Part 3 of a three-part series

Seattle Subway goes to the Legislature.

[UPDATE: The hearing has been moved to February 9th. There is no updated link at this time.]

We’re very excited to announce HB 1304, a bill to enable local rapid transit funding, is now live with its first hearing scheduled on Wednesday, February 3rd 9th at 10 am. This bill will give Seattle the tools we need to build a citywide, high quality transit system the right way. The system the city has dreamed of ever since the Bogue plan was presented in 1911.

HB 1304 will help us solve a lot of problems:

  • Long range planning and expandability: we can plan for a complete system, not just one line at a time.  That will also help us avoid disruptive, and expensive, do-overs. It also puts us in prime position to attract federal investments.
  • Enable strategic land acquisition. Instead of the surprise property acquisition budget hole we’re facing in ST3, Sound Transit land holdings can be an asset that helps us fund the system.
  • Plug the ST3 funding gap to keep ST3 complete and on time. This can also include supplement funding of the system down the road as need. It’s about funding the gap between what Seattle needs and what Sound Transit is able to fund.
  • Kickstart planning to improve equity by connecting more of Seattle, far sooner than what the regional process will produce.
  • Ensure future expansion lines in Seattle will be fast, frequent, and reliable by funding new lines without traffic crossings.

HB 1304 will update the existing City Transportation Authority (monorail) statute to provide a pathway for Seattle to fund Sound Transit expansion. It improves governance to mirror the very successful Seattle Transportation Benefit District. It requires a system plan for equitable Transit Oriented Development and creates a rebate program for people with lower incomes.  In short, it takes an unused law from our past and fixes it to help us prepare for the future.

Now that our bill is scheduled, we need people to submit written testimony in support.

  1. Click here to submit testimony
  2. Select Committee: “Local Government
  3. Select Meeting: Select “2/3/2021 10AM”
  4. Select Agenda Item: “HB 1304 Grade Separated Transport
  5. Select type of testimony: “I would like to submit written testimony.”
  6. You will be sent to another page.
  7. Select Position: “Pro
  8. Fill out your information
  9. Write your testimony (limit 5000 characters)
  10. Submit Testimony
The case for HB 1304

Thank you very much to the bill’s sponsors, Representatives David Hackney, Liz Berry, Frank Chopp, Joe Fitzgibbon, Nicole Macri, Steve Bergquist, and Gerry Pollet. And thanks to all of you who have supported high quality transit expansion in Seattle and all the efforts that lead up to this bill.

101 Replies to “The Next Big Step for a Seattle Subway”

  1. No one outside Seattle can complain about allowing Seattle citizens to vote to tax themselves, and in many ways this would solve the issues of subarea equity and uniform tax rates among subareas in ST. I believe the population threshold to qualify for this taxing authority was raised from 300,000 to 500,000 residents, so only Seattle would qualify (thus eliminating objection from Bellevue, although the eastside subarea does not have funding issues).

    At the same time the cost for the list of transit projects listed in the article — including completing ST 3 — would be well over $10 billion in my estimate, depending on whether bridge repair/replacement and the second transit tunnel are included. The three issues this raises for me are:

    1. Taxing capacity is finite. Seattle has issues with affordable housing, emergency housing, public education, equity, infrastructure, etc., and the list of transit projects could exhaust that taxing capacity for a very long time.

    2. The primary tax to fund these projects would be the property tax, which passes down to renters and owners, thus increasing the cost of housing in Seattle, a pressing issue. For some an extra $100 or $200 in monthly rent is not a big deal, for others it is.

    3. Property taxes affect commercial spaces as well, and will pass down to commercial businesses, and retail businesses like restaurants, bars and stores that will struggle to return post-pandemic, and will have to compete with like businesses in surrounding cities that have lower leases.

    I think the vote on any Seattle specific levy would be interesting. Many Seattleites might assume they have already paid for ST 3 projects with their increased ST taxes, and wonder why they are paying twice. Some might remember how little the return was on Move Seattle, which was a fraction of the cost of the project list in the article. Some like South Seattle or other areas of Seattle might wonder why they are paying again on top of ST 3 for rail to West Seattle and Ballard. Some areas north that reliably vote yes for transit levies might wonder where their bus frequency went and if the new levy will allocate transit based on “equity”, and so how can a voter know if they will get the service promised in the project list. Finally some might ask why did Seattle have to pay to run rail to Snohomish Co. and S. King Co. so Lynnwood has rail but not many areas in Seattle proper, and why aren’t the other subareas increasing taxes.

    Finally, in any new transit levy the powers that be — ST, Seattle Subway — need to be truly accurate on cost estimates with real contingencies (and not 10% contingencies on large public projects, which is 10% low, certainly a tunnel under 5th Ave.), and be realistic on future farebox recovery which is based on ridership, and future general tax revenue in Seattle, considering HB 1304 is needed because ST was not even close to accurate, or honest, in its original cost estimates and ridership for ST 3. They can’t make the same “mistake” ST made in underestimating project costs in an expensive place to run rail like Seattle with many bridges in order to lower the cost of the levy in order to sell it.

    The dilemma Seattle Subway will face is the same dilemma ST faced in ST 3: how much to ask for in order to pass a levy, because if you ask for $1 too much in any levy you get zero, and how to afford all the promises made to pass a levy.

    1. As Jonathan says below. This bill creates a tool, how we use the tool is largely dependent on a lot of work that needs to be done yet. The logical first step is to run a measure that creates the authority, studies and decided on a plan for the system, starts design and RE purchases, and updates ST3 for expansion. Most of that is not capital intensive but prepares us be well ahead for federal funding and future capital expansion.

    2. “I believe the population threshold to qualify for this taxing authority was raised from 300,000 to 500,000 residents,”

      That was my first question, thanks. Although I look at it another way. Spokane and Bellevue might want enhanced transit someday. And Bellevue is getting two grade-separated lines now. (Or mostly grade-separted, minus part of Bel-Red.) If it reacts in horror to just getting authorization to build more grade-separated rail, why didn’t it react in horror to the Issaquah line, which will have several miles in Bellevue? It could have probably convinced the ST board to kill or delay that line if it had wanted to, since it’s the largest city in the subarea.

      1. Why would Bellevue argue to kill the Issaquah to Kirkland line in 2041? That was about the best rail route anyone could think of to spend all the excess ST 2 and 3 tax revenue, that was based on uniform subarea tax rates to hopefully fund the ST 3 projects in the N. King Co. subarea. Plus Issaquah has a lot of political clout on the eastside for a small city, and ST wanted to sell that area on ST 3. If Bellevue, and even Overlake, Redmond and Mercer Island, were getting light rail, so was Issaquah.

        The Issaquah to Kirkland rail line was after the eastside subarea had funded decades of express buses through ST 2 and 3, up and down its major highways, with changes to 405 that create center roadway stations for HOV lanes.

        I think the eastside’s lack of enthusiasm for transit in general is probably why it has used its ST funds pretty effectively. Express buses with cost effective center roadway stations and HOV lanes on existing highways are cost effective, and immediate, and the major freeways already go where most folks want to go, unlike the scenic route East Link takes.

        East Link is about ego. I mean, Kirkland doesn’t even want rail to its downtown; instead the line will stop at 405 a mile up the hill, which is called Rose Hill. Bellevue ran East Link along 112th. Mercer Island didn’t want a light rail station, certainly the density from being a HCT and loss of SOV access, but it was cheaper for ST to go through Mercer Island rather than around it, and WSDOT owned the land and airspace along I-90. Mercer Island is now fighting new housing targets as a HCT, and so far it looks like the eastside will go along with lower or the same housing targets from 2014 since Mercer Island got a rail station it didn’t want.

        You want to get eastside cities excited talk about 405, I-90, 167, 169, 520, Bellevue Way, because I just don’t think eastside residents see transit changing their lives. When Issaquah commuters complain about the loss of one seat express buses into Seattle, my guess is Bellevue will tell ST what the hell, we have the money and like Issaquah, throw in some express buses to Seattle. No other eastside city will complain. I doubt ST will mind having to figure out how to spend too much ST revenue in a subarea after N. King Co., and a Seattle Subway levy that will mainly be based on what idiots ST are.

      2. One of the goals we had when making changes was to limit the functional changes of the bill to make it easier to pass. Personally I’d love it if that number had gone down and if other districts also want that change, that would be great.

      3. Why would Bellevue argue to kill the Issaquah to Kirkland line in 2041?

        Because it is stupid.

        To be clear, Bellevue gets the most out of it. Getting from Eastgate to downtown Bellevue will be faster. But Kirkland gets basically nothing, and most of Issaquah gets nothing. Issaquah has grand plans for a new Eastgate/Factoria type village, and being connected to downtown Bellevue is nice, but not when the train run every 20 minutes (which is what similar stupid trains do around the country).

        It doesn’t take much imagination to think of a better way to spend the money, although it does take some effort to think of a cool acronym: It wouldn’t have to look exactly like that, of course. But the point is, either way, downtown Bellevue is the center of things, and with fast transit to way more places way more often, Bellevue would come out ahead, along with every other East Side city.

      4. Nobody needs to *kill* the Issaquah line. It’s not scheduled to open until 2041, which practically means it’s already been punted into the 2050s. It’s at the very back of the line and will stay there, of interest only to our grandkids (if our grandkids move to Issaquah).
        It’s irrelevant to the affordability of other ST3 projects because they get to go first and their timing will be determined by the interaction of their own costs, the current agency revenues and the debt limit.

      5. Speaking as a resident of Redmond, I don’t think there should be a population threshold at all. Why would I want my city to be excluded from this power?

        I don’t expect the city of Redmond (or any other city in Washington) to start building unnecessary transit infrastructure. Quite the opposite, in fact.

      6. “Why would Bellevue argue to kill the Issaquah to Kirkland line in 2041?”

        You mentioned something about keeping the Issaquah-Seattle expresses after East Link starts. Metro’s north Renton-Seattle express could be reassigned to ST in the same way.

        More importantly, more money would allow 405 Stride to become a multi-line system. That was one of the alternatives but ST deselected it to save a few bucks. You’d keep the existing lines and you’d add one from Bellevue to downtown Kirkland, from Kirkland to Woodinville, etc. That would solve the problem of downtown Kirkland access than neither Stride North nor Issaquah-South Kirkland Link address. They would use the BRT infrastructure when they’re on the freeway.

        More money could also re-elevate the parts of East Link in Bel-Red and south Redmond that were brought down to the service to squeeze money for Bellevue’s tunnel. You could probably do something better in downtown Bellevue to mitigate the transfer distance between the bus bays and the Link station. A Kirkland-Redmond express route would also be useful. Oh, and Sammamish could get more all-day transit access. Etc.

    3. “The primary tax to fund these projects would be the property tax, which passes down to renters and owners”

      Not necessarily. Housing prices are based on supply and demand, so landlords/sellers can increase prices beyond inflation only if there’s a housing shortage. There is a persistent housing shortage now, but there wasn’t between the 1960s and early 2000s, and there may not be one forever. Especially if people move out of Seattle en masse as you sometimes predict, to work or telework in a suburb or less expensive city, or if the economy craters with Boeing or with a reversal of the tech company fortunes. Also, it would depend on if all landlords/sellers pass it on across the board, vs if some do and some don’t. In the latter case it would be harder to make it stick, because buyers/tenants would just prefer the units that don’t raise it.

      1. The general consensus amongst economists is that property taxes do get passed down to renters.

        I can easily see that being the case with our system, we tax on both the value of the land, and the value of what is on it. This is disincentive to develop the land. Why build a new apartment building, when you are making good money with your parking lot *and* you would have to pay more in taxes? Renters pay for this disincentive (I think you can connect the dots).

      2. Depends whether the rent is determined by what renters are willing to pay or landlords are willing to receive. According to econ 101, the somewhat counterintuitive result is that the side with more market power absorbs more of the tax. In a market with a housing shortage, this means the landlords.

        It sounds strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. A higher property tax does not increase a renter’s ability to pay(*). And the landlord has already raised the rent as much as they can. If they could afford to pass on the extra $100 to renters, they would find a way to do so, even without the extra tax.

        That’s not to say landlords won’t use a property tax as an excuse to try and justify a rent increase. But, usually what’s going on is that the rent increase is market driven and would have happened anyway, the landlord is just citing the tax increase so that the tenant has somebody else to blame.

        (*) Ignoring, for the sake of simplicity, the fact that higher property taxes makes homeownership more expensive, which could theoretically increase the rent someone on the fence between renting and owning is willing to pay.

      3. “The general consensus amongst economists is that property taxes do get passed down to renters.”

        As an economist, I’ll chime in here that the evidence is pretty clear. In the short run, the property tax burden falls entirely on the property owner and is not passed through at all. The supply of rentable properties is fixed and there’s no means to have renters pay more than they would have otherwise.

        In the long run, it’s still mostly on the property owner. The mechanism for passing through higher taxes is that the taxes discourage new development by reducing the after-tax value of the improvements to the property. Fewer rentable properties gradually mean an increase in rents. But that’s a slow process.

        If the property taxes are used for something that increases the amenity value of the neighborhood, rents may rise a bit more. A tax to pay for better parks gets you an apartment in a neighborhood with better parks, and that amenity increases demand. School taxes seem to have a significant effect in this way. Taxes for trains in 15 years won’t, at least not until the trains are running.

      4. If renters paid the property tax, why doesn’t King County reduce the property tax bill of landlords whose tenants hasn’t paid rent for the last 10 months? Apparently, King County doesn’t believe the renter contributes to the property tax bill.

      5. “And the landlord has already raised the rent as much as they can. If they could afford to pass on the extra $100 to renters, they would find a way to do so, even without the extra tax.”

        That happened to me. My studio rent went from $500 to $750 in five years between 2005 and 2010. Each time the landlord sent a letter blaming it on of taxes and utilities but never offered any proof. Taxes and utilities made his expenses rise 50% in five years? Landlords have been raking in giant windfalls since 2003, so they can take the taxes out of that.

      6. “ Landlords have been raking in giant windfalls since 2003, so they can take the taxes out of that.”

        I think you mean since forever.

  2. The bill creates a tool, how we use the tool is largely dependent on a lot of work that needs to be done yet. The logical first step is to run a measure that creates the authority, studies and decided on a plan for the system, starts design and RE purchases, and updates ST3 for expansion. Most of that is not capital intensive but prepares us be well ahead for federal funding and future capital expansion.

  3. As I pointed out last week, the definitions of what is included needs to be revisited. It allows for funiculars and inclines but not elevators? They are essentially the same technology! I don’t get why funding stairs and moving sidewalks warrants specifically exclusion too. The exclusion of gondolas is also a problem because some people really want gondolas studied; even if it’s an unsuitable option, it needs objective study to determine that — without being excluded upfront.

    The general merits are obvious, but the specifics need rewording before this thing gets any further.

    1. I don’t understand the”tram hate” created by requiring complete grade separation including what appears to be a simple at-grade crossing. Is this trying to prevent the CCC from taking funds?

      Even MLK’s problem is the long length of median running tracks. A half-mile of slower trains using grade crossings or the occasional surface crossing is a negligible penalty; MLK’s median is four miles long by contrast.

      I could see end-of-line short “transit malls” on Market Street in Ballard or Alaska Street in West Seattle as potentially desirable, for example.

      Granted the Seattle’s City streetcar lines have effectiveness issues — but that appears to be a function of resulting speeds as the primary problem rather than the existence of any crossings singularly.

      1. Requiring grade separation is not an attempt to prevent CCC funds. Grade separation requirements ensure that under NO circumstances can vehicular road travel or pedestrians or any other mode of transport interfere with train operations. Look at the unfortunate situation we have in the Rainier Valley… trains can only run every 6 minutes due to trains that suffer from daily interference from cars/traffic lights, etc.

      2. Transit malls may also make sense in Tacoma, Everett, Kirkland, and Issaquah. Redmond was looking at a transit mall before deciding that impacts on local circulation were too great.

        The emphasis on zero grade crossing for light rail is just dogma. It’s not a useful policy position. There’s nothing wrong with 6 minute headways in the RV, and the slower speeds for Pierce & SKC riders is a bummer but more than worth better station access for SE Seattle and a much cheaper ‘proof-of-concept’ project for Sound Transit.

      3. And surface collisions kill people and interrupt the line for hours. There are at least a couple incidents per year of ped-train or car-train collisions in MLK and SODO.

      4. Look at the unfortunate situation we have in the Rainier Valley… trains can only run every 6 minutes due to trains that suffer from daily interference from cars/traffic lights, etc.

        So what you are saying is that we would be better off if those people rode the bus, while they wait, like Ballard, Belltown, the Central Area, First Hill and every other neighborhood that doesn’t have anything nearly as fast or as frequent as that part of Rainier Valley. Eventually they will have something underground — maybe deep underground, so that it takes an extra five minutes just to get anywhere.

        Sorry to break it to everyone, but you can’t legislate quality. The worst station in Rainer Valley is elevated. Let that sink in. First Hill Station was supposed to be underground. The default station for Ballard is now 14th Avenue NE. We only have so much money. We aren’t that big of city, despite people like Seattle Subway believing otherwise. If we insist on these sorts of restrictions, we will get crap that make stations like Columbia City, Othello and Rainier Beach look brilliant, while we dream of running the train every 6 minutes.

        Oh, and by the way, once Sound Transit gets enough train cars, we will be lucky if they run every 6 minutes. Chances are, we will be so short of money that they will run it every 8.

  4. I submitted my written testimony in support. thank you Seattle Subway for your role in getting the legislation to this point.

    I’m hugely frustrated by Sound Transit’s lack planning and foresight when it comes to planning interactions with future rail lines, and if this bill fixes the issue I’m all for it.

  5. “To prepare, adopt, and carry out a comprehensive public grade-separated system plan and financing plan and to make other plans and studies”.

    Plans should not be done just once over 30 years. There should be a requirement to maintain and revisit the plans every five years even after funding is granted. Even if a project is of value, its utility and its cost can change wildly for other reasons.

    This brings up a vague question of timing. What comes first — the plan or the funding? A huge issue with ST3 is that the costs have been way off. That’s after spending several million of ST2 funds on early corridor planning studies! Without a revenue source, there is no directed funding to do pre-planning.

    I really think the “plan” part of this needs more clarification. Otherwise, there won’t be a process in place to be objective about project development — except lobbying by “stakeholders” (land owners and developers) in backroom meetings. This seems to open the door to corruption even wider.

    1. We didn’t go deep into details here, but what we mean is for the city to plan and design an entire system rather than the bit-by-bit planning ST does. Planning is always ongoing, but we should make a decision and make other plans around those decisions. We use the real estate example because it’s current, but there are many ways this is a better approach for system design.

      We also don’t expect the first use of the this law to that capital intensive. Nothing on the scale of the Seattle portion of a Sound Transit package.

      1. ST doesn’t do bit-by-bit planning. They have an entire planning department, presumably the largest transit focused planning department in the PNW. Why you think a city would be any better is beyond me, aside from the fact you are projecting your preferences into a yet-to-be-created planning function. As Al said, millions were spend in ST2 to plan for ST3, and ST3 funds tens of millions for future expansion projects that will require an ‘ST4’ before even entering an EIS process.

        The entire exercise of ST creating long range investment plans, the PSRC creating long range growth plans, those plan directly referencing each other, and regularly iterating between the two planning documents to create a coherent and dynamic transit & land use plan for the region is pretty much textbook, best-in-class planning. Just because you don’t like the outcome of an explicitly political exercise doesn’t mean it’s “not planning”

      2. If ST has such a great planning and system expansion department, why hasn’t ST revealed a more ambitious or value-driven plan than the backroom-drawn and badly analyzed and costed ST3? Why hasn’t ST even now revealed how much Seattle needs to fund?

        Face it. We already have three active major agency transit planning cooks —ST, Metro and the City. (I don’t count PSRC because they seem to be too timid and weak.) Now we have Seattle Subway skip them all and pick modes to include/ exclude because our transit planning is driven by modal fiefdoms unable to do it themselves. It’s filling a void in our process — but doing it by forcing their own fantasies on others.

        For God’s sake, can we get a functioning joint transit long-range, mode-neutral, cost-effectiveness-driven process up and running first — before another rainbow-chasing funding vote based on a group’s personal preferences of mode and corridors? This proposal is the same mindset that has repeatedly plagued Seattle for decades.

        Just table this — and instead push for real joint agency transit visioning now!

      3. “ST doesn’t do bit-by-bit planning.”

        Then why did Ballard, Wallingford, Lake City, Kirkland, etc, not know until 2016 whether they would get high-capacity transit, what kind it would be, where the stations would be, etc? Cities can’t plan when they don’t know when or what they’ll be getting. They can’t hold off building seven-story buildings for ten or twenty years while the transit issue is clarified, and those buildings will have excessive parking if there’s no certainty that Link or a really good RapidRide line will be coming soon. That excessive parking raises rental costs, people without cars often have to subsidize those who do, and the excessive space and garage entrances pushes things apart and makes it harder and more unpleasant to walk to things.

      4. My point isn’t that ST’s long term plans are good. My point is there is no structural reason why another political entity that covers the exact same political unit (Seattle) would necessarily come up with an ‘objectively’ better plan.

        And SDOT led planning process will be differently, mostly because it will be created at a different moment of time, but it will simply be that – different. Not ‘objectively’ better. It will be made by people, so it will be riddled with mistakes and compromises, and it will be managed by politicians so it will have the same overlaid preferences. The exact same power brokers and special interests will be involved. I’m baffle you guys think the results will be profoundly different. There is no ‘void,’ just objections to the current outcome.

        Sound Transit is primarily an extension of the will of local governments – it is not an extension of the state (the state simply charters & regulates it) and it is not a standalone regional body – so devolving ‘more’ power to a major local government will make little difference. This is very different than the Bay Area where organizations like BART exist independently of local governments. This is closer to LA the city insisting it needs a mega-plan independent from LA Metro …. LA Metro already reflects the opinions of LA the city!

      5. “I didn’t’ like the outcome of the process, so let’s do the process all over again slightly differently so that we get the outcome I want” is pretty much the definition of the Seattle process.

        Do the hard work of convincing local electeds your ideas are important. Don’t just come over the top with an entirely new structure because you are frustrated by the realities of actual politics. You’ll just be disappointed when your new structure reflects the same reality, because you haven’t done any of the hard work to change the reality.

      6. Do the hard work of convincing local electeds your ideas are important.

        Yeah, like Kirkland did. They hired an independent transit consultant to recommend transit improvements. They recommended BRT on the Cross Kirkland Corridor. The city council supported it. But the Sound Transit board rejected their ideas.

        Or how about the folks in First Hill. They pushed hard to get First Hill included with Ballard Link. Again, rejected by Dow Constantine. Why? Just because.

        The Sound Transit planning process is broken. Everything about ST3 was broken, from the ridiculous Issaquah to South Kirkland line to West Seattle cutting in line and now the default station for Ballard being at 14th.

        I’m not saying the city would automatically do better, but it is worth a shot.

      7. That’s misleading about Kirkland and First Hill.

        Kirkland did hire a consultant and recommended BRT. But there was also a group in south Kirkland called Save Our Trails that loudly demanded no train or bus or anything on the Eastside Rail Corridor where Kirkland had built a trail. ST didn’t want to get in the middle of that contradictory dispute so it deferred consideration north of South Kirkland.

        First Hill station was deleted because ST thought the soil conditions were at high risk of cost overruns, and ST was in a precarious political position after having a similar problem with the Ship Canal and a financial meltdown. The First Hill community may have pushed hard for the station but it also pushed hard for that stupid streetcar as compensation for not getting the station. It would accept nothing less than a streetcar even though a trolleybus could have done the same thing faster for less money. There’s no reason for a train if it’s stuck in mixed traffic.

      8. “That’s misleading about Kirkland and First Hill.”

        Well, yes and no. It didn’t help the politics that there were a few shouty neighbors. But what should be more noteworthy is how the Board, with an assist from the advocacy community, turned the debate into a dumb rail or nothing choice, simply writing off the far more useful ask from the City of Kirkland. Why was building a ‘downtown’ rail station that missed downtown by a country mile the hill to die on?

      9. Dan is right about Kirkland.

        Regarding First Hill, my point is what was the First Hill community supposed to do? For the first tunnel, the board didn’t want to risk it. For the second downtown tunnel, Dow Constantine didn’t even consider it. The idea that we aren’t getting good things because we aren’t engaged is bullshit. We shouldn’t have to organize a grass routes committee and rally the community just to get a station at NE 130th. It should have been obvious to everyone from the beginning. And if it wasn’t, a couple emails and folks should have realized their mistake, and corrected it long before they even considered ST3.

        In contrast, consider that the monorail now accepts ORCA cards. This required a last second change in the operating agreement with a private company. All it took was a few emails. That’s it. The contrast is dramatic.

        ST is simply not responsive. They provide only a handful of choices, and then arbitrarily choose one. Do you really think they reached out to the folks in Ballard before recommending that the station be at 14th? Of course not. So now folks in Ballard get screwed and its their fault (because they didn’t do the “hard work” of convincing the board)? Come on.

      10. “Of course there would be a fence, but of course there would be openings at every intersection. Not just the intersections where the cars cross, but the pedestrian intersections as well”

        At best, only the formal intersections, like the one you showed in the picture. What about intersections like this, in Crestwoods Park ( Would they bother to include a hole in the fence for a dirt path, rather than an actual street? In general, public officials tend to be very risk averse on these sorts of things. A person getting run over by a train could expose the agency to lawsuits, whereas people having to take a mile-long detour to the nearest official crossing point doesn’t entail any liability risk.

        Also, in the example I gave, take a look at the picture and think about the impact of widening the clearing to include a two-lane road alongside the trail. You’d lose a lot of trees and a lot of shade. When I walk or jog through the area, I like the shade.

        Another thing to keep in mind, from a strict transit perspective – supposing they did run a bus line down the CKC, with a detour to Kirkland Transit Center, rather than the STRIDE Sound Transit actually proposes. It would certainly improve access to Kirkland, but at the expense of slowing down all the thru riders. Anyone passing through Kirkland, but not stopping there will get where they’re going much faster with a bus that just stays on 405.

        “Why live next to a trail, with a quiet section for walking, a major, separate bike route, and electric buses carrying thousands of people to various neighborhoods in the area when you can live next to the freeway?”

        I don’t live next to the freeway and don’t want to live next to the freeway. However, walking to the freeway to catch a bus is completely different from actually living by the freeway full-time. I can jog to the future bus stop in about 10-15 minutes (mostly along the CKC, which runs diagonally), which, for me, is good enough.

    2. I live next to the Cross Kirkland Corridor trail; I like it as a trail, and use it almost daily for everything from neighborhood walks to grocery shopping to going to the dentist. When STRIDE opens up, I will be walking or jogging the trail to access the bus stop on 405/85th.

      I don’t want to see the trail inaccessible for years of rail construction. Nor do I want to see access to the trail cut off on one side or the other due to the inevitable fencing that would result if a rail line or bus line were built.

      I can also say anecdotally that the walkership of the trail today is considerably higher than the ridership of adjacent bus routes, even before COVID.

      1. The trail will still exist; the ROW is wide enough to accommodate a good trail (10′) and 2 lanes of traffic, bus or rail.

        The “I don’t want the disruption of construction” argument would apply to any alignment.

      2. The construction impact wouldn’t be like closing half of a street, where at least the other half stays functional. The ROW is too narrow. It would mean the entire trail is closed for years, forcing a detour onto the narrow sidewalks of nearby streets, filled with cars. I’ve dealt with this when they repaved the Burke Gilman a few years ago in Lake Forest Park; I don’t want to go through all that again.

        I am also concerned that a bus/train section of the ROW would require fencing, and that fencing would end up blocking access to the trail in all but a handful of places. This would be a permanent degredation in pedestrian mobility for the area.

      3. So what your saying is that you want transit, just not in your back yard. Got it.

        The idea that this: would somehow be terrible is absurd. Of course there would be a fence, but of course there would be openings at every intersection. Not just the intersections where the cars cross, but the pedestrian intersections as well (e. g. behind the shirtless guy here:

        Of course it will never happen. Kirkland will never have anything that fast or convenient. They will have buses slowly moving through the city, and express buses that stop by the freeway. Because of course everyone wants to live next to the freeway. Just look at that slide and you can see how terrible it would be to live next to that trail. Why live next to a trail, with a quiet section for walking, a major, separate bike route, and electric buses carrying thousands of people to various neighborhoods in the area when you can live next to the freeway?

  6. Can this pot be used to rebuild sections of MLK to be grade separated? Can this pot fund street overpasses to create grade separations like Holgate Street in SODO or does only track construction count? Can this pot pay for safety devices like fencing to protect corridors, or crossing gates? Can this pot pay for improvements to existing stations, like building new entrances or adding elevators or escalators?

    A review of a mature rail system capital program like Chicago or New York or even Atlanta or BART show that fixing operational problems for tracks and stations and system repair (rather than extensions) dominate their capital improvement planning. We will get there someday in the next several years.

    At some point, better investment will need to include projects to fix shortcomings of the recent past, rather then merely just keep adding to the system. I worry that the attitude of having a “toy store shopping spree” with a new handful of cash still pervades our rail transit approach, rather than maintaining and improving on what we’ve recently built. Our “old toys” can be worthy of further investment too.

    1. “Can this pot be used to rebuild sections of MLK to be grade separated?”

      Good catch. I’ve long recommended this. But then you get into the issue that the main beneficiaries would be South King and Pierce. They allowed the Georgetown Bypass to be deleted from the long-range plan in 2015 because they didn’t think MLK’s travel time was an important enough issue. Rainier Beach and Othello would get some benefit but they’re a small fraction of the population and they already have light rail while other neighborhoods are three or more miles from a station.

      “Can this pot fund street overpasses to create grade separations like Holgate Street in SODO”

      Actually, there’s another possibility there. ST is now thinking about extending the second tunnel to Massachussetts Street. (Near I-90 and straight west of the Beacon Hill highrise apartment and Judkins Park Station.) There might be an opportunity to combine the two lines on the new track and abandon the surface track. East Link won’t be there because it turns away earlier, so it could fit two lines. The new track has to go down as far as Spokane Street or wherever the West Seattle turn is, and it will be elevated. So it could have an exit to the existing Beacon Hill elevated track. That would also allow it to access the maintenance base there.

      1. Honestly I feel like if there was enough convincing by the ST board to the suburbs about fixing MLK part of the line and putting in a new bypass line , we could get them on board with it. With building the bypass line first and then fixing the MLK section second. I also think it would be beneficial for connecting one more part of Seattle that doesn’t have the best transit connectivity to other parts of the city along with that it is a major economics center outside of the downtown core that should be served (with Boeing, lots of Industrial and Commercial, etc.) . And does have the potential for some TOD with mixed use in Georgetown and South Park

      2. The problem is that the suburbs that would benefit from RV grade separation – South King and Pierce – have little spare cash and have indicated zero interest in that enhancement. Perhaps after STX routes are truncated that might change, but it’s a hard sell until then. Pierce’s leadership has been pretty clear that TDLE is not about commuting to Seattle, so I don’t think a slightly faster trip into Seattle is high on their priority list.

        The Dwamish bypass line is more likely to arrive as an alterative to West Seattle to Burien rather than as an alterative to the RV.

      3. They want to tunnel farther into that landfill that is the ID? Oh, boy, “Bertha Part 2”.

    2. Why on earth would you spend money burying the line in Rainier Valley?

      1) You can run it more often. Sure, but Sound Transit has to be convinced to run the trains every 6 minutes — they aren’t eager to run it every 4. You also have East Link, which is similarly limited to 6 minute headways. That means that unless you bury both lines, it can’t run them more often. Oh, and then there is the fact that both lines combine downtown, where they can’t run more often than every 3 minutes. So you would have to bury both lines, AND make a big investment in the tunnel and/or put up with delays.

      2) Faster for Rainier Valley. Right, except every rider is worse off. You save a few seconds on the train, but you spend extra time getting to the platform. The time savings would be minimal, especially as more stations are added, since the train spends most of its time speeding up and slowing down.

      3) Faster ride to SeaTac and similar places. Sure, except that only a relative handful of people would save time. Again, the speed improvements would be minimal, and for anyone going from a surface stop to some place south, it would be worse (e.g. about 400 people a day go south from Rainier Beach — their trip would be worse).

      It would just be a terrible value. Just in the same valley, fixing the Mount Baker Station and adding Graham Street would be a better value.

  7. So, let me get this straight. This bill would allow the following:

    Mount Baker Station — It may be awful, but it is grade separated.

    14th NW Station in Ballard — See above.

    A West Seattle or Ballard line that skips various stations. In fact, this would pay even if there were no stations at all! As long as it is grade separated rail, it is fine.

    In contrast, consider all the things it won’t pay for:

    A Ballard station on Market, between 20th and Leary — This stop is as close to ideal for Ballard as a single stop can be. Not only is it in the middle of Ballard, but by being on the surface, easily accessed from every direction.

    A surface stop close to the Junction — See above.

    Move Seattle — It won’t pay for the sidewalks or the bike improvements, let alone the transit improvements ( Nope. Never mind the fact that if fully implemented, those buses would dwarf the ridership of ST3 rail (while also increasing it). Not a single improvement to help create a fast, frequent bus network would qualify.

    Madison BRT — Nope, this won’t cover our first (and probably only) BRT line.

    Our original bus tunnel — Sorry no. It has to be rail. Even though the vast majority of transit riders in this city ride buses — and will always ride buses.

    West Seattle BRT, with a new tunnel, new ramps and new lanes, so that the bus never encounters a car from the second it passes by the West Seattle Link station until the other side of downtown — Nope. Even a high end system like that found in Brisbane ( would not be funded.

    Enough with the mode fetish! This is like the folks who obsess over the fact that we “only” built light rail. Get real. The only way that Seattle will ever have decent transit is if it uses every tool in the tool box. That means making the buses faster and yes, improving the bus system. This bill is to amend a previous bill that only applied to the monorail. While we will likely always have a monorail — and probably improve it in the near future — it was stupid to be so restrictive. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

    Just change the law to allow for transit funding, and we can argue as to what is the best way to spend our money when the time comes.

    1. yes, this. Perhaps HB 1304 could be amended to allow the Seattle TBD to use the funds for several transit modes and even sidewalks. Why tie the hands of the STBD to craft the best package for both practical and political reasons? Seattle has many costly needs: housing, pavement management, sidewalks, Link, bus service. It funding mechanisms are not sufficient. The best aspect of HB 1304 is its boundary. Just as we had modal wars in the aughts, must we do it again? Letting smaller cities consider it may be sound.

    2. This bill has the very specific aim to build a high quality, high reliabilty, rapid transit system – a secondary aim was to limit expansion of the scope to help it pass. The quality requirements are pretty simliar to what was in the original bill. We obviously disagree about the value of avoiding grade crossings, which is fine, we don’t have to revisit the safety, speed, reliability, and capacity issues one more time here.

      The other things you mention can be in a future Seattle package or TBD, this bill doesn’t have to be everything for everyone. Side note: I’m not sure what you’re talking about on 20th in Ballard – I thought the idea was to put a tunnel station there. Hot take: That would be good.

      1. Yes. Keep the scope limited to help it pass, but also to make sure the money goes where it is supposed to. Weaken those restrictions and there will be too many other people /organizations sticking their fingers in the pie.

      2. This bill has the very specific aim to build a high quality, high reliability, rapid transit system

        Yes, which was the same goal as the original monorail bill. So what?

        No one is arguing that the things you think are valuable aren’t valuable. What they are saying is that we can’t possibly have that in every neighborhood of the city. Compromise must be made. Yet you are OK with compromises that cripple the effectiveness of a line, while obsessing over relatively unimportant details.

        Consider this: We are pretty close to finishing off Sound Transit 2. It has taken a while (which itself is a weakness) but lets focus on what we wish they would have done differently, shall we? There is a lot. But let me start:

        1) No First Hill station.
        2) No station at 23rd and Madison.
        3) Bad placement for the UW Station.
        4) Only two stations in the U-District (a third station at Campus Parkway would be huge).
        5) General lack of stations in the north end of Seattle, between the UW and Northgate.
        6) No 130th station. Oh wait, it looks like they might add one after all.
        7) Awful station placement for Mount Baker Station.
        8) Only one station in downtown Bellevue (AKA poor station placement for East Main).
        9) No Graham Street Station (although again, a problem being rectified).

        Where does the surface running in Rainier Valley or Bellevue rank in all of this? Well towards the bottom. As in, who cares? Really, you could bury those lines and most riders wouldn’t notice. Some gain, some lose, but most don’t notice.

        These are just off the top of my head. I’m sure I can think of more. The point is, these are for lines that are by and large well designed. The basic routes are strong. The subway lines, when done, will be extremely successful. Many of the stations are extremely strong (Capitol Hill, U-District, Roosevelt, etc.).

        With ST3, we are dealing with lines that aren’t strong — they are extremely fragile. There is no reason to assume that West Seattle Link, for example, will be successful. It is quite possible that they will build it, and there will be no increase in ridership, and no overall time saved per rider. It may languish with poor frequency in the middle of the day, and along with underfunded bus service (which this bill will do nothing about) will do nothing to transform transportation in West Seattle.

        While Ballard Link is fundamentally stronger, it too could fall apart. If it fails to connect well with Ballard (which is the default right now) and fails to have good stops in South Lake Union (which is quite possible) it becomes nothing more than a slight upgrade to the monorail (great for getting from downtown to the Seattle Center).

        The problem isn’t grade separation — it is stop placement, and the network as a whole. A hundred years from now, most of the transit riders in Seattle will be on buses. Unless we spend our money wisely, there won’t be many of them, nor will there be many people on trains. Instead, the city will be much as it is today, where just about everyone feels the need to drive, since every alternative takes too long (although, to be fair, the cars will likely be electric, and automated).

      3. Note: I didn’t close the italics after the first sentence. {fixed}. I sure wish there was a way to edit a comment. I couldn’t figure out a way even after logging in (the way I would with Page 2). I can see the comment, I just can’t edit it.

      4. “which was the same goal as the original monorail bill.”

        The monorail bill was specifically designed to build a monorail, or at least some technology not common in the US or maybe anywhere. The monorail looked good at the time but it was limited to 35 mph. Most of the financing was from car tabs, which were yanked out from under it. The agency had so little operating funds it wouldn’t honor transfers with Metro/ST, so anyone making a monorail+bus trip would have to pay a double fare. I lived in Ballard during part of that time, and I worried that most of my trips weren’t just to downtown but beyond it, so I’d either have to pay double fares or take the bus underneath the monorail tracks. That would be said because I’d wanted rapid transit for decades, and then it comes and it’s non-economical to use it.

      5. Please note the original bill in the aughts authorized funding for the SMP, a project that collapsed. It was part of legislative log rolling for highway expansion. So that may not be a good example as a legislative vehicle to success. Is mono-modalism really a sound approach to transit planning and funding?

      6. It’s not Ross’s idea originally, though he has been flexible enough to consider it. It works only if there is never to be extension beyond Ballard OR if the curve into Market is stacked (and, hopefully, stubbed) for an extension up 14th to somewhere south of Ballard H where it can zig over to 15th.

      7. If you can get a station somewhere around 17th and 20th and market I’m all for it whether it be tunneled, surface, elevated it doesn’t matter.

        If stacked at 14th how would that work?

        Would you have to interline there and somehow deal with the stub to Market, or could we have the line that comes from Tacoma end at Market and 17th; and another line coming from the north on 15th that jogs over to the station at 14th where people going downtown would have to transfer, and then continues on to become the UW-Ballard line? (there would have to be a crossover track(s) near the station somewhere for OMF maintenance access purposes which I presume would be the reason for the stacking)

        hmm.. actually if both the line from the north and the line to seattle were stacked at the station there could be center platforms in-between the lines so that riders could easily transfer between the northern-UW line and the line that goes to Market and downtown. Kind of like what someone here has talked about doing at Sodo with center platforms. (Al or AJ maybe? Sorry I don’t remember.)

        but this is crazy talk I know….. lol

      8. I’m glad to read you are thinking out of the box, jas. So many people involved in the process seem to avoid doing that.

        The idea of a Market Street surface median for Link has not been studied. It’s merely an idea discussed here. I like it because I think an east-west station is best in Ballard to capture the east -west orientation of the neighborhood activity and density. I wish that Ballard could have two stations and wonder if the cost savings of track and stations at surface would be of a similar cost to the current grade separated configurations.

        I’m impressed by the Citadis style trams for North Seattle. Trams seem great when riders are only going a mile or maybe two — as opposed to stations that require using at least 50 stair steps (and ST poo-poos down escalators) so a rider spends more time in a station than on a train. A Crown Hill — Link — Fremont — UW tram would be my suggestion but iterations to the configuration is needed. Assuming Ballard gets a Link station as planned, I see the Ballard-UW idea eventually broadening to a future North Seattle tram study that objectively assesses how to better connect areas like Lake City, University Village, Crown Hill, Fremont and the Aurora corridor. It’s a study that’s probably several years away and would seem to have both surface and tunnel sections..

        I’m a tad concerned that the Green line will have to eventually operate as two lines — to carry lots of riders through South Lake Union. The Green Line is restricted to six minutes south of Mt Baler because of MLK so one line would have to end before Mt Baker. Post-pandemic travel patterns may make this concern far-fetched. Three minutes however is not a realistic frequency with only two tail tracks in Ballard.

        I’m not sure why a stacked station is needed. It’s actually a problem at an end station as they usually have trains that depart by alternating between both tracks.

        Two lines of different types of vehicles can stop at the same center platform as long as the frequencies aren’t a problem and the tracks, station platform heights, station lengths and power source are compatible.

      9. jas, Al, the curve would need to be stacked so that a junction to a line headed on north, or east to UW if that were the choice, can be accommodated. What folks have been discussing as a value-engineered way to get to central Ballard is an alignment which uses the high bridge at 14th — it’s a shorter crossing than 15th and doesn’t mess with Fishermen’s Terminal — a simple elevated station along 14th somewhere north of Leary, a curve into Market continuing elevated across 15th and then descending about 17th to a surface station between 20th and Leary.

        If this is to be the permanent end of track with no branching in Ballard, then this is clearly the simplest, cheapest and all around best solution. It gives two stations north of the Ship Canal and serves the potentially important “southeast Ballard” area.

        However, if any extension is envisioned, the curve at 14th needs to be “stacked” [e.g. one track above the other] so that a non-crossing junction can be created at the bend. dp would say “There are thousands of level crossings of revenue service trackage around the world in service today; you don’t need a separated junction.” To which the obvious answer is “Yes; that is certainly true. However, ST has said it won’t do them except for non-revenue junctions such as a the Maintenance Facilities.”

        ST could change its mind, in which we can say “Yay, the system can grow much more easily now!” But in the lack of some indication of that, it’s a very good idea to plan for such junctions now and make sure that bi-directional trackage can make junctions without level crossings.

        This is one way to do that fairly cheaply.

        Depending how close the station along 14th is to Market , the station might also need to be stacked — almost certainly necessary if it were anywhere north of 51st — the lower level can have short non-fare paid zones at either end to provide the mezzanine services, and the entire structure would then be roughly the same height as a normal station with a separate mezzanine. It would be a little taller because the roof of a mezzanine does not need to be as high as that over the lower active track, but only by a few feet.

        So the structure would be only 2/3 the width of a normal station and about the same height, so it should cost roughly 2/3 of a “standard” elevated station. It would also fit into the neighborhood with a smaller footprint.

        Al, the “end station” at Leary and Market would be two tracks side-by-side on the ground. It’s only the “East Ballard” station that would be stacked and that only to accommodate the curve.

        jas’s idea of having a line come down 15th and turn onto the shared structure is interesting. If the station were placed between 14th and 15th above Market that might work, except that it’s only a bit more than 400 feet between the edges of the two north-south streets, which isn’t enough to accommodate four car trains and the curves at either end. You’d have “El-style” wheel screech because the curves would have to be so sharp.

        What might work to have a Crown Hill to UW line is to have it transition to 14th somewhere between Market and Leary (probably where the Ballard Market is with the Market getting a big new building around the trackage and the second line curving away to the east south of the 14th Avenue station somewhere around or just south of Leary. That would give in-direction transfers at the same platform for people riding between Crown Hill and downtown or downtown Ballard and UW. It’s not perfect but possible.

        Folks riding between LQA and Wallingford/UW or Ballard and Crown Hill would have to change levels and “reverse”, but it would be better than walking from 14th to central Ballard.

      10. Al, and just to be clear, the double deck elevated would split immediately to the west of the curve into Market. As soon as the tracks were separated enough for trains to pass the upper level would begin to descend and they would both land somewhere west of 15th. There would be no “tail” track at this station. Instead, there would be a scissors cross-over just to the east of the platforms.

        Ross thinks that to save space a single platform would be sufficient, but the experience with MAX at the Airport in Portland militates against that. They believed that they could not turn the trains quickly enough to make it work, and that’s with minimum 15 minute headways. Six minutes would be out of the question.

        Yes, this is a huge hit to traffic in central Ballard. It’s not to be undertaken lightly, but it is a way to get two stations north of the Ship Canal.

        The tram idea for Crown Hill-UW is also great, but unless the widest versions are purchased they can’t share platforms with Link. Mind the gap!

        But if they’re wide enough to share platforms they’re too wide to take just two lanes from the limited roadways in North Seattle. It’s a conundrum.

      11. The two-station option (SE Ballard and Central Ballard?) really does seem great! I’d really like to see it studied and refined. Of course, ST has not been considering it. It would take urging from both elected officials and wealthy power brokers to make that happen. It may already be too late.

        If the Link tracks are still aerial at 15th/ Market, it would seem to give enough room to have a tram cross underneath (Citadis has short non-caternary vehicles that could allow for a lower clearance so the Link trains could cross 15th at a lower clearance and reach the surface at a lower grade, for example). The tram transfer could be at 14th/ Leary under the East Ballard station.

        Of course, Link could land by 14th and Market and have surface signal priority to cross at 15th. That would create this tram-Link surface crossing problem for a tram from Crown Hill unless that tram jogs over to 14th at 65th and somehow stays east of Link. Can trams make tighter turns than Link trains can?

        I would think that having the plan go into central Ballard but ending the funded segment on 14th just north of Leary to begin with could provide cost savings until more funds are found. The SLU tunnel and ship canal bridge are projects that will take several more years to build than this last segment into Central Ballard would. That gives a five year cushion to design and fund this last Market Street segment to Central Ballard.

        Finally I’ll note that anything involve a grade crossings wouldn’t be eligible for the reworked monorail funding mechanism. It’s one reason why the fully grade separated requirement in that proposed legislation should be up for elimination this upcoming week.

      12. Al, I like the idea of putting the station at Leary and having the tramline interchange there. That might require a “mid-level” opening bridge, but we’ve all said “Hey, that’s fine with us!”

        Trams are track-compatible with LRV’s but usually not station compatible. They can be made voltage-compatible with proper planning. The platforms would be too far back for the Trams, even platforms for low-floor LRV’s. The Trams would have to have those slide-out jumpers.

        So far as 15th and Market, No, No, No, to Link crossing at grade there. It is way too wide and busy.

        To your question, yes, Trams can make tighter corners than LRV’s in regular service. Since they typically have single-axle trucks they make much less wheel-squeal on tight turns; the single axle doesn’t bind as much as a married pair in a traditional bogie.

        Most modern LRV’s can turn pretty sharply in non-revenue service, but they’ll never encounter sharp curves on newly built trackage. To operate what really are Tram lines in San Francisco and Boston they do squeal regularly.

    3. Yes, this is the crux of my point above too. Further, the legislation is specific about modes that are almost the same being both included and excluded.

      What really bothers me about this is that this mode choice is also arbitrary. I get the Seattle asubway vision — but this is not assessing the applicability and cost-effectiveness of the modes proposed on the table. It’s better than the monorail-only version, but it still will face problems as all opponents have to do is label this Monorail 2.0 and modal restrictions play into that opposition argument.

      1. Monorail 2 was a proposal for a monorail along the waterfront rather than downtown. It failed at the ballot by 70%. So this is monorail 3 maybe. Although I wouldn’t call it that.

      2. We’re really not worried about Seattle voters. They have repeatedly made it very clear they want better transit.

        It’s also worth noting the new legislation doesn’t select a mode. It selects a minimum quality level for a rapid transit system.

        Most people we talk to get why that’s important, it’s always interesting to me that frequent commenters on Seattle Transit Blog don’t.

      3. Al, what’s the excessive pre-meditated mode choice here?

        This can fund any high capacity transit that is built to typical big city standards. It happens to be that we use light rail here and since are initial agency cost preservations choices in 1996-2005, has been almost entirely grade separated.

        Are you suggesting that we choose another grade separated mode? This bill just supports further expansion of our existing system for efficiency’s sake. And there are funding sources for all other forms of transit, which we also support.

        ST does good long range planning, but because ST3 was quite audacious, it bumps up against that long range plan. No one knows hardly anything about what’s coming next, and that creates issues like the one we saw that shut down part of downtown to install a junction for East Link. We should know what the long range plan is so that we can build appropriate expandability into our system as we build it.

        Wouldn’t it have been nice to install that junction 2007 to 2009 when we first shut down the tunnel for retrofitting?

        What if we make the same mistake on the $3.56B downtown tunnel with no points for future expansion, like up Aurora, or East, or from the surface line in SODO to the South? If we don’t figure this out in time, and want to add a line later, what do we do? Shut down an underground line carrying 144,000 daily rides for months and months, spend hundreds of millions of dollars, for something we could have foreseen and installed much cheaper and with no disruption now? We can do better than this. Quite simply the solution is providing funding and voter approved authority to build that forward compatibility, because ST doesn’t have the legal authorization now to accommodate prudent expansion capacity.

        And until they do, that $3.56B downtown tunnel will be permanently locked into serving just one or maybe two light rail lines for eternity, when and legitimate big city system puts 3-4 lines per tunnel operating at 90 second to 2 minute headways. We should follow best practice. That means funding proper planning and design and engineering for forward compatibility of anything we build, instead of just focusing on being able to expand systems from the endpoints. That is a recipe for an overly suburban system without the capacity for the the urban density of other major cities.

      4. Seattleites have voted FOR transit by over 70% in every measure for the last 5 years–whether for buses or trains. Give people efficient car-free mobility options and Seattleites will support it every single time.

        It’s not monorail 2.0 or 3.0 any more than Link is “Bus Tunnel 3.0,” no matter how much you want to create an epithet for expanding our existing transit system. This is simply doubling down on an existing system that works, and offering Seattleites the power to choose if they want to further urbanize the system. While it’s critical to include Everett and Tacoma as part of an efficient regional system, for everyone that decries Link as BART-like, this actually part of the solution for a dense URBAN system that can grow to meet the needs of the city as the city’s needs grow.

      5. “ ST does good long range planning….”

        If Seattle Subway thinks ST does good long range planning, then there should be absolutely no need for this legislation. The ST3 plans should have had reasonable costs as well performance data on all possible expansion corridors and technologies.

        ST is good at referendum strategies as opposed to objective planning (including costing).

      6. Getting a yes vote is not the same thing as building and operating a useful rail system, Jonathan. Maybe you’re not familiar with the Seattle Monorail saga? Or the Simpson’s monorail episode?

        Seattle has had decades of ballot-box transit planning with a long list of debacles, bad design choices, bad cost estimates and false promises. It’s become normalized it’s happened so many times — even by some local transit advocates. Running back to the ballot box does not build a great transit system. Addressing the root causes of why we still don’t have one after multiple votes is what we need to be doing.

      7. Al, I’m sorry, but you’re stuck in 1995.

        We have been approving light rail and building light rail consistently. This is a funding measure for Sound Transit. It involves trains. Move on.

      8. Oh you want more recent examples!

        – Link UW Station location
        – First Hill Streetcar speeds
        – Link Airport Station location
        – Mt Baker Transit Center access
        – 520/ Link connectivity
        – original DSTT rail design mistake
        – First Hill Station cancellation
        – Tacoma Link ridership
        – Sounder North ridership

        Each one of these has a different history, but a good number have some deep roots in building excitement for voter approvals over presenting ongoing taxpayer or user value, lack of collaboration with other public entities, favors to non-transit users or wishful cost or ridership estimates in ballot measures.

        There are plenty of good things that have happened too. The concept of the DSTT was brilliant! ST2 Link was mostly awesome (except for some alignment choices). Even MLK was designed pretty well — albeit the segment length seems too long in a median and bus transfers suck.

        The bigger point is that good planning should be done before running to the voters to ask for more money or to the legislature for more mechanisms. Seattle voters are pretty generous. That’s no reason to assume that they don’t deserve better planning though — including not having technology or corridor design choices restricted at the outset.

        A bad planner has a single vision and sabotages any deviation from that. A good planner thinks of at least several and understands that different visions can be done well depending on the situation.

      9. 100% grade separation is a pre-meditated mode choice, and it’s a far more impactful choice than secondary decisions like wheel type (i..e rubber vs steel) or vehicle propulsion.

      10. It’s also worth noting the new legislation doesn’t select a mode.

        Yes it does! Read the bill. Here is what the new law would allow:

        (7)”Public grade-separated transportation facilities” means a light, heavy, or rapid rail facility, monorail, inclined plane, funicular, trolley, or other fixed rail guideway component of a transportation system operating principally on exclusive rights-of-way that is not regulated by the federal railroad administration or its successor that utilizes train cars running on a guideway, together with the necessary passenger stations, terminals, parking facilities, related facilities, any lands, interest in land, or air rights over lands, or other properties, and facilities necessary and appropriate for passenger and vehicular access to and from people-moving systems.

        “Public grade-separated transportation facilities” does not mean elevators, moving sidewalks or stairs, and/or vehicles suspended from aerial cables, unless they are an integral component of a station served by public grade-separated transportation facilities; nor does it include facilities that are not public transportation, such as tourist services that are only accessible via private property, or other services not accessible to the general public.

        Further down…

        A city transportation authority to perform a public grade-separated transportation function may be created in every city with a population greater than 500,000 to perform a public grade-separated transportation function

        They literally replaced one mode “monorail”, with “grade-separated transportation” and then defined “grade-separated transportation” as fixed rail guideway. It only allows trains.

        If your point is that it allows different types of trains, then absolutely. We got both kinds, we got country and western! (

        The point is, we couldn’t use this authority to improve the mode that most people use, and will continue to use in this city: a bus. Nor can we use it for public elevators, gondolas, or other improvements. This is wedded to one mode, just like the old law. In that sense, it is the monorail authority 2.0.

      11. It’s not monorail 2.0 or 3.0 any more than Link is “Bus Tunnel 3.0,

        It isn’t monorail 2.0. It is monorail authority 2.0. The new monorail is dead, and has been dead for a long time. Yet whenever we have a funding problem, people bring up the authority. “Can we use the monorail authority to pay for a Ballard to UW subway?” No, because it is only for the monorail.

        This will be similar, except limited to rail. “Can we use the monorail authority to build what is in Move Seattle?” No, it can only be used for rail.

        This restriction to mode is stupid, and will hamper transit in Seattle. Ironically, it will hurt the light rail system, which is highly dependent on the bus system (that carries — and will always carry — a lot more riders). If the bus system struggles, then rail ridership suffers, and the trains run less often. It is important that we focus on *the network*, and not limit ourselves by mode.

      12. It allows a range of modes, not a single mode. A single mode would be Link technology only. It’s choosing a “fixed-guideway train” generically because that’s the most efficient and capacious and the solution used throughout the world for over a century when they have the kinds of problems we have. In other words, it’s trying to make sure the money goes to what it’s intended to. The restrictions may be a little arbitrary at the edges (why not gondolas?) but that just shows conventional thinking and caution. It may be slightly off but it’s not completely wrong.

        Then there’s the word “trolley”? What does that mean? It could mean trolleybus. Trolleybuses are “fixed-guideway transit” in the definition of federal fixed-guideway subsidies.

      13. Come on Mike, you are splitting hairs. No, it doesn’t specify exactly the type of mode. Neither did the old bill. It only specified monorail. We could have built any type of monorail we wanted.

        But this still limits the mode. The most popular mode for public transportation is excluded. Does anyone really think that our bus system doesn’t need improvement, or will eventually be completely replaced by rail? Of course not. That is absurd. Yet this bill doesn’t allow us to deal with the biggest public transportation problem in our region. It only allows us to spend money on one mode: rail.

        I’m reminded of an article I recently read about Kevin Desmond. In my opinion, Vancouver has the best rail system in the Northwest, if not the West Coast. We will never have a rail system as good as what they have. Prior to the pandemic, about 500,000 people a day rode the train, and over 750,000 people a day rode the bus. Here are a couple excerpts from the article (

        In a revealing interview with the Price Tags podcast in 2019, Desmond shared the bias that politicians have towards heavy rail.

        “You just move to the sex appeal,” he explained. “You move to where the billions of dollars go. It’s a natural thing. It’s what politicians want to do. They want to build big things. Buses are not sexy. I took it as a mission of mine, and it started in New York [where Desmond used to work], to reject that buses aren’t sexy and reject that buses are for losers…. If we just assume that all walks of life should use the bus, we can step up the quality of the bus service, and it actually isn’t that hard to do it.”

        As Desmond prepares to return home to the U.S., he’s shared how pleased he’s been to work in Metro Vancouver. The region “gets it,” he said, and understands that public transit is key to equity, the economy and the environment.

        Do we get it? Are we willing to push our politicians to realize the importance of buses, even though they aren’t “sexy”? If this bill passes, it will do nothing to deal with the biggest public transportation challenges this city (and region) faces, and will instead simply complete the boondoggle as proposed, without ever dealing with the fundamental flaws that lead to it.

      14. “It only specified monorail.”

        It specified fixed-guideway transit not light rail. It didn’t say it had to have one track not two. That includes a lot of technologies around the world.

      15. Anyway, if you think we only need buses, we don’t have to use it. We can ask the legislature for something for buses too.

  8. If passed will this new funding source allow ST to build in the connections to possible future lines? If so how would we get there.?

    So far we have seen that ST believes it can’t because these connections (ie the tie-in to east link, or the lack of branching at the new university district station) are not mentioned in what the voters approved.

    There is another issue too. I think because ST is a regional agency that any pkanning it does is done through a regional lens. If Seattle , using this funding source, could tell ST, or hire someone like Jared Walker, to focus on a plan for Seattle that doesn’t have to take into account the entire region and sub-area equity, it might be a good thing.

  9. Please note the original bill in the aughts authorized funding for the SMP, a project that collapsed. It was part of legislative log rolling for highway expansion. So that may not be a good example as a legislative vehicle to success. Is mono-modalism really a sound approach to transit planning and funding?

    per Jonathan, 9:14 p.m. : the DSTT was closed for Link retrofit between September 2005 and September 2007. The mode choice for the East corridor was debated in 2006. ST2 was on the ballot in November 2008. So, the track connection could not have been planned for the retrofit period.

    1. The legislature was willing to allow more modes, but monorail activists convinced the legislature to limit it to “not light rail”. This was when the Link plan had a lot more surface segments than it does now, and previous American light rails were 90+% surface. They were afraid Ballard/West Seattle light rail would be watered down like that. Monorial is street-incompatible so it must be 100% grade separated. That and the views and an “innovative” technology technology were the reasons they wanted monorail in particular.

      1. This was when the Link plan had a lot more surface segments than it does now

        That had nothing to do with it. It was simply a reaction to Sound Transit. Sound Transit had failed to deliver what they said they were going to deliver (UW to SeaTac). They looked like they couldn’t do anything, and this was supposed to be an alternative. It was stupid, as most reactionary moves are.

        This fails for the same reason. No, it isn’t as limited, but it is still limited. It is stupid to exclude bus improvements. Consider this, quite plausible scenario:

        They hire an outside firm to do a study. They find that for the same amount of money as a line from 14th NW in Ballard to Fauntleroy in West Seattle, they can build another bus tunnel, and make all sorts of other improvements. Not only to buses from West Seattle and Ballard, but to various other corridors. Based on the study, transit ridership would be much higher with the bus-oriented plan. Not only that, but more people would save more time. The study finds that even if you look at long term maintenance and service costs, the bus-oriented plan comes out ahead.

        What then? It doesn’t matter. We are stuck with a poorly designed light rail line, while the buses are stuck in traffic. We never build a good public transportation system, and the vast majority of people in this city just drive.

        The original bill was stupid, and this bill is also stupid. Not quite as stupid, but still stupid — and for the same reason. You should never limit mode when considering a transit improvement. Never.

      2. That hadn’t happened yet. The monorail commission was set up only a few years after the ST1 vote. All recent American light rails before then had been 90+% surface, and ST was saying it would be surface wherever topographically possible. They had seen what had happened with previous transit expansion projects in King County where they get watered down to almost no additional benefit due to cost-cutting and nimbyism, and they were afraid Link would be the same, and they wanted to prevent the monorail from being able to do that, to ensure if would be 100% grade separated. Otherwise why do you think the activists insisted on monorail? It wasn’t mainly because of the views or the unusual-in-the-US technology, it was to guarantee it would be grade separated.

    2. What I don’t understand about this debate is at the very best under HB 1304 Seattle will be able to levy enough funding to complete the ST 3 projects in the N. King Co. subarea, assuming Seattle voters don’t mind paying twice for those projects, and want to exhaust all the remaining tax capacity for any other social need, from housing to education to bridges.

      So that pretty much is rail.

      At the same time the new cost estimates for the second transit tunnel lead me to believe it won’t get built, unless Seattle picks up the additional $1.3 billion for the new cost estimates. I am not saying the four other subareas that are paying 1/2 of the second transit tunnel will say they won’t pay an additional $170 million each (with Seattle paying an additional $680 million), I am saying those subareas will say they can’t, and barely have the funds to complete surface rail in their subarea they have been waiting a very long time for.

      So whatever rail Seattle levies under HB 1304 will run on the surface, including through Seattle, like every other place, and the underfunded ST 3 projects will consume everything levied under HB 1304.

      That is why I find the name “Seattle Subway” so ironic: nothing under HB 1304 will be underground.

      I don’t think even Seattle voters will vote for that, especially now that the curtain has been pulled back on the Oz that is ST cost estimating. ST 3 was passed only 4 years ago. The cost estimates for the N. King Co. subarea were not a mistake, they were dishonest.

      Then there is Seattle Subway making the same damn mistake ST made: building a rail spine without making sure the first/last mile access is frequent enough to make up for adding a seat and transfer to most trips. It’s as if these transit advocates want to force as many people to drive as possible. The reality is the success of rail begins and ends with Metro, a very scary thought unless you have access to a park and ride that serves rail, and those will be overwhelmed due to infrequent Metro bus feeder service.

      The reason eastsiders are so nonchalant about East Link is because there are no funding shortfalls, and by far the best eastside transit will be express buses that are endlessly flexible. Workers who really need to take transit won’t be riding East Link from Mercer Island to downtown Bellevue or Redmond; they will be taken express buses up and down 405.

  10. Jonathan has a few posts from yesterday that caught my eye (I am assuming Jonathan is with Seattle Subway): he lists the cost of the second transit tunnel through Seattle in ST 3 at $3.56 billion, a pretty specific number.

    Is that cost estimate from ST?

    The original cost estimate for the second transit tunnel in ST 3 was $2.2 billion, with the N. King Co. subarea paying half ($1.1 billion) and the four other subareas paying 1/2, 12.5% each, or $176 million.

    As those on this blog know I have always questioned the $2.2 billion cost estimate from 2016, although it is rarely discussed compared to the cost of rail to West Seattle and Ballard.

    If the true cost is $3.65 billion — and people much more knowledgeable than I am have estimated back of the envelope costs at $4 billion after the last tunnel project in Seattle, the costs of the tunnel under Capitol Hill, and steep grade differences on 5th Ave. that will require very deep stations — and $3.56 billion with the usual 20% contingency for public projects is around $4 billion.

    The difference between the two estimates is $1.36 billion, without cost overruns. The N. King Co. subarea would be responsible for 1/2, or $680 million, and the four other subareas would be responsible for $170 million each, in additional funding, assuming no cost overruns, which are likely.

    The reasons I raise this are twofold:

    1. I don’t think the other subareas, other than East King Co., have an extra $176 million lying around, and will be nervous about ST’s new cost estimate, especially since they will be beginning their rail projects. HB 1304 won’t allow these cities and subareas to float separate transit levies (certainly for a tunnel in Seattle). These subareas were not all that keen on paying 1/2 of the tunnel anyway, considering they didn’t get tunnels, and there is adequate capacity in the existing tunnel for the main rail line from Everett to Tacoma, and East Link which is limited to 8 minute intervals max since only one train can be on the bridge span at one time (and ridership projections on East Link, especially peak hour commute, have plummeted). I don’t see these subareas wanting to place ST 4 on the ballot to once again cover ST’s budgeting errors, especially when it doesn’t benefit their subarea (and my guess is bus feeder frequency will be inadequate, a separate issue).

    2. I am not sure Seattle Subway understands that even a massive transit levy under HB 1304 will barely — if — cover the remaining ST 3 costs for the N. King Subarea. When you add in bridges, the actual costs of the tunnel, rail to West Seattle and Ballard, you are getting close to $10 billion, which will exhaust the taxing capacity of Seattle for decades for every other need. ST may view Seattle Subway like the new soldier arriving at the front, filled with hope and enthusiasm without realizing they are replacing another soldier who is was killed.

    My original thought was to begin with the second transit tunnel since it could serve buses and rail, and until the true cost of the second tunnel is known the N. King Co. subarea won’t know how much money it has left for ST 3 projects, if any.

    But now my concern is at least three other subareas will tell ST (and the N. King subarea) they simply don’t have an additional $176 million for the new cost estimates for the tunnel, have no faith in ST that $3.65 billion will be the actual cost, and so don’t start the tunnel unless Seattle levies a fortune under HB 1304 to cover those costs, and cost overruns.

    There is a lot of debate about what mode of transportation HB 1304 should allow, but the reality is there won’t be any money left over after completing the ST 3 projects, and right now my guess is the four other subareas will tell the N. King Co. subarea their contractual commitment it to share 1/2 of $2.2 billion for the second transit tunnel, not whatever it ends up costing.

    So maybe Seattle Subway needs to begin to think about its goals if there is only one transit tunnel through Seattle, and those begin (and probably end) with ST 3, except there won’t be the money to complete ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea, even with an additional levy under HB 1304.

    For those reasons I would make sure buses are part of HB 1304 because buses can run along the surface in downtown Seattle, and Third Ave. is already reserved for buses.

    1. Correction: the four other subareas will each pay $275 million towards the $2.2 billion cost estimate for the second transit tunnel, but $445 million if the actual cost is $3.56 billion.

    2. This!

      I was wondering if the funds would do much more than merely backfill the West Seattle and Ballard Link funding shortages. Raising the hopes for funding other corridors may be a selling strategy — but ultimately it sounds like those of us living in SE Seattle would instead be merely paying to give West Seattle and Ballard more expensive grade-separated stations blocks away from their cores that most of us will rarely visit.

      It’s just one more reason that we need better systems planning with realistic costing before we need to create a new funding source with new rules. I see more benefit to throw a few hundred million more to build an upgraded grade-separated segment for Graham and Othello stations and put the end Ballard and West Seattle stations and segments on the surface, for example.

  11. I followed direction to submit testimony and don’t see house bill 1304 as an option for 2/3/2021 at 10am. I only see 1241 1337 & 1298. It’s likely I’m doing something wrong, but wanted to check.

    Thanks to both Seattle Transit Blog and Seattle Subway for fighting for better transit.

    1. Hi Matthew, thank you for your support!

      The hearing for this bill is being rescheduled, more information to follow soon and I’ll reply to this comment thread also, if you’d like more information in your inbox you can select: Notify me of follow-up comments by email on your next comment in this thread or you can reach out to us on Facebook messenger with your contact information.

      1. Thanks Ben – Appreciate the follow-up and glad to know I’m not going crazy. I will keep watch for the new date and follow-up accordingly.

  12. A bunch of theoreticals all too far into the future to be useful to me.
    Seattle is out of price range, unaffordable.
    There is no useful transit in suburban south King County.
    Land use laws prohibit any meaningful density in development patterns.
    By default, I am forced to continue owning and driving a car. I need to be able to go to work and purchase groceries.
    I apologize for the negative tone. Too long in quarantine? Too many years living in a suburban hell thrust upon me because we couldn’t afford $500,000 for a “starter house” on my entry-level salary? A bit of both, perhaps?
    Be happy you even have bus service, for you folks in Seattle. Be happy you can afford a house close to your job.

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