t “save up” any money. Tacoma and Everett taxes aren’t in a bank earning interest. ST has no “savings account”. ST uses today’s tax funds to improve today’s bonding capacity, and sells bonds to build today’s and tomorrow’s construction. Those “saved” taxes are in the form of owed subarea equity. That owed equity accrues over time until the poorer subareas have enough owed funds to pay for their sections of light rail. In the end, it technically all evens out. Any “down payment” is paid through bonds, not taxes.

        I’ll see if I can find the specific language within ST’s operating code that spells this out, but I will confess my Google skills are likely not up to the task.

    3. The Paine Field diversion *should* be removed. Swift Green already provides that area excellent service, albeit with crappy transfers. Getting the line open to Mariner will fix the transfer problem.

    4. Voters told us where they don’t want any ST money being spent. Let’s cut everything immediately and focus on the subareas that can think long term. Let’s cancel any Link expansion in the Eastside, for the ongoing project, reduce the number of stations to be open (Mercer Island, for example). Same for BRT. Charge for parking in all Park&Rides.

      Establish congestion charges and charge extra to non-residents. Same for parking.

    5. I live in West Seattle and hell no I dont want elevated light rail here. They can accomplish a lot more with no traffic bus routes. Last thing I want in my neighborhood is what they did along 112th in Bellevue. I voted yes with no regrets. Potholes never got fixed anyways. That billion dollar levy? Misappropriated and out of money first year. Why keep throwing money into a hole? They need to come clean and be held accountable. The biggest thing they did was the hyper inflated valuations. Had they been honest from the start this may not even be a conversation today. But here we are. Metro? A sham. ST3? a scam. Do we need mass transit? Absolutely. Is what we have been getting worth the money? No. Drive along Avalon lately where they took out even more parking on a busy street for pretty much zero bike traffic? Delridge is a prime example. How many bikes in a day vs cars use that? Let those who rely on the busses help pay for it. My wife recently had to start using public transit and her 20 min commute turned into an hour. How is this convenient?

      1. I live in West Seattle as well. Elevated transit would be wonderful. Our bridge has huge backlogs and will get progressively worse as population grows (and as anyone can see with the construction in the junction, it’s definitely growing), and there’s no obvious alternative solution.

        I do not understand peoples’ opposition to elevated light rail. I just returned from Berlin, and guess what? Elevated light rail everywhere. It worked wonderfully and was easy to get anywhere I wanted without a car. In Chicago, much of it is elevated. In Vancouver, most of it is elevated. This is the economically achievable way cities build rail transit to get people around the city quickly. Demanding tunnels in low density areas is asinine and fiscally irresponsible, and seems to mostly be advocated by anti-urban activists who want to live in a suburban environment with 5,000 square foot lots but who, for some reason, do not move to the suburbs.

  4. First, kill the parking garages
    Second, cut projects based on support for I-976. I’m not kidding, the voters in those areas clearly said they don’t want it, so don’t give it to them.

    Snoco should lose Paine Field in favor of a cheaper I-5 alignment.

    If the eastside voted for I-976, then obviously the Kirkland-Issaquah goes on the chopping block. If Woodinville voted for it, end the 522 BRT at Bothell.

    In Pierce and South King, based on previous ST votes, keep the spine to Tacoma (which likely voted pro-transit), and shrink the South Sounder improvements to Tacoma-Dupont (since Dupont has typically voted strongly for transit) while cutting them for the Puyallup/Green valleys (which typically are anti-transit)

    1. This should be done on a statewide basis for all road projects as well, where there is no “subarea equity” argument to fall back on. You don’t want to pay for projects, and you don’t want to come up with another way to fund them? Great. You don’t want them, you don’t get them.

      There should be some pain involved with these decisions to slash funding, and it should fall primarily on the people who wanted to slash it. If they want to vote to restore funding through whatever mechanism, great – but that’s on them. After all, that’s what Seattle has had to do when the legislature or voters elsewhere have tied its hands.

      1. Were most of the “No” voters voting to cut their own car tabs, or someone else’s?

        Does the initiative eliminate the state’s $4.50 filing fee and $8 service fee (which are the only fees beyond the $30 base fee applied to most cars statewide)?

    2. I don’t think you can “punish” projects based on voting patterns. Otherwise, one might argue that Amazon spent 1.5 million on piddly Seattle City Council races while only spending $500,000 against I976, so let’s kill the second tunnel and the Amazon stop and build Ballard to UW instead!

      1. It’s unconstitutional. All residents in a tax district must be treated equally. The “No” neighborhoods are still paying the taxes. You can refuse to build an extension there because they don’t have an urban center or are thinly populated, but not because they voted no to something that wasn’t that extension.

      2. I would also argue that the subset of Snohomish/Pierce residents who actually ride Sound Transit regularly are probably members of the minority of their counties that voted not to defund it. They would be the ones who would be punished for their neighbors’ votes.

      3. What asdf2 said. The “no” votes in ScoCo were probably in places like Lynnwood, Everett, and MLT that will benefit the most. Don’t punish them for what voters in Mukilteo and Mill Creek are doing. Ditto for Pierce. Don’t punish “no” voters in Tacoma for what Spanaway and Eatonville did.

    3. I’m guessing that wouldn’t work very well because the Link extension to Tacoma is probably the most expensive Pierce County project. And there’s also some complications with Sounder because Sounder improvements can affect both Puyallup and Tacoma. So I think it’s not wise to go full vindictive right away.

      The more sensible cuts you mentioned, however, absolutely make the most sense. Here’s a good list I can think of, in no particular order:
      1. Replace the Paine Field deviation with a spur that is contingent on restored (or additional) funding.
      2. Stop this nonsense about a tunnel in West Seattle (and Ballard as well since they won’t consider any options that make a tunnel there attractive).
      3. Kill the NE 85th BRT station, but keep the genuine speed improvements.
      4. Sounder to DuPont should probably be pushed back in favor of trying to keep Link to Tacoma on schedule.
      5. Kill Issaquah Link, and possibly replace it with a BRT line.
      6. Parking garages
      7. Though it’s pennies in a bucket, perhaps we don’t need a Link station at Public Storage on Boeing Access Road. It also may be worth reconsidering the value of another station in the lowest ridership part of Link (Rainier Valley), especially considering that it will slow every trip all the way from Tacoma.

      1. As to #2, the port of Seattle came out against any bridge (and wasn’t going to pay for a tunnel) over the Ballard ship canal. And they have the resources to sue and delay in a Burke-Gilman trail fashion.

        If it were possible, I’d replace Ballard with the cheaper Ballard to UW and save the passed route for ST4. (Voters in ST3 supported light rail to Ballard so rather than defer the station we are giving them light rail to Ballard– the second tunnel is too expensive)

      2. Before ST3 passed, I thought about doing a Page 2 about an alternate, cheaper West Seattle and Ballard plan that could be used for another vote in the event that ST3 failed (which it didn’t). Basically it’s what you say, build Ballard-UW, and replace WS light rail with a dedicated busway, and a few intra-WS busways.

        It might be a good time to revive those ideas.

      3. mdnative;

        Well I don’t see how the Port of Seattle could oppose a bridge if it doesn’t enter the ship canal at all.

      4. I disagree on pushing back Sounder to Dupont for a couple key reasons:
        1 – Dupont has been a strong supporter of ST thru multiple elections. They want it. Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, and Kent don’t, so ST shouldn’t spend their money on them.
        2 – Unlike the rest of Sounder, Sound Transit actually owns the tracks from Tacoma to Dupont, and freight traffic is minimal. ST can basically run as many trains as they want, and not have to pay track usage fees.

        So, all the remaining South Sounder money should go into the Tacoma-Dupont stretch.

      5. It also may be worth reconsidering the value of another station in the lowest ridership part of Link (Rainier Valley)

        In terms of ridership per mile, or ridership per service hour, Rainier Valley does just fine. Those are numbers that matter. Likewise, construction cost per daily rider also matters, and in that respect, Graham Street Station does quite well. Likewise with subsidized cost per rider — it has the second lowest, behind only Ballard Link. (Reference: https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/).

      6. build Ballard-UW, and replace WS light rail with a dedicated busway, and a few intra-WS busways.

        Yep, it is what we should have built. My guess is you couldn’t get all of it though. It has several pieces:

        1) Ballard to UW rail. Relatively cheap for the amount of ridership, but still not cheap. You also don’t want to cheap out with the stations. You want it to interline with the main line, or at worse have an easy transfer. The Fremont station should have entrances at lower Fremont as well as an easy exit to access the Aurora bridge. There would be a stop at 15th (for bus transfers) and at a minimum, the ability to add a stop somewhere between 20th and 24th in the future. Cheap compromises (such as a poor transfer to the main line) would forever cut the value of the project.

        2) WSTT (another bus tunnel). I could see this being split into pieces, with the Aurora connection being made later. That would mean putting off service to anything close to South Lake Union (although you would have service to Belltown). A future “Metro 8” subway would serve South Lake Union much better than the current plan, but it would be a while before it got built.

        3) Fix the West Seattle to downtown section. This looks fairly cheap (200 million or so, by my estimates). You essentially widen the Spokane Street viaduct, and then add ramps to and from the SoDo busway. That way a bus would be in a bus-only lane from the moment it gets on the West Seattle freeway ramp until it gets to the Ballard Bridge (you avoid cars cutting across the bus lane — https://goo.gl/maps/uLvuBs5SihM7ooxU9).

        4) Surface improvements between Ballard and downtown. Most of this is fairly cheap, as it involves making part-time bus lanes full-time bus lanes. The most expensive piece would likely be a better stop for Interbay, so the bus doesn’t have to leave the throughway. That would cost money, but all together we are talking a few hundred million, not billions.

        5) Other minor improvements. In the tunnel, all the buses would be off-board payment. You want reader stations for most of the bus stops outside it as well (in the junction, from Ballard to downtown, etc.). These are all RapidRide type improvements (some paint, some readers) and fairly cheap.

        6) Service improvements. Since the buses would run a lot faster, this could be relatively minor. It might even be service positive (i. e. we would be able to substantially improve service levels without increasing costs).

        Some of these could be done independently. It is pretty easy to see how more people would come out better (and a lot sooner). It is the politics that are the hard part. Making bus improvements on a corridor slated for rail would be difficult. The third project — even though it is probably a good value — might be a tough sell. Why spend money making the bus faster to West Seattle when they plan on replacing it all with trains anyway? Likewise the Interbay stop.

        In contrast, the WSTT could be done (with the promise that it eventually be turned into rail). If the agency is faced with this shortfall — i. e. a major delay — I could see that happening. Rather than wait forty years before you get a train to Ballard, you can at least get a faster bus trip to downtown in ten.

        So, unfortunately, the two easiest projects from a political standpoint are also the most expensive. I don’t think either are likely, just because the board has never shown that level of innovation. Faced with a similar crisis (caused by poor estimates, not a sudden loss of revenue) ST decided to run the train from downtown to Tukwila, even though ridership (and return on investment) would have been much higher with a line from the U-District to downtown. It would be amazing to see them show this level of understanding and ingenuity faced with a similar crisis.

        No, my guess is they would simply cut and delay.

      7. “Replace the Paine Field deviation with a spur”

        It wouldn’t make sense to divert half the Everett trains to Paine Field because it has much lower and peak-concentrated ridership. The idea that many workers will take Link to Paine is still unproven because the jobs are scattered far from the station.

        There is a scenario that could make it work but it would require third-party funding. East Link terminates at 128th, so it could be extended to Paine Field as the spur. The good part of this is it wouldn’t cut into Everett’s frequency. But this would require more money, and ST needs to cut back, not expand. Maybe sacrificing some P&Rs could cover part of it, but probably not all of it.

        But it still wouldn’t address one of the purposes of the Paine Field extension. It isn’t just for King County/Lynnwood workers going to Paine. It’s for Everett/Marysville/Skagit workers going to Paine too, to decrease congestion on the Casino freeway and that part of 99. That was one of Snohomish’s reasons for the detour (even though it sounds implausible). With the spur, people form the north would have to go to 128th and backtrack to Paine, or have a separate Everett-Paine shuttle.

        “Kill the NE 85th BRT station”

        That would leave central Kirkland with little to the regional transit network. Kirkland got practically nothing in ST1 or ST2, and now it’s to be skipped in ST3 too? Kirkland is the Eastside’s second-largest city and a job-tax generator. There are long-term difficulties with Kirkland’s geography, because downtown Kirkland is west of 405 and a north-south route to downtown Kirkland would have to parallel 405, and an east-west trunk can’t go very far because it would run into Lake Washington and outer-fringe Duvall. In contrast, Bel-Red makes a perfect axis for Seattle-Bellevue-Redmond. So there are long-term reasons why Kirkland is getting less and later, but dropping 85th may be difficult. Maybe you could downscale the interchange or substitute 70th.

      8. “If it were possible, I’d replace Ballard with the cheaper Ballard to UW and save the passed route for ST4.”

        It’s not possible because Ballard-UW is not voter-approved. ST can’t spend money on non-voter-approved projects until it finishes voter-approved ones. There could be a way to argue that downtown-UW-Ballard is within the scope of a downtown-Ballard corridor, in the same way that 85th, 15th NE, and Lake City Way were in scope for a downtown-Lynnwood corridor, and Sand Point-Kirkland and UW-Bothell-Kirkland are in scope for a 520 corridor. But it would take a lot of justification and a change of direction by the ST board. And it would flounder against the limited capacity in Westlake-UW and the loss of serving SLU (which in aggregate is as big a job center as UW or Microsoft).

      9. As a resident of Kirkland near the downtown area, I can say that without 85th St. Station, I-405 BRT is effectively useless to me. A 20 minute milk run to Totem Lake just to get to the bus stop, may as well not even bother. 85th, I can walk to in 15 minutes or so down the CKC, which is reasonable, given the speed of the bus, once I get there.

      10. On the Paine Field spur, I guess the word “spur” was not well descriptive here, but I was thinking of something like the Oakland Airport – Coliseum BART station, which is a separate type of track and train that is fully autonomous and runs very frequently for cheap.

        On Kirkland, it is kind of harsh, but… NE 85th and I-405 is a sorry excuse for a downtown Kirkland station. I can think of other solutions that are much less capital-intensive that would better serve downtown Kirkland, such as an express bus, that wouldn’t require a mile walk to I-405. But the NE 85th station as it stands is just not very much bang for the buck, especially considering that it’s Sound Transit basically paying for a 3-level car interchange.

        Also, Kirkland doesn’t quite get nothing. Totem Lake is in Kirkland, which will be a BRT stop. And based on the upcoming March 2020 restructure, Metro is ahead of the game on feeding the future BRT station. The station at NE 85th will require either relying on the two buses that go there already, or awkwardly divert some other bus routes into nowhere land on I-405 to get people from the station to where people actually want to go. It just doesn’t make sense for the expense, especially when ST needs to make some cuts.

      11. “NE 85th and I-405 is a sorry excuse for a downtown Kirkland station”

        It’s not a downtown Kirkland station, it’s a stopgap until ST4 can serve downtown Kirkland properly. And it gives central Kirkland something it can sort of use to get to Bellevue or Lynnwood quickly. That was the same rationale as the former 340 which had freeway stops at 70th in Kirkland and Coal Creek Parkway in whatever you call that area. They were a long walk from downtown Kirkland or Factoria but at least they were something faster and more frequent than the hourly local routes.

    4. I agree completely!! [obs]!! They should get nothing. And can spend the rest of their lives with no alternatives to sitting in traffic. Short sidedness should not be rewarded.

      1. Luke;

        Most of Snohomish County and a big part of Pierce County doesn’t reside in the Sound Transit District. So the countywide vote is a sham.


      2. ^^^ Joe makes an important point. So you can’t compare county-level results for I-976 to ST3 until we have precinct data that we can use to filter out parts of the counties that aren’t part of ST. Even eastern parts of King County aren’t in the ST district.

      3. Luke,
        I understand the frustration of my neighbors. We keep paying in and paying in and paying in… for the promise of light rail “some day.”

        We’ll go ahead an **** off… once we are refunded the money we’ve already paid in to a system that hasn’t yet been delivered to us.

        Until then, I’ll keep fighting for transit to be built where I live.

      4. Also, I believe that Luke’s comment violates STB’s commenting rules, and should be deleted.
        Thanks, and have a great day!

      5. What exactly are we talking about? Has the Snohomish County I-976 total even been published yet? I only saw a statewide total.

        The ST district ends at Everett. However, ST’s strategic planning includes assumptions that Whidbey Island ferry passengers take Sounder from Mukilteo, and Marysville/Skagit drivers park at Everett Station. Part of the reason for Link and Sounder is to serve these crowds and get them off the south Snohomish roads and buses.

      6. It is expected that countywide totals would be worse for sound transit than ST3 totals because of the rural/exurban areas in the county, but not in the ST taxing district. Many of them probably think they are paying taxes to Sound Transit when they aren’t, and never bothered to look at their car tab statements to check.

  5. So far, the post has been mostly about Sound Transit impacts, but the immediate impact that’s going to affect more people’s daily lives is the Seattle Transportation Benefit District. The Seattle TBD is why core bus routes, such as the 5, 10, 12, 40, 41, 62, 65, 67, and many others, are able to offer frequent service 16-18 hours/day, 7 days/week, rather than only daytime hours Monday-Saturday (as they did back in 2014, before STBD existed). It is also why RapidRides C, D, E, and the 44, run every 12 minutes instead of 15, during the daytime, and service every 15 minutes instead of once/twice per hour between 10 PM and midnight.

    In order to keep these improvements intact, it is going to be necessary for the new Seattle City Council to show some leadership and find alternative funding sources, rather than quietly letting the service disappear. I believe raising the sales tax by an additional 0.1% is an option, although it would require another vote (which, being city-only and in a presidential election year, I assume, would pass).

    Another option could be to make up the car tab money with taxes on Uber and Lyft rides (which, I think, the mayor and council could impose without a vote). According to the Seattle Times, there were 40,000 Uber and Lyft trips taken, just in two zipcodes centered around downtown Seattle. Even with just 60,000 trips city-wide, I calculated a tax averaging just $2/ride would provide enough revenue to completely replace the car tab revenue.

    Another option would be to raid the funds Durkin had previously allocated for constructing the downtown streetcar. The streetcar provides essentially zero mobility benefit over the existing buses downtown, and it would be a complete travesty to fund a useless streetcar, while our basic bus service (which actually moves large numbers of people) is suffering. Unfortunately, the streetcar money, by itself, wouldn’t be enough, but it would at least be a good start.

    1. I keep hearing about raiding streetcar funding, as if the FTA would be willing to let Seattle use money approved by the FTA for building the streetcar to be used for other purposes. That money is not fungible.

      The local match, which was once small, is fungible, but we’d have to pay the FTA back. The growth in local match is projected cost, not projected additional income.

    2. Streetcar is getting done. There isn’t any federal grant money for bus service, there is for the streetcar. Absolutely ridiculous to propose sending $75,000,000 back to DC.

      1. The city’s share of the streetcar project, alone, is too much. Yes, it sucks to send $75 million back to DC, but it least you have the city’s $50 million available for bus service.

      2. Raiding a long lasting capital investment to fund short term operations? Mmmm, this seed corn sure is tasty!

      3. Ron has a point, regardless of the streetcar. We should be making the capital improvements up-front to move buses as fast as possible through downtown, and other chokepoints, instead of just throwing money away at bus service. Moreover, our peak bus service is already maxed out, and there is nothing for it but to spend money on the capital improvement of a new bus base or two, and in the meantime, provide the same service using fewer service hours.

        We can roll out the red-paint carpet right now for pretty cheap, and without having to trade our herd of horses in Olympia.

      4. Even when the streetcar is finished, it provides near zero mobility benefit. We don’t need yet another transit line from one end of downtown to the other end. What we need is faster and more frequent transit service in the rest of the city. We can have a debate on how much money should be spent on capital improvements vs. operations, but spending the capital budget on a downtown streetcar is essentially throwing the money away – even with the feds kicking in most of the cost.

        We need to make hard choices on what is and is not worth funding. More frequent bus service across the city is. A downtown streetcar isn’t.

      5. At 11,000 riders a day, the Central City connector will be one of the highest ridership routes in the city when it opens, not to mention massively improving the utility of the two sunk costs we’ve already built. Hardly throwing money away.

      6. It won’t bring any new riders to the system, just poach riders who would have otherwise boarded a bus down 3rd Ave. Most was/west trips involving the combined downtown/First Hill section will be faster on a regular old bus, if not, Link to CHS. Riding the whole thing all the way around would be slower than even the #8. 3rd Ave. also already has a one seat ride to SLU along the RapidRide C line.

        There are just no origin/destination pairs where the CCC adds real value, unless you made dubious assumptions, like 1st to 3rd Ave. being too far to walk, or people of the privileged class who will ride something on rails, but a bus down 3rd is beneath their dignity. Bottom line, the downtown streetcar simply does not make sense, and bus service elsewhere in the city should not be suffering to pay for it.

      7. Go talk to an elderly or mobility impaired person. Tell them they’re just lazy if they can’t make it up that 10% grade to 3rd!

        Seriously, though, Colman Dock is a major trip generator to the CBD, First Hill and SLU. And 1st is a transit desert despite having great density. That’s why the feds awarded the grant funding: it’s a very cost effective investment.

      8. asdf2 is right. If you really want service on First Avenue, then just run a bus there. There are literally more than enough buses going through downtown. Just move one of them over there, take the BAT lanes, and call it a day.

        Then spend the money on other capital projects or service improvements. We shouldn’t scoff at service improvements, as most people see that as the reason transit ridership has gone up. It makes a big difference if you have to wait a half hour for a bus, or ten minutes.

        But let me just ask a question Ron. If the city did that — if the city ran a bus down First Avenue, would that make you happy? If not, why not?

      9. I’m not saying that people who can’t make it up two blocks don’t exist, they’re just not that many people who have both an origin and destination on the same block as a streetcar stop *and* are unable to walk two blocks. That’s a lot of and’s.

        There is already a waterfront shuttle van to meet the needs of ferry passengers who need to connect to Link and can’t walk two blocks.

        On the other hand, the bus routes that could be backfilled by redirecting the streetcar money are routes like the 5, 40, D line, etc. They each carry more people than the downtown streetcar would, and they go further distances than one can reasonably expect to walk. These buses represent real mobility. The downtown streetcar is just toy transit.

      10. Bus isn’t going to get exclusive lanes on 1st, the streetcar is. It’s an investment in making a rational system out of two disconnected political projects.

        Also a prerequisite to extending the streetcar down 1st into Belltown to serve an incredibly dense neighborhood that’s getting nothing out of ST3.

        It would be absolutely stupid to give up a significant federal capital grant in order to burn local matching funds for O&M costs that’ll here and gone with no permanent benefit.

      11. “Raiding a long lasting capital investment to fund short term operations? Mmmm, this seed corn sure is tasty!”

        It’s not an apples to apples comparison. The CCC benefits only 1st Avenue riders and downtown tourists. Frequency improvements throughout Seattle benefit a large percent of the population and workers, and enable many more people in many neighborhoods to get around without a car. That makes them more willing to downsize their number of cars, and stop being so insistent on parking minimums in buildings and preserving street parking.

      12. Ah, nice to see Dow C agreeing with me in today’s press release:

        “To be clear, using capital funds for operations – funds that should go to buying buses and building bases – is not good policy. If we spend it on operations, it is gone for good.”

      13. “Go talk to an elderly or mobility impaired person. Tell them they’re just lazy if they can’t make it up that 10% grade to 3rd!”

        What about disabled people on NW 85th Street, Madison Street, Delridge Ave SW, and everywhere else in the city? 1st Avenue is not the only place disabled people are.

        But I agree that the hill from 1st to 3rd is steep between Yesler and Pike. We just have to weigh the needs of those riders against the total needs in the city. Too often downtown gets too much privilege while other neighborhoods that also have a lot of transit riders and pedestrians don’t even have basic 15-minute service.

      14. Also, as RossB said, you could always paint in bus lanes on first and move some of the 3rd Ave. buses over there. If the C line were moved, you’d have the same one seat ride to South lake Union that the streetcar would provide, but for a fraction of the cost. If you really want transit on 1st, this kind of shuffling is perfectly reasonable.

        There is definitely a balance to strike between capital investments and operations. One could make a reasonable case for redirecting the streetcar money into spot capital improvements for buses around the city. Or sidewalk improvements. But, at the same time, we passed the Seattle TBD because we needed more money for operations. You can build all the bus lanes you want, but if the bus only runs once or twice per hour, whether a bus lane exists or not is likely the least of your problems. Frequency drives ridership. Ridership drives investment, which drives more ridership and more frequency, and so on. If you want transit to work, you can’t cheap out on frequency.

        To put it another way, go ask someone from Ballard if they would be willing to have the 40 and D line cut to half hourly after 7 PM for 5 years, in exchange for having a streetcar on 1st Ave. Downtown. The answer would be absolutely not. They get a lot more benefit by having their bus.

      15. “It won’t bring any new riders to the system, just poach riders who would have otherwise boarded a bus down 3rd Ave.”

        It will bring a few new riders. Namely, those who wouldn’t take a 3rd Avenue bus but instead forego the trip or drive. Mayor Durkan talked about how “From Pike Place Market you can go directly to MOHAI!” That will attract some tourists, and even some locals. It just won’t attract as many people as another route in a more distinct underserved corridor.

      16. The C-line already gets you from within two blocks of Pike Place Market to across the street from MOHAI. Unlike further south, at Pike/Pine, there isn’t even much of a hill between 1st and 3rd. We have better things to spend $50 million than tourists who are unwilling to walk two blocks.

      17. asdf2, Ross, both of you guys know full well that the FTA grant for the streetcar is non-fungible. It’s “Si-Si-Si!” or “Adios!”

        It certainly can’t be used for operations. No Federal transit funds may be.

        And there’s a bright side. The Overstretched Base problem and lack of drivers will get some quick relief while folks figure out what to do.

        BUT, the real truth is that section 2 is essentially an ex post facto law because it outlaws contracts [e.g. “bonds”] which were issued and purchased freely and openly in compliance with the laws in force at the time the contract [e,g, “the bond sale”] was made.

        No court in the land would countenance such an attack on hundreds of years of settled law. That part of 976 is going down. The State SC may uphold part 1, which will play hell will play hell with bus operatioins, but the ST bonds are safe from forced “defeasance”.

      18. The $50 million is not federal money – it’s local money. And local money absolutely is fungible. What’s not fungible is the $75 million in federal money. Yes, walking away from the streetcar would mean throwing that $75 million away. But, the streetcar is such a bad project, that, even with the feds willing to pay $75 million of the $125 million total cost, it’s still not worth the other $50 million.

        And to just sit back and let bus service that actually carries people get cut, while we blow $50 million of local money on a downtown streetcar is crazy.

        The downtown street is a perfect example of the type of project that politicians who never ride transit imagine somebody will use. But, it is buses like the 5, 40, D-line, E-line, etc. that actually move the masses.

      19. But the initiative tries to address that. It doesn’t just repeat the failed I-695 approach. It recognizes the bonds must be paid or the bondholders adequately compensated, and it gives two or three strategies that weren’t in 695. It doesn’t say ST must defease them but only that it must try to defease them (or those two other things), and if it can’t legally do so it can fall back to just keeping the tax rate until they’re paid off. The courts might not accept this provision, but it’s not simply “You must defease even if it’s llegal”.

      20. The streetcar isn’t just competing with people taking 3 Ave busses to go up and down 1st Ave. It is also competing with people taking Uber and Lyft to make those trips. Plus 3rd Ave is already maxed out, Seattle needs another corridor to further grow transit capacity. Unless you suppose 5-6th Ave. tunnel is a good option for “lower downtown” trips?

      21. “It certainly can’t be used for operations. No Federal transit funds may be.”

        I’m sorry but that just isn’t true. There are provisions in several of the federal formula grants from the FTA that allow for funds to be used for operations:

        “5307 Urban Area Formula – Use for Operating Expenses

        “In General, 5307 grants are for capital expenses only. However, funds may be used for operating assistance under limited conditions:
        ▪ Recipients in UZAs with populations of fewer than 200,000 may use Section
        5307 funds for operating assistance. There is no limitation on the amount of
        their apportionment that recipients in these UZAs may use for operating assistance.
        ▪ Recipients in UZAs with populations of 200,000 or more may not use Section 5307 funds for operating assistance unless identified by FTA as being eligible. Public transportation operators that operate 100 or fewer buses in fixed route service during peak service hours may use a limited and variable percentage of their UZA’s 5307 apportionment for operating assistance. Operating assistance caps for eligible operators are published by FTA in the Federal Register.”


        “Other formula programs – 5310

        “5310 Enhanced Mobility for Seniors & Individuals with Disabilities – Formula
        funding to states for the purpose of assisting private nonprofit groups in meeting
        transportation needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities.
        ▪ Funds can be used for capital and in some instances operating costs of providing
        dedicated services for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
        ▪ Funding provided to States for rural areas and Designated Recipients in Urban areas
        ▪ Funding is to be allocated to non-profit organizations. Designated recipients and
        other public agencies may also provide service.”


        “Other formula programs – 5311 (rural)
        ▪ This program provides capital, planning, and operating assistance to states to support public transportation in rural areas with populations
        less than 50,000
        ▪ Grants are made to State Departments of Transportation and are then allocated to other entities by the State DOT.
        ▪ Eligible activities include capital and operating expenses (requires 50% match)”

        And IIRC, the ARRA appropriations designated for FTA eligible projects from about a decade ago allowed for 10% of the grant funds to be used for operating expenses.

      22. Thank you Tlsgwm. Perhaps, then, the FTA will give Seattle $7.5 million for bus service if the CCC is canceled.

        And maybe SDOT will give buses the lanes on First that the streetcar was to have had.

        They don’t seem to be champing at the bit, though.

    3. One problem with the sales tax option is what happens if the courts rule in Eyman’s favor, but not until 2 weeks before the 2020 election, when it’s too late to get any local funding measure on the ballot. Then, you have to do it in a special election, where getting people to vote is harder.

      A combination of Uber/Lyft taxes and raiding the city’s share of the streetcar fund feels safer.

      1. If it were possible, I’d replace Ballard with the cheaper Ballard to UW and save the passed route for ST4.

        You’re right, it’s not. Possible that is.

        Without Ballard-Downtown and a properly engineered connection to it, Ballard-UW would be very difficult to operate. It would require one of two extremely disruptive and potentially catastrophic engineering projects to link B-UW to The Spine.

        If “through” service to downtown were to be provided, one of the tracks connecting B-UW to the existing tubes would have to pass underneath the existing Spine tunnels. Each track would require that the one of the existing tubes be broken open for several hundred feet to accommodate a turnout.

        If only a “service” connection were built, one tunnel would have to be broken into in the same manner. Then, if Sound Transit’s is uncomfortable with “out-of-direction” operations, both tunnels would have to be broken into to host a cross-over between the service connection and HSS.

        All this tunnel-reforming would happen underneath the UW main campus. I’m sure they’ll throw a welcome party.

        If ST staff and the Board are comfortable with “out-of-direction” operations, it is at least theoretically to use the scissors at HSS to move trains bound to B- UW to the southbound track during times of infrequent headways. That is, between 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM.

        Do not underestimate the difficulty — both engineering and political — of either of these tasks.

      2. ST2 will have 3-minute trains in the DSTT. To bring it down to 2 minutes or 90 seconds to add Ballard trains would require capital improvements in the DSTT. ST considered that for ST3 but didn’t include it because it decided to add a second downtown tunnel instead. Now there’s no money for the capital improvements to support downtown-UW-Ballard trains, because all of the ST3 budget is allocated to other things

      3. Mike, absolutely true. I didn’t want to “muddy the waters” with people whatabouting if I didn’t include the possibility of a two track connection. The truth is neither of those options is going to be built on the UW campus, because they’d require Bertha-salvage-like access pits to build supporting structures to allow ripping into the compression rings which support the overburden on the tunnels.

        It is simply not going to happen because ST didn’t include the necessary bellmouths.

      4. long Bertha-salvage-like access pits”, because even a number 10 turnout requires at least seventy-five feet to completely separate the diverging trackways.

      1. I’m scared too.

        We need to come together and fight for those Seattle schools ORCA passes for now.

        Then we need to make very, very clear the King County Council [ot] gets fast, frequent electric buses on his bus lanes.

      2. I’m generally supportive of free transit, and getting to it incrementally with school passes and ORCA Lift is one way to do it. But I’m disappointed because we voted for more service hours, and if Metro can’t deliver it now I’d rather keep it in a savings account to use when another bus base opens. We have a limited amount of money and a lot of transit needs to get to a Chicago/London/Moscow level of serivice, and I’d rather address the bus availability/frequency problems first before working on free fares or even free-for-school-students fares.

    4. I agree that with asdf2 that the Seattle TBD transit operations funding is the most urgent threat. The source is time-limited anyway, and a replacement revenue source will be needed.

      We should be putting our energy facing this serious challenge first if I-976 holds. This is a very serious problem!

    5. “the immediate impact that’s going to affect more people’s daily lives is the Seattle Transportation Benefit District.”

      I’m assuming there will be another STB article on this tomorrow or so. At least I hope there is, because I’d like to see the editors’ analysis and I’m holding off commenting on it.

  6. I know I’m dreaming here but the best thing would be if the legislature goes back to the drawing board and fixes this stupid paradigm where transit projects, tbd’s, etc. can be approved by voters who need them, only to see a mean-spirited initiative overturn everything.

    They also should figure out a way to back fill the lost funding.

    1. Exactly. It’s insane the the Sound Transit TBD can approve something, but then a statewide vote can scuttle it.

      This state needs a damn income tax already. These property tax and car tab fees are a terrible way to raise money and hurt the wrong people.

      1. Car tab fees are directed at a polluting source, if rather imperfectly. If you are worried about low-income drivers, an income-based discount is an option that was floated by at least one senate Republican.

        Property tax is a form of wealth tax.

        Sales tax remains regressive, but about all we can get the politicians to do is carve out exemptions (thankfully, including most off-the-shelf food).

    2. Fixing the paradigm would require a constitutional amendment to limit initiatives. That would have to be approved by the same voters who approved I-976.

      An income tax would also require a constitutional amendment according to some, although this is subject to interpretation. There have been several attempts for a state income tax since the 1970s at least, and they have all failed. The argument is that two taxes are better than three, because even if the state reduces sales tax to compensate for the income tax, those people fear the sales tax would eventually creep back up to where it is now.

      1. The only thing you have to do to make a state income tax entirely legal under current court precedent is make it a ‘flat’ income tax. Single rate. Probably can’t have too huge of a standard deduction. That satisfies the supreme court ruling from the 30’s.

        Make a progressive income tax and you have a court fight where anyone who thinks the result is obvious is either a state supreme court insider extraordinaire or just experiencing some hubris.

        An especially competent legislature would draft a progressive income tax bill so that it falls back to a flat one if the court rules unfavorably.

        The real problem is political. Lots of voters think they win under the current system.

  7. This seems like an overly optimistic analysis of impacts to project, which I’m ok with at this point. I prefer it to all the doom and gloom talk.

    But what about the legal analysis? How likely is this to be overturned?

    1. We’ll see the legal analysis when the lawsuits are filed after the results are certified in a month. But Eyman initiatives persistently run afoul of the single-subject rule, and there has been chattering that this one has the same flaw. Two other lines of argument are that the title and summary didn’t say anything about the transit impacts (although Tisgwm disagrees that this is a flaw), and that the Kelly Blue Book is a private organization so it’s making our tax valuations dependent on one private company named in the law. Not many people have taken up the second two arguments, Most of the focus is on the first, because it has overturned several Eyman initiatives before, including I-695 which was the first $30 car tab initiative.

      1. Yes, it is hard to imagine that an initiative that contains “$30 tabs”, “defease Sound Transit bonds”, and “new valuation schedule for automobiles” as provisions is going to pass the single-issue test. (I am not a lawyer.)

  8. Is it time to discuss a head tax for transit in Seattle? Whether it is increased bus service, backfilling prior things passed, speeding/making up for lost funds in ST3 (IIRC Candidate now our Mayor was interested in speeding up ST3, etc.)

    Amazon’s contributions to the city council races were mixed in their success (Pedersen and perhaps Orion will win; where other candidates who received money appeared to be losing (and one can argue that it backfired in D6)– and fixing transit is a lot less controversial than housing the homeless.

    1. I was against the tax on jobs for less than philosophical purposes than to protect a Seattle Councilmember from making a big mistake. Details non-transit.

      But yeah, I think if 976 sticks…. employee head tax, carbon tax, even a higher sales tax everything’s on the table.

    2. A Seattle head tax comes with some nasty side effects, not the least of which is that suburban office parks become more attractive than downtown office towers for employers.

      Jobs are nudged away from transit. That’s already a risk as core office rents rise further, but a head tax pushes it along.

    3. Orion said in a radio interview this morning that he didn’t welcome the Amazon help, so it’s possible he won’t do their bidding. He also said the reason he pursued the Chamber of Commerce endorsement was to help small businesses, but now with the funding distortions he’s thinking about not seeking its endorsement in the future.

    4. Suburban office parks are already on their way out. Suburban job growth is focused in downtown Bellevue, the Bel-Red axis, downtown Bothell, etc, and future growth centers in Totem Lake, Lynnwood, Issaquah, Federal Way, etc. Even Factoria will eventually densify with mixed-use buildings within walking distance of frequent transit. Far-flung office parks are a continuing trickle along Ash Way and Northup Way and places like that, but they’re a shrinking percentage of jobs.

  9. So, if Eyman is billing I-976 as a redo of ST3, what happens if I-976 loses in the ST taxing district?

    The results indicate this is much more about voters in some parts of the state voting against the ability of other parts of the state to be able to vote to tax themselves than it is about voters revolting against the taxes they are paying (and voted upon themselves). If the issue were, say, rich school districts voting to pay more in property taxes just to benefit their districts, while the rest of the state’s schools starve, I can understand the sentiment.

    The larger problem may be that the state is barely in the business of funding transit, or sidewalks, or bikeways.

    1. Interesting take. The YES is winning by only 20k votes in King,Pierce and Snohomish counties combined. The margin could get closer as the final votes are counted. And if you exclude the non-RTA regions of the counties, this could very well be failing in ST3 district. And this in a off-year election.
      The narrative that this is a vote to reverse ST3 may not hold. Atleast in the actual taxed areas.

    2. I don’t think this is well correlated to ST3. Astute observers of local politics may make the connection, but I think there are a lot of people who think both “Do I want more light rail? Yes!” and “Do I want lower car tabs? Yes!” without making the connection between the two.

      But if there is a correlation, that makes things interesting in terms of expanding the Sound Transit district. Thurston county right now is basically a tie (976 is passing by just 4 votes right now, so it is very close to being one of only 5 counties to not pass 976). So if this reflects a possible yes vote on getting Sound Transit, that means Sounder and ST Express to Olympia may be a possibility.

      Skagit County is also passing I-976, but interestingly with a smaller margin than Snohomish (55-45, vs. 62-38).

      One other factor for Snohomish County may be that Tim Eyman lives in Mukilteo, so he may have been doing a lot of very local campaigning there.

    3. I’m not sure about this. I took a quick look at county results this morning and what struck me was that 976 was doing much better in Pierce and Snohomish than it was in Spokane, Whatcom, Thurston, or Clark.

      In my mind, he simplest explanation for 976 overperforming in Pierce and Snohomish relative to other, similarly sized, counties is that voters were voting to roll back the ST3 fees. I don’t like that conclusion, but as of right now it seems the most likely to me.

      1. I think Brendan’s take is probably correct. Those are big no votes in Pierce and Snoco, more so than the statewide vote.

        Compare the ST3 No vote to the I-976 yes vote by County. I-976 did about 2% better in King. It’s about 12% better in Pierce and Snohomish.

        Of course, county boundaries aren’t RTA boundaries, so we’ll have to wait on precinct results in a few weeks to get exactly equivalent RTA numbers. But this looks the energy in the No vote came from the edges of the RTA, not from the less affected eastern WA.

      2. The initiative is winning only 52-48 in the 3 county area vs 56-44 statewide even though they are arguably most affected by MVET. I expect the margin to be tighter (or even reverse) in RTA areas once all votes are in. Pierce and Snohomish had voted for I-695 in 1999 with a higher margin that most of these counties as well.
        MVET is not a very popular tax but if a direct vote for it basically ends even in RTA then it hardly feels like a vote to roll back ST3.

      3. A large amount of Snohomish County is not in the ST district. How this breaks down population wise I’m not sure.

        The Snohomish County Government website has a breakdown of the election results by precinct. Time permitting I’ll take a look at that. I probably should wait till all the ballots are counted.

      4. While some people certainly thought of it as a vote to roll back ST3, I’m also skeptical of that. There could be a correlation to that effect, but I’m guessing that it’s purely based on what people remember their car tabs being. Someone who just paid a $200 car tab might think “Heck yes, $30 tabs!”, while someone in another part of the state (I’m not sure how low car tabs get in Washington) who may pay, say, $40, might not think it’s a big deal. And car tabs are clearly higher near the Seattle metro area. So that in combination with the “get out the vote!” effort, just might be a perfect storm of people filling the circle that saves them lots of money a year.

    4. Ssh, don’t tell Eyman, but the next step may be an initiative to revoke all of ST’s taxes.

      On another note, we could shrink the ST district the way the Pierce Transit TBD contracted. That would free southeast Pierce from their hated taxes. There would be complications. (A) They’d hopefully pay an exit fee for their already-incurred debt. (B) It would throw Sounder’s business model into doubt. Much of Sumner/Puyallup Station’s ridership comes from southeast Pierce who would no longer be paying for it, and the track even goes through dissenting areas. So the result might be disproportionate impacts to Sounder South, with side effects for Tacoma and Lakewood.

      1. (C) There would still be the problem of congestion and car-dependency and non-access to regional transit in those areas — the same problems that ST was created to address in the first place. Under the growth management act and PSRC/county/state planning priorities there would need to be an alternative. What would the alternative be? You can’t just let transit-inaccessible sprawl grow like a cancer and do nothing. We tried that in the 1970s and 80s and it leads to hell. Imagine Pugetopolis turning into Silicon Valley or Atlanta.

  10. OK, as to….

    For Seattle, the $1.7 billion in potential added costs building tunnels and high bridges to West Seattle and Ballard come immediately into focus. The suburbs were already insistent Sound Transit would not fund these. The lost MVET adds another $1.5 billion revenue gap for North King. The combined effect seems far beyond any plausible “third-party” funding.

    Indeed. Quite frankly I have a plan and it’s going to torque people off but this is how Joe rolls.

    a) Prioritize Ballard. Transit fans stronger in Ballard – the transit battle for D6 was between prior victories & standing up to Tim Eyman versus bus lanes. Density stronger.

    b) []

    c) Make West Seattle wait. In return, a ST4 funds the tunnels as the third party funding. There.

    Snohomish County always had the most aggressively stretched finances (that’s why those Board members are so attentive to the cost of Seattle projects). Do they focus their reduced resources on opening a Link extension to Mariner approximately on schedule? Or insist on completing Everett Link all at once with the schedule for all stations north of Lynnwood sliding into the 2040s?

    Maybe this reopens the conversation about a Paine Field automated spur. For starters…

    Also there’s going to be a big issue that is going to be directly impacted by 976 passage: Everett Transit’s future. Right now, Everett Transit could not serve the demand to connect to light rail. 976 is going to force Everett City Government to make tough choices quickly. Tonight, Community Transit makes the case to the Everett City Council at their 6:30 PM hearing.

    Food for thought.

    1. b) Is B for Bridge. [ot etc]
      ICYMI: No tunnels for Ballard. None. All elevated, quickly.

    2. While I think you are right, point “c” doesn’t take into account the political realities of West Seattle (cough, Dow Constantine, cough).

    3. I have yet to hear a coherent argument against Paine Field being a spur off the mainline. Think of the Oakland Airport to the Coliseum BART station. It’s fully autonomous, so it can run very frequently for cheap. It just seems to point to a profound lack of innovation on the part of ST that they didn’t think of that, but instead make the big heavy train wind around to every point of interest as per usual.

      1. ST did think of that, and discussed it quite a bit, but Snoco officials didn’t want it.

      2. People are using the word “spur” loosely and meaning different things by it. One is a branch; e.g., Paine-Redmond trains. Another is a shuttle like Tacoma Link; e.g., 128th-Paine trains or Airport Way-Paine trains. Another is a low-cost people mover or gondola thing. That hasn’t gotten much consideration yet. However, a slash in funding could reopen consideration of Paine Field, Everett, and West Seattle alternatives.

      3. I’ll just point out that two lines go as far north as Mariner Way. Only one goes further to Everett. That means that they could operate two branches — one to Paine Field and one up I-5 to Everett. I would call that the “branch” option as opposed to a “spur” option, which would appear to be a stand-alone operation.

      4. I haven’t seen the Oakland airport connector but I’m imagining something like the circulators inside airports. Well, what are the possibilities for a peoplemover/gondola/horsecart of some kind? I can see a couple things.

        1) A separate shuttle could have more than one station in the Paine Field area, so it could be within walking distance of more employers plus the airport and the Future of Flight, rather than having to choose only one.

        2) It could run on the surface to cut costs, a la MLK or Tacoma Link. The streets are wider than in King County. I’m not sure if taking two lanes would cause extreme traffic congestion. But it’s worth looking at.

      5. “That means that they could operate two branches — one to Paine Field and one up I-5 to Everett.”

        OK, but they’re not really branches as in A-B-C or A-B-D. They’re overlapping lines as in A-B-C-D or E-B-C-F, because one would be WestSeattle-Everett and the other would be Redmond-Paine. Or the other way around, but in the current plan Redmond is the one that doesn’t go to Everett.

    1. If congestion pricing could enable buses to move faster, especially during rush hour, then the traffic impact would be more important than actually directing revenue to transit.

      That said, I tend to see congestion pricing as mostly about reducing the number of cars in front of buses rather than giving buses priority. Red paint is less capital intensive, and probably a lighter political lift with the general public, with better results for transit, except possibly where congestion pricing helps clear out frequently-blocked intersections.

      If the goal of congestion pricing is to maximize revenue, there will be missed opportunities. First, bus lanes will become missed opportunities to raise revenue when there could have been a lot more toll-paying cars in those lanes. Second, protected bike lanes will also become missed revenue opportunities that toll lanes could have brought. Third, the revenue argument will work against allowing electric and other non-polluting vehicles to be prioritized with a discount or free pass.

      Before moving forward with congestion pricing, we have to be clear what its purpose is. If it is revenue, we may be sorely disappointed with the implementation.

      1. If anything, congestion pricing could save a significant number of service hours that could be used to backfill the cuts. Basically, the funding needs to come from some sort of fee on cars. Bonus if it hits suburbanites extra hard. In truth, I’d 100% vote in favor of a sales tax increase to preserve current levels of bus service if it came down to that, but congestion pricing is an absolute no-brainer now.

      2. Congestion pricing is needed to discourage so many cars in Seattle. We can use the money on buses, trains, underground parking, bike lanes. We will charge as much as we need to make sure pollution levels stay low, and to guarantee that residents can move efficiently.

        Revenue is not the goal, and it shouldn’t go to Sound Transit since our partners don’t believe in paying for transit improvements. Collect it in the city, spend it in the city.

  11. Sorry to state the obvious, but ST3 was never going to be on-time according to the 2016 schedule anyways, thanks to the determination of local authorities to fart around as long as possible before choosing preferred alternatives. Other jurisdictions would have had that process done in a year or less. It’s taken us 3 and counting.

  12. Next step? An activist judge will find some reason to overturn the vote of the people because he’s personally against the Initiative. Happens all the time.

    1. You’d think ol’ Tim would’ve figured out a way to write initiatives that don’t violate the state constitution by now, but I guess that’s an integral part of his grift.

      1. An activist judge can find any constitutionally sound Initiative unconstitutional. That’s why they are called activist judges.

      2. Your problem, Sam, is that you don’t sit on the state Supreme Court so your opinion about what is and is not “constitutionally sound” is worthless.

      3. My theory is that Tim doesn’t *want* to write constitutionally sound initiatives. Eyman is many things, but he doesn’t strike me as a gibbering idiot.

        I believe he expects and wants the State Supreme Court to gut his babies due to their violating the single-subject clause. That way he can hit up his rich right-wing marks to fund yet another initiative drive. Guaranteed employment.

      4. “My theory is that Tim doesn’t *want* to write constitutionally sound initiatives.”

        That’s likely. but even if he wants to write unconstitutional initiatives one might accidentally pass the courts anyway, either because Eyman didn’t think of something or the judges didn’t or the judges are ideologically biased.

    2. Next step? A judge will overturn it because it was drafted with the same legal flaws as prior Eyman initiatives. Allowing him to fundraise and support his lifestyle by running something similar in 2 years. Then 4 years after that. Then again.

      If he actually won, he’d have to get a real job.

      1. You are right, a liberal activist judge will overturn it, but not for the reason you give. Activist judges will overturn it for the same reason activist judges come out of the woodwork to stop Trump’s orders.

        Sam. Respected Constitutional Scholar.

      2. Chris, the post headline asks “What next after I-1976?” I am answering that question. I believe a judge will overturn the vote. My reason for believing it will be overturned may be cynical, but I’m still staying on-topic.

        If I have strayed off-topic, I humble myself before the STB Board of Regents. A thousand apologies to your majesties.

    3. You’re forgetting that Eyeman for all intents and purposes is terrible at composing ballots initiatives that don’t violate state laws. Most of it not all of ballot initiatives have been thrown out by the state courts for violating one or multiple aspects of state law. And that’s what matters at the end of the day honestly.

    4. No, Sam, get your facts straight. First it goes to a lower court. Then it goes to the state supreme court. A lower court “activist” judge may rule one way, then see the state court overrule. That happened with I-776. I don’t know if the opposite happens (but it could). I did look I-1366. It was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court. The state supreme court then unanimously confirmed that ruling. That means that every supreme court justice said it was unconstitutional.

      Interestingly enough, a quick search for initiatives that have been overturned by the court shows that all of them were Eyman initiatives*. He has a terrible record in that regard. I don’t think he cares. I think he is more about making a point, than actually changing policy.

      * It is possible the Wikipedia page doesn’t list all the initiatives that were overturned, but the correspondence is striking. Eyman initiatives are often overturned (if they pass) and initiatives that are overturned are almost always (if not entirely) all Eyman initiatives.

      1. Some years back, I saw a list of Eyman initiative proposals on the Secretary of State website. One of them was to repeal the entire state administrative code – the WACs.

    1. ST2 also depends on MVET for a small portion, but its bonds have long been sold and the initiative can’t slash that tax until the bonds are paid off. The UW-Roosevelt tunnel is finished and the Roosevelt-Northgate tunnel is probably done too; they’re just following up with the stations and preparing for testing which will start in mid 2020. So the bulk of the contractor bills have already been paid.

      There is a provision in I-976 that ST would have to try to defease the existing bonds but nobody knows whether it’s possible. That would mean paying off the bonds now by borrowing money for new bonds under the new terms (the Kelly Blue Book value), or invalidating the old bonds and giving the investors new bonds in compensation. There’s disagreement on whether an early payoff or substituting bonds would be permissible under the old bonds’ contract.

      1. “That would mean paying off the bonds now by borrowing money for new bonds under the new terms (the Kelly Blue Book value), or invalidating the old bonds and giving the investors new bonds in compensation. There’s disagreement on whether an early payoff or substituting bonds would be permissible under the old bonds’ contract.”

        That’s not exactly how a complete defeasement works (where the debt moves off the balance sheet and into an escrow account and paid for by US Treasuries which provides the funding mechanism for the outstanding obligation). You’re describing the strategy of using refunding bonds instead. Nevertheless, all of the bond issues that ST has on the books to date HAVE defeasance provisions. There’s no disagreement about that, though ST doesn’t like to talk about it since it doesn’t aid their usual talking points.

  13. The last time this passed, it was overturned by the courts. In part because the bonds already issued were pledged against those awful car valuation tables. But then the legislature passed a bill to repeal the tax anyway.

    In this case I would expect a similar result by the courts, but not by the legislature.

    And those tables have been out of whack since ever. I remember people complaining about them in ’80. It’s really stupid because if I tell you, “you owe $200 on your $20,000 car” you argue your car isn’t worth $20K. If I tell you “You owe $200 on your $5,000 car” you don’t complain because I undervalued your car.

    In anycase Eyman has made a mess of things. But it’s the legislature that has been stupid forever that gave him the opening.

    1. “The last time this passed, it was overturned by the courts. In part because the bonds already issued were pledged against those awful car valuation tables. But then the legislature passed a bill to repeal the tax anyway.”

      You’re comingling the litigation and aftermath of two separate initiatives, i.e., I-695 from 1999 and I-776 from 2002.

      The former was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s high court for violation of the single subject rule in Amalgamated Transit Union Local 547 v. State of Washington, decided October 2000. The state legislature subsequently repealed the MVET statewide and Gov. Locke signed the legislation.

      The latter initiative reached the high court twice*. In Pierce County v. State (2003), the court upheld I-776 against a number of challenges.   However, the court also remanded this case for a determination of whether I-776 violated article I, section 23 of the Washington Constitution. On remand, the trial court found that I-776 impairs the contract between the bondholders and Sound Transit, ruling section 6 of the initiative unconstitutional. The State Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the trial court’s opinion in December 2006.

      *This is an abbreviated synopsis; there were multiple challenges that were consolidated as well as appeals that were heard separately.

  14. Scrap Ballard, build the dt tunnel and run buses through for the next 20 years. Sound familiar.

  15. One of the easiest ways to assist ST’s financial problems is to postpone the Ballard Extension until ST4 or some other funding mechanism is approve. This is what ST transit did for the Federal Way extension. The downtown tunnel would be built to an Expedia Station in Interbay.

    This would save ST a lot of many people from Ballard could go to Interbay to catch light rail downtown by bus.

    1. Yes. This is a perfect opportunity to get the Ballard Bridge rebuild synced with light rail. The ST3 Ballard options are disappointing. Build to Interbay first and then connect to the Red Line in ST4.

      1. I admit to wondering if the 15th Ave bridge for autos should be replaced with a 14th Ave bridge (with jogs back to 15th Ave). That way, the new higher bridge could be built before demolishing the old one. Then, light rail could operate across the Ship Canal in a number of ways — a wider bridge, shared-lane tracks, single-tracking on the bridge, a new light rail bridge where the 15th Ave bridge was demolished. Funding could come from electronic tolling across all Ship Canal bridges.

    2. When you think about it, most Ballardites already bike, bus or walk to work. Not the biggest opportunity to decrease CO2 admissions by adding rail. Now hitting the distant burbs with P&Rs and Link is a game changer.

      1. When you think about it, most people parking their cars at P&Rs already take the bus to work. Not the biggest opportunity to decrease CO2 emissions by adding rail. Now, hitting neighborhoods where people can actually use Link for non-commute trips is a game changer.

      2. I beg to differ. Ridership is much greater on rail than buses given the usual higher speeds, unimpeded dt access and rail comfort levels. My guess is Link brought in an additional 10-15% ridership over the 70 series since Link started in the U area. Just wait until the new U D station opens – holy smokes New Flyer. Throw in the missed opportunity for added dt bus congestion and it is a true bonanza.

      3. And come now. It’s easy to bike from Ballard to dt and the odds of having a bus transfer are nil to none. This isn’t so for places further out.

      4. The biggest opportunity to decrease carbon emissions would be for people to transition from living in the suburbs/exurbs/rural areas to living in cities. If we allowed Seattle to have the same density of homes as Manhattan, about 80% of Washington state’s population could live in the city and have fantastic access to walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, and transit, and almost no one would need a car!

      5. And we would have no wheat, apples, hops, cramberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries grown locally and many fewer salmon on our tables. Those rural areas feed us.

      6. When you think about it, most Ballardites already bike, bus or walk to work. Not the biggest opportunity to decrease CO2 admissions by adding rail. Now hitting the distant burbs with P&Rs and Link is a game changer.

        Ha, that’s funny. I love satire. You are almost as funny as Sam.

      7. @A Joy

        About 1% of the US workforce is employed in agriculture. About 20% of the US population lives in rural areas. We can have most people living in cities while still having agriculture.

      8. PhillipG, rhat math doesn’t work out. Rural areas need grocery stores, post offices, roads, trucks or trains (to bring the produce to the urban areas). Yes, we could shift some people. Mostly from the suburbs and exurbs. Rural areas need people and infrastructure far beyond the farmer.

        There’s also the less glamorous rural jobs, like logging and sand/gravel mining. We’re not going to build many houses without concrete and lumber.

      9. Completely backwards thinking. The best way to reduce CO2 would be to freeze all suburban construction and add density near existing high-capacity transit. Spending billions on light rail that serves the fringes of Puget Sound will just induce more inefficient housing in those areas.

      10. @A Joy

        I think we’re in violent agreement.

        We’ll always have some people living in rural areas working in agriculture, but the trend for several thousand years now is for that percentage to decrease- it looks like the US will see about a 1 percentage point drop in rural population from 2010 to 2020.

        We can do significant infill development to give most people the opportunity to live in neighborhoods that allow them to walk, bike, and take transit- Seattle could comfortably hold millions more people. Right now, by excluding people from cities, we’re not giving them that choice.

      11. PhillipG, I believe we are in enthusiastic agreement. My biggest issue with many Seattle land use issues come from insufficiency (HALA isn’t nearly enough) and irrelevance (“the missing middle”, which never gets built no matter how weakened restrictions on it are). Seattle needs to grow its urban villages inwards and together to form a much larger and much denser new urban core. That core would justify and be able to pay for any Seattle Subway line the city wanted.

      12. “most Ballardites already bike, bus or walk to work. Not the biggest opportunity to decrease CO2 admissions by adding rail.”

        A significant number of people are choosing not to live or shop in Ballard because the Red/Blue lines won’t go there and it takes 30-45 minutes to get there on the existing buses from Westlake or U-District. Ballard Link will alleviate that and enable Ballard to become a more viable part of the region’s housing solution. It won’t be perfect if 14th Station is chosen because that will still deter some people, but it will still be a lot better than the existing D, 40, and 44 options.

        “If we allowed Seattle to have the same density of homes as Manhattan”

        We don’t even need Manhattan. Chicago’s North Side is mostly 3-10 story buildings with some scattered single-family houses and townhouses, and a few highrise condos on the lake. Paris packs a lot of people into 4-story buildings by not having wide setbacks and streets and parking lots like we do. Even Manhattan is not really Manhattan as people imagine it. Part of downtown and midtown Manhattan are highrise but most of it is lowrise (<11 stories, like Chicago's North Side), even downtown.

      13. The rural area in Washington already have state highways and post offices, and nobody is proposing eliminating them or not maintaining them. Well, the I-976 yes voters are de facto slashing maintenance but they don’t realize that yet. But we aren’t slashing maintenance. We’re just opposing excessive exurban freeways for cul-de-sac tract-house residents. All of the new freeways in the last roads bill were in suburban/exurban sprawl in metro areas, not in Omak or Wenatchee or Walla Walla.

        It’s possible to have denser cities and robust rural areas — it exists all over Europe and in Washington’s 100-year past. As I said the rural areas already have highways and post offices and schools, and it seems like they have enough of them. The biggest problem in Washington’s rural areas and small towns is you can’t get there without a car, and if you live there you can’t get anywhere or do daily necessities without a car, or if there is an inter-county bus it runs once or twice a day and maybe not weekends. That’s not the case in Ireland where hourly buses and trains go to even small towns. Your isolated house may not be near a stop but you can live in a small town that does; you don’t have to live in Pugetopolis or Spokane or suffer the skeletal/nonexistent transit everywhere else.

      14. I lived in North Bend for over a decade successfully without a car. That’s pretty darn rural. I assure you I had access to all my necessities as well. A car is not at all needed in rural areas, at least not around here.

      15. Where did you live and what did you have access to? Did you have within walking distance a supermarket, pharmacy, post office, school, library, gym, etc? I’ve heard that some lucky people have found a rural house or small town that do, but most people can’t. And I don’t have to ask about the bus service because I know the 208 and Snoqualmie Valley Shuttle come every 90-120 minutes with a limited span.

      16. I lived 1-1.5 miles away from “downtown” North Bend, including the QFC. And the 208 is irrelevant, as it takes 90 minutes to get to Belkevue or Seattle. A 3 hour round trip isn’t transit. It’s a cruel joke. I could get better service walking to the Trailhead Express lines in the summer.

      17. P.S. I spent a lot of weekends on Vashon Island in junior high and had friends who lived on the island full time, so I know something about that.

      18. It’s not only about Ballardites but people who go *to* Ballard from other parts if the City. When I lived in the ID, I once took a bus to Ballard. Just once. And Lyft or Car2Go all the other times. Getting to Ballard by bus is just too slow.

    3. One of the easiest ways to assist ST’s financial problems is to postpone the Ballard Extension until ST4 or some other funding mechanism is approve.

      That would be nuts. You would kill off the most cost effective part of ST3. Look at the second chart on this post: https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/. Notice that Ballard to downtown has the lowest subsidized cost ($2.77 per rider). In contrast, West Seattle Link — by no means the worst — has costs of $6.38 per rider.

      If you want to cut anything in the city, than cut West Seattle Link. (Although Seattle projects are a much better value than those outside it).

      1. It only needs transit-priority lanes on the bridge and arterials. Multi-line BRT could be robust there. Even more if it had a bus tunnel downtown (the “West Side Bus Tunnel” unofficial proposal). if Seattle got serious about painting 3rd Avenue or 1st Avenue red, it could potentially be part of a decent-speed BRT network to West Seattle.

  16. The main thing this shows is that subarea equity needs to die ASAP. Seattle voters overwhelmingly want more ambitious expansion and Pierce/SnoCo voters overwhelmingly want to back off.

    As for the Seattle projects–chop the ends off of the light rail (make it Delridge to Interbay) and spend the money building the new downtown tunnel properly and getting the transfers right. And kill the infill stations and parking garages.

    1. I don’t think it’s as simple as this. As a Pierce County resident I can confirm that enthusiasm for ST3 seems pretty low here, but I believe part of that is the project design.

      From a marketing perspective, link light rail is only ever expected to serve Tacoma and Fife and it isn’t going to open for 20 years at best. In contrast, lots of people ride the Sounder and ST express bus right now and they do it from Lakewood, Puyallup, and Summer in addition to Tacoma.

      Most people I know down here are pretty ambivalent/cynical about the promise of light rail in the distant future. A lot of people wish the Sounder ran more often.

      I know it’s not as simple as that, but I do think part of the problem is that even *pro-transit* people in Pierce are luke-warm on the project mix.

      1. I know if I lived down there, I’d be screaming for more frequent Sounder and a network of local ST routes tied to the schedule of Sounder. And with any luck I’ll be getting ready to retire in 20 years. I can kind of imagine the lack of enthusiasm.

    2. If downtown Tacoma were where Parkland is, then that’s where Link would be, and it would have a shorter feeder-shed both east and west of it like Everett and Lynnwood. But because downtown Tacoma is in a U-shape from Federal Way and in one corner of the county, Link only goes barely into the county. That’s the fundamental reason why Link and Sounder don’t serve Pierce as well as they do Snohomish. Pierce could help it with a higher population and more density in Parkland, Puyallup, and Spanaway, but it won’t because those areas love low-density sprawl and resist anything else.

      1. I couldn’t disagree more with the statement that Sounder serves Snohomish better then Pierce. Look at the ridership numbers! Ridership on South Sounder dwarfs the ridership on the north line. There are more trains on south line, and because peak trains are at (or beyond) capacity they’re looking at adding cars or increasing frequency.

        I’d quibble with your other points, but the notion that the Sounder doesn’t serve Pierce as well as it serves Snohomish is just wrong.

      2. I was summarizing Link and Sounder as an aggregate. Everett Link will serve Snohomish much better than either Link or Sounder in Pierce, and Sounder in Snohomish, because it’s in the middle of the population concentations with drivesheds on all sides. Sounder’s Edmonds and Mukilteo stations are irrelevant but Everett Station is also in the middle. And Lynnwood/Everett are in the distance sweet spot where Link is competitive with Sounder and ST Express in travel time, helped by the lack of surface segments a la MLK and SODO. Link will serve only a very far corner of Pierce, and Sounder is only a bit better serving Puyallup and Lakewood. That means the drivesheds are all on one side and a longer distance. I’ve heard people in southeast Pierce say, “I have to drive an hour just to get to a Sound Transit service before I can start to ride it.” I don’t know how that’s possible but that’s what they say. There must be a lot of congestion between Tacoma Dome/Puyallup and Spanaway/Orting/Fort Lewis. Compared to that Snohomish is sitting pretty.

  17. Sound Transit is already taking 50 years to build 2 lines of rail and since 1995 till now, all we have is 1 line so far with less rail coverage than we had 100 years ago. Just few percent of the metropolis is covered with rail. People are FORCED to drive AND to pay for the rail that they can’t use. Sound Transit needs to understand they cannot simply collect billions of dollars and drag their feet. Voters are extremely frustrated with their atrocious performance.

    Do more with less. China built 10 000 km of high speed rail in 2.5x less time than Sound Transit built 15km. This is absurd.

      1. Sure, please show us how much China spent on 10000+km of high speed rail and compare that with Sound Trainsit’s low speed light rail. I’m sure you’ll prove my point beautifully.

      2. Property acquisition is free in China, are you suggesting that Sound Transit should confiscate the property of those in the path of light rail?

      3. When you can forcibly expropriate people’s land for right of way and send them to a reeducation camp if they complain you can get things done cheaper, certainly.

      4. [ah]

        Yes, transit project costs in the US *are* unacceptably high by international standards. You don’t even need to pick an authoritarian state with unlimited money to compare to, most of (democratic) Asia and Western Europe blow us out of the water! The difference is that the US government simply does not really care that much about transit and isn’t that interested in funding it, and local transit agencies and unions are more interested in transit as a jobs program and graft opportunity than as transportation.

        But your overall point is lost in your absurd choice of comparing total HSR trackage in the most populous country in the world (and an authoritarian one to boot) to metro trackage in a 3-county taxing authority. We get it, costs are high. [ah]

    1. The Chinese solution isn’t one of “doing more with less” but instead when they make the decision to build a line it gets all the funding and labor that is necessary to complete it.

      The process adopted in the USA is one of hit and miss funding, having to scrape around to figure out exactly how much can be built per year based on how much can be paid for, and how much bonding capacity can be leveraged at any given time. In particular, having to borrow money (through bonds) adds costs to these types of projects with no actual results to show for it.

      The whole thought process of “do more with less” is in fact one of the primary obstacles of not being able to build lines as cheap as countries don’t subject their construction process to perpetual adjudication through funding changes.

      1. “The process adopted in the USA is one of hit and miss funding”

        And having an initiative throw it off-course during planning. That happened with the monorail, which survived four initiatives to kill it but finally succumbed to the fifth referendum.

    2. Johnny, I would love to see fiscal conservatives actually do something (heck, even just propose something concrete) to reduce how much we pay for infrastructure compared with the rest of the world. Even Trump mentioned this during the campaign, but of course we’ve seen squat. Instead, what I see is: pour the $$$ in to highways to pay the inflated costs, demonize anything not a highway when it has inflated costs.

  18. What’s a good analogy for this? Spoiled trust fund kid gets his allowance cut. Will have to trade his twice yearly vacations to Ibiza and Zermatt, for trips to Maui and Aspen, instead.

    1. Transit mobility is essential for the city’s economy and residents’ health. It’s not like a luxury flight to low-earth orbit or a sports stadium.

  19. Kill the 130th St Station.
    Kill BAR Station.
    Kill/delay the Link diversion to PAE.
    Scale back and/or kill some of the BRT projects.
    Kill the parking garages.

    And one has to wonder if ST should just kill all of ST3 in exchange for an agreement at the State level that Seattle can refund (somehow) all the ST3 North King subarea projects independently from the rest of the ST taxing district.

    I.e., maybe this is an opportunity to decouple Seattle and its less tax adverse voters from the rest of ST. Seattle has greater needs, and greater resources, and less reluctance to taxes. And we are adding housing faster. So why not let Seattle move forward while the rest of the tri-county area fights its anti-tax wars?

    But hey, NG Link should still open on time.

    1. >> Kill the 130th St Station.

      In terms of rider time saved per dollar spent, it is likely the most cost effective project in ST3. It also isn’t that expensive.

      >> Kill/delay the Link diversion to PAE.

      This is the whole point of Everett Link. I’m not saying it is a great project, but running a subway *through* Everett is better than running one *to* Everett. The hope is that Everett becomes large enough to justify a subway. If it does, then you want more stops along the way, not fewer. Otherwise you just have an extremely expensive commuter rail line (with lots of time consuming stops).

      >> Scale back and/or kill some of the BRT projects.

      Some of these are more cost effective than the rail projects.

      >> Kill the 130th St Station.


      1. RossB, if you 130th as highly cost effective, why is it on your kill list? Or did you mean BAR for the kill list?

      2. Everett’s population is over 100,000. It’s the largest city in Snohomish County.

        The original mission of Sound Transit, officially called the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit, is to connect the largest cities in the 3 county area.

      3. @djw — I was quoting Lazurus. Sorry I wasn’t clear on that. Killing off 130th would be stupid, for the reasons mentioned.

      4. The original mission of Sound Transit, officially called the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit, is to connect the largest cities in the 3 county area.

        City size is arbitrary. That is true of any large area. Kansas has roughly 3 million people. No one thinks they should run a subway line from Kansas (an area with 30 times the number of people of Everett) to Missouri.

        Subways connect neighborhoods, not cities. By neighborhood I don’t mean “West Seattle”, as defined by a huge, sprawling peninsula. I mean The Junction, or Lower Queen Anne. Every successful subway in the world follows that basic principle — connecting various urban stops. Spending a fortune building a subway line that operates as poorly as commuter rail would be folly, and every agency that has tried has failed. Every transit agency has higher ridership in their urban core than their commuter rail, even when their commuter rail is extremely fast, and connects huge cities. Ridership on BART is dominated by travel in and between San Fransisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Yet all of BART — including all the super fast service to large suburban cities — is less than the slowest transit system in the U. S.: Muni Metro.

        Density and proximity are keys to transit success. Not connecting “cities”.

    2. “And one has to wonder if ST should just kill all of ST3 in exchange for an agreement at the State level…”

      How would ST get the state to do that. ST is one tax district with subarea equity because the state decreed it so and is uninterested in changing it. If ST could convince the state to modify it or allow Seattle to tax itself for its own projects, then county/city officials could get the state to do the same thing and would have done so already.

    3. To contradict myself somewhat,

      “maybe this is an opportunity to decouple Seattle and its less tax adverse voters from the rest of ST.”

      So far the legislature and other subareas have been resistant to this. I-976 could force the issue. It remains to be seen whether it could. The default path is to just force Seattle to do without.

  20. For ST3, this points to a need to have some difficult cutbacks on the program. Because so many other sources are still in place, it doesn’t fully negate ST3. I don’t see ST having to stop Redmond or Federal Way or 130th Station. Some of the 405 and Sounder projects can be honed and kept. The Graham and BAR infill stations could be designed and deferred for a future earmark.

    The big challenges are Tacoma, West Seattle, Ballard, Everett and Kirkland/Issaquah. This is not only the high capital cost but the cost of running near-empty trains at the ends while City of Seattle riders would face overcrowded trains.

    The easiest way to cut costs but keep ST3 promises is to reduce the amount of subways built (surface or aerial?). The next easiest way is to scale the track needs and propulsion technology to actual demand and speed. Cancelling end-of-line stations would also seem to be easy but that actually could be problematic for a variety of reasons.

    If I-976 holds, ST should add lower-cost alternatives to each of these five corridors in jeopardy in the next several months. There are mid-cost ways of offering the same effective service quality promised in ST3. These lower-cost alternatives will vary by corridor. Frankly, I think the exercise would be beneficial because capital cost issues are inevitable even without this initiative passing.

    1. “I don’t see ST having to stop Redmond or Federal Way or 130th Station.”

      Redmond will certainly be East King’s top priority. That has always been the subarea’s position after it couldn’t fit downtown Redmond into ST2. But in North King it’s less clear. Some put Ballard first, some West Seattle, some the low-cost 130th and Graham infill stations and RapidRide C and D enhancements. Which ones will the North King boardmembers favor? Which ones will the City of Seattle favor? ST generally defers to what city governments want.

      I could see Seattle prioritizing DSTT2/SLU because that would benefit the most people and large job centers. But West Seattle has gotten political privilege for so long that they may be able to fanagle it again. And there’s something to be said for completing the low-cost projects. So who knows?

  21. Could a city implement some sort of annual “on-street parking pass” program at $80 a year to have the same effect as the Seattle TBD? Since charging for parking isn’t likely to get a successful Statewide challenge like I-976, it would seem legal.

    I’m not an authority on legal nuances, but this would seem viable as long as it wasn’t attached to tag renewal.

    1. I think it should be $80 per month at least (like a monthly pass for transit). How much was the city charging car2go or zipcar to leave their cars around?

      Streets are for people, not parking cars. I’m totally in favor of the city building parking lots (underground like Europe) or several levels high (like we do in America).

      1. $80 wouldn’t provide enough revenue, since it would apply only to cars that park on-street in RPZ areas, not cars that park in private garages or driveways, or in neighborhoods which don’t have an RPZ. And, it would probably generate a backlash about being regressive.

        I think going after Uber/Lyft is less likely to get political flak. The public image of the companies is not all that great, even though people do ride them. And, there’s a progressive element in that, the more you ride, the more tax you pay. Plus, some of the tax burden will fall on visitors, as opposed to 100% locals. Chicago already taxes Uber and Lyft rides to help fund transit, so there is precedent. I did the math and a tax about the size of Chicago’s could completely replace $80 car tabs, and still leave a little bit extra.

    2. Do you mean on top of the $65 RPZ permit fee ($30 guest permit)? I think Seattle has like 32 or so of these zones and the last report I saw (2015 data?) only had like a half dozen zones that had issued more permits than spaces within the designated zone. Perhaps there’s a more recent report on the subject matter that I haven’t run across yet. It would be interesting to see how much revenue the city raises from these permits. (I don’t think the city’s audited CAFR is any help since it doesn’t get down to this level of revenue source detail.)

    1. They should (and someone probably will). 976 is your typical piece of Eyman garbage, a grab-bag that blatantly violates the Single-Subject Clause.

      (Given that Eyman has been writing flimsy initiatives for decades now, I can’t see any of this as an accident. I rather suspect that he knows the initiatives are flimsy when he drafts them. It’s a feature, not a bug: when the inevitable evisceration in the courts comes, he can then sell his next initiative to the rubes who keep funding him. Perpetual employment!)

  22. Question I have and have wondered for awhile. If Eyeman has been convicted of violating election laws (for his mishandling of campaign funding), wouldn’t that bar him from participating in doing these initiatives in the first place. As he would be violating a possible his lifetime ban of managing political finances. Although I haven’t heard the how the court hearing has gone about this.

  23. as other posters have suggested: zero out parking and the Everett Boeing deviation (a spine does not need scoliosis). also, sell the land that would have had garages to the developers of work force multifamily housing.

    1. Then why even bother to go to Everett? Do you really think an extremely long subway line — right next to the freeway — is going to have lots of ridership? What stops are you going to add along the way — South Everett Park and Ride?

      The spine is a stupid concept. The best thing Everett did is throw a Hail Mary at the line, and hope that the stops along the way become urban, and extra stops can be added. If by some miracle Everett becomes as densely populated as Wallingford, let alone the Central Area, then an express will seem stupid. They will want stops serving the city, not just connecting it to a different one. If not — if Everett remains Everett — then it will fail either way, becoming a wasteful route that runs less often than their much lauded Swift bus service.

    2. Housing and jobs in Seattle or Shoreline would not help Everett’s tax base. This is all about benefiting suburban counties and particular cities, who are seen as extra deserving because they’re mostly suburbanites (“real Americans”), and their subarea has a higher total population than Seattle (“it benefits more people”). It’s also about attracting more employers to Everett so that there’s not such a huge imbalance of Snohomish residents commuting to King County for work because there are not enough jobs or not enough good-paying jobs in Snohomish. Snohomish/Everett think that building Link to Paine Field and Everett will attract employers to those areas, and the rest of the ST board and the other cities in the district support them in that. (Tacoma and Issaquah want the same thing, and the rest of the county/city governments support them out of brotherly concern.)

      This has nothing to do with where the highest population densities are or most willing riders are or what their most common destinations are, but it’s the way the political winds are blowing.

    3. “a wasteful route that runs less often than their much lauded Swift bus service.”

      All of Link’s precedent is at minimum 10-minute service until 10pm seven days a week. There’s no evidence ST will fall short of that. Even if it drops to 15 minutes or 20 minutes in Everett, it’s not the end of the world. Swift Blue is 10 minutes peak, 20 minutes midday and evenings, ends at 10pm, and in periods in the past has been even less than that.

      1. There’s no evidence ST will fall short of [ 10-minute service until 10pm seven days a week]

        Other than the fact that it is common for similar systems built in the U. S. It is expensive to run trains a long distance when there are very few riders.

      2. ST has already shown it has a greater commitment to Link than other cities have to their subway systems. It could have run 15 minute evenings per the US tendency but it stuck to 10 minutes. In Europe subways commonly run every 2-3 minutes and 10 minutes is what they drop to at 9pm. Link has stuck to a more mobility-enhancing standard like that, and I don’t see any evidence it might waver, just your speculation.

  24. Sound Transit has plenty of other avenues — but what about Amtrak Cascades service, and the ferry system? It seems like they’ll be at the mercy of the courts to throw the initiative out.

  25. If they cut 405 BRT, take the middle finger. What about WSDOTs project? It’s not like South east side has anything anyways. Cut issaquah rail, west Seattle tunnel, and build parking garages. Few months ago you all we’re laughing at Rentons parking garage idea. Cough.

    1. The A, B, and F run on Metro’s base funds, which is sales tax. The C, D, and E are enhanced by Seattle’s TBD, which is partly funded by MVET. The TBD is funding daytime frequency and night owls on the C, D, and E.

  26. Snohomish County should focus their reduced resources on:

    1. Opening a Link extension to Mariner approximately on schedule so that it connects to the Swift Green line. This extension has been shown to be the one for East Link. Boeing employees are capable of making a transfer like the rest of us do. It’s three stations and about the same length as Northgate Link, but with no tunneling involved. The Everett extension should have always been split up, just like most every other extension has been. For instance, the northern extension wasn’t from downtown to Shoreline nor from Husky Stadium to Lynnwood: they were from downtown to Husky Stadium, Husky Stadium to Northgate, and Northgate to Lynnwood.
    2. Saving $1 billion by having Link follow the more efficient route, I-5. Under the original estimates, this routing could be completed 5 years sooner, with the potential new funding realities, perhaps at the same time as the dogleg version.
    3. Shelving Stride BRT in favor of beefing up existing routes 532 and 535 to the Eastside, extending Swift Green to downtown Everett via 526 and Evergreen Way, where it would share stations with Swift Blue, a low-cost upgrade, and completing the north side of the direct access ramps at Ash Way to keep the upcoming platoon of buses going to connect with light rail out of the general purpose lanes.

    At the state level, consideration should be given to axing the 1% for the arts requirement. We don’t have 1% for teachers, 1% for nurses, 1% for accountants, do we? Further, those receiving state funding should be restricted in their expenditures on public relations, for ST is considerably higher on this spending per rider than behemoths King County Metro, Tri-Met (Portland), BART (SF), and Metro (LA). In addition, extend the state sales tax to gasoline sales and direct 10% of those monies to building out the EV infrastructure. Double the fines for driving with expired tabs, these fjes are ridiculously low, and direct half of the fines to the jurisdiction: ST-3 vehicle taxes have spawned a spike in non-renewals, but there’s especially no excuse now. Finally, if it hasn’t already, remove the sales tax from state projects.

  27. The courts will toss out most of 976. However ST will have to use KBB to value the cars for the MVET as opposed to the inflated formula used now.

    1. Which would mean MVET couldn’t be used, because public entities can’t issue bonds based on a private valuation. A lot would have to change in the state before that became a usable option (a state-run public infrastructure bank issuing loans being one possibility).

  28. I finally made it through the comments and got to the Seattle Times. Groover and Lindblom are on it ($). Tidbits:

    Pierce County Executive and boardmember Bruce Dammeier is for the cuts and would vote against the lawsuit. “If the agency can’t do both [comply with I-976 and reach Tacoma by 2030], he said, Pierce County should leave the Sound Transit district.” Wow. The entire county. I was thinking just Parkland-Spanaway-Orting and maybe Puyallup-Sumner. What would happen to Sounder in that case? Would it be truncated in Auburn, or would it have to shut down if South King can’t afford it alone? And what would happen to mobility in Pierce County if ST withdraws. I feel bad for the people who can’t afford to move to King County, don’t have a car, can’t deal with Pierce Transit’s infrequency, or their job is in Pierce and they’d have to switch jobs if they moved. And what would happen to Pierce County from a growth management perspective? You’d have all these people moving there and housing being built in southeast Pierce without regional transit, and that wasn’t supposed to happen.

    Eyman’s response is just classic: ““Suing the voters because you don’t like how the voters voted on Election Day is pretty arrogant stuff. “That kind of attitude is why the initiative passed.” It’s not suing the voters; it’s suing an unconstitutional law. If an initiative passes to take people off the street and kill them, that’s unconstitutional, and any good city/county attorney would sue to overturn it to protect the due process and rights promised by the state constitution.

  29. Whether or not I-976 is repealed, I find the concept of “3rd party” taxpayer funding of expensive additions to projects in West Seattle and Ballard to be extremely objectionable, as it is quite clear the costs are so great that it would practically impossible to impose such a surcharge only on those people who would benefit directly.

    Other neighborhoods whose choice of location and nature of transit facilities have been limited and in some cases more or less permanently deferred by limited funding ought to be outraged to be the members of a “3rd party,” funding extras in someone else’s neighborhood.

    1. I agree, especially since nothing currently on the table would benefit transit riders. They have given up on a 20th Avenue station, which means every tunnel — in Ballard and West Seattle — does nothing for riders. It would be a waste of money.

    2. Agreed. First Hill comes to mind instantly. I was just there yesterday for a doctor’s appointment and everytime I’m there I can’t help but think how this area of town has gotten screwed over by ST planners a couple of times now because of financial risks. And yet here we are talking about unfunded tunnels for the Ballard and West Seattle lines.

    3. Third-party funding doesn’t just mean taxpayers. it could be a donation from companies and rich people who want it. Microsoft is paying for supplements to Overlake Tech Center station. Vulcan paid for part of the SLU streetcar, and several companies sponsored Pronto. it’s possible that some wealthy West Seattleites who are demanding tunnels will step up, or the largest West Seattle businesses or others who think it’s a good thing. If not, it really calls their bluff in an obvious way. I don’t see Seattle passing a citywide tax for West Seattle tunnels when there are so many areas that won’t get Link even in ST3 and there are so many underserved corridors throughout the city. It could happen because of West Seattle privilege, but it’s equally likely it won’t.

    4. The ironic thing about a Ballard tunnel is, the reason 15th was chosen in the first place for the representative alignment was it’s a six-lane expressway next to railroad tracks and it was assumed a surface alignment there would be the cheapest of all. There was another tunnel alternative, the Queen Anne-Fremont tunnel, which would have brought Fremont into Link and addressed hard-to-serve-with-buses Upper Queen Anne. It was rejected as too expensive. Well, if we’re going to have a tunnel, why not that one? Then we could serve SLU, Queen Anne, Fremont, and 20th Avenue in Ballard. Are Expedia and Dravus really more critical than that?

  30. Why is ST even raising bonds? Why aren’t we saving up the money first so we can pay cash and avoid the interest costs, and even earn interest on our savings? Failing that, why isn’t there a state infrastructure bank that could lend at a lower rate than commercial bonds? The answer is the state’s convoluted and limited tax policies, and the 100-year backlog in transit infrastructure. We didn’t build a subway network or commuter-rail network or comprehensive bus network in the 1911 Bogue plan or postwar era even though we built freeways, airports, and parking lots, and we’ve waited so long that not people don’t want to wait fifty more years and we can’t because we’ve fallen way behind the industrialized-world standard for transit mobility. So we sell bonds and pay interest.

    1. And if we did save up a few billion dollars beforehand, there’s a good chance the legislature or an initiative would divert the money to something else or order ST to refund it because rail/high-capacity transit is no longer a priority.

    2. “Why is ST even raising bonds? Why aren’t we saving up the money first so we can pay cash and avoid the interest costs, and even earn interest on our savings?….”

      First off, I can relate to the sense of frustration you express in your comment above. Anyone who has traveled abroad and used modern transit systems in other parts of the industrialized world can see how far behind the US has fallen in comparison. I’m sure many here on this site share this same general frustration with our country’s overall slow progress in the areas of transit infrastructure and service improvements. (I grew up in NYC in the 1960s/1970s and so getting around by transit was second nature to me. Moving to Seattle in the late 1980s was a huge culture shock from that perspective. And it’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve been so frustrated with the pace at which ST has been building our light rail system here. )

      Anyway, back to your questions. The simple answer is that ST just doesn’t have the cash flow to support building light rail in the desired timeframe without taking on any long-term debt financing. I don’t know how much you review the agency’s financial documents, but now would be a good time to peruse ST’s 2020 Financial Plan (and Proposed Budget). I think the section on pages 12 and 13 would be particularly helpful to you. Here are a few of the important takeaways:

      •The agency reaches a minimum debt capacity of $3.0 billion in 2032 and rises thereafter.
      •The agency reaches a maximum principal debt balance of $18.3 billion in 2035 and declines
      •The agency will utilize a maximum of 84.3 percent of its total debt capacity in 2032.

      Additionally, the funding gap is illustrated nicely in the graph on page 13 of this section:

      “The following chart summarizes the agency’s financing needs, which is based on the gap between revenues and expenditures, through 2041. Total projected revenue is insufficient to fund total expenditures and debt service for the period of 2022 to 2040 during which the majority of agency debt
      will be issued.

      “Bond proceeds represent 14.9 percent of total revenue during the period of 2017 to 2041 and are the
      second largest contributor behind tax revenue, which comprises 65.8 percent of total revenue throughout the same period.”

      To date, Sound Transit has only taken on a modest amount of long-term debt thru bond financing. As of the latest annual report, ST had a total of about $2.4B of long-term debt on its balance sheet. This is going to change substantially in the next decade and a half, with long-term debt expected to max out at $18.3B in 2035 according to the latest Financial Plan.

      Finally, to answer one of your other questions, the agency does have an investment portfolio for its cash and thus does report some investment income on its financial statements. For example, for 2018, ST reported about $38M in investment income. The 2020 update to the LTFP shows a total of $473M in interest earnings for the 2017-2041 period.

      Hope this helps.

      1. A couple of reasons for bond funding:

        1) The cost of money (interest) is at a historic low. The overall inflation rate is low but the cost of construct and most importantly the cost of acquiring ROW is not. So it is likely cheaper long term to borrow.

        2) Charging today’s tax payers for something they will not have full (if any) benefit from is a tough sell. OTOH, paying interest on something tangible is like rent.

        The flip side is once operations start on an “entitlement” a huge portion of the tax base goes toward subsidizing the service. It’s like leasing a car. Sure you have the convenience of driving it now but you also take on the cost of gas, maintenance, car tabs, etc. so your ability to save or reduce debt is diminished.

    3. “ST just doesn’t have the cash flow to support building light rail in the desired timeframe without taking on any long-term debt financing.”

      Yes, you’re right. I’m asking, why doesn’t ST have the cash flow? Is it because of decisions the state/county/city have made? What other situation could we be in? What situation do we want to be in; i.e., what is the best situation consistent with our values? (This requires defining our values….) How can we get from here to there, or at least closer to there? These are partly rhetorical, but they’re worth pondering, and not just accepting the situation as inevitable.

  31. Just read all the comments. Thank GOD I don’t live in the Seattle area anymore. What a cluster.

    Give me the daily life of a small city any day. One not run by progressives who can never get enough of your tax money for their pet projects that do NOTHING to solve their problems.

    Seattle is on course to re-elect a socialist! Good luck with your continued repeat offender problems, homelessness, homeless criminals, decaying in the streets and endless traffic problems.

    1. Do you have to drive everywhere because the bus comes once an hour and ends at 7pm and doesn’t run on weekends? Is your gym at the outskits of town a quarter mile from the next building?

      That socialist is 1/9 of the city council. The small businesses in her district are still open, and our tax rate is less than 90%. The police blotter tells me that crime happens on my block every day, but 99% of it doesn’t affect me. I’ve felt unsafe maybe twice in the past five years — in spite of the homeless visible every day. And we could solve that problem by, gasp, building housing for them.

      The investment in Metro bus service over the past decade has led to a significant increase in frequency, which makes it easier to get around in the evenings and alleviates some of the overcrowded buses that occurred before. That’s not nothing, that’s something. Overcrowding, meaning something that’s really popular among the people.

Comments are closed.