RTID did have a plan for 520, Viaduct is expensive


Read about the 520 plan here. It’s what they told me earlier this month, but I didn’t completely believe them. It’s basically a lot of tolls and the expectation that the viaduct won’t use much of the state’s special project money.

On the subject of the viaduct, you probably have already heard that Seattle’s Council approved $8.1 million for the study of a surface/transit option. Hopefully Light Rail could be part of the surface transit option, since the cost of a light rail system around there through West Seattle could be comparable to the difference in cost of the surface transit from the rebuild. The difference from the tunnel could pay for a new subway practically .

Project Cost (in millions)
Tunnel $3,600 to $4,100
Rebuild $3,200 to $3,500
Surface Roads ~$1,600
East Link Light Rail to Downtown Bellevue $1,465.2 to $1,684.9
Light Rail from University of Washington to Northgate* $1,126.6 to $1,239.3


*Includes about 3 miles of cut-and-cover bored subway.

If they can build rail from Seattle to Bellevue for less than $2 billion and imagine what they can do with the difference from the surface roads improvments and either the tunnel or the rebuild. They could connect light rail from Burien to West Seattle to Sodo and build a subway through Belltown to Seattle Center and maybe even connect rail through Ballard for the $3.5 potential difference between a tunnel and surface roads. I bet that plus the roads option would get more total people through than either the rebuild or the tunnel, and with the state’s new definition of capacity, that’s what should be done.

Update: someone wanted links to the numbers, so here they are for Sound Transit. Click on the project and a pdf will open with the cost estimate. For the Viaduct, I got the numbers from Wikipedia.

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King County Ferry District

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I just noticed that King County last month created a ferry district, which will allow it to explore more passenger-only ferries. The county’s main passenger ferry, the Elliot Bay water taxi, could be run year-round with the new district. Additionally, other routes connecting, say UW with Kirkland, or West Seattle with Tacoma, are also going to be explored.

All this water makes building roads and trains expensive. Why not turn our transportation liability into an asset? Ferries are easy to set up: you buy a boat, build a dock, and you’re done. The downside is that there’s a lot of time lost in the modal transfer. Unless you live right near the water, you have to first take a bus or drive to the dock, then wait for the ferry, etc. But for some routes — like Kirkland-to-UW, or say Gasworks-Park-to-South-Lake-Union — it could make sense.

Update: The UW Daily has more on the potential UW-Kirkland ferry route.

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Nabobs!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Highline Times channels the ghost of Sprio Agnew to editorialize in favor of november’s RTID. Money quote:

Unfortunately, the uneasy coalition of roads and transit proponents is threatening to come unraveled.

The roads crowd thinks it is weighted too much toward transit while the Greenies think highways get an unfair advantage.

The measure is expensive and does not solve all our long-delayed transportation problems.

But voters should reject the nattering nabobs of negativism, as a disgraced former vice president put it, and consider the measure carefully before November.

(not to be confused with this great Queen Anne bar)

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Surface-Transit Gains Momentum

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett reports that the Surface-Transit option has just been “officially endorsed” by the City Council, which just approved spending $8.1M to formally study it:

The council approved the measure unanimously–a seismic shift from the days when only Peter Steinbrueck supported the surface/transit proposal, and a sign that the council is taking seriously last March’s “no/no” vote on two new waterfront freeway options.

“[The plan] focuses our energies on the substance of the solution rather than design of the solution, which is what got us sidetracked” previously, council president Nick Licata said. Licata, once the council’s staunchest supporter of rebuilding the viaduct, cosponsored the resolution.

You can view the surface-transit option in our new “Hot Docs” section.

Update: The P-I provides some more context: the report will be done by July 2008.

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Juggling Numbers on SR 520 Replacement

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The P-I has a vague and rather uninformative article on a new financing scheme for replacing the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (a.k.a. the 520 bridge). Fortunately, Mike Lindblom at the Times is much more detailed:

The latest strategy improves on earlier versions by slashing a potential $340 million in construction taxes and financing costs for a possible $4.4 billion, six-lane span across Lake Washington.

If the Legislature agrees, the “Regional Transportation Investment District” would fund several highway projects using high-rated, low-interest state bonds, for a potential savings of $200 million. And it might save an additional $140 million in sales taxes — paid on construction materials and other items — if the state funnels that money back into the RTID.

Even after those steps, questions remain about whether the funding plan is solid.

Today’s announcement says that tolling, previously assumed to raise $700 million, might bring in as much as $1.2 billion, without a real plan on the table yet. And, the group assumes Highway 520 can use money from a future cash pool worth $600 million to $1 billion, but that pool must be shared with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Another $1.1 billion hinges on whether voters pass the regional ballot measure.

So, with some simple changes to the arithmetic, the bridge is suddenly fully funded! Does that seem a bit dodgy to anyone? Sounds like the planners want to kick the can down the road, figuring that if they can paper over the financing for now, it’ll just mean that we have to go with a cheaper option down the road.

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With Transit’s Help, Condo-zone Leaving City Center

Today PI ran an article about condo developments outside the city center in neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge, Wedgwood and Columbia City.

[Condo Marketer Bryon Ziegler] expects condos in Wedgwood and Phinney Ridge, and other neighborhoods farther from downtown increasingly will draw single parents, young families and move-down buyers, particularly after the start of light-rail service in 2009.

Light rail already is helping spur development in Columbia City, which has an increasingly fashionable commercial strip and will have a Sound Transit [Light-Rail] stop. Developers recently proposed two condo projects there, promising lower prices than downtown or Ballard condos.

Dense development is more affordable than single-family housing, and transit allows for more density and more affordability because transit enables car-free living.

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Light Rail’s Moment

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s not just Seattle. Light Rail is having a moment in the sun right now. People like the flexibility if offers. Unlike heavy rail, which requires either a diesel locomotive or a dangerous high-voltage third rail, light rail can wind through neighborhoods relatively easily. Light Rail systems are about to come online in Phoenix and Minneapolis. Dallas and Denver also have relatively new systems on line, as do many other cities around the world.

But all forms of transit seem to be having a renaissance these days:

But during the last 10 years a transit renaissance has blossomed in many parts of the country. According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transit use has risen 30 percent since 1995, more than double the U.S. population’s 12 percent growth and higher than the 24 percent increase in vehicular travel during that period.

In 2006, the association said, 10.1 billion passengers boarded local public transportation, the first time that number topped 10 billion in 49 years.
A significant part of that growth has involved light rail, a transit category covering modern streetcars, trolleys, and ‘heritage’ trolleys.

Last year, light rail had the highest-percentage increase of all transit modes, enjoying a 5.6 percent ridership boost.

And remember — gas prices in 1995 were what, $1/gallon or so? It seems like transit use has nowhere to go but up.

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Richardson is Pro-Transit

This post over at NPI’s blog about New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson’s stop in Seattle has this nice nugget:

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.

Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It’s the biggest pork in any bill. And it’s billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It’s gone up. And that’s money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.

Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be “a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation.”

Richardson’s answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally – presidential candidates don’t spend much time talking about it – but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

His point is pretty well thought-out. The joint-bonding would help speed up development since we know that all Sound Transit needs to complete its project faster is more of its money upfront. It can only issue five-year bonds, which means that it can only spend five years’ worth of income at a time. If the feds would joint issue the bonds, the bonds could be for 30 years with a much lower interest rate which would dramatically speed up the projects and actually make them cheaper.

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What Ever Happened To ORCA?

Remember ORCA? It stands for One Regional Card for All (I think the namers were LOTR fans), and was a test of a regional smart card that would work on seven transit systems: King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit Route, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries, and Pierce transit. I never heard anything about it again after that, so I asked the ORCA team, but they never responded.

Does anyone know anything about it?

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Transit Quote of the Week

Of course, you might argue that adding highway lanes are never free, since they add to our reliance on automobiles. That’s valid, but it’s worth noting that widening 405 is a pretty mild step compared with building 49 miles of light rail. There’s no real radical road package to oppose here, like, for example, a new I-605 cutting through the Cascade foothills. It’s all pretty basic stuff. By voting “no” on this package, transit supporters would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. (Emphasis added)

From Orphan Road.

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RTID is a compromise

Josh Feit of The Stranger has a very kooky argument against the RTID. Something about net-present value and inflation and loans that basically falls apart when serious thought is put to it. He complains:

However, I am not able to stomach $6.7 billion or $14 billion on roads—roads— when I was told by everyone in town that $3 billion or $11 billion was too much for mass transit.

As Frank over at Orphan Road pointed out, the $14 billion figure is for roads all over the tri-county area. The $11 billion figure is for one line in the city. Comparing the two is virtually meaningless. And if you don’t drive a car, then you won’t even pay much for RTID because it is mostly paid for by MVET ($80 per $10,000 assessed value), with only a .1% increase in sales tax. It’s not much money, $10 for every $10,000 spent.

He also hammers on about the “carbon footprint” of the RTID which is a strawman argument. Here’s a reductio ad absurdum about the carbon footprint argument. Suppose you oppose anything that will increase “carbon footprints” (like roads), and support anything with the potential to reduce it. Then you should oppose RTID because it will increase the “carbon footprint” of the region, and you should support ST2 because it could decrease the “carbon footprint”. But you should also support destroying I-5 because that would decrease the “carbon footprint” of the region. So let’s destroy all roads and outlaw gas and we can live like cavemen with no carbon footprint but the wood we burn to cook our food.

Look, I’m an environmentalist, I’m not gung-ho about RTID, I don’t like the cross-base highway, and most of the projects won’t have much positive effect for me at all. The only one that would have any effect on me, replacing 520, isn’t even completely funded in the proposal. However it is a pill I’m willing to swallow if I am going to be able to take a train to see my little brother in the UD, or to buy some shoes downtown. We can’t sit and wait for the perfect propsal that pleases everyone, we have to accept what will make the best compromise and move forward from there.

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Apples and Oranges

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of the RTID, Josh Feit at The Stranger continues to advocate against the “Roads” piece of the “Roads and Transit” vote coming up in November. In doing so, he raises some interesting points that are worth unpacking.

Feit does make the useful distinction between current (or 2006) dollars and “year of expenditure” (“YOE”) dollars. As we’ve noted before, YOE dollars are really only worth considering when there’s some really unusual financing going on, like in the case of the monorail. With Sound Transit, they’re borrowing money at a pretty competitive rate, so the YOE numbers are only used by anti-transit folks trying to induce sticker shock. (When I buy a $300K condo, I don’t claim it’s a $600K condo, even though that’s what I’ll be paying over the course of a 30-year mortgage) So kudos to Feit for laying it out clearly.

However, he also says this:

Despite my bitterness about the $11 billion number that was thrown around to kill the monorail, I’m happy to shell out $10.2 billion or even $23 billion to get some mass transit in Seattle.

However, I am not able to stomach $6.7 billion or $14 billion on roads—roads— when I was told by everyone in town that $3 billion or $11 billion was too much for mass transit.

Though I voted for the monorail all five times, and still support the idea, I think it’s important to address the reasons why Feit was “told by everyone in town” that the project was too expensive, and why comparing the $6.7B/$14B for roads to the $3B/$11B makes little sense.

First, as you’ll notice, $14B is twice $6.7B, while $11B is nearly four times $3B. In other words, the monorail’s financing (using very long-term bonds) meant that we were paying a lot relative to what we were getting.

Second, the monorail tax was levied on the city of Seattle alone, while the RTID will be levied on a three-county region, so the costs are more spread out.

Finally, and this is a minor point, the monorail was financed purely with an MVET, whereas this package will be part-MVET, part-sales-tax. The addition of the sales tax widens the tax base and lessens the perceived impact.

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Transit Plan OK’d – Where We Go From Here

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Sound Transit’s board has approved the final draft plan for this November’s vote. This was simpley the formal approval of the plan that the board hammered out last month.

It will be an interesting ride, so to speak, from here to November. The legislature and others have made a gamble with this Roads and Transit joint RTID package. It’s already drawing criticism from pro-transit and pro-environmental groups who say it includes too much money for highways, and criticism from anti-tax and anti-Sound Transit groups who don’t want to see any more money spent on rail.

But, to paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, you go to the ballot box with the transit plan you have, not the plan you might want or wish to have. Compromise is part of that. Not everyone gets to design their dream infrastructure. There are some things in this package that seem misguided (like the Cross Base Highway), but this is the cost of doing business.

Barring any great changes in the cost or scope, I’ll be voting yes for the fall Roads and Transit plan, and I encourage everyone to do the same. In fact, between now and November, making the case for a “yes” vote will be our raison d’etre here at Orphan Road.

Why? Simply because every year we wait, construction and property costs increase by as much as 15%, or 5 times the rate of inflation. That means that each year, it costs more to build less. Just to put that in perspective, it means that the cost of a $17 billion package will go up by as much as $2.5 billion just by waiting a year. That alone is more than enough to widen I-405 (estimated at $1B). By approving the package this year as opposed to next, those projects are essentially free.

Of course, you might argue that adding highway lanes are never free, since they add to our reliance on automobiles. That’s valid, but it’s worth noting that widening 405 is a pretty mild step compared with building 49 miles of light rail. There’s no real radical road package to oppose here, like, for example, a new I-605 cutting through the Cascade foothills. It’s all pretty basic stuff. By voting “no” on this package, transit supporters would be cutting off their nose to spite their face.

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Hybrids More Fuel Efficient After All?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I thought it was a settled case that Metro’s new hybrid buses were no more fuel-efficient than the diesels they replaced. Now comes an article in Truck Trend (I’m sure yours is in the mail…) citing a government study (PDF) that shows the opposite.

The real-world study, conducted in Seattle in 2006, shows a 27% increase in fuel economy over the old buses. It’s hard to say what accounts for the disparity, although it appears from the study that actual fuel economy for both bus types was lower, and thus the difference more dramatic. Either way, it’s good news King County.

(Incidentally, the study was provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. There’s a funny story about President Bush’s visit to NREL last year.)

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Sound Transit Board Adopts ST2 Plan

Today Sound Transit’s board unanimously adopted the ST2 plan that will go to the ballot this November. From the press release:

Sound Transit 2’s light rail expansions build on the light rail in Sound Transit’s first phase, including the line between downtown Seattle and the airport that will open in 2009; the University of Washington extension that Sound Transit is working to start building as soon as 2008; and the Tacoma Link system that is operating today.

The Sound Transit 2 Plan adds service northward from the University of Washington to Northgate, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and the 164th Street/Ash Way area of Snohomish County. To the south the system would extend through Des Moines, Federal Way and Fife to the Tacoma Dome, connecting with the existing Tacoma Link light rail system. A long-awaited light rail extension across Lake Washington would serve Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake/Microsoft area.

Check out the finalized plan that will go on the ballot. I am definitely voting for it, even if I’m not a fan of the RTID piece. We’ll never get a sent a transit package that will make everyone happy, and the more ballots we pass, the more we show those who can do something that we want more transit.
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