Guest Post Series: Sound Move, The First Try

by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board

CPSRTA Election Pamphlet (also note the old agency logo on the train)

With just over ten weeks until Sound Transit Light Rail opens, this is my fourth installment on how we got here.

After the three County Councils agreed to place the RTA plan on the ballot, the RTA’s first actual service began on January 28, 1995. Called TRY Rail, this demonstration of commuter rail service carried passengers between Tacoma and Seattle for a few weeks and then between Everett and Seattle. In total, 35,000 passengers rode TRY Rail. Commuter rail was one of the elements of the ballot measure.

The first vote to decide Mass Transit for King County in 25 years (and the first ever for Pierce and Snohomish Counties) was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 Special Election. In addition to commuter rail, the plan contained a mostly surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood (actually 164th St SW) and east across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond.

The campaign in favor was called “Citizens for Sound Transit,” and the opponents, “Families Against Congestion and Taxes.” Early polls looked favorable with some 60% of respondents likely to vote yes. According to the Pro campaign FAQ:

There are basically two opponents: Ed Hansen, the Mayor of Everett and Kemper Freeman, Jr., a Bellevue developer. Mayor Hansen opposes this project because it doesn’t include light rail to Everett – in other words, it’s not enough. Freeman opposes this plan because he thinks it’s too much.

The campaign was nasty and the proponents often found themselves on the defensive, responding to FACT’s charges that the ($6,700,000,000) cost was too high (compared with buses and freeways), the ridership numbers inflated and it would not put a dent in congestion.

Despite carrying King County 50.3% to 49.7%, getting 61.7% in Seattle and winning in Lake Forest Park and Mercer Island, the measure got only 42.8% in Bellevue, lost Pierce County and did so poorly in Snohomish County (especially Everett) that Prohibition looked popular in comparison. It went down RTA district-wide 46.5% yes to 53.3% no. The region rejected mass transit. History repeated itself – mass transit was once again treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political roadkill. It looked like another dead end for rail transit.

The mayor’s previous installments: Counting Down to Link, Light Rail’s Beginnings, 81 Days

Olympia Update: Transit Does Pretty Well

Olympia Capitol at Night
State Capitol at night, photo by jwiv

With the legislative session coming to a close, we have some good news to report.

To start with, SB 5433 passed the House with both an authorization for King County to use ferry district taxing authority for transit (discussed in more detail here) and the Simpson amendment to allow transit agencies to ask for transportation benefit districts (discussed here). TCC just broke that the Senate was tied tonight, with Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen making the tie-breaking vote to pass the bill. This is great news for all transit agencies, but especially for Metro.

The transportation budget passed. The I-90 asset assessment remained essentially as Rep. Simpson wrote, funded and inclusive of ST in the process – and moved up a month to be complete by November 1st. Rep. Clibborn’s $10.6 million for R8A preliminary design work survived – and I understand Senator Jarrett supported this as well, although he wasn’t on the conference committee. Regional Mobility Grants survived partially, with $33 million of the Senate’s original $45 million, but I’ll take it – $8 million is included for the $39 million we still need to get Sounder to Lakewood. There was also funding for a third Amtrak Cascades run to Vancouver starting next year, and the final version of the bill kept in the House’s “Seattle pays for overruns” Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement provision.

Given how bad things looked a month ago, this isn’t bad! In addition to the obvious thanks for Rep. Simpson taking the lead here, I also want to recognize that Rep. Clibborn and Senator Jarrett both played roles in making sure all this funding stayed in place, so thank you to them as well. Perhaps we’ll never know what goes on in those conference committees (ahem, transparency initiative?), but we seem to have fared well enough.

Of course, now that we’ve gotten an inch, next budget session I expect Oregon-like funding for light rail and hourly bullet train service from Canada to Portland. Also a pony.

Almost Done: Budget Conference Committee

Right now, a conference committee in Olympia is hashing out the details of the 2009-2011 budget. We’re almost done – the session should be over Sunday – so we really only have today and tomorrow to remind our legislators that we’re still paying attention.

This is mostly a recap, but here’s a list of what we care about in the budget conference, and where it came from:

  • Regional Mobility Grants are fine in the Senate at $40 million, retaining the competitive grant process (and Sound Transit has three of the five most cost-effective projects), but gutted in the House to remove Sound Transit’s projects entirely and cut the total down to $15 million.
  • Representative Simpson’s amendment in the House gives us a good solution to the ‘asset assessment’ for the I-90 express lanes, both requiring Sound Transit and WSDOT to be at the table and funding the assessment. While Senator Jarrett’s amendment was a step in the right direction, it left holes in funding and in process that Simpson’s amendment fills.
  • Representative Clibborn funded $10.6 million of R8A preliminary design work in this biennium, which keeps the WSDOT portion of the project on track. The Senate version as it stands would derail East Link entirely, but we’re hoping Senator Jarrett will help us out here!

There are other non-budget items of interest for transit as well:

  • SB 5513 means I can’t get drunk and unruly on nearly as many transit vehicles as I used to (without getting kicked off, anyway). Oh well. It basically just ensures that transit workers can enforce safety measures on more than just buses.
  • HB 1225 makes sure Sound Transit and other public and private transit agencies are exempt from special fuel taxes. Keeping government from taxing government!
  • And of course, SB 5433, which I posted about earlier in the week, would give transit agencies new funding tools, which we need everywhere in the state right now.

Those budget items could use phone calls! And if there’s anything I’m missing, please let me know.

Guest Post Series: Light Rail’s Beginnings

by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board


With about three months to go before it opens, this is the second installment of my recollections on the long road travelled to build our Sound Transit Light Rail line.

After the November 1988 Advisory Ballot victory, it became clear that the public (at least 70% of them) were far ahead of the politicians in envisioning light rail mass transit. The issue was taken up in the Metro Council (in its Planning Committee). Metro, then known as “Seattle Metro”, was a separate government until 1993. Its federated Council included a variety of local elected and appointed officials who oversaw the bus and wastewater treatment systems in King County.

Initially the issue was popular with Democrats and Republicans on the Metro Council. Republicans like Bruce Laing, Lois North and Paul Barden (along with local officials like Seattle Councilman Paul Kraabel and Mercer Island Mayor Fred Jarrett) joined Democrats Cynthia Sullivan and me in advocating for mass transit (some Eastside elected officials were reluctant to use the words “Light” and “Rail” in the same sentence even after the vote). About this time the idea of using Burlington Northern tracks for commuter rail was gaining traction as well.

It became clear fairly early that the planning needed to expand beyond just King County.

Fortunately there also were champions in the legislature like House Transportation Chair Ruth Fisher (and later Representative Ed Murray). State funding was secured to study the concept (I’m not kidding, State funding). In 1990 a body called the Joint Regional Policy Committee (I was a member of the JRPC) was established to expand the work from King County to Pierce and Snohomish and the legislation included local taxing options to pay for building a system.  Between August of 1990 and July of 1993, a $13.2 billion Regional Transit Plan was developed and legislation authorizing creation of a Regional Transit Authority was passed in Olympia. In July of 1993, the three County Councils voted to join the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority to advance the plan. And thus Sound Transit was born.

The mayor’s previous post: Counting Down to Link

I-90 Move Just the Latest

Capitol Lake
State Capitol Building, Olympia

So State House Speaker Frank Chopp may want to take a billion or two from Sound Transit. What’s new? The legislature has been going after Sound Transit money for years now, and this is just the latest attempt in a long line of attempts. I’ve been writing about the state’s transportation funding troubles for two years now, and much of this story will be familiar to long-time readers. Whole history (as I see it) below the fold.

Continue reading “I-90 Move Just the Latest”

Goldy: Chopp Behind R8A Shenanigans

Frank Chopp
Frank Chopp

Update: Andrew points out that Ben made a fairly similar point two weeks ago.

As we’ve reported on the R8A saga, we’ve focused on the agency of Mercer Island Representative Judy Clibborn, based on her sponsorship of various legislative items, past statements skeptical of Link on I-90, position as chair of the House Transportation Committee, and service to a constituency that has a vocal minority opposed to light rail.

Today, however, Goldy at Horsesass reports that the ultimate culprit may be House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43rd), in an attempt to raid Sound Transit funds to build his preferred (expensive) SR 520 bridge option.

I can’t say anything intelligent about Goldy’s sources in Olympia, but I can add that the political economy of this makes a lot of sense, in spite of the North Korea-style margins by which Prop 1 won in Chopp’s District.  After all, you have a fairly large number of voters and interest groups clustered around (or with a view of) the Montlake interchange, and 100% of them care very strongly about what that interchange looks like while having little regard for costs incurred by the state.  Moreover, a larger constituency just wants to get the SR520 bridge done, and the more money that’s thrown at the project the quicker that’s going to happen.

Against that, you have a relatively diffuse group in the district that’s excited to take light rail to the Eastside.  If this kind of thing had flown under the radar, a delay to East Link may very well have been framed as Sound Transit incompetence, while important 43rd district interests would have gotten their goodies.  All in all, it’s a win-win for Chopp and a loss for regional voters and taxpayers who want a comprehensive transit system.

Goldy’s right, however, that any shakedown of ST by WSDOT is a straight transfer of dedicated transit funds to roadbuilding, and should be viewed as such.

Metro Tax Update

Image by Oran
Image by Oran

[UPDATE: Rep. Eddy, in the comments, points out that the bill does not require a public vote in King County to raise the tax.  Corrected below.]

The battles over Sound Transit aren’t the only thing going on in Olympia.  For supporters of transit, SB 5433 is a definite step in the right direction, and better yet, has passed the Senate.  HB 1147 is the companion bill, and it’s currently sitting in the House Rules Committee, the last obstacle to going to a floor vote.  The Striker by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-520 Corridor) is the relevant document (pdf).

The bill is titled “Modifying provisions of local option taxes” and specifically increases the taxing authority that King County can dedicate to transit by allowing existing (unused) Ferry District taxing authority to be used for buses and streetcars instead. Andrew discussed the topic here before.

The current ferry district taxing authority is a property tax equal to 0.075% the value of the house.  That’s a huge potential revenue source, equal to approximately $250m a year for King County, and well in excess of any ferry plans the county has.  (This very high tax rate is actually in place for rural counties with smaller tax bases).  The current King County ferry tax rate is 0.005% – one fifteenth of its authority.

The bill would reduce the ceiling for counties with over 1.5m people (ie, King) to 0.0075% for ferries. (Sec. 7).  However, it would also create a new 0.0075% taxing authority for King County which could be applied to transit. (Sec. 8).  King County expects that this would generate approximately $25m in revenue, which would plug about a third of the hole in 2010.

Oddly, 13 1/3% of this levy would be reserved for adding bus service along the SR520 corridor.  I emailed Rep. Hunter about this, and he responded that Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) is behind this provision.  As House Transportation Chair, she is trying to grab federal “urban partnership” dollars.  If early tolling on SR 520 passes, the Feds may buy us some buses and establishing a funding source will help in that effort.  However, it’s unclear how a requirement for new service would interact with the general climate of cuts likely to impact all service areas.

It’s important to note that this bill would not actually impose the tax, but allow the King County Council to vote to impose the tax, in turn, to put such a tax increase to a public vote.  The sources I’ve spoken to are pretty optimistic that this bill is going to pass, and it’s reasonable to expect the County Council will use the authority.then send it to the ballot this fall.

Some Good News From Olympia

Thanks in part to all your phone calls and email, Representative Simpson’s first amendment (PDF) to the budget bill passed will almost definitely pass Monday! This amendment will strike Representative Clibborn’s requirement that the joint transportation committee assess the value of the I-90 express lanes before WSDOT can sign off on an EIS. Please check out the amendment and be sure to thank your reps – there’s a list of those who signed on at the top.

He’s followed it up with a second amendment we also like, which will also move Monday. Jarrett’s senate amendment would have required an asset assessment as well, but it was an unfunded mandate – he included no money. This new Simpson amendment funds an assessment, and ensures it’s conducted by ST and WSDOT, not the joint transportation committee. He also makes sure Sound Transit’s CEO has a say in who the consultant will be, and specifically calls out that it must account for the previous agreements made regarding I-90.

The best part? It has to be done by December 1st, meaning none of this mess would affect the East Link schedule. It essentially ties up all the loose ends that the Clibborn and Jarrett amendments created.

The next part makes me cautiously optimistic. All this attention may have made an impact across the board. There’s another amendment from Judy Clibborn, and it seems pretty simple – it adds $10.6 million to the R8A project in this biennium. She’s been saying this in constituent email for a couple of days, but I wanted to hold off on writing anything about it until I had a reference. The catch (notice how there’s always a catch?) is that it’s specifically restricted to funding preliminary engineering. I don’t know whether that meshes with Sound Transit’s funding for the project, or if there’s even $10 million of preliminary engineering to be done, so we’ll see whether this is entirely positive – but it is a small step in the right direction.

I’m not sure if either of these new amendments have had a vote yet, and as they’re both House-only, we’ll have to follow up with our legislators to ensure that they make it through the conference committee into the final bill.

So, to round up on the three big Sound Transit-related legislative issues:

  1. R8A funding appears to be partly replaced. This is good, the Clibborn amendment is similar to what the Governor requested in her budget, and there’s a good chance this will remain.
  2. This asset assessment thing isn’t dead, but the big danger of halting negotiation between WSDOT and ST seems to be averted. Clibborn has still said the valuation of the center lanes could be between “$0 and $2.8 billion” – and while she’s told constituents she expects it to be at the lower end of that range, I’ll be following up with some information about what might help determine that.
  3. Regional Mobility Grants are still okay in the Senate at $40 million, but gutted in the House. These are awarded competitively, and Sound Transit does very well. These could help with R8A, with Sounder to Lakewood, and with bus purchases. The House version shuts Sound Transit out entirely and overrides the competitive process. What concerns me here is that Clibborn could easily say she’s only willing to take her R8A amendment or the regional mobility grant language from the Senate. I don’t know that we’ll be able to get any information about this process before it’s over, but we’re trying.

Overall, there’s been some great progress here! If you have time, I urge you to take a moment to thank Representative Simpson for pulling transit out of the fire here, and your own legislators if they helped him out.

Whoops: The amendments are going to a vote on Monday, the first one hasn’t actually passed yet – but it has enough cosigners to do so. It looks like both of Simpson’s amendments strike Clibborn’s section 17, so the first one will probably be replaced with the new one.

A Fix for Bad Roads: Don’t Make More

Matt Yglesias linked to this Streetsblog interview with John Norquist (this is a great one, read the whole thing if you can) about efforts on the Federal level to improve road planning. Both pieces are very interesting, Norquist knows what good roads are and Matt Yglesias understands what good policy is. They also both include this graphic, from here.

Street comparison, from Congress for New Urbanism
Street comparison, from Congress for New Urbanism

It’s clear that in the first image, you can’t cheaply build effective bus service for all residents of the culs-de-sac: no one bus stop can serve all culs-de-sac, and if you build many bus stops, the service slows and the bus becomes a poor alternative to driving. What may not be as obvious at first glance is the hidden costs of the roads pictured in the for image for local governments. Those culs-de-sac roads go no where, and therefore dump all drivers and pedestrians onto major arterials. Short trips like the one above can no longer be easily made on foot, and then even more cars are pushed onto the arterials. Those arterials become more congested and require more maintenance, more traffic mitigation infrastructure and the occasional widening project.  Other hidden costs are the problems ambulances would have getting out of the culs-de-sac, and the costs of salting and paving these semi-private roads.So that second image is better not just for pedestrians, it’s also better for cars and much better for taxpayers.

Yglesias rightly points out that the place to make changes in the rules that allow for the creation of these “bad” roads is in the state or local level. Well, Virginia has made a huge move here, stating that it will only provide maintenance services for roads in new sub-divisions that meet new guidelines for narrower roads and more connections to the larger road grid. For the state of Virginia, it has become too expensive to continue widening and the maintaining the major arterials and has developed a “connectivity index” framework for judging whether a new development will get maintenance help from the state or not. Virginia will not only refuse to fix pot holes on new roads that don’t fit within their system, they will refuse to plow those roads for snow. The Greater Great Washington post linked to has details on the specifics.

Personally, I’d be happy if no new exurban developments whatsoever were started in Washington State, but I know that’s not realistic. We need to find a similar street-design framework for Washington State that encourages or requires new subdivision developers to build roads that connect commuters and are accessible by bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as cars. Of course NIMBYs and developers will complain, but that’s their job, and we’ve done it their way long enough. If a relatively conservative state such as Virginia can pass legislation like this, we can do it in Washington, too.  It wont be easy, considering that even the Democratic leadership in Olympia is beholden to the irrational subdivision developer group the BIAW, but with the state look at an ever widening deficit, the time may be right to pass progressive transportation legislation that saves the taxpayers, and their local governments, money.

Take Action: Mail Legislators About Light Rail to Bellevue

Washington State Capitol Building. Picture by swishphotos.
Washington State Capitol Building. Picture by swishphotos.

We’ve talked about about R8A and other legislature inference plenty over the last few days. It’s time for us to take action. We need to contact leaders in Olympia and tell them what we think:

  1. The state should fund, as promised, the two-way HOV lane project on I-90 so that light rail can be completed to the Eastside on time. East Link will be delayed for years without this funding.
  2. Sound Transit should receive funds for the three Regional Mobility grants which it was competitively awarded. ST won these grants because the projects are among the best transportation investments in the state.
  3. There is no need for a bureaucratic “asset assessment study” for light rail across I-90. A new study could only serve to delay building light rail across a bridge that has already been studied numerous times.
  4. The region voted overwhelmingly to support this light rail package. The legislature shouldn’t thwart the will of the voters.

Here’s a list of important transportation legislators:

The email address for your legislators can be found on the state legislature website, or you can use this form to automatically email your legislators based on your address. You can email Governor Gregoire on her website.

After the jump is the letter we’re sending out which reflects the above talking points. Feel free to change the text as you see fit and forward it to the above legislators as well as your own — let them know you’re paying attention.

Continue reading “Take Action: Mail Legislators About Light Rail to Bellevue”

News Round Up: Recession, Recession, Recession

Pan Shot
Link in Action, photo by Stephen De Vight
  • Olympia’s devil transportation budget, the one that imposes a huge delay on East Link, seems to have passed out of the House Committee, with a full house vote Friday. The Senate version is bouncing around committees still. There is still time to email your legislators and tell them you want R8A and Eastlink back in the budget.
  • Newcastle 411 is reporting that the Sound Transit-funded Newcastle Transit Center project’s lowest bid was $2.1 million, 22.2% under the $2.7 million estimate. A number of projects have come under estimate recently, including the longer of the two U-Link tunnels. The bad recession is causing a huge shortage in construction projects, and engineering and construction firms are competing very strongly for the projects that are available.
  • The FAA foresees a 9% drop in air travel in the US this year due to the bad economy.
  • The rotten economy seems to be slowing transit-oriented-development in the Rainier Valley, according to the South Seattle Beacon. The nice thing about train lines is that even though they only open once, they stick around a long, long time. The TOD will show up eventually.

Opinion: WSDOT and Amtrak Cascades

Amtrak leaving Seattle by Brian Bundridge
Amtrak leaving Seattle by Brian Bundridge

Where to begin after the troubling news that was brought forward to us recently? Washington State Department of Transportation reorganized the passenger rail division during a critical time when federal funding is available for key improvements along the corridor. These improvements would wildly benefit thousands of passengers who take the Amtrak Cascades daily. Read on below the fold.

Continue reading “Opinion: WSDOT and Amtrak Cascades”

A Very Quick Overview of Why R8A Matters to You

Martin had a fantastic post this morning about the I-90 Two Way Transit and HOV project, also known as Alternative R-8A, or just R8A. I want to add to this some history, and exactly why this is a key issue for transit.

In 1976, a Memorandum of Agreement was reached to build I-90. There are some gems in here, but I think the key is that I-90 was originally intended to be converted to rail:

2. The I-90 facility shall be designed and constructed so that conversion of all or part of the transit roadway to fixed guideway is possible.

In 2004, the same stakeholders partnered with Sound Transit to amend the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement. This amendment (and it’s really worth a read, it’s pretty short) established that:

“…all parties agree that the ultimate configuration for I-90 between Bellevue, Mercer Island and Seattle should be defined as High Capacity Transit in the center roadway and HOV lanes in the outer roadways; and further agree that High Capacity Transit for this purpose is defined as a transit system operating in dedicated right-of-way such as light rail, monorail, or a substantially equivalent system;”

Furthermore, they liked one particular alternative for reaching this configuration:

“…all parties agree that building HOV lanes on the outer roadways as identified as Alternative R-8A as set forth in the May 21, 2004 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared for the project, is an essential first step toward achieving the ultimate configuration;”

The final resolution was crystal clear, we need to put HOV lanes on the outer roadway ASAP:

1. Alternative R-8A with High Capacity Transit deployed in the center lanes is the ultimate configuration for I-90 in this segment;
2. Construction of R-8A should occur as soon as possible as a first step to the ultimate configuration;
3. Upon completion of R-8A, move as quickly as possible to construct High Capacity Transit in the center lanes;
4. Commit to the earliest possible conversion of center roadway to two-way High Capacity Transit operation based on outcome of studies and funding approvals.

WSDOT has a fantastic project page where you can see the details of R8A and the schedule WSDOT committed to – with construction ending in 2014. Martin noted that Sound Transit needs this to happen before they can build East Link – so anything the state does to alter this schedule will directly impact our ability to build light rail to the eastside.

So why am I writing this? Because the response we’ve gotten demands some scrutiny. Last time I wrote about this project, it was to point out that Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1978 (PDF), the bill to distribute transportation stimulus funds, reduced funding for R8A Stage 1 (page 42). When I pointed out that Representative Judy Clibborn’s amendment removed money for R8A, Representative Eddy commented with (in part):

I am advised that the language in question reflects an accounting change. “We revised the amount for the I-90 two-way transit stage 1 project down by $2.8 M in the 2009 supplemental budget. This is due to project savings in stage 1. These savings are being transferred to the budget item for stages 2 & 3 of the project. Unfortunately the proviso does not mention this other budget item.”

She goes on to report that the total budget for stages 2 & 3 is being increased by $3.27 M, beyonjd the $2.8 reduction in ‘09 to recognize increased inflation.

A commenter named Allison emailed Clibborn and got this response:

The I-90 two-way transit project is a three-stage project. The first stage was completed $2.8 million under budget, so the savings on stage one have been transferred to stages two and three. – Judy Clibborn

In fact, ESHB 1978 did mention R8A stages 2 and 3 – it didn’t move money from stage 1 to them, it removed another $1.8 million from them (page 47).

A staffer in Olympia tells me the Senate Transportation Committee plans to release their 2009-2011 budget tomorrow at 12:30 pm. Do keep in mind that this is just Senate Transportation, not the House, but it will give us a good idea as to whether these promises will be kept. Tomorrow I’ll look at what’s in the budget, and we’ll figure out what’s next. See you then.

East Link in 2024?

Sound Transit
Sound Transit

The most disappointing thing about the PSRC stimulus list is the failure to include any funds for the completion of the I-90 two-way HOV project.  Under current state budget plans, the last tranche of funding ($24m) is programmed for the 2017-2019 biennium.  Since it will take approximately 5 years from the completion of this to opening day of the Seattle-Bellevue segment, this could potentially delay its opening from 2020 to 2024.

The project consists of three stages:

Stage 1 extended the westbound HOV lane from Bellevue to mid-Mercer Island and was completed last October.

Stage 2 would upgrade the same stretch in the eastbound direction, and it’s here that the state’s contribution of $24m is required.

Stage 3 is to complete the HOV lane into Seattle in both directions, and was fully funded by Proposition 1 last year.

Of the $188m total cost for all three stages, the state and ST agreed that the split would be $51m and $138m, respectively. Until 2007, the last chunk of state funding was scheduled for 2009 (pdf, page 20), so that Stage 2 could be complete by 2012.  In early 2007, however, ESHB 1094, implemented a “LEAP” plan that pushed back the $24m (pdf, page 15) to beyond 2017.

ESHB 1094 was sponsored in the House by Rep. Judy Clibborn* (D-Mercer Island), Rep. Fred Jarrett (D-Mercer Island), and Rep. Al O’Brien (D-Bothell).  O’Brien was probably interested in an interchange in Bothell, but it’s clear what the big impact in Clibborn and Jarrett’s district was.

Rep. Jarrett, incidentally, is running for King County Executive this year.

It seems ridiculous to hold up a $4 billion project for want of $24 million, so one has to hope that the relevant parties will find a way.  It may be that this delay is an opening bid by the state, since there’s a pending negotiation over whether or not WSDOT will charge Sound Transit rent for the express lanes.

On the other hand, that assumes good faith on the part of both parties.  If the legislature wants to, it can certainly create enough obstacles to prevent Sound Transit from ever using the I-90 right of way.

As the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel put it in their report:

Very significant schedule and budget risks continue for the I-90 Two-Way Transit Stages 2 and 3 projects. Sound Transit has funded its share of the projects as well as the entire current estimate for Stage 3, contingent on WSDOT’s commitment to work collaboratively to manage scope. But  WSDOT’s $24 million contribution to Stage 2 is currently budgeted for the 2017-2019 biennium.  Funding authorization by the state is urgently needed to be moved to the current biennium as these projects are on the critical path for East Link over the I-90 bridge and they are essential to provide needed capacity during the 520 bridge reconstruction. Also, we want to highlight that WSDOT and Sound Transit must work earnestly and cooperatively over the next year to resolve the terms of the agreement for the conversion of the I-90 center roadway for use by East Link to avoid further significant risks to the I-90 Stage 2 and 3 projects and East Link light rail.

*UPDATE: A source in Olympia points out to me via email that as Transportation Chair, it’s customary for Rep. Clibborn to sponsor the transportation budget.  That isn’t to say that she was unaware, opposed, or somehow not responsible for the fate of a project in her district.

Editorial: Metro’s Funding Gap is a Doomsday Scenario

I would say that Martin described yesterday is not a full and comfortable solution to the funding gap that could force Metro to cut 20% of its bus service. Given the constraints of the situation, Martin’s ideas are strong and well-rounded — but those constraints must be changed by Olympia.

In addition to steep fare hikes (up to $1.25 over the last few years) and a stronger reliance inconvenient transfers, much of Metro’s less popular service would to be severely curtailed. And though these routes aren’t popular, people do depend on them. Additional savings would have to be found by cutting night and weekend service across the region. This would necessarily include even busier routes that operate in Seattle. And finally, we’d see cuts even in good, solid routes that perform well. We would all be affected, even with the smart mitigation that Martin proposes.

So yesterday’s post isn’t this blog outlining a rosy scenario for making the appropriate cuts. We are saying that with a 20% reduction of service, you run out of “appropriate” cuts very quickly and begin to harm the core service that Metro provides. We are saying that cuts would be dramatic and a disaster for the progress that this region has made over the last decade.

And the combination of the above options is not a solution to Metro’s funding gap, it’s a doomsday scenario that will turn many back toward automobile dependence and leave many unable to get to work. That isn’t just bad for congestion. It’s bad for our economy, ruinous for our environment, and a setback for our walkable, livable urban landscape.

This doomsday scenario is something Metro may be forced to do. But it shouldn’t have to.

Legislators in Olympia need to give Metro taxing authority to solve this problem, and local politicians need to use the appropriate tools to put the pressure on. From Rep. Eddy to County Councilmen Constantine and Phillips to Mayor Nickels: You have a responsibility to ensure that Metro doesn’t have to make these drastic cuts. Our region, our county, and our cities depend on you.

So news like this is not encouraging:

King County lobbyist Chuck Williams said one proposal for financing more buses, a 1 percent motor-vehicle excise tax, has gotten the cold shoulder so far from legislative leaders, who told him the idea “is dead on arrival.”

Another measure that would have expanded annual vehicle-license fees also failed to get enough support, as did a bill that would have allowed use of property taxes to help support buses. Another bill, SB5433, is still alive and would allow the county to use up to 0.3 percent sales tax for bus service. It passed the Senate and will be heard by the House Finance Committee Friday. “That’s our last shot,” Williams said.

WSDOT Request for Cascades Corridor

Cascades @ Carkeek Park by Brian Bundridge

The rail office in Olympia just release the final list to be submitted to USDOT for funding.  It’s pretty impressive, as well as aggressive. The total is $692.22 Million.

WSDOT Amtrak Cascades Requests
Location Project Funding Request
Vancouver Yard Bypass and W 39th St bridge $45.1 million
Tacoma Pt Defiance Bypass $60.0 million
Stanwood Stanwood Station $600,000
Everett Curve Realignments and Storage tracks $2.12 million
Cascades Four New train Sets $108 million
Cascades Capitalized Maintenance $97.4 million
Kelso to Martin’s Bluff Rail project (In three phases) $222.0 million
Seattle King St Station Track And Signal Upgrades $120 million
Blaine Swift Customs Facility Siding $3.8 million
Cascades Advanced Signal System/Positive Train Control $30.2 million
Centralia New Crossover near China Creek $3.0 million
Total $692.22 Million

H/T to Mike Skehan for the great news!

Taxing Authority for Transportation Agencies

At capacity
Metro Buses Queued in the Tunnel, Photo by Oran

One of the topics current King County Council Member Larry Phillips discussed in the Q&A that we had with him last week at our meet-up was the possibility of finding future funding sources for King County’s Metro. Metro, like many other state and local agencies, faces a massive budget crisis and may be forced to cut service in order to make up the future revenue deficit. Metro is without any way to raise new money: Metro, along with Snohomish’s Community Transit has currently reached its state-allowed limit on its taxing authority: nine-tenths of one percent sales tax collection. Even if the people of King County wanted to tax themselves to provide more bus service, state law wouldn’t allow them to.

At first it seems bizarre that Olympia wouldn’t allow voters to tax themselves to provide more bus service, but it makes a little sense when you think about it. Until very recently, no transit agency had reached the nine-tenths of a percent allocation, and before I-695 passed in 1999, these agencies were allowed to collect the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). And it’s only now that any transit agency has faced a potential service cut.

Phillips mentioned two additional funding sources Metro could potentially go after if the state allowed. The first is the MVET that Ron Sims was pushing around the time the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel plan was announced. The second option would be to allow some or all of the taxing authority given to county ferry districts – a property tax of 75¢ per $1000 assessed value – to be used for transit by the voter’s approval. The MVET has been a wildly unpopular tax, and attempting to use that for transit might be a disaster, but the property tax seems reasonable.

Currently the King County Ferry District collects 5.5¢ per $1000 assessed value, worth a little more  more than $18 million a year for King County, and it looks like the Ferry District in King County couldn’t ever need the entire 75¢. There are counties where ferries are crucial transportation connections, such as Island County, where state Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margarett Haugen (D-Camano Island) lives, and they may use the whole allotment. But doesn’t it make sense for the state to allow counties to use that 75¢ taxing authority on any transportation project they need? King County may not want a lot of ferries, but the voters may decide they could use more roads, buses or rail. The ability to implement a levy to build a specific project or pass a permanent tax increase to fund transit service seems like something the voters should have the right to do. Fortunately there is a bill going through Olympia right now that would enable exactly this: letting the county use some of the ferry taxing authority for transit.

The transportation leaders in Olympia, Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) and Sen Haugen among others, have made it very clear that they expect the Greater Seattle area and it’s outlying communities to fund their own transportation improvements. The state relies nearly entirely on gas tax revenue to fund roads proejcts, and with people driving less, choosing more efficient cars and taking transit more, the revenues are far short of paying for all the needs across the state. That’s one of the main reasons why they pushed RTID, the now-defunct regional roads agency, so heavily and why they are fighting for “governance reform”, also known as stealing transit money to pay for roads. If Olympia expects Seattle and its neighbors to solve their own transportation problems, it needs to stop trying to push their preferred plans down onto us. I would have hoped in light of Prop. 1 first failing by a large margin with roads and transit and then passing by an even larger margin with just transit, Olympia would realize the voters here don’t agree with their vision of what our region’s transportation system should look like. Instead, they ought to provide tools to the local governments here, and allow the voters to approve the transportation plans that they want in their own communities. The 75¢ per $1000 property tax set aside for ferries seems like great tool for this purpose.

Density Around Light Rail Stations (Again)

The intersection of MLK and Rainier Avenue, Seattle
Rainier and MLK, photo by rutlo

The state TOD bill is still making its way through Olympia, and I’ve been thinking a lot about development around Central Link stations. The one that always springs to mind is Mount Baker station, at the intersection of Rainier and MLK. Clair Enlow, a who writes a regular “design perspectives” column in the DJC, has written a great piece on HB 1490, and has a terrific description of the area around the station:

The intersection of McClellan Street and Rainier Avenue is straight out of the late auto age, where cars take precedence over pedestrians.
There’s a gas station, an auto supply store with parking, a big apron of parking for a drugstore-grocery and the back wall of a big-box hardware store. At a bus stop nearby, passengers wait for a Metro bus to fight its way through the heavy traffic on Rainier.

But the future is rising just beyond the auto supply and tire stores. The glass and steel vision that is Mount Baker Station now stands below the arc of the light rail platform, which swings around from Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and disappears into the Beacon Hill Tunnel.

More Enlow and my thoughts below the fold.
Continue reading “Density Around Light Rail Stations (Again)”