2008 Thoughts and Predictions

Happy New Years everyone!

Here are some of my thoughts for 2008…


Everett Streetcar – System will get Green Light for full 4 mile long build out and will be operational in 2009. Streetcar will spark faster redevelopment in Riverfront, Waterfront, and Downtown. Everett will be taken serious once again.

Sound Transit will step up the construction process for Mukilteo Southbound platform (Only the Northbound Platform will be built first, yes you can get on both directions) by feeding BNSF more money.

Construction on the “ramp” to Pacific Avenue in Tacoma for the M Street to D Street connection will meet several lawsuits delaying the project further.

Seattle Streetcar will get funding for 10 year study to Fremont using the existing old Streetcar right of way that went to Fremont… Meanwhile, lawsuits will pop up on the idea of the idea of the Streetcar to the University of Washington and Montlake Station.

Another Grassroots idea for the Monorail from Ballard to West Seattle will surface, bubble up from $3.2 billion $19 billion dollars, get rejected by voters, again, then blame Greg Nickels and Sound Transit.

Sound Transit will come back in November for getting Link to Northgate Transit Center ASAP and will purchase a 4th TBM to finish University Link ahead of schedule.

Portland MAX will enter Vancouver, Washington by new I-5 bridge or separate light-rail bridge over the Columbia River in the next 2 to 5 years.

Ron Sims will continue to fight tooth and nail to get the Eastside Rail Corridor into a trail while Tom Payne gets his equipment ready to run from Snohomish to Bellevue @ NE 8th.


Gregoire will push for 520 and Viaduct replacement with Dino Rossi coming up. She will also put the fear of god into Sound Transit to prevent more rail.

Oil will reach $150 a barrel by the end of the year.

I-5 between I-90 and Mercer Street will undergo another study to study if fixing that section of roadway is feasible.

Amtrak will start stopping in Stanwood and Leavenworth in November but passengers will be stuck without bus service to the stations. (Leavenworth’s transit starts 1 hour after the train to Seattle arrives and service ends 1 hour before the train arrives enroute to Chicago…)


BRT will not be successful in King County but will flourish in Snohomish County. People in King County will be spoiled since Light-Rail will be running first.

Transit Now will shift towards more Streetcar and Light-Rail and change order from more Hybrids to more 60 foot electric trolleys for the 7/9 routes. Breda and MAN buses will be retired, 2 of each will enter the Metro Transit historical society.

I’m sure I could come up with more but Carless in Seattle covers the rest pretty well

Buses over Streetcars

Erica Barnett points out that the FTA seems to be implementing rules that push for buses over streetcars because the “densification” element would be removed from the cost-effectiveness criteria. This would likely remove some of the funding that we used here to build our streetcar line.

Erica is incorrect that this could remove funding for light-rail or heavy rail rapid transit lines. This would be a HUGE worry for University Link that has not yet been approved for federal funding. The good news is that the “densification” factor is not necessary for that project, since the cost-benefit for that project is time of commute and number of commuters.

We have little to worry for the moment about federal funding for light rail.

3 minutes

Yesterday the US Congress approved $88.6 million for ULink and Central link. This is slightly less than the $94 million mentioned before for 2008, though the difference is all coming out of ULink, which means that we probably will still get all the money in total, it might just take longer.

In the press release I received it had this quote:

The project connects the three largest urban centers in the region: downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District. It 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 also enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

Three minutes!

Update: Added the press release.

There a few things to read into this, since the Feds have already given Sound Transit $20mn before the finally grant decision on University Link. First, it looks like University Link is going forward regardless of the death of Prop. 1. This shows that Ted Van Dyk and his “Battle of Stalingrad” quote were wrong, that ST will be able to complete that segment regardless of whatelse happens. 3.15 miles more subway for Seattle!

Also, it shows just how badly we need real, rapid transit here. This got the highest possible rating, and just two stations adds 70,000 riders to the line. This is basically the cheapest transportation project attempted in recent memory in this area. At fully one-tenth the cost of widening I-405, this will add more than more than 25% as much people-moving capacity..

Senator Murray keeps light-rail moving

Another update on getting Link to the University of Washington this evening as State Senator Patty Murray continues her efforts to secure FY 2008 light rail funding.


Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to secure $94 million in FY 2008 light rail funding, including $24 million for the University Link light rail extension and $70 million toward completing light rail from downtown Seattle to the airport. The funding is part of a key Congressional funding bill now headed for the White House

This is great news as it ensures that Link continues it’s progress on the 3.15 mile long extension to the University of Washington. It’s just a shame tunnel boring is so bloody slow. Construction will start next year with a completion around 2015 and testing will have the line open for service in 2016. Sound Transit is opting to only use one tunnel boring machine, the Emerald Mole, that is currently boring the second 4,000 foot long Beacon Hill tunnel which is scheduled to come out of the tunnel next month. If a second one was purchased for University Link, the system could open in 2011 but that would double the cost of the operation.

Stepping Back from the Ledge

Well, that stunk.

I sincerely hope that left-wing Roads & Transit opponents are correct, and that transit will come back soon and pass. I’m skeptical, but we’ll see.

Regardless, we will at least have light rail from Downtown to the Airport in 2009, and that can only help to build support for transit, although it means delivery of less rail, later, for more money.

In the meantime, as Seattle transit supporters, what should be our priorities over the next few years? Here’s my layman’s stab at a list:

1) Scrutinize (and probably oppose) “governance reform.” This is usually code for scrapping Sound Transit and replacing it with some other agency to oversee transit. Although in principle there are almost certainly governance structures superior to the current one, in reality it’s virtually certain that any replacement will spend its first years mired in mismanagement and incompetence (see: Sound Transit, 1996-2001; Seattle Monorail Project). That’s not what we need as the University LINK project comes close to getting seriously started.

2) Protect University LINK. The light rail line from downtown to Husky Stadium is supposedly all set to open in 2016. However, not one spade of Earth has yet been turned, nasty financial and engineering surprises are no doubt ahead, and God knows what legal and other challenges are lurking in the wake of the Prop. 1 failure.

This segment has the highest ridership projection of all, and the clearest time advantage for rail. An 8-minute travel time easily outclasses any conceivable alternative, including a streetcar. We must remain vigilant about this project. Like the airport, the University provides all-day traffic demand that justifies non-peak operation.

3) Get to Northgate. We must find the $1.2 billion (2006 dollars) to get to Northgate. This is the obvious terminus for southbound commuters to get on the line, and will increase the exposure of light rail that is critical to future expansion. Ideally, this would be part of a reduced regional package, but even if Seattle alone must fund it, it’s “only” $4,300 per household spread over many years — a lot, but not backbreaking.

4) Get to Bellevue. The two bridges are the most obvious chokepoint in the region. Getting to downtown Bellevue at least allows connection to the “RapidRide” BRT service that will continue to Overlake. Not optimal, but something we can accomplish. The high-end cost estimate is $2.2 billion, something that will probably require at least King County to fund. Paging Senator Murray…

5) “A Thousand Little Things.” There are lots of little things we can do that cost little compared to these mega-projects: streetcar extensions, bus lanes, arterial fixes, etc. These generally occur at the municipal level. A lot of these are being discussed on earlier threads. Expanding Sounder park-and-rides is another inexpensive capacity increase.

UPDATE: A point I should have made more clear is that there is zero chance a package involving these points would pass the three county district: there is literally nothing in it for Pierce and Snohomish Counties. To move forward, we probably need to restrict the taxing authority to the city of Seattle or King County.

In the case of King County, perhaps that involves a few hundred million for Sounder park-and-rides to win over the Southern part of the County. Whatever it takes.

Why You Should Read The P-I Instead

Today I woke up to nonsense. The Seattle Times is seriously arguing against building light rail from Seattle to Tacoma.

Now, look at the way I just put that. Light rail from “Seattle to Tacoma”. It’s easy to argue against that, right? We have Sounder from Seattle to Tacoma. We have express buses from Seattle to Tacoma. Why would we need more? Anyway, this article says it would take riders on light rail 70 minutes to get from Tacoma to Seattle! Isn’t that a long time?

Sounder takes 60 minutes – from Tacoma Dome Station to King Street Station. The express buses are scheduled to take 40 minutes, but of course they’re often stuck in traffic, and that’s getting worse. Those buses run all day, and carry as a whole around five thousand people. Sounder, with only five peak-direction round trips, carries ten thousand passengers a day, and that number is steadily increasing – the express buses carry half that. What, you say? Are these people dumb? Why would they take Sounder instead of the bus? Oh, wait. They’re *not* dumb. Most of them live in Auburn, Kent, Puyallup, and Sumner, and some of them even drive from Renton to Tukwila and take the train from there. In just a few years, Sounder will connect Lakewood and South Tacoma with Seattle as well. These people have the same commute time every day, which is very important to people who have jobs that are not next door.

But what does this have to do with light rail from “Seattle to Tacoma”?

Simple! We aren’t just building light rail from “Seattle to Tacoma”. We’re building light rail from Sea-Tac to Des Moines, and Des Moines to Federal Way, and the Rainier Valley to Federal Way, and Sea-Tac to Tacoma, and Des Moines to the Port of Tacoma, and Federal Way to Tacoma, and the U-district to Federal Way, and Bellevue to Federal Way – and I actually know people who work in Redmond and live in Des Moines, which is a crazy commute, but this would serve them! Sounder doesn’t serve ANY of these trips. In fact, even if someone did live in Tacoma and take transit to Seattle, if they wanted to go to Westlake or Capitol Hill, they have to transfer if they take the bus or Sounder (and with Sounder, they could only go during peak hours) – but not if they took Link. Transfers kill potential ridership, and make people stay in their cars.

Let’s point out some more of Andrew Garber’s bull – that “70 minutes” number? That’s from Westlake to Tacoma. Sounder service doesn’t serve that – it stops at the other end of downtown, at King Street Station. You have to take a bus (or starting in 2009, transfer to light rail) to get to Westlake. The Times picked that number because they think it makes light rail look bad – but all they’re doing is showcasing the fact that light rail built by Proposition 1 will serve trips that aren’t currently well served. In 2030, taking the bus from Tacoma to Westlake will take 80 minutes during peak times, and the same trip will be 70 minutes, consistently, on light rail – faster *and* vastly more reliable.

Readers of this blog already see some of the flaws in this article. Ron Sims’ “Buses are great and futuristic!” argument falls flat when we read the same thing from 1968 – the last 40 years are pretty good proof that magical superbuses just aren’t effective, even where we have transit lanes. Comparing the south line to University Link, the best projected ridership per dollar of any transit extension planned in the United States in thirty years, just tells us that the south line is normal, in line with the cost-effectiveness of all the other cost effective transit built around the country. And yeah, those 2030 University Link riders? They won’t be there if we don’t build Sound Transit 2 – some of them are coming from the south line, and a lot more are coming from the north and east lines. We don’t get those if we vote against Prop 1.

Oh, yeah, and if you’re going to say “is it worth the money?” about a project, at least compare to another project that actually moves a similar number of people – like building a new highway, which is what you’d have to do to move as many people as the south line will.

One last shameful and misleading thing? The graphic on the Times’ article doesn’t show University Link as “under way” – uh, folks, a lot of the properties have been purchased, the design is well under way, and we’ve got the money.

Hey Seattle Times: do you wonder why readership is down? Trying to think of reasons that the Blethens are having to prop you up? Maybe it’s because your front page pieces don’t pass the whiff test for the people you’re trying to sell to – they smell like bull. People driving their cars don’t read papers – people on the train do. If you want to survive, stop shooting yourselves in the foot.

Has it ever taken that long?

Stefan Sharkansky thinks the fact that the 194 is just as fast a Portland’s Max is some proof that buses are better than Light Rail. I just took the 194: I waited 15 minutes for the bus, which took 30 minutes to get Downtown, then waited 10 minutes for the 14, which took 15 minutes to get here. When University Link is finished, it’ll be a straight shot from the airport to the Broadway station where I’ll walk to my house.

The 14 does get me closer, about one block instead of five, but if the bus takes an hour and five minutes on a Sunday night, I’d happily walk.

Pat Murray shows Sound Transit the Money!

I know that’s a lame title for this post, but I’m in Sweden (that’s a Stockholm metro station on the left), where things are a little behind the times in the American pop culture department, but way ahead in terms of congestion pricing (the photo in that article is hella not from Stockholm, btw), and transit (exactly 100 metro stations in a city of 760,000 and a region of 1.9 million, who says transit can’t work in low density?).

Anyway, it seems that Patty Murray has come through for Light Rail in the region.

Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to include $30 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project in a key Senate funding bill.

“Our Senator comes through again,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “When commuters jump on the quick, quiet and efficient U-Link, they should thank Patty Murray.”

The funding bill also includes a $70 million installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial Link light rail segment from downtown Seattle to Tukwila that is more than 70 percent complete. The line from downtown to Tukwila is scheduled to open for service in July, 2009, with the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport to open by December, 2009.

Link Rail Assembly

Here’s a nice article about the assembly of the Link Rail Cars in Everett in one of Boeing’s huge barns. At the end of the article is a nice list of facts about the rail cars, including the fact that if ST2 passes 188 more cars will be added to the 35 in the original order and the 27 for the University Link. That’s about 250 cars!

Thanks to Andrew for the tip and the second photo below:

Speaking of Beacon Hill…

According to this PI article, Beacon Hill station needs to be moved 88 feet because of water, and that will increase cost and may delay the opening of the line as much as two months from the original July 2009 start date. Almost a million dollars has been put into a “contingency account” because of this.

Beacon Hill station has been more expensive than anticipated before:

Beacon Hill costs also have increased prior to Thursday.

The biggest contract for the Beacon Hill work was $294.6 million being paid to builder Obayashi Corp., up from an original price of $280 million. Obayashi and Sound Transit are negotiating over another $20 million contract.

In 2003 and 2004, the agency increased Shannon & Wilson’s Beacon Hill consulting fees by more than $3.4 million.

This is a good lesson for Sound Transit when considering the other underground stations that will be built for the Link System over the next ten years. Beacon Hill is certainly the deepest, most complex of these, but there are a lot of similarities in terms of scope relative to the University Link.

Even with the problems, it seems that Sound Transit is sincere about delivering what it has promised:

Other delays, including a shutdown after a fatal construction accident at the site in February, could hold up by two months the opening of the section between downtown Seattle and Tukwila, according to an agency progress report for March.

To prevent that, Sage said, the agency is trying to get subcontractors to complete work on part of the station ventilation system a few weeks earlier than planned and is pressing other contractors to complete electrical signaling and communications systems early as well.

Agency spokesman Geoff Patrick said Sound Transit still expects to open the line to Tukwila by July, 2009.

Awesome! They seem to be doing a fabulous job.