Dungeness Line (Olympic Bus Lines) bus at King Street Station

This is an open thread.

52 Replies to “News roundup: traffic is back”

  1. The two Talgo 8 trainsets that were for Wisconsin have been moved to the Talgo factory in Milwaukee and are reportedly being modified for service on the Cascades routes. Those WI trainsets each consisted of 1 control car and 13 passenger cars. The rumor is that those 2 trainsets will be re-configured into 3 trainsets which will give the Cascades corridor 5 total trainsets again–although likely with a lower total seat capacity.

      1. Those original Talgo cars were determined to be insufficiently robust – they took a lot of damage in the derailment. The NTSB report recommended that Talgo VI sets be removed from service as soon as practical.

      2. OK. Does anybody know where the new Amtrak trainsets are being manufactured? Piece of quality control I’d recommend: since we’ve proved we can make planes, we can also make trains.

        If St. Louis Car Company could do it, light-rail and streetcars too. At the very least, discussion of it might take the inevitability out of the years of hardship and unemployment that “everybody knows” are going to beset us forever.

        For morale’s sake, electric rail’s got a hero who deserves some attention right now:



        Thomas Edison didn’t like him, which was probably the best testimony to the quality of his general approach to work and life. Also really is time that Sound Transit recreate its library on the model of the one that Metro used to have on the fifth floor of the Exchange Building. Helpful librarian and all, in addition to its necessary presence online.

        Could improve decision-making by putting technical information where enough voters to turn an election might learn what to tell the board-members meeting right there in the Ruth Fisher Boardroom. Know Ruth would’ve approved.

        Might also encourage the return of the espresso cafe that, despite or maybe because of the presence of Starbucks’ a few doors away, has always belonged in that beautiful vaulted lobby. Public testimony was definitely of a higher quality when it was still there.

        Mark Dublin

        Mark Dublin

      3. Siemens is the builder for most of Amtrak’s on-order equipment. They are assembling the trains in Sacramento.

      4. But they don’t have passive tilting, so won’t they be slower on the Cascades corridor?

      5. The Siemens sets haven’t been ordered for the Cascades corridor. We will have 5 Talgo 8 trainsets and maybe a set of Horizons or Superliners for Seattle to Vancouver BC.

      6. So we will have tilting trains long-term; this is just a short-term stopgap to get particular vehicles out of service rather than abandoning the benefit of Talgos?

  2. From the Kevin Desmond article … “That’s why it’s critical that we rebuild public confidence in the safety of transit …”

    If public transit is safe, how come I don’t see any local politicians or transit heads riding transit to show the public it’s safe?

  3. About Desmond’s comments on the future of cities . . ..

    Seattle is different than Vancouver in terms of the outlook for transit in the future. Downtown Seattle’s commuter workforce last year was 295K, and nearly half of them commuted to and from worksites via transit. That’s lots of commuter boardings, and a really high percentage of those aren’t coming back when the lockdown orders lift. Remote working and high unemployment in Seattle will slash the downtown transit demand forecasts here. Translink doesn’t face that prospect due to the high percentage of personal-purpose boardings — those return to pre-virus levels.

    1. Anon, recalling a previous recession that History for some reason always starts with a “D”…why do you think it’s a given that return to full employment will be slow?

      Considering our country’s size, unity (despite a lot of real hard effort) and safety (we can’t be invaded on the surface of the Earth) we really should be able to plan, work, and govern our way back to health. From what I’m observing of our people in action every day, COVID-be-damned, doom I just do not see.

      Where will recovery money come from? Depression didn’t keep us from funding recovery via World War II. No chance same source won’t deliver without the war part?

      Mark Dublin

  4. Come on, Sam, stop making this so easy! Considering the results of some of their managerial activities this past while, you think passengers are going to take the risk that certain officials are not going to discover to their horror that somebody has actually made a DECISION, rip the driver’s compartment door off its hinges, and order traction power turned off while the next twenty Meetings’ agendas are being formulated?

    Also gotta also face it that given the plate tectonics of the ST service area, PA announcement that a train northbound out of Pioneer Square might really HAVE Angle Lake for its next station, followed by Sea-Tac Airport are for real. Owing to a miscommunication with some department with underground dealings like sewers. All because a transit-riding public official hit the wrong key on their smart phone.

    Which is where you come in. August 4th is still, what, week after next? So there is time for a write-in campaign for an initiative to mandate that every official in a position to issue a single order to transit HAS to spend a certain specified amount of time actually riding it!

    At the end of those molten tire tracks, Tim Eyman’s already got your office chair waiting on the loading dock at Lacey Fred Meyers! Thank you for your service. But also…..watch yourself! You’ll be hard to replace.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Does anyone know if the JumpStart tax only applies to companies whose employees are physically working in the Seattle city limits? What if it’s a Seattle company, but the high salary employee is working at their Bellevue office? Or, what if it’s a Redmond company, and their high salary employee is working in their Seattle office? Or, if it’s a Seattle company, and the employee remote works from Bellevue?

    1. If it’s the former, Amazon can officially relocate its employees to Bellevue, while, in reality, they continue to work from home, wherever they live. If it’s the latter, Amazon can move the company’s official address to Bellevue. Either way, it seems like, if they want to dodge it, they can, unless the tax is somehow based on where the employees live, rather than work.

    2. I believe the “nexus” for the tax is where the work is being performed, so where the worker is physically located when working. Not sure, but if that is the case that brings up some interesting issues:

      1) Companies may discourage or ban workers from living in Seattle when the company office is outside city limits. I have heard examples of companies restricting which states workers can live; presumably this could extend to cities as well. To avoid the headache of filing taxes for a small group of people, companies could hire new workers literally anywhere else.

      2) Companies based outside Seattle could require Seattle-resident employees to only work from the non-Seattle office and not allow working from home.

      3) Companies with smaller Seattle offices may choose to relocate to other cities or close the office entirely. Probably more of an issue as office leases come up – the tax is not high enough to make breaking a lease worthwhile. The big local companies will have a tough time leaving, but the “generic East Coast company” regional sales office can easily be in Bellevue, or Boise.

      That being said, it seems like most of the tax supporters would see any of these outcomes as a win.

      1. the tax is not high enough to make breaking a lease worthwhile.

        The tax is not high enough to alter the behavior of any company. Real estate in downtown Seattle is extremely expensive. Yet they locate there, because that is best for business. This tax *starts* at 150 grand. So an employer paying someone making 200 grand would pay a relatively small amount in additional tax, relative to how much they are actually paying them. These are highly valued employees (obviously) and companies are more concerned with whether they are happy and productive than they are paying a tiny amount more to keep them.

      2. The tax is on the entire salary though, not just the portion above $150k. The tax hit for a large company on a $150k salary is $2100/year (1.4%).

        The thresholds are also not indexed to inflation, to my knowledge, so the they will hit more and more jobs as the years go by and further raise the burden.

      3. Only businesses with total payroll expense of $1 billion or higher are subject to the higher 1.4% tax rate for employee pay between $150,000 and $399,999. For businesses under this threshold, the tax rate is .7% for this same compensation range.

        Also, the ordinance has an inflation factor section:

        “5.38.070 Adjustments for inflation

        “A. Beginning on January 1, 2022, and on January 1 of every year thereafter, the Director shall adjust in the manner described in subsection 5.38.070.B the following dollar amounts:
        1. The amount of the dollar thresholds in Section 5.38.030; and
        2. The amount of the exemption in subsection 5.38.040.A.1.

        “B. The amounts listed in subsection 5.38.070.A shall increase commensurate with the rate of growth of the prior year’s June-to-June Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area as published by the United States Department of Labor. The amounts calculated shall be rounded to the nearest whole dollar.”

      4. The tax is on the entire salary though, not just the portion above $150k.

        Thanks for the correction. That’s really weird. The business pays nothing in taxes for someone who makes $149k. They pay a grand or two for those that make a little bit more. How very weird.

        I guess since it is the employer paying it, and since it is still relatively small, it doesn’t matter. It is still weird though. This a very strange form of what is essentially a graduated income tax by another name.

        I wonder if it will be ruled (state) constitutional. The graduated nature (as well as taxing big companies bigger than small ones) seems like it isn’t OK. I think you could get away with taxing income, it just needs to be at the same rate (i. e. a flat income tax).

      5. “The tax is not high enough to alter the behavior of any company. ” – not in isolation, but the incremental cost could drive a decision.

        The PSBJ recently ran an article about how tech companies are completely unaffected, but small, non-tech professional service firms (think law firms or architects) are starting to look at moving out of Seattle, with this tax providing the justification to start the process. As tech firms continue to pay a premium to locate in Seattle, we should see some non-tech firms move elsewhere in the region, with the new tax simply strengthening an existing argument, rather than creating a new one.

    3. Sam, this is mostly spelled out in the ordinance. (The Director [of Finance and Administrative Services] will fill in any of the gaps with subsequent rulemaking, as also spelled out in the ordinance.) It’s not terribly long, so my suggestion would be to take five minutes to actually read it. Here’s the link:


      Some relevant definitions:

      ” “Payroll expense” means the compensation paid in Seattle to employees. Compensation
      is paid in Seattle to an employee if:
      1. The employee is primarily assigned within Seattle;
      2. The employee is not primarily assigned to any place of business for the tax period and the employee performs 50 percent or more of their service for the tax period in Seattle; or
      3. The employee is not primarily assigned to any place of business for the tax period, the employee does not perform 50 percent or more of their service in any city, and the employee resides in Seattle.

      ” “Primarily assigned” means the business location of the taxpayer where the employee performs their duties.”

      There is also this critical section:

      “5.38.050 Allocation and apportionment
      A. The Director may adopt procedures to allow taxpayers who have payroll expenses
      consisting of work done and services provided within and outside Seattle to use a representative test period or conduct a survey based on factual data to arrive at a formula with which to calculate the percentage of payroll expense attributable to Seattle. Any formula so established will be subject to review and correction by the Director.
      B. If payroll expense as defined in Section 5.38.020 does not fairly represent the extent of the compensation paid by the taxpayer to its employees that is attributable to work performed or
      services rendered in Seattle, the taxpayer may petition the Director for, or the Director may
      require, the employment of another method to effectuate an equitable allocation and

      As well as this (under the same section)….

      “D. Businesses engaging temporary or contracted employees shall report and pay the tax on the payroll expense of such temporary or contracted employees, whether or not they are from an employment agency.”

      1. The more interesting part of all of this to me was Mayor Durkan’s response. You can read her letter to the council using the same link I’ve provided above.

      2. This all sounds great for Bellevue (Amazon) and Kirkland (Google). Wouldn’t be surprised to see $tarbucks leave given the lack of support protecting their property; pay more, get less.

      3. Interesting. So if their office is in Seattle, but they are working from home (perhaps temporarily) this tax applies. It also applies if they happen to live in Seattle, and are working from home more than 50%.

        So really, they have to do the work elsewhere, or live elsewhere to avoid the tax. I could see those who live outside Seattle and are doing all of their work from home being assigned to say, Bellevue. Might as well — for the cost of some paperwork, these companies get to avoid paying taxes.* But once the pandemic is over, and you want people back to the office (at least 50%), then my guess is those folks are once again assigned to Seattle.

        Then again, Amazon (and other companies) may just have the East Side workers work on the East Side, simply because it makes their commute easier. That was going on before, and will likely continue.

        I doubt they will send Lynnwood workers to Bellevue though. That seems harsh, and not at all worth it for high paid workers.

        * Then again, from a public relations standpoint, that might not be worth it. Something like that would likely become national news, and the last thing Amazon (or similar) companies want is the government (especially a new administration) focused on their tax avoidance schemes.

      4. Amazon can’t move to Bellevue. Their server infrastructure and the trunk internet lines they use are in Seattle. Bellevue would have to drastically increase their internet lines, at a cost of at least tens of millions of dollars (likely hundreds of millions). Even then, large scale AWS server migration isn’t cheap for the company itself.

        Amazon is a parasite. It isn’t going to expend energy attaching itself to a lesser host. You could triple the head tax and Amazon wouldn’t even blink.

      5. I just read the Mayor’s letter. To sum it up bluntly, both the Mayor and Council want more taxes, they just disagree which way to squeeze it out of people.

        And Bernie, even if Amazon doesn’t want shift workers to Bellevue to reduce their tax exposure, after the recent death threats against Bezos I’ve seen painted on looted Seattle storefront windows from domestic terrorists, they may want to leave as a safety measure.

      6. A Joy, they can certainly shift more of their employees to the Eastside, especially as both some tall Bellevue Amazon buildings become completed around the same time East Link opens.

      7. Sam, they can certainly shift more workers to Bellevue, yes. But the majority? No. Remember, Amazon just built three huge domes in Seattle. HQ2 has been a disastrous fiasco, and New York pulled out of the deal, leaving an anemic presence in Arlington, VA. You can’t migrate AWS there. And AWS is where the majority of Amazon’s profit comes from. Most years, their online shopping branch operates at a loss. Those servers are gold to Amazon. And they can’t easily move. That means Seattle is stuck with the parasite, regardless of taxation levels.

      8. Seattle’s magnet for talent is weakening, IMO (and wasn’t as strong as many believed it was to begin with).

        Many Seattle workers already live outside the city and would welcome a shorter commute to a suburban office. Those living in Seattle could still work from home two days a week without triggering the tax. Anyone with a now-brutal commute (say, Bainbridge to Bellevue instead of downtown) could WFH full time and go into the office for special occasions.

        The virus has crushed many of the things that make city life enjoyable, while at the same time raising the value of rural and suburban lifestyles (yards, open space, fewer crowds). Factor in housing price differences and Seattle looks even worse.

        Finally, the point I make often, that many people moved to Seattle because they had to, but don’t particularly like it here. Amazon stock grants make up for that significantly, but with Amazon opening offices in a number of cities across the US, it isn’t hard to imagine Amazon allowing Seattle based workers to transfer to a different office (maybe even with a ~$2100 moving stipend?).

      9. Amazon can’t move to Bellevue. Their server infrastructure and the trunk internet lines they use are in Seattle.

        Here’s a link to Amazon’s SEA data centers. I’d bet heavy on SEA15 in Tukwila having the most actual data storage. All the long haul internet routes through SEA4 in the Westin Bld. The time it takes light to get there from S. Lk. Union vs the time from Bellevue is a small fraction of the equipment latancy. They’re doing just fine with people working from home rather than their desks so why do you think said desks can’t migrate to Bellevue? Data centers obviously will stay where they are but very few people actually work there. In fact they’re largely dark to reduce cooling requirements.

      10. Trying to hone in on taxing employees inside Seattle is truly a bad idea in 2020. With many more people working at home, all a company has to do is call them remote employees and list the work site at their home address. Companies can also report that the employee works from a storefront office elsewhere since they aren’t in any physical office anyway — even if they are Seattle residents.

        Worksite taxation of employees is just less viable than 2 or 20 years ago. It may seem like a good idea, but work-around are easy to devise. That will leave the low-pay jobs like restaurant or grocery workers to pay the tax while the high-pay workers like financial managers and tech workers won’t be.

      11. Bernie, I’d take that bet in a heartbeat. I live just south of that area. The best commercial internet out here is slower than the best residential internet in SLU or Capitol Hill. AWS performs high bandwidth real time functions. A real world example is upscaling 720p livestreamed sports event into 1080p livestreamed sports events with less than a one second delay. You’re not doing that in Tukwila. The internet infrastructure for it simply doesn’t exist.

        You do realize that map comes from Wikileaks, yes? I’m not sure I’d call that a terribly reliable source. Even then, chances are that map would be from 2015. Amazon’s three domes opened in 2018, so there’s many more Amazon servers in Seattle now than there were in 2015.

        Lots of people work at data centers. Maintenance is a huge issue. Server blades constantly burn out from overuse and need replacement. Firmware issues can stop things in their tracks. Ops Dev/QA can only do so much remotely. When downtime costs millions of dollars per minute, you dedicate a significant number of employees to make sure downtime doesn’t happen.

        AWS is huge. In 2017, 4.7% of the total Internet was hosted on AWS. That’s well over twice that of Cloudflare, whose outage last week crippled Discord. Netflix is entirely hosted by AWS, and Netflix accounted for 40% of all internet traffic in 2017. And again, this is all before the three domes opened up.

        Anazon can move a lot of desk jockeys. But that’s just rearranging deck chairs. Most of its employees aren’t desk jockeys, and those are the employees making Amazon the big bucks.

      12. @AJoy Commerical/Residential internet service has zero to do with it. Amazon is going to buy their own dark fiber direct to the Westin building. Really, I’ve worked in that industry for 20 years. There’s an abundance of dark fiber in the ground. The “lots” of people working on location at data centers aren’t the high salaries affected by this tax.

      13. Powering dark fiber isn’t just a matter of controlling both ends and flipping a switch. It’ll still cost millions to get in working order. And it doesn’t change the volumes of web traffic going through Seattle. That’s an expansion for future needs, not a Seattle exodus point.

        Data center workers are paid less though. You got me there.

      14. Powering dark fiber isn’t just a matter of controlling both ends and flipping a switch. It’ll still cost millions to get in working order.

        You’re blowing smoke out your ass. I worked for a company in Totem Lake that had less that 50 employees and had two (redundant) dark fiber connections to the Westin. You know nothing about this and are trapped in your own imaginary world. Done.

      15. “Many Seattle workers already live outside the city and would welcome a shorter commute to a suburban office.”

        Say what? Many suburban workers live in Seattle and would welcome a shorter commute to a Seattle office. Other suburban workers would live in Seattle if they could afford to.

      16. Many Seattle workers already live outside the city and would welcome a shorter commute to a suburban office.

        Right, but the people who live in the city, or in *other* suburbs would hate it more than working in the city. That is one reason why companies have moves away from the suburban office park/campus model, and towards the city. Plus it is a lot easier to work with other businesses.

        With many more people working at home, all a company has to do is call them remote employees and list the work site at their home address.

        So what? So they don’t pay for employees working at home from Bellevue, but they pay for employees working from home from Seattle. That is still more than they were paying before, and eventually those people will be coming back to work. Companies didn’t build big buildings downtown so they would stay empty. Companies like Amazon (that is literally a software company) could have had widespread remote working before the pandemic, but they didn’t. Why would they have it after?

      17. There’s no way there was ever that much dark fiber to the Westin Building, and there likely never was. It’s been a major telecommunications hub since the 1980s. And there’s no way a small, 50 person company bought any lines to it. The cost alone would be more than the 50 person company’s total worth. Anyone who worked in that industry for 20 years would know that.

  6. My separation from the Ballard rail-to-trail discussion is speculator John Goodman’s fault, not mine. My neighbors and I pooled our money and made him an offer ‘way over what Lockhaven was worth. But his sources told him I was going to be trouble from Fremont all the way to Shilshole, and he fought back accordingly.

    Too bad for him I’m assured that cancellation of IT Route 612 to Tacoma Dome is temporary. This one’s worth some serious cross-boundary intrusion, I mean some visits and participation wherever I can steal it. Because no way I’m going to see a railroad of mine become a piece of land-use. For all those years of transit-oriented residence right across my parking lot from it, like the saying goes: “I SAW IT FIRST!”

    Think trains and trails can’t join forces? Let’s get some design working drawings and see what the tape-measure says.

    COVID-willing, will risk my ORCA tap-compliance chances to get with former-Nordic Heritage now called The National Nordic Museum for some real-time video showing people on and off bicycles at comfortable close-quarters with streetcars across Oslo’s City Hall Square, which our waterfront would do well to make a lot more effort to imitate.

    And let the tape-measure decide as to fit. Alive or, even worse dead (their “Draugur” could scare our poor zombies back to LIFE!) the Norse are as good allies as they are an ill folk to cross. Possibly including the permanent streetcar-sister-city relationship with Gothenburg that Ballard Link can put at our service via Icelandair out of Sea-Tac. Trust me. The WORLD is saving Seattle a CLASS all its own when we finally get it together to claim it.

    Ross B., you don’t have to back me up, I’m already getting the Link drawbridge named after you.

    Mark Dublin

  7. While I get the enthusiasm about closing Lake Washington Blvd, choosing to start the closure at Mt Baker Beach is only going to force more traffic onto the very narrow streets between McClellan and Genesee. The closure point should be moved further north or south.

      1. Yep, sure is: https://parkways.seattle.gov/tag/bicycle-sundays/. This is one of the arguments that Tom Fucoloro used for this project, as noted here:

        As he put it in this post:

        People can still drive on the street to access their homes and get deliveries, and people are already very familiar with how this works because Bicycle Sunday has been happening every summer for half a century.

      2. You are missing an important cintributing factor: On Bicycle Sunday’s, most of the narrow streets between McClellan and Genesee usually have “Road Closed Local Traffic Only” signs posted. This year, those signs have not appeared.

        I’ll add that the City has closed all the parking lots along LW Blvd. it’s rather non-sensical as lakeside visitors are parking on neighborhood streets and walking to the lakeside. This non-sensical idea of creating walkable areas not near transit (an infrequent Metro 50 is over 1/4 away) yet trying to suppress park visitation by closing nearby parking lots is rather ineffective and contradictory, frankly.

      3. Mt. Baker Beach is close enough to Mt. Baker Link Station.

        But, it’s intended that most of the users will be walking or biking from their homes, rather than riding transit. At biking speeds, it’s not really that far from most of the city. Walking, you don’t have to be able to afford a two-million-dollar house to walk to the waterfront. Somebody living in the Rainier Valley can walk to the lake in about 20 minutes. It’s not really that far.

        If you look at the map, the number of people “forced” onto the narrow streets between McClellan and Genesse is very tiny. Unless you live in one of the houses there (and there aren’t many of them), there’s no reason to drive there.

        “On Bicycle Sunday’s, most of the narrow streets between McClellan and Genesee usually have “Road Closed Local Traffic Only” signs posted. This year, those signs have not appeared.”

        Well, the fix for that is easy – just put up the signs.

  8. The headline of the next article on the Traffic is Back link is “Average daily coronavirus cases quadrupled since June in King County”. That’s true but why isn’t the headline “Number of daily deaths from coronavirus has dropped by 70% since June in King County” or “Number of daily deaths from coronavirus has dropped by half since June in King County”? Really, as many people die daily in traffic accidents as from coronavirus.

    To be sure, we are learning more about previously unknown side effects in some cases. But on the flip side there’s never any coverage of the deaths that can be attributed to the shutdown from things like suspended health care screenings and suicides (47k/yr before this) which are attributed to isolation and feelings of doom (like losing your job/house/business). And how many people have lost health care after losing their job?

    I’m not faulting Inslee on this. I think it’s prudent to error on the side of caution and, like if you want people to drive 30mph you set the speed limit at 25mph. But the sensationalized press coverage isn’t helping.

  9. “News roundup: traffic is back”
    Anecdotally, with the hot weather we sleep with the bedroom window open and the noise from 520 is now kicking in around 5AM. It was really nice during the early parts of the shutdown. Likewise noise from the street in front of our house is annoyingly constant all day long now (working from home) whereas before the virus it was mostly peak commute oriented. I attribute “flattening the curve” (not Fauci’s first pitch :-) to everyone “working” from home driving to Home Depot to facilitate their remodel projects. Although being close to Eastside Harley doesn’t help :-(

  10. Went to Seattle today with my wife. Took the 545 from 40th Street to King Street, and it was all but empty. Took Link from International District to Westlake, and it was mostly empty. Most of the Metro buses I saw (we didn’t ride any) had “Full” on their signs, and I guess were refusing any more passengers.

    It was my first time in Seattle in months. It looked apocalyptic; quite depressing compared to the Eastside. There was graffiti and boarded-up windows everywhere, and many, many retail locations look to be permanently closed. It sort of reminded me of what American cities looked like in the 1980s.

    Also my first trip to Overlake Transit Center (now renamed, to something so generic I keep forgetting it) in months. I was shocked to see so much construction there, of both apartments and offices. Which is good, because I have been so underwhelmed by development around most Link stations.

    On the return 545 trip, boarding was through the rear door only, and we couldn’t pay. I guess the driver wasn’t taking any chances. On that bus there was only one other passenger besides us.

    1. The 545 has always been a commute-heavy route, and now the commuters are gone. The boarded-up, graffiti’ed buildings are a combination of the Covid closures and the protests in June. It may look bad but it only extends a few blocks. Once you get east of I-5, things look much more normal. I walk down to Pike Place Market once a week or so for food, and a number of stands are open, and tourists are back, although not the crowds. I’d suggest spending some time in the downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. Market Park has a view of the waterfront without the Viaduct.

    2. If the 545 were suspended entirely until the commute market comes back, would that free up enough service hours to return Link to its regular schedule of 10-minute service? Back of the envelope, I would think yes. Those traveling between Redmond and Seattle would still have the 542, and the connection would be a lot more viable if Link ran more often.

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