Most savings will require extending the construction window over several more years than originally planned (slide: Sound Transit)

Over the lifetime of the ST3 program, Sound Transit now expects a revenue shortfall on the order of $8-12 billion. Without adjusting expenditures, the agency will run out of available debt capacity by 2028. On Wednesday afternoon, a Board workshop learned more about the depth of the financial crisis and began to review options for responding. On average, according to one board member, the financial outlook suggests a five-year delay to projects not already in construction.

Generally, staff are suggesting extended project timelines. (They were careful not to couch this as a recommendation). In this scenario, environmental and preliminary engineering (E/PE) work might begin on the original schedule, but detailed design and construction work would follow over a longer window than currently projected. E/PE work is relatively inexpensive, typically about 10% of project costs. Getting it done on schedule preserves flexibility in case new revenue or grant options present themselves.

A number of board members raised the possibility of asking voters to raise the debt limit. Similar to municipalities, Sound Transit can borrow up to 1.5% of the assessed value of properties within the RTA. That could be raised to 5% of assessed value with the approval of 60% of voters. There was interest too among some board members in raising taxes or changing the mix of taxes supporting the agency. For now it would be unsafe to rely on that. Any such ballot measure is further in the future than Sound Transit should wait before acting.

Illustrative example of how a 10-year project could be stretched over 15 years to conserve construction dollars (slide: Sound Transit, click to enlarge).

The sales tax funds 53% of the 25-year program, with fares contributing another 7%. The outlook for fare revenue is highly uncertain as it’s difficult to predict when riders will return to transit or if there may be a permanent shift in travel preferences. Property and MVET revenues are more stable than sales taxes, even though MVET payments have recently lagged with fewer new car sales. Relative to the last pre-recession projection, sales tax revenues may come up 14-23% short all the way through 2041. The experience of the last recession is that the economy’s growth trajectory ratchets downward and only returns very gradually to trend. Sales tax revenues would lag permanently below previous financial plans.

Fares could be increased. Sound Transit has been operating below its fare recovery targets. There is some small under-used rental car tax capacity. Costs could be lowered through reduced operations. Reducing the cost of debt would stretch revenues further. That might mean more TIFIA loans, where Sound Transit recently closed a $2 billion master agreement. But Sound Transit is already the largest beneficiary of the TIFIA program, and access to future loans may be hampered if unable to maintain excellent credit.

With reduced revenues (a lower red line), debt funds an outsized share of program expenditures until 2028 after which many currently planned expenditures are no longer affordable (slide: Sound Transit)

The heavy lifting must come through reductions or delays in the capital program. Projects will be scored against ST3 core principles (completing the spine, connecting designated regional centers, ridership potential, socio-economic equity, logical advances beyond the spine) and a long list of other project considerations. As this writer complained on Saturday, any outcome can be justified with some weighting of evaluation criteria.

There was gentle jousting among Board members at the end of the workshop whether they would see their projects scored against various criteria before deciding which criteria to advance for the realignment process. Staff reminded the board how projects must be affordable at both the system level and the subarea level.

The next step is an executive committee meeting next week (postponed from today) and a Board meeting on June 25 where criteria decisions are to be made. Direction on projects paused pending realignment will emerge over the summer.

71 Replies to “Sound Transit faces $8-12 billion revenue shortfall”

  1. An added wrinkle to all of this is downtown recovery. With so much of sound transit focused on downtown directional transit, I’m uncertain if downtown will return to 2019 growth levels anytime soon. In addition to the pandemic, the recent lootings are causing many downtown Seattle businesses to reconsider their game plans. Some businesses may never reopen in Seattle. I was their yesterday and it looked like Afghanistan with boarded up windows , military personnel, and the occasional crazy person half dressed on the streets going off about something or other. Sound Transit is wise to look at all of this with a broader lens before making any future planning decisions.

    1. Alex, one condition can’t be overstressed: However necessary the present enforced separation is, it’s disabling the exact thing that recovery needs most.

      Which is the ability of people across spectrums including economic, financial, and physical to get together with each other and get to work on recovery.

      Those boards (wooden, not Governing) are there to protect, not replace glass. And if there’s any truth to quotations from a highly-placed combat veteran of a Defense Secretary, nobody that counts is planning for those soldiers’ present duty to be permanent, especially them.

      Concentration I’d like to hear some discussion on is examples of what, as individuals, organizations, and officials, we can do to bring back the economy the West-Seattle/Ballard line is so long overdue to serve. For a lot of us, our opposition to the Monorail was based on the promise that the West Corridor would finally get the light rail it deserved.

      Those people you mention in the other uniforms, my orders to them are to walk around yelling ’til next time somebody accuses me of homeless joy-riding, and then board whatever will make them look like they’re spreading the most germs. Their services from Actors’ Equity are my first contribution to Restored Seattle Inc. ™

      Mark Dublin

    2. The looting was unfortunate but there’s no way it’ll have a long term impact on downtown businesses. That’s ridiculous.

      1. Most businesses should have insurance for damage and theft – that is typically covered under a standard business insurance policy.

        Many downtown businesses will indeed fail, but for other reasons:
        1) Office workers not returning for a long time, some never
        2) Reduced tourism – basically no tourism season this year
        3) Permanent reduction in business travel

      2. Some chain stores may close their downtown storefront and be only in the suburbs and neighborhoods like Northgate and U-Village. Some small businesses will fail. But other businesses will eventually take their place. Some will be new small businesses. Others may be less generic chains and more unique. Landlords may have to lower rents and real-estate prices to fill spaces. Their Wall Street investors will cry at getting only 3-5% returns rather than the 10% windfalls they’ve been soaking up. But downtown Seattle will return to something like it was in the 1990s or early 2000s.

      3. It also matter who gets elected. If Nixon — sorry, Trump — gets reelected, then there will be continued protests (of some sort), riots, and the like. As before, businesses will flee the downtown areas for the safe confines of the suburbs (or just close up shop altogether). If Biden gets elected, there is a good chance that things will heal just fine, and businesses will continue to want to be where the people are.

      4. If Trump is reelected or manages to prevail in a tie (including a falsified or voter-suppressed tie), then it may be the end of American democracy and we’d switch to an authoritarian industrial policy centered on the fossil-fuel industry. Plus discrimination against blue coastal cities and states. Both of those would lead to economic power leaving Seattle for the Sunbelt and Midwest. Who knows what Seattle industries and companies would survive or emerge in the gap? There could be a shift toward local/urban agriculture if long-distance commodities become cut off or unaffordable.

      1. Ballard’s had some recent misfortunes too, hasn’t it? Think I remember hearing that the north side of a whole block of Market Street burned down.

        HMMM. Wonder when the economic avalanche will put rents at Lock Haven back in range of my pocket-book. Wouldn’t mind personally repainting my walls to the nice colors my wife and I put on them to cure them of being a really boring white.

        Just so my landlord, whom I hope bought it back from the speculator who rendered me Homeless, puts the stove and refrigerator back into the kitchen instead of the middle of the living room, and gives me back my wood cupboards.

        Should have no trouble getting KCM to let those beautiful new “artic” trolleybuses to drop poles at the Senior Center and motor out to Shilshole on battery.

        Mark Dublin

      2. “Wonder when the economic avalanche will put rents at Lock Haven back in range of my pocket-book.”

        Prices are sticky on the way down because nobody wants to take a loss. A 1 BR apartment in Ballard was $700 in 2003 and probably under $1000 in 2013. (The Broadway Market area was $1000 then.) Now Ballard is, what, $1500 or $1700? So a rollback to $1000 would be a significant lift, much less a rollback to $700 or less.

        The lowest-hanging fruit would be a leveling off of prices, then we could try to reduce them slowly. That’s probably not enough to get you back to Ballard in the next thirty years, especially if your housing budget is $1000 or $500. But it would at least stop it from becoming worse. We absolutely must prevent the $3000-$4000 rents of San Francisco and San Jose or we’ll all be in Lakewood and Chelailis and Ellensburg. (Except Sam, who’s a billionaire on top of his command of 24 languages and being a brilliant transit strategist.)

    3. “I’m uncertain if downtown will return to 2019 growth levels anytime soon”

      The 2015-2019 growth was extraordinary and will not be repeated at that level. At most we will see a return to a lower level. It was already decelerating in 2019. The strong knockout, and the lingering effects of coronavirus and teleworking, will probably keep it below its 2019 trajectory.

      We can consider three historical levels of growth as models. The 1985-2003 level was low (with the possible exception of the 1990s dotcom boom). The 2003-2005 level was moderate. The 2005-2008 level was higher. The 2015-2019 level was the highest Seattle had ever seen.

      The post-2010 boom was fueled by the success of could computing and social networks, and the fact that Seattle-area companies were at the center of it. Amazon started it, Microsoft quickly followed, and the McCaw cellular empire led the preliminary groundwork for mobile data and smartphones. McCaw’s Bellevue-based companies (Cellular 1, Voicestream, etc) were the kernels of what are now AT&T and T-Mobile, and may have also had a role in Verizon, Sprint, and I think Qualcomm and others were also local? Pac Bell’s Cingular acquired Voicestream and later AT&T, and renamed itself AT&T. Cingular and T-Mobile built a shared digital network in the northwest rather than parallel towers. All this predated smartphones but it laid the groundwork for both the physical network and the public acceptance of it.

      There’s no foreseeable wave as large as the cloud-computing expansion was. Google, Facebook, et al are already here in the last wave. Their future expansion here will be moderate, and which other companies haven’t come yet? The only potential comparable wave I can see is the renewable-energy/carbon-reduction revolution, and that’s stalled at the federal and state levels right now.

      So which level of growth do you think we’ll return to? I assume the 2003-2005 level or possibly the 2005-2008 level.

      Amazon has 40,000 people in central Seattle. The city could aspire to a population goal of 1 million and upzoning like Chicago, with a district like Chicago’s North Side between the Ship Canal and Greenlake, 24th NW to 15th NE. Then it could acommodate another Amazon-sized headquarters, or even two or three of them. There’s room in Northgate for one, and (controversally) Mt Baker. One to three more “Amazons” would increase tax revenues and job opportunities through the roof, and a large wide-area upzone would dilute the demand pressure and allow housing prices to rise more slowly or maybe not at all.

      But Seattle has consistently chosen against this vision. As a result we can barely tolerate the Amazon growth and a second Amazon would be even worse. In that case, we’re probably better off with slower growth. The economy and job opportunities were doing fine before 2003 and before 2008, so it’s not the end of the world.

      Downtown commuting and peak-hour commuting overlap heavily, and it’s expensive for transit to surge to their needs. So if downtown commuting and peak-hour commuting decrease, that would level out the peak/off-peak disparaty, and free up money to full out the less-expensive off-peak service and fill the underserved frequency gaps. It would also reduce congestion because peak-hour car commuting would decrease proportionately. That would allow buses to travel faster and more frequently for the same cost. Congestion has gradually gotten worse over the years, and more and more service hours have been sucked into mitigating it. So we would return to an earlier better level of efficiency and travel time. I don’t know what a comparable example would be, maybe 2010, mayne 2005. But the network would hopefully be more frequent and more consolidated-corridors than it was then.

      1. Qualcomm is based in San Diego, and was never owned by McCaw.

        Regions other than the SLU-Downtown corridor and Bellevue can’t really accommodate another Amazon. The telecommunications infrastructure just isn’t there. Amazon Web Services requires a huge number of trunk internet lines, more than Northgate, Mount Baker, or Green Lake have.

      2. Maybe it’s another company I’m thinking of then. There’s some other company that has a patented cellular technology.

        I wasn’t specifically referring to a cloud-computing company, but to any company with 20,000-40,000 jobs.

        And trunk Internet lines can be built. They were all built since 1990.

  2. Thanks, Dan. Not seeing any surprises. But like for all estimates and predictions this morning, especially regarding the virus, we’ve really got no idea where we are or what’s going to happen next.

    One thing I’d like to see us concentrate on, is what our operating personnel can do- or more to the point, be both allowed and trained to do- top make operations save operating revenue by saving time.

    With fare collections, important that fares don’t cost more to collect than they bring in. Especially to do with time. To me, the ORCA system has always seemed excellent if allowed to be as simple as it CAN be, with internal divisions kept out of its way.

    Also, by saving operating time, if done right, lane reservation and signal preempts count as a revenue source, and should be accordingly insisted upon. Same with basic operator training at all levels.

    One thing I’d really like to see happen with Seattle Transit Blog is to encourage drivers, supervisors, mechanics, and others who keep the machines rolling to start using STB to communicate, with the community and each other. We’ve got the brains and the experience to handle everything we’re facing.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, the fire took out one one story building at the northeast corner of NW Market Street and 24th Avenue NW, not the entire block. the building will probably be replaced by something with several stories.

    2. “lane reservation and signal preempts count as a revenue source”

      ST’s cost estimates should include the fact that elevated alignments, tunnels, underpasses, and signal pre-emption decrease travel time and collisions. That makes the network more useful and effective. That in turn increases ridership, mode share, and rider/taxpayer satisfaction. The benefits shouldn’t be counted only in terms of money but also in terms of the quality of the experience for passengers. That’s the way to create a transit-oriented city and region.

      1. Can’t think of any better inducement to create and maintain the quality of a rider’s experience than to prove by the balance sheet that the quality approach leaves more money in the company accounts than does sitting still when my coach could be moving sixty.

        On their first day of work, every single employee should be forbidden to leave the training room until they’ve memorized the cost in operating dollars of one minute of time wasted through bad design or top-level lack of motivation.

        The “feel” of the driver’s seat of a Northgate-bound Tunnel coach as a line the length of the bus found and argued about its fare really had a lingering ache of its own.

        Also well-known fact that the faster and smoother a transit vehicle gets operated, the fewer problems the crew has with matters of authority and security. Confidence is a sensation that deflects contradiction.

        But underneath it all, as it was designed to be, the balance sheet is an authoritative last word for the complication and power-hunger to which, like anything inbred, bureaucracy is born.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I’ve spent my entire life from age 14 to the low 50s riding buses that are slower, less frequent, and less reliable than a first-rate city like Chicago, Vancouver, New York, London, or several German or Asian cities have (and I’m being generous with the first two that are only first-rate in a relative US sense). My trips included from east of Crossroads to downtown, UW- and Capitol Hill. From the U-District to downtown, Northgate, Ballard, Lynnwood, and occasionally to Lake City, southeast Seattle, the airport, Everett, and Tacoma. From central Seattle to northeast Seattle, Northgate, Bellevue, and the airport. And occasional trips to Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Bothell, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Tacoma, Lynnwood, and Everett. All of them on buses that in the 80s were half-hourly in Seattle, hourly in the suburbs, and meandering as hell. In the 00’s their frequency started getting better, and in the 10’s we started getting consolidations on high-volume corridors and more direct urban-village to urban-village service. And since 2009, Link in a small part of those corridors.

        But every way it falls short of a New York three-level network (subways, frequent buses, all-day commuter rail) translates to waiting 15 or 20 extra minutes here and there, waiting that long for transfers, and sitting through five miles of bus stops every two blocks and the slow speed of congestion and meandering. That accumulates to dozens of hours per year. That’s dozens of hours that people are unproductive, stressed, and impatient. That dampens our economic potential, social cohesion, and health.

  3. “Without adjusting revenues or expenditures, the agency will run out of available debt capacity by 2028.” There. Fixed it for you.

  4. Thanks, Jamie. Reason, though, that it’s never too soon to start investigating other sources of revenue. From the driver’s seat of a Tunnel coach, I watched a literal fortune in operating time get wasted due to lack of training.

    And, even worse, willful refusal to activate dispatching and signalling equipment upon which a king’s ransom had already been spent. Remember, “Inertia” includes not only stagnation but its opposite. The more, and earlier, and more intelligently we get moving, the less time, effort and money it’ll take to stay that way.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I wish that table showed the 2nd tunnel separate from the extension to Ballard.

    Rather than spreading out the project and waiting the open the segment at one time, as shown in the PowerPoint, breaking the projects into phases allows for some stations to open on time while delaying enough spend to fit the financial constraints. Break the 3 keystone ST3 projects (downtown/Ballard, Everett, and TD) into more digestible segments to prioritize what is needed operationally* and defer other phases within each keystone project to after the period of maximum constraint. ST3 in totality is not out of money, we just can’t work through the project pipeline as quickly as currently planned.

    *Broadly, the operational priorities should be the 2nd tunnel and connecting to OMF N & S. This creates a rough starting point of Smith Cove to Ballard, Paine Field to Everett, and S FW to TD as the segments to defer, which is a regionally equitable way to spread out the spending.

    Also, odd to show in YOE$, that makes Stride look cheap and Kirkland/Issaquah expensive.

    1. Those are good points about splitting major projects and expressing projects in 2019 dollars.

      I would add that separating out the OMFs is splitting some of the major project costs already; they should be allocated back into the costs of the major projects somehow.

      1. Eh, I’m not sure how valuable that would be. Unlike vehicle purchases, you can’t prorate the cost in the real world; you either build the OMF or you don’t. By moving forward on one project and not another, you still have to build the full OMF.

        After Redmond Link, you need a 3rd OMF regardless of which project opens first. So from a cash flow standpoint, you need to afford the full OMF expense alongside the next project opening.

        If you were scoping the original ST3 plan, sure that would be useful, b/c you would right-size the OMFs based upon the final ST3 build out. But unless segments are permanently deleted (highly unlikely), there are no OMF savings that slide alongside project savings – those OMFs need to be built in full regardless of the project sequencing. And since all subareas paid for the first two OMFs, there’s no subarea equity or inter-region borrowing context when it comes to the timing of the OMF projects.

      2. I view the OMFs as phase-able and expandable. While it’s true that the full OMF is needed for the full ST3 system, a system cutback could easily mean a smaller OMF until more trains are operating.

        The definitions of projects should not be strictly geographic. Each expansion has loads of other impacts elsewhere — from heavier use of existing stations to larger systems to monitor train operations to more vehicles and more OMF tracks and buildings to store and maintain those additional vehicles.

      3. You can save on the margin – not install some lifts, office space, etc. – but it’s pretty marginal. The land needs to be acquired, all the track needs to laid, and utilities put in for the full OMF.

    2. As I see it, there are different types of projects:

      1) Projects already started. These will be completed.

      2) Small projects. BRT, OMF, and so on. I think these can be built without hitting the debt limit. Some of these can be cut back, without causing much harm (e. g. NE 85th BRT Station). Other projects could be modified, to reduce the capital cost (e. g. replacing park and ride lots with shuttle service). In general, I think we should be able to pay for these.

      3) Big projects. This is where the problem is. Unfortunately, the biggest project is the most valuable — by far. If you scroll down on this page, you will find a couple interactive tables. The second one has a column labeled “Subsidized cost (2014$)/30 years of daily riders”. If you sort by that, you’ll notice that Ballard to Downtown is the most cost effective project. It is the most cost effective big project by a huge margin. Of the big projects that haven’t started, West Seattle Link is second, and the subsidy per rider is more than double (from $2.77 to $6.38).

      Splitting up Ballard Link (as you suggest) changes things. It isn’t clear whether the new tunnel is as cost effective if it only connects to Smith Cove. My guess is ridership would suffer. The South Lake Union stops are not that strong on their own. They are somewhat dependent on ridership from further north. Are there going to be huge numbers of riders getting off at Westlake, then making the transfer to a stop only a few blocks away? Or what about a stop next to Aurora, or one serving essentially only one business? The only really good station is Lower Queen Anne, and it is tough to build a line based on just that. To be fair, those already on the train (from the south end) would stay on the train longer. I’m just not convinced that you add that much value if you split the line, especially since much of the cost is simply for redundant stops downtown.

      That being said, it is highly likely that it would remain the most cost effective project. As dubious as I am about the success of a line essentially just to Queen Anne, I find little value in extending either end of the spine. Federal Way TC and Lynnwood TC are both excellent termini. They both have good HOV lane ramp access, enabling great bus connections. For an agency facing cutbacks, extending further outward would likely be counter productive. How would you like to be in Tacoma, and be told that the express bus to Federal Way will be cut back to every half hour, so that they can build a station in south Federal Way? Likewise, someone in Everett won’t be excited about a station in Ash Way, Mariner or Paine Field if it means cutbacks on their express service to Lynnwood.

      Worth noting is that I’ve focused on cost per rider. If you look at cost per time savings, the pattern is the same. The extensions to the spine won’t save that much time. Neither will West Seattle Link. Once again, Ballard Link is not only on top, but likely on top by even more. But if the line is shrunk — if it doesn’t actually go to Ballard — a lot of the time savings disappear. Again, if you are on the train already, they are significant. But even then, those riders would be losing their one seat ride to Capitol Hill, the UW and Northgate at the same time. Thus their gain may not be that big either.

      The funding issues have simply brought to light once again how messy and flawed the ST3 projects are. Ballard Link is the only high value project, and trying to reduce its scope would likely substantially reduce its value.

      1. I’m not following your arguments. We are talking about deferring segments a few years, not truncating projects or reducing scopes. Your concerns seem mostly irrelevant, or are arguments about just not building parts of ST3 you don’t like.

        Yes, someone in Everett doesn’t benefit from a minor extension to Paine Field … they don’t benefit until their part of the project is complete. This was true when Redmond link was deferred, with U Link was deferred, etc.

        Ballard Link will certainly be most successful once its fully built out. Opening at Smith Cove will indeed to little for Ballard riders. So? The 2nd tunnel isn’t for them, it’s for the regional system. They won’t benefit until they are plugged in a few years later. It’s the same for Tacoma. They won’t benefit from south FW station at all – that station only opens early so the system can connect to OMFS.

        FW and Lynwood are indeed excellent termini. That’s why they were the terminus for a complete network as per ST2. ST3 envisions a different network, and temporary termini while the network is built out are just that – temporary. No one is arguing that Angle Lake or Husky Stadium are good long term terminus stations; they are just where the line stops while we wait for the next extension.

        Sound Transit does not have a long term funding problem. There is currently little risk of over extending the system and not having the O&M and SOGR to run the system as plan come 2040. The issue is very specific to an aggressive capital program constrained by conservative bond limits. Suggesting that opening south Federal Way on time will cause ST to cut back on STX frequency in 2035 is a deep misunderstanding of the financial situation.

      2. We are talking about deferring segments a few years, not truncating projects or reducing scopes.

        Semantics. From a practical standpoint, it is the same thing. Why just the other day I was thinking about that while taking the train from the U-District to First Hill. Or was it Federal Way?

        Yes, someone in Everett doesn’t benefit from a minor extension to Paine Field … they don’t benefit until their part of the project is complete. This was true when Redmond link was deferred, with U Link was deferred, etc.

        No its not. Redmond benefits from service to Bellevue (obviously). They benefit a lot. Likewise, Everett benefits a lot from service to Lynnwood. The difference being that someone can plausibly argue that Everett benefits a lot from Lynnwood Link, and gains nothing for any other extension until the train actually gets to Everett. Even then, if you are in downtown Everett, you don’t benefit until the train gets to downtown Everett. Even then, if you are headed to Seattle, you are better off taking the express bus to Lynnwood and then transferring to the train there (saving yourself a considerable amount of time).

        The main point I’m making is that someone from downtown Everett gains more from an express bus to Lynnwood than they gain from any extension beyond Lynnwood, and the former is in jeopardy from the latter. If you have to truncate, even “temporarily”, the obvious truncation points are Federal Way and Lynnwood. Otherwise you risk spending more money and gaining nothing in fare revenue, thus jeopardizing service.

        The 2nd tunnel isn’t for them, it’s for the regional system.

        Ha, that’s funny. Oh, wait, you are serious.

        It’s the same for Tacoma. They won’t benefit from south FW station at all

        No dude, no. Tacoma benefits enormously from South Federal Way. Federal Way is to Tacoma, as Lynnwood is to Everett. It provides almost all of the benefit it would gain from extending the line further.

        You have a bizarre misunderstanding of how transit works. I get it. It is the way that Sound Transit sells their projects. It is two-fold:

        1) If a train comes to your city — anywhere in your city — you benefit enormously.

        2) Until the train comes to your city, you don’t benefit.

        Both ideas are absurd. City borders are arbitrary. What matters is how you get to the station. Some walk, some ride a bus, some drive. Downtown Tacoma (apparently) will never have a subway station. Never. To someone in downtown Tacoma, or Hilltop, or Fern Hill, or Old Tacoma, or the Stadium District or just about any neighborhood in Tacoma where people actually live or visit, Link requires a connecting bus or a drive. Thus it really doesn’t matter that much where the station is, as long as the connecting bus is fast. If the station is at Federal Way, the trip is fast. For just about everyone, moving the station to the Tacoma Dome doesn’t actually save any time. Got it?

        Suggesting that opening south Federal Way on time will cause ST to cut back on STX frequency in 2035 is a deep misunderstanding of the financial situation.

        Oh really? So Dan was just making up stuff when he wrote “Costs could be lowered through reduced operations. “? Seriously? Dude, this is extremely common. It happens everywhere. An agency overbuilds — typically extending itself too deep in the suburbs — then finds that it has trouble funding service. Even if the trains stop at Federal Way and Lynnwood the line will be extremely long, requiring a huge amount of maintenance and service dollars. If they then continue to build — in pursuit of the almighty Spine — they could easily cut back on Link frequency, or ST routes.

      3. The difference between deleting First Hill and deferring downtown Redmond is not semantics.

        I agree with your entire argument about truncation points . Perhaps I was unclear (by “Everett” doesn’t benefit I meant downtown Everett), but it appears you agree with me? But then you argue that Tacoma benefits from a South Federal Way only extension, after strenuously arguing that TDLE is unneeded because buses should just go to Federal Way. So I’m rather confused.

        And yes, Dan was ‘making stuff up,’ so to speak. Cutting O&M is highly unlikely. It’s simply unnecessary because it doesn’t move the needle in the Financial plan. ST’s financial plan is very different than any other American system. You’ll have to just trust me on this, since it was my job recently.

        For the 2nd tunnel’s purpose, I’ll defer to Mike on this, his answer was better than mine.

      4. “And yes, Dan was ‘making stuff up,’ so to speak. Cutting O&M is highly unlikely. It’s simply unnecessary because it doesn’t move the needle in the Financial plan.”

        To be clear, I mentioned it because the staff presentation mentioned it, so it is on the agenda along with much else. But AJ is correct that it doesn’t move the needle much in the 2020s timeframe everybody is focused on.

      5. Wait, are you objecting to (temporarily) truncating the 2nd tunnel at Smith Cove because you think the primary reason to build the tunnel is to get to Ballard?

      6. Yes, thanks Dan, I did not mean to besmirch you … I was dismissing the staff comments because I understand that are including O&M cuts in the early analysis mostly to prove out (through a public process) that O&M cuts are an unproductive solution.

      7. Let’s not second-guess staff’s motives if we don’t have inside knowledge to confirm it. If you’d added “probably” I wouldn’t have complained because then it’s your opinion (guess) rather than asserting a fact (which may not be true). My guess is the staff added it to be thorough, because it’s a project and the board should consider all projects.

      8. @AJ — So, just to be clear, you don’t think there is any possibility that “costs could be lowered through reduced operations”. Seriously? You really think that Sound Transit, when push comes to shove, won’t cut bus service a little bit here and there?

        But then you argue that Tacoma benefits from a South Federal Way only extension, after strenuously arguing that TDLE is unneeded because buses should just go to Federal Way. So I’m rather confused.

        Sorry. I meant Federal Way, not South Federal Way. My mistake. Let me be clear by repeating what I originally wrote, and have written several times now (but failed to repeat at least once):

        The northern terminus should be Lynnwood. The southern terminus should be Federal Way.

        There is little to be gained by going farther, even if they have plenty of money. If money is tight — and it is — there is a lot to be lost. More than one agency has overbuilt, and then been forced to cut down on service. Those cuts come in the way of reduced frequency on trains, reduces frequency on buses, and canceled bus lines. That is far worse than having folks in Tacoma transfer at a different stop.

        If money is flowing like wine, then whatever. It is still a waste, but it is what people voted for. But the whole point of this article is what to do when money is tight, and it is quite likely it will be tight.

    3. “Also, odd to show in YOE$, that makes Stride look cheap and Kirkland/Issaquah expensive.”

      Yeah, that’s always one of the wrinkles in these types of conversations. I think folks tend to have their own preferences on how they’d like to see the costs presented. Obviously, the YOE$ figures represent the real world experience, whereas the current year $ figures, for many, are a bit easier to conceptualize and thus tend to convey more meaning*. Personally I tend to prefer the YOE$ figures in the larger scheme of things, particularly when very long-term projects are involved such as is the case with most of ST3. My pet peeve with the “current year” dollars approach is that it typically really isn’t. Most of the time it reflects an estimate from a year or more ago. Nevertheless, I still can understand why others prefer this format. I’m just glad that ST learned from Sound Move and presented ST2 and ST3 to reflect costs in YOE$. Additionally, I appreciate that the annual CIP updates for each ST project in the pipeline give the cost estimates in both formats.

      *An aside… this inflation factor is one of the biggest problems in getting folks to understand that they really DON’T have enough savings for their retirement years. They typically are only looking at their accumulated funds in present day $, failing to acknowledge the potentually rapid consumption of their capital as expense inflation outpaces savings interest/gains with a realigned asset portfolio geared toward less market risk.

    4. Now is the time for everybody to dust off their suggestions for truncations and modifications. The sudden major changes in the economy and ridership and continuing uncertainties make things possible that weren’t before. (“Possible” meaning possibly approved by the ST Board.) Even if they’re a long shot, it’s worth putting them in the Board’s noses alongside other alternatives.

      I think the Board will consider splitting Ballard Link; it’s just that these categories are too early and high-level to contain all the alternatives, and they don’t want to presume the Board’s preferences yet. There will be time for all that. Email your board early and often, before the window closes.

      DSTT2/SLU is the core of the network and has many effects beyond just going to Ballard or freeing up space in DSTT1 for West Seattle. It’s important for Everett capacity, Tacoma capacity, intra-downtown circulation capacity, SLU access, and all subareas, and the flexibility of having one tunnel to fall back on if the other tunnel breaks, and the capacity for an additional line in the future. However, I wouldn’t go so far as AJ in saying it should automatically be the top priority. We need to make a whole-system (gestalt) decision, evaluate the other corridors and factors, grapple with the uncertainties in downtown-commuting and peak-commuting changes, and see where there’s a consensus between us, the politicians, and the voters. All that requires more exploration and time, and we shouldn’t arbitrarily put one project at fixed priority until all that has been done. Especially since there’s a parallel Link tunnel one block away.

      The OMFs I’m less certain on. Obviously they will have to be built before anything that depends on them.

      1. Now is the time for everybody to dust off their suggestions for truncations and modifications.


        1) Truncate in Federal Way and Lynnwood. Every project beyond that is a bad value. You gain very little new revenue, while spending a fortune, and benefiting only a handful.

        2) Truncate express bus routes at Federal Way and Lynnwood. This may have been planned anyway, but it is worth mentioning. This saves a bunch of money, and gives most riders the same level of service they would get if the entire Spine was complete.

        3) Cutback on Park and Ride lots.

        4) Kill off North Sounder once Link gets to Lynnwood, if not Northgate.

        5) Defer NE 85th, and replace with relatively frequent (15 minute) service from downtown Kirkland to Bellevue. Most riders come out ahead.

        6) Build the WSTT first (but without the Aurora connection). I know, I’ve mentioned it before. But no other plan will benefit the region so soon. If the WSTT is built first, then Ballard, Queen Anne , Magnolia and West Seattle riders get a huge improvement years, if not decades before they would otherwise. Under the current plan, West Seattle Link is built first. This does little for West Seattle. It means a two seat ride from the West Seattle Junction or Avalon to downtown. It means a three seat ride to downtown for someone in any other part of West Seattle, including Delridge. Add a fourth seat for someone trying to get to Bellevue or Redmond. You just aren’t going to fill up the trains that way, which means they won’t run very often. You would be hard pressed to make any truncations, which means ridership would hover around a typical bus. It obviously does nothing for anyone north of downtown.

        AJ’s plan is an improvement, but only for a small subset of the riders. Ballard wouldn’t benefit. North Queen Anne and Magnolia wouldn’t benefit. West Seattle wouldn’t benefit. It is just about as expensive as building a bus tunnel, but without the widespread benefit. I realize it costs more to build a bus tunnel designed to hold trains eventually, but the difference is minor. If you really felt like it, you could build the stations the same way you would for the train — you don’t have to build it with the first class ability to run express buses and have buses pass buses like the old tunnel. Just have a bus wait behind another bus — just like a train sometimes waits before going into a tunnel in various subway systems around the world. You would, of course, have all door boarding and off board payment, which means very short dwell times. People who take trips *within the tunnel* would come out ahead, since frequency would be much higher than a stub that largely just does the same thing as the monorail. People taking a trip from Ballard, Magnolia, north Queen Anne or West Seattle would have a dramatically faster ride than they do today, which in turn would enable service to those areas to be a lot more frequent.

        Yep, that’s what I would do. I don’t expect much of that to happen, of course.

      2. I agree with all those, with one reservation about 85th Kirkland. The replacement bus should be a 15-minute EXPRESS from Kirkland to both Belleuve and Totem Lake. Not just a slow RapidRide. The Kirkland-Bellevue travel market is large and they’re two of three largest cities in the Eastside. Kirkland-Totem Lake already has some demand due to Evergreen Hospital, and it will become more important as the Totem Lake urban center is built out. 85th Station was Kirkland’s access to both Bellevue and Totem Lake — and UW Bothell and partly Seattle — so a Bellevue-Kirkland-Totem Lake express is the minimum adequate replacement.

        I have always said the extensions beyond Federal Way and Lynnwood are not necessary; I’m just willing to go along with them if that’s the way the politicians and voters are going. And I would appreciate the convenience of a one-seat, frequent, grade-separated train ride when I do go to Everett and Tacoma, or if I have to live there someday if I’m priced out of King County. But the alternative of frequent feeders to Federal Way and Lynnwood is certainly viable, and it’s worth seeing how much truncations the subareas and board would eventually accept even if they’ve been down on them so far. For Pierce, Federal Way makes sense, and is better for them than KDM (as they would have gotten without ST3). For Snohomish, a short extension to 164th or 128th is reasonable.

      3. “But no other plan will benefit the region so soon.” Your fake tunnel will benefit the region sooner than a real tunnel? Ha, that’s funny. Oh, wait, you are serious.

      4. I’ll add a reservation about the WSTT. While I support it in the abstract, in the context of this cutting decision I hesitate to add another tunnel because tunnels are the most expensive projects. As for “eliminating the Aurora connection”, it must at least have a northeast-viable exit so that it doesn’t preclude the E, 5, 62 or other Aurora/Dexter/Westlake routes from using it. That would repeat the mistake of DSTT1 which went east instead of north and didn’t at least have a northern exit. Instead of the WSTT I’d suggest reserving 3rd Avenue capacity for West Seattle, and possibly kicking a few minor routes off 3rd to guarantee West Seattle routes won’t get slowed down.

      5. “But no other plan will benefit the region so soon.” Your fake tunnel will benefit the region sooner than a real tunnel? Ha, that’s funny. Oh, wait, you are serious.

        It is the same tunnel. That’s the point.

        I’ll add a reservation about the WSTT. While I support it in the abstract, in the context of this cutting decision I hesitate to add another tunnel because tunnels are the most expensive projects.

        Yes, absolutely. But again, it’s the same tunnel. It has the same stations. The point is that it can be built as an isolated piece, and thus sooner than the entire line. Think of the various pieces that could be built in isolation:

        1) The West Seattle stub (a line from The Junction to the Stadium).
        2) The tunnel, with the stations that are in the tunnel.
        3) Paving the tunnel for buses, along with entrances on each side, so that you have a functioning bus tunnel.
        4) Rail from the southern end of the tunnel to Smith Cove, so that the tunnel works as a subway line.
        5) An extra connection so that Aurora buses can use the bus tunnel.
        6) A line from Ballard to Smith Cove.

        The current plan is to basically #1 first, then wait a very long time before adding 2, 4 and 6. It is being done in this order because #1 is the cheapest piece. But building it sooner gets us nothing. West Seattle has a light rail line, but it doesn’t connect to anything — it dumps people off at the Stadium. It is quite possible it will be twenty years (2040) before the tunnel is done, and the West Seattle spur is connected to downtown. That would mean twenty years before any part of that corridor (Ballard, Queen Anne and even West Seattle) is substantially better.

        AJ is suggesting we build 2 and 4. This is clearly better in the short run, even though (like my suggestion) it will take longer to build than the West Seattle Spur. The problem is, it still doesn’t do much. It is a lot of money for four stations, only one which is premier. It does nothing for West Seattle, and nothing for Ballard. It isn’t clear how exactly AJ would connect the new tunnel subway. Would it be an isolated line, from SoDo to Smith Cove? Would it connect to the southern line (the long term strategy). If that is the case, that means the other line runs in isolation, between Lynnwood and Redmond. That means six minute frequency through the core, not the three minute frequency that will exist a few years from now. That could be solved by building an extra branch to essentially dump trains down by SoDo, but that is problematic, and again, doesn’t really add that much.

        And it still won’t be cheap. It isn’t clear to me that building that is any cheaper than what I propose (2 and 3). You still have to add track — including elevated track to Smith Cove (along with the extra station there).

        In the long run, my suggestion is clearly more expensive. But it is quite possible that in the short run, the isolated project is no more expensive than AJ’s. Yet it is clearly much better. It benefits the entire corridor (Ballard, Queen Anne, West Seattle) much sooner.

        It is analogous to the old bus tunnel. We could have built a small rail line through downtown (from Westlake to Stadium) in 1990. It could have sat there, shuttling people from one end of downtown to the other, while buses crowded the streets for twenty years, before the line was extended to the airport. There would be no Convention Place Station, which means that we probably would have spent less money in the long run. But that obviously would have been a mistake. It was better to build what we did in the short run, as it provided tremendous benefit for twenty years. Hell, even longer if you count the time both the buses and the trains ran in it.

        Of course it would have been better to build the line from Northgate to SeaTac back in the 1990s, but we didn’t have the money. We made the right decision. Well, it looks like we won’t have the money now — building the tunnel first (as a bus tunnel) is the way to go.

  6. RossB: yes. Could the land devoted to P&R be sold for housing?

    Dan: you reported this candidate “Costs could be lowered through reduced operations”. Please no. ST spends very little on service today. it is a narrow sliver in the pie chart. Reducing service would be counter productive. Instead, service should be increased NOW. it would probably not delay Link much, if at all. Link should run more often to reduce wait times. Trunk bus lines should run more often at off-peak times when buses are available and sitting at bases (e.g., routes 512, 522, 535, 545, 550, 574, 594). The bus lines are the regional spine today. in a net present value consideration, riders today are worth more than riders tomorrow. more frequent service would help riders today and the partner agencies and municipalities. of course, this is aimed at the period after the Covid crisis when we have testing, tracing, masks, and even a vaccine.

    1. “Costs could be lowered through reduced operations”. Please no.

      I don’t know if the Board would endorse this, but one could reduce operations by cutting Sounder North. And it would be a fine way to conserve dollars for future capital projects even after using some of the savings to backfill ST Express to those locations.

      But, yes, I generally agree. Indeed, it’s easier to see gaps in current service operations than savings opportunities. Some future rail/BRT lines have surprisingly skinny ST Express today, and one would think ST would be more busy building that future market.

    2. Removing the implied subsidy for affordable housing is a good opportunity. There are other ways to fund affordable housing, and ST could always land-bank some lots by turning them into temporary P&Rs until a 3rd party has sufficient financing to buy the land at market rates. ST can also save money by leasing land for construction staging, rather than purchasing.

      1. Affordable housing is the #1 critical need in our region. You can say why should the transit budget subsidize it, but expanding affordable housing benefits everybody in their #1 need, if not directly then at least indirectly and longer-term. Ultimately we need a huge expansion, 150,000 units, so that everybody can live in decent housing at 1/3 of their income. That’s the gap that the 100%+ increase in housing prices since 2003 (40% since 2012) has created. This ST housing is a drop in the bucket but it’s an important step, and one of the biggest steps anybody in the region is doing. Plus, the housing is dense and makes good transit available to hundreds and potentially thousands of lower-income residents who wouldn’t have it otherwise.

    3. I think when people see “service cut” they assume frequency cut, or decent routes be axed altogether. This is certainly the case with Metro. But ST runs a lot of very expensive, long distance routes that could be truncated. My guess is once Link gets to Federal Way, all the south end express buses will be truncated at Federal Way. I’m sure this would be unpopular, but would likely simply be a sign of things to come. I can’t imagine that ST would run a subway line, express bus and commuter rail line to Tacoma. The savings would be enormous. Not only would you truncate lots of different routes, but the 574 becomes redundant.

      It is possible that is all assumed, but if it isn’t, that is an enormous amount of savings. Normally you would push that into other routes (e. g. an all day Tacoma-Auburn-Kent-Rent bus) but if you can’t, you can’t.

      Unfortunately, in the north end, I would imagine it is all assumed. Additional cuts to Everett-Lynnwood service, or just about any Link service would be painful, and likely result in very little savings, as ridership would decrease with frequency. That is where the clear choice is to just kill off North Sounder instead.

    4. ST’s highest priority for surplus land is affordable housing, thanks to a change in state law ca. 2013 that allows getting a non-maximum return (sale price) for this. ST has also stated that some P&Rs are convertable to housing at a future date if long-term driving demand and public expectations change. I’ve heard of this in relation to South Bellevue and maybe TIB, but there’s no reason it couldn’t apply to other stations. If ST decides to deliver fewer parking spaces than the representative alignment in the ballot measure, it would have to write a justification statement, but that’s surmountable. The main issue is the Board’s willingness to do so. It’s generally very reluctant to reverse its precedents.

      ST is already planning to truncate all ST Express routes at Federal Way and Lynnwood in 2024. (Except the 574, which is a kind of “local service”, a Lakewood-King County bypass, and it may be extended to West Seattle to replace the part of the 560 that 405 Stride will abandon.) All the planning scenarios in 2016 envisioned these truncations. Since then the staff and board may have changed their minds, but there’s been no announcement of it, no budgeting for it, and no organized pressure from constituents. The pressure may come later, but ST would have to reverse itself to keep the 574 and 510 going downtown.

      1. ST is already planning to truncate all ST Express routes at Federal Way and Lynnwood in 2024.

        OK, yeah, I wasn’t sure. I agree with that approach, but it means there is no additional savings to be had (they already assumed those savings).

    5. We already needed frequent express transit to Tacoma, Everett, Kent, Auburn, etc when ST was created in the 1990s, and since then the population has only grown. ST’s and the cities’/counties’ approach has been “wait for Link” no matter how long it takes and how much hardship and wasted time accumulates in the gap. Only the 512, 545, 550, and combined 577/578 are at least 15-minute frequent weekdays and partway there Saturdays. The 522 and 574 have odd 15-minute spans that don’t cover the entire 8am-6pm period. If we want a transit-oriented society then we need the transit, at both the local, limited-stop, and express levels, full time, and not only at 30-minute intervals.

      1. another approach to the FWLE opening, is not a fiscal cut or savings, but an improvement in frequency. the network could have a few shorter and very frequent routes between FW Link and Tacoma, Lakewood, and TCC.

        between today and FWLE opening, there is the potential to restructure service in the corridor.

  7. Is there any conversation about saving money by avoiding or simply deferring payments to WSDOT for ROW? The long term plan assumes rather large cash payments to WSDOT for ROW given all the freeway alignment used. Even if the rest of the state wants their money at some point, WSDOT could at least defer payment until ST has cleared their period of maximum constraint, effectively creating an off balance sheet loan between WSDOT and ST.

    Off balance sheet loans to private parties are generally invidious (PPP, cough cough), but between public entities controlled by the same state, this seems reasonable.

  8. It’s not a sin to re-evaluate, no matter what ST boardmembers often say!!!

    In the north sub-area, the answer is simple: terminate the Everett Link at Mariner Park & Ride, which would require a 3-station extension beyond Lynnwood Transit Center, similar to the Northgate extension in length and the number of stations, but without any tunneling. Extend the green bus rapid transit line that already goes from Mariner to Boeing to downtown Everett following the routing of the “blue” line. There are probably enough drivers who are idled to staff the line, and perhaps the frequencies can be reduced for the rest of that line or articulated buses used temporarily to accommodate that extension. When money allows, continue north along I-5.

    For the Ballard line, stay on one side of the Ship Canal: replace the Ballard/downtown line, which is already served by Metro RapidRide, with a line between Ballard and either Roosevelt or the U District, a stretch which has been congested for at least four decades. The boondoggle Sounder North could add a stop in Ballard if “essential” to serve Ballard.

    For the Issaquah line, terminate it at South Bellevue, then think about heading south to Tukwila International Station instead.

    As for asking for more taxes during a pandemic, it is refreshing to read that a vote would be required now when I heard that Sound Transit has a blank check in so far as spending above the colossal $54 billion that’s already been approved. For me, more taxes for a plan that’s a Seattle-centric one, i.e. “spurs” to Ballard and West Seattle are to be completed before the so-called “spine” pieces to Everett and a needless dogleg to Boeing/Everett appease big donors rather than going directly to Everett and another appeasement line to Issaquah where the then-Vice Chair of Sound Transit lived and Google in Kirkland rather than turning south to Renton, is D-O-A. We don’t “need” ST-3 as it was designed. Anybody who’s gotten their past few licensing tab fees knows that. Of course, ST wants to change the mix of taxes to something, anything, that’s less visible to the taxpayer, like sales taxes. Accountability is shunned!

  9. eddiew, we’re on the same wavelength but suggest you at least consider how many of today’s riders might take the possible cessation of service tomorrow as reason to trade their Card for a Car today.

    I would very much like to see a posting where actual Sounder North riders can make their case for keeping the service. There’s a strong possibility that some of them WILL be willing to, on this very day, trade their trains for bus service that’ll work better for them than Sounder.

    Kind of indecent to use this for a comparison, but in both war-time and gangland, common power play for an intimidator is to demand that you sacrifice something dear to you by way of acknowledging his superiority over you. Lead-in to his NEXT demand.

    In other words, know the cost of what you’re giving away and what-all you might be losing by doing it. To me, way to handle the Center City Connector is to consider it the key section of a railroad between South Lake Union and the Broadway District. And start manufacturing PCC’s in Kent to run it with.

    For this attitude and course-of-action, COVIDIA (think of a girl viking with a crow for a helmet) could not invent a better use of time.

    Mark Dublin

  10. For West Seattle, I would scale back to 2 stations at Delridge and Avalon, one to handle transfers from each of the Rapid Ride lines. Elevated track was never a good fit for the Junction, they should either go there at-grade or wait until there is funding for a short tunnel spur.

    I would also follow the West Seattle Bridge right-of-way to avoid property acquisitions in the Youngstown/Fairmount Park areas. The Delridge station can straddle Delridge Way SW on the south side of Spokane. After going past the north edge of Nucor the track can be at-grade in the median of the bridge approach.

    1. Joe Z, and STB, might be a good idea to start gathering information on stuff like soils, geology, hydrology, and latest techniques for both tunneling and elevated structure to see what-all might have changed work conditions for the better in the neighborhood of which you speak.

      Since Jay Inslee at his most tyrannical can’t lift a finger to stop you, fact you’re doing this at all might at least make some people a little more careful about messing with you in times to come.

      Mark Dublin

    2. That would require replacing the post-Link C’s service to Alki, Sylvan Way, and 10th-to-1st in White Center and Burien. Alki must not be left out of frequent transit again. It’s one of Seattle’s most transit-accessible beaches that the entire city and visitors go to.

      1. Agreed Mike, good point. Perhaps scratch the Avalon station and put a single surface station on Fauntleroy around 38th/39th or so where it will be easier for the C to get back to California? Although leadership has been reluctant to scratch stations to date and that would leave a gap in the walkshed around Avalon/Yancy which is a very popular stop on the C-Line. Maybe if you’re going to go through the effort of building a Duwamish crossing it has to be 3 stations. I’m not sure what the cost savings is for an elevated vs surface station.

  11. I’m no longer convinced that we need the second Downtown tunnel. We might — but with a massive 20 percent cut in ST3, this cost (which is apportioned to all subareas) could be the most impactful and acceptable reduction strategy.

    1. The PM peak ridership data assumes peak travel based on surveys 10 or 20 years ago. With more work-at-home and more flexible work hours for some , that’s flattening the peak. It’s not clear that it’s not going to reverse somewhat, but it won’t be the way work trips were 10 or 20 years ago. The forecasts need to revisit this no matter what.

    2. All the forecasts show more riders on the singular line between Westlake and Capitol Hill than on both lines in the same direction between Midtown/ University Street to Westlake added together. Even so, the peak per train load is forecasted between Beacon Hill and SODO in 2040. The second tunnel appears to be more needed to push through enough trains on these other more crowded sections (more frequent trains) than to offload crowding through Downtown.

    3. The 3/6 minute peak train assumptions may only need to be 4.5/9 minutes (or maybe the 4/8 assumed in the EIS for East Link and Lynnwood Link) because peak demand could be lower.

    4. The challenge would be how to operate three lines in one tunnel and how to design a branch in the existing DSTT. That’s difficult and expensive — but so are multi-level transfer stations at ID and Westlake.

    Rather than build a set of tracks deep under a Westlake Station (the magnitude of difficulty dropping in this station likely is underestimated), I can envision a small “loop” — tying into the existing tracks at Third/ Pine and Eighth/ Pine and be located under Olive Street. That would require additional switching tracks between University Street and Westlake. Northbound trains would use existing two Westlake platforms and southbound trains would stop at two new platforms under Olive Street between Fourth and Sixth Avenues. This would also give ST more operational options in emergencies and special situations because a train could be turned around in the DSTT without making the driver go to the other end of the the train before reversing it.

    I would think rail system experts could find other ways to get more use out of the existing tunnel and save billions.

    I’m not saying that it’s time to retreat from the second tunnel — but the current WS/B alternatives should at least be expanded to determine what the design requirements and costs might be to either justify its investment or not.

  12. One easy schedule deferment is to take a look at projects which are scheduled to open before the system can handle the riders. A few examples:

    – The five-year West Seattle Link stub. Forcing most of West Seattle to change to a train in West Seattle then take another train in SODO is obviously illogical when riders can take a direct bus to Downtown Seattle today. Plus, the extra riders will make Link in SODO overcrowded.

    – The Tacoma Dome extension. It adds more riders onto Link in SE Seattle, which adds to potential overcrowding. The lower impact may let ST continue to operate at the 4/8 minute Link system operation longer ( if the West Seattle project is also delayed).

    That leaves three remaining projects over $1.5B.

    – Dropping the South Kirkland Station seems like a no-brainer. The switching needed for this project south of East Main looks problematic anyway.

    – Everett Link seems logical to build in phases. A majority of new riders are forecasted to be Mariner and further south suggesting that a delay isn’t so much of a challenge for the northern segment.

    That of course leaves the big cost elephant in the room — Ballard, South Lake Union and the second DSTT. Right now it looks very much in jeopardy because it doesn’t achieve the “spine”. Deferring that seems doable, but I’m not convinced it can be done in the original years allotted. San Francisco and LA have current Downtown tunnel projects with 2-3 year delays — or taking 11-12 years ultimately from ground-breaking. (With FTA requiring a reasonable financing plan and that funding needed before ground can be broken, I don’t see ground-breaking until 2030 at the earliest given this financial crisis.). If it’s broken up into the tunnel and the non-tunnel segment, the funding drawdown can be lessened because the tunnel segment will take five more years to build than the non- tunnel segment will take. So if the tunnel segment breaks ground in year 1, the non-tunnel segment can begin construction 4-5 years later — and both segments would seem to be finished at about the same time.

    1. “The five-year West Seattle Link stub.”

      That was a joke from the beginning. It was scheduled that was as an early deliverable to a politically-important district, without regard to the passenger-level usefulness of it. Few people will take a stub to SODO and transfer; they’ll take the C or H to downtown instead. Metro has already planned for this; the C won’t be restructured until West Seattle is connected to DSTT1 and Lynnwood. So the stub and RapidRide C will be running in parallel for six years until DSTT2 catches up. They should have scheduled DSTT2 and Ballard first, and then West Seattle. Or preferably replaced West Seattle Link with open BRT (i.e., multi-line branching BRT).

      1. I think the only reason they plan on building it first is because it is cheapest. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to realize that it is of very little value if it doesn’t connect to downtown.

      2. is there a headway allocation that makes sense if West Seattle is built first? the ST3 plan was to have West Seattle trains go to Lynnwood and hook Ballard and Tacoma. could the Lynnwood train headway be split three ways: East, South, and West? could the DSTT signaling support two-minute headway? if not today, how about after an upgrade? six-minute headway on the other three? (with more complexity and economy, the north line could also be split in three with turnback trips at Northgate and/or UW, but then the line would have uneven headway on on the interim segment north of the UW. could opt to send all trips to/from Lynnwood). the East and South line will have and do have segments of surface operation.

  13. Now that the 3D online video software seems to have come into its own, time we start giving ourselves a readable look at what our choices really are for adding subway capacity Downtown. As well as everyplace else we need to, like both Ballard and West Seattle.

    Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a full computer model of the CBD under ground might be that amount squared as to value in planning and design. Because we’re not talking cardboard, styrofoam, glue or tape anymore.

    At this point, I’m really curious about that proposal of a few years ago giving the First Hill hospital district its own tunnel. Definitely an area it’d be important to get connected to the rest of the region. But with the modelling tools now available, the available choices might narrow to the point that decisions now hard could become a lot easier real fast.

    The effort by itself could also give a welcome head start to whole platoons of computer-addicted people of the age where trains are most completely habit-forming. All of whom are now less than eighteen years away from both voting and joining the State legislature.

    Know somebody’s already doing this. Please give me a link to it.

    Mark Dublin

  14. The price tag for “Ballard Link”, which includes the downtown tunnel is essentially what ST projects as a short-fall. So spend the several hundred million to increase capacity in the U-Link Tunnel to 2 minute headways and axe everything else in Seattle except the two fill-in stations.

    There is an operating plan which can work with ST’s two-hour terminal-to-terminal standard: Everett to Sea-Tac, Redmond to Lynnwood, and Tacoma to Northgate. With such an operating plan, giving two-minute headways between Northgate and IDS, at least 95% of trips on the train would be single-seat. Yes, Redmond-Sea Tac would still require a transfer, so keep that center platform at PSS and add an elevator at one end and a stair at the other.

    Then put a stiff “access” tax on each rider from outside the City who gets off a train inside it and use the funds to build whatever Seattle decides it needs. Sound Transit can be contracted to run the trains, if any are chosen, but the autoista-dominated ST Board wouldn’t be making the decisions.

    Maybe Ross’s bus tunnel will be the chosen technology. A second mid-level span across the ship canal with a pair of dedicated bus lanes would serve northwest Seattle very well, and a surface Light Metro from 24th West to University Village and Childrens’ Hospital would handle the cross-town ridership up north. All of that could be done for what the train tunnel, vehicles and arguments would cost.

  15. We already have a 2nd downtown tunnel and we already have a transit agency with expertise at converting 2 car tunnels to light rail tunnels. Why not take a lane away from the SR-99 tunnel and put light rail in there? Then the main cost would be to build a deep station and long underground tunnels to connect the station to Westlake (as well as potentially the waterfront).

    Probably not an ST3 project but if the downtown tunnel does get scrapped it would allow for the Aurora line to be built as well as a connection south to Georgetown or even Tukwila/Renton (eventually LOL).

    1. We do? You mean the Mt Baker and Mercer Island tunnels in I-90? The express lanes were designed to be convertible to rail as part of the I-90 project in the 80s. The 99 tunnel wasn’t.

      1. What does “convertible” actually mean? Many of the safety systems in the I-90 tunnels were not up to code. The bridges and ramps still had to be refurbished. It wasn’t a small project despite being supposedly convertible. The SR-99 tunnel has brand new safety systems. The decking could be reinforced. Yes it’s a bit crazy but I bet a feasibility study could put a pricetag on it rather than saying it is impossible.

      2. I took it to mean it can hold the weight of trains and didn’t have anything unnecessarily hindering conversion. They may have skimped on features to make it easy because it was in the far future and may never happen, as the DSTT skimped on rails.

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