King County Metro Proterra Catalyst

This is an open thread.

88 Replies to “News roundup: good luck”

  1. Sound Transit’s officials should take a hard look at how their peers in Utah approached increased remote working, increased light rail costs, and declining revenues:

    “The Utah Transit Authority has scrapped plans for a light rail line between Draper and Lehi, Utah, opting instead to pursue construction of a bus rapid transit line. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the proposed 12-mile light rail project, which could have cost as much as $1.2 billion, but the 8-mile bus rapid transit route connecting to light rail, commuter rail, and other bus routes can be built for $300 million to $400 million.”

    1. That’s maybe the equivalent of scraping the Issaquah line. I don’t think you’d get much disagreement even from people on this blog.

      1. Why don’t Sound Transit’s new realignment criteria include “mode shift”?

        Delaying light rail transit projects, phasing LRT projects, eliminating LRT projects, and seeking additional $$$ for LRT projects — those are the realignment criteria the board chose to examine.

        The engineering and contracting teams that would get the light rail contacts obviously control Dow Constantine’s carefully-selected Sound Transit boardmembers.

      2. Anon I think that’s because the project we voted on was specifically designated as light rail. If ST changes the project to BRT they would be in violation of their promise to the voters. I could be wrong but they aren’t even able to deviate from their promised alignment so it makes sense from a legal standpoint.

        I know you’re against light rail but the voters have spoken. It would take another vote to eliminate the project.

      3. I think it’s hard for many elected officials and transit advocates to admit, but long-range ballot box project definitions fly in the face of objective logic. It’s fine to define a set of projects that are developed far enough along for environmental impact studies, but going beyond that is irresponsible. These measures are sold as “representative projects” before the vote — but after the vote they get set in stone somehow.

        When a measure is for 10 years or maybe 15, it’s ok — but not for a 25 year measure. Too much can change and too much is locked up in projects that could be used for better projects.

        The only comfort I see is that I think we will never see such a specific long-term set of projects on the ballot again (after ST3).

      4. The levy specifies mode for most project. For the long term planning projects (Ballard/UW/Lake Washington, WS to Burien), I believe those are still mode agnostic.

        I don’t mind longer levies, as it gives the agency the runway to deliver on big projects, but I do think that needs to be balanced with going back to the voters with adjustments to the plan when issues (internal or external) arise. I think it’s a good thing that if an ST4 vote doesn’t pass, there’s still a backlog of projects for ST to work through until it gets another crack an ST4. I’d also imagine that once the 2nd tunnel is done, future levies won’t be nearly as long as further investments will be much smaller.

      5. ST3 set the size of the budget, which was scaled for a certain amount of elevated and tunneled light rail and Stride lines, but it doesn’t tie ST’s hands as to what mode to choose, it just limits the amount of money it has to spend. (Although as we’ve seen it’s a soft limit.) The Alternatives Analysis for Lynnwood Link contained both rail and bus alternatives, even though the representative alignment was light rail. The federal EIS process requires a complete Alternatives Analysis that considers all modes that can reasonably meet the mobility goal, otherwise it’s an omission in the EIS process that can be grounds for rejecting grants to that project. With Lynnwood Link, ST considered both rail and bus and concluded that bus wasn’t adequate for capacity or speed or whatever the criteria was. With the other lines, ST is apparently arguing at the outset that buses can’t meet the need. It all boils down to whether that argument is persuasive to the feds. If it is, ST can get its grant proposals considered. If not, it has to go back and consider a bus alternative and compare it to the rail alternatives if it wants grants

        Anon, you can’t just convert rail lines to bus lines in the abstract, you have to convert particular lines. You’d have to say which lines and address the impacts at the termini.. For instance, the second tunnel could be rail, bus, or both. If a bus comes into downtown and the tunnel is rail-only, it can’t use it. That moves the bus to the surface and causes more crowds at surface bus stops.

        I have long said that Issaquah-Kirkland should be Stride, as should Federal Way-Tacoma Dome. In the north end we could extend Link to 164th or 128th and have buses take over from there. The transfers would be at said stations. I’m assuming all those stations are capable of acommodating that many transferees all at once.

        I don’t know what the implications for the second tunnel downtown would be; there are several different possibilities. If Federal Way-128th isn’t too long to be operationally feasible then it could continue as is. But what do Ballard and West Seattle do then? A second tunnel seems like perhaps overkill for just them. Both the Central and East lines have frequency caps: Central because of MLK, East because of the I-90 bridge. So having either of those branch half the trains to Ballard or West Seattle would cause an unacceptably low 12-24 minute frequency on each branch.

      6. I believe that the Issaquah line is completely doable as a driverless automated line with a split between one and two track segments. That would save some costs and enable higher frequency service. For Seattle-bound residents from I-90 it’s also preferable for this reason — East Main Station is a side platform station and riders will have to walk past the end of the train, cross two tracks and the walk back to a train door for Seattle transferring as now planned; A separated line can include a waiting vehicle at a different level for all of these transferring riders — and maybe could end at South Bellevue depending on resolving Mercer Slough issues.

        Ridership will be awful as currently planned so I expect that there will not be six minute frequencies without a completely driverless system — especially at any time other than a small period of commute hours each day.

        The biggest drawbacks to this design would be dropping the extension through Downtown Bellevue and the resolution of the single South Kirkland line continuation. It’s not clear to me how the line could be split without a really messy junction south of East Main Station anyway.

      7. Are you suggesting truncating it to Issaquah-East Main?

        I would oppose truncating it just short of Bellevue TC. Two of its strengths are double-frequency with East Link through downtown Bellevue, and serving the large Bellevue-Bellevue College market which extends up to Wilburton. That’s where half the ridership will come from. And forcing a transfer a half-mile south of Bellevue TC is excessive. Transfers are more justified when both segments are longer, so you’re not getting on and immediately getting off. I put the minimum length at around two miles. (Chosen to allow Westlake-UDistrict at 3 miles, but not Beacon Hill+CCC+49 transferring at Jackson and Denny, which is two transfers in less than two miles.)

      8. the voters have spoken

        Not really. This was not a democratic process — they were given only one choice: yes or no. The board set the tone of the vote, and the board was not elected with transit expertise in mind (which explains why not a single board member — except maybe Roger Millar) has any. I think you could argue that the voters simply voted for transit — so as long as they build something that helps in that regard, it adheres to the voting mandate.

        The levy specifies mode for most project.

        Which shows how ridiculous the planning is. Apparently you can gut most of it, have one station at 14th Avenue NW, the other east of Fauntleroy in West Seattle (with nothing in between) and as long as it is rail, it is OK. Obviously that is a crazy idea, but apparently it is OK.

        I would argue that simply moving the station east to 14th destroys the Ballard line, and is not at all what people voted for, but that was considered acceptable even before the cost overruns.

      9. If Mike is right, and they have a lot of leeway, maybe they could just build the original WSTT ( along with similar, smaller scale improvements to the bus system (a stop under Dravus, extending the bus lanes on the West Seattle Freeway, etc.).

        I doubt it. While serving many of the same people (and then some) and while a better value, I think it is too different. I think what is most likely is that ST just builds the same thing, but in pieces. It is likely the entire thing would take a very long time, but one segment could be done in about ten years.

        Unfortunately, each segment is either too expensive or pretty much useless. West Seattle to Elliot or Ballard to Stadium is too expensive. A train tunnel from Elliot to Stadium is pretty much useless. Yes, you could send one of the trains that way, but that would be a clear degradation, as not only do those riders (from Rainier Valley, SeaTac, etc.) lose their connection to the UW, but frequency on the main line suffers.

        That is why I think a rail convertible bus tunnel — with the exact same stations as proposed — is the only reasonable way out of this mess. This would give people something in the short term (much faster travel time from West Seattle or Ballard through downtown) while still allowing the rail tunnel to eventually be built (somewhere in the middle of this century, by my estimation). I don’t see adding bus entrances as being outside the original scope, which means I doubt there would be a legal challenge since again, this would be seen as merely a stage in the process to get light rail from Ballard to West Seattle.

      10. It’s not that ST can’t build a WSTT, it’s that I don’t see a political path to it. Maybe the situation will cause ST and the cities to consider alternatives they heretofore have rejected, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

        “The board set the tone of the vote, and the board was not elected with transit expertise in mind”

        But it was a widespread public movement that pressured the legislature to create ST, and with its suburban-focused structure, and pressured the board to include the Spine and Everett and Tacoma Dome in ST3. If any board members had wavered in that, there would have been enormous pressure to keep with the Spine program. That would tend to cause boardmembers with doubts to self-censor or not pursue a board nomination. You can’t just look at what choice the board gave voters, you also have to look at why they did it, and how the voters influenced what the ballot measure would contain. And how the politicians influenced it, and how the voters influenced the situation that led to the city/county politicians having so much power of it.

      11. It’s not that ST can’t build a WSTT, it’s that I don’t see a political path to it.

        I don’t think it would be allowed. Imagine the board got together — did an actual brain storm — and said “OK, we thought about it, and we can’t afford Ballard to West Seattle Rail. It is too disruptive and too expensive. So we are going to build the WSTT instead. Eventually we could add rail in it”.

        My guess is there would be widespread support. My guess is if they had an advisory vote and the choice was building the Ballard to West Seattle Line (in 2045? with a stop at 14th) that most people would prefer just building the WSTT sooner. The only problem is the board itself.

        You can’t just look at what choice the board gave voters, you also have to look at why they did it, and how the voters influenced what the ballot measure would contain.

        Yeah, sure. The design of the board had a huge amount of influence. The Spine is a crazy idea that somehow drove the board from the very beginning. But West Seattle Link was rather arbitrary, and likely influenced by the fact that the head of the county, and once head of the board is from there. The infatuation with rail in general is also arbitrary. Even when the city of Kirkland hired their own consultant, and recommended BRT on the CKC, the board rejected that idea in favor or rail, and eventually that became Issaquah to South Kirkland Rail (the worst light rail project in the package).

        It is a mix. A poorly designed board, with a misguided mission, and poor leadership lead to what is a really bad set of projects. This really shouldn’t be that surprising. The board couldn’t manage to suggest a station at 130th from the beginning — an oversight so huge it screams incompetence.

      12. “Not really. This was not a democratic process — they were given only one choice: yes or no. The board set the tone of the vote, and the board was not elected with transit expertise in mind”

        I think you’re misunderstanding my point. Yes, they did. What they voted for was light rail whether they meant to or not. That’s what the bill requires and ST can’t just change it after the fact.

        I share most of your feelings about ST’s poor planning. I don’t think Issaquah needs light rail lol. But they’re getting it.

    2. I once again invite you to embrace your mantra that proximity is unnecessary, and leave Seattle entirely.

    1. “I have long said that Issaquah-Kirkland should be Stride, as should Federal Way-Tacoma Dome. In the north end we could extend Link to 164th or 128th and have buses take over from there. The transfers would be at said stations. I’m assuming all those stations are capable of accommodating that many transferees all at once”.

      The eastside, S. King Co., Snohomish, and Pierce Co. subareas are not the issue, as far as I know, and they have the funding for their ST projects. So no reason to pick a fight with them, or tell them their projects won’t get built because the N. King Co. subarea can’t afford its ST 3 projects. The line from Issaquah to Kirkland makes little transit or economic sense, but lots of political sense. So I wouldn’t take on that fight if I were ST, especially with the line not scheduled until 2041. Otherwise Issaquah will demand $4.5 billion for some other project. I imagine the other subareas would not agree cuts to their ST 3 projects either, assuming they have the funding.

    2. I’m just saying what I would do. I don’t know what each subarea’s project:funding gap is. If there’s little gap, there will be little pressure to contract things. Some subareas will contract more than others. But to the extent that they do contract, I’d suggest it be based on these priorities. I living in one subarea can make systemwide suggestions, as can you.

      The five-year debt ceiling is not subarea-specific, as subareas are based on the final accounting, not on what order the jobs go in. So ST may address that part by slowing down everything in that 5-year period evenly across the board. But if it wants to make decisions to delay some projects to avoid delaying others, then different projects would be affected by that 5-year bottleneck differently. That’s where my suggestions come in.

  2. King County should be actively inquiring into the possibility of buying a TIBS or SeaTac-area car park for housing. If there was ever a time airport parking lot owners would ever want to sell, it would be now.

      1. If I had said, “Why isn’t any local gov’t agency or transit agency using land for housing?,” your comment would be relevant. But, I didn’t say that.

        Sam. The comment section’s only visionary.

  3. Has anyone else noticed the return of the dying escalators in the DSTT? There were 6 shut down at Westlake the other day, with multiple out at University Street and Pioneer Square Stations as well. Why can’t we keep the most basic elements of our transit infrastructure from rotting away underneath our feet?

    1. Because they’re thirty years old and at the end of their life. ST is gradually replacing all of them but it’s taking a long time. In the meantime, the escalators at UW and Capitol Hill stations have gone from the least reliable to the most reliable, exceeding ST’s 90% availability target. That’s something to feel good about, and I’m glad of it every time I use those stations. I used to encounter outages at least once a week and sometimes three days a week. But I have not encountered any in the past several months. (Although that’s partly because I’m only riding occasionally and may not see outages. But ST’s statistics say outages aren’t there.)

      Every time I go into Westlake Station for the past few months, at least one of the escalators is closed and I have to take the stairs or elevator. I often encounter closed escalators in other DSTT stations too. It’s annoying.

      1. Some of the escalators out at Westlake Station include the ones that were already overhauled. I watched the old steps go out and the new ones come in. That’s why I am asking. Even the replacements are broken now. I’ve pointed the finger at Kone for a while now, but this has gone well beyond just one suboptimal contractor. At this point it seems clear that ST and the agency in charge of the DSTT before them are directly to blame now.

      2. The previous agency was King County, which built the tunnel. The two agreed to transfer ownership to ST in conjunction with ST2, which would have only trains in the tunnel. The specific point at which ownership was transferred is unclear to me; I think it was within the past year. Before that ST was paying proportional debt service on the tunnel based on its number of runs vs Metro’s.

        King County kicked the can down the road on escalators between 2008-2020, from when ST1 was approved to when ST took ownership. It would be ST’s responsibility to overhaul them. It continued its substandard maintenance and step replacements. Part of the reason for that is it didn’t have money to replace broken steps or escalators. It had to apply for one-off federal grants to do that, to the extent that it has. You sometimes see signs saying, “This escalator is closed while King County awaits a grant to fix it.” Long-term maintenance wasn’t budgeted in the plan that created and operated the tunnel. This is similar to the problems with NY and DC subway trains, where construction and operations were budgeted but not maintenance, and decades later they’re falling apart. Luckily our trains and buses aren’t in that predicament.

      3. ST budget a significant amount of money for DSTT improvements after it took ownership, but it did not proactively study study beforehand what was needed or what it would do. It delayed the study until after it received ownership, which is now. So the months-long study is in process. It will probably lead to some improvements but not everything we think it should have.

    2. The short answer is that no one with authority admits that lack of escalator and elevator redundancy is a fundamental design mistake.

      I really dread to see what happens in 2025 when four-car trains arrive in the station every three minutes and it takes an dinky elevator about 90 seconds to make a round trip. Without social distancing, it will be hard for more than 10 people to use the elevator until the next train arrives and more people get in the elevator line.

      1. If we still need to worry about social distancing in 2025, that will mean that the vaccinated campaign has gone seriously wrong.

      2. With social distancing, it will be hard for more than 3 people to use the elevator at a time!

      3. Time in contact is as important as distance. If the elevator doesn’t get stuck you’re not going to be in close contact for more that 15 minutes. It’s all a guess at this point, and luck of the draw, but we know the factors are time, distance and physical barriers (mask, face shield, etc.). We also know UV light kills the virus so maybe just changing out some light bulbs might help.

      4. UVC kills the virus, but it also causes permanent eye damage with mere seconds of exposure. We could just change the light bulbs, but we absolutely shouldn’t.

      5. Far UVC is safer for the skin, but it is still quite hazardous for the eyes. Seconds of exposure can still cause permanent damage to them.

  4. Why will more housing be built around a Lynnwood station that will open in three years, than housing has been built around a station in Rainier Beach that has been open for 11 years?

    Sam. GameStop Employee of the Month.

    1. Zoning, demand, amount of contiguous developable land, cost, return on investment, etc. There are myriad reasons why.

  5. The main historical adjustment has been delay. Note the decline of Boeing. Note allegiance of the ST board to the Link spine; that is one of their key weaknesses. ST3 selected a spine with scoliosis. Perhaps the interim spine north and south of ST2 Link should be much better bus service. Commenters have also pointed out the weakness of the parking component.

    1. It’s not just the ST board’s allegiance to the Spine, it’s a lot of voters and city and county governments.

      1. Most specifically, the Board is just a collection of city and county representatives. Staff has some opinions, but ST Board doesn’t exist independently of other local governments. The whole point of ST’s governance structure is that its decisions are an expression of the collective opinion of the cities & counties.

  6. Look, there isn’t the funding to complete the ST 3 projects in the N. King Co. subarea, even based on ST’s current rosy cost overruns (and without addressing the second transit tunnels low estimated cost), plus declines in future farebox and general fund revenue from working from home, which will be around a 20% — 30% decline, plus worries about tourism returning to Seattle that generates more revenue annually than Seattle’s annual total capital and general fund budgets.

    Seattle could never afford a $10 billion levy to finish ST 3, and it would be stupid for Seattle to exhaust its tax capacity to complete ST 3 with so many other needs (especially public K-12 education). Extending completion of ST 3 to 50 years is silly. Revenue determines what you can do. Who cares what citizens voted on if the funding sources in the measure are inadequate to complete the projects.

    Second, from what I can see Metro can’t afford — and isn’t willing — to provide the necessary first/last mile access to light rail. The reason first/last mile access begins at your door stop — whether driving to a park and ride or walking to a bus — is because that is where your car is parked, and first/last mile access begins if you drive, and that is the competition.

    The idea you can build a rail spine and add seats and transfers to everyone’s trip — especially work commuters who have to be somewhere by a certain time — without frequency at every stage is crazy. Who cares if light rail runs one car every three minutes if you have to wait 15 or 20 minutes for a feeder bus in the dark and cold after a ten minute walk, when you have a car in the garage. The Soviet era planning idea that your trip will be longer but you will like it doesn’t work if you own a car. Or can work from home.

    Right when Northgate opens, and then East Link, ST will be either asking for more money or cutting projects, when there is no first/last mile access to rail, and every rider waiting at a bus stop is pissed off thinking ST was a stupid waste of money because ST never considered first/last mile access, and was foolish enough to rely on Metro.

    Finally the notion that if you just upzone around transit you will manufacture ridership and solve first/last mile access only makes sense if Seattle and the region’s population is growing dramatically, which it is not (and even in the San Francisco area transit faces the same issues), or families want to live in TOD which current housing trends suggest they don’t. New construction in a TOD like Spring District attracts wealthy owners and tenants who are exactly the kind of people who drive because the housing costs are so high. What Sam is trying to say diplomatically is upzoning and light rail have nothing to do with “equity”, and the reason they are building tall buildings in Lynnwood and not Rainier Beach is RB is Black, and builders (and progressive urbanists) still prefer to live in white neighborhoods (including gentrified neighborhoods like the Central District) which is why they are so keen on upzoning Seattle’s expensive white neighborhoods. I think Terry White gets this, which is why frequency isn’t his main objective. The idea “urbanists” are excited about TOD and density in Lynnwood and Angle Lake and not south Seattle and Rainier Beach baffles me. Even cars and highways never created that kind of sprawl with flat population growth and an empty downtown Seattle.

    Really when you look at it ST has not delivered on any of its promises; equity, quicker trips including transfers, density, a comprehensive transit grid, and very little of this has to do with the pandemic.

    1. “The idea “urbanists” are excited about TOD and density in Lynnwood and Angle Lake and not south Seattle and Rainier Beach baffles me”

      Where did you get that idea? Urbanists want more density around Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill stations. It’s the usual nimbys that are successfully pressuring the city to scale it down. And social justice activists at Rainier Beach that have argued for a slow approach to slow down displacement. That dovetails with developers’ relative lack of interest in Rainier Beach right now because it’s further from downtown than the other stations. So the city took a long time in deciding how to rezone it, and deliberately slowed down the process even further, beyond what the other stations experienced.

      Mount Baker is a hub urban village — the middle level — so that implies a multistory office building or two. The rezoning kept it modest, I think 60 or 80 feet at the center, and it quickly tapers down to 40′ in just a few blocks. So that’s a missed opportunity. But it wasn’t urbanists pushing for those caps; it was nimbys.

      Any comprehensive solution also needs to dramatically increase subsidized housing, to make up for the gap between what new units cost and what working-class people can pay. That’s the way to avoid displacement when land costs and rents are so high relative to incomes.

    2. As someone who is now looking for housing near Link, I can tell you the demand is there. I will have to pay at least $800k for anything with three bedrooms that is walking distance from a Link station. The cost of building this $800k unit of housing is, at the most, $300k. So $500k of that is the price of land.

      And really, Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Our very mediocre housing construction rate far exceeds other cities with booming job markets, like San Francisco, New York, or Boston. I love to complain about the zoning here, but it could be worse!

  7. The timing on these decisions is, unfortunately, terrible. We really won’t know if Q and Island Dan are right that work-at-home will break the commuting model permanently for another two or three years. Without that knowledge we really cannot make a sound decision about the second Downtown Tunnel, which is at the heart of all reasonable planning.

    If there will indeed never again be a large commuter spike into downtown Seattle, the new tunnel is not necessary. Using all-day headways of ten minutes on three lines would give a 3-3-4 minute service in the section between Northgate and IDS. This allows a 40% increase in capacity for all lines to six minutes during the peak. You’d then have 2-2-2 headways in the tunnel, with 2-4 north of Northgate and east of IDS. Because of the at-grade running through the Spring District, the overlay trains on East Link might have to turn back at the Bellevue MF.

    Using the turnback pocket track at Northgate to terminate Tacoma trains works very well, though it probably would have to be elevated above the North Link tracks to have a pair. Between IDS and the turnback terminus for the Tacoma line there would be seven intermediate stations on Ballard-Downtown. There will also be seven between IDS and Northgate when Link gets there later this year. So turning back at Northgate would give operators from Tacoma the same end-to-end transit time.

    Similarly, Everett trains could reverse on the outer loop at the Forest Street maintenance facility, saving two station stops when compared with going to West Seattle.

    ST would need to redo the ventilation in the tunnel between Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium to support the increase in frequency at the peaks, because somebody is going to use all that floorspace downtown. The DSTT stations should be retrofitted with center platforms filling the bus bypass lane to make boarding and alighting quicker, which means a new elevator at one end and a new up escalator at the other. IDS might be a problem, though, because its bus bypass lane is already taken by the poorly placed turnback track. Perhaps after the Bellevue MF is operational it could be removed and replaced by a simple trailing point crossover just north of the platform for non-operating period movements between the MF’s. Otherwise Bellevue-Lynnwood trains would be service in Bellevue.

    In any case all that work on the existing tunnel infrastructure would surely cost less than two billion dollars.

    And, yes, the City of Seattle would have to get pretty draconian about bus priority in some places. That would be politically unpopular, but could be made more palatable by curtain tolling the area from Valley to Dearborn between Broadway and the waterfront with free passes for residents. Use the toll proceeds to fund better bus service to downtown.

    Without the new tunnel North King everything else is easier and less of a burden on the entire region.

    This is all speculative at this time, because we do not know if the peak surge will return to previous levels that necessitate the second tunnel. However, it is a good analysis to keep in ST’s hip pocket if the surge does not return.

  8. My first choices for austerity, based on the map and “Realignment Tools” table in ECB’s article.

    * Defer Graham and BAR stations. They don’t add any sizeable urban villages or critical bus transfers to Link.
    * Convert Issaquah-South Kirkland to BRT. Or defer it and add interim ST Express service, with 15-minute frequency, to replace the Issaquah-Bellevue route. There would be enough money left over to extend it to downtown Kirkland on 108th.
    * Defer parking garage expansions systemwide.
    * Truncate Everett Link at 164th or 128th, and add frequent buses beyond that, one directly to Everett and the other via Paine Field. Or defer the segment if deletion is not palpable.
    * Delete or defer Federal Way-Tacoma Dome, and add replacement buses.
    * Defer Tacoma 19th Avenue.

    Things not to delay:
    * 130th Seattle station. Keep it on track to open with Lynnwood Link or soon after. It brings two urban villages into Link: Lake City and Angle Lake. Lake City is large and has a lot of housing and lower-income people. There’s also an opportunity for station-area densification.
    * RapidRide C and D improvements. (It still hasn’t been clarified what these would be, but any street improvements or frequency improvements would be welcome.)
    * Sounder South expansion. It serves sizeable cities that are too far from Link, and are lower-income cities.

    I don’t know what to do with Ballard and West Seattle so I’m leaving them off the lists. There have been several good suggestions for austerity or non-austerity, and I don’t have a particular favorite. I’ve always thought West Seattle should be open BRT (serving the C, 120, and 21 corridors at least, and maybe the 50/55 corridor too). I like RossB’s idea of a bus tunnel with a Y pointing toward west/south Seattle, Ballard, and Aurora.

    East King’s shortfall is probably not as large as the difference between Issaquah Link and a BRT alternative, and East King is isolated from the more severe budget woes in other subareas (especially North King and Snohomish), so it may try to keep Issaquah Link anyway. If it doesn’t, it would have extra money for something TBD. Maybe gold-plated stations on East Link? Just kidding.

    1. If you are still committed to WSBLE general alignment (aka Not Ross), I think the austerity action is pretty straightforward
      1. Delay WS to open alongside the main tunnel, or perhaps alongside Ballard
      2. Break Smith Cove to Ballard into a separate phase from the main tunnel and open slightly later than the tunnel

    2. #1 yes, I forgot. The West Seattle-SODO stub is scheduled early for 2030. DSTT2-Ballard are scheduled later for 2036. (Pre-covid schedule, since there is no later schedule.) This is absurd. Delay West Seattle so that it opens after DSTT2. This would accelerate DSTT2 as a corollary. That’s the right order because downtown/SLU is where the high ridership and potential crowding will be, so it should go first. Few people will ride a West Seattle-SODO stub. The C will have to continue running during that period, and I think most people will stick to the C rather than using the stub and transferring in the middle of nowhere.

    3. Oh, and for Daniel who will say “Why should Issaquah riders transfer at South Bellevue/Mercer Island and the 554 be truncated, when West Seattle riders won’t transfer at SODO and you’re advocating keeping the C in the interim?”, it’s because the distance from South Bellevue/Mercer Island to Westlake is much longer than the distance from SODO to Westlake. The SODO-Westlake distance is right at the borderline of a 2-mile transfer threshold, and we don’t want people transferring twice within a 2-mile space. That’s the worst.

    4. If you “delete” Federal Way-Tacoma Dome you have to do something to replace the service, and that means better South Sounder. You can’t have better South Sounder without a new track between Black River Junction and South Tacoma. I think that doubling the UP is the better choice, because there are some two track segments on the BNSF which are closely developed but the UP has a wide enough right of way for two tracks all the way. There are a couple of places where the existing track would have to be moved over to fit both in, but its wide enough to build the new track closely adjacent to the old one — which is of course tricky under traffic but railroads do it fairly regularly — and then tear up the old one and rebuild it a couple of yards away.

      1. I think if TDLE is deferred by a Board vote and then in an ST4 vote it is discarded, I don’t think it is “needed.” IMO Pierce and Tacoma are correct in investing in a Link extension to Tacoma Dome, but if in an ST4 they decided to instead focus on bus connections to the FW terminus and invest elsewhere in the county, that could also be a good plan, in particular if Pierce wanted a lower tax rate than Seattle/King in an ST4 world.

        A coherent ST4 plan for Pierce could be organized around building out the 5 BRT (think Swift) lines in PT’s long term plan (ST3 funds 1 of them), all day service on Sounder between DuPont and Tacoma, and a robust STX network both to feed to Link and to provide all-day coverage for Tacoma, Puyallup, and Sumner when Sounder isn’t running.

        If region wants to write the check for all day Sounder, I think they are better off finishing TDLE.

        Where is the Black River Junction?

      2. You replace it with more frequent ST Express or Stride to Federal Way. You keep following the ST2 plan but you have more money so you can make the buses more frequent and have them go to more places. For instance, there’s no reason there can’t be a route from west Tacoma to Federal Way. Or from Puyallup directly to Federal Way without going through Auburn. Or from Tacoma Mall to Federal Way. Or Spanaway and Parkland to Federal Way,. You could even keep some of the Tacoma-Seattle expresses, since they’re faster than either Link or Sounder.

      3. “Where is the Black River Junction?”

        My guess would be just north of the Tukwila Amtrak Station. At least that is where the Black River was…

        Or is it where the track splits off to head towards Boeing Renton?

        but does anyone call it the Black River Junction?

      4. [it’s] where the track splits off to head towards Boeing Renton

        “but does anyone call it the Black River Junction?”
        Yes, the people it’s important to, the railroad.

      5. To be explicit, “Black River Junction” is where in the past the UP swapped sides with BNSF in a diamond crossing, as jas says, “a bit north of Tukwila Station”. The plant controlling the crossing also included the Milwaukee junction about a half mile north, where it first connected to the Interurban and then later after the Interurban was torn up, to UP, and the NP wye to Renton, Bellevue and Canada which is just south of the old crossing.

        Nowadays the UP does not cross BNSF. Instead it takes a position parallel to it from the south and a series of cross-overs allows trains to transition across BNSF if the way is clear to the UP-owned track to Argo Yard. The triple track north of there is dispatched by BNSF as is the Black River Junction plant, but UP owns the track closest to the freeway and a couple of industrial leads on the freeway side of the track. The Milwaukee junction is still there but the trackage is now owned by BNSF to replace its previous alignment right through the middle of Renton.

        South Tacoma is the junction where the UP crosses the Puyallup River to join the BNSF main and Sound Transit exits BNSF to the old Milwaukee elevated trackage toward the Cutoff.

      6. Actually, it may be just as easy to add a third track to the BNSF in the places where there isn’t one now. The biggest question is through Kent. The existing two tracks are widely separated with a fence in the middle. It might be wide enough to put a track down the center as is true through Auburn.

        That would clearly be cheaper.

        However, moving most freight to the UP line would get it out of Kent and Auburn’s downtowns which is a big win.

    5. And “absolutely not” to further spending ST money on Metro bus improvements. Sound Transit has a specific charter granted by the State, and it doesn’t involve being a slush fund for bus service.

      1. The original plan was exactly that – a ‘slush fund’ for the counties. Sound Transit was just an administrative body to manage finances and contracts, with the county transit agencies running the operations. It was only with ST2 that Sound Transit began to evolve into an operational agency coequal with its transit partners, and still only the streetcar is run without funneling money through one of the counties.

        IIRC, STX was ~40% of PT’s weekday service hours. After the ST2 build out, STX will be a much smaller share of CT and KCM, but it will continue to play a large role in funding bus operations in Pierce. Stride will likely be run by ST (probably through First Transit or an equivalent), but given the location of the Stride bus base (Bothell), running ST Express service in Pierce and South King will be a significant share of PT operations for a long time.

        As the spine is built out, bus oriented capital projects will likely be a critical part of future ST levy coalitions to pair with rail investments within Seattle.

      2. Madison is an ST corridor that was in the long-range plan. The C and D improvements are interim stopgaps because Link is so far away. ST can either run ST Express routes in Seattle or it can contribute to RapidRide routes. The PT 1 upgrade is an ST corridor that’s in the long-range plan. It’s not a slush fund for other agencies, it’s fulfilling ST’s regional transit mission, in corridors ST has designated as needing regional transit. Even if the buses are branded and operated by other agencies, and even if ST only makes a capital contribution to them rather than funding the whole thing.

      3. “ST can either run ST Express routes in Seattle”

        To be clear, I mean Seattle-only routes. There never have been any Seattle-only ST Express routes, but there theoretically could be.

      4. Mike, no there couldn’t without the Leg revamping ST’s charter. It is defined as intercity — well actually “inter-center”.

      5. AJ, those express buses are ONLY to run until rail is built or in corridors which connect different urban centers where no rail WILL be built. In fact, the WSBLE is pretty much in violation of ST’s charter, but everyone looked the other way because Seattle feels it needs a westside train line.

        If commuting doesn’t rebound, it certainly doesn’t.

      6. I think the legal basis for STX has evolved. ST3 included permanent funding of STX routes even after the ST3 Link & Stride network is built out, which to me implies that STX is no longer the ‘temporary’ mode it was originally intended to be in ST1&2.

        The brand is unchanged, but the purpose of STX has expanded to also cover Sounder support (feeder & span of service) and to support routes that are regionally important but do not merit HCT at this time (SR-520 routes)

      7. “ST3 included permanent funding of STX routes even after the ST3 Link & Stride network is built out,…”

        I think you’re right about this though I don’t think ST has been as explicit and transparent about this as I would like them to be. The ST3 financial plan had $708M* allocated for STX O&M and I always assumed that was due to the length of time it was going to take to complete the capital projects. However, upon further reflection I came to the conclusion that as high as that figure was it probably meant that certain STX service routes would continue until 2041 regardless. As you stated in your comment above, this does represent a shift in the original intent of STX service routes on HCT corridors as placeholders. The legal positioning seems a bit fuzzy to me but apparently the board has not raised an issue over this matter (at least that I’m aware of).

        @AJ, do you happen to have a source that you can cite wherein ST has made their position on permanent funding of STX service explicit?

        *Source: ST3 Plan, Appendix A, page A-5, Financial Plan:

        Uses Of Funds-
        O&M Expenditures,
        ST Express Bus-

        Snohomish, $73M
        North King, $0
        South King, $65M
        East King, $177M
        Pierce, $393M
        System-wide, $0
        Total, $708M

      8. Check out table on page 10. Hard to see specific numbers, but looks like STX is still the 2nd largest mode in expenditure in 2041.

        So STX continues to have material O&M funding in 2041, at the end of the current financial plan. This is directly inherited from the detailed spreadsheets that underpinned Appendix A (I don’t have a citation for said spreadsheets, aside citing myself from my time at ST, but you could confirm with a records request).

        Continuing to fund STX after the final Link segment has opened is functionally ‘permanent,’ IMO. From what I gather during my time at ST, the legal position was indeed unclear but from a practical standpoint the planning and finance teams assumed some STX operations in perpetuity.

      9. Of course ST Express will continue. There will be express buses from Lakewood and Puyallup to Tacoma Dome, and the southeast Pierce Sounder shuttles, and a truncated 554 (with more all-day service in Sammamish I assuime), and the Redmond-UW 541, and the 566 south of Renton at lest, and probably others I don’t know about. ST is still considering keeping the 574 and extending it to Westwood Village to replace part of the 560 that will be lost to Stride, as far as I know. In 2016 ST released three planning scenarios with fewer, the same, or more ST Express service hours than current. In ST3 it chose fewer. But fewer doesn’t mean none. It means routes will be truncated at Tacoma Dome, Everett/Lynnwood, South Bellevue/Mercer Island, UW, and 145th as expected, but they may not get the frequency increases we were hoping for. It’s “permanent” in the sense that it’s in place until ST4 supercedes it with another ST Express plan.

      10. @AJ
        Thanks for the reply and the link. I had looked at that too and took it into consideration before replying initially.

        “(I don’t have a citation for said spreadsheets, aside citing myself from my time at ST, but you could confirm with a records request).”

        That’s alright; your word about your past experience at the agency is good with me. :)

        @Mike Orr
        I don’t dispute ST’s intentions of continuing to operate the STX routes that you’ve cited (or even additional ones on newly defined HCT corridors in the future). The legal issue that comes into play is the regional transit authority’s original enabling legislation’s language*:

        “(2) “High capacity transportation system” means a system of public transportation services within an urbanized region operating principally on exclusive rights-of-way, and the supporting services and facilities necessary to implement such a system, including interim express services and high occupancy vehicle lanes, which taken as a whole, provides a substantially higher level of passenger capacity, speed, and service frequency than traditional public transportation systems operating principally in general purpose roadways.”

      1. Don’t forget the ST express buses that will run permanently to West Seattle and Ballard and will run along the surface of 3rd Ave. in downtown Seattle, that will still have much better frequency than light rail + Metro feeder buses.

    6. My first choice for austerity would be to make Link single track north of Lynnwood. ST’s own ridership predictions show a huge drop in ridership north of there.

      Properly planned passing sidings work fine in railways all over the world (but especially mountain lines in Japan and Europe) with heavier ridership than this line is expected to have.

      Sure, plan for it to eventually get a second track, but for now it’s 15 miles of unnecessary capacity.

      1. Lynnwood is in the Snohomish Co. subarea. As far as I know that subarea doesn’t have a funding shortfall, yet.

  9. I will admit that integrating steel rail train lines is probably optimal from a rider on-board experience perspective , but I can see at how changing the train wheels could make ST3 doable as generally intended but at a much lower cost by doing this:

    Implement rubber-tired trains for Ballard and West Seattle.


    1. They can operate at steeper grades. Many of the issues are horizontal and related to grade requirements — like tunnel depths, building new bridges instead of using existing ones (like the West Seattle bridge), portal slopes and similar challenges faced by our often steep urban terrain.

    2. As a different technology, they can be built with electrified third rail. That means significantly smaller tunnel bores, shallower cut-and cover including station boxes, lower clearances and other features that a caternary system requires.

    3. I’m no expert on tracks but it would appear that the ballast underneath rubber-tired tracks don’t have to support loads as heavy as steel wheeled tracks do .

    4. Rubber tires can stop more quickly, so that collision avoidance can be enhanced. Maybe driverless trains could also evolve sooner.

    5. As “rail”, the system would be perceived at keeping the intent of ST3.

    6. Expanding or branching the system appears easier in the future. Designing an Aurora branch or a Ballard/UW branch under Phinney Ridge would appear easier. The latter branch could even more easily extend to University Village and jog to the 520 bridge to the Eastside. Negotiating West Seattle’s hilly terrain would similarly be easier if slopes could be steeper with any extension proposal.

    I realize that it would require changing some shared track segments and operating plans for existing Link lines. Still, it seems to offer possible advantages that outweigh this.

    Thoughts? Is this a worthy idea to consider?

    1. Would need an entirely new OMF. The OMFs for WSBLE are in Snohomish and SKC. That seems to be the biggest issue.

      1. Yeah I thought about that

        One possibility would be to deck over the current one in SODO, so part of the current facility could be relocated to some of the other sites to make room here (which is what is expected to happen when the planned vehicles are put into service for these segments anyway). Another would be to use Ryerson since it may go partly away when tunnel construction begins. With steeper grades possible, some unused Port property becomes more physically doable. If Paris can solve this OMF challenge, then surely we can.

      2. It’s industrial land, so there’s presumably a spot for it. My point was more that changing WSBLE to rubber tire means the 3rd OMF will be much more expensive because it will be in prime Seattle SoDo land, rather than well outside the city limits.

      3. A new OMF is probably the path of least resistance, but keep in mind that this facility will be needed to service vehicles on both the Ballard and West Seattle segments as currently planned out of this spot. The net number of total rail vehicles in the system wouldn’t change if they are of the same length. Just the proportion of steel wheel versus rubber tired vehicles and caternary versus third rail would change.

      4. The existing MF is planned to have a connection to the West Seattle line and it obviously already has a connection to the Federal Way/Tacoma line. Expect all Ballard-end and West Seattle trains to come from the existing MF. Bellevue will serve the Lynnwood trains and the Federal Way MF the south line. Perhaps the first three or four trains running out of Ballard in the morning and last runs in the evening — should it be built — will run out of the existing base.

  10. Excellent aerial view of our region from the window of a plane departing SeaTac. West Seattle, downtown, SLU, UW, North Seattle, Kirkland, North Bellevue, Spring District, Overlake, Microsoft, Redmond, Sammamish and beyond.


    From the article:
    “Why are American rail projects so costly? The initial results of an ambitious project by three researchers at New York University’s Marron Institute suggest one culprit hiding in plain sight: pointlessly fancy train stations.”

    I thought this group might appreciate this view from City Journal regarding the high cost of train service in the US.

  12. No love for fish? Pains me to say it but Inslee is right in pushing the fish culvert projects ahead of taking bids on any new road projects. There is a federal mandate that the State must adhere to. Fixing these culverts repairs a major screw-up in design and maintenance and there’s a responsibility to the tribes that we’ve come up way short. The other crap like electric ferry boats is stupid but at least he got it right in focus on the restoration of habitat.

  13. Well, Transit Girl, in the years when the Downtown Seattle Transit Project need it the most, most useful tool in its kit had this for its modest name:

    “Value Engineering.” In person some of the world’s best public artists had to show up and face questions from officials who knew whereof they spoke.

    There was a reason that those freeway-length stalks never got near the monstrosity they threatened to deliver. Same reason Nature herself ever got anywhere near a single as a statue, let along anything that elephants never got close to.

    Best thing about watching Artists In Action was how much one could compare them, in addition to their plans. Also reason I keep making such a big deal about art presented and rebuilt right there with the world being created in public where the public could watch the con-struct by the day.

    But also, I’m not cheering for anybody in the no-build camp. If somebody could construct elephants who could credibly live on vines……they could also handle some dynamite transt stations, and also the approaches to them that could make the art-pay-in-for-it roll over by what we, with structure, can actually do.

    Down through the years, I’ve always liked to stay “big” on Practical Engineering Inspiration. When questioned what can’t-can-absolutely must to handle Downtown Seattle’s train-and bus platoons. Discussion both ways…watching and listening and encouraging STB to do the same.

    I have a very easy “feel” about that oblong loop of LINK load several stories deep will carry passengers underneath a very deep station at Madison and Boren. Regional Hospital For Sure! That down-hill trigger-springe landslide called “The Central Business District” Could might already made up her mind. Just waiting for that next tunnel to show us how to handle things.

    Defense-response? That the fine piece of railroading named The Waterfront Streetcar could very well arise one shiny morning from whatever warehouse has it now, long ready for restoration. What truly makes “Light Rail” so valuable. It never cries to Mommy about getting itself Restored.

    One of the most discouraging times of my life were the months when, paper-by-headline sort of slinking their ways off the runs they were born for. Truly great thing about their name is how easy then can be brought back.

    And not only nothing against the various 100% lane and signal-pre-empt these trains are capably of handling, but when I think of the whole enterprise, I put an “Of Course!!!” in the usage column. Under supervision that gives it’s name a good one.

    Whatever we’ve gotten the most economy, that’s the direction we steer. With the full understanding that if our steering gear and tracks need to participate under vehicle control, that guidance has been able to en-GAGE since the transit world can finally say “Seattle.”

    And funding? Little guilty to ever praise it, but but just think about those stately orange-painted bridge structures pointing the way out (or into) Marine County AS A DELIBERATE MOVE to revivify the average person’s income.

    In same posting about the “trick” steering and the rest of it, more and more verbiage aimed at the people who’ll personally ride the ever-metastisizing “Deals On Wheels” I want start to shore a lot more wear and tear with.

    Nobody better positioned than this early morning’s readership. Way I look at it, there might not ever be a better-skilled and taught team of comments to feed the breed into its long-over long over-wailing experience.

    And Crime-Thing…I’m getting real tired of betting forced to having to listen who think I’m an idiot because their boss will fire them if they sign their “posts.” Worst thing for me is how desperately I NEED their efforts. You know who you are. Please help me save America!

    Knew You’d Do It!

    Mark Dublin

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