This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
Last night I noted that All Aboard Wasington might be “making a political statement” with their offer to buy the BNSF Eastside rail corridor. I speculated that maybe AAW and their partners on the “Rethink Rail” project might be making a move to gin up public support for a rails in lieu of trails.
Well, if you look at Rethink Rail’s sponsor page, you’ll notice it includes AAW, Discovery’s Cascadia Center, and Jim O’Farrell of the Talisma corporation.
Well, guess who has an op-ed in today’s Seattle Times, arguing for — you guessed it — an Eastside rail line:
If businesses like ours stay in the region, commuter rail will be the selling point — not whether our employees can ride their bicycles. Meanwhile, our consultants have done the math. For $300 million, including purchase and restoration, the Eastside rail line could be moving commuters in as few as two years.
The “Roads & Transit” package — on the ballot this fall — is just another postponement. The first $37 billion — that’s right, $37 billion — projects building only a single east/west rail line between Bellevue and Seattle. For Bellevue, nothing will go north and south. For the million people already living on the Eastside — and the additional million projected by 2015 — it is as if those directions did not exist.
Worse, the measure will not deliver rail for years — and up to a cost of $500 million per mile. For that price, all 42 miles of the Eastside rail line could receive a premium upgrade, including double track and electrification.
$300M seems like a pretty sweet deal for a double-tracked, electrified route. I’d definitely want to see the numbers in more detail. Do they have the right-of-way to do a second track along the whole route? At minimum they’d have to rebuild that graffitti-covered rail overpass over I-90. Same with the Wilburton Trestle.
I’m certainly sympathetic to O’Farrell’s proposal. A right-of-way like this — located near population centers and major freeways — doesn’t come around that often, if ever. But I think his frustration with the authorities is a bit misplaced. They share his enthusiasm for a rail corridor, they just want to integrate it into our long-term transportation plan. That means having Sound Transit do a study, not just going off half-cocked and laying track. But Ron Sims signed a statement of dual-use, and the PSRC plan calls for using it as a trail only temporarily (and using signage to indicate to trail users that it is, in fact, temporary).
In other words, everyone at every level basically agrees that commuter rail is destined for this corridor. The key is doing it effectively and responsibly. That may slow the whole process down, but like I said before, a right-of-way like this doesn’t come around that often. The same impulse that makes us all eager to grab it should likewise make us realize that we have just one chance to do it right.