Every element of the previously expected $98 billion funding through 2041 will be under pressure in a severe recession. These estimates are from last Fall (slide: Sound Transit)

Yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting saw first steps toward the realignment of ST3 projects that now appears inevitable. In a preview of discussions to come, the meeting featured unusually intense questioning of spending on Sounder fleet procurement and parking garages in Auburn, though both moved forward.

Chairman Keel set the tone:

No project and no region is more important than any other. We are a regional board looking out for regional mobility.

Noting there would be no money for ‘nice-to-haves’, he continued:

The more we spend on any one project, the later we will deliver on other projects that have been promised to voters.

Expect to hear familiar arguments about regional vs local priorities in the next few months, particularly if the impact of the recession affects subareas differently.

There’s a vast uncertainty about the trajectory of the economy over the next several years. The sharpness and suddenness of the recession is unprecedented, but it’s much less clear how persistent it will be, how it will shape future revenues or costs, and how it will affect transit demand. CEO Peter Rogoff noted that a normal recession causes agencies to lose some choice riders, but also increases the ranks of the transit-dependent.

The falloff in sales tax revenue is an obvious consequence of the COVID shutdown, with retail sales down 8.7% in March and presumably by more in April. Less obviously, MVET revenue will take a hit as it’s so heavily dependent on new cars and sales are down.

Without a firmer handle on the scale of revenue shortfalls, it’s premature to estimate the delays to projects. Sound Transit will need to watch for both revenue shortfalls and reduced debt capacity. The debt capacity is reduced because allowable debt is a function of the assessed property values in the RTA, which are expected to be lower. The combined effect could range into the low tens of billions in a recession that is deep and sustained.

Effects on the current capital program of recessions similar to 2000 or 2008 (slide: Sound Transit)

Rogoff reiterated that the first priority would be to continue projects already in construction or entering construction. This means keeping construction going, as much as COVID safety considerations allow, on Northgate, East Link, Lynnwood, Federal Way, Downtown Redmond, Hilltop Tacoma Link, and OMF East.

Notably, that list does not include the Eastside BRT projects where WSDOT construction is underway south of Bellevue, but Sound Transit construction mostly is not. Those will be in the mix of projects to be considered for savings.

Beyond continuing near-term rail projects, the CEO’s approach is to maintain the Board’s flexibility and readiness. That means work goes on for planning and final design of projects that are far enough advanced. This maintains readiness for a range of revenue scenarios. At the same time, further projects should not be moved into final design or construction so as to avoid over-commitment.

The 2010 realignment did not result in firm decisions to cancel any projects. But several projects were suspended indefinitely, and some of those only got back on track with fresh funding after the passage of ST3 in 2016.

Much of the Board discussion so far has been off-camera in subarea meetings, and further details of the cuts being considered were scarce.

With respect to the West Seattle bridge, Rogoff referenced ongoing discussions with SDOT about a possible shared bridge. Highlighting the uncertainty about whether the existing high bridge can be repaired, he also cautioned against undue optimism about a shared bridge. It would be easy, he quipped, to design a combined bridge that would be more expensive than the projects moving forward separately. Further complicating the calculus is a potential delay in rail to West Seattle. Any shared bridge requires a great deal more analysis to confirm whether it saves any money.

Sound Transit hiring is mostly frozen. The staffing was projected to grow from the current 1,000 to about 1,400 to support ST3 growth. With a slower pace of expansion, that staff growth is now unlikely, and total staffing may not grow at all.

Two projects did move forward yesterday over scattered objections. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan questioned a budget amendment to purchase additional Sounder South rail cars which will be used to expand service to eight car trains. That amendment was approved by the Board after discussion because it would be more expensive to procure the cars later. Sound Transit’s pricing was favorable because the procurement avoided a manufacturing line being shut and restarted, and also because it is part of a multi-agency deal.

WSDOT CEO Roger Millar objected to moving forward with a parking expansion in Auburn. Pointing to the extraordinary cost – the Auburn garage is projected at $216 thousand per added stall – he argued that affordable housing units could be subsidized at similar prices. South King representatives were insistent on pointing to the promises made to add this parking. Pete von Reichbauer, for instance, said “I don’t want to subsidize a faucet, I want to subsidize what was planned and promised”. Yesterday’s board action approved the project selection, but it may yet be reconsidered when the budget needs to be approved and South King’s board members must weigh it against other outlays in their area.

96 Replies to “Sound Transit Board sharpens pencils for ST3 program savings”

  1. Since “Streetcar Named Desire” is definitely transit-related, I’ll yield my time to Marlon Brando’s magnificent character recently Master Sergeant Stanley Kowalski of New Orleans:

    “This morning, events beyond our control or comprehension have forced many of us to disappoint people we care about and who have always depended on our word. Making what any official has either planned or promised a matter of indifference, not permanently but at this time.

    So could someone on the Board oblige us by kindly cutting out the Re-bop, which has been defined as a modern jazz style circa 1950’s, and explaining to us how a single parking stall for an automobile can cost $216,000? Thank you.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Any discussion of cost savings if the construction sector slows down and bid grow decelerates or reverses?

    1. Didn’t come up, except offhand in the Auburn parking discussion, where those projected costs might become less ridiculous. But it would seem like it ought to be a major offset to revenue shortfalls, just as cost escalations were a major offset to revenue over-runs when the economy was on the way up.

  3. What are the “pre-virus” and “post-virus” revenues projections for each subarea over the course of the entire ST3 system plan (it ends in the mid-2050’s)? Rogoff should be providing that key financial information to the board and the public.

    North King should be fine — the little subareas not so much.

    So far Rogoff’s staff only has disclosed how it plans on paying for each subarea’s representative alignments and services through 2041. That’s the tip of the iceberg, and certainly not the ST3 ending date. LOTS of ST3 money will come available for the board to allocate after that . . ..

    1. The relevant financial constraints is the total debt limit in the early 2030s. Subarea budgets, 2041 or otherwise, are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

      1. Subarea budgets are central to the board’s obligations.

        You need to re-read the ST3 financial policies. Part of what they require is this:
        ———————-
        Adjustments to Subarea Projects and Services

        2. For those cases in which a subarea’s actual and projected expenditures exceed its actual and projected revenues and funding sources by five percent or greater, and/or where unforeseen circumstances occur that would result in an inability to substantially complete projects within such subarea’s plan, the Board must take one or more of the following actions:

        Correct the shortfall through use of such subarea’s uncommitted funds and/or bond capacity available to the subarea; and/or

        Scale back the subarea plan or projects within the plan to match a revised budget; and/or

        Extend the time period of completion of the subarea plan; and/or

        Seek legislative authorization and voter approval for additional resources.
        ——————

        See the word “must” there, AJ? Those are the relevant considerations. It’s that “debt limit” you bring up that is completely irrelevant.

      2. Subarea financials will play some role in determining where the ax falls because there will be natural resistance to cross-subsidies. There are offsetting political dynamics too, which is why you’re going to hear a lot of talk about “regional” considerations and “the spine”.

        Short-term cross-subsidies happen all the time as one project ramps up and another winds down. As AJ correctly observes, the binding constraints for the agency are about overall debt. Debt isn’t subarea-specific except in some subarea reporting which is irrelevant to either the statutory limits or to the bondholders. If the role of the total debt limit isn’t obvious, I’d invite you to watch yesterday’s meeting.

      3. Dan Ryan: Your statement that “the binding constraints for the agency are about overall debt” is patently false. “Overall debt” isn’t mentioned once (let alone as a “constraint”) in either the ST3 financial policies or the controlling state law (RCW chapters 81.104 and 81.112). There is no debt capacity constraint. Sound Transit can sell fare revenue backed bonds, it can get TIFIA loans, it can sell grant anticipation notes, it can sell LID-assessment backed bonds, and it can enter into PPP’s — ALL without violating any kind of “debt limit in the 2030’s” that AJ and you mistakenly believe exists. What you two are mistaken about is you think the chart showing how much tax-backed debt can be sold is some kind of limit on Sound Transit’s power to finance its construction costs.

      4. Good point on subarea equity having a role, even it’s mostly the political context of ensuring the impact of delays/deferments is felt ‘fairly’ across the region.

      5. I’m just reading the statutes and ST3 — there is no “debt capacity constraint” in the 2030’s or anything like it. I did listen to that meeting and I was struck by how Rogoff’s plan for going forward ignores what the ST3 financial policies say. Subarea equity budgeting IS the constraint. If projected revenues in any subarea are insufficient the board MUST cut back programs, prolong the construction period, use some other subarea’s debt capacity, or seek additional tax authority. Rogoff did not reference this constraint to the board. You two — AJ and Dan — are fixated on some construct like coverage ratio or the statutory debt limit based on assessed values that generally applies to local governments, neither of which is relevant to the board’s obligations to comply with the subarea equity limits in ST3.

      6. “I did listen to that meeting and I was struck by how Rogoff’s plan for going forward ignores what the ST3 financial policies say”

        Please entertain for a moment the notion that if the Sound Transit CEO and CFO and assembled Board members all believe one thing about Sound Transit financial policies, and you believe another, that perhaps they know what they’re talking about and you are mistaken.

      7. “Good point on subarea equity having a role, even it’s mostly the political context of ensuring the impact of delays/deferments is felt ‘fairly’ across the region.”

        You don’t understand what ST3 says about the board’s obligations to cut back any subarea’s capital programs in the event its projected revenues are insufficient. For example, it is consistent with subarea equity for the board to allocate the Snohomish subarea’s debt capacity to capital costs of the Seattle tunneling — something it has done. If that leaves insufficient projected revenues and debt capacity for representative alignment projects in Snohomish County then the board must find projected revenues elsewhere or cut back on the projected expenses in that subarea. You get that, right?

      8. The issue of how the diminished revenues will impact the subarea budgeting did not even come up at that meeting. It did not have to come up at that meeting. Moreover, Rogoff and the boardmembers know full well what ST3’s financial policies require, they just didn’t want to address them at that meeting. They wanted to address other things — for obvious reasons. They haven’t been disclosing projected revenues and projected expenses for each subarea during the entire ST3 system plan and they don’t want to start complying with that ST3 financial policy at this moment.

      9. Brian, take it to The Crimes website. There are legions of gubmint haters there who will crown you “King for a Day”.

      10. Brian,

        As others have pointed out much more nicely that I, the people who are PAID to understand ST’s financial responsibilities and more to the point, apply them, agree with Dan. If they were massively wrong, one of Tim I-man’s backers would have given him the money to sue ST.

        So your persistence arguing with the people who take the position that “The pros probably know what they’re talking about” simply blares “Right wing government hater!” It just does.

        Both Dan and AJ admit/stipulate/whatever that Subarea Equity will be a check on unlimited lending between subareas. But the fact is that Sound Transit must abide by the standard municipal bonding limits imposed by the legislature and State Constitution. It’s yet another form of an administrative sub-division of the State.

        Most immediately relevant is a statutory limit of non-voted debt at 1.5% of the assessed value of property within the RTA. This is the same limit all Washington State municipalities face. With 60% voter approval, the statutory limit would could increase to 5%

        https://seattletransitblog.com/2018/02/28/sound-transits-debt/ [emphasis added]

        Yes, Dan wrote that post, too, so I’m quoting the guy you’re doubting. But the 1.5% limit is well-known throughout the State.

  4. No region is more important than any other. We are a regional agency. Oh snap. ST just threw shade at Seattle.

    1. Some subareas have insufficient projected revenues to complete the representative alignment projects on the timelines the ST3 measure suggested might have been possible. That’s likely not the case for the North King subarea, especially as the board allocated the outlying subareas’ debt capacity to the Seattle rail extension. In addition, appointees from Seattle area governments control that board so they can set most of that government’s policies. In those senses the North King subarea IS more important than the others.

      1. Fine; cancel the second tunnel, West Seattle and Ballard-Downtown. King County can build Ross’s bus tunnel itself; it can you know, without your help.

        Of course that means that nothing at all will be spent in North King except three add-on stations so Sub-Area equity says that you’ll be able to lay maybe a mile of track a year up in SnoHoCo.

  5. Slide 11 of the presentation has me worried. Is ST forecasting that the depth of this recession will likely fall somewhere between the dot.com bust and the 2008 recession? If that’s what ST is forecasting, they’re sounding a lot like Trump in the middle of February: “we got this under control”.

    1. No, if the ST board was going to sound like mid-February Trump they would have said something along the lines of “Recession? What recession? I don’t see any recession. Everything’s only going to get better from here on out.”

      The fact that they are considering something equivalent to the Great Depression (the worst economic downturn in the country’s history) as being within the realm of possibility should tell you that they are taking this very seriously.

  6. It’s rather revealing — and unsettling — that the whole presentation is about losing revenue rather than riders. Unlike a recession, a big lingering effect of this pandemic is going to be some structural loss of ridership. We don’t know how big that will be, but it’s going to happen. These leaders must not be riders or they would get that this is very different.

    Perhaps if the concerns about lower demand were expressed, the Auburn Station discussion would be different and a deferral would have been put in the table.

    1. I don’t think we have any reason to believe this is true.

      While people will be concerned about crowds/crowding – Massive job losses are unlikely to result in a move towards higher individual spending on transportation.

      The more likely outcome is a spike in ridership (beyond pre-recession levels) once the crisis is over and people return to work — if and only if service is restored.

    2. I think the current focus should be to finish the work already started and make sure that the existing system is maintained properly for better times.

      Building a new parking structure at any station should be off the table until we see what level of ridership returns once the economy starts to rebound.

    3. ST demonstrated their avoidance approach to ridership expectations by forecasting a double-digit growth in Link ridership last year that didn’t happen. Why else would they not publish Q4 numbers (see the link below)? Why won’t they talk about this significant mistake they made months before before the virus hit?

      https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/documents-reports/service-planning-ridership

      The virus is unpleasant news for transit ridership, but it can’t be denied. Fauci already expects a second round this fall. Personal behaviors about social distancing will mean that a noticeable number of people will refuse to cram into transit vehicles anymore — some for years. Now that telecommuting is more popularized, more employees won’t travel to work every day (working from home one day a week would mean 20 percent fewer work transit trips). It’s a new reality.

      Consider too that less traffic means less congestion which means that the argument that the train is faster becomes less valid. Riding transit to avoid congestion becomes less attractive.

      At the very least, I read all these signs and conclude that the best action would be to defer starting construction of long-term projects for a period of time — at least a year or two. Only after seeing what the effects are in April 2021 can we even begin to see what new world for transit has been created.

  7. Last night, another commenter asked me point-blank, “Do you support Sound Transit?” My answer cut-to-fit? “That’s up to Sound Transit.”

    This morning’s question? If nobody officially connected with Sound Transit, or advocating its continuing existence can tell me how a single car-parking space can cost $216,000…

    Are you ignorant, lying, uncaring what I think about anything (been advised by sources I respect to do that myself), or especially if you’re on my political side, so used to losing you use it for a comforter?

    Or…is the real issue should it really either be $214,000 or $215,000?

    Mark Dublin

    1. ST is charged over $200,000 per stall for the same reason a plumber tells Jeff Bezos it will cost $10,000 to unclog a drain.

    2. better questions include what else could ST buy with the money: service hours and reduced waiting; the land could have housing next to frequent transit; the streets of Auburn and Kent could be less congested. The ST board has changed both Sound Move and ST2; they have the power to react to the higher cost and greater concern about housing.

  8. Do you hear a second, Guy? You just did. Old business? That’s what the table’s for. New business? That’s what the high school Class of 20 is for.

    Those gowns and flat square hats with the tassels? Leave the kids’ families’ bank accounts alone and let’s start seeing some masks. Some things aren’t Multiple Choice.

    Mark Dublin

  9. One thing that bothers me here is that this is a 25-year package. Did Sound Transit plan for zero recessions in 25 years? By the ten-year rule of thumb for when a recession is “due,” Sound Transit should have planned for at least three recessions!

    Additionally, when it was voted on in 2016, we were already on the long run of economic recovery. We were pretty lucky that it continued for 4 years, but it could have just have easily been 2 years or less.

    1. “Did Sound Transit plan for zero recessions in 25 years?”

      The short answer to your question is yes, they did not. Some of us on this very blog have pointed this out as far back as 2016, pre-ST3 vote. The agency apparently had learned little from the impact of the Great Recession. One of my biggest criticisms of the board has consistently been how little attention they devote, at least in public meetings, to the annual financial plan update. The agency itself seems to not give it the attention it deserves as in more recent years the annual report has been rolled up into the annual budget cycle, almost as an afterthought. In previous years, the report was developed in the first half of the year once the (prior) EOY financials had solidified.

    2. Yeah, that’s really the biggest problem with the way the agency operates. By all means you should have a long term goal. (I’m not saying their long term of goal of the spine is a good one, but whatever). But then when the costs are so high that you can’t build it in a few years, you dial down the package. Build something smaller, but something that leads us towards the bigger goal. As it turns out, that is likely to be what happens anyway. It is quite possible that ST3 will not deliver rail from Everett to Tacoma.

      I guess the only advantage to doing it the way they are doing it now is that it is easier to sell. Everett to Tacoma rail sounds great — not nearly as nice as Ash Way to Federal Way. Another bus tunnel freaks some people out (even though it would likely not matter to voters in Seattle — they would vote for it regardless).

      The timing for “something big” was also good. They had just finished the piece that a thinking agency would have built first. There were no maintenance or escalator problems. It appeared that they put their estimation and construction issues in the past. They could claim (with somewhat of a straight face) that they can build things on time and under budget (now). You also had plenty of people conflating a train to Everett with a train to Lynnwood (confusion that Sound Transit encouraged in their campaign literature). My guess is the folks in Lynnwood just assumed that if they voted no, the train would end at Northgate, or maybe Mountlake Terrace. All that pointed to a big package, to finally building the spine, and then some.

      It is a misguided approach by a misguided agency.

      The sad part is, not only will this result in a system that gets built much later, but it will be a lot longer until you have significant improvement. It is like saving up to buy a Jeep, when you can buy a Honda right now.

      1. It is my hope that they do not actually shorten lines for all time because of this. Sure, they could do smart cuts, such as replacing the Paine Field deviation with a bus (or a lightweight peoplemover-like train) spur, getting rid of BAR station, or for goodness’ sake, don’t build so much parking (I think it’s easier to explain away missing parking than to explain a line to Everett Station that now won’t go all the way to Everett Station, even to people who rely on park and rides). But the truth is, they can build everything planned, it will just take longer.

        What I’m disappointed about with the presentation is that they didn’t show full-build scenarios, and how long things might have to be delayed. Shouldn’t that be the *default* option? Before they say a word about cutting anything, they should at least tell us about the baseline full-build scenario.

        I think a good bone they could throw to places waiting a long time for rail is open lines in more segments. For example, they could open Link to Mariner first (possibly even on-time), and open Everett later. They could open Link to Seattle Center on time, and delay Interbay and Ballard. There is no logical place to do this on the south side except maybe open East Tacoma before TDS (but that doesn’t get you much). West Seattle, though, I think is a good exception, as it can actually be replaced with a good BRT system that will be better* for West Seattle, in particular, since lines can branch out and serve multiple places, and go straight downtown without waiting for a second tunnel.

        (*the only way it’s not better is that it’s not called “rail.”)

      2. @Alex K

        “What I’m disappointed about with the presentation is that they didn’t show full-build scenarios, and how long things might have to be delayed. Shouldn’t that be the *default* option?”

        I share your disappointment but I am not surprised. The current CFO as well as the last CFO (McCartan, who got out of Dodge knowing the financial pressures of ST2 and ST3 were coming) have been unwilling to take a larger role and challenge the status quo. Rogoff’s professional style, or lack thereof as some might say, probably has a lot to do with that. Getting the chosen public narrative out there seems to always outweigh getting the actual facts out there. Take this excerpt from Dan’s piece as an example of this approach:

        “Much of the Board discussion so far has been off-camera in subarea meetings, and further details of the cuts being considered were scarce.”

        Rogoff talks a big game about agency transparency and accountability but they have simply been empty talking points during his tenure.

      3. running the I-5 corridor between Everett and Olympia, would you settle for this?

        No, of course not. That would be terrible — hugely expensive with very little benefit.

        It’s pretty simple: A subway is not the same as commuter rail. Subways are expensive, and make lots of stops. Don’t build an expensive subway out to distant suburbs, or even distant cities. You end up spending a fortune for very few riders. Better to run commuter rail (if you can) along with express buses. Build the subways in the cities, and in the nearby suburbs (where they are actually a good value).

        Every city that has followed that simple guideline has a better transit system (for the money) than those that didn’t.

      4. @RossB
        “The timing for “something big” was also good. They had just finished the piece that a thinking agency would have built first. There were no maintenance or escalator problems. It appeared that they put their estimation and construction issues in the past.”

        Yup. It was perfect timing for a third phase capital program for the reasons you’ve cited. It was also a Presidential cycle and ST had learned its lessons on that front from the ballot failures in 1995 and 2007.

        “It appeared that they put their estimation and construction issues in the past.”

        That was the perfect word to use there….it “appeared”.
        That appearance suddenly vanished in less than a year when we learned in Aug 2017 that Lynnwood Link was (way) more than $500M* over its estimate. Hmmm…interesting. We then soon found out that Federal Way Link was some $460M over too, as was DT Redmond Link at some $100M over its estimate.

        *This is the lowball figure frequently cited in the press but the actual miss is several hundreds of millions higher by ST’s own admission as documented in the staff report accompanying the resolution wherein the Lynnwood Link project was ultimately baselined.

      5. Delay is not the default solution, so there isn’t anything for the staff to model until the Board has given direction. Rogoff was very clear that delay is an option, not the option. Look at the deck linked in the first sentence.

        I don’t have much issue with needing for shorten the spine. In fact, all those squealing for Ballard-UW should hope that the initial action by the board is build Link short of Tacoma and Everett, as that gives the other counties something worthwhile to come back for ST4 to help Seattle pay for Ballard-UW. Otherwise, ST3 will just trundle along at a slightly longer time-frame and Seattle is going to have to look elsewhere to fund its next transformative transit project.

        As for “plan” for a recession – that’s a ridiculous comment. What are they supposed to do, just delete a billion of tax revenue in a random year in the future? They have very conservative financial assumptions and carry a massive cash cushion – that’s how you plan for a recession. Otherwise, you plan and execute on a project pipeline using the best economic forecast available, which is exactly what the annual Financial Plan does.

        Tlsgwm is incorrect. There is a spring and a fall update of the financial plan. The change to combining the financial plan into the Budget Book in 2020 was purely a change in presentation; the level of rigor in the plan updates themselves are unchanged. The Board doesn’t dive into the details of the Financial Plan for the same reason they don’t dive into the engineering assumptions behind a cost estimate – it’s beneath their pay grade. Having put together and presented long term financial plans for both Sound Transit and for firms held by private equity, the level of review by the Board is pretty comparable – first hours of reviews by the CFO then CEO, several briefings with key Board members, and then ~2 hours of actual discussion by the full Board with quorum. The scrutiny put in by the ST board is entirely normal given their broad purview.

      6. “I don’t have much issue with needing for shorten the spine. In fact, all those squealing for Ballard-UW should hope that the initial action by the board is build Link short of Tacoma and Everett, as that gives the other counties something worthwhile to come back for ST4 to help Seattle pay for Ballard-UW.”

        Isn’t that a rather disingenuous business practice? Are you seriously advocating extortion? Holding the spine hostage unless UW-Ballard gets built? If the current cost overruns are any indication, ST4 will have to pay for finishing Downtown-Ballard, Downtown-WS, and Kirkland-Issaquah in addition to Lynnwood-Everett and Fed. Way-Tacoma. We’re talking about 4 extensions and an entire Eastside line. DSTT2 may also need additional funding. You’d really put all that on hold just for UW-Ballard?

        With all the current ST3 projects needing extra funding, adding UW-Ballard is neither rational nor likely. It should not even be considered until the spine is finished at the very least.

      7. @AJ
        “As for “plan” for a recession – that’s a ridiculous comment. What are they supposed to do, just delete a billion of tax revenue in a random year in the future? They have very conservative financial assumptions and carry a massive cash cushion – that’s how you plan for a recession.”

        I don’t know if I agree on that. I don’t know the specifics of ST’s financial planning, but if they didn’t assume a recession (or two) at some point in the 25 year lifetime of ST3, then that’s worrisome. It’s highly unrealistic to assume 25 years of continuous economic growth. Any plans for ST3 should have assumed some slow down for some time (perhaps modeled on 2001 or 2008) and allowed projects to either be “better” if the economy was better, or worse if the economy was worse.

        I agree a cash cushion is good, but that’s what you need to maintain operations, not to build new stuff. For a fixed 25 year plan, some recessions should have been assumed. That being said, I don’t know if anyone could have prepared for this sort of economic situation and we still don’t know how bad it’s going to be.

      8. AJ, Ballard-UW will never be a great line unless the neighborhoods are drastically remade with 20 story buildings around four not two intermediate stations (8th NW, Fremont/Aurora, Wallingford/Meridian and 8th NE). A branch is impossible as I’ve written several times over the past two weeks, because UW will not allow the pit which would be necessary for a non-bellmouthed junction.

        So, as Ross notes, “most [northend] riders will just stay on the bus” when headed downtown. It will be a “Metro44 Subway”, a bus which runs every 12 minutes at the peak of the peak. Absent those Vancouver BC-style stations from whence will the riders come? The quick answer is “nowhere”.

      9. Oh, I think Ballard UW is a bad idea and I’m consistently baffled by those who advocate for it. It is a poorly considered project and if it gets built at all, it will be built starting from Ballard working towards UW, not as a spur from the spine.

        I was just thinking through the political ramification of ST3 realignment and how it might make for a more coherent ST4 package in 2024/28. This would be similar to how the deferral of East Link to Redmond ended up creating a centerpiece project for East King in the ST3 package … ideally there is no 2008 recession and Redmond Link is built earlier, but come 2014 it did make it easier to put together the East King project list.

        I would certainly not advocate for holding projects ‘hostage.’ I just think breaking the big ST3 projects into smaller pieces and pushing back the opening of some segments is the most likely outcome, which then – separately – sets the stage for Seattle to add on additional projects in a theoretic ST4 package, as Pierce and Snohomish would first use their ST4 dollars to accelerate their deferred ST3 projects (i.e. pulling those segments back closer to their original ST3 opening dates). I can see how this would look like ‘bad faith’ negotiations, but I’m just trying to consider how the region could pull together to continue to invest in HCT in a reality very different than a few months ago.

        @David – the long term plan assumes an economic growth rate that is an average across the business cycle, so that in aggregate it attempts to forecast the impact of both recessions and booms. So if we have a “V” recession, ST’s plan isn’t impacted much, but a sustained recession would pull down the average growth in the model. Also, keep in mind the issue isn’t the total amount of tax revenue that ST will collect over the life of ST3, but the need to collect sufficient taxes to avoid the ‘pinch point’ of debt in the early 2030s. Therefore, the timing of a recession is important. If this was 2035 and ST was starting to work down its debt load and deliver the final few projects, the impact of a recession would be much less impactful.

        ST could certainly have put together a plan that avoided this pinch point, that required a less aggressive project schedule. The initial ST3 plan did just this, but based upon public feedback they accelerate the project pipeline before going to the voters. This aggressive timeline was transparently more risky, though the risk has been realized much quicker than anyone would have expected.

        In theory, ST could have had a plan with massive amounts of float and excess capacity, but I do think it would be very odd if staff had gone to the Board this month and said “don’t worry guys, we are down $1 billion but everything is on track!”

      10. I think Ballard UW is a bad idea and I’m consistently baffled by those who advocate for it.

        It has very high ridership per mile despite very low average speeds. I can explain these concepts (and their importance) in more detail if you want.

        Ballard-UW will never be a great line unless the neighborhoods are drastically remade with 20 story buildings around four not two intermediate stations (8th NW, Fremont/Aurora, Wallingford/Meridian and 8th NE).

        Who said anything about 8th Avenue NE? The line would consist of the following stations:

        24th Ave NW — Already built up, and has a popular (north-south) connecting bus.

        15th Ave NW — Not quite as built up, but still pretty good, and has a connecting bus.

        8th Ave NW — TOD station, with connecting bus.

        Fremont — The least obvious station — not clear where it would go. One goal is to connect with Aurora buses (like the “South Lake Union” station). It would do a better job than that, though, simply because of the geography. Anyone headed to the UW or Ballard on the E will transfer to Link, even if it is an arduous, Mount-Baker-Station or UW-Station type walk. People on an Aurora bus headed downtown will just stay on the bus. The Ballard bus is paired with the south end bus, which means that the Fremont station would have more transfers (UW is a much bigger destination than the airport, and a much shorter trip).

        Lower Fremont is ideal, but it is difficult to serve while also connecting well to the Aurora buses. I think you could do it by putting the station close to the troll. Work would have to be done on Aurora (a bus stop would be added) but that by itself would add significant value, as getting from Aurora to Fremont is terrible right now (https://goo.gl/maps/Y3ddsrkPef5ULXXR6). I can’t find the link, but I think Frank proposed a stop there years ago.

        Upper Fremont is less than ideal from a walk-up standpoint, but would be no different than the “South Lake Union” station (except with more transfer riders). The problem is that Aurora is similar to a freeway — it takes up lots of space, which means it cuts into potential walk-up ridership. You could sit under the highway, at some place like 42nd. There are apartments on both sides, and would likely grow fairly quickly if allowed. If you put it on 45th, you could could put it on one side or another. A station on the west side (Fremont) would be pretty good, except for those gas stations. There are some existing apartments, and new ones would popup. That would also create a north-south bus route connecting Fremont with Phinney Ridge and Greenwood (another weak connection in our system — https://goo.gl/maps/TXuACyAgYsdBtwED6). An entrance on the other side (closer to Stone Way) would be good, although you would want to avoid overlapping with the Wallingford Station. No matter what it would be good, but it would take a fair amount of work to be great.

        Wallingford — Good station with good bones that would likely see an increase in density regardless of whether they build a line there or not.

        A branch is impossible as I’ve written several times over the past two weeks, because UW will not allow the pit which would be necessary for a non-bellmouthed junction.

        A branch is not impossible, and wouldn’t involve UW land. It would occur between 45th and Roosevelt stations, and might be the cheapest way to connect the two lines (since you wouldn’t have to build a new station at the U-District). Conceptually it would be the same as East Link (a branch) which means it would be similarly disruptive, although the backup plan would be much easier. You still have buses (like you do now) and you would have the addition of the U-District station.

        The disadvantage of a branch is that it limits the frequency of the train north of there. But as I pointed out, that is unlikely to be a major issue — at worse someone has to wait three minutes for a less crowded train. As real experts from Sound Transit have pointed out, it is possible with some investment to get down to 90 seconds for the trains. Side Note: It is funny how many self-professed experts we have here, many of which won’t use their real name, making technical claims (Vent Shafts!!!) that are easily refuted by people who actually do this thing for a living. Anyway…

        If we did run the trains every 90 seconds between the UW and downtown it would mean the same 3 minute frequency north of there. It would mean we would operate like a grownup system, with trains running frequently, but occasionally waiting for other trains in the most congested, most demand section (between the UW and downtown). In general, this is a problem you want to have (we should be so lucky).

        If Sound Transit didn’t want to do that, then they could make an independent line. The key there is to make the transfer as painless as possible. This seems quite possible given that the tunnels are deep bore and crossing (https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/01/18/cross-platform-transfers/). At the point, the issue is timing the trains, which again should be easy for those lines.

        As for 20 story buildings, I really don’t understand your sudden obsession with them. Capitol Hill has 9,000 riders, third in ridership behind Westlake and the UW and significantly higher than three of the four downtown stops. You don’t need 20 story buildings to get good ridership.

        For that matter, your obsession about bus frequency during rush hour is also baffling. All day ridership is better and more important than peak ridership. I can’t emphasize that enough. Second, no one in their right mind would ride the 44 from Ballard to get downtown. Build a subway to the UW, and walk-up riders would do that, especially if they created a branch. Not enough to overwhelm the system, but enough to increase ridership (while saving those riders a fair amount of time).

        It is not that tricky. All day ridership is driven by trips to everywhere. Ballard to UW would deliver that in abundance, because it works for so many two seat trips (some train/bus, some train/train). Peak hour ridership to downtown would be driven by walk-up riders (in Ballard and Wallingford mostly). Enough to add significant ridership, but not enough to overwhelm a four car subway system.

      11. “all those squealing for Ballard-UW should hope that the initial action by the board is build Link short of Tacoma and Everett, as that gives the other counties something worthwhile to come back for ST4 to help Seattle pay for Ballard-UW.”

        I”sn’t that a rather disingenuous business practice? Are you seriously advocating extortion? Holding the spine hostage unless UW-Ballard gets built?”

        He said hope, not imprison or extort. This is a prediction of what the subareas might do on their own, not forcing them. Redmond and Fedaral Way were deferred in the last recession.

        That sounds unlikely though because Tacoma Dome and Everett Station are what they wanted all along, and they finally got them approved, and they can extend the timeline as long as necessary. So why give up now and potentially lose the authority to do it? Replenishing the fund in ST4 is not the same as changing the authorization

        Although “replenishing the fund” is unlikely too. Every ST vote has been an additional tax on top of the previous ones. They won’t be substantially paid down until the 2060s when a future vote could reuse them, and people are already screaming about their car tabs and property tax and sales tax. Do you really think they’ll be able put a fourth one on top of them? The first thing will be just to find something to replace MVET, either because I-976 is upheld or because it’s so unpopular. (ST didn’t want it in the first place because they knew how unpopular it was, but the legislature said it’s either MVET or nothing.)

      12. ” a “Metro44 Subway”, a bus which runs every 12 minutes at the peak of the peak”

        You’re pulling that headway out of thin air. ST hasn’t said what it might be. The existing Link has never gone below 10 minute headways before 10pm (except in this pandemic and during construction and maintenance), so there’s no evidence a Ballard-UW line would either. Every minute of waiting effectively adds to the travel time, and it’s especially egregious when you’re transferring to a destination only a few stops away. If it’s going to be 12 minutes then that would be the an argument against building it. But you can’t just assert it will be 12 minutes with no evidence to back it up.

        I disagree with how MAX and BART run at 15 minutes on each branch; that makes them less transformative than networks with a 10-minute minumum.

      13. I don’t think you’ve ridden BART on a daily basis, Mike. Before the virus cutbacks, here is how it’s operated for many years:

        -Four trains run all the way through San Francisco and through West Oakland, giving riders a train every 3 minutes and 45 seconds.

        -The four lines split In Downtown Oakland with two running through Central Oakland and two running though to Bayfair. That’s a train every 7.5 minutes.

        -Two lines run through to San Bruno, so that also provides 7.5 minute service.

        -The fifth line has timed transfers at MacArthur, so any station on the Richmond Line has 7.5 minute service into San Francisco — either directly or with a 25-foot walk to a train waiting at another platform.

        There are two lines to Fremont, so the entire stretch from Downtown Oakland (Lake Merritt) to Fremont has 7.5-minute service.

        That leaves the service along Highway 24/4, Interstate 580 and stations at Warm Springs, SFO and Millbrae with only 15-minute service — and trips between Berkeley and south of Downtown Oakland and the Oakland Airport line.

        It’s actually very clever how it’s organized and more than half of the stations have a train at least every 7.5 minutes.

        Its the kind of thing that we should be setting up. We could mix-match Rainier Valley and West Seattle with Ballard and Lynnwood —rather than force everyone to transfer in Downtown Seattle to get to the other line. Riders should have the option of waiting a few more minutes to ride directly where they want to go or getting in the next train and transferring. It’s why I think we should have Lines 5 and 6 introduced to do the mix-match operation and Lines 1,3, 5 and 6 at 12 minutes each (combining for a train every 6 minutes). Line 2 can operate at 6 minutes and go all the way to Everett.

      14. Except on Sundays when the SF-Richmond and SF-Fremont lines don’t run. or as you said, full-time if the Richmond-Fremont line is the only one you can take. I’m glad San Francisco has ultra-frequent service, and San Francisco to Berkeley is good but not excellent. In St Petersburg and Moscow every line on its own is every 2-5 minutes and it only reaches 10 minutes after 8:30pm, so you’re never waiting 7 minutes or 15 minutes. That’s what distinguishes a city with excellent transit from a city with OK transit. Most American cities don’t even have that. If you’re unlucky enough in Portlant to live at a station with only one MAX line, it’s 15 minutes for you. We should aim higher and have an excellent transit network that people will flock to, not one that makes do but never reaches its potential.

      15. It will be a “Metro44 Subway”, a bus which runs every 12 minutes at the peak of the peak.

        Yeah, good point Mike, in mentioning that little Trump-ish sentence. What exactly does it mean? I took it to imply that the 44 runs every 12 minutes at “the peak of peak”. A little bit of research shows that to be, well, well Trump-ish (completely false). The 44 runs every 8 minutes during peak … bidirectionally. There are very few deadheads running the other way — probably because there is some peak demand for trips to Ballard. This is a good thing. This is what you want. It makes for a more cost effective route.

        Speaking of which, he may have meant that the train would run every 15 minutes, even during peak. This, as you mentioned, is ridiculous. Trains run as often as an agency can afford it. Ridership matters in this regard, but more important is ridership per service hour. This would have that, in abundance. It is a fairly short line, which means that it wouldn’t take that long to serve, which means that you can run trains frequently without having to run that many trains. From a ridership per minute of service, a Ballard to UW subway would do quite well, all day long, which would mean it could frequently all the time as well.

      16. Ballard to UW would probably be one of the better segments to be served by a gondola system given the wide right of ways connecting the two.

      17. “Tlsgwm is incorrect. There is a spring and a fall update of the financial plan.”

        Sorry, but I was referencing the annual published financial plan and for that my previous statement stands. It is indeed published publicly just once per year and that once stand-alone report has since been rolled up into the EOY cycle and proposed budget report. What ST’s finance group may be doing internally doesn’t change that fact.

        “The change to combining the financial plan into the Budget Book in 2020 was purely a change in presentation; the level of rigor in the plan updates themselves are unchanged.”

        The “change in presentation” actually occurred in 2018. This is the history of the published annual financial plan for the last decade:
        2011 – report dated May2011
        2012 – Jun 2012
        2013 – Jun 2013
        2014 – Jun 2014
        2015 – Jun 2015
        2016 – Jun 2016
        2017 – Oct 2017
        2018 – no official stand-alone report – rolled up into next year (2019) budget cycle
        2019 – see above – this reflects the new process
        2020 – part of the 2019 process to adopt the 2020 budget

        The “level of rigor” claim may or may not hold water. I have an email from former CEO McCartan when I inquired about the 2018 financial plan in which he explicitly states that the process was being revamped at the direction of the CEO to incorporate the financial plan into the budget cycle.

        “The Board doesn’t dive into the details of the Financial Plan for the same reason they don’t dive into the engineering assumptions behind a cost estimate – it’s beneath their pay grade.”

        Frankly, that’s just a cop-out, as the “beneath their pay grade” excuse typically is. I wouldn’t expect the board members to have the technical knowledge, or desire to have such knowledge, in doing their assessments of capital project elements. They obviously rely upon the staff and consultants who do have that technical expertise, as they should. But when it comes to the agency’s finances, I would expect each and every board member to be competent enough to digest the financial statements and reports that are put before them. Hell, these are elected representatives, many of whom come from the executive branch, are they not? They have a fiduciary responsibility while sitting on that board and they better damn well understand a balance sheet, income statement, financial plan, budget forecast, cash position, etc. and if they have questions about any of the reports presented to them they should be seeking answers. Your reply seems to assume that by the time we get to the committee hearings and then the meeting of the full board that these board members have been fully apprised and have a satisfactory understanding of the relevant facts. Based on my own observations of committee and board meetings over the last two decades I don’t come to that same conclusion.

        “Having put together and presented long term financial plans for both Sound Transit and for firms held by private equity, the level of review by the Board is pretty comparable – first hours of reviews by the CFO then CEO, several briefings with key Board members, and then ~2 hours of actual discussion by the full Board with quorum.”

        I too have put together and presented dozens and dozens of long-term financial plans in both the private and public sectors over the course of my career (which has revolved around financial management and consulting). I have spent days going over individual presentations and modeling with various CFOs and their relevant teams, as well as senior management including the CEOs. I’ve spent time when requested for briefing board/council members and have seen a wide range of comprehension and, frankly, interest. So, yeah, I get what you’re saying but the overall impression that I get as a concerned observer and as a transit advocate is that the ST board is intellectually lazy. Oh, and when was the last time the full board spent two hours discussing the annual financial plan?

        One final thing about the earlier discussion concerning planning for a recession. A government agency, especially one given the directive of completing a 25-year capital program by voters, can indeed factor in economic downturns into its long-range financial modeling. The old maxim holds true as always: cash is king during a recession. Thus, the agency can build a financial model that incorporates ramping up a healthy general fund level along with various reserves that can be relied upon during a downturn. This is of course a tricky balancing act and each governmental entity struggles with finding the balance between an appropriate level of program and capital spending, debt level and cash reserves. (Most financially responsible entities are capable of building up their net positions during good economic times and maintaining a strong credit rating. However, many such entities are still typically slow to respond in a period of contraction. Some of this is inevitable because of the natural lag built into their revenue streams and the structure that dictates the budgetary process. But some of the delay comes about due to simple inaction compounded by fear of reducing reserves or fund balances, including the general fund, and possibly degrading the entity’s credit rating. So program and capital spending cuts is typically the end result.)

        Yes, ST3’s financial plan utilized more conservative assumptions in its development than in the two previous capital programs. But, honestly, big deal. That wasn’t a very high bar to clear. If one actually looks at the cost indices and other factors built into the plan, there’s certainly an argument to be made that given we are talking about a 25-year period that began some eight years after the previous recession the assumptions were not conservative enough.

    1. It *should* be ok. Integrating the station structure into the guideway is a no-brainer for overall costs. Finishing the station so it can open in 2025 has no great financial costs or benefits either way, but it’s better for riders, so would seem unobjectionable. Could it become a bargaining chip for the subareas though? Absolutely.

      1. Logically, you’re right, and I hope 130th continues to happen. But, with the coronavirus, they could argue that postponing 130th St. Station is better for the short term budget, even if it’s worse for the long term. (And, of course, allow parking garages in Auburn to go through because they are subject to a much weaker cost/benefit standard).

      2. Given Metro’s evisceration, the City of Seattle’s reticence to renew the TBD in November, and the clear reality that 130th’s value as a bus intercept, does it make sense to leave the station body incomplete for quite a while? At least until the north end restructure, including the Lake City – Bitter Lake RapidRide bus comes online?

        The value of 130th is serving Lake City and Bitter Lake riders, not walk-up passengers.

      3. @Tom — The earliest any Lynnwood Link station would come on line is 2024. Metro will not be “eviscerated” by then, while Seattle (if not King County) will certainly have renewed their TBD by then. As Martin so accurately pointed out, Seattle can approve a transit levy at any election — the county can’t (which is why he pushed the county for a transit levy for the upcoming general election).

        As for the restructure, you have the order backwards. It is just like Northgate Link. Sound Transit and Metro would never dream of truncating the 522 and 312 at Roosevelt before Link got there. That happens after. Likewise, you can’t expect a frequent bus route between Lake City and Bitter Lake until after Link has a station at 130th. Build the station, and of course Metro will run frequent buses there (heck, they ran frequent buses to the UW Station, despite the obvious flaws).

      4. I seriously doubt that the “2025 Plan” will be realized by that time. Sales taxes won’t return to pre-Covid levels until mid 2021 at the earliest. There will be significant capital improvements delayed between now and then that would have been complete by that time.

        So ANYTHING involving expansion is going to be delayed by a minimum of a year and probably more because of changes in consumption patterns.

        We’ll see, but I doubt that “RapidRide L” (Lake City to Bitter Lake> will appear before 2028 at the earliest.

      5. You were pretty certain that Madison BRT would be running by now, but we haven’t heard peep one from ST about it for at least a year.

      6. @Tom — Nice straw man. You are the only one who thinks you need RapidRide between Lake City and Bitter Lake. You don’t. All you need is a regular bus.

        RapidRide is a meaningless moniker. Ridership at the Northgate Station will be driven by riders of buses, and none of them will be RapidRide.

        My point is that an average bus, let alone one with the fundamental strengths of a bus from Lake City to Bitter Lake, will run frequently and relatively quickly. Of course the same level of treatment as Madison BRT would be ideal, but it would be overkill for that area. The street is fairly fast, and already has some bus lanes. Of course you want more, but they aren’t essential. Likewise, I would like to see off board payment (like they did downtown, for all the buses) but the same is true for Northgate, or the entire Metro system, for that matter. We should move towards that (like San Fransisco and plenty of European cities) but that isn’t essential for 130th station.

        All it takes is a simply route restructure, the same type that occurs after each major Link extension.

  10. I’m glad to read about Rogoff’s comment about the combined West Seattle Bridge. The weight of adding rails with concrete ties underneath is significant, and the concentrated pounds per square inch of a rail vehicle wheel puts much more stress on an underlying bridge structure. Expensive rail connector structures to separate trains from cars would be needed at at least one end. I’m hard-pressed to see how any money could be saved, and it appears that Rogoff understands this too.

    I think it’s better for redundancy to have a separate rail bridge anyway. I’d hate to see a future shutdown affect both cars and trains.

    1. As I said in previous posts, let’s let the professional engineers decide and not jump to conclusions whether a combined bridge is it is not more efficient.

      The important thing is to study it and arrive at a conclusion based on sound engineering principles, not beurocracy and politics.

  11. I’ve got my own idea about how to potentially save money on ST3. I’m in the process of crayoning them onto a map. I’ve got some ideas on hand that could get everyone thinking. I’m going into details now, but the approach I’m going with is Regional-rail centric.

  12. West Seattle tunnel is pretty much out of the picture, at least it should probably be. Pre-coronivirus, pre-bridge closure, Seattle needed to pay for it, and that’s even less likely since they now have to pay for bridge repair/replacement.

    If anyone’s curious how a shared vehicle/rail bridge connects to West Seattle, there is a no brainer option which was basically the original representative alignment: just follow Fauntleroy either elevated or at grade (at grade for that last mile or so is probably not going to kill travel times and at any rate it’s not the main “spine” like Rainier Valley is), and if you want the station facing south, follow the curve to the south where Fauntleroy crosses Alaska. There are new apartment complex and old strip malls that are ripe for TOD, at a location where the Junction and residential area NIMBYs are less of a factor, and there is no need to debate tearing down existing homes and businesses (might need part of the strip mall parking lot for construction staging, though).

    1. “At grade” would be an option west of Avalon, but you would need to move the road over a lane one direction or the other to accommodate the rail structure on one side or the other (better for a mid-July station) or add a lane on both sides — and, doubtless, rebuild the existing outer lanes for auto traffic — then put the tracks down the middle (worse; stations in the middle of freeways bite.

      But then the station for Delridge is a long walk from most of Youngstown and right smack next to a busy freeway.

      Better to take the pathway between Nucor and Youngstown. Its station is closer to the community and the little cluster of businesses just east of Nucor, and so what if there’s an elevated structure alongside the west end of Nucor? It’s a huge building itself.

      ST has already identified an alternate alignment which rise rise up to cross Avalon and then curve into the Fauntleroy Way eastern verge and run on the ground up to 35th. This seems ideal to me, requiring only five houses on “Upper” Andover plus a smallish new apartment building across from the self-storage between Yancy and Andover. That seems best to me. ST could put a busway under the elevated between the station and Andover to give buses from Delridge using the station a clear path to Avalon in order to continue to Admiral or Harbor Avenue.

      Keep the bus intercept stations away from the freeway.

      1. Yep, an alignment that followed the freeway and then went at grade would be worse. Not because of going on the surface is much worse, but because the stations would be worse.

        That being said, West Seattle Link is a terrible project, done mostly for symbolic purposes. No matter what you do, it will never be a great value. If you can find significant savings, then you might as well. (Of course that assumes that you can — my guess is that you won’t be able to).

  13. Ross, I need to check my Pogue-atogue video. The purple trains I rode between Gothenburg and Ystad definitely do most of their running across rolling farm-country in the open mostly at grade level. They also have passenger toilets, which I doubt the subway world ever does.

    But main issue to me. Are you comparing all those car-trapped people in rush hour traffic between Everett and- well let’s for the time being say Tacoma- with the hordes (actually a savage Hungarian battle formation) of homeless people being permissively allowed to make Seattle DIE by riding buses?

    For their own good, they belong FORCED to spend their days moving 70 in the wide open, seats or toilets, whichever’s more punitive. But I’ve got an even better metric than that: over those very distances, which mode makes people less likely to fly?

    1. Are you comparing all those car-trapped people in rush hour traffic between Everett and- well let’s for the time being say Tacoma- with the hordes (actually a savage Hungarian battle formation) of homeless people being permissively allowed to make Seattle DIE by riding buses?

      No, and I have no idea how you came up with such a ridiculous idea.

  14. Rogoff was paraphrased as using the terms choice riders and transit dependent. they are not helpful terms. the transit industry would be better off without them. on the margin, all riders are choice riders. all households, with or without cars, whether rich or poor, decides how many transit trips against all the other modes available to them. no market segment is captive. the transit agency should work to make its service attractive.

    it concerns me that ST spends so little effort on current service. it is a narrow sliver of its budget. it could run Link and its bus network more often at off-peak times and reduce waiting and attract more riders. riders today are worth more than riders tomorrow. they act as if spine riders of the future are worth much more than current riders. what of riders on current routes 512, 522, 545 , 550, 574, and 594? those routes could be run more often today. if Tacoma and SeaTac should be connected by Link tomorrow, why not a frequent bus today?

    1. Now that Olympia has renovated and enlarged our Transit Center, please put the 574 on at least 30 minute, and after recovery 15 minute, express to Sea-Tac Airport with a stop at Tacoma Dome.

      You’ll not only instantly connect Olympia with everything north of the Airport by LINK, but our capital city will join the world of international aviation.

      In addition, when either light rail or streetcar service returns to the Waterfront, Victoria, British Columbia will be a really fast boat-ride away.

      But tell me. What is the “Spine ridership” you think is being given preference. Thanks.

      Mark Dublin

    2. I agree. The crazy part is 30 minute service from Tacoma to SeaTac. Holy cow, how many times have we had this argument:

      Me (or someone like me): Light rail to the Tacoma Dome is crazy. It is faster to take Sounder during rush hour, and faster to take the bus the rest of the time.

      Someone else: It isn’t about trips from Tacoma to downtown Seattle. It is about connecting SeaTac, Federal Way and Kent to Tacoma.

      OK then, do it! Do it now. Run the 574 every 15 minutes. Better yet, modify the route (or add another one) so that it has several stops on Pacific (in Tacoma) like the 594. That way, you would have a one seat ride from downtown Tacoma to those areas — something that Link won’t provide even after spending a fortune on the light rail line.

      It just doesn’t make sense, really. You have an agency spending billions on a line to provide for trips that the bus could provide just about as fast (if not faster) yet you can only run that bus every half hour.

    3. “please put the 574 on at least 30 minute, and after recovery 15 minute, express to Sea-Tac Airport with a stop at Tacoma Dome.”

      Who’s paying for this, Intercity Transit?

      The 574 is a “local” route like the 512, so it’s slower but (sometimes) more frequent than the other routes, and serves areas they don’t. If anything comes from Olympia it would most likely go to Lakewood or Tacoma Dome because those precedents are established. The 574 could become “more express” when Federal Way or Tacoma Dome open but I doubt it because then something else would have to replace its current service. So you might get a 574 express, although again it’s unlikely and would probably run only peak hours.

      It could be truncated at Tacoma Dome or Federal Way, but that’s unlikely because ST is considering extending it to Westwood Village to replace the of the 560 that Stride won’t do, and doing that and making it more express sound like a contradiction.

      From your perspective, it should be fine transfering at Federal Way because the travel time between Federal Way and SeaTac would be about the same. Link will be grade separated, and it won’t have to turn off the freeway to stop at P&Rs. The main advantage of having tht 574 continue to SeaTac is so airplane passengers don’t have to transfer with their luggage. And given how much the Pierce subarea prioritizes the airport, that may be enough in itself to keep it going there. But Star Lake could be dropped since Link would serve it. I don’t remember if the 574 serves KDM P&R.

  15. purchase additional Sounder South rail cars which will be used to expand service to eight car trains

    I know it’s different sub-area lock boxes but let’s assume cash is going to be tight in the Snohomish subarea and they really want to get Link functional; what about sticking a fork in Sounder North and transferring the rolling stock (with fair compensation) to Sounder South? Or does that just make too much sense?

      1. Amtrak. Continuing to run service with such poor return on investment simply because of sunk cost makes no sense.

    1. I agree. North Sounder is really a dud. Run buses instead. I don’t know the timeline, but once Lynnwood Link is built, running express buses from Edmonds and Mukilteo to Lynnwood makes way more sense. Even with Northgate Link it makes more sense. I’m not saying it would be faster, but that it would be competitive, and much cheaper.

    2. It makes sense to me!

      The gymnastics required to keep Sounder North rolling are not cost-effective. I get how the train and the stations are “quaint”. I get how its few riders do get direct service. Still, it is a niche service that serves a very limited market.

      I’m not sure how local Snohomish politics works, but I speculate that once Lynnwood Link opens, Sounder North will have a notable decline in political support. Lynnwood to a Westlake on Link is estimated at 28 minutes. The schedules for Sounder show 27-33 minutes to Edmonds and 42-48 minutes to Mulkiteo. Add to that the stress of missing a train so that riders add another 5-10 minutes extra to make sure that they don’t miss a train — plus the extra time to get from King Street into Downtown. I see many North Sounder users quickly switching to Lynnwood or Mountlake Terrace when Link opens (assuming parking availability). At that point, the reality of newly lost riders will become undeniable and the service will finally be discontinued — complete with a round of nostalgia for the cameras.

      1. I speculate that once Lynnwood Link opens, Sounder North will have a notable decline in political support.

        In the vein of never let a crises go to waste I see this as the perfect face saving opportunity for SnoCo officials and ST to say something to the effect, “In a move to save operating expenses and prevent delays in construction of Link to Snohomish County Sounder North is temporary suspended and the rolling stock will be leased to the South King and Pierce subareas.

    3. That’s not a bad idea, Bernie.

      I’m with you (and RossB and Al S.) about sticking a fork in Sounder North. It’s been a disaster from the start. The sunk costs are what they are, thanks to some poor decision-making by ST since the beginning. Once it became known that the limited slots from BNSF were going to cost a fortune, the entire program should’ve been put back on the table. But, hey, why follow smart policy when you have political consensus, even if said consensus leads to spending limited resources on questionable projects? (Isn’t that right, AJ?) Commuter rail from Everett to Seattle isn’t necessarily a bad idea; this is actually what should’ve been the plan all along instead of light rail. The problem is the corridor ST selected, the BNSF one that runs along the coast, but most folks here already know that. But, hey, the “experts” at ST know better than us and they needed to give the SnoCo subarea something, right?

      Stick a fork in it already.

      –signed a SnoCo subarea taxpayer

      1. To be fair, nobody around here really knew what they were doing back when this started and it “seemed like a good idea at the time.” Sort of like some of the very questionable decisions I made back in high school. It’s been given more than a fair chance and obviously just isn’t viable. That despite the State spending a lot of money to reduce the number of mud slide closures. Nobody wants to admit they were wrong and no subarea wants to “give away” service. That’s why this seems like a perfect time to transfer the rolling stock and make the best use of resources for all subareas involved.

    4. Several of us have put it in feedback to ST repeatedly but ST is never interested. It sees it as a voter-approved service that it should not renege on. Maybe the dynamics will be different after Lynnwood and Everett Link open. but we’re missing the opportunity to put Sounder’s money into accelerating Link. Even though Link will have the same travel time, is right in the middle of Snohomish’s population, and will run bidirectionally all-day frequently rather than a few runs which many people can’t use.

      1. Ironically, I just happened to read this paragraph in the last ST Board materials for the COP annual report on a list of concerns …

        “ Ridership on Sounder North
        “For several years the COP has expressed concerns about the relatively low ridership and high cost per rider on Sounder North. The COP also recognizes the Agency’s long-term investment in the line, which includes slide mitigation measures, additional parking, and other station access improvements identified in ST3. For these reasons, the COP has removed this issue from its list of ongoing concerns.”

        https://www.soundtransit.org/st_sharepoint/download/sites/PRDA/ActiveDocuments/2019%20COP%20Year-End%20Report-Final.pdf

        I swear this is from ST and not The Onion! I’m really hard pressed to get how these action items significantly improve its low ridership.

        Oh… and let’s not forget the upcoming three years of bridge replacement construction over the Ship Canal. BNSF made this statement:
        “During construction, commercial users are expected to continue the same level of operations but may need to shift transit times to avoid construction encumbrances.”

        https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59356b2ce3df280bc208d8b6/t/5bbff28b9140b73b6aa66728/1539306152115/2-Ballard+Bridge_External_Presentation_October+2018.pdf

    5. I see Link supporting, not cannibalizing, Sounder North ridership because it will give Sounder riders a better option to return home outside of the Sounder span of service, thereby mitigating one of the biggest downsides. Edmonds and Mulkiteo stations are quite far from the future Link stations, and from Everett the train is a far more comfortable mode than bus or Link (which matter when your commute is 1 hour each way), so I don’t see many riders switching to Link.

      Politically, I don’t see support for killing off Sounder North because Link+bus is a clearly inferior service for all 3 station areas. The amount of future investment in Sounder is negligible in the context of the ST3 plan. Removing decent transit from two neighborhoods for no material finance benefit to the region or subarea doesn’t strike me as good policy.

      Sounder N daily ridership is ~1,5K, which is comparable to projected ridership at BAR and Graham street (1.5-2K, 1.5-2.5K respectively). If you want to save capital dollars by cutting off direct transit for 2K riders, I’d look to the yet-to-exist riders at BAR and Graham before you eliminate the actual Sounder riders.

      1. AJ is correct. There would not be real benefits to cutting a service that is inefficient but high-quality, in a corridor with no good alternatives.

      2. The amount of future investment in Sounder is negligible in the context of the ST3 plan.

        It’s not about the capital costs it’s the operational cost where the savings come from. What’s the subsidy per rider on North Sounder? However, using the rolling stock on the South line does save a good chunk of capital spending.

        comparable to projected ridership at BAR and Graham street (1.5-2K, 1.5-2.5K respectively)

        The difference is adding riders with these stations improves the efficiency of Link with essentially no additional operational cost except for perhaps some security and of course station maintenance.

      3. Comparing ridership to only capital costs is unreasonable. The difference in operating costs between an infill station and an entire commuter rail line are significant.

        The one-time cost of an infill station only adds 1-2 minutes at most for each train stopping on Link.

        There is not only a huge cost to operate each train on the route, but taxpayers pay a pretty nice rent to BNSF to use the tracks.

        I don’t see how Lynnwood Link helps North Sounder ridership, either. Most North Sounder riders park their cars. (At least what I can deduce from infrequent ST research.) Why would someone leave their car at a Sounder station when they could drive a few more minutes to a Link Station and not run the risk of a hassle of an infrequent bus to get back to their car? I can get how residents that walk to the train love it, but I can’t see more riders on the train once Lynnwood Link opens.

        As I said before, revisit Sounder North the year after Lynnwood Link opens. Let’s see who is right by the end of 2025.

      4. “It’s not about the capital costs it’s the operational cost where the savings come from. What’s the subsidy per rider on North Sounder?”

        Exactly. And that’s a great question. Ever notice that in the quarterly performance (ridership) reports that ST breaks out the ridership by line but that the cost per boarding metric is combined? Hmmmm.

      5. Everett will have a Link station at the same place as the Sounder station and with the same P&R. Most of Mulikteo’s and Edmond’s population lives arouind 99 which is closer to Link than Sounder. Only a small fraction of their population lives way down the hill close to the shore where the Sounder stations are. That’s why its ridership is so low, and why it’s worth pulling the plug on it to accelerate Link construction, even if it requires new one-seat express routes in the interim for existing riders.

        Part of Mukilteo’s ridership is ferry commuters from Whidbey Island. But they’re not paying ST taxes so we shouldn’t be making Sounder-or-no-Sounder decisions based on them.

      6. Again, materiality. Is it really that much cheaper to run two deadhead STX routes from Edmonds & Mulkiteo than those Sounder runs?

        Tslwgm – cost per boarding metric is provided for each mode, not each route. You won’t see that metric for individual STX routes either, aside from the SIP.

      7. “Tslwgm – cost per boarding metric is provided for each mode, not each route. You won’t see that metric for individual STX routes either, aside from the SIP.”

        Yes, I’m aware of that. But, come on, let’s get serious for a minute. There are just two commuter lines. Trying to defend the lack of transparency in the standard reporting by making a comparison to the STX service is pretty disingenuous. I think it’s reasonable to expect that these ridership metrics be broken out in the reporting by North Sounder and South Sounder segments. ST is simply choosing not to.

    6. It must be Groundhog Day here on STB….

      https://seattletransitblog.com/2018/12/23/sunday-open-thread-sounder-north-line/

      https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/10/20/sounder-north-a-free-car-for-every-user-every-four-years/

      Etc, etc.

      Yes, we all know that ST3 invests very little in new Sounder North capital projects. That’s why the preceding comments mentioned sunk costs, due largely to prior (poor) decisions, some level of magical thinking and a lack of any leverage in the chosen corridor, are something that ST and taxpayers just have to swallow. But the larger, ongoing question remains about continuing O&M costs and SOGR costs for a line that still has such meager ridership to this day. I suppose that’s why the topic keeps coming up.

      I happen to disagree with the analysis above that Link will support Sounder North ridership to any significant amount. As the poster himself said, the Edmonds and Mukilteo stations are just too far from the future LR north terminus at Lynnwood Link station. They are simply different markets. I live in Edmonds and once LR reaches us in 2024/25, assuming I haven’t retired yet and still work for the same employer, I would most likely take Link from the Lynnwood TC to get to our DT Seattle office rather than Sounder. It’s way closer and easier to get to and gives me access to more stops. It also avoids the time-consuming doubling back from S. Jackson St. to reach our office.

      One more thing….

      An interesting quote from the past:

      “And to be clear, I’m not exactly defending North Sounder. It’s true that I take less offense than most people here to transit being a little too nice, but it’s certainly not something I would advocate in 1995 knowing what I know now.”

      –Martin H. Duke

      1. Difference is in 1995 you can avoid the very large capital investment to create the easement. At that point, yes there is an argument to spend that on accelerating the schedule for U/Northgate/Lynnwood link.

        If ridership does drop because Lynnwood Link is a more compelling option for most riders, then I would be open to ending the service. But until then, I think Edmonds & Mulkiteo should still have the opportunity to improve station access and TOD and see if there can be sufficient ridership growth to push down the subsidy/rider. Advantage of the train over a bus is that if ridership can climb enough to merit 4 or 5 car trains, the cost per rider starts to drop off significantly because the same labor is spread over more passengers.

        Will also be interesting to see if East Link pulls in some riders, b/c while the ID terminus is indeed a backtrack for most of downtown, it does make an easy transfer for East King destinations.

      2. “Difference is in 1995 you can avoid the very large capital investment to create the easement….”

        With all due respect, you seem to have fallen into the trap of the sunk cost fallacy.

        “Advantage of the train over a bus is that if ridership can climb enough to merit 4 or 5 car trains,…”

        But is that a realistic expectation, particularly in light of where the Edmonds and Mukilteo CR stations are? To me it’s just another big “if”.

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