The latest financial plan anticipates a moderate recession scenario requiring a four year average delay to future projects (image: Sound Transit).

Sound Transit’s latest financial plan is much more optimistic about a recovery in tax revenues than forecasts of a few months ago. But predictions of project delays have not improved so much. The more favorable revenue outlook is offset by operating cost pressures. Ahead of the ST3 realignment decisions next summer, staff are still talking in terms of a four to six year delay in projects depending on how revenue forecasts evolve.

As economic activity declined sharply in the early months of the COVID pandemic, Sound Transit hypothesized it might be in for an $8 billion to $12 billion reduction in tax revenues through 2041. That would translate to an average five-year delay in all projects not already in construction.

The most recent projection is for a $6.1 billion shortfall in tax revenues vs the year-ago forecast. Some $800 million of that is likely offset by extra federal grants (both CARES support received in 2020 and expected greater grant support in future). A $5.3 billion net reduction in revenues would seem to put Sound Transit on a path for much reduced delays to projects, but the latest financial plan analysis draws attention to several risks on the cost side.

Capital cost inflation has been a challenge for Sound Transit since 2016. It should slow as the economy cools, and then increase more gradually from this lower level. The lower macro forecast of capital investment inflation rates are reflected in a $1.2 billion decrease in projected capital expenditures in the plan. Sound Transit staff are expressing hesitation about this number however. There is, as yet, no evidence that bid costs are slowing locally, either in Sound Transit projects or in large private projects. Land acquisition costs are still growing quickly. CEO Peter Rogoff highlighted a related threat to property acquisition costs. Redevelopment of potential station sites can increase future costs if “rather than purchasing a green field, we might have to be purchasing multi story condos and businesses.”

Operating and State of Good Repair costs are adjusted upwards by $800 million. On the positive side, the inflation index for operations costs is adjusted lower. But Sound Transit faces more immediate cost pressures in two areas.

The expenses of repairing DSTT elevators has caused the forecast of vertical conveyance SOGR costs to increase by $555 million through 2041.

Sound Transit is also wrestling with steep increases in the cost of purchased transportation. Assuming 5% increases through 2025 adds $562 million to the plan. But there’s a real risk of much higher outlays. The actual increase in price for service bought from partner agencies has been 5.7% since 2016, and an extrapolation of those increases into the future risks another billion dollars in added cost, enough as CEO Peter Rogoff pointed out that purchased transportation costs pose a real risk to capital programs.

Sound Transit’s debt capacity is limited to 1.5% of assessed values within the RTA. The latest projection of property values indicates a $2.4 billion decrease in the debt limit in 2041. If that plays out, it takes away much of Sound Transit’s leeway to make up any revenue gaps with borrowing.

Fare revenue forecasts are reduced just $150 million through 2041 (for context, Sound Transit collected $97 million in fares in 2019). But that forecast assumes most of the decline in passenger counts can be offset through fare increases. Fare recovery targets, if maintained, will require higher fares.

Finally, there’s another $1 billion in debt service costs. This isn’t a change to interest rates. Rather, it’s simply the result of taking on more debt, within the assessed value debt cap. Sound Transit expects to operate near the debt cap for a prolonged period.

This recession is unusual, initially very deep, but with a rapid partial recovery so far, making it hard to forecast when conditions will normalize (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit’s financial plans, because they require projections over more than 20 years, are very sensitive to minor changes in assumptions. Nobody should view these as a precise measure of the future. However, Sound Transit has committed to a realignment of projects in mid-2021, and is cautiously assessing their exposure to cost risks. Within the forecasts presented in recent weeks, a modest recession scenario puts delays at about four years. A prolonged recession could extend those delays out to six or more years.

71 Replies to “Sound Transit expects better revenue recovery, but still lengthy project delays”

  1. Thank you for the excellent article. I am glad to see ST take a more reasonable approach to reduced future revenue (as opposed to sticking its head in the sand).

    I would like to see a reassessment of some project designs and costs but guess that is politically tricky so soon after ST 3 passed, and the passage of I-976. Delay shouldn’t be the only tool ST uses to deal with less future revenue, especially since I worry the hidden issue is underestimated project costs, and pre-Covid very high future ridership growth projections.

    My guess is 5 year project delays — along with reduced or redirected Metro service — will make communities with bridges like Magnolia, West Seattle and Ballard even more insistence that any bridge replacement result in no loss of car capacity.

    Finally I think any ST project delays need to be broken down by subarea. I think what ST is really saying is the North King Co. subarea’s high profile, high cost projects, will see delays in completion, which will concern West Seattle and Ballard, and Pierce and Snohomish Counties although it is difficult to predict so many years out

    1. “especially since I worry the hidden issue is underestimated project costs”

      You have company on this particular issue. Myself, Al S., and others here have previously expressed concern with ST3 project cost estimations, even before its 2016 passage.

      1. My biggest financial concern is the low-ball contingency. FTA recommends at least 30 percent at this stage and ST has been using 10 percent.

      2. @Al S.
        Yes, I remember our previous discussions on the matter. I should’ve clarified your concern(s) in my earlier comment. Sorry about that; I didn’t intend to put words in your mouth that didn’t tell the whole story. Thanks for your reply.

  2. Great post (as usual).

    Perhaps you can also elaborate on the slide shown on page 15 of the presentation for the readers here. I haven’t watched the presentation to the board yet but I’m pretty sure this one confused a few of the members. Lol.

    “Question 5: How do the cost changes net out to the current projection of a $0.6B increase?

    “Capital costs: -$ 1.2 billion
    Operating and State
    of Good Repair: $ 0.8 billion
    Debt service $ 1.0 billion
    Total increase $ 0.6 billion”

    1. 1.0+0.8-1.2 = 0.6.

      The presentation (linked in the first caption) walks through the changes slides 12-15.

      1. Seriously? I’m going to chalk that reply up to you not having your first cup of coffee yet.

        This is what I was getting at:
        “The lower macro forecast of capital investment inflation rates are reflected in a $1.2 billion decrease in projected capital expenditures in the plan. Sound Transit staff are expressing hesitation about this number however. There is, as yet, no evidence….”

        I share the staff’s hesitation with the -$1.2B figure for some of the same reasons cited. Frankly, it speaks to some level of magical thinking going on in the treasury/finance team.

        On a side note, it’s refreshing to see ST acknowledge the true size of the budget miss with the Lynnwood Link project. (Well kind of, since this is exclusive of the fleet and OMF contributions but does include the cost savings from the value engineering exercise.) It’s amazing that even now that $500M budget miss figure still gets cited.

      2. The macro forecast is, I believe, externally generated.

        So some of what’s going on here is a slowdown in the forecast for national-level capital inflation that is apparently not showing in Seattle. One doubts Seattle will permanently be out of step with the national experience, but there is a lot of construction still in the pipeline regionally and the local market could remain hot for a while.

      3. If there is a problem with construction cost inflation, then import some workers. I mean “domestically”, not extra-nationally. Republicans constantly yammer on about how wasteful government often is. Let’s agree that they have a point.

        So, since there is clearly a limited number of skilled construction workers available to complete both private and public projects here in the Northwest, let’s import workers from less wealthy places and bin the restrictions on “prevailing wages” for these contracts. The government basically populated the West Coats during World War II that way. Maybe there should be a “SeaPort” somewhere along the Duwamish River to house the workers and their families for four or five years.

        Surely the white males who dominate the construction unions demanding top dollar will patriotically agree that the best value for taxpayers should be sought! I mean, it’s very Gadsden Flag.

        Does anybody doubt that?

      4. @Tom — You don’t seem to get it. The problem isn’t that the government workers are wasting money. Nor is it that the workers are paid too much. The problem is the so called public-private partnership that Republicans favor so much. Of course it is.

        The problem is that it has the worst of both worlds. You don’t have the cost effectiveness that comes from competition (lots of people making a sprocket, pushing the prices down). Nor do you have the expertise of a lifetime of experience in government service. This sort of thing is common in other countries, and of course it exists here (just not in transit).

        Want an American example? OK, consider this: a while back they did a study to determine what the most cost effective form of health care is in the world. They looked all over the world. It turned out to be nurse practitioners working for the Veterans Administration. Of course it was. NPs make a lot less money for doing the same work as doctors. The V. A. hired a bunch of them back in the day as a cost cutting move. Throw in years of training, a secure, collaborative environment, and you get great outcomes. Other organizations may do it cheaper. Some may to it better. But for the money, NPs at the VA are the best value. In the world. (This in a country that is generally horrible when it comes to public health outcomes per dollar spent).

        In contrast, consider public-private partnerships. This is nothing new. The last great Republican criticized it with his farewell address. The military industrial complex is the mother of all public-private partnerships. Do you really think the government saved a bunch of money by outsourcing? Seriously? Come on man.

        It doesn’t have to involve corruption. It is just the nature of the beast. Capitalism only works if you have lots of competition. Private companies without competition are going to gouge the public way more than a government agency. They have shareholders or other owners who are simply interested in the profits. That’s more or less what Ike said, a little less the sixty years ago.

        Want another example: Healthcare.gov. The website was not built by government workers. It was built by the CGI group, a Canadian multinational information technology company, because obviously Americans couldn’t possible build a website. CGI originally stood for “Consultants to Government and Industries”, which simply means they are experts at playing the game. The original estimate was 93.7 million. The total cost was $2.1 billion. And it didn’t even work well on launch!

        Your “solution” is actually the problem. We need to have better planning, done by government employees, not corporations. Their work needs to be transparent, or “open source” as they call it. That is the only way prices are going to get lower, as it is the only reason prices are so high here.

      5. I have generally felt like the federal government does impose too many rules and unfunded mandates regarding transit operations that do make transit service use taxpayer money less efficiently than it could be.

        One obvious one is the requirement for paratransit, where you can’t run regular fixed-route buses without also running door to door shuttles that cost $38/boarding to operate. It was cited as a factor in Community Transit’s suspension of Sunday service during the last recession – eliminating fixed-route Sunday service also eliminated the requirement for paratransit Sunday service, allowing it to get extra “bang for the buck”. I have also read stories about small-town agencies who only have enough money to run paratransit or fixed-route service, but not both, for which the feds force them to choose paratransit. Some agencies, such as Island Transit, press the fixed-route buses into a paratransit role by adding time-consuming off-route detours, so instead of the agency paying for it with money, the riders of the fixed-route buses have to pay for it with their time.

        Another example is the federal grant process, where cities spend a ton of money putting together these huge grant applications, only to have the bulk of them rejected. And, when something finally does get accepted, the criteria turn out to be outdated, so we end up with $75 million of federal money that can be used only to build the downtown streetcar (with another $50 million of local funds) and cannot be used for the more mundane, but much more essential need of keeping our regular buses running during the pandemic.

        I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any rules. Obviously, there needs to be federal standards to make sure that buses are safe. But, I’d like to see the government play more the role of an infrastructure bank and lend money to almost any transit-related project at the low interest rates of treasury notes, provided that the city or state demonstrates the ability to pay it back. For operations procedures, the government should stop micromanaging and let cities decide how to run their own transit systems.

        Another issue of government overreach on transit is tariffs, which needlessly increase the cost of building things. As light rail tracks are made out of steel, the Trump steel tariffs are likely hitting Sound Transit hard. It’s completely unnecessary. Similarly, “buy America” requirements for buses and light rail trains is also government overreach. If companies in Europe or China know how to make them cheaper than we do here, US cities should be allowed to take advantage (so long as the vehicles meet US safety standards) so that they can be good stewards of their taxpayers money.

        So, while the “big government” does tend to be overused in general, I do feel it has some credence regarding transit. You just won’t hear much about transit from the party that doesn’t ride transit, doesn’t care about transit, and doesn’t live in areas where transit is much use.

      6. Ross, WHAT exactly about Sound Transit is “public-private partnership”? Yeah, they’re ways to rip off the taxpayer; I get it. But it’s not germane to this particular problem.

      7. And not to put too fine a point on it, but WHERE did I say “government workers should be paid less.” I said construction workers by and large could be paid less if there were more of them available — hence the “importing” allusion — and the taxpayers would benefit.

        And I included “consultants” and “contractors” in the triumvirate or rip-off artists: “consultants”, as in whatever the current incarnation of Parsons-Brinkerhoff call themselves and “contractors” as exemplified by Tutor-Perini with their “business plan” of doubling their low-ball bids by change-order harassment of local governments.

        It would be absolutely great if Sound Transit built its own engineering department, not just to verify the work of the consultants, but actually to do it. This program will go for at least twenty years and probably thirty. It’s worth going through the HR hassles to shave a bazillion bucks.

        I expect that ST would get sued if they tried to develop their own construction corps, and given the large number of skills that will be needed to complete the system a lot of people would be underemployed at various times during it. Electricians can’t do much until the guideway is ready.

        But it could certainly do its best to keep contracts local and in that way improve local expertise. I expect it already tries to do that.

        That said, unions are still complicit in the scam, and they limit the number of people who are available to do the work, largely to their families and ethnic communities.

      8. And I included “consultants” and “contractors” in the triumvirate or rip-off artists:

        I know you did. That part you have right. But you think it somehow excuses your other mistakes.

        You wrote:

        If there is a problem with construction cost inflation, then import some workers. I mean “domestically”, not extra-nationally. Republicans constantly yammer on about how wasteful government often is. Let’s agree that they have a point.

        So, since there is clearly a limited number of skilled construction workers available to complete both private and public projects here in the Northwest, let’s import workers from less wealthy places and bin the restrictions on “prevailing wages” for these contracts.

        This is why I wrote: The problem isn’t that the government workers are wasting money. Nor is it that the workers are paid too much.

        You keep claiming that at least part of the problem is the workers. You don’t provide any evidence, and yet you think you can excuses it by also blaming others.

        My point is very simple: It isn’t the workers. It the privatization of planning, as Alon Levy explained in great detail, using a boat load of data in that link I referenced.

        What if we were talking about the Mariners, and I said “there are lots of problems with the team: the pitching, the hitting, the fielding, and especially the ball boys”. That is essentially what you are writing. You are blaming some of the culprits, but also casting too wide a net.

      9. Ross, was your Dad — or maybe an uncle — a construction worker? Because you seem to have a big investment in defending a group of proudly selfish reactionaries.

        A large part of the problem is that Sound Transit builds monumental stations entirely out of scale for the communities in which they’re sited. Some would have pride of place on a BART line. Even with the grandiose designs and expense, they’re placed a half block from the arterial instead of straddling it.

        So yes, the designs are way overboard in several places. And the allergy to surface running near the ends of the extensions is foolish. They chose a technology which limits speed snd capacity but do not use its strongest advantage: the ability to build at-grade without prison-level fencing.

        But those are not the fault of either the consultants or the contractors. They deliver what they’re told to deliver, albeit with a hefty markup over what in-house engineers would cost.

      10. @Tom Terrific

        A few links which you may find interesting, and relevant to your views regarding the construction unions. The TL;DR seems to be: the issues are more complex than many give them credit for, the politics of these union members more mixed than expected, there is some value in prevailing wage requirements when these people would otherwise end up in poverty themselves, and the left should continue to engage with them.

        I would also note that the first two are opinion pieces, while the last two are more informational in nature. I thought that including a mix would be more interesting for both you and others who care about this topic.

        Hope you find them interesting.

        https://www.teenvogue.com/story/building-trades-unions-conservative-politics

        https://jacobinmag.com/2020/03/donald-trump-building-trade-unions-politics

        https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/16/trump-jobs-construction-workers-1653450
        https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-construction-workers-housing-20170512-htmlstory.html

  3. Hopefully some kind of federal stimulus or grant program will come along, now that infrastructure week won’t just be a photo op. Otherwise ST has plenty of options for cost cutting where it makes the most sense (parking garages, issaquah LRT, etc)

    1. barman, although I am a skeptic of running rail to Issaquah at a cost of $4.5 billion, but support park and rides in suburban areas for first/last mile access, the Eastside subarea will not need to delay or cut any ST projects. It has more revenue from ST 2 and 3 than it can spend. It is the N. King Co. subarea funding that is at issue since it has high cost, high profile projects like rail to Snohomish Co., Ballard, West Seattle, and 1/2 of the second transit tunnel.

      1. Daniel is correct. While east king might delay some projects to get past the period of maximum constraint, it’s unlikely to see any projects canceled.

        For example, it looks like the 85th street interchange is going to be delayed by a few years and not be included in the initial Stride opening, but I would expect the project to remain in ST’s financial plan unless an equivalent project is identified (or WSDOT picks up the tab, which would be nice but just creates more East King capacity)

      2. While east king might delay some projects to get past the period of maximum constraint, it’s unlikely to see any projects canceled.

        But that is true of every project, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what subarea it is, if I understand the issue correctly. You can’t spend money (that much) faster than you are bringing it in. It doesn’t matter where the money is coming in, or where it is going — this isn’t a subarea problem.

        More than anything it is a scheduling problem. The schedule was not based on how much work it takes to build something. This explains why, for example, the Issaquah to South Kirkland rail line was originally supposed to open 25 years from the date the levy passed. (Obviously planning and construction time won’t take that long). The problem is, the lack of revenue puts even more stress on the timing, delaying some (or all) of the projects.

        Again, that is how I understand the issue.

      3. The projects seem to be ordered by usefulness and sometimes political priorities. So the least-justified projects are all scheduled last: the Issaquah-South Kirkland line and the Tacoma 19th Ave extension. The most politically-prioritized is West Seattle, which is before Ballard and DSTT2 although it should be after. That’s the ordering. The year they’re scheduled is based on when sufficient tax revenue is available after higher-priority bills are paid. So there’s a small stream of revenue until ST2 is finished in the mid 2020s and its bonds paid down. So only small things are happening before then: the downtown Redmond and Federal Way extensions, the contributions to RapidRide C and D (if they happen), and I think a bus-on-shoulder program.

      4. Um, er, ah, Danny. “Rail to Snohomish County” is an ST2 project and will be complete sometime in 2023. The Everett Extension (if it gets that far) is the ST3 project and it is 100.000000000000000000000000% a Snohomish Sub-Area project. No pie for the greedy maw of “North King”!

        I agree that North King’s ST3 projects are pretty gold-plated and, if the City leaders had some fortitude they could probably be well-served by genuine BRT in its own barricaded lanes, but even if Link were replaced by buses, a tunnel would still have to be dug for the buses. Maybe not as baronial a tunnel, but a tunnel still.

      5. @Ross – yes, I’d agree, all projects can be funded if we wait long enough* but ST can also descope some projects if the Board doesn’t want taxes to go on that long. However, if the subarea equity gets really out of wack, ST will need to either fund additional work (likely East King) or drop projects (likely South King, but could be Pierce). Most likely subarea equity will be re-balanced in the next levy, with ST3 projects simply ‘deferred’ until then as needed.

        *There is a risk that O&M/SOGR cost grow faster than expect an ST isn’t able to pay down the debt, but the cushion here is so large, things would have to go horribly wrong – like tunnels & bridges collapse and need to be replaced bad – so that’s a fringe outcome.

        @Mike, I’d quibble slightly with “The year they’re scheduled is based on when sufficient tax revenue is available after higher-priority bills are paid. ” I think WSBLE and everything opening before that is schedule to open ‘as soon as possible’ based upon timeline needed to get from EIS to opening. Then, projects after WSBLE open as funds are available.

      6. However, if the subarea equity gets really out of wack, ST will need to either fund additional work or drop projects

        Right. But to a certain extent, that is off topic. That is another problem for another day.

        But since we are talking about it today, the most likely outcome is to shift money away from Snohomish County. Other areas (Seattle, East Side, South End) are bringing in about as much money as expected. But Everett is likely to lose a lot of money with the loss of aerospace related jobs.

        Nor is there anything special when it comes to the projects. All of them are costing more than expected. The light rail lines, the parking garages, etc., all cost more. The only reason Issaquah to South Kirkland seems fine is because they haven’t started studying it. It’s not like property in Issaquah or South Kirkland hasn’t gone up in value, or the project isn’t going to have its share of “oops” moments.

        The most likely “out-of-whack” area is Everett, simply because the recession up there will hit much harder, and last a lot longer.

      7. The projects seem to be ordered by usefulness and sometimes political priorities.

        And Cost! That is a big part of it. Logically, we would start with Ballard. It is the most cost effective major project. It will get the biggest fare revenue per dollar spent.

        The problem is, we simply can’t do that right away. We don’t have enough money. If we put that first, it would push everything else much further back. That’s why they ordered things this way. Most of the little stuff is first. Then some big projects, even though they don’t make sense on their own (West Seattle to SoDo?). Then the bigger stuff, and finally the crap that shouldn’t have been included (Issaquah to South Kirkland). It is a mix of politics, usefulness, and the size of the project.

        Of course now they are finding that some of the “cheap stuff” (like parking lots) aren’t so cheap, and even worse, the money isn’t coming in as planned.

      8. WSBLE = West Seattle Ballard Link Extension. That’s the shorthand at least through the EIS process.

        Fair point – in the short/medium term, the Board can just shift money around and hand-wave towards fixing subarea in the future.

        But there is also operational dependencies. We can’t open Ballard Link before the 2nd tunnel, or without some other way to access the OMF.

      9. Can we be clear about defining subarea equity? Most North King Link trips begin and end in North King. Intra-subarea trips will however be a minority in every other subarea — so that must other subarea trips will go elsewhere and probably North King. We don’t live on five separate islands.

        Property taxes and sales taxes tend to get paid at each trip end (probably weighted more at the residential end as a most housing is assessed higher than 300 square feet of office space is), but the subarea votes are by the residential end only. Vehicle fees abd vehicle sales taxes are also generally assessed at the residential end.

        This pretty much means that we shouldn’t be too intricate in counting subarea “fairness”. After all, the whole purpose of ST is to be a regional operator that has lines that run across subareas.

      10. Hesitate to constantly “re-link” things, Daniel, but just look up “Swedish Electric Trucks” again.

        Fitted on those two brand-new blue and white ST beauties I watched clear Island Crest this afternoon those “pans” could, they could really make “550 ElectrEllensburg” a reality as they clear the Pass at seventy.

        And another couple questions. Ellensburg aside, are you sure none of your business community’s workforce happens to live in, say, North Bend?

        Also, about the the levy to fund the bus-related litigation. If a shop-owner was ok with the buses, would they still be compelled to pay to block them? Mercer Island’s really ‘way too nice for tyranny.

        One hopeful thing I did discover. Since my European view of transit is so strong for coffee-ships, it was very heartening to see that a cafe I’d often frequented at 36th Street and East Mercer way was still standing.

        With a large sign in the window naming it as owned by the city itself. By a pretty little park, just a few steps from the walkway to both Link and buses. Since the utilities all seem still hooked up…

        Who do I call to find out when I can get my roaster and my new San Marco machine in there? I’d also agree to help pay to fight the buses.

        If the Island would just indulge me and take away the sign in the parking lot that my car was going to be towed for being there on the wrong day. You’re right about one thing. The rest of the region really does need to help you out with parking.

        Mark Dublin

      11. “Nor is there anything special when it comes to the projects. All of them are costing more than expected.”

        Exactly. This is why I was questioning the $1.2B reduction in capital costs (macroeconomic) assumption in the latest financial plan earlier in this comment section.

        Rogoff’s comments about increased ROW costs shouldn’t be ignored either. We have a recent example of this with the Bus Base North property acquisition in Canyon Park. ST is going through the exercise* now of robbing Peter to pay Paul by taking budgeted funds out of the construction services bucket now to come up with the ADDITIONAL $15 million needed to acquire the old Immunex property there to site this BRT base. Ultimately, it is highly likely that the “Peter bucket” will need to be replenished down the road (probably at project baselining) and there will be new board members who won’t even be told that $12M+ of construction funding actually was used for ROW.

        *See board resolution R2020-21 for the complete details

      12. “…in the short/medium term, the Board can just shift money around and hand-wave towards fixing subarea in the future.”

        That’s been the agency’s practice to date. Subarea borrowing has been an integral part of the funding strategy for the initial segment, for U-Link and now for the projects in ST2. The agency has become quite adept at manipulating the capital and operational cost allocations to the point that in recent years they have actually had, in their annual reporting, some subareas balance out to zero (sources and uses matched exactly) in a given year. As someone who has produced and reviewed more income statements than I care to think about, this can only come about through deliberate cost shifting. At the end of the day, the annual subarea reports are only meaningful when viewed cumulatively over the entire span of the capital plan cycle.

    2. There was a policy or law after the 2008 crash that ST would cut P&Rs first if there was any scaling back. Is that still in effect? Was it written into ST3?

      1. What do you mean by “scaling back”? East Link does not need scaling back. No project in the eastside subarea needs scaling back for funding reasons.

        If the issue is whether to cut park and rides in other subareas that do look to have funding issues, then I can’t speak to that, except park and rides are pretty much the anticipated first/last mile access once you get out of the city core/density, like Angle Lake, and my guess is Snohomish Co. and Pierce Co, and the S. King Co. subarea could object. Citizens who don’t have park and rides for first/mile access still receive large subsidies for feeder buses. It isn’t as if they are paying 100% of their first/last mile access.

        What I can say from personal experience on the eastside is when ST begins to cut first/last mile access in areas where park and rides are the anticipated first/mile access, and there is little feeder bus service, and ST proposes to add a seat at least to a commute, citizens become disillusioned with ST, and transit in general, which is probably not good when to me ST’s release screams ST 4.

        Although at this point in time I have grave doubts ST 4 could pass, it has zero chance of passing without eastside suburban votes, and some votes from south KC and areas near Snohomish Co. that need first/last mile access. I don’t think this release is the end of ST’s financial reset, so if I were ST — as hard as this may be for such an arrogant organization — I would start selling ST 4 now.

      2. Yes, I believe it was written into either ST3 or in a follow-up WaLeg action. Either way it is still valid. Given ST hasn’t yet cut any projects, only delayed, I don’t think it has been invoked.

        ST is moving ahead with all ST2 projects as-is, so P&Rs to be delayed are likely ST3. As Daniel points out, it may be subareas with tighter budgets that get the axe first.

      3. By scaling back I mean deferring or canceling capital projects. Not just a delay, but moving them out of ST3 to a later phase. It would be relative to the subarea.

      4. Yes, now I’m thinking it was in the run-up to ST3. The deferrals/undeferrals on South Link were earlier during the recession. The controversies were about the P&Rs in Lynnwood Link and Everett Link. The subareas insisted on large P&Rs as a condition for supporting ST3, but transit activists pointed out that P&Rs are the least efficient use of money and the legislature agreed, so I think it passed a law saying P&Rs would be the first thing to go if it had to defer anything. That way ST wouldn’t be bullied by P&R activists to spend money on them when Link extensions or stations were deferred.

      5. I’m doubtful there will be an ST4, or at least anything large. ST1 and 2 were 15-year, $15-billion programs, so that set a precedent for normal. ST3 was going to be that size too, but all subareas and the public clamored for “More, More!!” to fit all their high priorities in. Most notably that was Ballard Link (because West Seattle was first in the budget), Paine Field, Everett Station, and Issaquah’s pet project Issaquah Link. All that raised it to a 25-year, $25-billion program; i.e., what was expected to be in ST4. That was like LA’s 30-years-in-10-years plan: not something you could expect to do a second time in a generation, but just a big surge to get everything in.

        There are other headwinds with ST4, even before the disappointing execution of ST3 Seattle and the covid recession. Now that Everett Station and Tacoma Dome are in a funding plan, the subareas will increasingly diverge in their interests and willingness to spend. Yet ST’s structure requires the tax rates to be uniform across subareas and they all must vote at the same time for a common duration period. These will come into increasing conflict as some subareas want to spend a lot and other subareas want to spend a little. Then there’s the fact that ST3’s taxes are on top of ST2’s, the way ST2’s were on top of ST1. Meaning that even after the ST1&2 bonds are paid down, ST3 depends on all the ST1/2/3 tax streams to reach its budget. That means total taxes are three times higher than they were in ST1, and if we did the same again with ST4 on top of ST1/2/3, they’d be higher still. It’s hard to see the public accepting that, especially with a large percent of Pierce constituents wanting to opt out of ST and the existing taxes, and probably a less-articulated part of Snohomish too.

        There might be a small package to do some small things and adjust. Snohomish’s #1 remaining goal is a short extension to Everett College, and Pierce’s is a short extension to Tacoma Mall. Those could allow something small in the other subareas. If, of course, voters are willing to extend total taxes or add to them, which is not a sure thing. And ST3’s taxes will probably be extended anyway to accommodate the delays and the revenue shortfalls. So would it happen after that, in 1945ish?

    3. Add deleting the 130th St and BAR stations to your cost cutting list. Not enough to solve the problem in and of themselves, but a significant step in the right direction. And those stations never made transportation sense to begin with.

      But we have a new administration, I suspect we will get some federal help. Being shovel ready has its advantages when the Feds are looking for spending ops with quick results.

      1. 130th is probably the most cost effective project in ST3. It would be stupid to delay it.

        BAR isn’t nearly as good (it won’t get nearly as many riders) but it is still a better value than a lot of projects. It is about average.

      2. For those of you willing to dig into the numbers: https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/. If you scroll down, the second table has a column labeled “Subsidized cost (2014$)/30 years of daily riders”. That is as good a measure as any of value. Boeing Access Road station comes out at $6.74 — about the middle, and way less than the worst projects. It suffers because its ridership estimate is so low (1,750). The cost of that station is similar to the cost of 130th, but obviously the 130th station would have a lot more riders. At about three times the number of riders (5,250) the subsidy of the 130th station is around $2.25, lower than even the best of the other ST3 projects.

  4. Favor: What does “AV” mean? As a lead-in as to why I’m going to contradict your “MP”, meaning “Major Premise.” Crashed economy. Worldwide lethal epidemic that for casualties is certainly a War. Pro-Government President who’s a Democrat.

    Why do you NOT think we the People are headed into action to save both Transit and our Country with the same caliber of public works campaign that gave us The Golden Gate Bridge?

    Especially since Franklin Roosevelt’s successor, a REAL- Republican combat vet who could handle a chain-drive Army truck, left us gifted with a road-bed system that’ll easily take tracks wherever we require them.

    Annoying and I’m sorry, but there’s a reason I’m now deliberately matching a certain Island-dwelling commenter word-for-Word Count. Is there or is there not a serious and well-financed campaign to fix the premise in this region’s mind that transit’s done-for?

    History IS so badly-taught it’s BO-RING. But it also renders Transit’s obituary, if not a lie, at least an exaggeration that the late George Bernard Shaw would’ve called “a giggle.”

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Bullied by P&R activists”? Sounds like a terrifying group.

      There is a perfect alternative, and that is to provide bus feeder service to these more remote areas at the same frequency and coverage as in more urban areas, if that is a more efficient method of first/last mile access than a park and ride. Basically shift the cost of first/last mile access ST promised in ST 2 and 3 (park and rides) and presumably collected for to Metro and community transit because they are so flush with cash right now.

      On the eastside P&R activists are called Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond, Renton and so on, and they will definitely get the park and rides they were promised. The communities that will not get their promised park and rides will be the poorer areas south and north of Seattle. Snohomish Co. will absolutely demand park and rides if promised by ST.

    2. ST had an opportunity to redeploy ST Express’s service hours from Link extensions but it chose not to include that in the ST3 budget, so there will probably be significant increases. That may have been a casualty of packing ST3 full with Link projects (Everett/Paine, both West Seattle and Ballard, Issaquah); the budget was already strained and couldn’t pack more. I suspect the board just didn’t want to increase ST Express either.

      Most feeders are Metro, so that’s outside ST’s scope. Frequent feeders now depend on a countwide Metro measure in the future, an improving economy, and Metro not pushing its new equity surge so far that north/central Seattle and the Eastside never get any more increases because they’re all going to the south end.

      1. Yeah, but I don’t see why ST can’t just shift money from the planned park and ride lots to feeder buses (and possibly some satellite park and ride lots). Not only would it save money in the long run, but it would give riders something sooner.

        The point is, you can still plan on building the park and ride lots, you just put them at the back. People can complain about the feeder buses, but if the alternative is to just wait 30 years for their park and rides, I think the feeder buses will be welcome.

    3. “Packed full” means the same thing as your contention that Ballard and West Seattle might not fully fit into the original budget even with the representative alignment (to say nothing of the additional tunnels they’re now asking for). The thing is, I think everybody who was paying attention knew that before the vote, so it’s the public’s fault too. Water crossings always have the risk of unexpected costs, and this has two of them, and West Seattle has the challenges of many hills and multistory buildings and tight turns right next to the path.

      Everett/Paine is also expensive: the distance from Lynnwood to Everett is the same as from Seattle to Lynnwood, and the latter was done in two rounds and three phases. The Paine Field detour is another significant expense. Both of those required Snohomish to stretch far to fit them in, so there’s a good chance they might be, shall we say, trimmed. In contrast,

      Pierce and South King’s Link budgeting looks absolutely conservative in comparison, plus Pierce had a significant amount of cash saved up from ST1&2. Their problems would most likely be Sounder. ST3 included some unspecified increase in Sounder South if ST could negotiate a reasonable deal with BNSF for track leases. That is still uncertain and may not happen. On the other hand, if negotiations finally collapse, that would leave a pot of money for something else, probably in the Sounder corridor.

  5. Looking at the eventual opening day schedule for new light rail subways in Downtown San Francisco (14 years from final FTA buy off) and Los Angeles (12 years from final FTA buy off), I’m pretty dubious that a longer second Downtown / SLU subway here will get built faster than those. With so many design issues like subway station construction not yet presented and fully designed/costed , I don’t see final FTA approval until 2024 at the earliest optimistically — and that’s not even accounting for delays to resolve inevitable political indecisiveness on difficult items. The pandemic gives an excuse to delay the project opening year but I think ST will need the extra years anyway.

    While 2035 seems like a long wait, I have been thinking that 2038 to 2040 would have been the eventual opening date without the pandemic impact. Now with that financial impact, it’s almost a certainty.

    1. There are difficult times in WS and Ballard/Interbay, but are there any contentious items for the primary downtown tunnel? There’s a decision to be made on the QA/SLU/Denny station pairs, and probably some grumbling from activists on disruption in the ID, but I don’t see anything that is going to cause delays?

      WS will likely face delays, and I actually hope Smith Cove to Ballard gets delayed so it can be better coordinating with all the work SDOT needs to do, but I don’t see any major political roadblocks for ID to Smith Cove. If there are delays, it will be on the technical side, issues with tunnel construction etc.

      1. The station visuals released last week had no subway diagrams. We still don’t know what’s going to be required to punch a huge hole at each station to reach the deep tunnel platform. It’s not yet controversial because we are still missing better station details. Keep in mind that the Capitol Hill Station site covered two full blocks!

        This is not only about design but possibly cost as some property will have to be bought in Seattle’s priciest land area and adjacent property owners will want compensation for years of construction disruption.

  6. That “something else in the Sounder Corridor” should be double-tracking UP and paying BNSF’s wheelage fees for a couple of decades.

    There are a couple of places where the UP right-of-way is pretty narrow and the existing track would have to be moved over to one edge of the ROW in order to accommodate a second track, but it could be done for a lot less than tripling BNSF all the way. Since it was built twenty-five years after the NP, the UP trackage doesn’t go through any downtowns except Pacific. The only real constraints are the Interurban Trail and adjacent warehouses.

    Then run as many “through” freights — e.g. those headed all the way to Tacoma — as necessary to keep the BNSF main fluid — that way.

    Yes, some arterials would have to have overpasses.

  7. Look out for WSTB cost estimates. Likely to be unaffordable on any reasonable schedule. Think an additional 5+ year delay on top on COVID-related delays.

  8. Hey everyone STOP bitching I live in Spokane and 72 million for 13 artic’s to run central city line and there’s two buses that do the same service

    1. DW. I have family in Spokane. You know the sentiment towards the Godless west where money grows on trees and everyone is gluten intolerant (and basically intolerant in general). Go to sleep at night on the west side, as my brother tells me, and wake up and your house has appreciated $100, which is actually low. Free money.

      For 20 years every time I have visited Spokane I am asked when the north/south freeway will be funded, as though I oversee that project.. Not one single person on this blog will understand what I am talking about, or what a divisive issue that is, which would not surprise anyone in Spokane. Seattle is so damn arrogant and supercilious, at least to them.

      But at least I got a good laugh tonight at the posts suggesting the Eastside subarea help pay for North KC subarea projects. Seattle ain’t coming that much closer. Seattle suggested that to Snohomish County, but like Spokane SnoCom is a working county, and money is earned with labor.

      Of course the Eastside subarea pays 100% of all east-west-east ST buses even though many of the riders are west to east, and will cost $1 billion by the time East Link opens, and we are paying 20% for the second transit tunnel through Seattle when none of us got tunnels, but I guess that is not enough.

      If I were starting out and wanted to raise a family I would move to Spokane. It is a city of haves and have nots, but it is an honest city, and I like it. You can’t raise a family in Seattle proper anymore, and the Eastside is just too expensive.

      1. Daniel, between you and me, let’s get one thing straight. The only reason I’m paying you any attention at all is to keep redirecting STB’s discussion toward both public transit itself, and its positive possibilities when COVID lifts.

        Regarding transit and everything else on earth, starting with Mercer Island, it’s only your own claim you speak for anybody. Though you’ve obviously got backing in Spokane.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Shea

        The downtown restaurant-owner who treated me this afternoon to a delicious bowl of of soup and an espresso from one of the world’s top roasters, obviously did not consider my patronage to be nothing. Outside chance it could be a trend?

        My arrival in my car was strictly COVID-careful. Being gullible and superstitious, I still sheepishly believe in Science. Incidentally, want to know what else people are fighting for?

        Their right to keep their headlights off ’til midnight. BECAUSE their fear of Liberals makes them want their truck invisible. Like the one that almost side-swiped me at sixty.

        Ordinarily, for my budget’s coldest cut, out of stone self-interest, I’d always come by IT 612, ST 574, Link, and ST 550. I somehow doubt my hostess would tell me my mode-choice made my money unwelcome. BTW: Can she ever get her litigation-assessment back?

        Those two beautiful brand new blue and white ST 550’s, headed out in both directions as I watched from above the almost finished Link Station, really prove the truth about anybody who’d waste taxpayers’ money fighting the presence of anything that good.

        Average Seattle family is just fine. Proof is they exiled me. So there’s something else you want. Whatever it is, as a resident and taxpayer from any and everyplace else in Washington, my word to my reps is finally just to give it to you. Maybe some high-rise parking so my car gets left alone next visit.

        We’ve got a country to rebuild, which in a Transit log, requires our concentration to be wheeled and motorized. And that Swedish video makes my point about “Ellensburg Electro550-2020” perfectly.

        Bet a lot of North-Benders will be glad to finally get to their cafe on Mercer Island on time for a change. If the Island will sell me its PROPERTY (sign says so!) by Island Crest and 36th, maybe I’ll have an espresso waiting for them when they get off the bus.

        Mark Dublin

      2. The north-south freeway struck me as a road to nowhere. Is north/south traffic in Spokane really that bad? Where is everyone going that they want to get to 395 faster?

        I get that it’s been planned for a long time, but I don’t understand the utility.

      3. “You can’t raise a family in Seattle proper anymore?” Anybody making that claim should be ready to prove by the outcome that they can raise a family anywhere.

        The “Anymore” thing also goes straight back to the side of our (last) Civil War that won the right to keep their slaves when the Union troops pulled out.

        Not the last time in our politics the loser ended up in charge, armed to the teeth and and giving Orders. Which also should have been against the Law.

        When WAS the last time anybody COULD raise a family in Seattle? And reading from the same red and white hat, when did America ever stop being great?

        But because of our numbers and our quality as people, the majority of all three hundred thirty million of us are still holding the place together. And creating things like the Mercer Island Link station and those beautiful new buses.

        And serving up a delicious cup of soup and terrific coffee not a quarter mile away. Soon to be a real short train ride from Ballard.

        Mark Dublin

    2. STB on the Spokane Center City line and double-decker buses for a Spokane-Cheney express.

      We’ve heard of the north-south freeway because it’s one of the things in the state transportation projects. Many urbanists think it’s a waste of money like the 509 extension and Cross-Base Highway, which will just promote exurban sprawl at a high cost, and incompatible with a carbon-reducing future. We haven’t hard about local divisions in Spokane about it.

  9. The Rogoff paraphrase make it seem like he is most interested in building monuments and not in attracting ridership and improving transit mobility.

    The current ST discussion on the ST3 reset only considers the margin of time through delay. Both Sound Move and ST2 had resets. By a two-thirds vote of the Board Sound Move projects were dropped or changed. For Sound Move: I-90 two-way busway, NE 85th Street center access, north Sounder became one-way, and Link stations at NE 45th Street, First Hill, South Graham Street were dropped. For ST2, a Renton bus ramp and Bothell parking were cancelled.

    So, the ST Board could adjust on other margins. RossB has pointed out that Issaquah Link north to the South Kirkland P&R is very weak. both ST2 and ST3 parking not already begun could be converted to housing next to frequent transit. What about mode? Suppose the state tolled I-5; could Link south of Federal Way and north of Lynnwood be converted to a network of frequent bus lines? Yes, Sounder South could use two-way all-day service and ST should get BNSFRR, UPRR, and WSDOT in the same room. Sounder North funds could be shifted to bus; Sounder North trains could be shifted South. The WSBLE will be very difficult. NE 85th Street three-layer center access will be very difficult; a more cost-effective project could be provided at Houghton ; Route 245 could connect it with downtown Kirkland via Google; Route 245 also connects with Overlake Link.

    The most immediate issue is service. ST should divorce their capital program cisisus from the need to provide more frequent Link and bus service in 2021.

    1. “Sounder North funds could be shifted to bus.”

      Sadly, ST has signaled its intention to double-down on Sounder North. Just this month they moved motion M2020-66, extending their current contract with BNSF for Sounder North service for another ten years with two five-year options:

      “M2020-66
      Authorizes the chief executive officer to execute an amendment to the commuter rail service agreement with BNSF Railway Company extending operation of Sounder north-line service by 10 years and adding two five-year options to extend in an amount not to exceed $37,958,689 for a new total authorized amount not to exceed $90,904,587.”

      1. I did not see that. I guess that likely closes off the option of shifting service to Edmonds, Mulkiteo, and Everett stations to STX once Lynnwood Link opens.

      2. My reading of that motion was that it sets the terms for buying slots, but doesn’t actually require ST buy any particular number of slots.

      3. ST fully owns the easements for the slots. This contract is for operating costs, so it’s “running a train on a time slot” rather than buying a slot … but that might be what Dan meant and I’m just quibbling with language.

        As to Dan’s point, I guess it depends on the specifics of the contract. The motion mentions BNSF is paid by train-mile operated, so you might be correct that ST isn’t on the hook to pay for the full 10 years of the extension if they want to stop running Sounder.

      4. I and others have repeatedly asked ST in feedback and emails to the board throughout Lynnwood Link and ST3 planning to cancel Sounder North and put the money into replacement bus service and accelerating Lynnwood/Everett Link. ST has consistently said no, Sounder North is a voter-approved service, and ST interprets that to mean voters want it to continue forever.

    2. I think that’s correct (and shame on me for commenting from memory when the text of the motion is readily available). The motion describes authority to buy operating services, up to four trains per day, and doesn’t describe any minimums. But one would need the contract language to be confident they aren’t there.

      1. After firing up my old desktop pc, I found these old saved document files from 2003…..

        The original motions that approved the joint use agreement and the service agreement were M2003-130 and M2003-131. The following is taken from the associated staff report to said motions:

        “Motion No. M2003-131 – Authorizing the Chief Executive Officer to execute a Commuter Rail Service Agreement between the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company for Everett to Seattle Commuter Rail Services

        “The Commuter Rail Service Agreement describes the terms for the actual operation of commuter trains by BNSF (including liability and risk provisions similar to the Seattle to Tacoma agreement), and the compensation paid to BNSF for train crews, maintenance-of-way, and
        other expenses incurred in the operation of Sounder Service North. The compensation structure is simplified to include flat rates for maintenance and crews with inflation adjusters plus performance incentives after the initial pre-construction time period.
        The key elements of the compensation paid to BNSF to operate the four round-trips include:
        • For the operation of Train #1: $30.00 per train mile (to be adjusted annually by agreed upon indexes starting in January 2005). This interim rate would remain in effect until three trains
        are operational. At that time the “Standard Rate” will apply: $25.00 per train mile base for up to four car trains and increase with train length ($25.33 for five car trains, 25.66 for six car
        trains, and 26.00 for seven car trains, $26.25 for eight, $26.50 for nine, and $26.75 for 10 car trains), plus an on-time performance incentive formula. Base and incentives would be adjusted annually by mutually agreed upon indexes.
        • For the operation of Train #2: $60.00 per train mile. The interim rate would also remain in effect until three trains are operational. At that time the “Standard Rate” (plus on-time performance incentives) would apply as described above. Base and incentives would be adjusted annually by mutually agreed upon indexes.
        • For the operation of Trains #3 and #4: “Standard Rate” with incentives as defined above.
        • Special Event Service as provided under the agreement would be billed at $45 per train mile during the interim period and $35 per train mile once three weekday trains are operational.”

        But, yes, one would need to see the actual agreement language (as well as any more current modifications) to know for certain whether there are any default provisions, such as minimum mileage charges per easement.

        The whole thing just makes me sad.

  10. “wrestling with steep increases in the cost of purchased transportation”

    You mean Metro is absolutely soaking ST to operate their buses, and has no incentive not to. They saw the ruckus caused when ST even cautiously thought about exploring a study to consider to contemplate to review the idea of a private contractor instead.

    1. Where’s the proof that a private contractor can operate transit better than we, the people, can do it through our elected representatives? Starting with the fact that we’re not tacking on a profit.

      On the other hand, I really wouldn’t mind starting to see more bids coming in from worker-owned cooperatives. Who also don’t demand to make a profit.

      Seems to me it’d be a crowning incentive for every single driver, supervisor, mechanic and everybody else to be sure they do their own job right.

      Mark Dublin

      1. @AJ:

        As I recall, in the past, CT was using their own drivers for local routes and First Transit (or some other private contractor) for the commuter routes. Could you elaborate on how that has changed (if it has) and what comparisons can be drawn between the two modes of employment?

        Thank you very much in advance.

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