Prospects for Link reaching Tacoma would recede further if I-976 removes the Sound Transit MVET (image: SounderBruce)

Yesterday, the Washington State Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge by King County and others to I-976, the initiative approved by statewide voters last November to remove car tabs. Yesterday’s decision fast-forwards the case so it moves directly from King County Superior Court to the Supreme Court without a transfer to the Court of Appeals. The accelerated review means a decision is likely sometime this summer.

For Sound Transit, the outcome may take longer to play out. Sound Transit asserts it may continue collecting the MVET whatever the outcome of this case. If the initiative is upheld in this case, it probably means another round of litigation to sort out the unique Sound Transit issues.

To date, the initiative has not taken effect. An injunction granted in November remains in force and is now extended until the Supreme Court decides the case. Collections of the motor vehicle excise tax have continued although those may have to be refunded if the initiative is upheld.

In a February decision, King County Superior Court mostly upheld the initiative. While the Supreme Court may see the issues differently, it suggests I-976 is more likely than not to be found constitutional. Immediate impacts would include a reduction of funding for the state’s multimodal fund by 85%. The Seattle Transportation Benefit District would see about half of its revenues disappear, though those taxes were scheduled to expire at the end of this year anyway and a replacement with a higher sales tax levy seems likely. The STBD’s reserves could cover most of the cost of refunding vehicle license fees for 2020 if required, but it would start 2021 in a cash-poor position even if local voters approve new STBD taxes later this year.

Sound Transit’s expansion plans are obviously threatened by I-976, particularly now that the effects are magnified by an impending recession. A deep recession and I-976 together would exceed any margin of error in the ST3 financial plan several times over. Projects not already in construction would be cancelled or suspended into the far future.

Beyond hoping for a favorable outcome at the State Supreme Court, Sound Transit has several further defenses not available to other parties.

Several sections of I-976 are specific to regional transit authorities (Sound Transit is the only one). The current authority to collect an MVET or rental car tax is removed. That, however, takes effect only when bonds secured by the tax revenues are retired. Sound Transit is required to retire bonds to make this effective, but the initiative has no deadline to do so.

The initiative has an incentive to retire the bonds early by reducing Sound Transit’s future MVET authority to just 0.2% if taxes are not repealed by April 1 2020. That date has, of course, passed. Because current taxes are pledged to bonds, Sound Transit states the reduction in MVET authority effectively only applies to future expansion plans.

The bonds tied to the MVET are not callable, at least at this time. So they must be paid off on the original schedule, though they may be defeased. Defeasement is a mechanism to set aside cash or Treasury bonds in an escrow account to meet the full future repayment schedule. Effectively, defeasement removes the bonds from the balance sheet while paying the bondholders on the original schedule. But it requires a hefty immediate cash outlay to meet all the future scheduled bond commitments.

Is defeasement possible? Sound Transit says no, pointing to other commitments including the long list of current contracts for capital expansion. $2.3 billion of bonds are tied to MVET revenues. The cost of fully defeasing these bonds is an inverse function of treasury rates which are low, and recently trending even lower. The lower those rates go, the more expensive defeasement becomes. At recent interest rates, it would require about $2.9 billion in cash to defease the bonds.

Current cash on hand is just $1.6 billion, and there are ongoing operations and debt service. It is therefore, in Sound Transit’s view, not feasible to defease the bonds. It will shortly become more difficult. Available cash was projected to shrink more than $500 million by the end of year even before the recent crisis reduced forecast revenue.

Will these arguments withstand judicial scrutiny? It all becomes moot if King County prevails at the Supreme Court and the initiative is thrown out as unconstitutional. Sound Transit is not a party to that litigation. If the initiative is upheld at the Supreme Court, expect another round of litigation to sort out what Sound Transit is required to do, perhaps in 2021.

46 Replies to “I-976 moves to the Supreme Court”

  1. Pierce County was the “tipping point county” statewide in the election. As Ross has stated clearly in several posts, all three Pierce County Link stations will be “weak” — or worse.

    End Link at South Federal Way in order to give access to that good Maintenance Facility location and use the 317th HOV access to Federal Way Station as a high-quality bus intercept. Spend ST funds to provide HOV ramps to the center of I-5 and an HOV facility in the new SR 167 stretch to be built between Puyallup and Fife as part of a “refund” of Pierce’s accumulated tax surplus and allow it to secede from the ST District.

    Tacoma can rejoin if it wishes to continue Sounder South, STEX to South Federal Way and Tacoma Link service. The City touches King County on the bluffs east of the Port, so the District would be contiguous, though the buses would pass through non-District territory on I-5 through Fife and Milton

    If the Cities Puyallup and Sumner wish to continue Sounder South service, they can adopt their own local taxation to compensate ST for the additional operating costs of the station stops. Fares should be unsubsidized at those locations.

    Pierce wants out.

    Go down, Martin,
    Way down in Puget land,
    Tell old Jay-oh,
    “Let My people go!”

    1. It wasn’t just Pierce County, it was overwhelmingly approved in the South King subarea too. If you’re going to spite Tacoma why reward Federal Way?

    2. Pierce wants out.

      ST 3.1:

      Should Pierce County withdraw from ST completely, resulting in termination of services as quickly as is feasible, leaving them to spend the rest of their lives slowly dying in traffic, blaming everyone but themselves?

      ☐ Let them eat cake!
      ☐ No

    3. It’s not that simple. End Link at Federal Way, you’re going to have people from Pierce driving there. So, it’s either pay to extends Link or pay for more parking garages.

      Tacoma has consistently supported Sound Transit, even if the rest of the county has not. Tacoma Link will be a big improvement connecting them to South King.

      The Sounder trains are stored overnight in Pierce, so ending train service in Auburn would require building a new storage yard. Plus, the money already spent buying trackage rights from BNSF is a sink cost. And, of course, people from Puyallup would fill up all the Sounder parking in Auburn, requiring yet another $120 million garage to hold them.

      Shrinking the ST district to a smaller part of Pierce county could almost be feasible except for the fact that too much sales tax revenue comes from car dealerships located further out. So, you’d basically need a district surgically drawn to include the car dealers of South Hill, but not the homes. Not sure if that is even legal. And, even if it is, the dealers would just move a few blocks down the street to avoid it.

    4. I put a large part of the lack of Pierce ST3 support due to the signature rail expansion (Link is 2/3 of the capital budget) being north of I-5 while much of the population lives south of I-5. Many residents just don’t feel like they benefit.

      Let’s be honest and also admit that a four-car train running every six minutes from Tacoma Dome and Fife into Seattle is a significant waste of transit operations cost. If only eighteen-minute peak service was promised (keep in mind that one Link train can carry as many riders as 14-15 ST Express buses so imagine how silly it would be to have two ST Express buses every minute), a large savings would ensue by single-tracking parts of the line (particularly bridges). The cost savings could have then been applied to a line on I-5 further south or a second single-track line splitting at the future 167 to Puyallup and South Hill.

      Besides just single-tracking, battery-powered trains instead of light rail would create additional cost savings. They are faster than light rail anyway and if ST owns the tracks, they could run all day. All it would take is a cross-platform transfer like that in Pittsburg CA for BART.

      These are just ideas. Still, it points to what ST never did for ST3: A good subarea master plan process. Instead, leaders got together and built the project list from prior studies and vocal interests. In some subarea cases, it proved strategic; in others, it wasn’t.

      1. “If only eighteen-minute peak service was promised (keep in mind that one Link train can carry as many riders as 14-15 ST Express buses so imagine how silly it would be to have two ST Express buses every minute),”

        There is an ST Express bus every five minutes in addition to Sounder peak hours. That extra Link capacity isn’t just for Tacoma Dome; it’s also for Federal Way, SeaTac, Rainier Valley, and SODO. Trains have to have their full capacity end-to-end but are fullest in the middle or at the predominant end. Link doesn’t just give express trips to downtown; it also gives express trips to Federal Way, SeaTac, south Seattle, and Capitol Hill/UW. The 590/592/594/595 never did that.

      2. By having half or two-thirds of the trains turn around in South King, ST can better guarantee that Rainier Valley or Airport riders that they can actually have room and maybe even sit on a Link train.

      3. “By having half or two-thirds of the trains turn around in South King”

        If the frequency at Tacoma Dome falls below 10 minutes, it defeats one-third of the reason for building it. I.e., peak capacity, full-time frequency, and immunity from traffic. Losing the second one hinders its effectiveness as rapid transit. Because total trip time is travel time plus wait time, and there’s also a psychological effect in knowing there will always be a train coming every few minutes on every occasion you want it. If we’re going to the investment of building the track, we should run it at least every ten minutes to get the maximum benefit out of it.

      4. “ If the frequency at Tacoma Dome falls below 10 minutes, it defeats one-third of the reason for building it. ”

        Why should Tacoma Dome Station get six-minute service when Tacoma Link itself only runs every twelve minutes with a single track section? There’s just not enough happening all-day at the station otherwise to warrant twice the service.

        I’m trying to demonstrate that if funding ST3 is a problem, there are ways to fulfill the “spine promise” at a much lower cost. As others have pointed out, Tacoma is a long distance and ST even says that it’s a 20 minute ride between South Federal Way and Tacoma Dome. When funds exist, the whole thing could be double tracked. Until then, single-track and half the trains appears to be a much less problem than not having a Tacoma Dome Station at all for Line 1.

      5. If the frequency at Tacoma Dome falls below 10 minutes, it defeats one-third of the reason for building it. I.e., peak capacity, full-time frequency, and immunity from traffic.

        Peak Capacity — Much higher with Sounder
        Full Time Frequency — Likely higher with buses. It is more expensive to run a train with forty people on it than a bus with forty people on it.
        Immunity From Traffic — True of Sounder as well. Most of the day, traffic isn’t an issue, which means that at that time, express buses run significantly faster end to end than Link will.

        If we’re going to the investment of building the track, we should run it at least every ten minutes to get the maximum benefit out of it.

        The problem is, it is expensive to do so. The longer the line, the more expensive it is. That is why it is common for lines like this to see poor frequency in the middle of the day. Even cities that are doing fairly well (e. g. Denver) saw a big decrease in frequency. BART runs 15 to 24 minutes for their distant stations in the middle of the day. I would expect service to Tacoma to be similar.

        Link doesn’t just give express trips to downtown; it also gives express trips to Federal Way, SeaTac, south Seattle, and Capitol Hill/UW. The 590/592/594/595 never did that.

        The 574 goes from Tacoma to Federal Way, Star Lake, Kent Des Moines, and SeaTac. Pierce County runs a bus from Tacoma to Portland Avenue, Fife and South Federal Way. So that leaves:

        Angle Lake — Hard to see much demand. Can be reached by taking bus to SeaTac and then transferring to RapidRide bus or Link.
        Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/SoDo/Stadium — Not that much demand. Could be served by TIBS freeway station and transfer. Much of the time, that would be faster.
        Capitol Hill and stops north — Transfer downtown.

        Keep in mind, the buses to these other places have such low demand that Pierce Transit and Sound Transit justify running buses more often. If there really were a lot of riders trying to get from Tacoma to Rainier Valley, they would fill up the 574. But instead, they crowd the 1, which dominates transit ridership in Pierce County, at about twice that over any bus line (regardless of agency).

        Overall, there are very few trips that are significantly faster. It isn’t what Pierce County needs from a regional standpoint, let alone what it needs in general.

      6. How about Kent/Auburn to Tacoma when Sounder isn’t running? Today, you’ve got to transfer between two 30-minute routes, making for a total travel time near 90 minutes. Link level frequency helps these trips a lot, by cutting down on that wait time in federal way.

        How about Renton->Tacoma when you don’t have Sounder? Today, I guess you ride the 560 to the airport and transfer to the 574. Again, a long and unpredictable wait. I’m the future, you’ll take STRIDE to TIBS candy catch the southbound Link train there. Two frequent routes, wait time reliably under 10 minutes at the connection point. This seems like an improvement to me.

        If we treat Tacoma as just a bedroom community to travel to downtown Seattle from, Link there doesn’t make much sense. If it is to eventually become a secondary node that people travel to from South King, then it becomes important. Without it, the only way to get remotely decent travel times is to give every South King community a separate dedicated bus all the way to Tacoma. That’s too expensive.

        Also, I believe once Link is already at Federal Way, the marginal cost of having it reach Tacoma Dome isn’t that bad, since it’s all surface running.

      7. “Full Time Frequency — Likely higher with buses. It is more expensive to run a train with forty people on it than a bus with forty people on it.”

        That may be theoretically true but the actual bus frequency is less. The 594 runs every 30 minutes off-peak. The 512 and 550 run 15 minutes daytime, and on Saturdays the 550 is 15 minutes and the 512 is 20 minutes. But the 594 is every 30 minutes. Lynnwood is going from 15-minute bus service to 5-minute Link service. Bellevue is going from 15-minute bus service to 10-minute Link service. 405 north and south is going from 30-minute ST Express to probably 10-minute Stride. Does that mean on opening day the travel demand in those corridors will suddenly double or triple for some reason? No, demand is gradually increasing, but ST Express is behind the curve, and ST refuses to address it until Link and Stride come online.

        “Even cities that are doing fairly well (e. g. Denver) saw a big decrease in frequency. BART runs 15 to 24 minutes for their distant stations in the middle of the day.”

        In my mind the gold standard is the NYC subway, London underground, and Moscow and St Petersburg metro. I’d add the Chicago L and NJ PATH but I’m not sure of their exact frequencies, and I have some doubts about the elevated L lines that all share the same Loop track. So I’ll call those borderline. The rest of the US should be aiming for a standard like that, not having a substandard 15 minutes on each branch as MAX and BART and several others do. We shouldn’t be imitating that. What I like about Link is it has always adhered to the 10-minute standard. That makes it better and more useful than these other networks in that way (even if it’s worse in other ways).

        If some extension can’t adhere to the 10-minute standard, then that’s an argument against that extension. But if we’re going to build light rail, then it should live up to its rapid-transit name by being at least 10-minute frequent.

        Also, you keep saying it will be 12 minutes or 15 minutes and others say 30 minutes based on other cities. But we don’t know that because ST hasn’t said, and ST’s decision won’t necessarily be based on those cities. Again, Central Link is 10-minutes — even when it was 1-car trains – in spite of those other cities running theirs every 15 or 30 minutes.

      8. Uhhhh…. You do realize that the distance from Tacoma to Seattle is much further than the NYC Subway goes? It’s as far apart as Stamford CT is from midtown Manhattan. Even a Stamford resident would tell you that six minute peak service and 10 minute midday service is unrealistic. I also mention that the Metro North’s New Haven Line has three branches? It’s very typical for big city long distance trains to have either branches or some trains that don’t run the entire length of a 49- mile line.

        Take a look to at Cross-Rail in London. The system is as far Everett to Tacoma via future Link. They will have major branches on both the outer thirds towards both the west and East while the central segment serves every train.

        The core issue is that ST is designed like a suburban system and an urban system. Applying better than ST2 frequencies (8 minutes for ST2 and 6 minutes for ST3) on the long tentacles of ST3 suburban extensions without automation is terribly fiscally irresponsible.

      9. Then why do the subway lines take two hours from end to end? I took the A local from JFK to/from downtown four times when the A express was closed for maintenance and it took an hour. I took the 7 to see what its area was like, and after passing Long Island City I ended up in an interminable industrial area and it had already taken half an hour and I didn’t want to spend much longer so I turned around. Two hours is approximately the same as Everett-Seattle-Tacoma.

        Metro-North and Crossrail are commuter rail. Commuter rails are pretty much always less frequent than subways. That’s why when there’s a choice between building one or the other, I generally prefer a subway. There was an article about extending high-capacity transit to a far-southern part of Chicago and competing ideas on whether L or Mdtra would be better. To me it was obvious: L, because it would be frequent. The London Underground has also extended some lines to a group of stations that are all shared with mainline rail, and the main difference seems to be that it comes more frequently than regional rail did, this giving the area better access to the region.

        I would be content to terminate Link at KDM or Federal Way; I never thought Tacoma Dome was necessary. But if we’re going to bring it into the light rail network we should do it right, to maximize the line’s potential and usefulness and not artificially cripple it.

      10. Ah. Yeah it takes a long time to go 15 miles on a subway train in NYC — when there is a station on average less than a mile apart!

        See, you’re bumping up on the fundamental concept problem of Link in ST3: It’s not optimized to go long distances. ST3 is planned at commuter rail station spacing and stations geared to park-and-ride users — but planned at high frequencies without branches operating at slower speeds like urban rail.

        Imagine that there were not just 8 stations for the 20 miles from Seatac to Tacoma but 20 (1 per mile). Imagine mixed use TOD around each one. Imagine parking difficulty around each one. Then, six minute trains at peak and 10 minutes midday make sense.

        Almost all big cities around the world with subways don’t build subway lines further than 20 miles from their core. That’s where they usually switch to less-frequent electrified or diesel suburban rail. It’s true in Chicago (CTA and Metra), Toronto (TTC and GO), Paris (Metro and RER), DC (Metro and VRE/ MARC), Boston (MBTA divisions, Philadelphia (SEPTA divisions) and on and on. The biggest exception is San Francisco with BART — but that was driven by a need to cross a wide bay and relied on substantial Federal support to happen and even there the branches don’t have six minute service.

      11. BART is probably the best comp. If you treat Caltrain as a part of the same system – it has an express overlay, but the full stop spacing is close to a subway – then going from Antioch to San Jose is very long. The Puget Sound was going to have a long system because we sprawl north south without going that much inland outside of the I90 corridor.

        1. ST does have branching. We’ll have 2 tunnels but 5 lines. I hope for further branching in an ST4, but instead of branching we’ll have a line turn around at Mariner, to have the same operational impact.

        2. And like a good system we do have express overlays – north and south Sounder, and anSTX route from Redmond to downtown is effectively an express route for East Link to connect Redmond to Seattle.

        3. Frequency – the point of Link is that the cost to run a 4-car train at 12 minutes headways isn’t much more than the cost to run a bus at 12 minutes headways. You run vehicles based upon peak capacity, and then for the rest of the day you run good-enough frequency.

        If you look at only the non-peak period, running 12-minute trains is certainly cheaper than running STX buses serving the same stations and the same headways because Link will be much faster and reliable, so you’d need more STX buses in service, and therefore higher labor cost. Labor costs is what drives cost, it doesn’t matter if those trains are mostly empty between Tacoma and Federal Way during the middle of the day. https://humantransit.org/2020/04/whats-wrong-with-an-empty-bus.html

        In short, all the fixed costs – buying the fleet, building the OMF, etc. – is justified to meet the peak capacity demands, so you can ignore those when looking at the cost for span-of-service and non-peak frequency.

        So, I wouldn’t be too concerned about headways to Tacoma Dome. They will be at least 12 minutes all day, to ensure good quality of service. If there isn’t ridership to support more than that, then some trains will turn around at SeaTac or FW or whatever to ensure the rest of the line has good capacity, just like Snohomish has planned.

        4. And I roll my eyes every time someone says “ST should have done a long term plan” They had a long term plan! Each ST levy funded planning work for the next plan, each of which would incorporate the latest regional growth plans. There’s a difference between “I think their long term plan was bad because of bad assumptions/inputs/framework” and “There was no long term plan”

      12. Then why do the subway lines take two hours from end to end?
        … Commuter rails are pretty much always less frequent than subways.

        The obvious follow up question is: How come the subway runs frequently, but the commuter rail doesn’t?

        Because a subway that runs through continuous high density terrain has higher ridership and a demand pattern that responds better to increased frequency. A subway line — even a long one, like the A in New York — has a lot more in the way of very popular trips. There are thousands upon thousands of riders, each and every day, who take that train, and never set foot in Manhattan. That is because it is still in the urban core. Just look at the train line as it splits https://goo.gl/maps/BBSeoamfRWXagBs88. The train is now on the edge of Queens, about to enter Brooklyn. Now follow the line west. You can see around 20 stations before you get to Manhattan. Here is a random stop, closer to Queens than Manhattan: https://goo.gl/maps/w4pFYijC5BLgqGxQA. Zoom out, zoom in. Look at the other stops along the line. Look at population census maps (https://arcg.is/vmySa) and the amazing, widespread, continuous population density. Look at employment density to confirm that it matches it, stride by stride. It is like Capitol Hill, but it goes for miles and miles in every direction. This. is. Brooklyn. This is where the A spends most of its time. It connects it. It wallows in it. It embraces it. If you rode it from Jamaica Bay you must have noticed that people were getting on and off at every stop, in large numbers. This, for a line that has lots and lots of stops!

        Ridership per mile of service is huge for this very reason. It doesn’t matter if it takes forever for someone to ride it end to end — that is not where the ridership is coming from. It is coming from all those trips that don’t take that long, and are thus more cost effective. They are also more responsive to frequency changes. If I’m taking a high speed train to Portland, it doesn’t matter much if the train leaves every hour, or every five minutes. I’ll adapt. But if I’m trying to go a couple miles across town, it makes all the difference in the world. If I have to wait 20 minutes for a ten minute ride, then it sucks.

        A subway runs through the urban core, while a commuter line just connects suburb(s) to it. You simply don’t have those sorts of trips with a typical commuter line. This is why BART trips are dominated by trips within the urban core. It is also why Muni — the slowest transit system in the U. S. — has more riders than BART (one of the fastest). There are just more trips that lots of people want to take.

        Back to ST3. Here is a marvelous map made by Zach of the future system: https://s3.amazonaws.com/stb-wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/04135851/ST3-Draft-Map-01.png. Now ask yourself what trips resemble those found on the A. Here are the stations south of Seattle:

        https://goo.gl/maps/GpKaZLiCkg39ca7NA
        https://goo.gl/maps/e5aSyEZMk1ubJCiz7
        https://goo.gl/maps/p8FcQVKRgPqjBRfq5
        https://goo.gl/maps/vxwnKX2NXHGkcs7A6
        https://goo.gl/maps/v8JgEtBoCuVPuNbj7
        https://goo.gl/maps/keLe6AATcDYbPpsg7
        https://goo.gl/maps/ibFDnJnTjcymSehN8
        https://goo.gl/maps/hAGDp7scPDWuAyvu6
        https://goo.gl/maps/EyrL4sxaTX2Tf9Dn8
        https://goo.gl/maps/8q4RkeECA4yEgT8n6

        Not a single one resembles a typical Brooklyn Station. So not only is it a much longer distance — which means it takes a connect these places — but there is basically nothing there when you arrive. Very few people will take a trip from say, Fife to TIBS. Even the Tacoma Station isn’t in the heart of Tacoma. There are far more spontaneous trips taken on the Pierce Transit 1 then will ever be taken on the south end of Link.

        In contrast, look at Link from Northgate to downtown. Every station is urban. Every station has something going for it, day or night. That means that every combination will get decent ridership. The only reason it doesn’t resemble a junior version of a New York City line is because it lacks additional stations (like First Hill).

        If some extension can’t adhere to the 10-minute standard, then that’s an argument against that extension.

        Yes! Yes, absolutely. It has nothing to do with how much money they spent building it. That is a sunk cost. The line to the Tacoma Dome will struggle to run frequently because it simply won’t be that popular. This is common. It happened in Dallas and Denver. It is common wherever they have tried this. Holy Cow, it happened in the Bay Area! Greater San Fransisco has way more people than Seattle; BART is extremely fast, connects to some fairly good suburban locations, is weighted towards the East Bay (part of the urban core) and still lacks high frequency in the distant (Tacoma-like) ends. It is just very expensive to run a train. If your ridership per mile (i. e. ridership per hour of service) is weak, your frequency is weak.

        The fact that they can’t even run the buses frequently suggests that when push comes to shove, it will run infrequently. Your argument is backwards. Again, look at the contrast in frequency. The bus from Northgate to downtown runs frequently. The bus from Northgate to Roosevelt to the UW runs frequently. The bus(es) from Roosevelt to the UW run very frequently. The bus from the UW to Capitol Hill runs frequently. Every bus, making every connection, runs frequently. Yet the bus that mimics the core of the future southern Link (Tacoma/Federal Way/Star Lake/Highline/SeaTac) runs infrequently. That is because there just aren’t that many riders. You can’t expect a train to run more frequently, just because it is a train (if anything, it is the opposite).

        Sound Transit is building commuter rail at subway prices. Just because they spent the money as if it was an area where a subway makes sense does not mean that it will have subway type frequency.

      13. How about Kent/Auburn to Tacoma when Sounder isn’t running? Today, you’ve got to transfer between two 30-minute routes, making for a total travel time near 90 minutes. Link level frequency helps these trips a lot, by cutting down on that wait time in federal way.

        A direct bus from the heart of Tacoma to Auburn and Kent would help much more, and be much cheaper. I would extend that bus to Renton, as a variation on the 566. When the train is running (during rush hour) it doesn’t go south of Auburn. But when it isn’t, the bus extends not only to the Tacoma Dome, but to the heart of Tacoma.

        How about Renton->Tacoma when you don’t have Sounder? In the future, you’ll take STRIDE to TIBS an catch the southbound Link train there.

        Followed by another train (or a streetcar) to Tacoma. In contrast, when Sounder is not running, you take the bus I mentioned, which would mean a one seat ride (instead of three).

        Even though that would be a much better value than Tacoma Dome Link, it still wouldn’t be a great value. There simply aren’t that many people going from Tacoma to Renton, Auburn or Kent. But Sound Transit should still help with those sorts of trips. That is their mission. More importantly, running Link from TIBS to the Tacoma Dome doesn’t magically create a South Sound transit network making transit a popular alternative for those sorts of trips, as rare as they are. You are still talking about a 3 (maybe 4) seat ride, even if the middle trip is via a train.

        Worth noting that Sound Transit runs the 566, which connects Auburn, Kent and Renton. But almost all ridership is to Bellevue. On a northbound train, only 28 get off at Kent and 75 riders get off at Renton. You simply won’t get a lot of riders going between these places, whether Sound Transit provides for it or not.

      14. We can debate the semantics of a good “plan” or “branching” but in the long run, it’s not that important.

        What is important is how we spend our scare transit capital and operating tax dollars. Running Line 1 trains for 40 miles every six minutes after 2030 will result in two things:

        – Lower line productivity due to low ridership on the long southern half of the line .
        – More crowded trains in South Seattle.

        Adjusting for one makes the other worse if the service always runs the full length of the line. As they say “It’s just math”.

        The most viable solution to this dilemma will be to turn some of the trains around well before Tacoma.

        The thing is that less frequent trains somewhere south of Seatac (a 35-minute segment each way) dovetails nicely with providing cost-saving capital costs for Tacoma Dome Link that could be applied by building a few miles of single tracks.

        As for the “plan” issue, I point out that ST support is underwater in both South King and Pierce. That clearly is a long-term political problem with what you call the current ST “plan” and can’t go unaddressed. Continuing to ignore it won’t make it go away — and treating them as stupid will just make them angrier and more militant.

        You can roll your eyes at me all you want in derision and disbelief. I’m merely being the “oracle” about spending money here and not the “antagonist”. I want the best rail system possible like I think you do — and I’m pointing out the future pitfalls to having that.

      15. No love for the U-bahn in Berlin? Very efficient, fast, clean, runs all night Friday and Saturday.

      16. Agree turning back trains is good policy and the most likely operating plan when the line initially opens. But single tracking strikes me as very short sighted, as you lose a ton of operational flexibility for a relatively small cost savings. ST will still be designing, acquiring, and grading the ROW assuming that the track would need to go to 2 eventually.

        Be all the oracle you want to be, just show a bit more respect to many people who have worked hard to create the plan we have to today. Any regional plan of this size will have political sausage and ample opportunity for criticism. It’s just very frustrating to have worked with the good people who created the plan we have today and see them dismissed as fools.

      17. And you are still viewing the half empty trains incorrectly. As long as there isn’t overcrowding elsewhere in the system, it doesn’t really matter if the train a FIFE has 10 or 30 people on it. What matters is those stations have good frequency, i.e. at least 12 minutes. If we need to overlay a line to boost frequency elsewhere in the system (i.e. SeaTac to Ballard), then cool. But the true cost of running a 4-car train all the way to Tacoma every 12 minutes is certainly cheaper than running buses at 12 minute headway between Tacoma to wherever you want Link to truncate, as the marginal service hour of a train is effectively the same as a bus as they both have 1 driver. So come 2030, there aren’t material savings of these ‘scarce’ dollars. Displacing bus service with rail is always a net O&M savings as you require less labor during peak.

        Unless you are arguing that 12 minute Link is more expensive than 20 minute bus frequency, which is true but not useful because there is value in robust all-day frequency … the higher frequency standards is one of the key improvement in Stride vs STX, and it’s the same for Link vs STX.

      18. “As for the “plan” issue, I point out that ST support is underwater in both South King and Pierce.”

        I’ll just add that support for ST’s capital plan isn’t that great here in Snohomish County either. I think ST really underestimated the political impact of the announced delay for Lynnwood Link within nine months of the last expansion vote and on the heels of the new property tax levy and higher car tabs that came with it.

      19. “a line turn around at Mariner”

        That’s in ST3. The lines are Mariner-Redmond and Everett-West Seattle in the current plan.

        “express overlays – north and south Sounder, and anSTX route from Redmond to downtown is effectively an express route for East Link to connect Redmond to Seattle.”

        The 545 and 550 will be deleted when Link reaches Redmond. The 542 will continue, but that’s more of a distinct corridor (connecting two legs of a U, or forming a kind of grid).

        “You run vehicles based upon peak capacity, and then for the rest of the day you run good-enough frequency.”

        I look at it the other way, focusing on minimum all-day frequency. I assume peak capacity and frequency will take care of itself because the politicians prioritize it. I focus on off-peak frequency precisely because the politicians tend to neglect it.

        While 12 minutes isn’t ideal, at least it’s better than 15 minutes. I do think Metro’s 12-minute and 20-minute routes mean “We think these should be 10 minutes and 15 minutes but this is the most we can afford.”

        “If there isn’t ridership to support [all runs to Tacoma Dome], then some trains will turn around at SeaTac or FW.”

        If there are turnbacks in the track. We’ll have to watch for that and make sure they’re there. I do believe in contingency infrastructure to keep our options open because the future is uncertain.

        Regarding Tacoma-Bellevue via 167, some Pierce residents asked for that in ST3, as an ST Express route from Tacoma Dome. ST didn’t accept it. There are official and unofficial concepts for 167 (Renton-or-Bellevue to Auburn-or-Puyallup). Tacoma Dome – Bellevue should also be considered, something faster than Link. It makes sense to connect the largest southern city to the Bellevue/Redmond jobs center.

    5. We’d have to know the costs and plausable tax rates, but I suspect Sounder is too expensive for Puyallup and Sumner to afford alone, or for Tacoma to afford it nonstop between Auburn and Tacoma Dome.

    6. FWIW, Federal Way voted 6322 vs. 3437 for I-976. If you wanted to go by I-976 results, there should be zero expansion of Link light rail to the south. Literally no south King County precinct voted against it.

      1. Central Federal Way is an ST2 project, just as Lynnwood and Redmond Tech Center are. It was at the end of the list so it got formally deferred into ST3. I tok would be fine with Midway only, but unless the dump is used. There’s no place for the South MF.

        The combination of those two “practicalities” argue for Central Federal Way if a site for the MF can be found north of there and South Federal Way if not.

    7. I think you made a horrible mistake. I-976 is to REDUCE tabs NOT remove. We want the RTA taxes removed. I live in City of Seattle boundaries which means my tabs are high & I’m on SSA & in subsidized housing. I cannot afford those prices, nor can I take them off my income tax. Even though the RTA is a tax. King county needs to stop nickel and dime us to DEATH. no one is working.

  2. I moved to Washington State 7 years ago and if there is one thing I’ve learned about the State is this.

    The inhabitants want, want, want, but they don’t, don’t, don’t expect to pay for it.

    Going without a major transportation package for 18 years demonstrated how woefully inadequate are roadway system is. With this in mind, and living in Pierce County, I voted yes to increase the cost of car tabs. This despite knowing that once completed I will have retired and not have a the need to take public transit to work everyday. Yet, I know that the people that will come after me will need good transit in order to live well.

    I also know that all children need a good education. While I have no children of my own, I voted to approve every Bond measure to fund local education. Because I know someone before me paid for my public education and the roads that I drove upon when I was young.

  3. Since at this reading the whole idea of a “Time Frame” is lying on the floor cracked and swarming with bristly little lollipops called COVIDs, I want Pierce in, if only to make Sound Transit membership more attractive to Thurston.

    Pierce County Councilmember, and formerly State Senator Pam Roach got locked out of the Capitol Building by her own party. So it’d be strange if she didn’t have at least one County opponent next election.

    That’s why I’m choosing to Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Save a Life(tm)-ok if I use it, Jay?- by concentrating on what Sound Transit and the rest of the transit things I support can do to not only Live At Least A Little Longer but if not Prospering at least stay out of receivership.

    Tim Eyman’s 55 now. When he’s 73, somebody being born this minute could be both graduating from high school at 18 and simultaneously getting sworn into the State Legislature.

    Since minute-to-minute we are now talking years, please let my own focus be on doing what comes natural to your average political party in Europe: Found a Youth Wing.

    In addition to (tradition or DNA?) being born to love trains, from the number of three year olds I see standing on tiptoe demanding Daddy’s card to tap “OFF!”, I’ve even got proof positive that the average girl of five is born Fare Enforcement. Transit Riders’ Union, let’s Take Advantage.

    Not to make fun of anybody for pessimism. Along with the whole United States of America, the whole State of Washington is only a day-to-day arrangement. But in view of the conditions the high school Class of 1963 is leaving our successors with, only fair for one of us to sit here in the sun this morning and say, “Together We Can Handle.”

    Mark Dublin

  4. Excellent summary, Dan.

    “If the initiative is upheld in this case, it probably means another round of litigation to sort out the unique Sound Transit issues.”

    This case is reminiscent of the way Pierce County v. State played out with regard to I-776 which was passed by voters back in 2002, the key difference being that King County Superior Court (Judge Mary Yu) initially ruled against the initiative in full for violating the single subject rule. That case was also expedited to the WA Supreme Court where upon review in 2003 the court reversed the KC Superior Court decision regarding the initiative’s constitutionality and remanded the case back to the lower court to sort out the Sound Transit claims. Ultimately the case came back to the high court in 2006 and Sound Transit prevailed on the issue of its existing bond contracts being harmed by I-776. This is the only section of the initiative that did not survive judicial review when it was all said and done.

    I only recite the history of the earlier initiative because it is frequently reported, incorrectly so, that I-776 was overturned by our state’s high court.

    One last point. In general I’m not a fan of direct review except for certain exceptional situations. There are good reasons why we have a Court of Appeals as part of the judicial review process. When time is a critical factor, which I don’t believe is the case here since the injunction was in place, and irreparable harm could ensue, then there’s an argument to made for direct review. Sadly, the courts in our country are increasingly not immune to political pressures, to put it kindly.

    https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/2543124/pierce-county-v-state/

  5. Defeasement is a mechanism to set aside cash or Treasury bonds in an escrow account to meet the full future repayment schedule.”

    That sounds like the post office’s dilemma. Congress required it to pre-fund all future retirement obligations, something no other organization has to do, and it’s the reason for 95% of the post office’s financial problems.

    “The cost of fully defeasing these bonds is an inverse function of treasury rates which are low, and recently trending even lower. The lower those rates go, the more expensive defeasement becomes. At recent interest rates, it would require about $2.9 billion in cash to defease the bonds.”

    I’ve never understood the inverse relationship between bonds and interest rates. If I have a bond, don’t I get the originally agreed-to amount back regardless of interest rates? And so doesn’t the debtor’s cost remain constant? There’s an opportunity cost in that the high fee is locked in and the organization can’t issue lower-cost bonds for the latter part of the period instead, but how does it increase their costs? And if the secondary market for rebuying bonds changes due to lower interest rates, I don’t understand the impacts. Yes, secondary buyers will demand a lower price on old bonds, and secondary sellers would experience a loss, but that’s only if you don’t hold the bond to maturity, right? It seems like investors should just plan to hold bonds to maturity, and we shouldn’t much attention to short-term distortions in the secondary market. Or am I missing something?

    I also don’t understand why companies are so keen on their stock price rising. They don’t get any more money after the initial stock issue, do they? So they don’t get any money from the price rising. Unless some of them own the stock, of course. But they should be focused on the company’s assets, not on their own windfalls from the company’s stock, shoudn’t they? After all, they could just as easily have bought another company’s stock instead and got the same amount of windfall. Obviously a rising stock price helps the company’s reputation and ability to sell more stock in the future, but why is that enough to make companies focus single-mindedly on increasing their stock price at all costs? Is it that their legal (“fiduciary”) obligation? Or is it more than that? Is that related to the strange behavior of bonds when interest rates change?

    1. Defeasence means buying treasury bonds whose interest each month equals the bond obligations that sound transit has to pay. From Sound Transit’s perspective, it’s like paying off the bonds early, but the bond investors still get paid as dictated in their original contract.

      The problem is, defeasence is expensive, since lower interest rates force a higher principle in order to generate the same monthly payment amount. To put it into perspective, let’s say you wanted to defease your $250,000 home mortgage at 4% APR. So, you sell off your retirement portfolio to put $1,000,000 cash into a treasury bonds paying 1% interest, using that interest to cover your monthly mortgage payments.

      Obviously, such a move makes zero financial sense. Nobody in their right mind borrows at a higher rate to buy a bond at a lower rate. But, this is exactly what Tim Eyman is asking Sound Transit to do. Technically, it could probably be done by cancelling all current projects and just putting the sales tax money into an escrow account for 10 years until it gets big enough to defease the bonds, but the net result would be Sound Transit just throwing taxpayer money away, rather building the light rail that people voted for.

      1. “The problem is, defeasence is expensive,…”

        It may be, but it may also not be. There are a number of factors at play (interest rates, overall credit/bond market condition, length of time to maturity, cash (or cash equivalents) position of the debtor, etc.), all of which the debtor’s treasury team needs to consider before executing a defeasement of an outstanding issue. Typically a governmental entity will end up saving money in the long run when electing to execute a defeasement option. For example, if you take a look at any of the last three CAFRs for King County (2016, 2017 and 2018), you will see that they did several full and partial defeasements for general obligation bonds, revenue bonds and limited tax obligation bonds (enterprise funds) during that time period. It’s a very common practice across state and local governments to utilize defeasement options when appropriate, even in cases where there is a significant expense upfront.

      2. Nobody is ever going be as low risk a borrower as the U.S. government, so even if the credit market is unchanged, defeasence is still throwing money away. In the case of Sound Transit, it would mean saying that ST3 is so bad, it is better to collect 10 years worth of taxes while producing nothing in return, rather than build light rail, just so taxes can be rolled back in 10 years, rather than 30. That is not what voters votes for in 2016.

        Of course, if interest rates rise dramatically, defeasence may not be so bad. In extreme cases, issuing new bonds to defease old bonds could even save money. But, that’s not the way the credit market looks today. Under today’s credit market, forcing Sound Transit to defease bonds essentially prevents it from getting anything substantive done.

        Which for opponents of public transit, is exactly the point. They’re goal is not to make Sound Transit more efficient with taxpayer money, but to make it look as bad as possible so nobody trusts it with taxpayer money again.

      3. “In extreme cases, issuing new bonds to defease old bonds could even save money.”

        That’s simply not true. It doesn’t need to be an “extreme case” in order for a given governmental entity to execute a defeasement option and save money. It’s a function of the entity’s treasury group to make the required assessment and act when appropriate. Use of refunding bonds and/or a defeasement strategy is very common even during times when the credit markets are quite stable. Because the muni’s we are talking about here are typically 30-year bonds even small interest rate changes can represent significant financing cost savings opportunities. There are expenses involved with executing a defeasance of course, including the bond counsel (who typically drafts the escrow agreement), an outside financial advisor (who typically assists with the required securities acquisition that will fund the escrow), an outside accounting firm (which is sometimes required by statute and/or the bond counsel) as well as the escrow agent.

      4. You’d also have the WPPSS problem: i.e., does Sound Transit have the authority to tax without building a system? I honestly don’t know what the statutes say, but the whole point of WPPSS was that the municipalities did not have the power to buy no electricity.

    2. @Mike Orr

      I, along with several other commenters on this blog could certainly answer your string of questions, but honestly, outside of the defeasement matter, they are largely off-topic. (I know. I know. The blog is generally pretty forgiving in this area typically.) Rather, I’ll just point you to a source I have referred other “non-financial” people to in order to give them a basic primer on how bonds and the bond market operate. I hope you find it helpful.

      https://www.pimco.com/en-us/resources/education/everything-you-need-to-know-about-bonds/

      P.S. You kind of answered a couple of your own questions above when you spoke of the secondary market, which is one of the keys to your puzzlement.

      1. “outside of the defeasement matter, they are largely off-topic.”

        It depends on what the answer is. If my assumption is correct that the company doesn’t make any money on later increases in a stock’s price, then it could be that people are giving too much deference to the secondary market in both stock and bond cases, and thus the answer to why interest-rate changing on bonds’s effect is so important is that it’s part of a larger phenomenon.

        I’ll read your bond article and see if it makes more sense than the other bond references I’ve read.

    3. Mike, publicly-traded companies do continue to issue new stocks, not least in the form of incentive options and RSUs to executives and regular employees. These new grants dilute the existing stockholders, but if the price is rising then its effect is negligible. But more importantly, institutional stockholders expect continuous capital gains; they will reward executives who deliver it (with high compensation) and replace those who don’t. This supplanting of broader stakeholder capitalism by narrow stockholder capitalism is a key tenet of the current economic inequality.

  6. I am hopeful it’s uphold by the court. Honor the will of he people , and everyone can use the savings now in their car tabs. Soind transit will need to adjust and cut their service according / no big deal.

    1. Or, David, honor the will of a lot of other people who’ll organize and completely overturn I-976 at a new set of Polls. Good many present-day high school age passengers will turn 18 this year. Meaning able not only to vote, but to take Pam Roach’s seat on Pierce County Council as well.

      Granted that COVID (should be called “Corvid” because the crow family is so fond of dead things for food it’ll fly to the sound of a gun-shot) makes our every breath a crap-shoot, let alone any possible election.

      Meantime also, Sound Transit might actually be able to swing some swing-votes (cue the Benny Goodman) if it finds some elevator-repair worthy of the name. Been years now. In a tight contest, one piece of luggage a passenger is forced to “lug” up five flights of stairs to the bridge after deboarding the 574 could enthrone Tim Eyman for life.

      No matter how many People vote, and at what polling place including absentee, our Will is a one sharpie-poke at a time thing.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Final results show the people who actually pay taxes to Sound Transit voting against I-976. It passed in spite of them due to conservative voters elsewhere in the state, for whom the result makes essentially no difference.

      1. Something I’m wondering about lately. Over these last six years since I got Ethnoeconometrically Cleansed out of Ballard, how many other voters who voted for Sound Transit no longer have to pay for it?

        Which those of us now forced to commute to and from our Seattle jobs every day would be more than willing to do, in return for, like, the ST 574 extended to the Capitol and our new Transit Center with a Sea-Tac Airport transfer to Link whether the elevator works or not.

        Not giving up on Siemens secretly being plumbed for future toilets, so Sister City acquisition of those purple Swedish streamliners might just be limited to streetcars, and maybe our giving Gothenburg some trolley packages for their three-section artics.

        Whatever Swedish is for “No thanks but you and Oslo can keep those 90′ Breda streetcars.

        Before World War I, when liberals like President Woodrow Wilson in addition to outlawing interracial marriage in Washington DC, also put labor figures like Eugene Debs in jail for criticizing WWI……. Spokane’s politics would’ve sent the present Democratic National Committee screaming like weenies to the tall timber fear of being called liberal.

        So right now, mainly looking forward to the Deep Breath I’ll finally be allowed to take without choking on my mask, when Social Distance finally means same time zone. And transit will once again see where its voters stand, and, with our ballots in our hands, move on from there.

        Mark Dublin

  7. Apologies for the Stream of Consciousness. Nobody’s ever really been any good at it since we lost the late Hunter S. Thompson, AKA “Uncle Duke” in “Doonesbury.”

    And since a lot of his favorite 1960’s drugs have been superseded by dangerous pharmaceuticals that aren’t funny at all, nobody’s in the mood for it now. Any time a single bat turns purple let alone a whole swarm of them- it’s got rabies, so drop the flyswatter and run.

    For today’s discussion, I really am curious to know how many readers besides me have had the experience of voting for, and supporting Sound Transit for all its years- and then being forced to move out of the District, though still able and willing to use its service.

    Since long before the world ever heard the term “COVID”, our whole country’s public life has been in serious political trouble, which is going to take a lot of fortitude, bravery, initiative, understanding, and patience to set to rights.

    For the decisions STB’s participants are going to have to make as riders, taxpayers, and voters all three, when, pray, we finally get the chance to act in any direction, until we can in any sense move, we at least need to know where we stand.

    Mark Dublin

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