Roads and Transit Together

Interior of Link Train
Photo by Bejan

There’s a reason roads and transit are together. From Sound Politics (a far-right site):

he also found voters polled increasingly view the package as a positive step forward for transportation in the Puget Sound region and view it as having a “reasonable cost.”

Most intriguingly, and which should raise red flags for the anti-light rail folks on one side of the opposition and the anti-roads zealots on the other: Elway has the proposition passing as a package, but each individual component of roads and transit fails as a stand-alone option when voters are given that choice. The balance – as touted in the Roads and Transit ads – it indeed a significant selling point of the proposal.

There’s a reason the package makes sense togther.


How much will it cost?

Crappy reporting explained:

But both of those numbers, which add up to $18 billion, are in so-called 2006 dollars, meaning that they don’t allow for inflation over the decades it will take to complete the work.

And those calculations cover only the cost of construction, not interest payments on money borrowed for the projects, administrative expenses or other outlays (including, for Sound Transit, the cost of operating and maintaining its system).

Considering the effects of inflation at the various times the money will be paid out, the road agency estimates that it will spend $10 billion on actual construction and the transit agency $18 billion. When both inflation and the other costs are factored in — including interest charges until the last of the 30-year Sound Transit construction loans are repaid in 2057 — the sums rise to $16 billion for RTID and $31 billion for Sound Transit. That’s a grand total of $47 billion — the figure the Seattle P-I uses in its articles.

I know I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but we don’t know inflation with an accuracy over 50 year periods! The number makes no sense because three years of no inflation could shrink the end number by 20%, and three years of massive inflation could raise it by 50%. We don’t know inflation.


Another Elway Poll

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Three months after an Elway poll showed support for RTID/ST2 at nearly 60 percent, a new poll is out showing a slight drop to 54 percent.

Despite the positive number, it’s important not to take anything for granted. Public opinion on projects like these is a tricky thing. The first UW freshman who will ride light rail from Everett and Redmond won’t be born until next year, so, like any infrastructure project, there’s a bit of a mismatch between the “voters” and the people who will reap the benefits.


Vesley on RTID/ST2

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

James Vesely is concerned that there’s no single point of accounability for RTID/ST2. And he’s right: that’s the whole point of the package. It’s designed to provide supplimental funding to a whole bunch of projects that are currently under the purview of different agencies (WSDOT, Sound Transit, SDOT, etc.) but that have in common the fact that they’re part of an overall central Puget Sound infrastructure upgrade.

STB argues that this is a fundraising issue, which is true, but there’s more to it than that. The whole point of the vote is to say, “look, we have serious transportation needs in the central Puget Sound, the State’s not gonna foot the bill, and there’s no single government with jurisdiction, so we’re going to have all the goverments come together and work on funding the most critical projects.”

What we don’t want, it seems to me, is to create yet another agency like the Port that has its own separate accountability. But there’s no way we can have a direct chain of command, because there are overlapping jurisdictions involved, and the city of Seattle, for example, doesn’t “report” to King County. So this is what we’re left with: a coalition of governments.

In other words, while Vesely argues that a vote for RTID is “a vote for bureaucracy,” in fact the exact opposite is true. You’re voting for less bureaucracy, since the money will be funneled into projects that need it (SR 520, I-405, etc.) that are already under the management of existing bureaucracies (WSDOT, ST, etc.)

So we don’t want more quasi-independent fiefdoms like the Port, but we do want oversight and accountability. How do we get there? Knute Berger said it best a couple of years ago when he referred to these new bureaucracies as “designer governments.” He also pointed out that I-900, which was on the ballot that November, and which subequently passed, gave the State the authority to do performance audits of these agencies. There’s your accountability. In fact, we can go right over to the Auditor’s website and learn that his audit of Sound Transit is 99% complete. I hope Vesely reports on the results!


News and Blog Round-Up

Buses stay left.

Photo by Chris

The Sierra Club seems to have sold out for a bag of Eastside Real Estate money.

At the Urban Environmentalist Ezra Basom has put forward for an argument for Prop 1.

According to the latest Elway poll, the public still strongly favors Prop 1, even though both local papers insist on using wildly misleading numbers such as the $47 billion number in the article. The real cost in present time money is about $18 billion.

The Yes campaign has tried to copy Ben and has put together a project map. Their map includes roads projects, but Ben’s has photos and includes what is already built.

The Transit Tunnel’s opening has gone smoothly.

Any of you guys taking the Tunnel? The 545 doesn’t go in there, so I won’t get a chance to go until Friday when I make my way up to the U-District on one of the 70’s.


Sanity in transportation investment:

Hi, and Daimajin, thanks for the welcome! I was just in Paris a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share a couple of photos of what it looks like when government investment in transportation is more sane – when there’s more than one technology getting dollars, instead of a monopoly. This first shot is one of the trains that runs east from Paris – the TGV Est line that opened this June. This train took me to Strasbourg (nonstop) at a maximum speed of 320kph – or 200mph, the fastest passenger rail service in the world right now. Interestingly, it would have taken more time to fly, because the train station is in the city, and the airport would have required local transportation on both ends.This second shot is of the German ICE train – also high speed, also operating from Paris, this train likely went to either Frankfurt or Munich. This particular service also just started running in the last couple of months (although both of these train designs are a few years old):
What’s crazy, to me, is that the common arguments against this kind of investment don’t hold up under pressure. We don’t have the density? That’s not true – except for Paris itself, the TGV Est serves cities smaller than Seattle, Portland or Vancouver BC, in a similarly sized corridor, with nonstop service. We don’t have the money? Also untrue, we spend vastly more on our roads in this region than we would need to for this kind of rail service – and it isn’t subject to congestion like our highways.

I’m not suggesting we should stop spending on roads entirely – but I do want to point out that the largest highways in France are generally six lane. They don’t have to spend the billions we do on highway infrastructure that doesn’t really scale up – a 14 lane highway doesn’t move people any faster than a 6 lane highway, and they know that. The best way to move more people is to make sure they have more options, to split transportation investment rather than just letting our highway costs snowball ever higher. That’s what Roads and Transit starts to do this year – build us infrastructure that doesn’t cost more and more to expand over time, and that lasts instead of needing constant upgrades and replacement. That’s what the rest of the world has done, and they’re not seeing messes like our SR-99 and SR-520 now. The best time to stop making future messes for ourselves is now – and building a comprehensive rail system is the best way to avoid the problems that come with only having one transportation option.


Guest Blogger: Ben Schiendelman

Climbing onboard.
Photo by Chris

I’d like to welcome Ben Schiendelman as a guest blogger to Seatrans.

Ben knows heaps about trains, transit, urban planning, civic development, and the history of the process in our region. He’s travelled the globe riding trains, and has read extensively on transportation and environmental issues. Some of Ben’s other work on transit in the area:

Among others.

Ben’s a very busy guy, so I don’t expect him to post often or to post especially long pieces. But he’s going to be posting images of train systems in other places and to give us an idea of what has been done in other places and what works.

Welcome to Seatrans, Ben!


Long Distance Runner

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Sierra Club’s Miles O’Brien caused a stir recently by arguing that extending light rail from Sea-Tac to Tacoma was not the most efficient use of tax dollars. As Mike Lindblom reported:

O’Brien said South End trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

O’Brien’s right that it would be a long trip from Tacoma to Seattle on light rail. About 73 minutes, based on Sound Transit’s figures. That’s longer than the bus, and longer than Sounder. Fortunately, for people who need to commute from Tacoma to Seattle, we have the bus and Sounder.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if ST does something to address this, like having an “express line” to the airport that shoots down I-5 or Airport Way from SODO to Boeing Field and connects with the main trunk line. But that’s way down the line, so to speak. As to his point about building lines out from Everett and Tacoma, I agree! But in any logical model, the first line out from either of those cities has to be toward Seattle, because that’s where the ridership is, which is exactly what the ST2 plan does, no?

But, more importatntly, we have to compare the transit times against traffic in 2030., which, given the projected rate of growth in the Puget Sound, will be far worse than today (picture bumper-to-bumper on I-5 12 hours a day, 7 days a week). People may well be thrilled to be able to get from Tacoma to Seattle in just 73 minutes, virtually any time of day or night.

(Via Will @ HA, who gives us the much-needed populist POV)


What specifically do you need?

Notice how close the train is to the platform.
Photo by Chris

James Vesely, the man with the confusing title “Times editorial page editor”, in his editorial today argues that he cannot support the Roads and Transit ballot because it’s difficult to find a responsibility chain among bureaucracy

It’s tough for anyone, even those immersed n the public process, to tick off the names of all the seated members of the Sound Transit board, or the board of directors of the Regional Transportation Investment District. It’s easier to remember the names of the county executives of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but their direct responsibility for a successful roads-and-transit program is limited.

Certainly true. But the problem here is not with the package, but with the way we raise money in this state. Our leaders have no way to create the locally, and the legislature in Olympia is not willing to fork over the whole state’s cash for transportation projects in our area, even if we are more than half the state’s totally population. While Sound Transit is actually a regional government organization, Prop. 1 (aka Roads and Transit), is a funding mechanism to pay for capital projects. Who’s responsible for the package? For the transit side it’s obvious: Sound Transit, and ultimately its CEO Joni Earl, and its Board of Directors, 17 elected officials and the Washington Secretary of Transportation.

… That doesn’t mean the voters won’t accept the tax burden — but I think we are entitled to focus the responsibility on a few individuals and hold them accountable. Accountability eventually shattered the Seattle Monorail. Those who were accountable were discovered to have an overly optimistic financial plan. Accountability made a mess of the political decision over the viaduct. People knew the mayor, the governor and the speaker of the House were sometimes together, more often at odds about what to do next. They were accountable and we knew who they were. No one seems to be accountable for ST2/RTID. Even the name doesn’t conjure a face. It is a vote for bureaucracy.

Maybe it’s public relations that’s missing, maybe it’s hype, maybe it is the personalization of the political process. But, I have yet to find anyone who can tell me specifically who is in charge.

I’m not exactly sure what Veseley wants. A directly-elected regional transportation officer? I think that would just serve to expand the politicking surrounding the process. We already have enough politics when it comes to transportation and I don’t see the value in that sort of position. Having the board made up of elected members from within the region helps ensure that everyone’s needs are at least heard and considered, and having the board’s chair rotate from the county executives seems fair. Transportation is one of the most important local issues and part of the jobs of our elected officials. Setting up some sort of transportation czar would be passing the buck away from those who have it as part of their job already. So much for accountability.

It’s almost a Bush Administration type argument that we need some person responsible for the bill; “Brownie’s doing a heckuva job”. I certainly hope Joni Earl is doing a heckuva job, I’d rather than Sound Transit as a whole were.


Water Taxi

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An article in the P-I gets at the problems of ferries and water taxis:

A couple of things are working against the idea. The fare — $3 one way and $5 round trip — is about twice that of a Metro bus. The 30-minute ride between the University District and South Lake Union, and the 20-minute ride from Fremont to South Lake Union, take about twice as long as the bus.

And that’s assuming you live right along the water near a stop. The bus can actually get into neighborhoods. The fact is, most boats don’t really go all that fast, and the ones that do would generate enough wake to capsize a few dozen kayakers each morning.

Still, there’s opportunity. More commercial development in South Lake Union, plus the Streetcar, could help make it a more viable option.


Sierra Club has no credibility

So now the Sierra Club has gone one step past it’s usual greenhouse emissions line and has taken the bizarre step of criticizing the ST2 lines themselves.

A Sierra Club leader took the rare step Thursday of criticizing part of Sound Transit’s light-rail vision — a proposed track extension from the city of SeaTac south to Tacoma.

“I think it’s not the most efficient use of tax dollars,” local club Chairman Mike O’Brien said during a campaign debate over this fall’s multibillion-dollar Proposition 1.

He called the Tacoma line a “political decision” made to satisfy elected officials in Pierce County. “If transportation planners were in charge, they would come up with a more efficient solution,” he said.

In this country (and others) tax dollars are rarely efficiently used. Hell, I don’t even efficiently use my own cash. That doesn’t mean I should stop spending it or stop paying taxes. Sound Transit actually has a pretty decent record of not being hugely wasteful with tax dollars. The argument that the line doesn’t go to the right place is laughable. No matter where the build the line in South King County, that’s the right place: people will move to where the line is built and development will happen around the line!

While several environmental groups support the joint “Roads & Transit” plan, the Sierra Club argues that more road lanes would worsen global warming. O’Brien says he could have endorsed a transit-only plan.

After the debate, O’Brien said South End* trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

What the hell is he talking about? Separate lines outward from downtown Tacoma? That is just insane. People living in Federal Way aren’t well served by a line that takes them around Tacoma.

I’ve noticed the Seattle Times is still using the $38 billion number which is before the $7 billion double counting was corrected for.

Joel Connelly actually makes a good point today

Vote down the roads-and-rails package so we can “do a lot better” next time with a transit-exclusive measure, urged Mike O’Brien of the Sierra Club. The club has broken with most major green outfits, which back the November measure.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson argued that delay carries a human price on working families coping with longer commutes, and added, “Every year that we wait will cost another $500 million.”

Polls show a buffeted electorate: Voters want a solution to the mess and favor mass transit. They’re not that enthusiastic with a six-tenths-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax and a licensing tab of $200 or so on a new car. Didn’t we already vote to limit car tabs?

Other cities in the West have been transformed, positively, by light rail and commuter rail systems. Once a dark, cavernous place populated by hoody teenagers, downtown Portland at night has come alive with light rail. The SkyTrain in Vancouver, B.C., is often packed and has revitalized neighborhoods.

The best public transit systems don’t just supplant already used bus routes, but extend to and serve growth areas. I used Bay Area Rapid Transit to visit an old friend in the far suburb of Pleasanton, Calif. Benedictine monks in Mission, B.C., use commuter rail for trips to diocesan headquarters 45 miles away in Vancouver.

Sound Transit has shaped up after a chaotic start. The light rail line is no longer going nowhere, but ending at the airport. Still, it proposes to spend huge amounts of money, and is asking for a huge leap of faith. The $1.64 billion price tag to tunnel beneath Capitol Hill is more than the entire Forward Thrust system would have cost.

Are we building new freeways and stoking the fires of global warming, as the Sierra Club charges? Or does this package make safety improvements and fix choke points so Puget Sound-area families can get home rather than fuming in traffic? I sense that the Sierra Club has let itself get driven by ideology.

It’s a very good reason to get out of the office this fall, seek answers and write down observations … which will keep me from lying on the horn in rush-hour traffic and being pulled over and given a ticket.

I agree with Joel. The Sierra Club has been taken over by ideology on this issue and are no longer credible.

*I don’t like people using “South End” this way. Seattle’s Rainer Valley is the South End, SeaTac is not the end of anything, and thus not the “South End.”
Update: Does Will read this blog, or is the conclusion just that obvious?


Simms Takes the Fifth

After watching the news last night and reading the PI, Ron Simms neither supports nor rejects the Roads and Transit Package. Last night on the news Simms said, “This is up to the voters to decide”. Leaving no indication whether he was for or against. Clearly those that want transit don’t want roads and vice versa. Although, I wonder, is this a political game? It was not long ago he was all about Transit Now. He was appearing everywhere and was extremely vocal on his pet project for the County. Is this a pro-bus and anti-rail stance? Who knows?

“I’ve always taken this position,” Sims said Tuesday evening. “I’ve told people in political circles I won’t support or oppose it. It’s a very significant proposal that voters are really going to have to dwell on and think about.”

Sims said his neutral stance on the measure has surprised some, but “people made an assumption” about where he’d stand. “You should never assume things about what I’ll do.”

This sounds like a loose canon statement to me, but I fear this may be a bit of a bump-in-the-road so to speak for the ballot! If people look to their politicians for answers then they will be left in the dark. The ST board is full of politicians that will gladly pose for a wonderful photo-op, but is that their true intentions? Is transit really what their concerned about? Seems not too long ago John Ladenburg was also in the loose canon spot not too long ago if his crossbase highway wasn’t supported.


Papers play up bus safety concerns

This sells papers, so it’s obvious why they write about it:

Welcome back to Seattle’s downtown transit tunnel. Watch your head.

The 1.3-mile tunnel reopens Monday morning after a two-year shutdown for $94 million in upgrades.

There have been some safety questions raised about it, and things are a little different.

When buses start running again in the tunnel, they’ll be on a floor that’s been lowered 8 inches so that doors on light rail trains — scheduled to share the tunnel in two years — will match the boarding platform heights.

This means outside mirrors on buses also will be lower and closer to the height of riders’ heads when the buses pull up to the platform. The bus drivers’ union raised a red flag about the possible hazard, and safety measures were added.

This sounds a lot scarier than it is: anyone with sense knows not to stand within three feet of a ten-ton vehicle approaching at 15 mph. Actually a lot of safety features seemed to have been added to the tunnel:

The retrofit included lowering the roadbed in the stations to accommodate level boarding for passengers using either trains or buses, and installing new electrical, communications, and safety systems. For example, inside the tunnel passengers will benefit from better lighting and signage, more security cameras, and a new public announcement system.

I think the odds of getting “bonked”, as the union officer put it in the p-i article, in the head is not very severe.


About that Poll

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


That Up Front episode also mentioned a Survey USA poll that King 5 commissioned. At first glance, it showed trouble for the Roads and Transit measure. But look close, and you’ll see that it actually doesn’t cover the same area that will vote on the bill.

The poll asked residents of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. But only a small subset of those counties is in the RTID/ST taxation area (see image at right).

In other words, the survey included a lot of folks who don’t live or work near the proposed projects, and won’t be voting on them anyway.


R&T on Up Front

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

King 5’s Up Front with Robert Mak, our local policy wonk-fest, featured the “Roads and Transit” proposition on Sunday. The “pro” crowd (Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, an R&T spokesman, and a Downtown Business Association representative) were featured along with the usual cast of anti-transit characters (Jim MacIssac, Kemper Freeman, and Emory Bundy). You can watch the show on their website.

There was, in my opinion, a gaping “passion gap” between the “yes” and the “no” sides. The “no” side” is just way more passionate about their arguments than the bureaucrats that are defending the measure. Earl tried gamely in the hard hat tour, but it’s just not her job to be all bubbly about it in the way that the other side is.

This is a problem. The “yes” folks need to get people excited about this measure, not run from the numbers and play defense.


Future of Transit in Seattle

The Seattle Times article today, “Seattle gets a glimpse of its transit future”, is a decent little round-up of the goings-on these few weeks with regard to transit.

• In the South Lake Union area, a red streetcar arrived by truck Monday afternoon, the first of three to begin service in December.

• Two Sounder commuter trains will be added Monday between Seattle and Tacoma, and one will be added to Sounder’s Everett-to-Seattle line.

• Link light-rail trains begin service from downtown to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the second half of 2009. Train tests inside the tunnel will start in October, on nights and weekends, Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said.

• And, high-occupancy vehicle lanes are being added in Everett, Tacoma, on Highway 99 south of the airport and on the Interstate 90 floating bridges.

Also, the bus tunnel reopens next week. Some people are worried the mirrors might start taking people’s heads off now that the tunnel floor has lowered eight inches. It’s funny that the times article spends half the space on unions and danger. Pandering to it’s suburban, anti-transit readership I reckon.

The street car arriving is great news, but I am sure it’s “unfortunate” nickname may actually boost its popularity. It’s a bit stupid anyway, since trolley means any transport with an overhead wire, so the electric buses are actually trolleys too. I guess I shouldn’t be so pedantic.

In other Seattle Transit news, the Elliot Bay Water Taxi has had its service extended through October. I’m not exactly sure why this doesn’t run year ’round. Is it a safety issue? Ridership drop-off?