Two more Link closures next quarter; float still intact

East Main Station (Sound Transit)

Last fall Sound Transit thought East Link construction would require three weekend closures in the 2nd Quarter of 2021 and two later in 2021 for testing.

In last month’s East Link Extension update (pdf), which has nice photographs of progress at each station, next quarter will now see five closures, two of which are for removal of the temporary platform at Pioneer Square. The two later closures will still be necessary.

The briefing didn’t name specific weekends. It’s unfortunate that the center platform is going away: while a center platform at Chinatown/International District Station would have been ideal for transfers between Link lines, Pioneer Square would at least provide an option for the mobility-challenged and those with a lot of luggage.

Alas, a permanent platform requires emergency egress and ADA accommodations. Still, if I were ST I’d just leave the platforms there and just not open the doors on that side in the hope that someday there could be a shovel-ready stimulus project to finish it.

In much better (and bigger) news, the project float is still intact, so pre-revenue testing should begin in early 2022, and if the float holds, service could begin later that year, well ahead of the formal target of September 2023.

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News roundup: a bit of progress

This is an open thread.

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Realignment will simultaneously pursue expanded funding while focusing on challenges and opportunities to reduce costs

by PETER ROGOFF, SOUND TRANSIT CEO

8th Avenue W concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

Completing critical transit investments that regional voters approved in 2016 will not only enhance our mobility, but increase our communities’ economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and social equity. Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.

As an agency and region, we find ourselves whiplashed by a unique recession that has decimated revenue sources such as sales taxes, but without slowing our red hot property and construction markets. Other capital programs in rapidly growing regions are also experiencing this double bind that is beyond anything we’ve seen before.

Projects already under construction, including light rail extensions to Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way and Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, are continuing unabated toward on-schedule openings. Of the eight major projects we currently have under construction, seven are either on or ahead of schedule and on or below budget. We are now just months away from opening Link to Northgate, and in the next four years, we will almost triple our light rail system from 22 to 62 miles.

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Let’s make The Ave a transit mall

University Way "The Ave"
University Way NE (photo: SDOT)

In between the University of Washington and Interstate 5, there are three parallel local transit corridors: 15th Ave NE, University Way NE, and Roosevelt Way/11th Ave NE (Roosevelt for southbound, 11th for northbound). The former two are just a couple blocks apart and get a large transit volume. 15th Ave NE is decidedly more car-centric, with wider streets, and even a grade-separated pedestrian bridge (unfortunately, obviating any pedestrian crossings in that area). University Way NE, by contrast, is a much more pedestrian-oriented street, with business access right at the sidewalk rather than behind parking lots. For personal vehicles, this corridor offers little in the way of speed, with frequent pedestrian crossings, no passing lanes, and frequently-stopping buses. Aside from access to paid street parking for business access, there is little reason to drive on University Way over the faster 15th Ave NE.

Transit service is split between the corridors, with the much larger share going to 15th Ave NE. University Way gets the 45, 73, 373, and currently suspended route 71 (likely to be replaced by routes 74 and 79 with North Link). 15th Ave NE gets all trolleybus routes (43, 44, 49, 70), plus routes 48, 271, and 542. While both corridors get some combined transit frequency, there are problems with having transit run on parallel corridors that are this close together.

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The Next Big Step for a Seattle Subway

Part 3 of a three-part series

Seattle Subway goes to the Legislature.

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

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

HB 1304 will help us solve a lot of problems:

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News roundup: good luck

King County Metro Proterra Catalyst

This is an open thread.

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How to deliver ST3 in Seattle

Part 2 of a series

Sound Transit recently delivered some disappointing news about their estimates for ST3 project costs. When paired with decreased revenue due to Covid-19, the projected 50% increase to Ballard and West Seattle cost estimates present a gloomy outlook for the projects. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but it’s still possible for Sound Transit to deliver the high quality system voters approved. Transit improvements are still essential to our city and these projects must be delivered. We need to look hard at a combination of new funding sources and value engineering to get this plan back on the right track. However, making major decisions about the quality, scope, and schedule of ST3 this year is a mistake with long reaching consequences.

The underlying reasons to build transit in Seattle haven’t changed. Seattleites still want fast, reliable, convenient, low-carbon ways to get around the city. Voters have repeatedly reaffirmed their desire to make progress on transit — including November’s vote that passed by over 60 points in the middle of a pandemic. Seattleites believe in a post- pandemic future, and we need to make sure Sound Transit delivers the progress they demand.

Seattle voter support for transit is steadily increasing with every vote
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The case for transit: 2021 edition

Part 1 of a series

Paris, the City of Lights…and Transit and Urban Form! (Credit: Alissa Smith, Hope College)

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about whether transit will thrive post-pandemic have been floating around. In our long term view, the human tendency to gather and the need for urban mobility has not gone away. While the pandemic has paused life for a while, and Zoom has made working from afar possible, none of that has changed human nature, or radically affected the tools we need to combat climate change.

Our species still requires connection. If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are. We will do these things because we are hardwired to value them. Not only does human nature point to this need for cities, climate science demands we double down on them. Don’t just take my word for it—let’s dive into a city doing it right.

The (thankfully) ex-First Lady likes to say “Be Best.” On transportation, we just say “Be Paris.”

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News roundup: President Amtrak

Yesler Cable Car #20, 3rd and Yesler, Seattle, 1940

This is an open thread.

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South Bellevue garage to open in September

South Bellevue garage facade and station. Image: Sound Transit

As the Sound Transit 3 news gets worse and worse, Sound Transit 2 continues a stream of good news as the bulk of the projects converge on opening. Today, we found out the South Bellevue parking garage will open in September, which restores the spaces for route 550 and 241 riders, and then some. This may be as much as two years before the Link line itself.

The garage has 1,500 spaces.

This publication is not a big fan of parking garages. But if there’s anywhere in the Link system there ought to be a garage, it’s here: hemmed in by a wetland and a neighborhood that won’t countenance upzoning (also up a steep hill), this station exists because it is on the way to downtown Bellevue, sits at an elbow in the line that allows it to draw from a wide swath of the Eastside, and proximity to two interstates.

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Sound Transit committee gets a closer look at West Seattle & Ballard cost increases

Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee heard a deeper dive on the recent increase in costs for Seattle Link projects at their meeting Thursday. A long list of revisions to property costs and construction plans contributed to a more than $4 billion increase in the overall cost of the project just since last year.

The incremental cost of tunnel alternatives, however, are now much closer to elevated alternatives, though only because the representative elevated alternatives are so much more expensive. Board members gave no hint of how they would respond to the affordability gap on the project, though there was enthusiasm for adding tunnels as they would not make the needed delays so much greater.

In 2019 dollar terms, the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) had an estimated capital cost of $7.1 billion in the ST3 plan. By 2019, that had been revised upwards to $7.9 billion, reflecting some mix of the preferred alternative choices made by the Board and underlying inflation in costs. The most recent estimates, with the benefit of more detailed investigation since the Board selected preferred alternatives for the EIS, raises this to a range of $12.1 billion to $12.6 billion. The lower number is for an elevated Fauntleroy terminus in West Seattle, the higher for an elevated station on 41st/42nd in West Seattle.

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Help guide Metro’s return to service

Orange Shoes and Shorts

As the County returns to full economic life, Metro is ramping up service. In keeping with their normal service reorganization procedure, there will be a citizen advisory board:

We are looking for participants for a workshop to provide input on how we prioritize what service to restore. 

Participants will: 

·         Attend a virtual workshop in the first two weeks of February 2021 to review Metro’s response to the COVID outbreak, 

·         Help Metro planning staff evaluate what types of service are most important to communities, 

·         Be compensated for their time and participation, and 

·         Be accommodated through interpretation and ADA access, as needed.  

If you are interested in this opportunity to participate in Metro’s planning, please respond to mjahshan@kingcounty.gov by January 21, 2021.

Longtime readers know I did one of these boards back in 2008 (unfortunately for me, well before one got paid to do so). It was an interesting window into the many considerations planners actually balance, as well as an education into what ordinary people in your community really think.

As always, I think people with a solid grasp of planning principles and a system view can be a useful corrective to narrower interests, as long they are willing to listen, open-minded, and empathetic.

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News roundup: resuming

King County Metro

This is an open thread.

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West Seattle camera enforcement coming this week

SDOT blog:

Beginning today, January 11, 2021, the automated photo enforcement system on the Spokane St Swing Bridge (low bridge) will turn on, and unauthorized low bridge users will be subject to a $75 citation for every trip across the low bridge

To keep the low bridge clear for emergency vehicles – as well as transit and heavy freight – we’re saying, “don’t go low.” Instead, please use alternate routes when traveling to and from West Seattle by car. We will be monitoring low bridge traffic volumes in early 2021, and the data from January and future months will inform whether we can expand access. See our webpage for more details. 

West Seattle folks – let us know in the comments if anything’s improved.

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West Seattle-Ballard Link costs revised more than $4 billion higher

This potential station site in West Seattle was a strip mall when the ST3 plan estimates were being developed. (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has revealed sharply higher capital cost estimates for several ST3 projects that are in development but not yet baselined (i.e. the Board has not yet selected the alternative to be built or finalized the cost and schedule estimates). The worst news is in Seattle. The West Seattle to Ballard Link extension (WSBLE) is now expected to come in at $12.1 to $12.6 billion for the preferred elevated alignments, $5.0 to $5.5 billion higher than projected in ST3 (all 2019 $). $4 billion of that cost increase has emerged in just the last year as the initial alternatives selected for the EIS have been fleshed out.

The news was delivered to the Sound Transit Executive Committee earlier today, and further detailed in a memo released after the meeting. Cumulatively, the cost estimate increases across all projects run to $7.9 billion in 2019 dollars. That would be about $12 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars on current project schedules, though those schedules will be inevitably extended.

If realized, such costs would make it very difficult for Sound Transit to complete Link extensions to both West Seattle and Ballard anywhere close to the ST3 timeframe, even if Seattle forgoes more expensive tunneling and other options that could add up to $1.7 billion more to the price tag (though the relative cost of below-ground vs above-ground shifts in favor of tunnels as above-ground land acquisition becomes more expensive).

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