UPDATE 5-17-11 Video has now been updated to archived video
North Link light rail project : Community Meeting
June 16 , 2010
5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Roosevelt High School Commons
1410 NE 66th St., Seattle
Light rail is coming to North Seattle
Sound Transit is hosting a meeting to kick off final design of the North Link light rail project. North Link is a 4.3-mile extension to the regional light rail system with stations at Brooklyn (University District), Roosevelt and Northgate.
At the meeting you will:
- Find out how to get involved in the final design process
- Review engineering drawings and recommendations
- Talk about next steps
Please join us from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m., with a presentation beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Your participation is important.
For more information
Contact Keith Hall via e-mail or at 206-398-5468
To request accommodations for persons with disabilities, call 1-800-201-4900 / TTY Relay: 711 or e-mail email@example.com.
Update 3/31 @ 11:20am: The governor’s office tells us that this veto just affects the “legislative intent” section of the bill, not the underlying contents which still directs a work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge. However, the underlying legislation — with the “intent” section vetoed — does not direct “any final design of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program accommodate effective connections for transit, including high capacity transit, including, but not limited to, effective connections for transit to the university link light rail line” as the intent section did. I don’t know if other legislation has this provision.
And while the legislation does direct a King County work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge, it does not require the bridge accommodate any plans from that group. However, we now understand what the governor’s office meant when it defined a section as “vague;” unfortunately, that section had a stronger requirement for high-capacity transit than the rest of the bill, on my reading.
The Seattle PI report we link to below has not been changed as of this writing.
Original report: The Seattle PI reports on another of today’s vetoes, this time not so transit-friendly.
The governor also vetoed a section of the bill [authorizing the 520 bridge replacement] that directed planners to come up with a final design that could handle both carpool lanes and light rail. However Shelton said the governor still supported ultimately seeing whether the replacement span that connects Seattle with its Eastside suburbs could ultimately accommodate high-capacity transit. She felt the language in the bill first section was “vague.”
“We still have work groups addressing those issues,” [a Gregoire spokesman] said. “The work is still going to get done.”
Light rail across SR-520 is a long time away from being seriously considered. Even in the long haul, though, it would be an up-hill lift to build light rail across the bridge if it meant removing capacity — even if that capacity were just HOV lanes. I think if we were to add light rail to the bridge, it should be done in addition to the HOV lanes on the bridge. So that section of the legislation made sense to me; what’s possibly vague about it?
Last night I attended the University Link open house at the Museum of History and Industry. Construction is about to start on UW Station at Montlake, so there was a presentation explaining exactly where construction will take place, what sort of mitigation there will be, and what will go on. I’m not the first to post about this – Alper of Alpertopia covered it today as well.
The big takeaway from the Sound Transit presentation was that they’ll be using largely the same (very successful) noise mitigations they used for Beacon Hill, and they’ve provided for bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle access to UW facilities while construction takes place. They had conclusive answers to each question asked.
The end of the meeting was much more interesting. Prior to the presentations, I had a moment to speak with Andy Casillas, the UW’s project manager on their Rainier Vista project. He explained that contrary to their latest published design, the university has indeed dropped pedestrian bridges from their plans (not the one pictured above). The hospital side bridge was dropped because it would require expensive support structure construction in the basement of the hospital – he suggested transit users could use the existing underpass, but users are already cautioned against using that underpass at night without an escort.
The station side bridge reasoning was less clear. At some future date, he suggested a project might be undertaken to grade separate Montlake Boulevard, dropping it below pedestrian level, but this project is unfunded and unmentioned in any of the documents he presented.
During his presentation, he offered no quantifiable benefits to the land bridge design past the slightly shorter walking distance and additional layover space for Metro buses – but Metro isn’t being asked to help fund the project. He said the land bridge required an additional year of design time, but didn’t say how that might impact University Link’s schedule. He was unable to quantify impacts to pedestrian mobility or traffic – despite the walking distance decrease, this adds wait time at a new Montlake crossing light, apparently planned for 30 second intervals.
Most of the questions asked at that point were about the safety of a crossing for thousands of new users. Yesterday, I was willing to accept this with the assumption that the plan would be to build pedestrian bridges later. With those bridges apparently off the table, I see little benefit to the new plan and significant drawbacks, and no reason to support the additional expense to SDOT or Sound Transit. The existing Sound Transit station and pedestrian bridge design has already been approved by the UW Board of Regents as well as the Sound Transit Board – opening this agreement up for debate again would be foolhardy.
With University Link under construction and Sound Transit 2 to follow, service frequency has become a hot topic.
Today, Link operates at peak frequencies of 7-8 minutes, dropping to 10 and finally 15 minutes during off-peak periods and on weekends. With average October weekday ridership of 16,200, today’s peak frequencies meet demand and will likely continue to through the next few years, but U-Link will change that.
The North Link Final Supplemental EIS operating plan summary (PDF), which only covers S. 200th to Northgate, the extent planned for in Sound Move, calls for 6 minute peak headways end to end by 2015, with an eventual increase to 5 minute headways between Northgate and Rainier Beach (referred to as “Henderson” in the document) sometime prior to 2030.
With Sound Transit 2, we’ll essentially get a new line – running from Northgate or farther north to Bellevue. Currently, the East Link DEIS operating plan summary (PDF) suggests four car trains every 10 minutes in 2020, with headways down to every 9 minutes in 2030.
An overall Sound Transit 2 operating plan I saw on paper suggested three 9 minute headway lines – One from Lynnwood to SODO or Rainier Beach, one from Northgate to Bellevue/Redmond, and one from Northgate to Sea-Tac/Federal Way. This would cause three minute headways between every other train south of downtown, and could cause problems in at-grade portions.
There’s another possibility here, though. Sound Transit could operate two lines, one from Lynnwood to Federal Way, and another from Lynnwood to Bellevue. This would keep headways south of the International District more stable, and make Bellevue headways higher overall. Either way, frequency from Northgate to the International District will be down to four or even three minutes with Sound Transit 2.
The limiting factor is largely the uncertainty associated with the MLK portion of Link – missing a light can add a minute or two to a trip, making it impossible to really shoehorn more trains in without degrading quality of service significantly. If we want another line through downtown, it will need to either go on the surface, or in a new tunnel.
Frankly, I wasn’t around actively advocating for Sound Transit’s Central Link when it was being conceived, but one common criticism that I’ve heard rail opponents iterate time and time again is that the Central Link alignment was some sort of a political ploy or gimmick. “Why Tukwila of all places? People don’t go to the airport on a daily basis. Why not the suburbs first?” First of all, it’s rather ironic that the same people wanting to block light rail to the Eastside (and anywhere else in general) are tied with those who criticize the Central Link alignment and throw their hands up in the air asking why the suburbs were not Link’s first destination. It’s a fair indication that these people are just against rail transit in general under the pretense of a number of other excuses up their sleeves.
More below the jump.
Yesterday, we broke word that Susan Hutchison favors putting light rail across SR-520. She re-iterated this position at last night’s debate. This isn’t the first time someone has held this position, but that makes the suggestion no less tired. Hutchison would do very well to read our past research on the subject because her current position is simply irresponsible.
But in June of last year, we showed why light rail has to cross I-90 first: The University Link tunnels cannot handle Eastside passenger traffic. Light rail across SR-520 would lead to significant overcrowding and poor service performance unless we build another expensive tunnel to downtown. In January of last year, we noted that plans to eliminate future capacity for light rail from the SR-520 bridge saved $400 million dollars — a number Hutchison will somehow have to recover. The engineering challenges of going from the elevated 520 span to the underground Husky Stadium light rail station are significant and difficult. For these reasons, Sound Transit notes that light rail across SR-520 is much more expensive. Most importantly, the current alignment is voter approved: In November of last year, an overwhelming 62% of the voters in King County passed a plan that put light rail across I-90.
But in June of 2007, we showed that I-90 does not lose lanes after light rail. And we showed the corridor actually gains capacity from new HOV lanes in each direction. In March, we pointed out that the federal government funded our center lanes expressly to be converted to rail transit. The state has borrowed those lanes for decades.
But we reported in July that transit agencies have purchased roads right-of-way in the past before without issue. WSDOT is working with Sound Transit to value the center lanes so Sound Transit can purchase them. Sound Transit is funding the two-way HOV lanes across I-90, and that work can be used as credit toward the purchase. The state is not giving Sound Transit the lanes.
More after the jump…
With two streetcars on the way, our two mayoral candidates’ views on the topic deserve some scrutiny. Neither McGinn nor Mallahan appear to be pro-streetcar, but their level of dislike seems quite different.
The First Avenue streetcar is to be funded by the city through an as yet undetermined source. It provides transit mitigation for intra-city trips displaced by the removal of the Viaduct, and would serve to connect the South Lake Union Trolley with the First Hill streetcar.
The First Hill streetcar is a Sound Transit project, approved and funded as part of Sound Transit 2, to connect International District station and Capitol Hill station. It will serve the First Hill employment center that didn’t get a light rail station in Sound Move – the $350 million station would have increased University Link’s risk dramatically, likely losing us our $800 million federal grant – $1.1 billion is too much for one stop!
McGinn would fund more bus service in the city instead of the First Avenue streetcar, trading a capital investment that causes lower operations costs per passenger mile for all three streetcar lines for a few years of bus hours. This could put us in a bad situation later, depending on how these bus hours are funded – if we fund hours for five years, for example, users will demand continued service, requiring us to find a new source of money. If we fund them with a longer term funding source, we’ll be doing it instead of continuing to build the streetcar network.
Mallahan, however, is even worse. He not only wouldn’t build the First Avenue streetcar, he’d try to consider interfering with construction of the First Hill streetcar, cancelling it if possible. This is not just irresponsible, but goes against last year’s vote. The last thing we want is Mallahan on the Sound Transit board.
What concerns me the most here is that there’s even a question of funding these two projects for either candidate. Seventy years ago, the streetcars were ripped up and replaced with buses to kill transit use – and the reverse holds true. It’s much easier to fight for signal priority and dedicated right of way for a streetcar than for a bus, it gets higher ridership, it can spur development. In the long run, it serves more people for less money, especially the First Avenue line – it not only serves tourist central, it also connects the other two.
McGinn is so close to being a good transit advocate – but he seems stuck on buses based on their apparent short-term cost. We need to put pressure on him to change this attitude.
Last year’s Snowpocalypse introduced a problem that the Seattle area hasn’t had to deal with in a long time – frozen switches.
As temperature decreases, even rail can be affected. While trains themselves aren’t typically blocked by as little snow as we had, the switches that allow trains to change tracks can eventually freeze – keeping trains from switching direction or coming into and out of service at a maintenance facility.
The best way to avoid this is with switch heaters that melt snow and ice, keeping switches operational. They can come in a few different configurations – where there’s space, you can pull up a trailer to blow hot air on a switch, but in the city, or on an elevated trackway like Link, heaters need to be permanently installed. Link was built without switch heaters – they’re normally not required for our climate, but last winter indicates they may be necessary in the future, so Sound Transit intends to install them sooner rather than later.
The first delivery of University Link light rail vehicles is expected to be in October of 2010, and before that, the Operations and Maintenance Facility yard must be expanded to support the new trains. This expansion is planned already in a contract with Railworks (PDF). Our sources tell us that this contract may be amended to add switch heater installation in the key places Link would need it to continue operation during a major snowstorm – in the base, mainly, and at Airport Station. The switch in the stub tunnel north of Westlake is protected from the elements.
Keep in mind that last year’s snowstorm was a 20-year event. This winter is expected to be mild in comparison – and these switch heaters would be installed before October 2010.
I think opening day was an unqualified success. Sound Transit planned for the worst, and instead, we had a best case scenario. Every train I rode was full – some packed to the brim, some just standing room only, all well used.
I have a story about ORCA I’d like to share. Yesterday we saw some problems with the ticket vending machines at a few stations – cancelling a transaction could leave the TVM ‘hung’ indefinitely. Sound Transit already had the contractor on standby in case there was a problem on opening weekend, and overnight, a patch was written by the contractor, tested, and applied to all TVMs to fix the problem. This is unheard-of turnaround, and it just goes to show what a tight ship Sound Transit is running.
I want to say thank you to all the Sound Transit staff who gave up their weekends – sometimes as long as 7am-10pm – to pull this off without a hitch. Also a huge thank you to all the volunteers who helped out – I saw a couple of regular commenters handing out literature and answering questions. I have never seen ST staff smile so much before.
And thank you to the people who took 92,000 rides. We’ll have to wait for University Link before we see that many again!
It still hasn’t sunk in yet. Seattle finally has mass transit.
Just like the streetcars of a generation ago this system will forever shape Seattle’s urban form. It will connect the region like it has never been before. Unlike the streetcars of the past I feel confident in saying that this system will never get ripped out. Just like the New York subway or the London Underground, LINK will over the next few decades become an inseparable element of the city.
Lets not fool ourselves, there is lots of work to be done. University LINK is just getting underway and ST2 will be built out over the next 15 years. Development near stations has yet to occur, leaving the station areas feeling desolate and empty. It will be interesting to watch the neighborhood plan updates. In many ways while yesterday was the end to what so many people have been working towards for longer than I have been alive, it is the beginning of so much more.
I know that all of us at STB learned a lot yesterday. Hands down Beacon Hill was our favorite station. The artwork at the station was great and the station entrance was pleasant and pedestrian scaled. I love the seating and bamboo. Actually, the artwork all along the line was amazing. The only other system that I know with comparable public artwork is Stockholm’s Tunnelbana. The artwork transform the stations from a simply utilitarian places that you pass through, to a place that constantly surprises. This really shows why 1% for art is important.
What a weekend. We won’t have anything like this for years to come.
Yesterday, an assortment of federal, state and local elected officials welcomed US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to Seattle. LaHood, who has been something of an unknown quantity when it comes to transportation, is maturing into what I believe many progressive transportation advocates have been dreaming for. This comes as a surprise, due to his background as a Republican Congressman from the relatively small city of Peoria, Illinois.
The first sentences out of his mouth praised Seattle for creating such a livable city and limiting sprawl. Unlike what the name of his official blog, The Fast Lane, suggests, he has been surprisingly vocal in his support of livable, walkable, and bikable communities as well as high speed rail and all modes of transit. Last month, under his leadership, the USDOT, EPA and HUD formed an interagency partnership for sustainable communities which will coordinate and align efforts of all three agencies to improve the livability of our cities.
All of this has attracted the scorn of Newsweek’s George Will after LaHood implied that the federal government should encourage and support less auto dependent lifestyles. Obviously, George thinks that’s a bad thing:
LaHood, however, has been transformed. Indeed, about three bites into lunch, the T word lands with a thump: He says he has joined a “transformational” administration: “I think we can change people’s behavior.” Government “promoted driving” by building the Interstate Highway System—”you talk about changing behavior.” He says, “People are getting out of their cars, they are biking to work.” High-speed intercity rail, such as the proposed bullet train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, is “the wave of the future.” And then, predictably, comes the P word: Look, he says, at Portland, Ore.
by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board
After the passage of Sound Move on November 5, 1996 it was time to get to work. The RTA needed to ramp up from a 22 person planning staff to an entity capable of building a multi-billion dollar capital program and operating multiple modes of transit service. This is a step virtually every new transit agency struggles with and leads to a phenomenon known as “growing pains”!
The Board began to make dozens of decisions (PDF), from rebranding the agency as “Sound Transit” to vehicle purchases to route decisions. Environmental Impact Statements were begun, policies were developed, fares with other transit agencies were “integrated”, ground was broken and hearings were held.
In September 1997 the first Regional Express bus service began, in June 1998 I led the Board’s effort to identify Union Station as Sound Transit’s permanent headquarters and Sounder commuter rail between Tacoma and Seattle debuted in September, 2000. Tacoma’s Link streetcar began service in August, 2003.
Due to its size, federal funding and all new right-of-way; the most complicated aspect of the program was Link Light Rail. A very difficult period began toward the end of 2000 as tensions mounted and the Board ordered a halt to negotiations over a contract to build a very long, deep light rail tunnel under Portage Bay. The Board was concerned that the cost and risk of the proposed contract was unacceptably high and a reassessment was in order. This led to staff changes (Joni Earl became Executive Director) and eventually a reengineering of the project (splitting it into the initial Airport segment and the University segment extension) to reduce the risks.
Extraordinary political drama ensued including the last minute signing of a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) on the final evening of the Clinton administration and light rail becoming the focus of the very close 2001 Seattle Mayor’s race. But the Board persevered, Joni restored confidence in the agency and eventually the project was back on track. In fact in February, 2003 Link’s initial segment received the highest rating of any project in the nation from the Federal Transit Administration. This was repeated recently with the University Link extension. Ground was finally broken for the initial Link light rail segment on November 8, 2003.
Every once in a while, someone asks me how long it will be before the buses are kicked out of the tunnel downtown. I bet we’ve talked about this before in the comments, but we could do with a discussion of frequency and routes.
At launch, peak train frequency will be 7.5 minutes. It’ll be listed as 7-8 minutes on the schedule – Metro’s scheduling system doesn’t handle 30 second increments. I was hoping for 6 minute peak headways, but we’ll get them eventually. As the first year of operation is only projected to average out with 20-25,000 on weekdays, I think we can wait a bit for 6 minute peaks.
I’ve been told that somewhere around 5 minute headways, there’s no longer safe time for buses to get through and load between trains, and at that point they’ll go back out to third avenue and elsewhere. That may happen when University Link opens, as ridership demand skyrockets. As we saw during the tunnel closure, surface congestion isn’t that bad with the extra buses, and a number of the tunnel routes will be replaced by rail soon after anyway. Perhaps at that point, we’ll consider further separating the bus corridor from cars.
When ST2 lines are built out, the expectation is that we’ll drop to 3 minute headways. The ST2 planning documents I’ve seen show three ‘lines’ – Lynnwood to Sea-Tac, Northgate to Federal Way, and Northgate to Redmond, each running on nine minute headways to combine to three between Northgate and ID Station. But we’d end up with headways of 3/6/3/6 minutes in the Rainier Valley, and I’m not sure 3 minute headways there would be feasible.
A little bird told me that a better option might be two six minute headway lines – one all the way from Lynnwood to Federal Way, and one from Lynnwood to Redmond. I like this better, it would cause far fewer passenger headaches. Oh, and wouldn’t it be awesome for the two lines to be Purple and Gold? It’s not my idea, but I like it.
Okay, how about the longer run? We should be able to get headways down to 2 minutes north of ID Station. At that point, in fifty years, we’re probably going to want to increase speed to Sea-Tac anyway. This is pure speculation, but I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s interesting that we leave and return to the Duwamish valley with Link. An elevated bypass along Marginal Way could save a couple of minutes for trains to the airport, serve SoDo better (with a stop near Georgetown), and allow us to add stations at Graham St. and S. 133rd without affecting longer distance users.
Consider this an open thread.
The Stranger recently wrote about seven things they learned when they rode light rail for the first time. The last one caught my eye – we need to speed this up.
There’s a big shrug from Sound Transit about accelerating University Link or Northgate – we can’t do much without immediate infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars, and I keep hearing they’re already working on a Northgate acceleration plan. But we can definitely do something about ST2’s other components. We could speed up Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Redmond extensions with more cash in the next few years, and we could accelerate planning for a new line in the city. This is why we’re starting to try to talk about new funding sources.
At the national level, there’s not much. There’s pressure on the Federal Transit Administration to improve their New Starts grant process, but we’re all here in Seattle, where it’s tough to have an impact in DC. It makes more sense to me to fight for new funding at the local level – we’re going to have to go to the state, and that’s a tough task on its own.
The options that stuck out for me are the basics:
Were there other obvious funding sources I missed? I know there are lots of other options, but these seem like they’d be the easiest. Sound Transit already collects some MVET for Sound Move, but they won’t be able to continue using that revenue after the bonds are repaid, probably around 2023. Would that be a good place to start? How about allowing local voters to double it?
According to this post on light rail on Good Magazine’s blog, Manhattan residents first voted to fund the Second Avenue Subway in 1951. They even mention East Link!
Seven weeks and two days until Central Link, and seven years and (okay, maybe) two months until University Link…
This should help give you an idea of just how broken the way we fund transportation in this country is: Paper Mills are looking to get about $8 billion in Federal transportation cash in 2009, according to the Nation, and the FTA will get $10.23 billion. International Paper alone will get close to $1 billion, twice as much Federal funding as Central Link’s total full funding grant award ($500 mn awarded over years) and a significant amount more than University Link’s full funding grant award ($813 million, also awarded over years). The money is technically a tax credit for using alternative fuels, but in this case the paper industry is adding fossil fuels to their natural bio-fuels but it’s still cash, and the cash did come from SAFETEA-LU, the last Federal Transportation bill.
We have a surprisingly low-quality government.
Sound Transit today announced that a lowest bid for the University of Washington to Capitol Hill tunnels came in $86 million, or 22%, less than the engineers’ estimate.
The tunnels are the the largest component of the University Link project. That project’s first construction contract came in $10 million under estimates last December.
Bruce Gray of Sound Transit noted these two bids reflected a positive environment for constructions projects. “Every day we see bids coming in lower than engineers’ estimate, as opposed to a few years ago when they were coming in higher than engineers’ estimate.”
The economic downturn has halted construction in other areas, meaning that there is less private demand for the contractors who are capable of work of this scale. Sound Transit engineers priced the tunneling project at $395,334,000. The lowest bid, from Traylor Frontier-Kemper Joint Venture, came in at $309,175,274.
Things aren’t completely rosy in the ST financial world. The same recession that has made the bid environment more favorable has also led to a projected $2.1 billion funding shortfall for Sound Transit 2 before it has even began collecting tax revenue. Still, these great bids reflect that it is the best time to make public infrastructure investment.
The Sound Transit Board on Thursday will likely vote to set the base Link fare at $1.75. The fare would be modified with a distance-based surcharge of $.05 per mile rounded to the nearest quarter (you can read about the introduction of the distance-based fare in our archives). The maximum fare from Downtown Seattle to Seatac Airport would be $2.50.
This option was chosen over an alternative which would have had the base fare at $2.00 but given downtown riders free access to light rail in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Sound Transit staff notes that while this option would have created higher ridership because there wouldn’t be an incentive for cash-users to avoid the rail fare, the rest of the network would be subsidizing the Link trips within downtown.
Linda Thielke, a Metro spokesperson, said that the bus agency has “no plan” to change the ride free policy in the tunnel. This will create a unique situation where riding buses in the tunnel is free, but riding light rail costs money.
Light rail riders have to either purchase tickets for the appropriate destination before boarding, or tap on and then “tap off” with the upcoming Orca smart fare/pass card. Each of these methods would be much faster than the current on-board payment system on buses which can cause crowding.
The Mayor’s transportation adviser, Andrew Glass Hastings, noted that Metro decided “to keep ride free in the tunnel to maintain headways and not impact their service.” Indeed, we have argued in the past that the absence of bus fares downtown can keep things operating smoothly.
You can read the full resolution on the Sound Transit website (pdf). My favorite part is the 52% farebox recovery ratio expected in 2017 once University Link opens. High ridership and long trains operated by one person will do that.
Follow-up: We have some numbers showing the effect on ridership.
Sound Transit contractors recently began demolishing the buildings that current occupy the area where construction for the University Link projected will be staged. While it may not look like a lot was recycled from the picture above, take note from the Sound Transit CEO:
I wanted to pass along an update on our ongoing recycling efforts at the future site of the Capitol Hill light rail station.
As buildings are being removed to make way for the station, we’ve been working very hard to keep material out of the landfill. So, for example, before demolition salvage teams removed potential re-salable items, such as doors, light fixtures and railings. About 75 percent of the remaining building material such as bricks and wood will be recycled.
A while back, Sound Transit hosted a plant salvage event for neighbors to adopt some of the smaller trees or shrubs and give them a new home in their yard. Our contractor is working with a specialist to determine if any of the larger trees can be moved and used in other projects.
And even the tree stumps are being put to good use. The root-balls and stumps from the trees that are too large to be transplanted are being donated for use in salmon habitat restoration projects in the Puget Sound region.
Related to the project, the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog has posted word of a potential new cross-walk at Olive Way & Boylston. That is definitely needed.
(Picture from Slog.)