FTA Asks ST to Plan for Costlier Tunneling

According to the P-I, the Federal Transit Administration is asking Sound Transit to set aside extra money in case tunneling from Downtown Seattle to Husky Stadium ends up costing more than projected:

Federal officials, asked to contribute to what may become a $1.9 billion budget, want Sound Transit to add $150 million in “contingency” money to its budget for the 3.15-mile University Link, with the Federal Transit Administration contributing $63 million of that amount and Sound Transit the rest. Sound Transit officials said the agency has enough money to put up its share.

“We want to make sure they don’t exceed cost estimates,” said an FTA official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not routinely allowed to speak to reporters.


The Beacon Hill tunnel and other work is behind schedule, delayed by problems excavating a station under the hill, difficulties controlling underground water and slower-than-anticipated progress completing the tunnel drilling. In February 2007, the job was shut down after a worker died in an accident.

The $279 million bid for the tunnel construction by the contractor, Obayashi Corp., was 15 percent higher than the engineers’ estimate, the federal official said. Sound Transit has used money in contingency accounts for the initial 13.9-mile rail segment from downtown Seattle to Sea-Tac Airport to pay the added tunnel costs.

The agency now expects to pay Obayashi $305 million for the work, 27 percent higher than the engineer’s pre-construction estimate of $239 million and 9 percent higher than Obayashi’s bid.


But Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said tunnels are “the highest risk construction,” and the federal official said the FTA team monitoring Sound Transit’s light-rail construction noticed cost overruns in rail tunnels being built with financial assistance in Pittsburgh, New York City and Los Angeles

Read the full piece for more. Transit agencies are notorious for under-estimating costs in the public’s mind, so it always helps to keep the house in order.

Phase I Complete!

Here’s the press release:

Sound Transit Board chair, vice chairs endorse 2008 mass transit measure

July 17, 2008

The top three governing officials of the Sound Transit board today announced their support for putting a mass transit ballot measure on the November ballot. The full Sound Transit board may vote July 24 on the 15-year proposal, which will offer expanded bus, commuter and light rail in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

“This plan provides a mass transit package that is faster, better and cheaper than last year’s Proposition 1,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “We can’t afford to wait when we have the solutions to our transportation crisis right now. For the price of one tank of gas per year, we move forward with a regional mass transit network in three counties that gives people what they need most: an alternative to paying high gas prices. The best way to avoid the high cost of gas is not to buy it in the first place.”

“The new plan before the Board gets light rail to Snohomish County while increasing and speeding up ST Express regional bus service expansions,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. “It responds to Snohomish County commuters’ immediate needs, and at the same time, it delivers a light rail connection to Lynnwood while positioning us for a future extension to Everett.”

“This 15-year plan turns the nearly $1 billion we would lose to inflation over the next two years into rapid progress toward better transit connections for people in Pierce County and around the region,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Lakewood City Council Member Claudia Thomas. “It delivers significant Sounder commuter rail and ST Express expansions while moving forward now with planning and property purchases to set the stage for getting light rail to Tacoma in the future.”

Nickels, Reardon, Thomas and other Sound Transit Board leaders will discuss the merits of the plan on July 24, when the Board plans to decide whether to move forward with a package this year. The package’s capital projects would cost $13.3 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars that include inflation estimates, or $9.1 billion in 2007 dollars. Funding would come from a 0.5 percent increase of the local sales tax, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase. The approximately $69 annual cost of the increase for each adult is around the cost of a single tank of gas.

The transit-only package would deliver projects significantly faster than last year’s Proposition 1 measure. The construction costs are 50 percent lower than Proposition 1, which included both roads and transit projects, and 23 percent lower than the 20-year transit package that was part of Proposition 1.

The new plan responds to public input received in May and June, which showed strong desire to see light rail extended further north and south than was proposed in 12-year options identified in April. Details of the 15-year plan include:

  • Northward expansion of light rail from the University of Washington to Northgate by 2020, with a further extension to Lynnwood by 2023, five years earlier than last year’s Proposition 1 measure.
  • Eastward expansion of light rail to Bellevue and onward to Overlake Transit Center in Redmond by 2021, seven years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Southward expansion of light rail to Highline Community College by 2020 and Federal Way’s South 272nd Street area by 2023, five years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Major ST Express bus service improvements, including a first phase delivered prior to completion of a new maintenance base and a second phase afterward. The plan provides service increases of 10 to 30 percent in key corridors and bus rapid transit service on State Route 520.
  • Sounder Commuter Rail service expansions remain unchanged from the 12-year options, including longer trains and more trips on the line between Lakewood and Seattle.

Improved station access: Funding to increase access to transit facilities in Auburn, Edmonds, Kent, Lakewood, Mukilteo, Puyallup, South Tacoma, Sumner, Tacoma and Tukwila. Projects will be tailored to the needs of each location and may include expanded parking; pedestrian improvements at or near stations; additional bus/transfer facilities for improved feeder service to stations; bicycle access and storage; and new and expanded drop-off areas to encourage ride-sharing.
Partnerships for expanded transit: Partnership funding for Eastside passenger rail on existing freight tracks; as well as for potential extensions of Tacoma Link light rail and projects in Bothell and Burien.

More information on the 15-year plan and other options is available at www.future.soundtransit.org.
Sound Transit’s system of regional express buses, commuter rail and light rail currently carries about 55,000 riders each day, a number that will more than double following the 2009 opening of light rail service between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport. Construction of that light rail line is moving forward on schedule and is more than 90 percent complete.

Expansion of Link light rail between downtown and the University of Washington is slated to begin this year and be completed in 2016. University Link is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030.

What We Need From Sound Transit

This is more critical than I usually am, but I think discussion lately warrants it.

Prop 1 failed last year partly because of the RTID, partly because people were led to believe it was “big” by deceptive reporting from the Times and PI, and finally, (this is the harsh part) partly because the campaign and Sound Transit were barely visible to combat the opposition.

Of those three, RTID wasn’t really something we could fix locally – but we don’t have to deal with it this year. Biased reporting is something we’re just going to have to live with – the Times editorial board hates the idea of losing their SOV express lane commutes from Mercer Island, for example. We do have allies in the Tacoma News Tribune, the Herald papers, and others.

The third issue is something it’s hard for Sound Transit to get involved in. They are not part of the campaign – they can inform us of upcoming plans and advertise their services, but within quite strict limits. Usually, if Sound Transit isn’t doing some kind of advertising you think they should do, there’s a good reason. Just look at the KIRO “investigative” crap we’ve just seen – Sound Transit pays the Transportation Choices Coalition for their work to inform the public about transit options, an effective use of their advertising and outreach dollars, and even that gets them hit hard in our media. Sound Transit has to be careful about what they say and do, because there are a lot of very vocal detractors that love to spin.

That said, here are the key areas where I think Sound Transit can – and must – improve, if it hopes to win this election and stave off interference (or outright destruction) from Olympia come next session.

First, we need an outline for a future package to offer those who won’t be served by this one, to frame the issue as “when”, not as “if”. ST2 last year came from a cafeteria plan of options, some of which would be in ST3. There’s a long range plan – use it to your advantage! Snohomish County wants light rail to Everett. Ballard and West Seattle want service. Issaquah and Redmond are desperate for options. These are things that could be in ST3, so draw a map and say “this is a concept of what another .5% in ten years could get us”. As far as the 20 year plan goes, mention what Salt Lake City did with an acceleration vote later, and point out that a new vote in another few years could cut several years off implementation. If Sound Transit needs more taxing authority from Olympia to make that happen, tell us! Playing defensively right now is playing to lose – help us move the debate to a point where it is already assumed that ST2 is good and necessary.

We also desperately need a simple, graphical explanation of what ST2 projects cost (in 2008 dollars) and which major projects would come from each subarea’s funds. Perhaps show the proportions of the large expenditures on a nice chart or graph in the corner of a map of the projects, delineated with subarea boundaries, so that people see where their money is going, and make it very clear that the spending is proportional to the tax revenues. This is a huge sticking point – people in Snohomish and Pierce just assume their money is going to Seattle. That’s a reality of near rural and exurban politics. Subarea equity was given to Sound Transit as a tool to combat that view, so use it! Don’t wait until we pick a plan – do one for 12, 15, and 20 year. It doesn’t have to be to four significant figures, it just has to get out there. I’d have done it myself, but I can’t find subarea tax revenues in the financial docs.

Finally, framing. The way outreach is framed is absolutely key. When ridership is recalculated for a vote this year (and it should be, with all the construction starts in our core corridors), we need to head off at the pass the trash argument saying that light rail doesn’t carry very many trips. Frame ridership in terms of something we already understand, like: “300,000 riders per day – more than SR-520 and I-90 combined.” Address the cost of the package in terms of what the same money buys us in other modes – compare $11 billion in light rail to the $11 billion (more in today’s dollars) of the 405 widening – three times the trips, twice the mileage, with no congestion! Construction timeline is also very important to frame – don’t say Northgate in 20xx – say Northgate two years after University Link. Don’t say Overlake in 20xx, say Bellevue in eight years and Overlake four years later. Most people don’t do the math, they just hear the smaller numbers. Overall, don’t let the media pretend that the whole system opens when the last leg opens, make them address things in terms of Central Link and University Link. This also helps keep the public eye on the current projects – most people don’t even know U Link exists.

Everything last year was approached from the view that giving out information would make people like light rail and support it. Linguists have known since the 60s that framing matters – the way arguments are presented, and how we relate the new ideas to ideas we already understand – matters as much as (if not more) than the information. We ended up, though, with a lot of numbers that were easy for media and the opposition to spin to create sensational arguments.

So to those reading who might have an impact: I’m not exactly an authority on PR, so take my arguments with a grain of salt. I love the open houses and public outreach, but there are major pieces missing from the messages they carry. We need to see a game plan for those who don’t get what they want immediately. We need to nail home the understanding that we can’t just use Pierce money to get light rail into Snohomish. We need to address the way light rail expansion is attacked by approaching outreach less matter-of-factly – fewer numbers, more comparisons to things people understand. While these arguments did exist last year if one looked for them, they were not well integrated into the overall outreach story. The stakes are much too high to play the same game again.

Why BRT Doesn’t Make Sense

Buses are often hailed as the cheaper solution for mass transit. I think there are fundamental flaws in most of the comparisons we see between BRT and rail systems, and that it’s unlikely mainline buses actually make sense in long term planning.

When I say mainline, I mean corridors that will have long term need for transportation. I think Martin’s brought up some great points about what that means – I don’t, for instance, think that we need to build past Redmond at this point, or past Issaquah – we don’t know what is going to happen there in the coming decades, and we don’t have the money to guess. We have some clear centers that are not going to disappear – some are already walkable and dense, like some of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and some are car-centered today, with lots of parking and one-story clusters of development, but ripe for reconstruction to funnel the new growth coming to our region. There’s no “flexibility” argument here, though – urban corridors don’t pack up and move, they never have and they never will. This isn’t a frontier town, this is a major city.

I’m sitting on a bus right now, in stop and go traffic at 9th and Stewart in downtown – so I want to start with the fallacy that building HOV lanes on our freeways is somehow equivalent to building new rail right of way. I think to some, especially to those who use transit already, it’s clear that these are nowhere near the same levels of service. If I head downtown from work, like today, about half of my commute is spent in downtown traffic – a tiny percentage of the overall distance. No matter what we do to SR-520, the 15-20 minutes I spend getting from one end of downtown to the other will not be affected. In order to provide consistent service end to end, we have to build new right of way end to end.

That right of way costs money – lots of money. With a project like University Link, in order to get anything like three minute service from Husky Stadium to the center of Capitol Hill, you’d have to tunnel for buses just as we are for rail. The cost of laying rails in that tunnel is tiny compared to the tunnel itself. You can look at any segment of our light rail system and make similar observations – in the Rainier Valley, we repaved the entire roadway to make space not for trains, per se, but for dedicated right of way. The cost is due mostly to the level of service, not the technology, but that level of service difference is what creates the consistency and reliability that we value in rail systems. When you actually compare the capital cost of a BRT system that provides the same level of service as a light rail system, you find that your right of way costs are exactly the same.

So, you say, you’ve seen capital cost comparisons that meet these requirements, have exactly the same amount of new right of way, but still show BRT being cheaper? Unless they’re in totally different cities or countries with different labor costs and safety requirements, they’re almost always missing one thing – electrification. In this area especially, that’s a big deal. While the cost of oil has doubled in the last couple of years, the cost of our electricity hasn’t. Electrification insulates us from $4.50 per gallon diesel – or $6, or $10. We’re designing a system to last not decades, but hundreds of years – we can’t just shut it down to change over later. But when you electrify, your total cost of construction for rail versus bus is nearly identical – which makes sense, because it’s not any cheaper to lay concrete roadway than to lay rail, and all of your other infrastructure is a product of the level of service, not the technology.

Okay, so what’s the problem? Why are you so hell-bent on building rail if they’re exactly the same, Ben? Two reasons:

First, capacity. Some BRT advocates will tell you that buses can have exactly the same capacity as rail. They’re either uninformed, or they’re lying. Even with double-articulated coaches as in Curitiba, you’re looking at an 85 foot long vehicle with 57 seats. Curitiba claims they can reach 270 passengers – but at the measure of 6 passengers per square meter standing. With half that standing density, 3 passengers per square meter, our light rail cars carry 200 (with 74 seated). If you went by Curitiba standards, we’d carry more than 325 people per car. These cost about the same amount to operate and maintain – for the sake of discussion, about half the operations cost of a vehicle like this is the fuel, and about half the operator, although that now varies a lot more with the high cost of fuel prices, so my comparison gives buses a slight advantage.

But wait – we can tack three more vehicles onto a Link train behind the same operator. If we want to add another bus, that means paying another operator, so Link scales to four car trains at some 5/8 the cost – and a full metro can go much higher, with as many as 12 cars. We can also go down to lower headways than the buses can without affecting service quality – the big limiter is the time taken to board, which is a lot lower for four simultaneous light rail cars than four sequential buses, even when the buses have multiple doors. Rail can also offer a very finely tuned interface between vehicle and platform – on new systems, no ramps or lifts are necessary for wheelchair users.

I’ve already touched on it a bit, but the last reason is long-term cost. A rail vehicle costs more than a bus, but lasts at least proportionally longer – New York City has subway cars well over 50 years old in service today, and recently retired some that were even older. Most buses last ten years, some fifteen. Our Breda coaches in Seattle are now nearly 20 – but that has only been possible after major overhauls. They are nearing the end of their service lives. At the same time, fuel costs for our bus system have doubled, while our electricity prices in the city (I don’t know about you Puget Sound Energy folks) have stayed basically the same.

With any dedicated right of way, ridership is generated largely by the existence of the transportation system. I suspect that this would be the case for true BRT as well, because the factors that generate that ridership have to do more with the pedestrian density generated around stations than with the mode. In the long term I think the immediate space around any system built in any of the Puget Sound urban corridors today will increase in density to the point where the capacity offered by a rail system is absolutely necessary. I think our recent exercise at Reality Check helped make it clear that most of our regional leaders are on the same page in that respect.

Buses are great feeders, but they have no place as a mainline corridor – claims of cost savings are not for equivalent systems and don’t hold up in the long term. If you’re going to build a real transit system, make it rail and do it right.

Why Link Will Cross I-90 First

above: a representation of why I-90 is a better choice

I’d imagine a fair portion of the people who read this blog already know some or all of these reasons that Link is going over I-90 before it goes over SR-520, but I thought I’d enumerate them for easy linking and just to fill in any holes.

I-90 offers a direct connection to the downtown Seattle transit tunnel. If you looked at my earlier tour of Central Link construction, I had a google maps link to the south transit tunnel entrance – you can see there the two tracks we’ve built, plus the space to either side where feeder tracks join with the I-90 center roadway. This kind of a connection offers us the opportunity to interline service – both trains going to the airport (or farther) and trains going to the eastside will come into downtown from the south and run on the same tracks in the tunnel.

It so happens that demand for the northern line (Northgate) is very close to the combined demand for an eastside line and a south line, so having East Link enter the tunnel from the south means that our commute patterns will much more efficiently use our infrastructure. This is also the big reason we didn’t pick buses for building from Seattle to Bellevue – they couldn’t efficiently interline with North Link to increase capacity there.

If we were to cross 520, we’d have two choices, both of them bad: One, we could build a surface level station to transfer at Husky Stadium, and force a transfer for commuters to already full trains coming in from Northgate. We’d create crush loaded trains. The other option would be to build a direct connection into the tunnel toward downtown – which would cost hundreds of millions on its own, potentially have large construction impacts on a residential area, and could be risky due to the depth. Such work would probably also delay University Link.

Even ignoring the capacity and technical issues in Seattle, the eastside would have a problem of its own. 520 is significantly north of downtown Bellevue, so trains would have to turn south first to serve the Bellevue downtown core, then north again to get to Redmond. When using I-90, we don’t have to go out of our way to serve south Bellevue, and the time between downtowns is lower.

Issaquah poses another problem with a 520 crossing.. We’re already planning to build to Redmond, but if we chose 520, later construction to Issaquah (part of the Sound Transit long range plan) would really necessitate an I-90 crossing anyway. With an initial I-90 crossing, it’s much simpler to continue east in or near the interstate right of way.

A 520 crossing would also impose any delays attached to construction of the new SR-520 bridge on Sound Transit’s schedule. The risk added by working with WSDOT on the project would likely also make Sound Transit less competitive for Federal Transit Administration grants.

All this, and I-90’s center roadway was built with conversion to high capacity transit in mind. I think it’s always been the clear choice, but hopefully this convinces more people who were worried about the decision!

We Need a Light Rail Vote This Year

Coming from our discussion over the last day of where to put our next rail spine, I want to make the case for voting to extend what we have this year, in the November general election, rather than delaying for two years.

The big argument for waiting until 2010 is that we’ll see light rail in operation for a year – people will have a chance to ride it. I think this would have a positive impact, but that impact would be much smaller than the huge positive turnout impact of presidential and gubernatorial elections. It seems that most of the potential riders – those who will be directly affected – are already galvanized. They’re either aware of and looking forward to having the system online, or else they’re shaking their fists at Sound Transit for causing construction delays and road closures. Having rail open won’t change the minds of anti-transit detractors, it’ll just give them two more years to think up new smears.

This year we will really benefit from strong turnout for the top of the ticket. Barack Obama is on the ballot – easily the most well spoken and charismatic Democratic presidential candidate in decades. Voter turnout was astronomical in the primaries, with some states seeing higher turnout than previous general elections. One of the reasons we failed last year was because it was an off year – there were no good candidates bringing people to the polls, only initiatives. Many of the regular off-year voters are motitvated by anger and frustration with government, and are very likely to vote against propositions and referenda. If Obama wins this year, we’ll be in a prime position to compete for the first new Federal Transit Administration grants from a more transit friendly administration.

High gas prices will work for us this year as well. Yesterday we saw a $15B Amtrak reauthorization bill pass the US House with a veto-proof majority, after a similar showing in the Senate, on the heels of big increases in ridership on all of Amtrak’s routes, including our own Cascades. We’ve seen Sounder ridership jump dramatically, with most of the Sounder South trains standing room only, and overall ridership up some 30% over the same period last year. My bus to work is packed as ever, despite new service coming online recently and some of the trips only 5 minutes apart. The cheap gas is $4.39 down the street from me – and that’s up from $4.29 a few days ago. If those prices keep up, we’re going to keep seeing the ridership gains we have been, which means more people aware of and interested in a better way to work. We don’t know what gas prices will be like in 2010 – some of our current run-up in oil futures is due to speculation, and some of that money will return to securities as the real estate bust smooths out.

This year, constitutents are looking for solutions. Government at all levels is commonly criticized for being behind the times, being unable to respond quickly to changes. We shouldn’t wait two years before submitting a plan to voters, when they are looking for something now. This is a great chance for Sound Transit to show that they have a plan and they’re ready to take action. The fact that the retooled ST2 plans are accelerated works strongly to our advantage – and with University Link construction beginning next year, to the untrained eye Sound Transit will get credit for groundbreaking only months after a vote. You can’t buy PR like that.

Look at all the things 2008 gives us: High gas prices make people want an alternative. Unprecedented gains in transit ridership show that we have strong and growing demand. Obama and Gregoire ensure that we’ll have great progressive turnout who will support transit projects. Let’s put ST2 on the ballot this November.

The DSTT Will Be Full.

When we talk about building West Seattle or Ballard service, there’s often an assumption that this service could use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel we have now. As far as I’m aware, it can’t.

The light rail spine we’re building now will eventually go through Federal Way to Tacoma, and through Lynnwood to Everett. The tunnel will be used not only for trains that run straight through from Everett to Tacoma, but also for trains that run from Everett (or at least somewhere north of downtown Seattle) to Bellevue and Redmond.

We’re starting with service on Central Link every six minutes during peak times. It’s probably reasonable to consider service down to headways (time between trains) of two minutes – the closest headways I’ve seen in any Sound Transit documentation are 2.4 minute, from their 2005 long range plan.

After University Link opens, I sincerely hope we’ll be looking at lowering headways during peak times. Maybe this will be to five minutes. If we build Sound Transit 2 just to Northgate and Bellevue, we’re going to add trains to the tunnel to bring headways down further. We’d have trains to the Rainier Valley every five minutes, and then trains to Bellevue every 10 minutes. The easy way to figure out combined headway is to figure out how many trains that is per hour – 6 for Bellevue, 12 for the Valley – and then divide the number of minutes (60 in an hour) by the number of trains (18). Let’s round this to 3 minutes.

This is a hundred year plus system – it’ll still be operating after all of us are long dead. We’re certainly going to increase the frequency of the trains on this line in the future – maybe even soon. We need the flexibility to do that.

Ten years ago, the monorail project was talking about 3 minute peak headways for Ballard-West Seattle. Combine that with just the potential ST2 service, and you’re talking about 1.5 minute peak headways. Those are physically possible, but that’s it, then. We wouldn’t have any room for ST3, no room for ST4, nothing.

New rail through downtown will need new right of way.

Rail, Not Buses

One of the common questions we get from commenters is “why are you so sure that rail is the right solution?” and “why are you so enamored with rail?” Both these questions are often followed with “buses are cheaper”. I want to explain the main reasons why high capacity rail transit gets so many more riders, is so much more effective at moving people and why it is in the long run cheaper than bus transit. I want to focus on the argument between “bus rapid transit” (BRT) and light rail transit (LRT), so I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room: most bus rapid transit does not run in its own right of way, thus adding the largest knock against bus transit: buses get stuck in traffic.

Rail transit is more permanent than bus transit. As famous conservative rail transit supporter Paul Weyrich points out, one of the main arguments for buses is their “flexibility”. But this flexibility is the source of one of the largest draw-backs of bus transit: inconsistency. That a bus is “flexible” means that the routes are also flexible, and riders aren’t sure that a bus line will remain in place into the future. If someone is making a decision about where to live for the foreseeable future, say they’re buying a house, they won’t make that choice based on a bus line that may not be there in the future.

I’ve forwarded this argument before, and people have said “when was the last time a bus route was removed in Seattle?” When I was in high school I took the 43 to my running start classes at Seattle Central Community College. We moved from Capitol Hill to Wallingford, and I could take the 43 straight from Wallingford to Broadway. Then, in the middle of the year, Metro split the line: the 43 no longer went from Downtown through Capitol Hill to Ballard: most runs ended in the U District, where the 44 route to Ballard began. I can think of a couple other routes that did this same thing, the old 7 has been split into the 7 and the 49, the old 65 now stops in the U-District. So it happens; service can stop or shift dramatically. That makes people far less inclined to change their life around the bus.

The permanence of rails also leads to more development than buses. For the same reason as above, new development near rail transit tends to be higher density than development near bus transit: if you are building a large project, part of your plan has to be transportation. That’s the reason Microsoft settled next to SR 520, one of the reasons downtown Bellevue is so much more developed than, say, downtown Everett, and one of the reasons South Lake Union is currently attracting so much development (this is the streetcar and I-5). Imagine if I-405 weren’t permanent; would Bellevue be experiencing so much growth?

Rail is much more attractive to the non-dependent rider, and thus get more riders. As Carless in Seattle has pointed out:

[A]mong bus-based [High Capacity Transit] users, more than 60% of US bus riders do not own a car. But of rail-based HCT, nearly 60% of subway, streetcar and light rail users DO own a car. (Those numbers include Manhattan, where less than 20% of people own a car, vastly depressing the number of rail users in the rest of the US who could own a car but choose mass transit).

Seattle’s highest ridership bus routes go through the most transit dependent areas. Even with those routes, ridership is no where near the ridership of a rail line. Each Link station will get as many riders as most bus routes, and some will have far more boardings than even those routes with the most riders – and these estimates do not take into account development spurred by the system. University of Washington station, for example, is supposed to get some 27,000 daily riders in 2020. Recent light rail construction in the US has almost universally has almost universally exceeded pre-construction estimates, with only one exception (VTA, in the South Bay).

Stepping on a train is enough to see why the difference exists. Trains have a smoother ride, more comfortable seats, and more space. Boarding is also far simpler – instead of a dozen people fumbling with fares, there are several doors, and payment is done on the platform where it doesn’t affect operation. Anyone who’s ever been on a standing-room-only bus can attest to the discomfort. A forty-five minute 545 ride standing up in Friday evening traffic is enough to convince people to drive to work. Here’s photographic evidence of the difference.

The most expensive part of building high-capacity, reliable transit is the right of way – with very similar cost between BRT and LRT. Even Ted Van Dyk, the most adamant BRT supporter and light rail opponent, admits that BRT costs at most 30% less than LRT to build. For University Link, for example, 95% of the costs are for tunneling and stations. A BRT system that would serve the same corridor would need also to build its own right-of-way, and would cost just as much as light rail. And since BRT ridership projections tend to be more than 30% less than LRT in the same corridors, even if the Ted Van Dyks of the world were right, LRT would still be cheaper per passenger to build than comparable BRT.

Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger than buses are. Labor is over 50% of King County Metro’s costs. Each bus needs an operator, but an articulated bus only carries 80 at maximum, compared to 800 for a Link LRT train. And with diesel already over $5 a gallon, the gap in operations expenses will continue to grow. Even in bus systems with little to no right-of-way costs, total costs for BRT are higher per passenger mile than LRT. Metro takes a .9% sales tax share now, and moves about 365,000 people per day. A fully built out LRT package from Prop. 1 would have moved that many people by 2030, admittedly a long time, but would have cost just .15% to operate. The capital costs for rail are temporary expenses – Metro will keep spending .9% to move that many people for the next hundred years, but Sound Transit would build three Prop. 1 packages with the same money in that time. Considering about two-thirds of the Sound Transit district is King County, Metro would have to move 1,400,000 million people per day, nearly the entire population of King County right now, to be as cost effective in the long run.

Absolutely rail is expensive and takes longer to build than most bus service. But the investment pays off over time in lower maintenance, higher ridership, and more dense development around stations – which can allow for less density pressures away from rail lines. High-quality transit service ultimately makes a region more affordable, more sustainable, and in some ways more fun. That’s why we at this blog prefer rail over buses.

What If We Did Just Tear It Down?

I think there’s a killer argument here that’s hard to refute, and hasn’t come up yet, and in the interest of continuing this conversation, I’ll just post it!

Our viaduct options are basically a) build something else, and b) tear down the failing structure and leave it torn down. I don’t really consider the retrofit an option – WSDOT will probably shoot it down as unfeasible and unsafe.

So here’s the 2000 pound elephant in the room. For the first several years of implementation, both of these options look exactly the same. The old structure has to be torn down, and even in the best case rebuild scenario, you still have complete closure for years.

Immediately, every viaduct user finds a solution to their commute problem. They get on I-5, or they take a bus, or they plan ahead and change jobs or move before the mess starts – they’ll have plenty of lead time.

Two years later? They’re still doing it. I-5 can only carry so much traffic – it’ll worsen the most at first, but traffic will taper off after this time. Most people will have solved their problems, many more will be interested in transit and trying out the bus service we already have (and maybe ‘Rapid Ride’). I don’t know when this would be – maybe 2012, maybe 2014. Link Light Rail will be rocking our socks off. University Link will be mostly complete – everyone will be holding their breaths for subway stations. Maybe we’ll even have passed Sound Transit 2 by then, and Northgate and Bellevue will be groundbreaking soon.

Another year. Gas will be $8/gallon, or $10/gallon. Maybe speculative bidding on oil futures will have dropped off, and it’ll only be $6/gallon – this scenario doesn’t require $10 gas. A lot more of the urban condo projects will be done. Developers will be continuing to build in the core, and the renewed demand from people previously commuting across downtown Seattle will help bolster that. Again, all this is regardless of what we choose. Few commuters will just grin and bear it.

One more – say 2016. Four years of closure – the minimum on any of the WSDOT construction alternatives I’ve seen. This is where our choice matters. In scenario a), we have a new freeway. U Link opens. Some people return to their cars. The waterfront is dead – construction kills some of the businesses, and with the viaduct another 20 feet closer, it’s no longer pleasant. By this time, fewer are driving, and it looks like 5 won’t be as congested because so many people can’t afford to anymore. But we have a new freeway that we’ve already gotten used to not using.

In scenario b), the waterfront is still dead from construction, but now it has the chance to come back. Seattle has rebuilt the waterfront streetcar line, and four new mixed use buildings are on the way in the old shadow. The same pressures exist to build high capacity transit – the city is ripe for a new western corridor ballot measure. U Link opens, Bellevue is 50% complete, and Northgate is 70% complete. Sound Transit is ready to go to ballot with ST3, where North King money won’t quite cover Ballard-West Seattle, but will cover Ballard-Downtown, including a tunnel under 2nd Avenue. The city puts another measure on the ballot to build the other half. With new city residents clamoring for transit, Sounder ridership at 20,000 a day and climbing, and ST3 Link expansion promising Tacoma, Redmond, and most of the way to Everett, both pass.

ST News – Surely needed

Continuing onward with the ST gripes and such, I thought I’d give the people a comforting update.

Most of the rail is completed for Airport Link except along the roadway and at the final station. This is planned to be completed by this Summer. Wire installation of the entire route will be completed by the Summer of 2008. Beacon Hill Station building will start construction later this Summer with the structure being completed by the end of the year.

Sound Transit has put in an order for 20 additional LRV’s for University Link. This will be the third order and will be delivered in 2013. Sound Transit currently has 21 LRV’s on the property, leaving 14 of the initial order remaining which are all in Everett now for assembly.

Link operators are running 16 hour shifts, starting between 6am and going until at least midnight to get people accustomed to day and night operations. Metro staff will start training in February 2009.

Starting later this week or two, Metro and Sound Transit will begin bus and Light-Rail testing in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. This will consist of 1 LRV and 6 buses. Next week will be 2 LRV’s and 12 buses. They will simulate a broken down bus, broken down LRV, emergency drills, etc, which will all be repeated in Feb-Mar for Metro operators.

Sound Transit is aiming for a JUNE 2009 opening though it may very well be July 2009. Either way, it will be a Summer launch.

The original concept was always at-grade and not elevated along MLK Way. It was the option that made the most sense and was least impact on the community.

Signaling along MLK Way will be timed with the train and traffic. At any given time, the E-W traffic will be delayed no more than 35 seconds, a typical light on MLK Way. Currently the grade crossing is timed for 23 seconds at Lander and Holgate Street. I timed both of these crossings today. This model is NOT the same as the South Lake Union Streetcar, the Streetcar does NOT have signal priority on any of it’s travel. It waits for it’s own light which is why it suffers being so slow. Central Link will have signal priority throughout the entire line and will travel at 40mph through the entire corridor. From Henderson Street Station, Link will travel at speeds up to 50mph and it’s maximum speed of 55mph on the elevated sections. Link also runs in a dedicated right-of-way and while it is paved over to Henderson, that does not mean vehicles will be on the tracks. Provisioning was left to allow a low yield fence along the right-of-way if pedestrian and vehicle incidents were to be expected.

Total travel time from Sea-Tac Airport to Westlake Mall is slated to be 39 minutes initially and as adjustments are made, will be down to as fast as 34 minutes.

Sound Transit is planning on operating 3 to 4 car trains during the baseball and football seasons, normal runs will be 1 and 2 car trains.

Sound Transit will be closing Pine Street next year to start boring on University Link. Two of the tunnel boring machines will start at Montlake to Capitol Hill, the third will start at Capitol Hill to the Pine Street Stub Tunnel. Sound Transit has most of the properly bought and will begin demolition early next year for construction staging.

Sound Transit will be installing CCTV cameras at all stations and Seattle Police along with security will be on-board trains. Fare inspectors will be present on-board Link at random times. Police will also start riding on buses at select times on the more vandalized bus routes, like the 554, 574, and 594. ST will also start ramping up inspections on Sounder Commuter Rail.

Sound Transit will have Mukilteo Station open in June 2008 with the Northbound platform starting after BNSF Railway finishes up construction for Boeing. Platform construction is scheduled to start in 2009 and open in June 2009.

I’m sure I left some stuff out but let’s just say that more goodness is going to be coming out much, much, sooner….

Tacoma Link conversion? You Bet’cha!

Imagine using this….

Instead of these little guys….

For those that don’t know, Tacoma Link (streetcar) was built in such a way to support it’s bigger brother, light-rail for about 80% of it’s system. If Sound Transit goes to the ballot in 2008 or 2010 and passes, the Kinkishayro equipment could be ordered and used even if the line isn’t connecting to the main line. What would the changes be you ask? Not as much as you would think…

  • The arrival of seven Kinkishayro light-rail vehicles
  • Rebuilt stations to handle 1 car train (read below)
  • The curve at 25th Ave to Pacific to be reconfigured. Current curve is too tight for LRVs
  • Expanded Operations & Maintenance Facility to handle Kinkishayro LRVs
  • 1 percent of art added to stations and key locations along the line
  • Modified Fare Structure
  • 7 new center-island platform stations, including shelters, signage, lighting, seating, ticket vending machines, CCTV’s
  • Power system conversion from 750dc to 1500dc unless LRV’s can “step down” and still performance solidly.
  • Construction of 5.5 miles of new double track light rail system to Tacoma Community College

There is one thing however that makes this a bit more difficult because, all of the stations on Tacoma Link have room for a one car train and would remain so. Normal Link consists are setup for a maximum of four car trains. This wouldn’t be a problem as long as nothing changes for the buses at Tacoma Dome Station but in my opinion, I would at least make it compatible for 2-car trains, especially if your expecting 8,000+/- passengers per weekday. When the full system is going, I would assume they would make the it still separate?

Most do not remember this document but Google found it for me while I was researching University Link and if any additional cars have been ordered yet.

Read over it and comment. I really wouldn’t mind the change but really, 2-car trains should be the goal and while space becomes an issue because the Kinki’s are 95 feet long vs. the current 66 foot long Skoda’s, nevertheless, it would be welcomed cause it does get very, very cramped sometimes on the Tacoma runs.

The total distance would go from 1.6 miles to 7.1 miles in length and would cost around $600 million for the project.

Sound Transit link on Tacoma Link conversion to Kinkishayro cars (.pdf file)

Compare and Contrast:

North, Central, University, East, South Link Light Rail – Kinkisharyo/Mitsui of Japan
Manufacture Specs are available at this link http://www.kinkisharyo.com/st_seattle.html


95 feet


12.5 feet


Estimated 105,000 pounds


8.7 feet

Passenger capacity

200 passengers, 74 seated

Fuel type


Fuel capacity



Powered by electrical-1500 volts D.C. traction power system

Tacoma Link – Inekon Trams formerly Skoda Dopravni Technika of Czech Republic
Manufacture Specs are available at this link http://www.skoda.cz/darkblue/obrazek.asp?ID=1613


66 feet


11.35 feet


61,729 pounds


8.1 feet

Passenger capacity

56 (30 seated and 26 standing)

Fuel type


Fuel capacity



Overhead electrical wires – 750 volts D.C., with pantograph current collection

Central Link Light Rail update – Feb 16th, 2008

Here is a visual assessment for February 16, 2008 on the Central segment of Link Light Rail.

Vehicle Count:

16 of 35 vehicles are on the O&M property.
Order for additional LRV’s should be coming up the end of the year for University Link.

Track Installation:

Trackwork is complete from Pine Street Station to the Airport Expressway.
The rest is dependent on the Port of Seattle work on the new Expressway road construction to Sea-Tac Airport which is slated to open in Spring 2008. The SR 518 Sea-Tac Airport to I-5/I-405 Interchange Project improves existing mobility and safety and accommodates projected airport traffic by adding a third eastbound lane on SR 518 between the North Airport Expressway and the I-5/I-405 Interchange. This is slated to open in Fall 2009.

Overhead Contact System (OCS):

Overhead Contact poles are installed from Tukwila International Blvd. Station to Mt. Baker Station. Support arms for the wire are being installed from SR-599 to MLK Way.
Unknown status within Beacon Hill Tunnel.
Powered tests is in operation between the O&M and Pine Street Tunnel. Tunnel testing is only on weekends and weeknights.

Signal System:

95% of the signaling is up and running though testing is required between Beacon Hill Tunnel and Tukwila Station but from a visual standpoint, they were all be a few lit up amber “hold”

All grade crossings are installed and operational. Royal Brougham is activated only during tunnel testing at this time.

Beacon Hill Tunnel:

No update on the progress but it has been about an month. I would expect the punch through sometime in the next week or so judging by the sudden influx on equipment around the site now (Big cranes) and flatbeds around the work site.


New signs are being installed at Westlake Center Station today.
Westlake, University, Pioneer Square, International District, Stadium, Lander, and Henderson Street Stations are complete and ready for Link service.
Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Columbia City, Othello, Tukwila International Blvd, and Sea-Tac Airport are still under construction.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD):

Most noticeable is the remodeling of several apartments near the Tukwila International Blvd Station site and all up and down Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Low-income housing is in place instead of the old “projects” that was common from Rainier Avenue to Alaska Street. I’ve went to a couple of showings of these homes and they are very nice though some of the models were a bit cramped but that is what your getting for the new urban development. If Portland or Charlotte is any heads up, bigger condos and such will go up soon enough if the demand is there.

That’s all for now, but do you want more? Want to see the construction up close and personal on a guided tour of Link? Ride the Sound Transit Lunch Bus on one of their plush MCI D4500 Commuter Coaches. Reclining seats, guest speakers and enjoy excellent, excellent, local food at a select location. Ask questions, be heard, and enjoy what is coming to you in 16 months from now!

More from the ST Board Meeting

I finally had a chance to watch the video from the last ST board meeting, where they discussed options for the next ballot measure. There’s a bunch more information one gets by doing so:

  • The planners emphasized at the beginning that the presentation contained “more than we can afford”, and is meant as a menu of options to choose from.
  • The “BRT” is intended to utilize HOV lanes, but also expected to involve headways of no more than 15 minutes, and may include electronic signs and off-bus payment.
  • As I didn’t state clearly enough before, peak-hour buses will go straight into Seattle, but off-peak ones may dump them off at the rail termini.
  • 4 Sounder trains on the north line is all they really ever plan to do, because of the relatively low ridership.
  • One option to resolve the park-and-ride dilemma is to build satellite parking, which apparently has been successful in Sumner and Puyallup. Pierce County Exec John Ladenburg suggested charging for parking (yay!) and public-private partnerships to build garages.
  • The diesel multiple units (DMUs) suggested for Eastside commuter rail are 1-2 car, self-propelled mini-trains. The planners sound really down about the potential ridership on this line. Ladenburg is interested in running DMUs to supplement Sounder service in Pierce County.
  • Ladenburg and Tacoma City Councilmember Julie Anderson are really nostalgic for ST2 and would like to find a way to bring it back. Can’t say I blame them.
  • The University Link Federal funding agreement is more at risk than Carless In Seattle believes due to the threat from SB 6772.

Good stuff.

SB 6772

I don’t even like talking about this subject, mostly because I feel like SB 6772 is a plot by the areas outside of the central Puget Sound to get out of paying for the state’s road obligations in that area, but the Sound Transit Board made a statement about the bill, and I got a hold of it via a state representative, and I thought I would forward it on to you.

Financing: One of the major findings of the Regional Transportation Commission and Blue Ribbon Commission reports – that there is not sufficient funding in the system – is not addressed in SB 6772. The revenue options are limited to those that exist today for Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District, with the exception of tolling revenue, which has been removed. In addition, the state constitutional limits on debt capacity mean that by combining roads and transit into one entity, the overall capacity of the new entity to issue debt for transportation becomes limited.

Delay: With the Legislature’s leadership, the region is making progress in delivering transportation investments through the Nickel Package and the Transportation Partnership Act. And, Sound Transit is completing the regional high capacity transportation system approved by the voters in 1996. In fact, we will open the Central Link light rail system from downtown Seattle the airport in 2009, and we will start construction on the next extension of light rail to the University of Washington. An unintended consequence under the new governance structure proposed in SB 6772 is the timeframe to get a roads and transit plan to the voters. While theoretically the new entity could go to voters in 2009, it could also take several years since the plan would have to comply with required environmental and planning reviews. The Regional Transportation Investment District took about five years to get consensus on a package to present to the voters. With both roads and transit to prioritize and balance – with the same amount of revenue – it could take a new entity even longer. Inflation alone is a huge cost of delay.

Federal Partnership: With the strong support of our congressional delegation and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Sound Transit has been very successful in attracting federal funds for this region’s light rail system, dollars that would otherwise not be spent in the Puget Sound. Right now, we are negotiating with the FTA for a $750 million grant for the University Link light rail project. The possibility of a governance change could unintentionally undermine the federal government’s confidence in the agency’s commitment to provide the local matching funds for the grant. In addition, the uncertainties associated with the staffing and operations of the new entity could undermine their confidence that our technical capability and capacity is maintained to deliver the light rail system and the rest of the transit services we currently provide. Both of these issues are threshold requirements for the federal grant.

Representation/Balance of Power: Currently, each member of the Sound Transit Board represents about 145,000 citizens, and a single subarea or county can not dominate the Board’s regional decision-making. The directly-elected members in the six districts authorized by SB 6772 would each represent 433,000 citizens, and King County could dominate the decision-making. Attached is a graphic that helps illustrate this point. In addition, the governance structure proposed in SB 6772 would eliminate the local transit board representation on the Sound Transit Board. Eliminating this feature undermines coordination and collaboration with local transit projects and services.

Land Use: This proposal does not address land use authority and permitting issues, which often delay projects and increase costs. As the primary capital construction agency in the Puget Sound region, outside of WSDOT, permitting issues, mitigation demands and differing requirements among jurisdictions, impact our ability to efficiently implement new transportation projects. A major benefit of Sound Transit’s federated Board structure is that the relationships and common interests of the elected officials facilitates dialogue and resolution of issues with our jurisdictional partners. Without changes to assist the land use and permitting concerns, we believe SB 6772 could have the unintentional impact of making delivery of projects harder.

Accountability: By statute, the State convenes an Expert Review Panel to review Sound Transit’s planning and financing methodologies and assumptions, and our work must be certified by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) as conforming to the region’s long-term transportation plans. SB 6772 removes the requirements for an Expert Review Panel and PSRC consistency review. Sound Transit believes review of our work by independent outside experts has been a good accountability measure for the region, and that consistency with the regional plan should be a pre-requisite for any transportation investment plan. Likewise, sub-area equity is the primary tool Sound Transit has for ensuring voters receive the transportation benefits they have approved at the ballot box. SB 6772 eliminates all three accountability measures.

Voter confidence: The Board is concerned with the provision in SB 6772 that would allow the new governing body to change any aspect of a voter-approved plan with two-thirds vote of the ten voting members. This broad authority would seem to undermine voter confidence.

Sound Transit has over ten years of experience in delivering high quality capital projects in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. We have doubled our ridership in the last five years and are poised to open Central Link next year. We hope legislators will draw on that experience when considering this bill. The Board is open to a discussion and fully supports efforts to make the delivery of transportation projects and services easier, faster, and more efficient while not jeopardizing current plans and services.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns. The Board appreciates the opportunity to work with the Committee and the Legislature on these important issues.

Bush does like Sound Transit however

$100 million in President’s budget moves University Link toward groundbreaking this year

February 04, 2008


In its strongest endorsement to date of Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project, the Bush administration today included $100 million for the project in his proposed FY 2009 budget. The 3.2-mile underground light rail extension from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington has the Federal Transit Administration’s highest rating for proposed transit projects in the nation.

Sound Transit will start building University Link this year with a $750 million Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA). The FTA is scheduled to make a final decision on the FFGA by late summer or early fall. When built, the project will mean faster travel times for commuters and higher ridership in the light rail system.

“I’m pleased to see the President recognizes the benefits this bold project offers to tens of thousands of commuters every day in the region’s most crowded area,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray. “I’ll keep fighting for University Link and more reliable options for Puget Sound commuters.”

The President’s budget offers more fantastic news for the region as we work to build fast, frequent, reliable and sustainable options for commuters,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “As chair, one of my top priorities is to secure a full funding grant agreement for University Link and this is an important step. Thanks to the work of Senator Patty Murray and our congressional delegation, University Link couldn’t be in a better position to start operations in 2016 and add 70,000 daily riders to the regional light rail system.”

With stations at Capitol Hill and the University of Washington, the project connects the region’s three largest urban centers: downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District. It will also serve three college campuses (UW, Seattle Central Community College, Seattle University) with a combined student population of more than 56,000 students.

“This news moves University Link that much closer to breaking ground,” said Sound Transit Central Link Oversight Committee Chair and King County Councilman Larry Phillips. “Sound Transit continues doing the hard work to offer regional commuters fast, reliable options for getting where they need to go.”

The project will offer much faster travel times for transit passengers than buses. Light rail will carry passengers from downtown to the University in 9 minutes instead of 25 and to Capitol Hill in 6 minutes instead of 14. Trips between Capitol Hill and the University District will take 3 minutes instead of 22. Riders will enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

University Link is projected to nearly triple the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030. The projected 2020 daily ridership for the 15.6-mile segment currently under construction between downtown Seattle and the airport is 45,000.

“This project will take thousands of cars off our crowded roadways every day and help combat climate change by offering a carbon-neutral way around traffic,” Nickels said.

The proposed $100 million would be the second time the federal budget has included funds toward University Link. Last year Congress awarded the project $19.6 million. The funds would be drawn down as part of the formal FFGA award.

The president’s budget also included $28.8 million for current light rail construction as the final installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million federal grant agreement for the Initial Segment of the Central Link light rail system. That line is 85 percent complete and on schedule to open between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport in 2009.

When University Link is completed, Sound Transit will have built almost 19 miles of light rail between the University and the airport with the taxes that regional voters approved in 1996.

University Link will provide a reliable option for drivers and transit users who are stuck on I-5, a facility that operates over capacity for up to eight hours a day, with vehicle speeds running between 15 and 35 mph. Already, buses can run up to 30 minutes behind schedule due to congestion. The population of the corridor served by University Link is projected to go up 56 percent from 2000 to 2030, further increasing congestion.

SB 6772 Comments (II)

The bill has picked up two more sponsors: Sen. Marr (D-Spokane Outskirts) and Sen. Pridemore (D-Vancouver). Sen. Marr is the Assistant Majority Floor Leader.

So far, Rodney Tom is the only sponsor that actually represents part of the Sound Transit district.


I’ve gone through the 80 pages of legalese. Here’s the bill so that you can read for yourself, as I’m not any kind of lawyer. There are good and bad things about this bill, plus some things that could go either way.

The good things:
– The RTA would be authorized to collect sales taxes, vehicle excise taxes, and employee taxes solely for the purposes of high-capacity transit. (Section 516-518) I believe this expands their taxing authority. Of course, ST is currently limited by voter approval, not state legislation.

– The employee tax would be waived for any employee that has at least half the cost of a transit pass subsidized, or if the company has implemented an appropriate commuter-reduction plan (Section 307).

– Local municipalities can add their own stuff to the plan, effectively allowing for uneven levels of taxation if the benefits will be distributed unevenly. (Section 204)

– The Sound Transit staff essentially lives on in the new RTA (Section 210). I’m not sure Josh Feit’s fears about losing the $750 million FFGA for University Link is well-founded. Also, we’re not flushing over 10 years of hard-earned experience.

The bad things:
– The agency loses its focus on transit to also build roads.

– It’s also probably destined for a period of administrative chaos as they absorb road planners from RTID, which could have very negative impacts on Central Link startup and University Link groundbreaking.

– I think it’s unlikely you’d see a transit-only package go before the voters under this construct. That means that the Sierra Club et al. will be de facto opponents of rail for the foreseeable future.

– It’s certainly not explicitly in the bill, but I believe Daimajin is right when he suggests that this is an attempt by the rest of the state to stop funding their obligations on state highways in the region. It gives people clamoring for road projects somewhere to go besides the state legislature

The uncertain things:
– There are 10 voting commissioners: 3 appointed by the county executives, one elected at-large, and 6 elected from equally sized districts (Section 201). I’m skeptical this will work out in favor of the pro-transit forces, but I’m naturally pessimistic about such things. By my count, these districts work out to about one each for Snohomish, East King, and South King, and one-and-a-half for Seattle and Pierce County. If the most promising Link segments are to Northgate and Bellevue, you’re talking maybe 2 1/2 districts in favor. With the King Co. appointee and the at-large (?), you get 4 1/2 out of 10. The district lines will be important.

– Sub-area equity is gone. This is good in terms of producing an objectively better plan, but not necessarily good in producing one acceptable to the voters. It’ll be much easier to characterize it as “sending all our money to Seattle,” even if that’s not the case.

– Section 503 goes on and on about monorails. (!) Huh?

– If I read Section 313 correctly, only 10% of the employee tax and MVET can go to HOV projects. The rest has to go to commuter rail. The text is clear as mud, so I’m particularly unsure of this conclusion, as it seems to conflict with Sections 516-518.

I can imagine both good and bad outcomes from this bill, but I think the downside is a lot bigger than the upside.

The good outcome is that the pro-transit forces gain a narrow majority on the board, the staff handles the ST transition with grace, and ST 2.1 takes advantage of the uneven taxing options to make a rail-heavy and yet politically palatable plan, perhaps with a little more track laid than we’ve dared hope. The state continues its historical level of funding of highway projects, calling on the RTA to only fund the gold-plated aspects of projects like SR 520.

The bad outcome is that the reorganization causes ST to take its eye off the ball and jeopardize University Link. Ron Sims nominates some anti-rail, pro-BRT guy, the highway lobby bankrolls an anti-rail majority on the board, and we see pavement, pavement, pavement. Anytime the Puget Sound region asks for state money for roads, the legislature tells us to go see the RTA — while continuing to send our gas tax dollars anywhere else in the state that wants them.

Quite frankly, I’m pleased with ST’s performance over the last few years and pessimistic about the mood of the electorate. I’m reluctant to jeopardize that performance, and doubtful that this bill will produce something better.

So it’s not the end of the world, but puts a lot of hard-won gains at risk. It could actually make us better off, but it’s far more likely to do the reverse.

Or perhaps I don’t speak lawyer and I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Sound Transit in Danger of Disbandment – ACT NOW!!

There has been a lot of commotion regarding disbanding Sound Transit that the news hasn’t brought up as of late.

The following blogs have information in regards to this troubling news.

Seattle Transit – http://seatrans.blogspot.com/ (Battle Stations, Everyone)

Carless in Seattle – http://blog.carlessinseattle.us/ (Worrying hints from Olympia)

The Stranger Slog – http://slog.thestranger.com/2008/01/resolved_sound_transit_dissolved

If this bill gets signed, I will vote for anybody else but Gregorie, she will lose the election to Rossi, one way or another.

If this is their way to ensure that Sound Transit doesn’t come to a vote in November 2008, this is as low as they could possibly go. Btw, This would STOP the University Link from being built if this is approved.

Battle Stations, Everyone

2 UPDATES BELOW — Keep Scrolling.

We’ve been warning you for quite some time now about governance reform, most recently here.

Well, Josh Feit reports that the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Haugen of Camano Island, has written a bill that dissolves Sound Transit and replaces it with an elected board.

As he points out, this threatens the $750 million grant that University Link depends on.

I believe this is the bill. I haven’t had time yet to fully digest it, but Section 310 is the one that deals with Sound Transit and incorporates it into the new organization, which would pretty much hire all of Sound Transit’s old employees and assume its responsibilities.

Here’s the procedural history of the bill. I see that other sponsors include Ed Murray of Capitol Hill and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Belltown, Queen Anne, and Ballard. Why Sen. Murray wants to mess with an organization building light rail through the heart of his district is beyond me.

Anyway, it’s time that we mobilize to make sure this thing is dead, dead, dead. Briefly, why it’s a horrible idea:

(1) Sound Transit consistently passes audits with flying colors. Special-purpose organizations with directly elected boards (Port of Seattle, Seattle Monorail Project, Seattle School Board) have a recent history of graft and incompetence. Why would we seek to replicate that governance model here?

(2) The Sound Transit board is filled with politicians dedicated to delivering real rapid transit. Lord knows who could get on an elected board with a few bucks from Kemper Freeman and the road lobby. Tim Eyman, everyone? I’m not a lawyer, but if I read Sec. 305(2) correctly, a new transit plan will require unanimous approval by the commission to be put before the voters, meaning one commissioner elected by people in Monroe can stop the entire region in its tracks.

(3) This creates some risk for the University Link federal funding agreement.

(4) The “Regional Transportation Commission” has a dual focus of roads and transit. Haven’t we been through this already?

We have a Democratic super-majority in Olympia — it’s unbelievable we have to fight off our state government like this. If Governor Gregoire signs this bill, I will vote for Rossi this fall, simply so that the Democrats come up with a leader that is merely neutral to transit, instead of actively hostile. If this passes, there isn’t anything left for Dino Rossi to screw up.

Contact your legislators.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has once again placed a thoughtful response in the comments. The bill I cited is now dead as of today, assuming that’s what a “Senate Rules ‘X’ File” means.

It’s not clear to me how that relates to the Haugen proposal that Josh Feit mentioned. Remain vigilant, but I don’t see it listed anywhere under Sen. Haugen’s sponsored bills.

UPDATE 2 (1/21/08): Sen. Kohl-Welles also replies in the comments, reaffirming her support for transit.

I firmly believe that the Seattle delegation considers themselves pro-transit and pro-rail. To be anything else would be both foolish and politically suicidal. However, to this layman it appears that their names keep on ending up on bills that we here at STB consider to be hostile to Sound Transit, and therefore hostile to rapid construction of new rail capacity. This probably has something to do with the proverbial sausage-making in Olympia, but it’d be nice if for once the maneuvering was over providing funds to accelerate or extend projects, rather than coming up with cheap administrative fixes that can be manipulated by the road-building lobby.

However, I promise to do a bit more homework on these bills. No more flying off the handle at Josh Feit rumor-mill posts. I owe that to the readers if I ask you to contact your legislators.

A look at ST for 2007

I would say they did very well in 2007 with a lot completed and accomplished. This is only adding to the State Auditors findings that ST is a well organized and set agency with the goal of bringing gridlock to as minimal as possible.


2007 Accomplishments

Download the 2007 Milestones Year-end report (PDF, 2 MB) >>>

Sounder Commuter Rail Service

• Started a reverse Sounder commute between Seattle and Tacoma.
• Started a new Tacoma-to-Seattle run.
• Started a third Sounder North line trip.
• Broke ground on the Lakewood Station.
• Broke ground on the Mukilteo Station.

ST Express Regional Bus Service

• Opened the Totem Lake Freeway Station.
• Opened the Canyon Park Freeway Station.
• Broke ground on the I-90 Two Way Transit and HOV lanes Stage 1 project.
• Broke ground on the Redmond Transit Center.
• Broke ground on the Redmond Way transit improvements.
• Broke ground on the Totem Lake Transit Center.
• Broke ground on the North Everett/College Station Transit Center.
• Federal grant awarded for senior housing development at Federal Way Transit Center.

Link Light Rail Service

• Opened the Link light rail Operations & Maintenance Facility.
• Broke through the first Beacon Hill East Portal with the Link tunnel boring machine.
• Completed excavating the Beacon Hill Station.
• Completed Tukwila International Blvd Station.
• Installed Tacoma Link stations closed-circuit television system.
• Completed University Link light rail’s design and cost estimate.
• Finished resurfacing Pine Street in downtown Seattle.
• Reached agreement with University of Washington on University Link.
• Reopened the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for bus service. (1 Week Late)
• Reached 10 miles of continuous rail laid from Tukwila through the Rainier Valley.
• Began work on the SeaTac/Airport Station.
• Began final assembly of Link light rail trains. (In Everett)
• Began testing light rail trains. (Between DSTT and Operations and Maintenance Facility)


• Carried about 14 million passengers combined on trains and buses
• Reached 73 million in total lifetime ridership.
• Completed Smart Card beta test. (Orca card)
• Board adopted final Sound Transit 2 package for expansion of the regional transit system.
• Public voted on Sound Transit 2 package. (Failed)
• State Performance Audit released; ninth consecutive clean independent audit released.

Let’s hope for the same performance for 2008!


Sound Transit – The Tunnel Edition – Transit Tunnel – Beacon Hill – University Link

I want to first thank Jennifer on giving me some first hand information to the Tunnel Boring update and Jeff on giving some great information on the University Link project.

Currently, the Emerald Mole is approaching 21st Street South leaving about 7 City blocks or about a month remaining for the bore. Sound Transit is planning on a media day when the Emerald Mole is closer to coming out of the tunnel. The TBM has encountered some rough spots, like water and various maintenance issues. Sound Transit will post the information on the web site when the Emerald Mole is closer to breaking through the West Portal.

University Link will have 3 Tunnel Boring Machines total for the project. Two of the TBM’s will start at the University site and simultaneously bore the two tunnels south to Capitol Hill. A third machine will start at the Capitol Hill station site and bore one tunnel south to the end of the initial segment construction. That machine will then be disassembled, moved to Capitol Hill and reassembled to bore the second tunnel (just as we did with the Beacon Hill TBM)

Now just a guess on my part, the Tunnels them selfs will be completed in 2013/2014 with this arrangement but installing rail, egrees, ventilation and safety systems, Overhead Contact System (OCS), signals, building the Capital Hill Station and University stations will eat up the rest of the 3 years until opening.

In other news – Sound Transit completed the first of many Dead Wire tests in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel on Saturday (January 12th, 2008). These tests are the beginning to live wire tests which will not happen while the tunnel is open unfortunately (How cool would that be to see it roll through the tunnel)

Dead wire testing is to ensure there are no snags in the OCS and that the pantograph moves over joints and connections smoothly.


To view the progress of the Tunnel Boring Machine, keep this page bookmarked for future reference.