Sound Transit 3, from its inception, has been a compromise between various regional interests. With likely economic trouble and a failed bridge to West Seattle, some people are interested in reopening the bargain.
Some of these people never liked taxes for transit in the first place, and seek a rhetorical opening for a redo. Others sincerely want good transit outcomes, and think that a retry might improve those outcomes. Still others are broadly supportive of Sound Transit but see an opportunity to address other priorities.
There isn’t much to say about people who don’t think transit is important, except that other parties should pay attention to who their friends are. Some people helping to tear down today’s plan won’t be there to build the next one.
People who are unhappy about how ST3 has evolved should ask themselves how those evolutions came about, and if those underlying conditions have changed. Approximately zero of them came about because the plan had too much money, which is the only thing that has changed.
Let’s take a few examples.
In my opinion, skipping First Hill twice in three ballot measures is one of the greater instances of malpractice in the history of Sound Transit. As far as I can tell, it happened because the Sound Transit staff has very little appetite for ideas that add financial and engineering risk, no matter their value to future riders, and there was no coalition of Seattle political leaders that pushed them to do the right thing. I would accept program delay in a heartbeat if we could get First Hill and keep South Lake Union, but that is totally disconnected from the reality of how a reset would go.
To take another, a Ballard/UW line is a perennial favorite among STB commenters. To be clear, I would vote for that line with no reservations. But consider:
- Many influential people believe the UW/Westlake tunnel cannot absorb the additional riders. You don’t have to agree with that analysis to understand that it exists, and from people who generally Know What They Are Talking About.
- Ballard/UW does not contain a tunnel from Westlake to Lower Queen Anne, the single most valuable stretch of rail not currently open or under construction.
- People are comparing their fantasy of a Ballard/UW line to an ST3 Ballard line that is mostly through the sausage machine. As a data point, when ST came up with some planning concepts, Seattle Subway pronounced all but one unacceptable, and added two more underground stations to the good one. And that’s before those concepts suffered a thousand cuts on their way to reality.
The pandemic has changed none of these facts, unless you think commuting is gone forever. I emphatically don’t, but if so, Ballard/UW is just as tenuous as any other transportation investment.
This is all a harmless discussion, because the ST board is not going to do anything but defer projects and value-engineer. It’s the third group — people with other priorities that see a big pile of money — that will actually be the most dangerous in the near future.
To take the most obvious example, Seattle will certainly replace the West Seattle Bridge over the next several years. This requirement is daunting, urgent, and totally unfunded. No doubt, combining the road a rail efforts into a single bridge may create efficiencies in the aggregate. But there’s certainly an opportunity to use transit funds to restore highway capacity. It will be an enormous temptation for community leaders without a strong ideological commitment otherwise.