Senate Bill 5528’s local option will provide significant benefits for regional and citywide rapid transit expansion.

The 2022 legislative session is starting off with a bang this week. Before the first week is done Senate Bill 5528 will have a hearing in the transportation committee. The bill picks up where last year’s HB 1304 left off but expands the function to a regional level under the governance of Sound Transit.  A city, subarea, county, or combination thereof will have the option to create an “Enhanced Service Zone” to target the investments their voters care about most

SB 5528 allows the Sound Transit Board to give voters the opportunity to fund faster construction timelines on existing projects and/or fund new transit improvements and services for individual cities and sub-areas within the Sound Transit district. 

What is possible is only limited by what the individual cities and their voters want. Some sample potential projects and Enhanced Service Zones:

Pierce and South King

  • Fund increased Sounder frequency, capacity, and operating hours

Snohomish

  • Speed up ST3 expansion to Everett

Seattle

  • Speed up Ballard and West Seattle Link expansion
  • Add desired improvements to the existing ST3 plan including expansion features for Aurora Corridor, Crosstown Corridors, and to serve Georgetown & South Park

Seattle, Renton, and King County

  • Fund Link expansion beyond what is in ST3 (AKA – ST4)

The funding mechanisms included in the bill (requiring voter approval) are a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) not to exceed 1.5%, and a commercial parking tax.

We already know that Seattle voters overwhelmingly want to speed up (71% support) and expand Link (76% support).  SB 5528 makes that, and much more, possible. 

SB 5528 already has a hearing in the transportation committee this Thursday, January 13.  Please join us in supporting this bill.  To show your support we need 45 seconds of your time before Thursday:

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Click here to “give written testimony”

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Also – a huge thank you to Senator Jamie Pedersen, and Senator Marco Liias, who is the new Senate Transportation Committee Chair, for sponsoring this excellent bill.

71 Replies to “SB 5528 Gives Transit Power Back to Voters”

  1. Cue Eastsider haranguing about tax capacity and “overpriced” transportation projects that don’t solve all social problems.

    I’m wondering what other folks think about the potential quasi-balkanization of the ST service area if more than just a Seattle ESZ actually makes it to ballot. Does this kill near-future ST-wide ballot measures? I imagine ST will probably have to run a ballot to perpetuate its funding after 2042, but I struggle to see how the outer counties will support additional taxation since there aren’t a lot of large, worthwhile new capital projects worth doing by ST outside of Seattle, except maybe electrification of Sounder (but even that really ought to be a federal requirement that BNSF electrify all their urban freight lines, not ST’s onus).

    If SB5528 hits Inslee’s desk this year, the logical step is a 2024 ballot measure for a Seattle-specific ST4, establishing the Seattle ESZ, accelerating delivery of WSBLE, and maybe beginning work on a 4th line in Seattle (Aurora? Ballard-UW?).

    1. I think it is highly unlikely that there will ever be another ST wide ballot measure. There is just too little support outside Seattle. Pierce County already has no interest (they voted against ST3). Snohomish County wanted ST3 because they thought it was essential for Lynnwood Link. Once Link gets to Lynnwood, and the work has begun on Everett Link, support to the north for an expansion will dry up. There isn’t much that can be added to the east, as Issaquah to South Kirkland is a joke (Speed that up? Why?). The issues with using the CKC haven’t gone away — ST simply ignored the corridor for ST3.

      There is still support for major, expensive improvements in Seattle, while most of the other areas shift to other (much cheaper) transit projects. I can easily imagine Bellevue, or some combination of Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond passing a bus improvement project, given the pathetic level of service that exists on the East Side currently. But a major set of projects gaining widespread support outside Seattle? That seems highly unlikely.

      1. If the parts of Pierce that voted in favor of ST3 (most of Tacoma + Sounder station areas) continue to grow faster than the rest of Pierce, it’s plausible an ST4 would preform much better than ST3 in Peirce.

        Snohomish – Everett Link is overbudget, plus there are several unfunded infill stations. Snohomish may be interested in ST4 for the same reason Seattle is – it might be needed simply to get ST3 project across the finish line.

        East – lots of opportunity to invest in 405 Stride, particularly around Renton. Lots of opportunity to improve the CKC & the I90 corridor (Stride? More stations? Serve the Highlands?) extensions.

      2. An enhanced service zone doesn’t need to include all of Pierce that’s in the ST district. It could include just Tacoma, which did vote strongly in favor for ST3.

        I think the only reason the ST district in Pierce is as large as it is is to bring more car dealers into the district, whose sales tax revenue pays the bills. If cars were taxed according to the jurisdiction of the buyer’s home, rather than the dealer, this would cease to be an issue.

    2. The subareas were always headed for a collision when the Spine is completed. The single tax district was structured that way to complete the Spine: the suburban subareas were afraid they couldn’t reach 50% without Seattle’s votes. Under subarea equity, each subarea gets a proportional amount based on its revenues from a common tax rate. So ST 1/2/3 incrementally built the Spine at these proportions. ST3 was expanded to include things previously expected in ST4: Everett Station, the Paine Field addition, Ballard, and Issaquah-Kirkland, and maybe Sounder Dupont and additional runs and Tacoma 19th Ave. (North King prioritized West Seattle, so Ballard needed the expansion to get full Link instead of a streetcar extension) The subareas were impatient to get all that approved in one vote, rather than having more years of uncertainty until a second vote.

      The Spine was originally defined as Everett Station, Tacoma Dome, and Redmond downtown. With all that approved, some subareas may want more and other subareas less than a proportional distribution would yield. North King wants a lot. Snohomish and Pierce want relatively small extensions to Everett College and Tacoma Mall. South King may or may not still be enthused about a West Seattle-Burien-Renton extension. East King might think about extending the Issaquah line to Kirkland and Totem Lake and then decide not to.

      City-specific votes would allow each city to choose its projects and tax rate. They would still have to coordinate with adjacent cities for Link extensions or BRT routes, but they wouldn’t have to wait for ST# or get the entire ST district to agree to new taxes.

      I’m skeptical suburban cities would get around to Link extensions. The Burien-Renton extension would probably cost more than Burien, Tukwila, and Renton on their own can raise. Kirkland would find it easier to make Stride multi-line than to extend Link (especially with an inevitable routing controversy in southern Kirkland). There’s no reason Kirkland can’t have an S4 from Totem Lake to downtown Kirkland and downtown Bellevue overlapping S2. And I’d like to see Stride on 167.

      1. The subareas were always headed for a collision when the Spine is completed.

        Bingo.

        If the parts of Pierce that voted in favor of ST3 (most of Tacoma + Sounder station areas) continue to grow faster than the rest of Pierce

        Right, but there are orders of magnitude difference between what Tacoma needs (better bus service) and what Seattle would get from even the smallest ST4 package (UW to Ballard). Hell, even the extension for Tacoma ignores downtown! Likewise, a bunch of East Link STride would be nice, but you are basically just repackaging a Metro funding proposal (with higher costs). Meanwhile, if your biggest argument to Snohomish County voters is that ST4 is needed to finish what was promised in ST3, you are in a bunch of trouble (especially since a lot of Snohomish County voters have no interest in a train north of Lynnwood). I just don’t see it working out. ST3 was all about completing the spine. There will be no ST4.

        The smart thing to do is abandon the alliance, and go it alone (or form new ones, like Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond).

      2. Ross, I think you are overestimating the magnitude difference between Seattle’s wish list and the wish list on other projects. Seattle’s projects can be double if not triple the budget of Snohomish and Pierce, given the difference in tax revenue generation between the subareas. A single project like all-day Sounder could easily match a Ballard-UW budget, when adjusted for subareas’ revenue capacity. To me, the problem is not what Snohomish & Pierce will do, but how to spend all the excess cash on the eastside.

      3. Seattle’s projects can be double if not triple the budget of Snohomish and Pierce, given the difference in tax revenue generation between the subareas.

        Right. The problem is that Seattle’s projects are ten times more expensive. Light rail is very expensive, and Seattle is the only place where light rail makes sense after ST3. More importantly, it is the only place where you can find support for light rail projects after ST3.

        A single project like all-day Sounder could easily match a Ballard-UW budget, when adjusted for subareas’ revenue capacity.

        Yeah, maybe, but that doesn’t mean it would be popular. That would mean that we would be paying BNSF a huge amount of money so that they can run empty trains all day. The reverse peak trains (running from Seattle to Tacoma in the morning) carry less than a crowded bus. This is during peak, taking advantage of those headed to Tacoma (or similar places) to work. In the middle of the day it would be much worse, and yet the cost to run those trains becomes much higher. BNSF doesn’t mind giving ST a little track time, but as that increases, they charge more and more. It is hard to see a lot of enthusiasm for that, especially since ridership per dollar would be worse than North Sounder.

        Or maybe the money would go into building additional parking (which would be more popular). The problem is, that is simply building what they promised before. That is the fundamental problem with ST4 — outside of Seattle, every major project (that stands a chance of gaining wide spread popular support) was promised in ST3 (or sooner).

        You are also dealing with diminishing returns. Lynnwood Link benefits everyone in Snohomish County headed to Seattle. In some ways Everett gets more from Lynnwood Link than Everett Link. And yet Lynnwood gets very little from Everett Link. The projects (such as an extension to the Tacoma Mall) become more provincial. They benefit fewer people. Except of course, in Seattle. But if there is relatively little political support outside Seattle for something like Ballard to UW, why would they support an extension of Everett or Tacoma Dome Link?

        The only set of projects for the suburbs that makes sense is an expansion of bus service. To match Seattle’s spending, this would be a major improvement. But as we’ve seen in the past, this doesn’t necessarily gather wide spread support (even in King County).

      4. There are nodes that generate ridership outside of Seattle. An ST4 would certainly be more ‘provincial,’ insofar as projects outside of Seattle will have little to do with Seattle. But places like Bellevue and Tacoma can certainly build upon ST3 with enhancing returns, not diminishing returns. Bellevue in 2040 is going to have the same density of Class A office space that Seattle had in 1990.

        And sure, ST4 can be very bus heavy outside of Seattle. It’s still pretty straightforward to come up with a multi-billion project list of bus-oriented investments in Pierce & Snohomish (with no car parking). All 3 county bus agencies have a massive backlog of unfunded investments.

        I’m perplexed why you think cities outside of Seattle are going to get their first high quality, all day transit and their political response will be, “yeah, we’re good, no need for more of this.” The arrival of Link in places like Everett and Tacoma is only going to improve the political support for more ST investments (rail or otherwise) in those communities.

  2. I like, however I’d really like to see a couple of words added
    “any city, county, subarea, or combination thereof within Sound Transits RTA boundaries” should be changed to “any city, county, subarea, or combination thereof within or adjacent to Sound Transits RTA boundaries”

    This would allow funding for things like
    Link between Everett and Marysville (voted on by Everett and Marysville.
    Sounder east to Snohomish and Monroe (voted on by Snohomish, Monroe and Everett)

    1. Is ST allowed to provide any service outside of its legally-defined service area? It seems like the legislature would have to vote to allow cities to annex themselves into the RTA, and allowing cities to ask ST to start providing special service to their area without carrying the same tax burden seems like a bad can of worms.

      1. The 592 used to go to Olympia, before my ex-girlfriend took over.

        Fire up a propane grill and start cooking burgers at IT headquarters sometime 😜

      2. Gig Harbor pays for ST Express service but isn’t in the RTA, I believe. Allowing for a city like Monroe, Marysville, or Snoqualmie to tax itself for ST Express service seems very reasonable.

        I would just write it to allow for any entity within the 3 county area. Snoqualmie-North Bend isn’t ‘adjacent’ to the RTA.

    2. This could be an incentive for Marysville to join ST. The subareas are unbalanced. Snohomish is the smallest with Marysville, Arlington, Lake Stevens, and Monroe are out. Pierce is the largest with Spanaway, Bonney Lake, and Orting in. King County is in between with Covington and Maple Valley out. If Snohomish intended Marysville and Arlington to have industrial growth centers, it should have included them in ST. If not, it shouldn’t have allowed them to become the fastest-growing parts of the county.

      1. I think the sprawling growth of Marysville and Arlington is merely a weakness in the Growth Management Act. It is certainly against the spirit of the law, although it is likely perfectly legal. The county leaders probably have no interest in limiting sprawl there, any more than along other parts of Highway 9, or in Mill Creek.

        Snohomish County does want to create a large industrial growth center in the north part of the county, but it isn’t clear if that will be approved by PSRC (https://www.psrc.org/sites/default/files/rsc-2019apr18-ho-micapplication.pdf). (Maybe it was approved — I don’t know). It seems a stretch to include the center within ST, given the distance to the rest of the region. You could spend a bundle on great transit infrastructure to the sprawling industrial center, and yet almost all the employees would be within Snohomish County. It is just too far north. It seems like Snohomish County should figure out how to get people to work there if it wants to expand employment there, and ST has nothing to do with it. If ST did expand into places like Marysville it would have nothing to do with the industrial area, and have everything to do with expanding the regional transit system to serve more of the sprawl (which is always challenging).

    3. “Is ST allowed to provide any service outside of its legally-defined service area?”

      Yes, if the non-district part pays the full incremental cost. ST Express routes have gone to Gig Harbor and Olympia, paid by PT and IT.

  3. Here is a link to the bill: https://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5528.pdf?q=20220111090249. Here is a link to one of the key codes it references: https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=81.104.015

    This is a big improvement over previous proposals, as it allows for bus service, as long as it is “within an urbanized region operating principally on exclusive rights-of-way”. I’m not sure if Swift or RapidRide E would qualify, but I’m guessing RapidRide G would. There is another restriction, in the main bill:

    To the extent that system improvements include new fixed rail guideway components of the rail fixed guideway public transportation system within a city with a population of 500,000 or more, such guideway shall be in entirely exclusive rights-of-way and not contain any level traffic crossings with modes not part of the rail fixed guideway public transportation system.

    So basically nothing like Rainier Valley rail, which is likely the most cost effect section of rail built outside the UW-Downtown corridor. From a practical standpoint, it would mean we couldn’t run the light rail on the surface of Elliott or Market, even if the crossings were rare, the savings huge, and the experience for riders much better. This is a failed attempt at regulating quality, as if only grade separation matters when designing a mass transit system.

    While this is a better bill than previous attempts, it is still overly limiting. It is worth noting that Seattle was the only big city in North America to see an increase in transit ridership prior to the pandemic, and this would not allow the improvements that lead to that increase. When Seattle decided to fund Metro buses (with only tiny segments of exclusive right-of-way) we got what every transit expert would expect: A lot more riders. While it is great if your bus never has to deal with a car, it is unrealistic for most of the city, let alone the region. What is often more important is how often the bus comes, or whether it goes where you want to go. Both are more likely when the agency can fund service — of every type.

    It also isn’t clear whether this could simply pay for service. The capital improvements for RapidRide G are paid for — the service is not. Metro will be forced to shift service from other routes. Could voters in an “enhanced service zone” (AKA Seattle) approve funding for the six minute frequency there? For that matter, could Seattle approve funding to run the trains every six minutes all-day-long down Rainier Valley? Or does any service have to be in conjunction with a new project?

    In general this is a step in the right direction, but it is still too limited. It focuses on the importance of speed, while ignoring frequency. Anyone who even has a cursory understanding of transit will tell you that is silly, and agree with the experts (https://humantransit.org/basics/the-transit-ridership-recipe#frequency).

    1. “It also isn’t clear whether this could simply pay for service.”

      Exactly. Section 1. (5) says:

      “(5) “System improvement or improvements,” as used in this section, means additions to or alterations of a high capacity transportation system or rail fixed guideway public transportation system as both are defined in RCW 81.104.015.”

    2. It certainly feels pretty limiting with the rail aspect. It allows NO street grade crossings of any kind. While I think they are undesirable, I think banning them completely is forcing choices which have yet to be discussed.

      Further, we have crossings today. Would this prevent operations funding on the existing 1 Line?

      1. Point 1: it doesn’t ban it. Service is clearly part of the 81.104.015 definition of system. QED “Service” is allowed.

        To point 2: No, it says “*NEW* fixed rail guideway components”

        But I’m not a legislator, I just read these bills…

      2. @Greg — See comment above (https://seattletransitblog.com/2022/01/11/sb-5528-gives-transit-power-back-to-voters/#comment-887905). He is also a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer but one of my kids is a lawyer, and my mom used to be one, so I’m relatively familiar with the law.

        As I see it, this is very limited. For example:

        1) Improved frequency on RapidRide E. Not possible because the corridor is not a “High capacity transportation system” as defined. There are BAT lanes, but relatively little in the way of bus lanes. Way less than half of the roadway is bus lanes, which means that it isn’t “principally on exclusive rights-of-way”.

        2) Improved frequency for all the buses, across the board (along with a major restructure, dramatically improving anywhere to anywhere travel, as Jarrett Walker has been pushing lately). Nope, not even close (see item 1).

        3) Improved frequency on an existing Link line. Failed because there is no “system improvement” as defined in the bill, which is “additions to or alterations of a high capacity transportation system or rail fixed guideway public transportation system as both are defined in RCW 81.104.015”. There is no physical improvement, and therefore you can’t spend money just running the trains more often.

        The last one is a closer call, but the fact that it is open to interpretation (by two lawyers) is not a good thing. The fact that the most cost effective improvements (1 and 2) are clearly banned is a major flaw in this bill.

      3. @Ross,

        Yep, it sounds like a YAGA [yet another give-away] to the concrete, steel and consulting industries.

      4. @RossB

        1) if they make make fund RR C&D why not E?
        2) disagree see my item 1
        3) that is a system improvement “additions to or alterations of” the system must include service. There’s no separation in RCW.
        4) you’re both wrong. Clearly RCW has allowed all of this in the past: see RR C and D in ST3.

      5. @RossB

        Let’s put this nonsense / concern about bus service to bed:

        Clearly bus service is listed in RCW definition as “including interim express services” and that has been used for RR before.

      6. @AlS

        I see it disallows *new* at grade crossings in Seattle. There’s no ban on “adding to” existing system (or the service that is clearly inseverable from the HCT system, and never separately addressed in RCW 81.104 or 81.112).

  4. I read the initial legislation the other day when it was prefiled for the upcoming session.

    No, just no.

    I’m a constituent in the 21st district, so I’ve already got two calls in to Mr. Liias. This ultimately amounts to a ST3.5 and is due to the incompetent at best, fraudulent at worst cost estimating that the agency used to sell ST3 back in 2016. The agency has already been given enormous taxing authority within the 2015 transportation act. The devil is in the details of the legislation that describe what can constitute an enhanced service zone:

    “New Section 1.
    (1.)….An enhanced service zone must lie entirely within the authority boundaries and must comprise no less than the entire portion of a city or town that lies within the authority boundaries. An enhanced service zone may also include one or more entire adjacent cities or towns and adjacent unincorporated areas. There may also be multiple enhanced service zones encompassing the same city or town, or adjacent unincorporated area.

    “(2) Before an enhanced service zone may be established, it must first be recommended to the board by an advisory committee composed of board members representing the proposed enhanced service zone. The advisory committee’s recommendations must include proposed system improvements benefiting the enhanced service zone, to be financed by residents of the enhanced service zone but constructed and operated by the authority. If the board establishes the recommended enhanced service zone, then the board must submit a ballot proposition to voters within the enhanced service zone at a general or special election for approval of the proposed system improvements and funding sources as provided in subsection (3) of this section. The funding sources may not be imposed without approval of a majority of the voters in the enhanced service zone voting on the proposition. The proposition must include a specific description of the proposed system improvement or improvements and the funding sources to be imposed within the enhanced service zone to raise revenue to fund the improvement or improvements.”

    For example, I live in the unincorporated section of Edmonds. My representation on the current board is limited to the Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Everett City Councilmember Paul Robert’s and Lynnwood Mayor Nikola Smith. As such, Mr Somers is the only board member that actually represents me outside of Sound Transit’s domain, i.e. the only one I have any vote on. So the way this bill works, if enacted into law, is that the city of Edmonds could decide it wants to create an enhanced service zone and in the process sweep up neighboring unincorporated areas such as my own and then entice the SnoCo delegation serving as the “advisory committee” to officially recommend the creation of the zone. The city of Mukilteo could then act similarly and request another enhanced zone to fund their own pet projects. The only stipulation contained in the legislation as submitted is that the intended improvements be ones that are “benefiting the enhanced service zone”. Sure, like that’s not vague at all.

    Oh, and this can all be done through a public vote on the special elections calendar. We already have enough “special elections”. Put it on the damn November general election schedule and that’s it.

    At the end of the day, my primary issue with this bill is that in flies in the face of the mandate the state gave with the creation of the RTA back in the 90s. This is supposed to be a regional entity. If these legislators want to create these carve-out options for the cities for the creation of these little feifdoms, then that runs counter to the whole premise behind the formation of the RTA and its relevant district. If these legislators want to give the RTA more taxing authority then just do that and stop with this blatant end-around attempt at fixing Sound Transit’s ST3 budgeting disaster. Imho, this is a pretty cowardly maneuver. I now await Mr. Liias’ response.

    1. Plans that impact and are paid for by your area would still need to be passed by a vote in your area. It’s not different than everything else Sound Transit does except that it no longer enforces a regional scale.

    2. Common sense would indicate that the bill proposes that you would have to be provided new service or improvements to existing service for your geography to “benefit” (by definition of benefit) and be incorporated in to an ESZ sponsored by a city, which has to include its entire geography to begin with.

    3. Tisgwm is correct: transit votes need to be held at November General Elections with large turnout of young voters. The RTA (ST) lost an vote in April 1995; King County TBD lost an vote in April 2014.

      RossB is correct: service subsidy for short headway and waits is crucial in transit network design. See Walker. As Ella sang, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion.

    4. I am not sure I understand the goals.

      First wouldn’t ST subarea equity still apply, or would the new enhanced service area have its own subareas separate and apart from the five existing ST subareas, and separate subarea equity, whatever those borders may be? The language Tisgwm cites suggests this is really a city restricted levy in practical terms. No partial cities.

      Second is this bill talking about new, additional tax rates for sales, property and vehicle taxes on top of ST 2 and 3, or another extension of existing ST taxes like the realignment?

      Third, would this bill apply to existing ST projects, or only new projects that would have to be part of a new levy, subareas, and are unknown? If so, why not just ST 4?

      Fourth, would the existing ST debt ceiling be part of an enhanced area, and would ST immediately bond the levy revenue like ST 3? Would there then be two debt ceilings?

      Crafting a levy would be tricky if subareas are being mixed. Obviously the new subareas would also want subarea equity — probably based on city boundaries —
      so new sub-subareas would have to be drawn, and the funds not mixed between subareas, and the existing subareas not part of the new subareas.

      One of the reasons given for the bill is to allow subareas to speed up existing ST 3 projects, but that sounds to me like new taxes to replace or accelerate the extension under the realignment (if it is adequate to complete ST 3 as the Board claims). Plus some subareas like East King Co. don’t need additional revenue to “speed up” their projects: they just don’t need them extended so WSBLE can meet the debt ceiling. East King Co. could afford to build their park and rides promised in ST 3 and the Issaquah to Kirkland line on time.

      Would an enhanced levy pass? Probably not, at least now. Otherwise ST would float ST 4. Once you step outside the N. King Co. subarea, for example to try and tap into revenue throughout parts of King Co., the odds of passage begin to decline fast. East King Co. originated subarea equity, and would demand the same in any new subareas, and the realignment taught the eastside subarea equity is not inviolate.

      Pierce, S. King Co., Snohomish and parts of East King Co. look like no votes in any new enhanced levy to me, and there is the overhang of the dishonesty of project cost estimating in ST 3. If WSBLE is unpopular with Ballard and West Seattle that could doom an enhanced levy even in Seattle. Plus the commuter isn’t riding transit right now, and ridership may be reduced for a very long time, so they have little interest in transit or new transit taxes.

      I guess I don’t get the bill, and doubt this legislation will pass in the legislature just like HB1304 died (and in a special session). Too many unknowns, and I am not sure legislators within the ST taxing district want to give the Board any more authority.

      As far as I see it, after the “realignment” the only real issue with ST 3 is WSBLE. Looking at the DEIS and reading the comments on this blog I am even more convinced that WSBLE is overbudget even with the realignment. So why are we giving the Board broad discretion to redesign new subareas, and float new levies, for projects that are either in ST 3, or unknown in the future in all five subareas?

      Politicians are not keen on owning tax increases. If the real issue behind this bill (and HB1304) is funding WSBLE so Ballard and West Seattle are happy and
      a very deep DSTT2 is affordable with cost contingency I would prefer — if a politician — simply extending the ST taxes another five years, which seems to get little blow back from the power brokers in the other subareas since they get additional transit tax revenue (for buses or light rail) without having to own the tax increase with the voters, most of whom will never notice.

      Placing another ST levy on a ballot with new subarea borders would be like lighting off a huge flare in the night for a politician, or for ST which will get drug through the press which will note Rogoff was fired for gross dishonesty about project cost estimates, ridership estimates, farebox recovery, you name it, at a time transit is just not on anyone’s radar or wish list.

      I can’t imagine the new CEO would like to be tasked with forming new subareas and new taxes and new projects after Rogoff and selling that to the voters. I think a lot of candidates will take a hard pass at the job anyway, but especially if this is part of their job, and if there is one thing this bill tells any potential CEO it is there is not enough money to complete WSBLE even with the realignment. Yikes. Zimbabwe was out after two years, so any potential CEO would worry about tenure.

      This bill won ‘t pass in a special session, and really shouldn’t. Too many unknowns, and if I were a legislator I would be thinking this bill is designed to pass a ST transit levy because ST 4 won’t pass, and it would be a logistical nightmare to draw up new subareas, new subarea equity, new taxes, new projects, when ST has that authority in a ST 4 already.

      I would be asking what the real purpose of this bill is, and who proposed it. That would tell me WSBLE is the real purpose, and there are better ways to deal with that, ones that might pass. If this bill can’t pass in the legislature it tells you how little chance ST 4 or any levy under this bill would have passing.

      At least someone proposing this bill understands the funding issues with WSBLE. But this bill is not the solution.

      1. Seattle under McGinn paid ST to accelerate the Ballard-downtown study and add a second study to extend the SLU streetcar to Ballard. It had nothing to do with subareas: Seattle simply paid for what it wanted, and the board agreed it was compatible with its plans. North King actually benefited because it got the Ballard-downtown study earlier than it would have. I see levies under this as being similar. Cities might vote to add money to ST3 projects benefiting them, or other projects. Subarea issues only come into play if you divert money from ST# taxes, not if you just add money. If North King objected to McGinn’s proposal and said it harmed it somehow, that would be a reason for the board to reject McGinn’s proposal. Bonding might add complications; we’d need more clarity on that.

  5. I have a big problem with this. Here is why.

    We have no analytically studied plan to best add corridors.

    We have no analysis to provide trade offs between paying for more expensive designs for West Seattle and Ballard and instead using that money elsewhere. That “elsewhere” may mean more vertical conveyances at existing stations as well as extensions to serve the neglected lower income areas skipped by ST3.

    It appears to be a de facto backfill to pay for more tunneled track for West Seattle and Ballard. The “no” campaign could easily portray this as making lots of low income people paying more taxes just so that upscale West Seattle Junction and Ballard neighborhoods won’t have an aerial train line disturbing their aesthetic sensibilities.

    1. Bills that authorize funding at the state level never have that. This is just the mechanism that allows a future measure to happen — there is a long road and a lot of analysis between here and a local vote.

  6. I’m not clear why this is limited to Sound Transit. Pierce County doesn’t need more from ST – it needs basic neighborhood service, which ST doesn’t provide and was never intended to provide.

    1. Donde: so, should the bill be expanded to include the local transit agencies? What of all the other transportation needs of cities: pavement management, sidewalks, bridges? Why have the proponents targeted HCT alone?

    2. Pierce (or Tacoma) could tax itself for ST to take over major PT routes and operate them as Stride or Express routes, thereby freeing up PT to provide better service elsewhere.

    1. Digging a little, I find this source declaring $6.9B with a 0.8 MVET for ST3 for its entirety of 35 years applied to every vehicle in the large district of about 3.5M people. Seattle vehicles appear to be about 20 percent of that and the MVET limit is set at a higher 1.5 percent.

      I’m not a finance specialist, but it appears to generate about $2.5B to $3B if set to 35 years (a very long time). Generally, I don’t see this as generating more than $1.5B to $2B if applied to all of Seattle city.

      To get ST3 as promised (no tunnel enhancements), ST already said the WSBLE is in need of something like $4B. That’s before the extra $1.5B to $2B for the neighborhood tunneling. With WSBLE funding needs at the front of the line, this money would seem to just get handed over to build this project with nothing to little going for anything else.

      1. Exactly. I understand the desire to draw more lines on a map, but there hasn’t been a solution presented to the cost overruns, other than to move ahead with West Seattle as planned and hire a contractor to find cost savings.

        It is possible that some cost savings will emerge from the DEIS, but I wouldn’t count on it. We already know that many of the alternatives are more expensive than the preferred alternative. We also know there is going to be a big backlash to the over-engineered nature of WSBLE. That certainly seems to be the case with the downtown stations. The West Seattle section is almost impossible to build without the Delridge station being an engineering monstrosity.

        Eventually this will be the path forward for additional light rail lines, so I fully support the measure. Maybe I’m being overly optimistic but my hope is that additional funding will be found through an ambitious national climate change bill or something like that. But it does appear that we’re headed toward an electric car future with no major transformations to American cities.

      2. “With WSBLE funding needs at the front of the line, this money would seem to just get handed over to build this project with nothing to little going for anything else.”

        That’s how I see it Al. But I doubt ST has the time to put something together under this bill with the DEIS underway that would get the money for WSBLE as desired by West Seattle and Ballard, and DSTT2 so very deep.

        I also wonder if all of Seattle would vote for another tax increase to complete WSBLE. It would be a pretty steep tax increase I think on top of ST 3 and benefits only two neighborhoods. South Seattle got surface rail, so why should they pay more so West Seattle and Ballard get special (underground) treatment like the other white neighborhoods in Seattle from Capitol Hill to Northgate? Any levy for WSBLE would raise equity issues.

      3. Joe Z, of course the Delridge station can be built without being “an engineering monstrosity”. It requires that a tight curve be made at Delridge and Genessee, the station be built above Delridge a block or two to the north of the curve, and that side-platforms be used. Since the majority of transfers there will be “in-direction” side platforms would be just fine. The track-level could be a story and a half above truck-clearance on the street with low-ceiling cross-street walkways with open sides for visibility provided at the ends of the station for out-of-direction transfers. This might be $40 million instead of the $200 million palaces ST designs.

        Sound Transit has an enormous Edifice Complex; they really don’t need 80 foot high stations anywhere, but seem to choose them everywhere.

        Or, just don’t do West Seattle at all. Build a pair of decent bus-only ramps from the West Seattle Freeway to the busway and create a secure and weather-sheltered transfer facility at SoDo. Keep the peak-hour expresses from West Seattle to downtown; they aren’t that expensive to run. West Seattle is no farther from downtown Seattle than is the strip between I-5 and 15th NW which will have local service to downtown via Aurora, Westlake and/or Dexter as far as 85th forever.

  7. It appears that the ST Board would have the liberty of drawing enhancement districts wherever they wanted — even a subarea within a city. That could be an interesting way to gerrymander districts to get yes votes. On the other hand, the geography must be fairly large to generate enough funds to build anything major.

    1. It’s not subareas: subareas are subdivisions of a single tax district. This is different tax districts overlaid. A tax district must have the same tax rate across all of it.

    2. No, the new zone has to incorporate the entire city it encompasses. But it certainly possible to utilize unincorporated areas in the fashion you describe.

      Also, since the legislation allows for 1.5% additional MVET per zone and also allows multiple overlapping zones, then it seems to me there at least needs to be an aggregate limitation. Taking my own situation as an example, I don’t see anything limiting the MVET that would be imposed by, say a zone created by Edmonds that swept our unincorporated area in, a zone created by Mukilteo that swept us in and a zone created by Lynnwood that also swept us in. Each zone would be entitled, per an affirmative vote by the relevant residents, to its limit of 1.5% additional MVET. Under this scenario our area would be subject to an additional 4.5% MVET based on my reading.

  8. The backers behind this bill obviously don’t agree with AJ that a ST 4 could pass. Otherwise, ST would just place ST 4 on a ballot. So if I am a legislator I am asking myself what the real purpose of this bill is, knowing it has something to do with Seattle, HB1304, and/or ST deficits, which very well could include operations. This bill was reviewed by ST I am sure before it was submitted. At least I would assume that, and expect an opinion from ST which would tell me everything.

    At first glance it looks like some kind of gerrymandering is a goal, except any new “enhanced” area must include the entire city, and a levy pass. Are there any contiguous cities that this bill would benefit and would vote for an enhanced levy? I can’t think of any, so really we are looking at a mechanism for cities to place transit levies on a ballot for local transit.

    Except cities already have that authority. Why does ST need that authority?

    The answer lies in where such a levy pass (whole city), and who needs the additional revenue for an existing project (considering the realignment is basically a wash since inflation will equal or exceed revenue in the extension years, and ST’s repricing of the deficit from $11.5 billion to $6 billion is accurate).

    That enhanced area is Seattle, and the project is WSBLE. This bill won’t pass, but its submission tells us a lot, and to look very carefully at the DEIS.

    1. No, I view this measure as an intermediate levy. I see the long term case for an ST4 unchanged by efforts such as this. There’s still a need for regional scale projects, which will require regional scale funding.

      1. Then why is the intended purpose to grant the additional taxing authority to the REGIONAL entity?

        This is ST3.5 (backfilling all of the shortcomings of ST3) in disguise.

      2. “ Then why is the intended purpose to grant the additional taxing authority to the REGIONAL entity?”

        Exactly! This is the exact opposite of a City-managed measure.

        The accountability of ST is already removed by voters by not having a directly elected board. This would let ST create subareas to tax different areas differently — and that opens up big equity issues about what pot of money should go to what project.

      3. “No, I view this measure as an intermediate levy. I see the long-term case for an ST4 unchanged by efforts such as this. There’s still a need for regional scale projects, which will require regional scale funding.”

        So this bill is to really complete ST 2 and 3 despite the cost estimating errors and probable operational estimating errors by ST without placing ST 4 on a ballot?

        “Regional scale” projects require regional scale levies, and still you have subarea equity, so “regional” is really subarea specific.

        Some areas are underfunded after ST 3 and the realignment, some are not, and some subareas just don’t need any more transit, at least at this time, which is how we got the Issaquah to S. Kirkland line to begin with.

        That was the problem with ST 2 and 3: they were “regional”, although revenue was subarea specific, and so were project costs. No other subarea is proposing a $12.5 billion WSBLE, or would even consider such an expensive line. Issaquah to S. Kirkland is estimated at $4.5 billion, and it exists because the money exists for it, the opposite of WSBLE.

        What this tells me is the ST regional approach to projects and funding has run its course, and future levies need to be very specific — city specific — for any other projects to make sure the projects make sense (no more Issaquah to S. Kirkland) and the subarea can actually afford the project on its own (WSBLE and Seattle).

    2. “The backers behind this bill obviously don’t agree with AJ that a ST 4 could pass. Otherwise, ST would just place ST 4 on a ballot.”

      It’s too early for ST4! ST3 still has 19 years of work under the original schedule, or 29 under the realignment. That’s an entire generation of construction work, administration, and waiting. There’s no evidence ST has even thought about when, what size, or what projects ST4 might be, or that it has asked the legislature for anything regarding it. The only thing we have is the preliminary studies in ST3 for ST4. Those would have to be completed before ST can put together an ST4 package, and they won’t be done until late in ST3 or if ST sets an earlier target date for ST4.

      An ST 3.5 to backfill ST3 or slightly modify it is a theoretical possibility, but again there’s no evidence ST is considering it. Of course it’s a terminology issue whether ST calls it ST 3.5 or ST4, but the real ST4 is understood to be something beyond the ST3 projects. What that “something” is, has not been defined.

      1. Yeah this feels like ST 3.25. It’s too early even for a ST3.5. This feels like an opportunity to throw some more money at certain corridors (e.g. WSBLE if Seattle taxes itself) and perhaps make some changes to the ST3 scope (i.e add a junction to incorporate a Ballard-UW or Denny-Aurora), but definitely not a reset of the overall ST3 plan.

      2. It doesn’t throw money at anything. It allows cities in the future to vote to spend money on something. If they don’t want to, they don’t have to. Speculations on which cities would use it and for what, are just speculations.

    3. As transit funding goes, I’m more supportive of funding going through a different directly elected entity rather than directly to an operator. The Seattle citywide bus transit funding measure in 2020 is a good example of that. I feel like it provides a good check on the agency on how funds get spent.

  9. Everyone will be charged for a service. Some people will get service, some won’t. If the people who don’t get service want to tax themselves a second time to get service they already paid for, they can.

  10. I hope this passes. Our biggest bang for the buck is investing in more rail transit in Seattle. Having the entire Sound Transit District approve rail expansions leads less rail than we need in Seattle, and more rail than we need in the suburbs.

    1. That’s right Tom, West Seattle and Ballard will read one of your rambling posts on DSTT2 and WSBLE and suddenly agree to surface/elevated lines and stations, and the downtown business community will agree to a cut and cover tunnel down 5th.

      It took me months to convince you that DSTT2 could never be built as designed for $2.2 billion, and several more months to explain to you that a realignment that extends completion dates along with taxes is pointless because the ROW and construction costs increase the same or more than the revenue during the extension years.

      You still don’t get it despite HB1304 last year and this DOA bill this year. West Seattle and Ballard are going to demand underground stations and lines like other lesser neighborhoods got — whether there are hills or not as if engineering has anything to do with it — and the Board realizes it doesn’t have the funding to complete DSTT2 or WSBLE no matter what the design is, and the Board knows the four other subareas aren’t contributing more than $275 million each to DSTT2.

      What 1304 and this bill should tell you is the design of WSBLE is known, based on what West Seattle and Ballard want, with a very deep DSTT2 as the preferred alternative even if you don’t understand it. The only question left is where to get the money, not stupid alternatives that are politically DOA, or the do nothing alternative which is the binary choice West Seattle and Ballard will present to the Board. If do nothing was really an option we wouldn’t have spent the time on HB1304 or this bill.

      If you want to be helpful quit with the pseudo tunnel engineering and come up with a politically palatable way to raise the funding for WSBLE that the community wants and will choose over doing nothing.

      My suggestion is another five year extension of ST taxes without a corresponding extension in completion dates based on the political yawn over the last extension, but I am open to other funding ideas, but ideally not ones that need new subareas, new subarea equity, new taxes, and will take too long if passed by the legislature because the DEIS is open for comment now, although the design is known, if not the funding.

  11. Daniel, you have been told exactly why Link was tunneled from downtown to Maple Leaf at least twenty times by Ross, Mike and others. Here it is in all caps as simply as it can be written.

    1. THERE IS NO AVAILABLE AT-GRADE RIGHT OF WAY OTHER THAN THE REVERSIBLE LANES OF I-5. WSDOT AND SNOHOMISH COUNTY DID NOT WANT TO GIVE THEM UP.

    2. ANY ELEVATED ALIGNMENT WOULD HAVE TO BE AS HIGH AS THE REVERSIBLE DECK ON THE I-5 BRIDGE. THE FIRST PLACE A STATION COULD BE PLACED WOULD BE AT 45TH. THE UNIVERSITY WOULD HAVE BEEN BY-PASSED COMPLETELY.

    3. THAT MEANT TUNNELING WAS IMPERATIVE. BUT, THE SHIP CANAL IS 30 FEET DEEP. ANY TUNNEL HAS TO HAVE AT LEAST 20 FEET OF OVERBURDEN. THE LAND ADJACENT TO THE SHIP CANAL AT MONTLAKE IS 25 FEET ABOVE THE LAKE LEVEL. THEREFORE ANY TUNNEL HAS TO BE A MINIMUM OF 75 FEET DEEP AT THE TOP OF THE TUBE.

    4. ONCE TRACK LEVEL IS 95 FEET BELOW THE SURFACE IT MAKES SENSE TO KEEP ON DRILLING AT LEAST TO 60TH TO ALLOW FOR A HIGH-SPEED LINE BACK TO THE I-5 RIGHT-OF-WAY WITHOUT ZIG-ZAGS TO FOLLOW STREET RIGHTS-OF-WAY. THAT WAS THE PLAN.

    5. BUT WSDOT DID NOT WANT TO REBUILD THE ROOSEVELT INTERCHANGE, WHICH MEANT THAT IT WAS POLITICALLY EASIER TO KEEP ON DRILLING. Many people have claimed it was cheaper, but I expect that the expensive station at Roosevelt is not included in that comparison.

    [ah, obs]

    1. Qualification. “any non-cut-and-cover tunnel has to have at least 20 feet of overburden”. C-n-C tunnels can have a truss deck to carry the weight of the street above.

    2. Clarification of #2. Since DSTT1 is 30 feet below Pine and facing straight into the hillside, a tunnel under I-5 and north through Capitol Hill to somewhere north of Belmont would have been required anyway. It would have been possible to run an elevated line alongside Lakeview as far as Howe, but then a short section of tunnel under the Roanoke Ridge would have been necessary to a portal somewhere around Gwinn perhaps where the bridge could launch to 15th NE or University Way. By that route the University would not be by-passed “completely”, though the station would have had to be somewhere north of 42nd.

      However, that would require some sort of elevated east-west passage back to the I-5 right-of-way. Ravenna would have worked. I don’t know if such and alignment was ever discussed, but it would have been physically feasible. Whether or not it would have been politically feasible is of course a big question. It would have had the undeniable benefit of having a station somewhere around 55th and U Way, but it would have missed the Hospital and Husky Stadium.

    3. “It would have been possible to run an elevated line alongside Lakeview as far as Howe”

      The original plan was in the I-5 express lanes or around Eastlake. It was moved to Broadway & John because that’s one of the highest-ridership stations in the system. BART could bypass the Mission District and Berkeley but then it would be a quantum level less useful and there would be less reason to build it.

      1. Yes, of course. The University is the second biggest trip-destination in Seattle. Given that it has only two stations and HSS is so remote, U-District is likely to end up being the second highest trafficked station in the system behind only Westlake.

      2. Also, I dealt with the I-5 reversible lane “solution” in step 1. WSDOT didn’t want to give them up, and Snohomish County backed them to the hilt.

    4. Tom, point three is worse. Portage Bay is old; it has many feet of muck that the Link tunnel would have had to go below; salmon use Portage Bay. On the other hand, the Montlake Cut was only 100 years old and did not have the muck and the Link tunnel could be more shallow. Although, some suggested a bridged alignment touching down hear NE Campus Parkway. But this is all long decided.

      1. IIRC there was a proposal for a bridge across Union Bay as well. I think that was just a citizens idea and never seriously considered by ST. The political fight over views would have been immense and I have no idea if the engineering was feasible. As for the height that is based on the height of the mast of the tallest commercial ships that used the waterway. There have been successfully petitions for making that lower. But it would have bypassed Montlake. I will be interested to see if Montlake or U-Dist has the higher ridership once things shake out.

    5. I think there is an important benefit to the ST tunnel north of the DSTT — it serves lots more riders from two lines.

      We can debate its design but it is obviously too late for that. What we should however recognize that proposed tunnels in West Seattle and Ballard are at the end of the line, and that only riders going to the last station get the benefit plus the planned headways are half or the trunk in North Seattle. The North Seattle tunnels are a much bigger benefit.

      I say this to highlight that not all tunnels are the same from a demand and overcrowding perspective. Just because the U-District has a tunnel doesn’t argue for anywhere else getting a tunnel because that segment will carry crowded three minute trains, unlike the tails in Ballard and West Seattles that will carry much smaller numbers in six minute trains going just one more station.

      It’s a reason why I don’t see why a few at-grade crossings in Ballard and West Seattle (with well-designed Link priority) couldn’t be incorporated if needed (if ST stays the course with current light rail train sets with drivers). Frankly, something like a short Market Street surface transit mall or a short Alaska Street surface transit mall would seem to be a better urban design treatment to generate better integration with the affected commercial districts there in addition to saving costs.

      1. Al, Bingo! Well said. Terminal stations are best at grade if because they provide easy access. Trains park there. Speed is not important.

  12. Eddie, so some people DID suggest an elevated crossing Portage Bay? As I said in the second Qualification, it looks like that would have worked for an elevated solution, but I did not remember it having been considered.

    Thank you for the information.

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