“Yeah, that’s great and all, but how are you going to pay for it?” Such is the buzz of a rhetorical torpedo which has sunk a thousand good ideas. The problem with this question isn’t its deeper truth—we live in a world of limited time and resources—but in how selectively it is deployed. Obstructionist deficit hawks fire it to block millions spent on transit and public health, yet silently allow policymakers to allocate trillions towards highways and war. It is not a question of whether we can undertake massive projects—especially in the state of Washington—but which to prioritize.

In contrast to my home state of Illinois, Washington shines as a beacon of fiscal stability: it consistently maintains healthy financial reserves, meticulously plans budgets according to comprehensive economic forecasts, and steadfastly controls its assumption of debts. These far-seeing practices have insulated the state from global economic instability, engendering confidence among bond holders and credit rating agencies alike. The state appears to consistently ask and thoroughly answer the question: “how are you going to pay for that?”

With wise frugality guiding the flow of money though Olympia, we can move on from asking “how are you going to pay for that,” to a deeper question: “why are you going to pay for that?” With increased wildfires threatening the state’s economy, the legislative mandate to address climate change, and the state having explicitly acknowledged transportation represents Washington’s largest source of emissions, how would a wise administration distribute funds?

Funding data below the fold:

Experts agree that public transportation improves social equity and reduces emissions more than automobiles—including electric vehicles. These facts, and the aforementioned state priorities, demonstrate why public transportation and rail infrastructure projects warrant a significant budget allocation. Broadly speaking, perhaps 25% to transit expansion for a timely fulfillment of ST3’s democratic mandate, then another 25% to maintaining and improving Washington’s rail network, as WSDOT has recognized the desperate need to upgrade 45% of the state’s short line railroads?

Fortunately, LEAP and the OFM provide access to these figures, so constituents can understand whether the government is financially backing its rhetoric. The following is a breakdown of planned spending on transportation projects by category over the next decade:

More information on previous budgets and how they have been altered (transit and rail funding were decreased from 5% to 4% from December of last year) can also be found through the Office of Financial Management.
Data courtesy of LEAP and OFM

Here are the totals by mode:

Local projects have been omitted from this chart as they invest money broadly across a variety of modes, generally a mix between automotive, pedestrian, and transit.
Data courtesy of LEAP
  1. Why spend 18 times more money on highways than both transit and rail combined?
    • Answer 1: Executives and legislators believe the myth that EVs are an effective solution to the climate crisis.
    • Answer 2: Executives and legislators do not care about increasing equity and decarbonizing the economy.
    • Answer 3: Executives and legislators care about increasing social equity and decarbonizing the economy, but are unaware that transit plays a key role in accomplishing those goals in the United States.

Regardless of any political expediencies officials may cite, the state is continuing to materially support and expand the transportation system which has significantly contributed to the social and climate crises facing the state and the planet. It is also ignoring voter demands for increased transit options and WSDOT’s recommendations to address the failing rail infrastructure. At best, the funding imbalance reveals ignorance on the best ways to decarbonize transportation and increase equity; at worst, it betrays active neglect of the future.

  1. Why spend 32 times more money on highway improvements than all freight and passenger rail projects?
    • Answer 1: See answer 1 to question 1.
    • Answer 2: See answer 2 to question 1.
    • Answer 3: Executives and legislators care about increasing social equity and decarbonizing the economy, but are unaware that rail plays a key role in accomplishing those goals in the United States.

Washington State has billions of dollars to spend on transportation infrastructure projects. If California is ready to invest $34 billion into the 171 mile high-speed corridor from Merced and Bakersfield (roughly the distance between Seattle and Portland) , is it beyond reason to expect Olympia to invest $1 billion into upgrading and electrifying the existing medium-speed rail corridor from Seattle to Portland? Such a comparatively small injection of funds would provide more than the $769 million it would take to electrify those tracks, even when calculating with the highest estimates.

As on-time performance has steadily declined to a dismal 47.2% as of 2022 and rail in the Pacific Northwest is somehow unable to withstand rain, perhaps a bit more than 2% of the budget would be warranted. A measly 3% of the highway improvement budget would double rail funding.

The performance metrics and WSDOT itself indicate both passenger and freight rail services are in desperate need of investment, if only to stop medium- and low-speed rail services from grinding to a halt. If we can’t even maintain and electrify medium- and low-speed rail, we’re likely not responsible enough to explore high-speed projects.

  1. Why spend 2.6 times more money on ferries than public transportation and rail combined?
    • Answer 1: Ferries transport cars, and transporting cars is more important than transporting people to executives and legislators.
    • Answer 2: Executives and legislators recognize the high fuel consumption of ferries because a government agency purchases and burns the fuel itself.
    • Answer 3: Executives and legislators are more concerned about decreasing the government’s emissions than emissions in the state generally.

Ferry fuel consumption represents a drop in the bucket of the state’s overall fuel consumption, even though it comprises the majority of WSDOT’s (take this number with caution, as it’s cited by a company with a financial stake in electrifying ferries). Cynically, the prerogative to decrease the government’s carbon emissions, and ignore the vast majority of emissions statewide, may allow politicians to point their fingers at constituents when the consequences of climate change threaten the public. It is a sly way of quietly abdicating their responsibility to effectively manage the social systems over which they preside.

In search of more questions and answers we’ll dig deeper, scrutinize specific projects behind these sums. Here are a few of the most significant projects from across the categories outlined above:

SR 167/SR509 Puget Sound Gateway received an increase of $833,959,000 from December of last year. That means, in the last nine months, the state decided to spend more on a single highway improvement project than all transit and rail projects combined.
Data courtesy of LEAP

3 more “whys”:

  1. Why are there no funds for rail electrification yet $210 million for ferry terminal electrification?
    • Answer 1: See answers 1 and 2 to question 3 above.
    • Answer 2: See answers 1-3 to question 2 above.

The lowest estimates for electrifying the Seattle to Portland rail corridor come out at $342 million. It could cost half as much to electrify the route between the two most important cities in the Pacific Northwest than to electrify Washington’s ferries. As gasoline consumption in the state is rising once again, would not rail be a wiser investment than ferry electrification? From material, fiscal, and climate perspectives, yes.

  1. Why does a single stretch of highway warrant 75 times more investment than the region’s most vital rail corridor?
    • Answer 1: See answers 1-3 of questions 1 and 2 above.
    • Answer 2: It is secretly a rail project, because RCW 47.04.010 defines a highway as: “Every way, lane, road, street, boulevard, and every way or place in the state of Washington open as a matter of right to public vehicular travel both inside and outside the limits of incorporated cities and towns.” If a rail corridor were theoretically open to public vehicles, would it perhaps qualify as a highway under the state’s legal definition thereof?

Though I personally may dream of answer 2, the numbers more broadly demonstrate that none of the state’s executives and legislators possess the creativity and dynamism to formulate and pursue such a bombastic strategy. Based on the plans for additional highway improvements, they seem content to lethargically preside over business as usual, rather than dynamically forge creative paths to a brighter future.

  1. Why does a bike safety education program warrant a higher budget than a highspeed rail project?
    • Answer 1: Executives and legislators have completely abandoned the idea of the state possessing a rail system which meets last century’s standards for electrification.
    • Answer 2: Olympia will begin printing its own currency with an exchange rate of 1 to $100 USD, and the funds allocated towards the rail project are meant to be paid in this new currency in order to bolster internal construction and manufacturing capacity.
    • Answer 3: The 11 people who died on bicycles last year were the children of high-ranking government officials.

The State of Washington has billions to spend on transportation projects. Transit advocates should not shy away from demanding our elected representatives invest vast sums of money into building more sustainable and equitable transportation: the money is there and the investment is worth it.

Personally speaking, I would go as far as to say we have a duty to demand more. Let obstructionists complain about what they cannot do; let us demand what can be done.

98 Replies to “Transportation Project Spending: 2023-2029”

  1. Where did you get 769m from?

    For 50 miles “The Caltrain Modernization Program (CalMod), sometimes referred to as the Caltrain Electrification Project, is a $2.44 billion project that will add a positive train control (PTC) system and electrify the main line of the U.S. commuter railroad Caltrain, which serves cities in the San Francisco Peninsula and Silicon”
    of which $329.3 was PTC.

    1. All numbers are sourced through hyperlinks.

      It’s good to know! $2.4 billion is still well under the highway improvement budget. We could do it five times over.

  2. If we want to electrify the mainline from VanBC to Eugene (Cascades route), we should partner with BNSF to electrify freight traffic too.

    Diesel locomotives are slow to accelerate. Switching to electric effectively increases capacity by providing improved acceleration capabilities and therefore quicker end-to-end trip speeds. It’s the cheapest way to increase capacity since it doesn’t involve laying new track.

    BNSF needs increased capacity in this route.

  3. Electrification from Seattle to Portland would take more money than 300 million, but more importantly the right of way is owned by freight companies. Even if electrified the (Amtrak) trains wouldnt be able to take advantage of it.

    For the Sounder trains it’s the same issue and honestly if we could run trains more frequently we wouldn’t be building the federal way/Tacoma extensions nor the Ballard extensions and just directly build stations on the existing line.

    > Why does a bike safety education program warrant a higher budget than a high–speed rail project?

    I mean it’s just a study, until Canada and the Washington State side seriously consider building, why would we be over design a plan?

    For transportation, while receiving more state funds would definitely be welcome, I would caution a bit behind the idea that the root issue is lack of funds. Sound Transit currently has funds to spend around 3.5+ billion per year. Freeway spending by Washington state is around 3 billion per year from my cursory check online. The issue here is choosing much more expensive construction methods with the inability to allow for construction impacts (closing roads for cars during construction /etc…)

    I understand it’s a bit different since one is regional funds and you’re talking about state funds, but still the problem here is the inability to build transit cheaply.

    Like to give a direct example, for the OMF south site Sound Transit actually considered building it on top of a toxic landfill for an additional billion dollars (for total of 2.5+ billion) to avoid tearing down a couple restaurants/church. No other transit agency in the world would ever even seriously consider that. It is only since it is flush with cash that they even entertained it.

    1. I guess I was thinking a bit more and focusing on the state funding part, one main problem is that there’s no easy “medium sized” transportation project for the state. It’s either funding like long range intercity busses or a very expensive high speed rail.

      1. I agree, there is no medium sized transportation project, and given the state’s stated goals regarding climate, equity, and transportation, I think they are choosing the wrong large projects.

      2. The same thing is happening with housing. In Seattle and other American cities, development is bifurcating between single-family houses/townhouses and large breadbox complexes, with little in between. The same thing is happening enconomically, as Seattle, Bellevue, and San Francisco become places for the rich, and the poor who can hang on, but little in between. So it’s a general American trend.

      3. > I agree, there is no medium sized transportation project, and given the state’s stated goals regarding climate, equity, and transportation, I think they are choosing the wrong large projects.

        I don’t think spending more money on the bnsf corridor is going to work. Or the problem is more about the capped frequency than the speed. For this intercity transit basically there needs to be new right of way.

        For washington state there’s two corridors, one north/south and another east/west. Sound Transit is already building the north/south corridor for at least Everett to Tacoma. For longer segments from Vancouver to Portland, building even a 100 mph separate rail line will cost an huge sum of money. I guess alternatively maybe one could build some third tracks for passing freight trains on the existing route but considering how long freight trains are nowadays even that is complicated.

        The only kind of realistic “commuter/intercity” projects I can think about are
        a) third tracking Seattle to Tacoma on the bnsf corridor to allow at least like 30 minute frequency all-day (just completely use the third track with passing tracks).
        b) build a new commuter line on the ERC, the only obvious unused rail right of way that goes through density
        c) if one wants seattle to everett to vancouver right now, have some intercity bus route semi-replacing flixbus/greyhound. also add say direct access hov ramps.
        d) similar to above but for seattle to say spokane. most useful for the smaller cities in between, I’d imagine if going from Seattle to Spokane itself most would fly.

    2. The inability of passenger trains being able to utilize a key corridor between the regions two largest cities is an issue which, to my mind, warrants more funding than 2% of the budget.

      I suppose my issue is less with the lack of high-speed rail funding and more with the lack of medium- and low-speed rail funding, because of the issues you have highlighted and regarding WSDOT’s concerns about rail, which I have sourced in the hyperlinks.

      1. WSDOT has had a long-range plan for for thirty years to incrementally improve Cascades South from 79 mph to 90 mph and then 110 mph. It said that’s the sweet spot for cost/benefit, because 125 mph would cost significantly more with diminishing returns. But the legislature has only funded it in fits and starts, so it’s still not completed. It should finish that now rather than pursuing high-speed rail. What we need is 2.5 hour service to Portland and more frequency, not 30-minute service to Portland. We don’t need to support people commuting from Portland to Seattle every day, just people making trips once a week or month or few months and faster than driving.

      2. Mike, the difficulty is getting clear commitment from the legislature about this

        The state has proven in the past that they can fix rail bottlenecks and bring our freight rail system back from the brink. They did it during very dire times with the BN system decades ago

        The simple plan outlined by the Amtrak Cascades long range plan was clear headed and, beyond anything else, the most important thing about it was how much capacity it promised to free up. When the Amtrak Acela opened up on the northeast corridor the most impactful thing about it was not the few miles of high speed 150mph service to the delight of youtuber foamer channels everywhere. By far the most impactful thing was the capacity upgrades that allowed for far more service on the corridor

        At around 65+mph and 13 trains a day the Amtrak cascades long range plan would have been incredible for this state and would have brought adequate usable service to countless people. In essence it shares many similarities to the scrappiness of Brightline Florida which build greenfield where reasonable or necessary and eliminated chokepoints elsewhere

        The issue is the legislature simply hasn’t committed the funding. I frankly don’t trust them to follow through with this until the budget is clearly committed towards it, likely in a single package rather than in piecemeal so that the plan is less likely to become victim to scope creep. If the legislature wants to follow in California’s footsteps and pursue a highly capital intensive plan that will take decades and tens of billions of dollars with tens of billions unaccounted for in regards to cost overruns, that is frankly fine by me as long as funding is at least already committed towards the less flashy but still very needed Amtrak cascades long range plan

      3. “the difficulty is getting clear commitment from the legislature about this”

        “The issue is the legislature simply hasn’t committed the funding.”

        Yes, that’s what I said. The legislature has this plan but only funds it in fits and starts, and has never committed to a full build schedule or opening date. It’s quick to fund highways, but Cascades goes up and down depending on whether the legislature cares about funding passenger rail improvements that year.

      4. If the state had fully built out the plan in ten or twenty years like the UK or other countries would have done, that might have lessened the demand for parallel Link and Sounder projects because people could’ve taken Cascades. The push to extend Link to Tacoma and Everett might have been less. Sounder would probably still exist because it was started in the 90s, but maybe not have had as many expansions. And if the track speeds up for Cascades, it could speed up for Sounder too, so that it wouldn’t take a full hour to get to Tacoma Dome or Everett Station.

      5. Heck, 3.5 hour service to Portland is probably fine for most people IF the travel time is reliable and IF it has a more regular schedule throughout the day.

  4. SPIRE-esque plans that call for buying the BNSF ROW between Tacoma and Seattle for passenger rail, and then reserving the UP mainline adjacent to it to be expanded with new branches constructed for freight use would be something WSDOT should do and would help both intercity and regional mobility

    To even upgrade the ROW for higher speed use would require much less tunneling than anything north of Seattle. It would be pretty much a slam dunk for cost effectiveness as far as Sounder and Amtrak Cascades has ever seen, even more cost effective than the eastside commuter rail cost per rider which was projected to be the most cost effective Sounder project to date. Clearly services like Sounder are more cost effective when you own the tracks outright, can run them at any time of the day, and as frequent as is possible and convenient

    The only clear reason why I could see being against it is if someone assumed Sounder and Amtrak cascades to not exist in the future

    1. That would solve a lot of problems, and allow Cascades to run hourly and Sounder half-hourly someday. But this is the same legislature that won’t even finish its own thirty-year-old Cascades plan. So what would inspire it to start negotations to buy the BNSF track?

      1. I doubt BNSF has any interest in selling. But, even aside from that, if such a more ends up shifting more freight from trains to trucks than humans from cars to trains, that seems like a huge increase in carbon emissions, rather than decrease.

    2. This is exactly the kind of thing they should be talking about. Do you know of anyone in the government who is amenable to these kinds of projects? There must be at least one or two rail advocates.

    3. There is too much traffic between Black River Junction and East Tacoma for all the freight to run on UP, even if it were double-tracked. However, all the through north-south freight headed beyond Tacoma could probably be accommodated.

      The problem is that BNSF has twice the tonnage of UP, so it’s not likely to be happy paying wheelage. The State would be on the hook for continued subsidies to BNSF.

      The fact is that BNSF has a lot more industrial leads than does UP, and that makes it the poorer passenger line. But it penetrates the centers of the cities along the way, which makes it the better passenger pathway. It’s Catch-22 for sure.

      1. probably the best thing to do would be to construct a brand new of tracks next the the BNSF track and run sounder and amtrak service on that

      2. Adding track would be quite difficult from Kent southward to the north edge of Tacoma, as Puyallup and Kent have a number of places where the infrastructure interferes with adding anything.

        On the other hand, the northeast corridor deals with a lot of train traffic, and narrows down to two tracks for bridges and other narrow places. Maybe it could be made to work?

  5. There are things such as restricted revenue sources, such as a fuel tax. There are also Federal pass-through dollars that have restrictions.

    How do restrictions affect this budgeting?

    I believe too that some funds spent in urban areas also have to have been by PSRC and others as the MPOs — often in an approved long-range plan.

    These factors complicate what kind of discretion WSDOT has. Just looking at where the budget goes omits so much of the actual story of why the funds are distributed as they are.

    1. An analysis I saw said that because other tax revenues goes into the general fund while the gas tax goes to a dedicated highway fund, it insulates highways from the reprioritizations and cuts that every other state program risks every year. And because gasoline is exempt from sales tax (the gas tax replaces it), it’s a de factor subsidy from all state inhabitants to car drivers. If the gas tax went into the general fund, then there would be an equal playing field between highway projects and other projects.

  6. Looks like the Streetcar CCC is dead. Thank goodness.

    Now is time to put some trolley wires on the 0.6mi of road on 1st Ave without them and reroute #1 bus to First Ave. Will achieve basically the same thing, without spending 100 million we don’t have.

    1. Did the city vote to can the CCC? Did they say it wouldn’t be in the next Move Seattle?

      The CCC also included center transit-only lanes on 1st. So just moving a trolleybus isn’t the same thing. And the G is supposed to turn around at a shared station with the CCC, so what happens to that?

      1. > Did the city vote to can the CCC?

        The city defunded the streetcar study and there is no funding in the budget for 2024. It does depend on what they spend the next move Seattle. Which I really hope they don’t end up using half the budget of move Seattle on the streetcar.

        > And the G is supposed to turn around at a shared station with the CCC, so what happens to that?

        The rapid ride g will use a right side lane stop on 1st avenue https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/SDOT/TransitProgram/RapidRide/Madison/2021_1stTo5th.pdf.

        I’m assuming if they rebuild it with center streetcar tracks and center stop, the rapidride G can choose either option since it has both left doors and right doors.

        The center transit lanes are not that convenient/useful for the brt anyways as the bus has to make two successive right turns immediately

      2. Right turns to and from a center lane are actually easier than to and from the curb lane if the bus has a queue jump for the turn out of the center lane.

    2. No, not yet. It may be a zombie project blocking bus transit from 1st Avenue. The mayor’s budget may not have added new funds for the Cultural Connector (new brand for Center City Connector) streetcar. A study is promised soon. This summer, a council budget committee voted to not spend a million on a CCC study. Note that the 2019 budget had a $7.2 million study that was not conducted as its funding was to come from taxes on TNC and Covid happened.

      I hope Seattle kills its zombie project.

      There is electric trolleybus overhead on 1st Avenue with connections to wire on Lenora, Virginia, Stewart, Pine, Pike, Union, Madison, Marion, and South Jackson streets. The continual planning for the CCC Streetcar kept bus service at bay; the AWV project booted bus service from 1st Avenue in fall 2011 (routes 15, 18, 21, 22, and 56); routes 10-12 and 11-125 were broken apart in fall 2012. The deep bore is open.

      If SLUer is referring to Belltown, that segment had ETB service between 1940 and 1963. But it could have hybrid routes. The segment between Lenora and South Jackson streets could have both ETB and hybrid routes. Route 1 is not a great candidate to shift. It would be good to keep all QA routes together on 3rd Avenue.

    3. If the city had just killed CCC, presumably because of the cost, I doubt they would be coming right behind this and fund any remotely equivalent bus improvements to First Ave.

      If CCC is killed, First Ave. will remain as it is for at least another decade.

      1. @Brandon,

        You are correct.

        The cost of the CCC is so high because all the other entities logrolled their pet projects into it. Now it involves utility upgrades, a complete street rebuild, bike lanes, transit lanes, blah blah blah.

        All these add ons increased the “CCC cost” to the point where it is possible that the city council might just kill the golden goose.

        But, of course, once the golden goose is dead, I don’t think you will see any of these other add ons actually get funded. Because it’s easier to spend someone else’s money than it is to spend your own.

      2. Transit lanes aren’t a pet project; they’re a basic requirement of transit service. Buses can only go fast if they’re in transit-priority lanes or tunnels, not stuck behind SOVs. That’s important to make buses faster than cars so that they’re a compelling choice. Otherwise you’re making fifty people wait behind three people.

      3. > The cost of the CCC is so high because all the other entities logrolled their pet projects into it. Now it involves utility upgrades, a complete street rebuild, bike lanes, transit lanes, blah blah blah.

        While I also abhor the downtown streecar project versus just funding rapidrides, the most expensive part is the utility upgrades/digging up and moving them. As well as having to find space to build a streetcar depot and buying new streetcar vehicles because apparently the old vs new ones are incompatible lol.

        The transit lane is in the same lane as the streetcar is supposed to be, and actually one of the alternatives maintains it as a shared lane with cars. And unless the plan changed, there are no bike lanes for 1st avenue planned. There is no complete street rebuild, the tree’s are assumed to be left in place.


      4. @Mike Orr,

        Transit lanes for Metro on 1st are a pet project, or at least a vanity project.

        There hasn’t been a Metro route on 1st for as long as I can remember, and suddenly we are supposed to believe that not only should Metro be on first, but dedicated transit lanes are required? Give me a break.

        Na, Metro saw a proposal for a big, shiny streetcar to go in on 1st and got worried that they would be the only ones not invited to the party. So they came up with a “need”.

        But hey, if the CCC goes away, then let Metro fund their own transit lanes. Maybe they can take the funding out of their budget for hiring new operators. LOL.

        And can Metro even on run 1st given the new curb weight restrictions to preserve Underground Seattle? I have my doubts.

      5. @WL,

        The new streetcars are compatible. ST is just changing vendors. There was a length issue, but that has been resolved last I heard. And the slightly increased length comes with better operating economics.

        And the CCC would be center running. What benefit that is to a bus is unknown to me, unless of course the bus makes no stops.

      6. It’s not Metro asking for transit lanes on 1st if the streetcar fails; it’s transit fans saying it would be a good idea.

      7. @Mike Orr,

        Yet another fine example of why “transit fans” shouldn’t set transit policy.

      8. Somebody has to hold up transit best practices when the politicians and agencies don’t.

        To be clear, the issue isn’t 1st Avenue, it’s streets buses run on in general.

      9. @Lazarus remember that not long ago the congested stretches of First Ave. were essentially the on ramp queues for the viaduct. Between the tunnel and the new waterfront highway, there is much less need for car lanes on First. Change is the only constant.

      10. Transit lanes on 1st seems unnecessary with the 3rd Ave. bus spine just two blocks away. If you don’t want buses getting stuck in traffic, just route them on 3rd.

        There are lots of other streets outside of downtown where transit lanes would have much bigger impact on bus riders than 1st Ave. For example, how about a bus lane for the 44 in Ballard? Or the 40 on Northgate Way approaching Aurora? Or the 7 when Rainier Ave. approaches 23rd Ave.?

        I don’t understand why so many people nitpick at very tiny transit issues within downtown (like needing to walk two block) when the bus network has so many bigger problems in the rest of the city.

        (Some argue that buses need to be moved from 3rd to 1st for safety reasons; I would counter that by saying the city needs to hire police officers, security guards, or whatever is necessary to make 3rd Ave. safe, rather than just giving up on 3rd and moving the buses elsewhere).

      11. https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/01/24/metro-studies-how-to-better-serve-the-waterfront-and-belltown/

        In 2019, King County Metro was considering moving Route 1 to First Ave:

        “Routes 1 and 14 currently operate every 15 minutes at peak hours and every 20 to 30 minutes at off-peak times. This frequency would likely be retained if the routes moved. Metro estimates that the new wire would cost somewhere between $1 million and $4 million to complete. The operational cost, however, would be marginal over today. Moving these routes off of Third Avenue to First Avenue would require adding new overhead catenary wire. A small gap of First Avenue lacks overhead catenary wire between Broad Street and Virginia Street (a total of 0.6 miles).”


      12. “ Transit lanes on 1st seems unnecessary with the 3rd Ave. bus spine just two blocks away. If you don’t want buses getting stuck in traffic, just route them on 3rd.”

        I’ve long felt that the better strategy is to make Third Ave easier to reach and to make climbing the hill Downtown easier as opposed to invest on another less steep parallel project. Specifically:

        – Several new pedestrian tunnels from 2nd Ave to the DSTT mezzanines

        – Converting traffic lanes on the sloped and now underutilized lanes (note the AWV ramps no longer feed cross streets) to enclosed (weather protection for equipment) escalators or short-distance inclines

        – Creation of partnerships to build and maintain pedestrian connectivity through buildings including vertical circulation

        Transit capital investment seems best for trips at least 1/3 mile or a significant elevation change.

      13. Lazarus memory: in fall 2011, routes 15, 18, 21, 22, and 56 were shifted to 3rd Avenue from 1st Avenue to make room for the AWV replacement project. In fall 2012, routes 10 and 12 were broken apart as 1st Avenue was full of AWV related traffic. Some routes going to and from AWV ramps at Columbia and Seneca streets used 1st Avenue for a few blocks. Later, routes 99 and 62 were deleted and shifted, respectively, to make room for the utility work prior to the CCC Streetcar. The SDOT One City Center project suggested it was sound to have two-way all-day transit service on both 1st and 3rd avenues; of course, the dream was the CCC Streetcar. No one has funded it. The Murray-Kubly SDOT made many planning mistakes; the Seattle Times and Durkan unveiled the mistakes. In 2019, when the AWV closed, but the deep bore not yet open, south end routes used 1st Avenue. The buses did not serve stops at South Jackson Street to protect the areaways. In 2019, the council allocated $7.2 million for a CCC Streetcar study; it was not conducted as the revenue from the TNC did not come due to Covid. The study’s questions were not answered; they included the areaways, viaducts, and Kubly SDOT plans. The Spotts Culture Connector Streetcar study is promised. Much further back, between 1940 and 1963, routes 15 and 18 were electric trolleybus routes serving both West Seattle and Ballard via 1st Avenue. The CC or CCC streetcar has not been funded.

  7. I’m sorry, Collin, but your claim that rail should get 25% of public transportation funds in the fourth paragraph is ludicrous. Something on the order of 98% of the ton-miles carried on railroads in the state do so on privately owned tracks. BNSF already “in-shored” the old Stampede Pass route; there’s not much left to upgrade.

    Further, your marquee project for the funding, electrifying BNSF between Seattle and Vancouver (WA) will never happen without a Federal mandate. BNSF doesn’t want to run double’stacks “under wire”, nor does its tenant south of Tacoma, UP. There are too many trains headed to and from too many destinations using that route to force re-engining at its boundaries.

    A dozen years ago it might have made sense to electrify one route out to the Missouri River from the Powder River Basin and make both roads use it, but production of Lignite coal is headed rapidly to zero. So if there ever is to be new electrified freight lines in the US, it will BNSF’s “Transcon” between Barstow and Argentine Yard in Kansas City and / or the UP between Provo and North Platte and Corona and El Paso. None is within 500 miles of Washington State.

    Your ardor is attractive, but your plan is “pie-in-the-sky” at best. Can you find some modest but good quality traipsing projects for Washington to fund? Something a wee bit less “audacious” and more likely to be approved?

    1. It doesn’t matter if I advocate for something moderate or “pie-in-the-sky” because it won’t be taken up anyway. We can’t even have conversations about how to spend rail funding if everyone just starts the conversation by saying nothing can be done.

      Things can always be done, and things are always done. Citizens and enterprises are always upset about any changes made. The government is just making certain choices about who do disappoint which I disagree with.

      1. OK, then what exactly are you going to spend a billion dollars on fixing up short lines? Because I’ll tell you right now that the remaining important short lines in the state — the Cascade and Columbia River, the Puget Sound and Pacific, Rainier Rail, and the Chelhatchie Prairie, plus a bunch of grain switchers and hobby lines — are either in decent shape already from previous government investment (three of the four named) or a joke (Chelhatchie Prairie).

        The big boys. BNSF and UP don’t need, or more to the point, don’t want your meddling. And they have Federal law protecting them. Even if the State of Washington made you governor and you wanted to file eminent domain against them you couldn’t.

        So you’re not going to get their tracks unless they want to sell them to you. With the possible exception of more branches in Eastern Washington, they aren’t interested in your money. They make too much on the trackage, and it’s integral to their networks. Without Puget Sound terminals, BNSF would be worth a lot less to Uncle Warren.

      2. I also just noticed your fanciful dire need to upgrade “45% of the state’s short line railroads”. I assume you get that figure from the report’s statement that 55% can accommodate cars of 288,00p pounds gross weight. Maybe the remaining 45% don’t ship such volumes or can get along with smaller cars for the shipments they do handle.

        In any case, if WSDOT’s hair is on fire about this, they seem not to have notified the Leg in any obvious way.

    2. Perhaps a new set of conventional rail tracks between Seattle and Portland, to separate passenger service from freight? Electrified from the outset, if possible. Would greatly help both Amtrak and Sounder South. Extend some Sounder South trips to Olympia shouldn’t be a problem either. BNSF benefits by never having to deal with freight – passenger conflicts, and they still get to collect the fees for passenger since they still own the corridor. Could be used for all-freight when trains are not running, or not running as often, over night as well. A win-win? HSR could presumably be built elevated above this in the future.

    3. their arguments for they cant run double stacked underwire are BS though India and China have run much taller double stacks underwire anyway CSX already runs underwire in a few places around philadelphia

  8. The Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program Committee (LEAP) document referred to in the post at the top of this thread covers State funding in the various mode categories. But more is going on to build transportation infrastructure in our State, and in the spending pie chart above, at least one big piece is missing.
    A major category of transportation spending in our State is Sound Transit. For this agency, local tax revenue in the 2023-29 period is revealed in its published 2023 Financial Plan and Adopted Budget document as approximately $17 billion, read by my eyeball summing across the bar chart years 2023-29 on pdf page 13. Federal funds are on top of that.
    Sound Transit spending of more than $17 billion in 2023-29 from all its sources, with not much from State of Washington as a source, exceeds not only the $804 million shown in the pie chart above for public transit and rail, but is also decisively more than the $15 billion for highways and roads in that big money pie depicted by LEAP.

    1. Thanks for pointing me to that resource!

      I have a few points on this:
      1) This doesn’t address the lack of funding for rail.

      2) There are other transit agencies in the state which could use that money.

      3) Sound Transit could still use this money better than highways. Regardless of how much it’s already making, the state contributing more would help increase transit use and allow ST to pursue more projects simultaneously. Until all projects are on time or ahead of schedule, I would pressure the state to contribute more to the agency.

      4) The point of the piece is to highlight that the state has money to spend on transportation, so we shouldn’t be shy about telling them they should spend more on transit. We shouldn’t be compromising, we should be pushing others to compromise. Too often do I hear “there isn’t enough money”. There is enough money.

    2. “Too often do I hear “there isn’t enough money”. There is enough money.”

      Many countries and regions poorer than the US or Pugetopolis have extensive passenger rail networks and comprehensive transit networks, so if they can do it, we can. It’s just a matter of priorities. We don’t get it because the state, counties, and cities don’t even try. They either downplay the need, claim a project will solve everything when it only solves a small part, or they water a project down with non-transit modifications so that it doesn’t fulfill its original goals.

      For instance, the state often acts like its own Cascades expansion plan isn’t important. Or somebody comes along and says Link will meet all our mobility needs, or all of them on one street, when it only meets some of them. Or a project to put transit-priority lanes on Eastlake, 23rd, or 35th Ave NE gets watered down to give concessions to bikes or parking spaces, or a tunnel or station doesn’t get built or proposed because of short-term construction impacts. That all is why we keep getting disappointing results from incremental improvements or lack of improvements, to the point that we sometimes get a new project that doesn’t seem to improve anything so we’re back where we started.

  9. I think WSDOT is spending way too much money on highway expansions. But, if they cancelled many of their boondoggle projects, I’d be fine if the money were simply returned to taxpayers in the form of lower taxes.

    1. I might even be fine if WSDOT used the highway expansion money to address the backlog of deferred maintenance, repairs, and needed replacements in the highway system instead, and transferred zero of it to rail. Fix It First!

  10. There are two overlapping but distinct problems. One is projects that don’t have the best cost/benefit ratio, like limited-quality light rail all the way out to Everett and Tacoma, or high-speed rail when medium-speed (110 mph) would be fine. The other is just not spending enough. Seattle should have four metro rail lines by now, the core bus routes should run every 5-10 minutes instead of 15-20, East and South King County should have 15-minute full-time service on at least half their routes, Cascades should run hourly, Sounder should complement Cascades so that there’s one or the other every 15-20 minutes, there should be a third BNSF track to increase both passenger and freight service, the rural county connector buses should run at least hourly full-time (e.g., Everett-Bellingham), there should be at least conventional regional rail to Spokane, and maybe Tacoma/Everett/Issaquah Link downgraded to something with a better cost/benefit ratio. This is what a comprehensive network would look like.

    1. A third overlapping problem is just how much it’s costing ST to do any projects.

      Somewhere between the more monumental Link stations and TriMet’s stations that are basically glorified sidewalks with a couple of bus shelters, there should be some sort of happy medium that’s appropriate for the actual ridership Link is likely to see.

      1. I think it’s fine and expected that agencies won’t make the right decisions 100% of the time, and that’s particularly expected with the United States because our transportation and urban planning departments sabotaged their own abilities to create and develop new transit infrastructure for nearly half a century.

        We have to pay the price for the mistakes of the past, so it only seems logical that we would allocate more funding to these projects from all sources, if decarbonizing the economy and increasing equity is a priority of the state (which officially, both of those things are, as I’ve linked to in the piece above).

      2. @Glenn,

        Portland and Seattle are about the same population, although Seattle is much more dense and has a much larger metropolitan area.

        Yet currently the 1-Line is carrying about 20% more daily passengers than is all of the Max system. This despite the fact that the 1-Line is 50% of the length of Max and has just 1/5 the number of stations. And despite the fact that the 1-Line has been in service for less than 15 years compared to Max’s almost 40 years of service.

        So should ST downgrade its Link infrastructure to be more like Max? I’d say “no”. Clearly Link is working in Seattle, and it is working very well.

        And, yes, when Link gets to Everett it *might* be a different story. But changing train lengths to match ridership is not operationally efficient, and can be accomplished by adjusting frequency anyhow. And small side platform type stations just can’t handle the larger loads possible with Link.

        So, at most, we might see more RV-like stations on the periphery of the system. But a full downgrade to Max level should be avoided.

      3. Lazarus;
        Several Link stations along ML King and in SoDo are basically extended MAX stations. They seem to work fine.

        MAX also runs through a lot of nothingness with only park and ride lots. See parts of the green and orange, and the massive strip malls along Airport way. Unfortunately, part of Link is routed though areas that look like that.

        For a week or so I used the Berlin S Bahn Babelsberg station In Potsdam. It’s located in a far more favorable transit neighborhood than 90% of the Link stations. At one time, it handled a significant amount of traffic, yet it’s just a platform with a one floor difference to street level.

        In fact, much like International District station, which will likely always be one of the busiest on Link, but is really quite a simple design, using street level to do the work of the mezzanine.

        A German transit advocate once pointed out to me, years ago, that the USA spends far more on a given transit project than any other nation. He thought much could be gained by trying to solve that particular issue.

      4. > So should ST downgrade its Link infrastructure to be more like Max? I’d say “no”. Clearly Link is working in Seattle, and it is working very well.

        We shouldn’t downgrade but implement the same “medium” similar to what currently exists.

        The West Seattle Link in alaskan junction should be elevated not underground costing vastly more money. The interbay extension have been constantly upscaled from at-grade in median to elevated, and now even discuss extending the tunnels further into interbay. Ballard itself has been changed from an 70 foot drawbridge to an very high fixed bridge to a very expensive underground tunnel. And this was after the Ballard — West Seattle Link was already upscaled from the at-grade alternatives originally. Everett Link was upscaled from the original along i5, to swerve to Paine Field (at grade) and then upscaled again to become elevated.

  11. It’s just so shortsighted for ST to plan tracks north of Mariner and south of Federal Way for 55 mph light rail. It is a perfect opportunity to build a four track/ two track high speed segment on these segments to kick start higher speed rail.

    I don’t see BNSF ever buying into higher speed rail — and think the solution is going to have to be state owned tracks.

    If the State and ST had a shared capital investment plan it really could be (or could have been) amazing.

    1. Where does the H(igher)SR go between Mariner and Federal Way? At FW it’s already up on the hill between Puget Sound and the Green River Valley. Would it swing east and descend to follow along the UP (say) up to Tukwila and then ???? I guess it could continue alongside the BNSF up to Union Station but then you’ve got twenty miles of new tunnel up to Mariner.

      Complicated, especially with the Link tunnel essentially cutting diagonally entirely across the arc for a new tunnel to follow between downtown Seattle and the Ship Canal. I doubt that you can hijack the express lanes, though it would be sweet and only leave about eight or nine miles to tunnel/vault over. However, the I-5 Ship Canal bridge is almost certainly not designed to handle the loads of a pair of passenger trains moving briskly on the lower deck.

      1. Reply to self.

        Well, it is reasonably high; perhaps a “rigid box” with independent external supports could be constructed witin the four-lane wide existing structure to isolate the rail dynamics from the original bridge? There are a lot of spaces on the sides of the lower deck that could be used to pass the supports through the space.

        That would be radical.

      2. Perhaps the H(igher)SR doesn’t have to go through the heart of Seattle, at least not at first. So have a stop at the airport on the south side, i.e., an intermodel hub, and Mariner or Lynnwood, which will both also have BRT lines, on the North side?

      3. Brandon: the initial segment doesn’t have to get all the way Downtown at first as you say. I would connect Portland and Seattle first anyway. I think that a train has to reach Link but there are several places where it could use the I-5 right of way south of I-90 to get te train pretty far. It could even stay on I-90 and skip the airport and instead stop at BAR. But even if it is only a train that replaces Link light rail at first, getting state money for the project to allow for higher speed trains later could make it more financially feasible.

      4. There is no reason to build HSR of any kind unless it penetrates the Seattle CBD. C’mon, think how people would jeer if it ended at the airport.

        “That’s a real nice extension to the people mover you’ve got there!”

      5. @Tom Terrific

        It’s actually not quite an unusual model for say china, their hsr doesn’t reach downtown. The problem of course is that we wouldn’t build any apartments nearby that hsr hub over at SeaTac so it’d wasted.

      6. There’s actually a fair amount of capacity between Seattle and Kent. North of Kent it’s a three track main line. If you can expand from Kent to Tacoma you might as well go into Seattle.

        Tacoma needs about another mile of track to connect both main lines to Freighthouse Square. There’s already a bridge over both main lines to connect to the Tideflats yard. The bridge just needs another connection on the other end so it is connected to both BNSF main lines.

      7. From Martin’s link:

        “The Cascades Long Range Plan should have been built yesterday, and yet there have been no serious State investments into it for well over a decade.”

      8. Glenn, yes, the combined BNSF and UP lines north of Black River Junction are dispatched as one rail artery which nets three bi-directional main tracks, but there’s no additional capacity on it for HSR trains and, say, thirty-minute headways on Sounder South, at least, not without closing off the industrial spurs on both sides and not parking trains along Airport Way.

        Also, the accesses to Argo Yard, Harbor Island and the BNSF I/M yard along SR99 branch off just north of Georgetown one after the other, creating a lot of congestion between the Airport Way bridge and the Spokane Street crossing. Fortunately, they are all to the west side of the “main” so passenger trains can stay to the east side with usually no interference.

        But there’s not much “unused capacity” through there.

  12. I think most of the voting public is fine with the state spending more money on roads/highways than rail, as they figure more people use roads (suburban or rural inhabitants, delivery people, freight, taxis/bus transit) than rail (just freight lines and Amtrak fanboys). By that logic, spending a lot more on what people use makes more sense than sinking money in infrastructure that appeals to just a niche audience. If you’re a pro-rail politician, how do you reason with that line of thinking of the people who put you in — and can remove you from — office?

    1. This is just more “why should we build a bridge when nobody crosses that river?” type of thinking. If you provide high-frequency transit that is competitive with cars, people will take it. If you don’t, they won’t. Or few will. We haven’t, so currently the transit-riding constituency is smaller than the driving constituency. Whenever you build an excellent, or even just a good transit network, those percentages flip, and there are more people on transit than in cars.

      Given that the world is burning up and all, maybe it’s time to try that.

      1. If you provide high-frequency transit that is competitive with cars, people will take it.

        That’s true somewhat, but largely to the degree that they can walk to it….. Since we have built our cities to be sprawling monstrosities — and denuded our forests of valuable, life-supporting trees in the process — we’re, bluntly, effyouseekaywhyeedee. The US will always be a hugely wasteful energy hog because of its built environment; there’s no way back now.

        Since fossil fuels are starting to kill people wholesale — and it’s only going to get worse — and the “green transition” will require more metals to make cars for all those detached homes sprawling across the landscape than can be mined, we’re even more effyouseekaywhyeedee. This will end very badly for the United States when the rest of the world decides “Those jerks will just not control their appetites. We have to kill them all.”

        And they will proceed to so so.

      2. “largely to the degree that they can walk to it”

        That depends on how convenient transfers are. If the connecting buses are frequent so that waits are short, the the walking distance is short and there’s no long traffic light in between, there’s a bench to sit on, and the neighborhood is “safe”, then people will be more wiling to do multi-seat rides and walk a longer distance at their origin and/or destination.

        “The US will always be a hugely wasteful energy hog because of its built environment; there’s no way back now.”

        You can accomplish a lot in forty years. The Netherlands after WWII pursued Los Angeles-style car-and-freeway development. That changed in the 1970s after several children were killed in car-bike collisions and the need to not depend on unstable Mideast oil countries became acute. They took a sharp turn toward bike lanes and transit. It took decades to build out but it’s now a model for the world.

        The closest recent example in the US is Washington DC. It built a metro with the right scale, station locations, and train-to-train transfers, and it was an immediate hit. (Obviously I could question some of the particular decisions, but overall it succeeded amazingly.) Virginia and Maryland decided to pursue walkable density in the station areas, and that was also wildly successful. The original reason they chose walkable density was specific 1960s factors and a proposed freeway and budget buckets — things specific to that place and time. But it showed that “If you build it, they will come”, and it was so successful every DC-area city is pursuing it now, and even car-dependent Tyson’s Corner was redesigned.

        In any case, we’re not trying to see whether it’s possible to fix Arizona or North Carolina, we’re trying to fix Seattle, Pugetopolis, and Washington state. These have a better head start. There are more intact bones that can be strengthened. We just need to strengthen the bones and not neglect them. We could do a lot in forty years. But first society has to commit to it and prioritize it. Commit to real comprehensive transit, walkability, and bikeability.

      3. Hey, I agree with you. I’m in the “if you build it, they will come” on rail projects; look at the interest Brightline has spurred in high(-er) speed rail, and how a lot of my non-transit family is looking forward to East Link. (I even took my niece from Maui, where there is virtually no public transit, on a Link “joy ride”, and she absolutely loved it.)

        However, you keep seeing all these stories about rail projects constantly going late and way over budget (CAHSR), and that’s easy ammo for anti-tax/anti-infrastructure folks.

        I also notice that the huge cost of building highways is rarely mentioned in the news, and it probably wouldn’t move the needle as much as if that were a rail project. Highways are almost always free to use, and their inflated prices would be justified as a critical part of the economy. It’s like how a large part of the electorate has no problem with the USA’s gargantuan defense budget, as they reason national security is a better use of tax dollars than [insert social issue here].

      4. “you keep seeing all these stories about rail projects constantly going late and way over budget (CAHSR), and that’s easy ammo for anti-tax/anti-infrastructure folks.”

        The answer is to fix the problems that cause high costs and bad designs, rather than shifting money from projects that improve things (rail) to projects that make things worse (expanding highways and airports). The reason rail projects are so expensive and go over budget is we don’t build them like Canada or Spain or France or Japan do. We have processes that work against each other and drive productivity down and costs up.

        One part is the Buy America act, which cuts us off from 98% of the low-cost models and innovations that the rest of the world has, because our rail market is so small, fragmented, and uncertain that companies won’t build factories for those products in the US. Supposedly “product is not available in the US” is justification for an exception, but that never seems to happen for rail or bus products.

        In the end most of the people who are anti-transit or anti-tax, are so for ideological reasons, so the actual cost won’t make a difference. They hate it if it costs a lot, but if an alternative rail project came along that did the same thing but costs little, they’d hate it too.

        “I also notice that the huge cost of building highways is rarely mentioned in the news”

        Society is carefully structured to hide the cost of highways, driving, and parking lots. It’s both fiscal policies and psychological. Everybody pays the cost except the current driver, so that it looks inexpensive to them. Otherwise they might reject highways and car infrastructure on cost grounds. That wouldn’t do for those who want to expand it.

        In a sense all transportation modes are subsidized: cars, buses, trains, bikes. Otherwise lower-income people couldn’t get around and the economy would suffer. But we should give the most subsidies to the modes that move the most people for the least cost and have the least environmental externalities. That means transit in general, and we shouldn’t be so shy about rail. The Netherlands/Switzerland/Spain/Japan are examples of the appropriate amount of rail infrastructure per capita. Bike infrastructure costs almost nothing, so we should just do it. But car infrastructure fails on all these measures. We need to distinguish between essential care infrastructure for emergency vehicles, freight, working trucks, people moving or carrying bulky loads, the disabled, etc. Then add a buffer for some choice trips. But not try to build something that allows everybody to drive SOVs simultaneously with no congestion, and use it for all their trips, and to make it the first or only mode available to them.

      5. “you keep seeing all these stories about rail projects constantly going late and way over budget (CAHSR), and that’s easy ammo for anti-tax/anti-infrastructure folks.”
        …and, the perfect example being the I-405 Corridor Program, whose EIS was completed in 2001. (referred to as the Master Plan in WSDOT’s current online 405/167 corridor plan.

        The project was presumed to be completed around 2012 (depending on getting funded), and the congestion relief lasting until around 2025 at around $6.5 Billion dollars (year 2000 budget dollars, as opposed to YOE)
        What’s the status of the I-405 portion?
        Is it finished?
        What’s the final cost?

        Best described by your statement:
        “I also notice that the huge cost of building highways is rarely mentioned in the news”
        Which Mike Orr does a good job of describing WHY the public doesn’t know.

      6. @ Jim Cusick,

        Yep, anyone who thinks cost inflation or missed schedules are unique to transit projects just isn’t paying attention to the big picture. Or maybe they don’t want to.

        I once moved to Southern California to serve some hard time. When I drove SB through Olympia they were working on I-5. When I finally got a better job and moved back up to Seattle they were still working on I-5 through Olympia – 4.5 years later!

        And the I-5 rebuild through Tacoma took 22 years of continuous construction. Sort of makes ST look speedy and efficient.

      7. — I can’t blame Biden for the “Buy American” program, he’s trying to keep the union vote in the Democrats’ column and the country’s industrial sector needs a shot in the arm. That doesn’t preclude tapping those who built the successful trains and train lines oversees on the shoulder and asking for guidance and best practices.

        — And it looks like we’re not the only ones having trouble building rail: Rishi Sunak just torpedoed the northern half of Britain’s HS2 project. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-67005544

  13. And you are sure of your conclusion how??

    If it’s a forgone conclusion as you seem to indicate, that everyone prefers more roads over rail, then why wasn’t the raise in my gas tax in 2014 put out as a statewide ballot measure, along with how this would benefit me as a taxpayer?

    Don’t forget, ST2 was passed after the Roads and Transit package failed.

    Even in my old stomping grounds of Bothell, their Prop 1 in 2014, which was billed as a Parks improvement bond was voted down. Almost half of that going to building Main St, and the western half of the Bothell-Everett Highway in downtown.

    Bothell basically said that they don’t care what the public wanted, and they found the money anyway.

    If the public understood how incredibly expensive ‘solving congestion’ is in straight dollar amounts, they’d be voting for less pavement, not more.

    1. I agree, highway megaprojects absolutely should require voter approval, just like transit projects. But, that will never happen because the freeway construction industrial complex would not like it.

      1. It’s also drivers who don’t want freeway projects to potentially fail at the ballot box. A vote means people will be told their taxes will go up this much if they vote yes. That might lead them to vote no, or to demand a scaled-down project, as happens with transit.

      2. It isn’t just transit projects. Schools are largely funded locally. This is arguably the worst ongoing political problem in this country. It means that wealthy communities have better schools than poor ones. The federal government (and the states) try and backfill things (with some funding) but the basic funding mechanism is just backwards.

        Freeway projects are paid for by the state based on the belief that everyone in the state benefits. Otherwise, you have the same problem as with the schools. People will reject projects in poor areas simply because they can’t afford them. Or they will reject large projects because there aren’t enough people in the local areas to pay for it. The area around Snoqualmie Pass would have a really hard time paying for the freeway through it, for example. It really doesn’t benefit those locally, but people from around the state. It is quite reasonable to pay for it at the state level.

        But the same is true with transit. The state benefits greatly if the biggest city — the city that generates way more than its share of wealth and taxes than the rest of the state — has a really good transportation system. It is basically the same argument as that for schools. What happens with the school system in Seattle effects people in Spokane or Bellingham. What happens with the transportation system does as well.

        There should definitely be more state (and federal) funding. This problem is not really the funding mechanism, it is the projects themselves. We should be spending way less on highway “improvements” and way more on maintaining what we have. What we do spend on improvements should be well spent. The same is true for transit. The problem isn’t that locals are paying the bulk of it, it is that the projects are really poorly thought out.

  14. > I agree, highway megaprojects absolutely should require voter approval, just like transit projects. But, that will never happen because the freeway construction industrial complex would not like it.

    I’ve always wondered why our FTA (federal transit administration) is so relatively hands off compared to the FHWA. As in the FHWA has a lot more sway in proposing projects and denying both creep that scales down freeways or projects that overspend money. While the FTA just seems to accept both downscaling of transit projects (brt to just regular busses, though new rules for funding have been better) or upscaling them to ludicrous costs (the San Jose bart extension from cut and cover to mined stations) and still funds them.

    Bringing this back on topic, to fund and plan something HSR really needs the FTA to step in and provide guidance. Or even at least if it’s a commuter line (new third track) to Tacoma that say one day eventually goes to Portland. Like the FTA just seems to sit, wait and let metros come to it for plans and asking it for funding even if it’s a bad idea. It doesn’t really propose plans itself. It’s very odd compared to other national transit agencies

    1. “Like the FTA just seems to sit, wait and let metros come to it for plans and asking it for funding even if it’s a bad idea.”

      The FTA may be like Sound Transit in some ways.

    2. The issue of high speed rail is complicated by the function of FTA versus FRA. For example, Sounder trains must be FRA compliant so that they can better withstand train collisions. FRA rules add lots of weight to vehicles for very logical safety reasons, but that added weight affects many things from bridge strength to acceleration and deceleration to slopes to vibration and noise just to name a few.

      There’s probably the need to rethink how we manage rail going forward. So much was defined by Civil War era approaches for private firms to build and operate tracks.

    3. The FHWA takes the lead on projects because there are two types of highways which receive Federal funding, the Interstate System and the Federal Aid Primary group, the “White Shield” highways. Both were and are planned by the FHWA with state participation, of course, because they have to join seamlessly at state boundaries. The Federal Aid Primary system is from the late 1920’s and still exists largely as it was developed at that time.

      States do propose additions to the Interstate System in and around cities, either as even-prefixeded “alternate” or “bypass” routes or odd-prefixed “urban stubs”.

      There’s nothing similar in the for the Federal Railway Administration. Almost all of the lines under its authority are privately-owned freight railroads which plan their own fate to the degree that Wall Street allows. “Interstate Compacts” and Amtrak itself are generally the source for passenger network improvements.

      I’m sure most people here know these things, but it’s good to bear in mind when comparing and contrasting Federal planning for the two modes.

      1. > I’m sure most people here know these things, but it’s good to bear in mind when comparing and contrasting Federal planning for the two modes.

        I mean I understand there’s history behind it, but the end result is our FTA is much more passive compared to other nation’s transit agencies even accounting for the lack rail tracks. Like look at the San Jose BART, it upscaled from cut and cover stations to extremely expensive mined stations in order to prevent street closures which had to be funded by the FTA. I doubt many other nation’s transit agencies would have accepted such a scope creep. Even BRT, many American cities used to get away with accepting the federal funds and wasting all the money on fancy bus shelters, it was only relatively recently with a rule change that mandated bus lanes fixing that issue.

        > States do propose additions to the Interstate System in and around cities, either as even-prefixeded “alternate” or “bypass” routes or odd-prefixed “urban stubs”.

        I’m not saying that shouldn’t happen or the same with rail, what I’m surprised is that FTA just accepts any random project and doesn’t really guide any city. Like the FHWA actually has a plan. Even for metro areas it’s not like it’s forbidden for the FTA to plan it out and give suggestions

    4. Like the FTA just seems to sit, wait and let metros come to it for plans and asking it for funding even if it’s a bad idea. It doesn’t really propose plans itself. It’s very odd compared to other national transit agencies.

      Yes, and I think that is one of the big reasons transit is so bad in this country. It is easy to assume it is just lack of funding, but we simply get way less for our money than other countries. Various studies have shown that in various ways. They tend to focus on similar projects (e. g. a subway in Spain, France or Sweden compared to one in the U. S.). But it is often worse than that. If you step back and look at what you are actually building, our projects are often really poor. There are exceptions — the Second Avenue Subway is fundamentally a very good project (just way too expensive) — but we often build poor to middling projects, and then turnaround and pay too much for them.

      I think there are a number of reasons for this, all political. If you take a numbers approach with transit, you would likely spend much if not most of your money on New York City. New York is just so much more urban than the rest of the country, and transit is just so much more cost effective in urban areas. That sort of approach just wouldn’t fly, of course.

      Then, of course, there is Reagan and New Federalism: https://encyclopedia.federalism.org/index.php/New_Federalism_(Reagan). To go to a national model with public transportation (where the federal government has a more active role) would be a complete reversal of that concept. At best, we’ve moved towards what preceded it (cooperation between the federal government and states/local agencies). But it is a reluctant level of cooperation under Republican administrations, and still one that requires the burden be placed on local agencies when the White Houses is under Democratic control.

      This goes back to the anti-pork barrel spending that grew out of Reaganism. Earmark funding was considered bad, in all its forms. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater (which I’m sure pleased the Norquist devotees — who wanted to drown the kid*). It is one thing to replace earmarks with something that requires an approach based on various metrics — but if you don’t have that system (or don’t want it) you are left with what we have now.

      * I am referring to Grover Norquist’s famous line about government — “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Yeah, I know I mixed metaphors, but it kind of works.

      1. I’ll add that this effects not only big projects, but little ones as well.

        Ryan Packer wrote an excellent piece about Move Seattle (https://www.theurbanist.org/2023/09/28/finding-the-legacy-of-the-move-seattle-transportation-levy/). The local agency missed out on federal funding largely because of timing. It is quite reasonable for the federal government to require that the local project actually be shown to be worthy before they chip in funds, but that system only works well if there is some consistency in the federal government. There isn’t.

        The system also favors capital spending. This itself is a problem, in my opinion. My guess is, the largest transit need in the vast majority of cities in America is for more frequent buses. But the federal government won’t pay for that. That is up to the local agency, or the state. So various agencies come up with proposals that are transit-positive, but dubious. Streetcars and BRT, basically. Many of these projects have merit, but there is incentive to spend more than you need to on capital spending, simply because the feds are chipping in some money.

        Then you have the federal system that determines whether a projects is worthy or not. This has gone back and forth*. But to my knowledge, no one has focused on whether projects save a substantial amount of operational time. Again, this is backwards. On the one hand, the federal government won’t pay for what is likely the most important issue for most transit users (how long they have to wait for a bus). Nor is it an issue when it comes to capital spending. A light-rail line that replaces dozens of buses is treated the same as a light-rail line that replaces one. I suppose the former would have more ridership, but again, it discourages an agency from focusing on the big picture. You end up with projects that are more flash than substance. Looking at projects around town, it is quite possible that the changes for the 40 will have the biggest impact on the system (if they do it right). By making the bus a lot faster, you save riders a lot of time, while also saving the agency a lot of money (which could go into running the buses more often). Will it get federal matching funds? Probably not, since it isn’t “BRT”.

        All of which suggests that the state should play a bigger role in local transit funding (since things are messed up at the federal level). They wouldn’t have to manage things, necessarily — simply awarding block grants would suffice. If Tacoma and Spokane each got a hundred million dollars to spend on anything transit related, I wouldn’t complain. It is quite likely they would spend the money better than they would if they had to just through the various hoops needed to get federal matching funds.

        * This essay gives a great rundown on the subject: https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/22/which-riders-matter/. It references this other article: https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/01/13/us-government-plans-overhaul-of-new-start-funding-guidelines-reducing-importance-of-cost-effectiveness/. This just shows how difficult it is to determine whether a project is worthy or not.

  15. Actually speaking about the BNSF line I was double checking the Sounder South reevaluation plan and they recently released a survey from Sept 29 to Nov 11, if anyone wants to take it. Unfortunately there are zero details about if they are planning to add more third tracking to make it possible or if this is just buying the slots from BNSF. (also hopefully this is relevant enough)


    for more context

    > The Sounder South/S Line train provides dependable, congestion-free travel between Seattle and Lakewood every weekday. Most trips run northbound to Seattle in the mornings and southbound in the afternoons.

    > Travel patterns have changed significantly since we completed our Sounder South Strategic Plan in early 2020. More hybrid and work-from-home schedules have reduced travel demand during peak periods, which gives us an opportunity to explore a new future for Sounder South. That’s why we are updating the Strategic Plan this year.

    > Would new Sounder trips midday, in the evenings, or on weekends work better for you than the current plan to prioritize longer trains that add more capacity during peak periods?

  16. https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/01/24/metro-studies-how-to-better-serve-the-waterfront-and-belltown/

    In 2019, King County Metro was considering moving Route 1 to First Ave:

    “Routes 1 and 14 currently operate every 15 minutes at peak hours and every 20 to 30 minutes at off-peak times. This frequency would likely be retained if the routes moved. Metro estimates that the new wire would cost somewhere between $1 million and $4 million to complete. The operational cost, however, would be marginal over today. Moving these routes off of Third Avenue to First Avenue would require adding new overhead catenary wire. A small gap of First Avenue lacks overhead catenary wire between Broad Street and Virginia Street (a total of 0.6 miles).”


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