Metro Fare Hike Approved

The King County Council has approved a 50-cent fare hike to be phased in over the next 14 months.  On February 1, 2009 fares will be boosted by 25 cents — which will bring one-zone peak fares up to $2.00 and two-zone peaks to $2.50. Fares will be boosted again in January 2010 by another quarter. The fare increases will generate over $30 million of additional revenue through 2010.

What to Look for Tonight

While we will likely know who the next President is within a few hours, we won’t find out the results of our state elections (Governor, I-985) or the regional transit expansion measure that we strongly support (Proposition 1). King County, the state’s largest, expects to count only about 39% of the ballots tonight.

But of course we can look at the returns as they come in and try to predict the outcome. For background, the Sound Transit District covers part of King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties. The harsh reality is that King will likely have to pull up lackluster support from Snohomish and Pierce voters. If — and this could be a big if — Snohomish and Pierce Counties report 43% and 44% respectfully (as they did in 2007’s Roads & Transit vote), then it’s projected that a 55.5% vote in King County would lead to the measure passing by 51%-49% overall. Now, obviously, if we get worse results in Snohomish and Pierce, then King voters will have a steeper hill to climb.

When the polls close at 8pm you’ll be able to see results at this page. Results will come hourly until around 1am. Again, we probably won’t know for sure if the measure passes tonight so be patient.

Let’s party

The Mass Transit Now campaign boosting Proposition 1 is throwing a party at Kells Irish Pub near Pike Place Market. I think some of us bloggers will be there, so stop by. It’s right near the Showbox!

How do the polls look?

Well, for Proposition 1 we don’t have much information. Older polls showed massive support for a light rail expansion, but there are concerns that the financial crisis will hurt Prop. 1. The latest meaningful poll pegs support at 47% Yes, 33% No, and 20% Undecided with likely voters (including leaners). The wisdom is that undecideds tend to break against initiatives. That poll was taken on October 18 and 19. Things could have shifted for or against the measure, and the likely voter model that SurveyUSA uses may not account for a changing electorate that Obama might bring to Puget Sound.

But this looks much, much better than a poll taken from the same pollster for last year’s Roads & Transit measure around the same time last year, which ended up failing. That poll found 30% Yes, 32% No, and 37% Undecided but unfortunately didn’t include leaners — so it’s not an apples-to-apples camparison.

I-985 has had more polling from SurveyUSA. A poll taken 10/26 – 10/27 found 29% Yes, 42% No, 29% Undecided. Another taken 10/30 – 11/02 found 33% Yes, 45% No, 23% Undecided. Because these polls are from the same pollster and are recent we can extrapolate that there is at least some solid opposition to Tim Eyman’s bad initative. Thank goodness.

In terms of Governor, polls are extremely close. We have endorsed Gregoire for Governor because Dino Rossi’s policies are dangerous to transit.

How did the Proposition 1 campaigns do?

The No campaign, NoToProp1.Org, has mostly relied on a massive amount of funding from Kemper Freeman, Jr. Just a few small contributions have been made. The campaign raised $152,725. The No campaign started a bit late, and invested mostly in radio ads as far as we can tell. They have had some online ads and of course have yard signs here and there.

The Yes campaign, Mass Transit Now, has received funding mainly from engineering companies, unions, and environmental groups. It has also received dozens of small contributions made online. The Yes campaign raised substantially more money with $892,623 in the bank.

The Yes campaign focused on grassroots operations, targeting farmer’s markets initially and canvassing Seattle and urban parts of the Eastside, Pierce County, and Snohomish County. The campaign reached voters through phone banking and multiple mailers (of which the No campaign had none). The Sierra Club, FUSE, TCC, and other major contributors to the campaign supplied volunteers and space for phone banking. The Yes campaign has also appeared on the radio, though the buy seemed smaller, and they have had online ads as well. There was far more Yes signage around.

The Seattle P-I, The Tacoma News Tribune, and the Stranger endorsed Proposition 1. The Seattle Times suggested voting No.

So that’s where things are. Today it’s in the hands of the voters.

We Won’t Know if Prop. 1 Passes Tuesday Night

Just a reminder that we won’t know for sure if Proposition 1 has passed or not the night of the election for a few reasons. First, the vote counting equipment in King County is pretty slow and outdated. Second, many people mail their ballots just before or on election day, making it impossible to count them until later. The Seattle Times has an article on it in the context of the gubenatorial election:

King County’s 16-year-old ballot-counting equipment will contribute to a slow statewide tally that could leave voters still wondering Tuesday night who the next Washington governor will be.

The Washington Secretary of State’s office is warning people not to draw too many conclusions from Tuesday’s results.

That’s because King County — home to nearly one-third of the state’s registered voters — expects to report only about 39 percent of its results by late Tuesday and early Wednesday.

Seattle Times Rips I-985

While we often disagree with the Times regarding their opinions on expanding light rail, we have give them credit for rightly opposing I-985. Like nearly every newspaper across the state, they have endorsed voting no on I-985. But they’ve gone further and have written another article echoing their no vote which list of ten reasons to vote against the measure. I’ll re-print them here in full:

No. 1 — I-985 would reduce safety. Local communities have installed red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to prevent car crashes with pedestrians and other vehicles. This initiative forces local communities to give camera revenues to the state. Result: Most cities will yank the cameras, so more accidents.

No. 2 — The initiative could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds, according to a letter from federal transportation officials.

No. 3 — I-985 will increase congestion as the plan dumps too many single-occupancy vehicle cars into HOV lanes during nonpeak hours — peak hours are defined unrealistically as 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Result: More vehicles in HOV lanes, for example, westbound Highway 520; slower travel time; people give up the bus; more congestion.

No. 4 — I-985 robs sales tax revenues on vehicles in Eastern Washington and gives the revenues to the Puget Sound area for traffic relief.

No. 5 — I-985 kills plans for paying for a new Highway 520 bridge. Complicated language supposedly prevents tolling on Interstate 90 to pay for Highway 520. Too many cars will be diverted to I-90 and there will be insufficient revenue to pay for a new bridge.

No. 6 — Traffic congestion relief is best left to the experts.

No. 7 — I-985 zaps the general fund to pay for congestion relief. Result: Further cuts in education and health care.

No. 8 — I-985 allows the state to interfere with local communities’ public-safety decisions.

No. 9 — Direct-access ramps built along Interstates 5, 90 and 405 currently allow buses and car pools to enter and exit the freeway from HOV lanes. Those projects obtained federal approval on condition they not be open to general traffic. Result: The ramps would be closed during the time HOV lanes are open to general-purpose traffic.

No. 10 — The initiative is several subjects wrapped in one. It is headed for court, thus wasting precious time for moving forward with regional transportation improvements.

If you still haven’t voted yet, please read our endorsements to see who is supportive of transit and which measures are most important to our transit future.

Seattle P-I Endorses Proposition 1

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one Seattle’s dailies, has endorsed Proposition 1.  Prop. 1, as you probably know, adds 36 miles of light rail, increases bus service immediately in 2009, and expands Sounder by 65%.  The P-I endorsement focuses exclusively on job creation — perhaps a good selling point for the Yes campaign — to focus on now that the economy has turned south.

All things being equal, we’d support the expansion of Sound Transit for many reasons. This metropolitan area is underserved by buses, trains and other alternatives to the car with a single driver. We could make the case on transportation grounds, the environment or even pocketbook issues such as the cost of filling a gas tank.

But all things are not equal. Not now. Those were arguments for ordinary times; we are entering a period of extraordinary economic uncertainty. The first priority in this economy must be the creation of good-paying jobs and voting yes on Proposition 1 will do just that.

[…]

Rail, unlike bus systems, opens up all sorts of additional development opportunities (that’s another way of saying, “Yes, even more jobs”). Portland’s experience is that $6 billion in development occurred within walking distance of MAX light rail stations since 1980. There are similar findings in Dallas and San Diego, where property values around the light rail stations jumped by double-digits.

Sound Transit is a critical public works project. A one-half cent boost in the sales tax seems a reasonable price to pay for so many new jobs

Read the full endorsement online. It’s unclear when this will appear in print — perhaps Sunday since I doubt they’d publish their endorsement on a Saturday.

P-I Editorial Board Considers Prop. 1

While it’s likely that the Seattle P-I Editorial Board will endorse Proposition 1, the board met with proponents Greg Nickels and Carla Saulter and opponents John Niles and Mark Baerwaldt this past week and you can watch the debate online. I believe the P-I will be publishing their endorsement this Sunday.

The newspaper published their No on I-985 endorsement online last evening — it will run in the newspaper tomorrow.

November 4, 2008 – General Election

Sound Transit (A Regional Transit Authority)
Simple majority (RCW 81.104.170)

Proposition No. 1

Mass Transit Expansion

The Sound Transit Board passed Resolution No. R2008-11 concerning an expansion of mass transit. This measure would expand and coordinate light-rail, commuter-rail, and (beginning 2009) express bus service, and improve access to transit facilities in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, and authorize Sound Transit to impose an additional five-tenths of one percent sales and use tax, and to use existing taxes to fund the local share of the $17.9 billion estimated cost (includes construction, operations, maintenance, interest and inflation), with independent audits, as described in Resolution R2008-11 and the Mass Transit Guide. Should this measure be:

[ ] APPROVED
[ ] REJECTED

Are you registered at your current address?

The Weekly’s Rick Anderson Doesn’t Get it

Rick Anderson over at the Seattle Weekly blog wrote an absolutely ridiculous post. Normally, I am not one to call out people by name and launch direct assaults but I feel that this post is inexcusable given the analysis made elsewhere recently. I will discuss Rick Anderson’s post in parts:

You knew we were back in monorail wonderland along about the end of July when the Times reported Sound Transit’s November bus-rail expansion measure would cost $17.9 billion and the P-I reported it would cost $22.8 billion.

Absolutely ridiculous. the $17.9 billion number doesn’t include debt servicing, the $22.8 billion number does. It’s just different accounting metrics. They’re effectively the same cost. The papers do agree on the cost — both numbers come from Sound Transit, in fact. This will come up again later.

Now we have the $17.9 billion to $22.8 billion 2008 Prop 1. Or is it the $107.3 billion Prop 1? That’s the estimate of transportation planner and Sound Transit critic Jim MacIsaac. As the P-I reports today:

[P-I Quote]Bureaucrats hate it when you bring up real costs – the interest-weighted money it takes to finance construction.

Andersons defintion of “real costs”? That’d be the $22.8b number. Not the $107b number.

The $107b is a fabrication and has nothing to do with interest and everything to do with claims that the average Seattlite makes and spends tens of thousands more than reality, that the tax lasts 15 years longer than reality, and that Sound Move costs are somehow under Prop. 1. The $107b number says that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it’s not passed. Ridiculous.

It tends to double and triple the price tag presented to taxpayers. Officials dismiss it with the argument that when you buy a house you don’t include interest in the price, either.

Nope. Debt servicing, or “interest,” takes a $17.9b number and makes it $22.8b. No doubling or tripling. That’s the difference — the Times doesn’t include “interest,” the P-I does. And by “interest,” we/Anderson mean/s debt servicing.

Typical of Nickels, ST and others pushing rail expansion – which most of us back – they’ll paint over reality rather than present us an honestly detailed picture.

Support rail expansion? Right. Listen, ST’s numbers are open to analysis. The Seattle P-I did analysis, and both The Stranger and this blog conclude that Sound Transit uses sound assumptions while the oppositon wildly inflates the “typical” family’s spending and arbitrarily assumes the tax lasts 15 years longer than planned. (A question never asked: Why 15 years longer than planned? Why not one more year? Why not three?)

Bottom line: MacIsaac’s projections are likely more practical than ST’s – the ballot measure does not specifically mention a tax time-out down the road.

It’s more practical to assume that the average family spends $50,000 on sales taxable items — things that aren’t food, rent, mortgage, gas? It’s more practical to assume that Sound Transit will break the law and extend the tax 30 years past construction? It’s more practical to say that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it isn’t passed? It’s more practical to say that an anti-rail, anti-transit think tank is delivering fair numbers?

I think it’s practical to say that Rick Anderson didn’t read this blog, read The Stranger, or read The Seattle P-I and base his statements in any of the discussions of the day. He took the “No” campaign’s numbers at face value — even though their face value of Prop. 1 is nearly half ($55b vs. $107b) in the very P-I article that Anderson cites. (The $107b number includes $55b for mass transit expansion and $52b for Sound Move costs that will happen regardless of Prop. 1 passing — both $55b and $52b are wrong numbers.)

I can already hear the official excuse, come 2038, when the project is, cough, completely paid for: “Sorry, the tax will continue. Ha ha. They probably just said that to get the thing approved.”

Well, that’s a possibility but I think ST has learned from its mistakes and plans very conservatively. Still, assuming a 15 year increase in length is a bit much — that’d mean a bigger screw-up than Sound Move before 2001, which is a pretty tough accomplishment.

What I believe is more likely is that we vote in 8 or 12 or 16 years to extend the tax to continue expanding Link. But seriously, if the Link expansion is over-budget or over-schedule, does that mean we should just cancel the project — even if it’s 95% done? 99% done? I think the point is that voters who pass Prop. 1 are passing the idea that they want mass transit to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Bellevue — not the exact cost of- $17.9b or $22.8b or $55b or $107b. And Sound Transit’s number — $125 per household – is easily verifible: take the median income in the region, take the average amount of money someone with that income typically spends on sales taxable items, and you get $125.

Instead of looking at this logic, the Weekly took the lazy route and took a political campaign’s numbers at face value. The reasoning is inexcusable. The laziness is baffling. The conclusion is a joke. Rick Anderson: You didn’t do your job

(I am not unbiased on this matter. Besides writing for this blog and advocating for transit expansion in general, I am an unpaid volunteer for the Mass Transit Now campaign supporting Proposition 1.)

What does Prop. 1 cost?

In light of today’s P-I article, I want to talk about the total cost of Proposition 1 and how the “No” campaign is being misleading on this subject. I agree with an earlier blog entry in that this total cost figure isn’t completely meaningful to voters, while the $69 cost per year figure is. I also agree that this is not the most important fact to voters, and the more time we spend arguing about the cost is less we spend boosting the plan.

However, most of us are pretty wonky – so let’s destroy this $107b number that the “No” campaign parades about with the help of the P-I.

Background: YOE vs. Constant Dollars
Last year, the Seattle P-I published an article discussing the “real” cost of Roads & Transit, the failed 2007’s measure to expand light rail and build new roads. It cost $18 billion in 2006 dollars and $47 billion when you factor in inflation and interest on loans. The $18b number would be “constant” dollars and the $47b would be “year-of-expenditure” (YOE) dollars. $18b in 2006 dollars is the effectively the same as $47b in YOE dollars (note: I am glossing over debt servicing and loan interest, both of which can be thought of conceptually as inflation).

YOE dollars have a lot of problems. For us in the here and now, it is simply not possible for us to comprehend the meaning of $10 in 2057 dollars. Whereas we all know that $10 today is a few boxes of cereal, or three gallons of milks/gas, or an entire day of parking at a downtown mall, or one hour of work at McDonald’s. Using some online calculators, we can see that $10 today will probably be somewhere around $39.50 in 2057 — nearly quadruple the number, but the same purchasing power.

So, the fault with YOE dollars is that at the starting point, they give the public a false conception of the price. They give managers at your company a false sense of the actual value of something. Most engineering projects do not use YOE dollars internally, because it is meaningless.

“Constant” dollars have their own problems, however. After a project is completed, “constant” dollars nearly always give the sense to the public that a project was over-budget. This is, in fact, why mass transit projects are — across the country — considered to be risky investments that always go over-budget. (Locally, Sound Transit and the monorail solidified this idea on their own — don’t get me wrong.)

(Read on to see how the media and Proposition 1 change things…)

Continue reading “What does Prop. 1 cost?”

Mass Transit Now!/Prop. 1 Campaign Updates

The Mass Transit Now! (Yes on Prop. 1) campaign is gaining quite the amount of momentum. (Proposition 1 is the Sound Transit proposal to expand light rail across the region.) There were some volunteer events this past weekend, so you may have seen people with Mass Transit Now! stickers at the Seahawks or Huskies games, or you may have seen volunteer canvassing in West Seattle.

But the real adventure has yet to begin! This Wednesday the campaign will host a kickoff event in Northgate. The meeting place has excellent transit options, so I hope everyone can make it! The event will talk about how we’re going to pass Prop. 1, volunteer opportunities, and how to sell transit to your friends & family.

What: Mass Transit Now! Kickoff Event
When:
Wednesday, September 17th. 6:00pm until 8:30 pm
Where: Northgate Community Center, 10510 5th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98125 (mappublic transit)
RSVP: Please RSVP to Rebecca or on Facebook

I hope to see you there! In related news, the Mass Transit Now! website has just recently re-launched. Andrew briefly covered this last week, but I’d like to show off some particularly good parts about the site.

(I would like our visitors to know that I am indeed a volunteer for Mass Transit Now! so this entire post is obviously colored by that. Most of my work so far as been on the website that I talk about above, so let me know if we can improve the site in any way.)

Sierra Club PAC Kick-off

Mark your calendars for next Wednesday, September 10, to join a kick-off event for the Sierra Club PAC:

The Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club invites you to our Political Season Kickoff and Green Elections Fundraiser to support our Political Action Committee activities!

Wednesday September 10th, 2008
6:00 – 8:00 PM
1932 1st Ave. Suite #507 (downtown Seattle Pyramid Communications office)

Lovely beverages and hearty snacks provided.

Come for good food, good company, and serious politics!

Learn about the Sierra Club’s priority campaigns this year:

  • Re-electing climate champion Governor Chris Gregoire
  • Electing Peter Goldmark as Lands Commissioner
  • Fighting Tim Eyman’s foolish Make Traffic Worse I-985
  • Passing a good, no roads-attached transit package, Proposition 1!

RSVP to Becky Stanley if you’d like to make it. If you are unable to attend but would still like to support the Sierra Club PAC, please donate above.

Volunteer for the Campaign

If you’re interested in volunteering for the Mass Transit Now! campaign this weekend, check out this news item on the official campaign site:

We’ll be stickering on Saturday at the Husky game at 10:30am and the Northgate Family Festival all day.

Volunteers will also be hitting the streets on Sunday at Car Free Sunday at Alki starting at Noon.

Mass Transit Now! is the campaign supporting Proposition 1, which will expand Sound Transit Link Light Rail across the region.

One Bus Away: The Ultimate Bus Tool

Commenter Brian Ferris sent us a link to his new One Bus Away site a few weeks ago. Why the delay in posting about it? Well, we wanted to give One Bus Away a real world testing period on our computers and our phones. You see, One Bus Away is a modern version of mybus.org on steriods. That is, you enter in a stop you want to go to, One Bus Away tells you what buses are upcoming at a stop.

An improvement over mybus.org, One Bus Away tracks all stops rather than the select few that mybus.org. More over, it uses the official Metro stop id numbers, so you can look at the posted schedule at every bus stop and instantly know what to enter in — unlike mybus.org’s more tedious search.

The site has three services:

1. A phone number you can call, where you can enter in a stop id and an automated voice will read upcoming departures.

2. A Google Maps mash-up to find stops around an address or on a particular route. When you select a stop, you go to another page that tracks buses going there. You can bookmark a tracking page and check it when you want to grab a bus, for example.

3. An iPhone web app and a text-only mobile site that allow you to use the site on the go. See the screenshot for the iPhone site.

One Bus Away is the new king of bus arrivial prediction sites, and fills in a big gap for a strong iPhone contender. We’ve been using it for weeks, and we recommend you do the same.

Are Land Use Patterns Changing?

An article in The New Republic argues that land use patterns are already changing in America. The focus of the discussion is less about transit or even gas prices, and more about the cultural changes in this generation of twenty-somethings that attracts them closer to the city core — and to stay there. Of course, the people who move into the core also displace those who can no longer afford city life, which we discussed in February when an article in The Atlantic Monthly explored the topic.

Here’s a tidbit from The New Republic article, “Trading Places”:

In recent years, teaching undergraduates at the University of Richmond, the majority of them from affluent suburban backgrounds, I made a point of asking where they would prefer to live in 15 years–in a suburb or in a neighborhood close to the center of the city. Few ever voted for suburban life.

I can’t say that they had necessarily devoted a great deal of thought to the question: When I asked them whether they would want to live in an urban neighborhood without a car, many seemed puzzled and said no. Clearly, we are a long way from producing a generation for whom urban life and automobile ownership are mutually exclusive. In downtown Charlotte, a luxury condominium is scheduled for construction this year that will allow residents to drive their cars into a garage elevator, ride up to the floor they live on, and park right next to their front door. I have a hard time figuring out whether that is a triumph for urbanism or a defeat. But my guess is that, except in Manhattan, the carless life has yet to achieve any significant traction in the affluent new enclaves of urban America.

Not that cars and the demographic inversion aren’t closely related; they are. In Atlanta, where the middle-class return to the city is occurring with more suddenness than perhaps anywhere in the United States, the most frequently cited reason is traffic. People who did not object to a 20-mile commute from the suburbs a decade ago are objecting to it now in part because the same commute takes quite a bit longer. To this, we can add the prospect of $5-per-gallon gasoline. It’s impossible at this point to say with any certainty just what energy costs will do to American living patterns over the next decade. Urbanists predicted a return to the city during previous spikes in the cost of gasoline, notably during shortages in the 1970s. They were wrong. Gas prices came down, and the suburbs expanded dramatically. But today’s prices at the pump are not the result of political pressures by angry sheiks in the Persian Gulf. They are the result of increased worldwide demand that is only going to continue to increase.

An absolute must-read that manages to express an opinion about urban development without being callous to the real human cost.

The Washington Post talks about a regional trend in the D.C. area toward the city core or inner-suburbs, “Gas Prices Apply Brakes To Suburban Migration”. (By the way, check out the graphic on the right side of the article).

Not too long ago, they were looking farther out — for a newer house, a bigger yard and all the amenities. But no more. “You get less house and property for the same price, but we’re willing to make that sacrifice to save on gas prices and commuting costs,” Dawn Schaefer said.

Cheap oil, which helped push the American Dream away from the city center, isn’t so cheap anymore. As more and more families reconsider their dreams, land-use experts are beginning to ask whether $4-a-gallon gas is enough to change the way Americans have thought for half a century about where they live.

“We’ve passed that tipping point,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said.

Since the end of World War II, government policy has funded and encouraged the suburban lifestyle, subsidizing highways while starving mass transit and keeping gas taxes much lower than in some other countries.

And why is this relevant to a transit blog? Why do we here advocate density, and laud urban infill even when it’s at the cost of suburban tranquility?

For a frank answer, reading the first article in this blog post would be helpful. Nearly all the bloggers here fit the urban twenty-something stereotype. But ignoring those personal inclinations, a public transit supporter is going to find himself on the side of density more often than not.

Public transit is more efficient and cheaper-per-rider in areas of high density. Fixed-guideway rapid transit (say, light rail) is most feasible in areas of high density, or with the artificial creation of it via park & rides. More-over, low-density living fosters a dependence on the personal automobile which can give residents of these areas the impression that “no one” rides public transit. For these reasons, this blog advocates a move to density that is hopefully done with as little strife as possible to allow for larger investments in public transit, preferable fixed-guideway, grade-separated rapid transit such as the light rail that is the backbone of the fifteen-year Sound Transit plan.

Now, it’s important to say that Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland and examples of suburbia but many of them have large neighborhoods that are good examples of suburban development. Kirkland’s main drag features storefronts on the sidewalk, a walkable waterfront, and an active nightlight. Bellevue’s downtown is home to an impressive business district. Redmond’s downtown is walkable and provides easy transit connections to Microsoft, Bellevue, and Seattle. That is, we don’t feel that Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue represent the sort of terrible sprawl seen in Los Angeles/Orange County.

These Eastside cities will continue to grow, hopefully around the transit provided in Sound Transit 2. But the massive houses ten minutes away from Woodinville will continue to lose luster as high gas prices take over the national consciousness. If a cap-and-trade system becomes a federal reality within a few years, as both Obama and McCain advocate, the monetary cost of living on the fringes of a metro area will begin to match the environmental cost. To those families who want to live far from the metro area, the cost will either be worth it or their concerns about living closer to things will be negated by the economic reality.

We have no desire to see Redmond or unincorporated Woodinville turn into slums. But we at Seattle Transit Blog think that density in the city of Seattle and its suburbs creates a better quality-of-life for most, a cleaner environment for all, and a stronger place for transit for this region.

SurveyUSA Polls Sound Transit District

An interesting SurveyUSA poll has been released showing some data about the Sound Transit 2 plan. For some reason, there’s no data showing how many voters survey supported the plan. I believe you can take the amount of registered voters from the other data (about 520) and subtract that from those who said they oppose the plan (about 252), and you’re left with the “yes” or “undecided” voters, but I’m not sure of the exact methodology here. In any case, let’s look at the data that SurveyUSA has posted.

The first interesting question was asked of 252 votes who oppose the ST2 plan: Why are you opposed to ST2?

First of all, this question is not open-ended so the responses are by nature pigeon-holed. For example, there would be no way to say that one supports BRT over ST2 without saying “other” — voters who feel that way will be inclined to state one of the listed position.

I think if someone opposes the plan already they have probably made up their minds, but these may be the arguments that ST2 opponents will make to their friends, family, and the Internet: No new taxes, not right now, and light rail doesn’t solve anything. Us who support ST2 have to have good responses to if we expect to win the vote.

Next, voters were asked about the best way to fix our region’s transportation problems:

In other words, 56% of voters think the major components of ST2 (bus service, light rail, commuter rail) help the most. 35% think that building new roads or new lanes is the solution. This is good news for transit fans, and shows that more and more people are beginning to understand that asphalt can’t be the answer.

(In some cases people who are pro-transit may just be reflecting their commute. For example, a Microsoftie who loves light rail may say that building a new lane on the 520 bridge is vital — and he’s right, we need an HOV lane across that bridge. Clearly, not all new lanes are created equal.)

The cross-tabs for this question are fascinating. 50% of Republicans and 46% of Snohomish County residents feel that building new roads/lanes is the solution, compared to 35% (as stated above) for the region as whole. 28% of King County thinks light rail would help the most, while 17% of Pierce County and 11% of Snohomish County believe the same. Commuter rail polls about five points in Pierce County (17%) better than King and Shomhomish, obviously reflecting the success of Sounder.

We must frame ST2 as delivering the bus service expansion that 20% want and the commuter rail expansion that another 14% want. Everyone knows that ST2 offers light rail, but some may not know of its near-term bus service improvements as well as the SR-520 bus rapid transit line or the Sounder service improvements. Of course, we need to further educate voters that relying on new roads won’t cause gas prices to fall.

Next up, we’re looking at ST’s favorability:

Nearly double the amount of favorable as unfavorable, that is pretty good. “Neutral” can only shrink after light rail comes online in 2009. Which leads us to this last question: Did you get your money’s worth from 1996’s Sound Move vote?

Sound Move was passed in 1996 with a vote of 56.5% to 43.5%, but only 20% feel they got their money’s worth from the vote. Yikes.

I feel that another big vulnerability for ST2 is that Sound Move isn’t yet done. We need to emphasize that Central Link is on-schedule to next Summer, and the extension to Capitol Hill and UW is proceeding with construction.  However, I can understand voter’s frustrations here. Even a transit supporter who lives along Rainer Valley may not have gotten his money’s worth until Central Link opens. This isn’t an argument to delay the vote — we simply can’t be idle anymore — but I’m just arguing that this perception is fluid and voters likely realize that.

Some darn interesting numbers, though I wish we had data on the percentage of voters who support the plan and why they do. It would be nice to see which arguments resonate with voters.

(I should note that I chose not to echo ECB’s analysis from the Slog since the margin of error for that particular question is 3.5% providing a statistical dead-head for that question. Also, the question was asked of all polled votes — not just those who opposed the package as she misstated.)

ST2 Fifteen Year Plan to go to Ballot

After a four-hour long board meeting (which was live-blogged below), the Sound Transit Board has adopted the fifteen year plan by a vote of 16-2. King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauerand King County Executive Ron Sims voted against the plan. The board then voted unanimously to send the plan to the ballot this November.

Some small changes were made to the draft plan before the vote took place. The head of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Paula Hammond, successfully fought for an amendment that front-loads the bus service instead of rolling it out in phases, which is a smart idea.

The adopted plan includes light rail to Bellevue to the east, Northgate to the north, and Highline Community College by 2020. Light rail will extend to the Overlake Transit Center a year later, and to Federal Way (South) and Lynnwood (North) two years after that. This is in addition to light rail stations currently being built on Capitol Hill and at the University of Washington.

A 25% percent expansion of ST Express bus service across the region provides immediate relief.

Sounder service will dramatically increase (65%) under the new plan, with platforms being extended for additional cars and new trainsets being purchased. Station access funds will fund additional parking, more feeder bus service, and/or pedistrian/bike access improvements to crowded Sounder stations as well as Park and Rides across Puget Sound.

A streetcar will connect Capitol Hill, First Hill, the International District. Matching funds will be provided for a Tacoma Link extension as well as partnership funds for a BSNF East project.

The plan is financed by a 0.5% sales tax increase in addition to extending current Sound Move taxes. After construction is done and much of the bonds are repaid, the tax will phase out if voters choose not to extend the system in the future.

I’m voting Yes to the ST2 plan because it provides short-term relief and long-term solutions. How are you planning to vote?

FTA Asks ST to Plan for Costlier Tunneling

According to the P-I, the Federal Transit Administration is asking Sound Transit to set aside extra money in case tunneling from Downtown Seattle to Husky Stadium ends up costing more than projected:

Federal officials, asked to contribute to what may become a $1.9 billion budget, want Sound Transit to add $150 million in “contingency” money to its budget for the 3.15-mile University Link, with the Federal Transit Administration contributing $63 million of that amount and Sound Transit the rest. Sound Transit officials said the agency has enough money to put up its share.

“We want to make sure they don’t exceed cost estimates,” said an FTA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not routinely allowed to speak to reporters.

[…]

The Beacon Hill tunnel and other work is behind schedule, delayed by problems excavating a station under the hill, difficulties controlling underground water and slower-than-anticipated progress completing the tunnel drilling. In February 2007, the job was shut down after a worker died in an accident.

The $279 million bid for the tunnel construction by the contractor, Obayashi Corp., was 15 percent higher than the engineers’ estimate, the federal official said. Sound Transit has used money in contingency accounts for the initial 13.9-mile rail segment from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport to pay the added tunnel costs.

The agency now expects to pay Obayashi $305 million for the work, 27 percent higher than the engineer’s pre-construction estimate of $239 million and 9 percent higher than Obayashi’s bid.

[…]

But Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said tunnels are “the highest risk construction,” and the federal official said the FTA team monitoring Sound Transit’s light-rail construction noticed cost overruns in rail tunnels being built with financial assistance in Pittsburgh, New York City and Los Angeles

Read the full piece for more. Transit agencies are notorious for under-estimating costs in the public’s mind, so it always helps to keep the house in order.

15-Year Plan Moving Forward While ETA Volleys

The 15-year plan that has long been rumored to go north to Lynnwood and south to Federal Way seems as if it’ll be the one to move forward according to a report from The Stranger:

Sound Transit’s board has just over two weeks to decide whether it wants to move forward with an $8 billion, 15-year plan to extend light rail to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Bellevue this November. The plan, still in the works, is a volley to board members from Pierce and Snohomish Counties, who were unhappy with an earlier 12-year plan that included less light rail and are still debating whether to support it.

The odd thing about this 15-year plan is that there is no public information about it — it is definitely being worked on behind the scenes. Hopefully at the board meeting later today we’ll see some discussion about it. There’s an political risk here if that 15-year plan goes to the ballot, it would have to be approved by the board before Sound Transit takes has public comment period. The opposition could claim that Sound Transit hadn’t listened to voters — however a smart response would be to say that any new plan is based on feedback during the public review meetings. However, as we’ve discussed here Sound Transit is an odd position of being both a transit advocacy group and a public agency — the latter of which makes running a political campaign impossible.

One unfortunate bit of recent news is that anti-rail ads have begun airing even though Sound Transit hasn’t decided whether to go to the ballot, or what to go to the ballot with:

The Eastside Transportation Association (ETA), funded in part by Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman Jr., criticizes light rail in the ads, saying the money would be better spent on roads, bridges and bus service throughout the suburbs. Sound Transit’s governing board, composed mainly of elected officials from urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, is split over how many projects to propose.

[…]

The group spent about $50,000 on a two-week blitz, covering 16 to 20 ads a week on four or five stations, including KIRO, KOMO and KWJZ, said treasurer Bruce Nurse, who is also vice president of Kemper Development. He said Freeman is the ETA’s largest funder, but another person donated $25,000 last year. Freeman is a longtime advocate of freeway expansion to reduce congestion.

So I guess that makes us the underdogs, for now.