In October, WSDOT awarded the contract for the widening of I-405 between Bellevue and Renton. With significant construction beginning in the Spring, that kicks off construction on the first capital elements of I-405 BRT South. Meanwhile, WSDOT and Sound Transit have been making complementary investments along the corridor that continue to raise expectations for the success of the BRT. Recent briefings in Renton and Bellevue bring us up to speed on how the project is developing.
In 2019, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 5825, making permanent the toll authorization for I-405 and SR 167 (and authorizing tolling for the Gateway facility in Pierce and South King County). The legislation also redefined I-405 and SR 167 as a single corridor with one account for toll revenue. Bonding was authorized for ETL toll revenues. The effect is to accelerate projects along the corridor. Most consequential for transit users is the second express lane north of Bothell which will enable dramatically faster bus operations in that area once combined with a Sound Transit project to add direct access lanes to Brickyard.
Yesterday, we covered the first part of the Cascadia Rail Summit. The next sessions were more technical and covered lessons learned from high speed rail systems around the world and also an overview of rail equipment. Below are only the highlights.
Andy Kunz, President & CEO, USHSR
Andy Kunz spoke about what circumstances make high speed rail a viable transportation choice.
The Cascadia Rail Summit was held from Nov 6-8. Hosted at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond and organized by the US High Speed Rail Association, the conference brought together some key decision makers from government, consulting, and rail operators and train manufacturers from around the world. Even for a rail skeptic, it is hard to dismiss the momentum that high speed rail is gaining in the Pacific Northwest.
Opening remarks by Gov. Jay Inslee
While it wasn’t in person, but a recording made specifically for the conference, the first speaker was none other than Gov. Jay Inslee, vouching his support for the initiative and kicking off the discussion.
To put this into perspective, ST3 did not enjoy such high-caliber early support. Years before it was up for vote, Sound Transit did not consider a ballot measure in 2016, or of that size. Its passage is a testament to the power of advocacy. Consider then, how much can be achieved with this initiative given that the highest ranks of politics in the state are already on board.
Several improvements to Link station signage are in development. Numbered exit signs will be piloted at downtown Seattle stations next week, and other enhancements will be rolled out with system expansions in future years. The changes were introduced at a meeting of the System Expansion Committee on Thursday as the Committee approved a contract for sign services. At the same meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff indicated Sound Transit would drop the term “Red Line” and perhaps color-coded lines generally.
Last week’s apparent passage of I-976 has given rise to a fair amount of commentary affirming that voters were sending a message, and disagreeing about what they are saying. One could focus on the statewide rejection of taxes on cars, narrow support for car tabs in the three counties served by Sound Transit, a probable positive vote within the Sound Transit RTA, the clearly positive vote in King County, or the massive rejection of Sound Transit taxes in Pierce County.
Precinct data is clarifying. It’s unfortunately not yet available in Pierce County. However, current precinct data is available for Snohomish County and first night detail is available for King County. Clear patterns are evident among the cities where I-976 over- and under-performed relative to the 2016 ST3 vote.
The I-976 vote polarized voters within the RTA along geographic lines more than ST3. Seattle voters, already most likely to favor taxes for transit, opposed I-976 by yet larger margins than in 2016. The suburbs to the north and south with the lowest pro-ST3 votes became more adamantly opposed with huge majorities against the MVET. The divided response from voters calls into question the marquee Sound Transit projects extending rail far to the north and south.
Tolling in the new Highway 99 tunnel has finally started. Today is the first regular weekday commute to feel the impacts (as yesterday was Veterans Day).
WSDOT is encouraging tunnel users to avail themselves of the Good-to-Go Pass, by giving pass users a $2 discount. (If only someone could explain this principle to King County Metro and/or the County Council…)
Let’s talk about what you see happening today. Are there any impacts to your bus route?
One thing that will impact bus routes today will be the Sounders’ MLS Cup Victory Parade, which will take over 4th Ave from sometime before noon, when the parade is scheduled to start at Westlake Plaza, until 1:30 pm, when the parade terminates at the Seattle Center.
If you haven’t already signed up for travel alerts specific to your route, now is a good time to do so.
Katherine Khashimova Long recently published a fine piece of reporting ($) on how many “luxury” condos have unclear ownership, potentially mere financial assets that are left “empty as the city grows less affordable for its middle- and lower-class residents.”
That may very well be the outcome thanks to our many arbitrary restrictions on building enough housing supply to meet demand. But in a more-forward thinking policy environment, the desire of the world’s super-wealthy to park their cash in Seattle would be a huge opportunity.
Yesterday Dan laid out the impacts of I-976 on Sound Transit. Now let’s talk about Metro and Seattle. Unlike with ST, the situation is both simpler and more dire. KC Exec Constantine has already pledged a lawsuit, and Mayor Durkan is expected to follow today on behalf of the city.
Metro calculates it will lose over $100M in state funds over the next five years. These are primarily capital grants from the state’s mobility fund that go to projects like RapidRide and other speed and reliability improvements, as well as funds to support Access vans.
Last night’s returns indicate I-976 is likely to pass. The next step is likely a court challenge, or several. What if the initiative is sustained? Let’s look ahead at the implications for Sound Transit.
If Sound Transit is forced to stop collecting the MVET, that reduces 2021-2041 revenues by $6.9 billion, or 12.3% of what was previously estimated. (Sound Transit mostly relies on sales taxes with a smaller contribution from property tax).
The impact of losing the MVET revenues is multiplied because it is front-loaded. The MVET is 18% of tax revenues through 2028, and just under 10% thereafter. That’s because the 0.3% Sound Move MVET must end in 2028 as a result of a previous Eyman initiative. When that happens, the 0.8% ST3 MVET would have moved to the lower 2005 car valuation schedule reducing those revenues about 30%.
One can get election results at virtually any local outlet, but since you rightly eschew all news sources besides Seattle Transit Blog, here’s the stuff you won’t get anywhere else. Candidates we endorsed in bold.
I-976: Yes (55%) leads No (45%) statewide.
King County District 2: Zahilay leads Gossett 62-37
King County District 4: Kohl-Welles beats Doerr 73-26.
King County District 6: Balducci over Hirt 77-23.
King County District 8: McDermott over Neher 82-17.
Last we heard, just a few weeks ago, Sound Transit’s draft service plan was to discontinue ST 541 (Overlake – University District), along with ST 540 (Kirkland – University District). This week, the Rider Experience Committee is set to reconsider that plan. Up to ten one-way trips will remain on ST 541. That’s significantly less than the 20 round trips currently provided, but it indicates some rethinking of service changes on SR 520 in response to rider feedback.
The staff memo points to recent growth in ridership on ST routes over SR 520, including 541 and 542. There’s also a nod to rider input during public involvement about capacity concerns on the remaining 542 trips. Average weekday ridership on ST 541 this Spring was 873.
There now commences a period of monitoring ridership shifts on all of these services. The ten remaining trips on ST 541 will be evaluated prior to each service change. Route 544 operate for at least 24 months so that the market can develop and the full ridership potential can be evaluated. After two years, it too may be adjusted based on performance.
Tomorrow is election day. If you haven’t mailed your ballot (making use of the free return postage) or a ballot drop box, do so right now. The deadline to drop ballots at the drop boxes is 8 pm Tuesday. Mailed ballots must be post-marked Tuesday. If you don’t mail it tonight, get thee to a ballot drop box.
Accessible voting centers (which are open to all voters) will be open until 6 pm tonight and 8 pm Tuesday. Check the hours at each site. Seattle’s accessible voting center has moved to the Chinook Building at 401 5th Ave, room 124, between Terrace St and Jefferson St. It will open at 8:30 am today and tomorrow. If you aren’t already registered to vote, you can register in person at any of these voting centers, and then proceed to cast your ballot.