HB1304, which would allow existing monorail taxing authority to be used for light rail, happened to show signs of life at just about the time that ST3 projects sank into serious financial trouble. Inevitably, these two subjects have merged in the discourse. That’s unfortunate, because the bill is best thought of as solving a long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall. Transit advocates should seize the opportunity to clear this legislative veto point and then argue about how to use it.

The vision in 1994 (Link)

The design of Sound Transit is driven by the “spine” between Tacoma and Everett. The basic narrative is that local leaders in Pierce and Snohomish Counties thought, and continue to think, that light rail is important to the economic development of their core cities and convinced the legislature to authorize an agency large enough to take their interests into account. And so supermajorities in Seattle offset skepticism in outlying areas to allow each subarea to fund its stated priorities.

Setting aside recent financial difficulties, ST3 is bringing this model to an end by completing Link from Everett to Tacoma. There are certainly ideas for more suburban projects: Everett Community College, Tacoma Mall, Burien/Renton, Totem Lake, all-day Sounder, and so on. But it’s far from clear that these will capture the public imagination, while demand for new rail in Seattle remains bottomless.

To address that demand, new funding models are in order. A separate, Seattle-only funding mechanism, like HB 1304, would allow differential taxation to match the demand where it is highest. While this may not be especially urgent in 2021, transit activists would be wise to clear the legislative hurdle when the opportunity arises.

This is because the other hurdles are significant. It is a suboptimal time to make major changes to long term plans, like going to the ballot with new taxes. ST3 shortfalls in Seattle might also consume all of this new authority. Here’s hoping the cost reduction process bears some fruit, and legislators put real effort into reforming permitting authority and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to reduce costs in the future. But let’s get the authority and then debate how and when to use it.

110 Replies to “HB 1304: the solution to the next problem”

  1. A separate, Seattle-only funding mechanism, like HB 1304, would allow differential taxation to match the demand where it is highest.

    Yes, but it is needlessly limited, in the same way the old monorail authority was. Restricting transit funding to only one mode (a monorail or grade separated rail) means that we can’t fund what the city needs most after ST3: better bus service and infrastructure. This, despite overwhelming support in the city for it.

    There is no reason to believe that Seattle voters, or Seattle leaders, prefer a rail-only approach. Not when most of the city will have to depend on bus service of one form or another for the foreseeable future.

    It really doesn’t matter what motivates this needless, and poorly thought out restriction. Maybe it is folks trying to save ST3 in the city. Maybe it is people who believe this is realistic. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that restriction is stupid, and should be removed. Seattle should be able to use the funding mechanism for whatever form of transit it wants — just like Sound Transit does.

    1. I’m not much of a policy wonk so forgive me if this is a dumb question: between this old-made-new authority (grade-separated only) the Seattle Transit Benefit District, and things like the Move Seattle Levy building RapidRide lines, what forms of transit would Seattle be unable to build or buy?

      1. In theory, there is nothing stopping Seattle from building anything right now. They could use Move Seattle type levies to build this: https://www.seattlesubway.org/regional-map/. It would just take a while. That’s because cities are limited in how much money they can raise. There are limits to how much they are allowed to tax, and what those taxes can be. Otherwise, there would be no Sound Transit (the various cities and counties would just cooperate to spend the money). Again, they could do that, it would just take a very long time to fund big projects without additional taxing authority.

        This is what this bill is about. It allows Seattle to spend money above and beyond what normal cities can spend, by establishing a special transit district. There is nothing at all wrong with that. I fully support that. The problem with this district are the limits to mode.

        This is different than most transit districts. Sound Transit, for example, can spend as money on bus service and bus infrastructure as it wants. It is up to the board to decide what mix will be put to voters, and then voters give it a thumbs up or down.

        The problem occurs if Seattle wants to do something similar. Let’s say we want to spend a couple billion dollars improving the bus system, and a couple billion dollars improving Link. The latter falls under this district, but the former does not. The latter allows for that kind of spending, while Seattle, itself, can’t spend anywhere near that kind of money. If we are going to establish a transit district (similar to Sound Transit) then it should be given the same sort of power as Sound Transit (to raise money for all types of transit).

      2. Sound Transit, for example, can spend as money on bus service and bus infrastructure as it wants [emphasis added]

        This really not true, Ross. Sound Transit bus service is limited to “high capacity transit” buses in corridors planned for rail service which hasn’t yet been built; express buses in corridors linking two Regional Centers for which at the time of the provision of the service there are no plans for a rail link between the two centers; and “shuttle” buses to and from Sound Transit rail stations.

        I really doubt that ST could take over the operation of the #2 trolley legally. The agency is directed not to stomp on the turf of local agencies whose extent the ST District overlaps.

      3. Ross is correct that ST doesn’t have $ limits on how much money to invest in ST Express, as long as ST stays within overall financial constraints (e.g. debt cannot exceed 1.5% of the assessed property value of the district). Tom is correct that ST cannot spend money on just any bus project, though ST runs 28 (or so) routes of very different flavors so there is wide latitude on where it can invest service hours. Shuttle service & connecting two regional centers covers a broad amount of bus route opportunities, but likely only a fraction of KCM’s routes.

    2. Ross B., you know a few folks asked Seattle Subway in this blog on this blog for Ballard to UW using the monorail tax authority– they were evasive in their answers. Now this (pushed by the same Seattle Subway). It would be hilarious if Ballard to UW was built with this new authority faster and cheaper than North Seattle’s ST3 2nd tunnel routes–right now, the odds are what, 50-50, for all the ST3 North Seattle stops will open by 2050?

      Well played, Seattle Subway, well played.

      1. Interesting, but I’m not sure what that has to do with my comment. Ballard to UW would be great, but so would all the things that Move Seattle was supposed to fund. It is crazy to create a new transit agency, and then limit the mode. If they simply limited the funding to transit, we could pay for a lot of bus infrastructure, a lot of bus service AND a Ballard to UW subway. That would be an appropriate levy for a city like this (with underfunded bus service). Even Sound Transit funds a lot of bus service and infrastructure, (even though they are largely focused on rail).

      2. Ballard was supposed to open in 2035, so 2050 would be a 15 year delay; I’d put those odds at >90% Ballard opens by 2050.

        What’s hilarious is you think a new authority be authorized, stood up, and then execute a major project faster than the WSBLE, which is authorized, fully funded, and has already begun the EIS process.

        Ross is correct – your comment is both irrelevant and false.

      3. Ballard to UW cannot NOT NOT be built without one of two things being completed first: Ballard-Downtown at least as far as the portal south of IDS OR the digging of a long trench north of 45th along the path of the Northgate Tunnel or on the UW Campus for the construction of a “junction box” enclosing the existing turbes in order to connect Ballard-UW to North Link.

        Period. End of story.

        It seems that everyone here thinks that ST can just use some sort of cool can opener and pop a junction into the existing tunnel completely underground. It can’t.

      4. Ballard to UW can be done without a junction if it isn’t Link. If there is a willingness to place another OMF in Seattle (say, in UW’s parking lots), Ballard-UW can be done independently. This might be a compelling option as another technology might be better suited for the alignment (e.g. shorter, more frequent train sets and smaller diameter vehicles).

      5. I don’t think there will be another line coming close to the UW due to their vibration concerns. Also crossing/connecting with the existing Link line would be very expensive. As there are lots of elevation changes, it would be much easier to run a gondola line from Ballard downtown to the 14th Ave station, to University station and may be all the way to UVillage and Seattle Children’s Hospital as I proposed in https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/12/26/gondolas-could-be-the-light-rail-complement-seattle-needs/

      6. AJ, you’re correct that another technology could be used, but it wouldn’t be “Ballard-UW” as has been endlessly litigated on the Blog. In any case, even a tram system with 10 five-section cars would have a hard time locating an MF, because trucking dead trams to a “real” MF (e.g. Forest) would not be an acceptable “long-term” solution.

        In support of the idea and thinking outside the box, though, perhaps a connection to the Ballard Terminal could let a switcher pull a tram needing heavy work dead-in-tow down to Argo and back up the track alongside the busway. The branch that heads off to the east at Horton is directly adjacent to the Forest Street MF when it crosses Forest. Some sort of interchange track could probably be created there.

        The Ballard Terminal could be used to deliver the trams from the manufacturer, too.

        Doing this would probably require some sort of “idler” car with a standard railroad coupler on one end and a tram-style coupler on the other, and would certainly require the bended knee at the Federal Railroad Administration. And, since there would be two trailing-point reversals the switcher would need an idler on both ends and run-around sidings at Ballard Jct and the south end of the old UP/Milwaukee tracks.

        It would be an ongoing hassle, but it would allow heavy maintenance to occur off-site without trucking.

      7. No, if we used a different technology, the OMF at Forest would have no involvement. We have small, standalone OMFs for our streetcar operations in SLU, the ID (FHSC), and in Tacoma (T-Link); SeaTac has a self-contained OMF for its shuttle operations and the Monorail manages to duct-tap itself together without an OMF. None of those operations require ‘trucking’ vehicles around nor fancy rail interfaces.

        A standalone Ballard-UW would likely require an OMF not much larger than the recently expanded T-Link OMF.

      8. Yes it would, because the dinky streetcars used in T-Link and the two SDOT lines are only 2/5 the length of a five-section tram.

        Such a tram is longer than a Link car, so a dozen of them would require a much larger yard than the three existing “car barns”, and a longer building in which to work on them.

        Let’s not kid ourselves that anything less than full length Citidis-style trams would have sufficient capacity to make the disruption to Wallingford and Fremont that their adoption and use would cause worthwhile.

      9. If it’s ok to take out hundreds of homes for a Link station in Youngstown or hundreds of newly-built appartements in West Seattle, it’s ok to find land for a small OMF located on a non-residential block or two in Ballard.

        Another option is to have a pinched loop aerial cable system with a middle station where the cable wheelhouse is positioned. With no motors other than the wheelhouse wheels, it’s possible to contain the maintenance in the wheelhouse after hours. That’s how the Oakland Airport Connector works.

        A third option is to put the OMF in Interbay and have a single track bridge crossing for non-revenue trains — setting the stage for eventually having the line tie into the entire Link system.

        The larger point is that the OMF should not be a fatal flaw. It’s but one challenge but there are many bigger ones.

      10. If an OMF needs to be built between UW and Ballard, there’s plenty of places to do so without taking out anything. Directly above Fred Meyers or Safeway’s parking lot, or put it at ground level with parking above, etc. Hell, TriMet’s Ruby Junction facility is the size of UW’s surface parking east of Montlake.

      11. An OMF in Interbay is a good idea. There’s even trackage on the south shore leading to what used to be the NP passenger bridge crossing to what is now the Burke Gilman trail. A similar almost-always-open bridge would cause little interference with marine traffic, and there used to be such a low-level bridge there.

        But it still would not be “Ballard-UW” as has been proposed and litigated continually here on STB. It would be an appropriately sized technology for a three mile line, but do not think it would be cheap. It would have to be aerial or tunneled through Fremont and where it would go farther east is tricky. It’s possible to squeeze it in between Pacific and Northlake east of Wallingford Avenue, but that would play Hell with the bike and pedestrian community who do love a railroad grade.

        Turning north to go through “Downtown Wallingford” puts you back underground. TANSTAAFL.

      12. Al, have I ever advocated “tak[ing] out hundreds of homes for a Link Station in Youngstown”? I have argued against it, preferring to place the station above Delridge just north of Genessee and allowing a low-speed sharp curve into the Genessee ROW. It is ST’s Cadillac — hell, “Lamborghini” — level of indulgence that has blown the budget out of all reality.

    3. RossB is correct again. Seattle officials should consider the HB 1304 text, their multi-modal transit needs, political and fiscal realities and ask for changes in the mode restrictions. The SMP was mono modal and failed.

      We may be stuck with the ST spine worship. In the Seattle Times piece on the fiscal crisis, several boardmember comments worshiped the Link spine. With I-5 alignments, Link will do a poor job of serving pedestrian centers. of course, it will be a great improvement, just not as good as some alternatives. ST has a spine focus and not a multimodal network focus. One could imagine a different network with better urban networks in Everett, Lynnwood, Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma, connected by intercity express bus network on tolled limited access highways. South Sounder is good but costly. The Sound Move T-ramps and center stations were a start. But the Legislature has made too little progress on tolling.

      The ST district is the product of its enabling legislation from Rep. Fisher in the early 90s. The spine may follow from its governance. In between the lines of Martin’s post, we can see that the large three-county district with one tax rate, limits the scale of high capacity transit investment in Seattle where it makes the most sense. Did ST3 attract a majority vote in the Pierce County segment of the ST district?

      The governance of the Forward Thrust measures was one county and it had much better alignments that better served pedestrian places.

      1. Rail is great for the spine, but not so good to connect urban villages. I don’t think building dedicated transit highways is a solution either as highways take a lot of space. I still think that a light rail spine combined with gondolas which connect the spine to the neighboring urban villages would be a great way to provide reliable high frequency transit across the region as I explained in https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/12/26/gondolas-could-be-the-light-rail-complement-seattle-needs/

      2. When Forward Thrust was proposed 90% of King County’s population lived in Seattle; Snohomish and Pierce’s population was practically zero; and Tacoma, Auburn, and Everett were separate job markets from Seattle; with the exception of Boeing workers who were transferred willy-nilly between plants and often drove thirty miles. But nobody else did, unless they had a special situation like they lived in Seattle but they worked at their dad’s company in Tacoma.

    4. Hi Ross,

      At this point I have enough skepticism about our ability to pull off more rail projects that I’d be willing to consider a BRT version of Ballard-UW, etc., and would be comfortable with a bus-enabling amendment. But HB1304 is a clear improvement on the status quo, where the money is only available for monorail.

      It’s also not “stupid”, it reflects concerns that bus authority can be more effectively nickel-and-dimed to various constituencies and diluted far too much to build anything transformative.

      1. I think I’m with Ross. Yes, requiring rail does, in theory, project against “BRT creep.” However, right now our BRT projects are creeping towards better outcomes and our ST3 rail projects may be degrading mobility because grade-separation is being pursued to keep Link ‘out of the way.’ Going rail to avoid BRT creep was a good position in the 90s but I think it no longer a good posture for today’s Seattle.

        I think the requirement for 100% grade separation is a fatal flaw. It is ‘stupid’ in that is an incredibly blunt instrument that will have myriad of unintended consequences. Good public infrastructure requires compromise & clever solutions; this requirement inhibits that.

        The risk is this measure passes and the issue is considered ‘solved’ at the state level. Similar to the monorail, much will be expended on projects that may ultimately amount to little. The opportunity cost of HB1304 as currently constructed could be immense.

      2. The representative alignment in the ballot measure is grade separated, so it’s not adding grade separation, it’s replacing elevated with tunnels.

    1. Admittedly the WS bridge was still in early life at that time. WS Link as a long term replacement for the bridge is a plausible justification for the extension. Wasn’t in the ST3 rationale, but now with the freeway bridge potentially coming down in ~30 years it might be a good investment.

    2. So how and when did West Seattle get on ST’s radar? This may become important later. If I recall the Ballard-West Seattle monorail gained traction because ST wasn’t doing that corridor, and it was restricted to monorail partly to avoid ST watering it down to mostly surface like all recent American light rails had been. The monorail votes were between 1997 and 2005, so its planning must have been well underway in 1996. I’m not sure when or how Ballard-Northgate got into the long-range plan, or why Ballard did and West Seattle didn’t. If ST knew about the monorail it would know equally about Ballard and West Seattle. And it would be odd for ST to build a Ballard line overlapping the monorail. The monorail commission intentionally avoided corridors ST was planning to build Link in.

      Fast foward to 2005 and the monorail’s failure. After that Seattle’s politics became, “Those corridors must be next because they were promised a monorail and didn’t get it”. the same way that First Hill got a streetcar as mitigation for losing a Link station. But, if it’s true that West Seattle was only added to ST’s plan at that point, then it could be argued that it has less weight than things that were there from the beginning and that people voted for ST1 and 2 on expecting those in a later phase.

      The Spine was definitely there from the beginning. It’s what motivated the legislature to create ST and the bulk of voters to vote for ST1 and 2. (Revisionist history aside.) The county-based transit agencies were unable to offer any credible plan for inter-county transit because they kept prioritizing their inter-county needs and the demands of their neighborhoods over it. So the counties appealed to the legislature for a regional transit authority that would prioritize it. The legislature agreed because it realized that Pugetopolis regional transit was increasingly becoming necessary, and the state didn’t want to get involved in making alignment decisions itself or operating it, so it created Sound Transit. It was a three-county authority with a single tax district, with one common vote and tax rate across all of it, because Pierce and Snohomish were afraid they couldn’t get a majority yes on their own. So ST has always been focused on the Spine because that’s what it was created to do.

      Of course, the light rail mode was ST’s choice. It did that because it could flexibly go on the surface as well as underground or elevated, and ST anticipated a lot more surface segments than actually got built, to keep the cost down to 20M/mile like previous American light rails. But that got blown out of the water as neighborhoods increasingly resisted surface segments.

      So if West Seattle was only added in the late 2000s, that could be an argument for putting it last or deferring it if we can’t afford all the North King projects.

      1. they kept prioritizing their inter intra-county needs and the demands of their neighborhoods over it.

  2. I think the big logic problem in all of this is not funding a more comprehensive planning and costing study to do what’s most cost effective.

    I don’t like having to use my tax money to buy out newly- built apartment buildings in West Seattle and hundreds of homes in Youngstown (not disclosed in ST3). However, without a broader ability to use these funds for street trams that is pretty much guiding the way these funds will be used. West Seattle gets high-end while poorer areas are summarily ignored by the political system.

    1. I think the big logic problem in all of this is not funding a more comprehensive planning and costing study to do what’s most cost effective.

      I agree.

    2. I really don’t get this line of criticism. The cost overruns weren’t “not disclosed,” they simply weren’t known at the time. What do you want – millions of funding for projects to go through the full EIS process and then return to the voters for approval? That presumably would eliminate an agency’s ability to use eminent domain before the 2nd vote, driving cost up higher. Adding additional veto points is likely not helpful. If people think a project is trash, they will doggedly use the EIS process to kill it, and the end result is just less stuff overall will be built.

      If you want an agency to be able to just ditch a bad project, Move Seattle has this flexibility, and SDOT decided to ditch a bunch of bus projects and funded the Lander overpass. Where ST has had flexibility (99 vs I5), it hasn’t always made the best choice. “A project scope should be very specific when I agree with it and flexible when I disagree” is not a coherent position on infrastructure project management.

      I think there is great value in having a pot of money that can be use for ‘projects to be determined later.’ $10MM/year for decades to spend on bus priority, or bike lanes, or regional paths, or station access, would all be wonderful. I don’t see how that can be done at a larger scale, though. Would we give WSDOT a 10 cent gas tax raise for freeway expansion and say, “we’ll just figure out which freeways later!” I don’t think so.

      Unless you are proposing to make the ST3 taxes permanent and ST has a mandate to build, operate, and maintain High Capacity Transit and it just becomes a flywheel building more and more HCT throughout the region? That’s intriguing.

      1. “ I really don’t get this line of criticism. The cost overruns weren’t “not disclosed,” they simply weren’t known at the time. ”

        Must I explain this again? FTA recommends a 30 percent contingency and ST3 was based on a 10 percent contingency. ST did not identify the right of way takes here — and keep in mind that most other ST3 projects are planned on freeway rights of way at the surface or aerial.

      2. ” ST3 was based on a 10 percent contingency.”

        Seems like they’ve disclosed the relevant information to you.

      3. The difference between 10 and 30 percent is not directly related to the rising cost of real estate. 20% may or may not be sufficient, it’s not what others are demanding, and if you spend it before construction it won’t be available during construction, which it was intended for.

      4. The “disclosure” criticism is for the massive neighborhood destruction now required for the preferred West Seattle Link alternatives. The inadequate contingencies were disclosed, but were incredibly irresponsible as almost no one was willing to discuss what price tag ST put on the table. The Board was so awed and excited by the dream that the realities were ignored.

        The spiraling billions of cost increases is not inflation or an unforeseen additional minor cost. ST needs to investigate why the public was deceived in 2016 with the ST3 designs and costs. Then, ST needs to take actions (Higher contingencies? Better operational reviews? Firings?) to make sure that it never happens again no matter what extra source is allocated by voters.

      5. The tunnel creep in West Seattle and Ballard is based on public pressure. It’s not ST being awed, it’s community groups and Seattle city government intimidating ST. The ST3 budget was scaled for elevated. If the community groups and city really wanted tunnels, they should have said so before the ballot measure was written, so that the budget could be scaled to them. (That might have been impossible, since it would have required scaling up the other subareas too, and lengthening the phase period beyond 2041, or higher taxes, which might have prevented an ST3 deal from coming together. Still, if that’s what they really wanted and would pressure for, they should have said so before the vote, not tried to sneak it in after.)

      6. Light rail is not the right technology to serve existing dense neighborhoods, tunneling can avoid some of the displacement, but at a high price. An urban gondola, at least for the last couple of miles is much easier and affordable and can serve the urban center rather than having to align with major arteries like 14th or 15th Ave.

      7. The higher base project cost estimate in West Seattle is not so much because of residents wanting tunnels, but are instead is more because of the massive land takes suddenly required for the above ground alternatives. These should have been determined in the studies made prior to 2016.

      8. Martin, moving sidewalks are just as fast as gondolas if people also walk and a LOT cheaper. Grant, like escalators they need weather protection.

      9. Tom, I have not see a moving sidewalk go at 20mph like a gondola can, nor have I seen any climb up hills and cross rivers as West Seattle requires. Anyways, as you may have to wait for a train for 6 to 15min, you may arrive with a gondola from the Junction to SODO earlier than on a light rail. For short distances, head ways are far more important than speed.

      10. I saw a 20 mph walkway somewhere in an airport. There was a slower walkway next to it. The walkway was in broken segments. At every entrance was a warning sign about the speed.

        Moscow has fast subway escalators. They’re probably not allowed here because of ADA and liability concerns. Escalators used to be faster, like the ones in the oder UW dorms. (11-story Terry Hall, now replaced.) Then there was a period of very slow elevators, like the DSTT stations and McCarty Hall. Then they started getting faster again, but still not as fast as the pre-1980s ones. Except some long ones like Beacon Hill Station are fast. It’s frustating to get on a slow elevator and it just crawls. The same considerations probably apply to escalators and moving walkways.

    3. I don’t think we should funnel more money to serve the least diverse portion of West Seattle while we displace poorer areas (Youngstown) and expect the most diverse portion (White Center…) to ride a bus to catch a train downtown.
      Street trams can’t make it up the Junction, but at least HB 1304 does allow for aerial cable. The West Seattle SkyLink could serve the ST3 stations sooner and for $2b less which ST could use to make sure they can build a 2nd tunnel downtown.

      1. Sorry Mr Pagel but HB 1304 explicitly says that “vehicles suspended from cables” are not eligible. This money could not be used for a gondola as now written.

      2. Al, HB 1304 says: “…does not mean … vehicles suspended from aerial cables, unless they are an integral component of a station served by public grade-separated transportation facilities” meaning as long as the gondola connects to light rail, it is supported. In fact gondolas are a very cost effective way to extend the reach of a light rail system.

      3. Martin, the key language is “unless they are an *integral component of a station*” (emphasis added). A gondola would not be an integral component *of* a station served by grade separated transportation, it would be grade separated transportation *between* stations. The clause you reference is to ensure HB1304 projects can pay for stations with elevators (or perhaps something like the one story elevator/gondola-thing SF put at their new bus station – http://www.salesforcetower.com/gondola/), but “does not mean … vehicles suspended from aerial cables” excludes gondolas as transportation, even if one end is at light rail.

      4. Onux, that’s up for interpretation, we have requested that this language is clarified in the draft.

    4. ST doesn’t really have to “buy out hundreds of homes in Youngstown.” All it has to do is relax its standard of mininum curvature within 150 feet of a station and put Delridge Station over the street. Then the curve at Delridge and Genesee could take only a few houses.

      The trains would be going fairly slowly at that point anyway because of entering or leaving the station.

      1. Yrs, there would probably be more screech in a tight turn, but there’s a golf course to tge south and a big hill to ths east. Notthat many homes would hear it.

      2. Why does a station over Delridge near Genessee have to be 90 feet in the air? The thing is that high because they propose to go OVER some houses.

        It simply does not have to be 90 feet above the street. That is ST’s Lamborghini design obsession.

      3. Use side platforms and you don’t need a Mezzanine. Yes, there is a need for passengers to cross the street, so the platforms would be perhaps be 30 feet elevated in order to allow for human-height walkways at each end of the platforms under the tracks. That would allow folks transferring between Link and an Admiral or Alki Boulevard bus to access the platform on the other side of the street without crossing the street OR requiring a mezzanine.

        ST needs to value-engineer for all its worth.

      4. It’s light rail – if they need to cross the platform, they can just walk across the tracks. This is how it works in a dozen stations elsewhere in the network.

        I think the high elevation is needed to handle the approach up to the junction and/or the approach over the Duwamish. It’s about how fast Link can climb, not the station itself.

      5. AJ is right. Youngstown would be essentially a deep ravine between Alaska Junction and a West Seattle Bridge for Link. Light rail just cannot negotiate steep track grades.

        Keep in mind that a lower profile option — the Pigeon Point tunnel — was removed from consideration because of “cost” before the massive added burden of buying out so many homeowners was fully known. I think a good case could be made for bringing it back.

      6. Even with a Pigeon Point tunnel, you would have to traverse Youngstown at around 150′ high as you need to make it up the hill towards Avalon. If you tunnel under the Junction you can keep it to about 60′, but that gets more expensive. With SkyLink it gets much easier…

  3. “HB1304, which would allow existing monorail taxing authority to be used for light rail, happened to show signs of life at just about the time that ST3 projects sank into serious financial trouble. Inevitably, these two subjects have merged in the discourse. That’s unfortunate, because the bill is best thought of as solving a long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall.”

    ST’s recent mea culpa over the costs of ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea and HB 1304 are not coincidence, and there is no difference between a “long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall” because long term revenue declines are the real issue. Otherwise why would ST choose the middle of a pandemic when future revenues cannot be estimated — and there is nothing the Board can do — to release this information.

    Since ST’s credibility is shot, it is using a well-meaning but naïve group called Seattle Subway to push HB1304 (that doesn’t even realize there will be no underground projects under HB1304), while making sure the legislation effectively requires any HB1304 revenue be spent on grade separated rail in N. King Co., which of course is ST 3.

    “Transit advocates should seize the opportunity to clear this legislative veto point and then argue about how to use it.”

    No, that is the whole point of the language in HB1304. There is no option how to use it, except ST 3 projects. IT IS CRITICAL EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THIS. ST wrote this legislation.

    “And so supermajorities in Seattle offset skepticism in outlying areas to allow each subarea to fund its stated priorities.”

    Yes, Seattle voters are quite supportive but also naïve when voting for transit, from ST 1 that was 84% over budget and omitted three stations, to Move Seattle that completed half its projects, to ST 3 that is completely unfunded in N. King Co. based on ST’s current budget revelations that are still optimistic. No subarea has so enthusiastically supported transit levies, and no subarea has received less for its money. SOMEONE in the N. King Co. Subarea and Seattle has to learn how to question ST’s (or any levy proponent’s) cost estimates in transit levies, and Seattle voters have to take off the rose colored glasses. Paying for projects that never get built is not good policy no matter how progressive you are.

    “Setting aside recent financial difficulties, ST3 is bringing this model to an end by completing Link from Everett to Tacoma.”

    A little over a month ago ST stated ST 3 was $4 billion underfunded in the N. King Co. subarea based on increased costs alone, even though ST 3 only passed in 2016. At that time I questioned the omission of the cost estimates for the second transit tunnel, that look to be around $1.35 billion short barring a catastrophe in tunneling, which affects every subarea (and HB1304 only applies to city’s with 500,000 or more residents) that simply don’t have the additional revenue for a $1.35 billion increase in costs for a second transit tunnel.

    Now ST is claiming ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea is $11.5 billion underfunded in the N. King Co. subarea when including short term revenue shortfalls (still not including second transit tunnel), which is basically the entire capital cost for ST 3 in N. King Co. What this really means, as long suspected, is ST is using ST 3 revenues to complete ST 2 projects in N. King Co., and my guess is HB 1304 will simply cover the costs plus overruns of the second transit tunnel, which basically is a priori for ST 3, or any additional grade separated transit in Seattle.

    “To address that demand [public imagination for rail], new funding models are in order. A separate, Seattle-only funding mechanism, like HB 1304, would allow differential taxation to match the demand where it is highest.”

    But this is not what HB1304 does, or could ever do based on the unfunded amounts. HB1304 due to its internal language will apply to only ST 3 projects, and still will not be enough to complete ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea.

    “This [the need to pass HB1304] is because the other hurdles are significant. It is a suboptimal time to make major changes to long term plans, like going to the ballot with new taxes. ST3 shortfalls in Seattle might also consume all of this new authority. Here’s hoping the cost reduction process bears some fruit, and legislators put real effort into reforming permitting authority and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to reduce costs in the future. But let’s get the authority and then debate how and when to use it.”

    No offense, but this paragraph is its own epitaph. Correct, but not really believed.

    ST 3 shortfalls WILL consume all of a HB1304 levy and ST 3 is where all HB1304 levy revenue will go, it still won’t be enough because the figures are so huge (the actual costs to complete ST 3 projects in N. King Co. could easily be $20 billion when finished), and no, permitting and cost reductions won’t make a damn bit of difference. Just because you bought ST’s pitch and paid for ST 3 twice doesn’t mean you get to ignore the environment, especially when transit is so often pitched as pro-environment. Any EIS will be mandated under federal law anyway.


    Now, let me address what Martin’s article does not address, and I see as the most critical issue: how to get to light rail, or the fact more riders will still use a bus than a train.

    Most critically is whether after the spine is built a trip that now includes a extra seat and transfer from bus to rail will be longer or shorter than before, because every transit user — especially work commuters — knows exactly how long their pre-rail trip took. If total trip time including a feeder bus is longer the spine was a bust. Period. In any subarea.

    Metro is a disaster. It claims it plans to reduce levels of service 25% through 2040, electrify but reduce the bus fleet, and is much more interested in equity than serving commuters on rail, or north Seattle (let alone the eastside which at least has plenty of ST money for buses and park and rides). Meanwhile the “spine” has stressed Metro from north to south county lines to remote areas of east King Co. with a funding obligation Metro can never meet.

    Martin is correct now is not the time to discuss more rail projects or a specific HB1304 levy (which is just paying for ST 3 twice), but if first/last mile bus service to rail is slow then ST is a bust, and passing a HB1304 levy even in Seattle will be difficult. I think Rogoff is finally understanding he picked the wrong partner — Metro — at the wrong time.

    My humble advice: leave HB1304 as open to any form of transit as possible, be realistic about what HB1304 can actually fund (and that is not ST 3), but just like Issaquah my guess is riders and commuters are going to demand their one seat buses back if first/last mile access on a feeder bus plus rail is slower.

    1. I think you make lots of good points!

      I would quibble a bit about this: “ long term revenue declines are the real issue”. I see the real issue is the lousy cost estimates and low contingencies in early project development. ST screwed up — and keeps trying to blame the cost increases on mere cost inflation and not bad early unrealistic planning and costing.

      Im fully expecting another huge cost issue to arise when the details of the new Downtown subway stations are made public. ST has yet to reveal details about these stations.

      1. The “lousy” cost estimates for ST 3 in the N. King Co. subarea were intentional. ST was worried about selling ST 3 to the four other subareas, and if tax rates were sufficient to fund ST 3 in N. King Co. ST 3 would likely fail at the ballot.

        The short term revenue declines due to Covid-19 were not intentional or anticipated, but a one year or so reduction would be solvable over the next two decades, especially with federal aid. What was not expected was a decline in long term revenue and subsidies in N. King Co. which ST hoped would continue to grow, like from 2010 to 2020, and cover the intentional undervaluing of costs for ST 3 in N. King Co.

        I agree ST has been very quiet about the true costs for the second transit tunnel during its mea culpa tour, and those are some deep stations. The tunnel is critical for any other meaningful transit improvements in Seattle including ST 3, but what does ST do if the four other subareas claim they simply don’t have the extra revenue to help pay for the tunnel’s cost overruns? You can’t get blood out of a turnip, even if they wanted to pay more. A HB1304 levy could be — or likely will be — around $1.5 billion (50% more than Move Seattle) just to complete the second transit tunnel that will allow buses.

        ST will tell West Seattle and Ballard what would they rather have: short rail lines that end in stubs and no second transit tunnel; or express buses that travel through a second tunnel and have one seat to Seattle?

        Issaquah will likely get the same choice later on, or early on if a bus intercept to rail to Seattle is slower than their current one seat express buses to Seattle.

    2. So ST should never build anything because it doesn’t know what the economy and real estate prices will be in ten years so it can’t give a binding estimate.

      Northgate Link is on budget last I heard. Lynnwood Link needs a little more due to real estate prices and permitting demands by Mountlake Terrace. There is nothing else in ST2 remaining in North King. If ST3 hadn’t existed, ST would extend the ST2 taxes to complete Lynnwood Link. So now you’re saying that because ST3 exists, ST can’t extend the taxes for Lynnwood Link because they’re pledged to ST3? That has never been the case before. ST3 taxes are effectively postponed to finish Lynnwood Link, not taken from.

      “There is no option how to use it, except ST 3 projects. IT IS CRITICAL EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THIS. ST wrote this legislation.”

      Do you have evidence of this? The grade-separated requirement is merely extending the monorail authority. I’ve seen no evidence that ST wrote the legislation or it’s limited to ST3 projects.

      1. AJ posts that it is foolish to think Seattle Subway will get into the grade separated light rail business, accurately estimate projects, pass a levy, and build them on time and on budget when ST failed and Seattle Subway has never built anything (including a monorail). I agree.

        The key to HB1304 is who is there that can actually build grade separated light rail (hence the limiting language in 1304), let alone a tunnel underneath Seattle? ST is not very honest on budget estimating when selling a levy, but it is about the only game in town that can build these multi-billion dollar projects.

        AJ also notes Seattle Subway and proponents of some of these non-ST projects have no idea what it costs to complete an EIS on a new major rail project, God forbid finding out you have to post-tension I-90 across the lake. Agree again. Often the actual construction is the easy part.

        Passing legislation like HB1304 that purposefully excludes every other city in WA is easy. I suppose even passing a levy is easy for grade separated transit (at least in Seattle) depending on how accurate you want to be about cost estimates, if anyone is actually questioning the numbers, and if you promise enough neighborhoods enough goodies.

        Otherwise why would the rest of Seattle fund a line from Ballard to UW if West Seattle is no longer getting rail when the line will end at a tunnel wall at the UW? Seattle Subway will tell ST running rail to West Seattle and even Ballard makes little sense, and ST will respond “No shit, Sherlock”. But if you want to pass a transit levy everyone has to get something. Ask Issaquah.

        But then what do you do with the tax revenue if you are Seattle Subway. First you spend a fortune on lawyers to begin an EIS that will take years and can only fund “grade separated transit”, try and mediate all the different interests, then try and outbid private developers and ST for the few contractors who can pull off a project like this, even if over budget, and realize Seattle is an undense city of neighborhoods with steep hills and bridges and wet soil, and the only game in town is ST, which ST always knew.

        Then if you are Seattle Subway you are going to learn the hard truth that ST knows: it all begins with a second transit tunnel through Seattle, hundreds of feet deep, with unknown soils and risks, so pony up $2.5 billion for just N. King County’s full share including cost overruns because the four other subareas don’t have the money for a $4 billion tunnel under Seattle. Otherwise you are just building “grade separated” stubs going nowhere. The second tunnel is so fraught with risk, and the last tunnel project so fresh in people’s minds, ST doesn’t even want to begin it, because there is no going back once you start digging.

        And then the tears and recriminations begin again for Seattle transit advocates.

        HB1304 is all about funding the second transit tunnel including cost overruns. That’s it. Seattle Subway’s dreams would cost over $20 billion, but in Seattle money rarely is a consideration when it comes to “transit”, or regional transit lines on a map like on the silly The Urbanist, which is why so little transit has been actually built for the money.

        If you are not going to build a second tunnel under Seattle then forget about additional transit projects, at least grade separated transit, and understand the tunnel will consume all the money, and despite my suspicions of ST I would rather not have Seattle Subway building that second tunnel.

    3. Daniel, you are Henny-Penny being smacked in the head by raindrops on a sunny day.

      While, yes, the portion of ST2 between Northgate and the county line has gotten more expensive (by about $1 billion) since the ST3 vote, so perhaps some “ST3 funds” are temporarily being spent on the Lynnwood extension, the total cost of less $3 billion is much less than North King’s ST3 costs. You make it sound like every penny of North King ST3 revenues until the end of time are being swallowed up by the White Whale of “Lynnwood of Bust!”

      So what if “the costs plus overruns of the second transit tunnel” will “consume all of a HB1304 levy”? If it gets the tunnel built it can be used for blended service as the existing tunnel did for nearly ten years with RV trains could reversing at Expedia. If blended operation is not acceptable, they could reverse at Northgate with some changes to the tail track.

      Either Ballard will develop enough by 2050 to make it worthwhile to build a rail line to it or it won’t, but the important additional capacity will exist to accommodate growth in downtown Seattle should it be needed. To make it kosher ST would just have to run at least one bus route through it.

      Obviously, if by 2024 or so downtown Seattle has not begun to recover, then the second tunnel isn’t needed anyway.

      1. Tom Terrific, if 1304 finishes the funding for the second transit tunnel then I agree that is logical, especially if it can handle buses.

        Not a very sexy project for a multi-billion 1304 levy, and not what I think Seattle Subway is dreaming of, but reality.

        But forget about 2024. I doubt construction would begin until 2030 at the earliest, if a 1304 levy passes. I don’t think ST can risk starting a second tunnel without additional levy funding from 1304, or an agreement among subareas to split the cost overruns.

        By 2050 I will probably be dead so I will leave it to others whether to complete ST 3 in Seattle then.

      2. Daniel,

        Oh I agree on the construction timetable. I mentioned 2024 because we really won’t know until then if downtown has genuinely recovered in a sustainable way. No decision on what should be built under the levy should be made until then at the absolute earliest.

        Having the extra Seattle money might mean that the tunnel could begin construction a year or two earlier than it is currently scheduled.

    4. “first/last mile”
      Yes, first/last mile is a big issue. We tend to focus on building rail as it’s attractive, but it is unrealistic to expect all of Seattle to be accessible within a 10min walkshed to a light rail station, neither topography nor budget will allow that to happen. Running feeder buses every 5min will get too expensive. Fortunately HB 1304 allows for aerial transport. For example you could use a gondola to connect Bitter Lake and Lake City with the NE 130th station and effectively triple the high frequency walkshed and probably quadruple ridership at that station.

      1. Sorry Mr Pagel but HB 1304 explicitly says that “vehicles suspended from cables” are not eligible. This money could not be used for a gondola as now written.

        It appears that other cable pulled technologies would be allowed, such as inclines and funiculars and cable liner pinched loop trains. These technologies allow for lighter vehicles and track supports as well as steeper grades than light rail does. However, they don’t go 55 mph like light rail can. Something like the Oakland Airport BART may work well for West Seattle — perhaps the light weight could even be supported on the existing bridge (and possibly for connecting SLU to Capitol Hill or as an eventual replacement for the monorail when it eventually reaches the end of its life).

        I personally wish a targeted assessment of cable-pulled last-mile trains could get at least put on the table and studied as a way to tie in the skipped urban villages and centers that we have (like First Hill, North Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Fremont, University Village, Lake City). They are much quieter than light rail is, the light design makes them less obtrusive on a street and they are much cheaper to build than light rail is.

      2. Al, again, as long as the aerial transport is connected to rail, it’s allowed under HB 1304… Yes, cable pulled systems should be an option, but gondolas are more flexible as they run continuously and can scale hills, important for QA/Fremont and even UVillage. They typically can be built for tenth of the cost of light rail. Check out http://www.westseattleskylink.org

    5. Besides the travel time, especially if you mean the *scheduled* travel time, reliability and frequency are huge considerations. Pre-Covid before the UW campus closed, I had to account for the possibility of traffic delays on the bus if I had to be somewhere at a certain time. This easily doubles the effective trip time that I need to plan around! If the first/last mile busses can run more frequently and reliably than the one seat express–that’s a huge win in my book, even if it means having slightly longer *scheduled* travel time with the transfer penalty. Of course, the critical factor will be how frequent and reliable those first/last mile busses will be. (And I’m not even going try getting a park and ride spot after 8 AM, LOL).

      1. “reliability and frequency are huge considerations”
        That’s why gondolas make a far better solution for first/last mile: reliable, high frequency connection, capacity and speed is secondary.

  4. One of the alternate Seattle rail projects is of course the metro 8 subway.

    I recently noticed a lot of construction is taking place near Denny and Boren. So I opened Seattle in Progress to see what was being built. There’s about 3,500 units actively under construction within a few blocks waking distance.

    If the metro 8 was a good idea before, it will likely be an even better idea now

    1. I believe the pro Gondola crowd first laid claim to Denny way first (even before the birth of the Metro 8 subway). I expect that to be the BRT alternative (as in “let’s have BRT instead of light rail” = “let’s build a gondola instead of the Metro 8”

    2. The Metro 8 subway is made less valuable by the ST routing to Ballard. A lot of people (myself included) feel like Link should have gone to Ballard via Belltown. Then a Metro 8 subway would simply end at the Lower Queen Anne Station. It would add two or three stations in South Lake Union (e. g. Fairview, 7th). It wouldn’t have the awkward turn, but instead go straight across (at Thomas or Harrison). It would pretty much cover South Lake Union, while the Ballard line covered Belltown. If the new downtown tunnel went to First Hill, pretty much all of greater downtown would be covered. The various lines would complement each other. For example, someone who came from Aurora would take the train both directions (towards Lower Queen Anne or towards Capitol Hill/Central Area).

      With a new Metro 8 subway, the southern end is obvious (Mount Baker Station) but now the northern end isn’t. You could end it at Capitol Hill, but that is very short, and doesn’t make the connection to South Lake Union. It also leaves most of South Union without coverage. By extending the line, you get another really good station in South Lake Union (e. g. Fairview and Harrison) which would cover the area fairly well. You could end at 7th (which is the Aurora stop) but that isn’t really a destination. You could tie into the Ballard line, but that makes operations more complicated, and ending the line isn’t obvious (unless the plan was to double frequency to Ballard — a reverse split). On the other hand, running another line to Lower Queen Anne would be very expensive. Another option I considered is to loop around towards Belltown (after 9th). It could end in Belltown, which would be an improvement, but weird, since it would have no connection to Westlake (for places to the south). Extending it to Westlake and tying into the new tunnel would be better, but cost a bunch.

      I’m not saying we can’t build a line, but what we’ve built before makes it all a bit awkward.

      1. Could have a station adjacent to the ST3 SLU/Aurora station for transfers and then run the line up to Fremont? That seems better than a reverse split while still not missing the easy connection, and avoids needing to splice the line into the Ballard line.

      2. It’s unfortunate that a systems plan wasn’t done with more alternative configurations. Now we are committed to build the Ballard/SLU line and station locations can’t deviate by more than a two or three blocks.

        It seems to me that the transfer doesn’t have to be at Westlake. It could have been at University St or at Capitol Hill. With Macy’s gone and online shopping replacing in-store shopping, Westlake is overrated as a destination now. Most buses are on Third Ave and the express routes will be replaced by Link anyway.

        Suspending reality, I think a good case for the SLU line running east to Capitol Hill Station, then turning south for a First Hill Station before returning to the alignment at ID. The SLU segment could even be aerial to save money with a portal near I-5 Of course, the real estate Illuminati won’t let that alignment happen.

      3. Is 15th still an alternative in Ballard? Then we can build that without a supplemental EIS. I don’t see need to move the SLU/Denny Triangle stations. I assume that’s referring to the Aurora one. There are arguments for and against that (another location would have more pedestrian traffic; Aurora facilitates transfers to the E). Regional transfers to the E are important, especially since there is no Aurora Link line. As for moving the transfer from Westlake, Westlake is the most important station, alongside Intl Dist. Westlake is where practically all downtown buses transfer, the only place to catch East Seattle buses, and it’s the center of the retail district and has the mezzanine. (Although the mezzanie’s value is diminished now that two of the three department store entrances are closed.)

      4. You think Westlake is the highest ridership station in the network because people go shopping at Macy’s?

      5. Westlake may have lots of transferring today, but the bus system will be changing by 2026. Count how many buses will be on Third Ave (over University St Station) versus how many will be on Pike and Pine Streets (Westlake) once many express buses disappear after 2025.

        Capitol Hill has had 70 percent of Westlake’s boardings, and University St has had 50 percent. The differences are not that profound and will probably fade further after I-5 and Fourth/Fifth bus riders move to rail.

        I’m not saying to close Westlake station. I’m merely pointing out that it doesn’t “have” to be the transfer point.

      6. It will be interesting to see what happens to Westlake ridership after the SLU & Denny station open, since right now Westlake is functionally the ‘end of the line’ for the CBD.

      7. I think I heard about the Metro 8 subway before the gondola, although I’m not sure.

        The Metro 8 subway came out of a public comment when ST was updating the long-range plan in 2014. They’d recommended a Ballard-West Seattle alignment that went east on Denny/John and Jackson to 23rd instead of going through downtown. ST put it on the candidate list, but the almost universal feedback was, “Huh? Who would ride a route like that? The major demand is too downtown.” The boardmembers didn’t understand who would ride it either, so they dropped it from the potential updates. But later parts of the corridor emerged as a Metro 8 line or a Seattle Subway extension. The first concepts I saw were on Denny/John/23rd from Uptown to Garfield High School. Another extended it south to Renton. Seattle Subway made it a hook end another line if I remember. Another concept is a diagonal line from Uptown to the Denny Triangle, Swedish Central, Swedish Cherry Hill, and Garfield HS, but this wouldn’t serve Capitol Hill Station or the retail district there.

        The concept of a diagonal line raised awareness that there’s no northwest-southeast bus route between SLU and First Hill, and the existing transit options are ridiculously bad. I experience that now myself going from Summit to either of the Swedishes; I end up walking the whole way. There’s no point in walking several blocks east to the streetcar just to ride it a couple stops. And going to 12th & James or 17th & Jefferson, there’s likewise no bus option. That’s kind of surprising for such a dense mixed-use area. Metro has belatedly proposed a 106 extension on Boren to connect SLU to First Hill and Little Saigon.

        The gondola concepts I’ve seen mostly have three stations: Uptown, SLU, and Capitol Hill Station. That would get people up and down the hill. It wouldn’t address some other parts of Metro 8: First Hill, Cherry Hill, Garfield HS, 15th & John, or 23rd & John. Although I guess other goldola concepts could, if a gondola can bend down over a hill or turn rather that just being a straight ascending line.

      8. Mike, I could certainly envision a gondola half circle from Belltown to Denny to John/15th to Garfield HS, Cherry Hill, Harborview/Yesler Terrace to King St Station to connect the various North/South lines. For now BRT along 23rd Ave might be enough, long term i could still envision another subway line there.

      9. Seems like there are two different problems trying to be solved.

        1. Better connection between SLU and Cap Hill. I suppose this could be down with a gondola given the incline, but seems much more straightforward to just improve the 8 itself, by either fixing Denny or just giving the bus its own congestion free path across I5.

        2. Better connection between SLU and First Hill. This would have been done cleanly by moving the ST3 Midtown station, but I understand why the Board prioritized SLU to downtown over SLU to First Hill (downtown is always the more important trip pair, and forcing a transfer to travel short distances should be avoided). Here, it seems like the solution is to provide great service along the “Boren” corridor. Sure we could build a tunnel or an elevated alignment, but if Madison BRT is successful connecting downtown to First Hill, I’d recommend we just repeat that playbook along Boren.

        So for the Metro 8, that really only leaves the Cap Hill to Central Area connection, and while the density there is great, Rapid Ride service along 23rd should be sufficient?

        If ST3 was going through Belltown, I’d be much more open to Metro 8 tunnel. But with the ST3 alignment, Metro 8 isn’t only awkward, it’s mostly unnecessary. The remaining corridors (Denny, Boren, 23th) all merit excellent bus service but I don’t think any will have the capacity requirements to merit rail.

      10. Yes, you can’t do both #1 and #2 with a straight line, so a Metro 8 subway would have to choose one or the other and leave the other unserved.

        The prioritization from downtown to SLU is for commuters to/from SLU from the Link suburbs or transferring from Sounder or a bus downtown. The ST board has not thought far enough about First Hill’s need for high-capacity transit, or the possibilities of FH or CH Link-to-Link transfers instead of downtown. But on the other hand, most bus transfers to everywhere else are downtown, and can’t be accessed directly from Capitol Hill Station or a First Hill station, and Sounder is in the same position.

        It’s ironic that First Hill is a larger jobs center than SLU, and it has the all-important hospitals with 24-hour travel. And Belltown has more highrise apartments than SLU. But the difference is that SLU is new and a tech hub, so they want to get high-capacity transit to it. First Hill and Belltown are “old” construction, so everybody there knew there wasn’t high-capacity transit when they moved there, and the neighborhoods aren’t generating new high-tech jobs or pleasing Paul Allen. So it’s unimportant to serve them. I think that’s backward, but that’s the ST board’s and government leaders’ de facto attitude.

        Of course, everybody missed that highrises in SLU would require high-capacity transit. Seattle, ST, and Metro all thought the streetcar and 70 would be enough. But they got overwhelmed, and Metro rushed to get several more routes into there: the C, 40, 62, and the Sounder peak expresses. But that still wasn’t enough, so belatedly in 2016 Metro added SLU to the already-planned Ballard-downtown Link concept. That was needed. But they continue to deny the same need in First Hill and Belltown.

  5. “The design of Sound Transit is driven by the “spine” between Tacoma and Everett.”

    I’ll quibble here. The political coalition for Sound Transit (the project portfolio) is held together by the Spine, but the spine itself 1) has little to do the structure of ST, and 2) ST’s operating structure has some serious evolution to do before being able to run light rail across county lines, given its 100% dependence on KCM for Link Operations. There are some deep design issues baked into Sound Move and ST2 than still remain to be resolved before ST3 is complete.

    Instead, the design of Sound Transit (the agency, not the project portfolio) is driven by the need to pool financial resources, manage long term cash flows, and create project delivery infrastructure that can handle megaprojects (commenters will take pot shots, but ST is clearly the only agency in the region aside from WSDOT capable of delivering multi-billion public works). Those 3 needs – financial strength, financial flexibility, and technical capabilities – will not go away after the Spine. Personally, I am highly confident there will be an ST4 because while the demand for new rail in Seattle is likely bottomless, the demand for transportation infrastructure in general remains bottomless throughout the growing region.

    Even if there is no ST4, Sound Transit will remain at the center of major regional projects. I could easily see a Ballard-UW project be delivered simillar to the BART extension to San Jose, where VTA is funding the project but BART is responsible for project delivery & operations. ST may not levy to taxes to fund Ballard-UW, but it is highly likely to manage the mega-project.

    1. AJ, at the risk of going deep into a counterfactual, if there was no interest in light rail to Everett and Tacoma, I tend to think Link could very easily have been a King County project. No need for an entirely new layer of government!

      1. “AJ, at the risk of going deep into a counterfactual, if there was no interest in light rail to Everett and Tacoma, I tend to think Link could very easily have been a King County project. No need for an entirely new layer of government!”

        With subarea equity Link is actually a King Co. project, from the Snohomish Co. line to S. King Co. When the subareas were first drawn decades ago N. King Co. (Seattle) had all the revenue, and so got saddled with funding the spine to Snohomish Co. and S. King Co. With the N. King Co. subarea paying those costs it would have been foolish for Snohomish Co. to not finish the line to Everett, and Pierce Co. to finish the line from the county line to Tacoma, with access to Seattle and the airport although there is little in it for Seattle. Selling the four other subareas on funding half the second transit tunnel was a much tougher sell in ST 3, which is why ST lowballed the estimated cost.

        The eastside subarea ended up paying its fare share, which includes all costs east of the Mount Baker tunnel, and 100% of the east/west ST buses until East Link opens, which will cost close to $1 billion overall, but then no one anticipated the current general fund revenue on the entire eastside decades ago so ST uses the eastside subarea to massage funding gaps in N. King Co. as much as it can, or Bellevue allows. Of course, if ST had actually looked at a map of east King Co. back then, and the topography, sheer size, and lack of density, it probably would have decided running rail — let alone any transit — in east King Co. made little sense, and still does, but here we are.

        I don’t share AJ’s optimism for ST 4 so every subarea, rather than just N. King Co., can pay for ST 3 twice, and the other subareas don’t need more transit. One Issaquah to Kirkland line is foolish enough.

        In the end, the Achilles heel for ST, especially in Seattle, is first/last mile access. The frequency needed for feeder buses, so adding a seat and transfer to rail for most trips for a rail line nearly 90 miles through many undense areas (like 90%), was never something Metro could afford. Rogoff looked at downtown Seattle– Capitol Hill — UW and thought the rest of the three country region looked like that, when it looks more like a forest.

        Find a way to fund the second transit tunnel, even if N. King Co. has to pay all the costs above $2.2 billion, and let West Seattle (and Dow) and Ballard know express buses to a downtown bus tunnel are better than rail stubs in Sodo and Smith Cove.

        If I were writing legislation for 1304 I would limit it to the second transit tunnel, and first/last mile bus frequency, because if trips are longer with rail riders are going to be livid.

      2. I agree, Daniel, that we don’t need light rail to WS but buses are still prone to delays due to traffic and accidents while an aerial gondola provides grade separated ROW and therefore reliable high frequency transit. As the HB 1304 name “grade-separated transportation” suggests, it should make it clear that aerial gondolas are included as they provide a far more prudent way to serve West Seattle.
        In fact ST3 could skip building a Ballard bridge and end at Interbay. One gondola line could serve Ballard downtown, Greenwood, and Holman Rd and another line Seattle Pacific Univ and Fremont. It would save money and increase ridership. We could also run a gondola as Boeing spur and even serve Mukilteo and/or Paine Field and save $1b by running along I-5 to Everett.

      3. Perhaps, but I’m skeptical. If there was an easy path for all day Sounder in Sound Move, I could see the counterfactual where a *light rail* Spine was not an organizing principle. There would still have been Sound Transit to stand-up Link and fund the other modes, but perhaps it would have remained closer to its original vision as an agency that primarily funds county operations.

        But the Spine is ultimately about two things – #1 knitting together the 3 county region into a coherent whole, and #2 collaborating on a shared vision that is great than the sum of its parts. 1 & 2 remain true without light rail technology.

        So I’ll counter your counterfactual on two levels:
        1) even if Link was handed over to KCM in full, there would have been something like Sounder crossing county lines. I suppose it could be managed through inter-local agreements but do we really want to run multi-billion capital projects through a structure that muddles ownership? That would be Bay Area level balkanization, but without BART!
        2) Let’s say Link gets to 185th and stops; does Snohomish then only need to pitch in for a nice bus transfer facility and otherwise only contributes to Link via fares? Same for Pierce leveraging the Federal Way transit center. If so, that’s a pretty sweet deal for S & P: they get the full benefit of bus truncation while paying for none of the system-wide Link assets! Fares don’t even cover operating costs, so King is 100% on the hook to maintain State of Good Repair.

        #1 underscores that our region has evolved from two major metros (Seattle & Tacoma) and one big plane factory (Everett) into a single, multi-nodal region. An approach that solely relies on the three counties independently providing transit will always fall short. There is a need for that “extra” layer of government (short of just merging the 3 counties).

        #2 underscores a point I try to make often on this blog: King County is getting a really good deal with ST1+2+3. By sharing risk and having the other counties pick up a share of the tab for system-wide assets, King County is able to deliver more Link within King. (This is even more obvious in the other modes: North King pays nothing for Sounder and ST Express but clearly benefits (moderately) from both modes). I know you understand subarea equity, but even a brief look at the project sequencing shows that King is always at the front of the line; Tacoma’s & Everett’s ‘finish the spine’ mantra does not distract from King’s post-Spine plans but rather enabled ST3’s funding of two entirely non-spine Link corridors in Seattle.

        I firmly believe that the ‘spine’ has allowed for Seattle & King County to deliver more & sooner than if King had gone alone. Sound Transit is a win-win collaboration for the region; all of the 3 counties would be worse off if any one of them left (or never joined, per your counterfactual).

        All that said – now that the Spine has midwifed Link into reality, I do agree that Sound Transit will need a new organizing principle to create the politics for ST4. Personally, I think this coalition will be easy to achieve, but I totally understand many will disagree and see a need for Seattle/King County to move forward without S & P, mostly on the basis of Seattle’s seemingly infinite willingness to tax itself. I would just caution that Seattle’s ability to tax itself to not matched by its ability to delver major transportation projects.

      4. In 1990, the chair of the house transportation committee and author of the enabling legislation was from Tacoma. The state did want to give the authority tha King County.

    1. You don’t see the image in the article? Click on “Link” next to it and the map is also on page 22.

  6. I think everybody assumes that if the city decides on a light rail line, it would ask ST to build it. If it’s in ST’s long-range plan like Ballard-UW, then ST could simply accelerate it. That’s what happened with Ballard-downtown: McGinn gave ST money to accelerate that study. It would otherwise have occurred in the mid 2020s. However, ST might refuse to accept the commission. And you’d need ST’s consent to expand U-District Station into a transfer station, or to make a gondola “an integral component of” any ST station. If ST says no, there’s no one else who could really do it. Seattle Subway is not a construction company; it’s a group of citizens like STB. Given how half-assed Seattle was with the monorail, I’m not sure I’d want it doing light rail construction or planning the blueprints.

    1. Ha, I definitely wouldn’t want us doing that either. We have a plan for others to make a serious plan. ;)

      Getting the city on board with an approved long range plan for Link expansion is a bigger win than I think people here realize.

      For one – it’s never been done, which seems outlandish to say out loud.

      Second: it will drive better outcomes and cost savings at literally every step of the expansion process.

      Third: I want Sound Transit to post in service/planned maps like DC did (does?) when I grew up there and most of the lines were greyed out. Those maps take a not small amount of credit/blame for my involvement in Seattle Subway.

      1. Come on Kyle, get your facts straight. All three of your points are wrong.

        There is a long range plan for Link, it simply needs to be updated from the last time it was done (2014).

        ST has already fully funded an update of the long range plan and HCT studies of a Ballard-UW + 2nd Lake Washington and West Seattle to Burien. Those studies are explicitly included to accelerate project timelines and ultimately save money.

        ST has ‘future in service maps’ – they are all over its website. Did you want ST to just keep up all of its ST3 advertising in perpetuity? What about all the community outreach for the WSBLE EIS process, did you miss all of that?

        To do something like what Seattle Subway wants to do would be a *departure* from the existing long range plan. There is not a void to be filled but an existing plan that needs to be updated. Those are two very different things. If you want to accelerate the next update of the long range plan, go for it. But please don’t pretend there isn’t a plan, but rather a plan you don’t like.

      2. Ok, I’ll bite.

        1). I’m aware of the Sound Transit Long Range Plan. As Martin notes ITA, it’s a plan that has long been obsessed with the spine. It is absolutely not a long teem term plan for a citywide Link system in Seattle.

        2). The downsides of planning line by line are extremely evident in what ST has done already. Property acquisition downsides alone will cost billions. I could go on but we’ve laid out many examples in our posts here.

        3). Ha, you’re claiming that my anecdote about myself is wrong? That’s quite a move. ST’s planned expansion is posted nowhere on their trains or buses. There were two on every Metro segment.

      3. 3) haha yes I guess I am. I trust you saw all the ST3 literature in the ramp up to the vote.

        2) I’m not sure what your criticism here is then, unless it’s just “more & faster”?

        1) See my thread above with Martin – IMO, the ‘spine’ is branding for something that was always needed, light rail or otherwise. We could have also built a freeway bus spine (basically 405 Stride) or a Sounder spine.

        I’ll concede that a regional HCT plan won’t focus on most Seattle corridors because they aren’t regionally significant. But then if you focus on Seattle and want to create a plan for high *frequency* transit corridors, you are now duplicated KCM’s long range plans. The right approach is to then look at the RR corridors and diagnose which merit an upgrade to rail. The 7 & J, the C & D, and the 44 are covered by existing, funded, or planned Link projects, respectively. Madison is getting BRT and the E I firmly believe should be BRT, not rail (as I’ve argued on The Urbanist). The 40 could have been rail in lieu of the D, but we don’t need both. Much of the rationale for Metro 8 has been covered by the SLU ‘curve’ in ST3, and the connection to Cap Hill needs a congestion-free I5 crossing, not an upgrade to rail. I think Seattle would be in a much, much better position if it could make its bus network awesome rather than just make one single rail corridor awesome, and a thoughtful long term plan should come to the same conclusion. Asking “where should we put grade-separated rail? ” should not be the first question, just like we shouldn’t go around asking ‘where do we want to run our streetcars’ or monorails. Plan the corridors, then identify the modes.

        Seattle needs many high frequency, high reliability, high mobility corridors. It has few needs for high *capacity* corridors. Building a rail line where a good bus line would have sufficed is far more expensive than the cost overruns we are facing now.

      4. “Seattle needs many high frequency, high reliability, high mobility corridors”
        I totally agree, Al, but you need to a ton of buses and bus lanes if you want to make that happen. That quickly gets almost as expensive as a subway. I think it’s a lot easier and affordable if you build urban gondolas in particular with the topography you have in Seattle.

      5. ST’s long-range plan is typically updated in the run-up to a ballot measure. Since there’s not even a timeline for ST4 yet, there’s little reason to update the LRP. ST3 is 50% larger than ST1 or 2, so it includes things that were expected to be in “ST4”. That will keep ST busy for twenty years (plus any recession delays) before it will be able to consider anything more. Studies for certain corridors are included in ST3 as you pointed out. These largely are the ones that were second-choice in ST3 and didn’t make it in. (“Second-choice” in the board’s opinion, of course.) So those will presumably be in front of the line when ST starts deciding on ST4 projects.

        Also, until ST3 is finished, any ST4 taxes would be on top of ST3. The ST 1 and 2 tax streams will be redirected to ST3 when all the ST1/2 projects are finished (minus debt service and ongoing operations), so the actual tax rate will remain ST1+2+3 until ST3 ends. Many constituents think that rate is already a stretch and aren’t interested in anything higher.

      6. If ST decides to modify ST3 in another vote (to redefine projects, not add more), then it might update the LRP then. But there’s no indication it will do this. Merely asking to raise the debt:revenue limit or add an additional tax for existing projects would not necessarily trigger an LRP update.

        In the unlikely case ST reopens the LRP without a concrete concept for ST4 or modifications to ST3, it wouldn’t be a utopia of completeness or urban transit planning. The board would still have the same tendencies it has now, and the same mandate to connect PSRC growth centers. It would just be more horse-trading, and the result not necessarily better. ST can only change if boardmembers change their minds or are replaced. And if none of the projects are submitted to voters for ten or twenty years, a new board will be in place and it might throw it away, so what would we have gained in the meantime?

      7. If you want to make a new rail plan for Seattle, Metro’s LRP would be the place to start. Seattle’s transit master plan came first, in 2012. That’s when the half-dozen RapidRide+/streetcar corridors were identified. The corridors are still valid because the major travel patterns haven’t changed. Metro’s long-range plan mostly deferred to Seattle’s TMP. Metro’s innovations were in the lesser routes around them. You can go back to Seattle’s TMP for the justifications and goals of those corridors, and adapt some of them to light rail if you want. The “Metro 8” corridor is not in any of the plans so it would have to be added. The earlier monorail LRP (a half-dozen lines) had similar corridors, such as one on 35th Ave NE/23rd Ave, and something to South Park.

        Above all, no mixed-traffic streetcars anywhere! Seattle’s TMP recommended streetcars on Westlake and Eastlake (routes 40 and 70). A streetcar is only worthwhile if it at minimum it has its own lanes like MLK. Otherwise a lower-cost trolleybus is better.

  7. Are there any subareas other than N. King Co. that are asking to modify their ST projects, or who are stating they will have funding problems completing their projects (assuming their contribution to the second transit tunnel is limited to the original cost estimate of $2.2 billion)?

    I know the Urbanist has an article about increased costs for light rail and bus bases, but if four subareas think they can complete their projects with their current funding why would the Board reopen ST 3 or propose ST 4? I thought that was the whole point of HB 1304: to allow the N. King Co. subarea to raise the additional funding to complete some of its ST 3 projects in its area (although the funding need is now at $11.5 billion).

    The problem with “horse trading” in a ST 4 is many of the high population areas already have the projects they wanted out of ST 2 and 3. For example, where would ST sell ST 4 on the eastside? Renton? Bothell? Bellevue citizens and Issaquah/Kirkland/Redmond citizens, and Mercer Island citizens, wouldn’t see any benefit from ST 4, and everyone is so much more skeptical of ST these days and its promises.

    Complete the spine and prove to everyone it works, which will come down to frequency and first/mile access, along with any changes from working from home. But at least let me ride a train to Bellevue or Redmond or Tacoma or Everett before raising ST 4.

    1. “Are there any subareas other than N. King Co. that are asking to modify their ST projects”

      No, none have asked for tunnels or additions beyond the representative alignment in the ballot measure. None have asked to reduce or truncate their lines and reallocate the money to other projects. Transit fans have suggested converting the Issaquah, Everett, and Tacoma Dome projects to BRT, but those subareas haven’t.

      “or who are stating they will have funding problems completing their projects”

      Everett and Paine Field were always a stretch in the ST3 budget, and remain so. Pierce has its peculiar issue with secession threats. A Pierce boardmember said if Tacoma Dome can’t be finished on time by 2031, he would pursue secession. Pierce has a large down payment on the line saved up from ST1 and 2, so it doesn’t have the price pressures North King and Snohomish have. However, a recent elevation addition was added to avoid crossing Indian land around Fife. That’s not really in the same category as voluntary additions or real-estate price increases, it’s more of a legal requirement.

      Reopening ST3 is theoretical speculation at this point. The board has not decided how it will address the revenue shortfall, and of course it doesn’t know what the shortfall will be in the future because it depends on the unpredictable economy. ST can reduce the scope of some projects without a vote. But if it wants to make wider changes it might require a vote. There’s no indication that it wants to, but maybe in the future it might decide to. We have no idea and only vague guesses what a package of changes might be, and it’s still unlikely it would happen at all. Most likely ST will simply extend the timelines to compensate for subarea funding gaps, or defer or truncate some pieces.

      If you’re correct that East King has plenty of money, then it has nothing to worry about. Except the fate of DSTT2, and how canceling DSTT2 might affect East Link if other expansions still occur. (Or even if they don’t occur, since there already concerns about overcrowding just with Lynnwood and Federal Way, which would worsen East Link’s reliability. Some people worry about this and others don’t, but it’s still potentially an issue.)

      An “ST4” to supplement funding of existing ST3 projects is still a speculative concept at this point, not something ST has indicated it might consider.

      “I thought that was the whole point of HB 1304: to allow the N. King Co. subarea to raise the additional funding to complete some of its ST 3 projects in its area ”

      That’s where you’re misleading yourself. The purpose of HB 1304 is to loosen restrictions on the monorail authority to allow light rail mode. It’s not directly related to plugging the ST3 gap. It’s just giving Seattle the option of using it for ST3 or something else. The 2010-2018 era estimate of the monorail authority was that it could raise $1 billion. That’s enough for a small project, up to most of Ballard-UW, but not enough for Ballard-downtown-WS tunnels or the recent real-estate price increases. It might be enough for the Intl Dist deep alternative. It might be enough for a Metro 8 line. (Although I’m skeptical, especially for all the way from QA to 23rd.)

      1. RE: deviations from ST3 outside of N King, I’ll note two major updates
        1) Stride had made a number of major changes. Generally these a good, such as working with WSDOT to move most of 405 north into center lanes, and some are value engineering such as dropping some station from 522 Stride. Also, the bus base will accommodate more bus bases than in the representative alignment.

        2) The elevated alignment in Puyallup tribal land, which you noted. I disagree that this is different than the various tunnel/elevated demands placed on WSBLE. The tribe may have stronger moral/legal standing than the various Seattle special interest grounds, but it’s still an external requirement that greatly increases cost (I believe over a billion) with zero improvement in mobility.

      2. “Stride had made a number of major changes.”

        I meant things that substantially raised the price, like adding a tunnel or station. There’s always small changes and variations as the project goes through design. 522 dropping stations and deferring the 85th interchange are cost-saving measures that wouldn’t be done if money weren’t tight. I didn’t know the 522 line had dropped stations.

    2. Re Metro 8 being higher cost than Ballard-UW even though they’re the same length, I’m assuming that going under the densest areas and a transfer interface to a central station (CH, Westlake, Univ St, or DSTT2 Madison) would be more expensive.

  8. SHB 1304 limits the MVET rate to one-half the ST rate. In the aughts, the SMP won approval for a rate of 1.4 percent. That was insufficient to fund their initial line. Have proponents calculated the revue in Seattle from various rates that might be put before the electorate? What revenue would be yielded by a rate of .55 percent?

    See: http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1304-S.pdf?q=20210218160829

    From the staff analysis:
    “Substitute Bill Compared to Original Bill: The substitute bill makes the following change: limits the rate of the motor vehicle excise tax that may be imposed by a city transportation authority to one-half of the rate of a motor vehicle excise tax imposed by a regional transit authority within the same area”.

    The MVET rate is 1.1 percent, or $110 per $10,000 of assessed vehicle value.

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