Slog

Slog Music

Music, Nightlife,
and Drinks

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sound Transit Would Use Seattle Money to Pay for Bellevue's Gold-Plated Tunnel

Posted by on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Staff at Sound Transit, the regional authority building light rail, want to pay for nearly half of a transit tunnel under downtown Bellevue by siphoning up to $150 million in transportation funds that were generated for Seattle's light-rail system, sources tell The Stranger. Some fear this would eat up money from Seattle's taxpayers to fund a suburban project they would rarely use.

Sound Transits North King County and East King County Subareas
  • Sound Transit's North King County and East King County Subareas
The issue stems from five sub-areas that divide the regional transit district (Snohomish County, South King County, Pierce County, North King County, and East King County).

Generally speaking, each district approves taxes to pay for projects in its own area; e.g., North King County (which is mostly Seattle) is paying for the light-rail extension from downtown to Northgate, and East King County is paying for the ST2 extension to Redmond via Bellevue. The question is, what happens if the taxes that voters approve for their light rail don't cover the actual cost of the final alignment selected by city governments and members on the Sound Transit board?

One option: Take from a subarea that does have the money.

This afternoon, the Sound Transit board's agenda features a resolution selecting the preferred Eastside alignment for Link light rail, which includes a tunnel under downtown Bellevue. However, the tunnel would cost $329 million more than the amount allocated for this portion of the project when voters passed the ST2 extension in 2008. To cover that cost, the City of Bellevue has pledged to chip in $180 million and that leaves—depending upon various methods to slice and dice the shortfall—$138 to $150 million unpaid. Although Sound Transit staff have reportedly considered various options (selling real estate, shrinking the scope of the Eastide alignment, and delaying the project to save money on bonding), those weren't the chief idea presented to regional leaders yesterday. Several sources say that Sound Transit staff specifically asked leaders in the North King sub-area cities (again, mostly Seattle) to contribute $150 million to support the East Link tunnel.

North King County is apparently one prime revenue source, according to people familiar with the recommendations, because sales taxes have exceeded previous forecasts and bids for the University District stations have come in under budget (not accounting for cost overruns typical of tunneling projects). Moreover, the East Link begins in Seattle and will include a station at I-90 near the Mt. Baker neighborhood. Seattle residents could arguably benefit from the tunnel alignment in Bellevue, but it's hardly clear who benefits more (suburbs benefiting from our Central Link of light rail or us from their East Link). That said, Sound Transit isn't supposed to tap one subarea to pay for a project in another.

Time is short to make the first move. "The tunnel route in downtown Bellevue is contingent upon the City of Bellevue entering into a term sheet with Sound Transit before August 3, 2011 and a binding umbrella memorandum of understanding by September 30, 2011," says the Sound Transit resolution. It would require the City of Bellevue to provide "a firm funding commitment of $160 million" but the resolution doesn't specify where Sound Transit would tap the rest. In other words, leaders could commit to the Bellevue tunnel as soon as today without identifying a funding mechanism, then figure out how to pay for it—and figure out who will pay for it—in a couple of years.

 

Comments (27) RSS

Newest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
27
@26 (if you happen to see this): "There's not a transit improvement in the City of Seattle currently going unfunded to the tune of the tunnel deficit that could give more bang for the buck..."

I don't know about that. On a bad day -- which could be any day, for any reason -- it still takes 45 minutes to an hour to get from Ballard to anywhere. If you want interconnectivity, you'd better give urban residents a reasonable option for getting around the city; otherwise, they can't even access the "done right" regional system. Keep transit sub-par in the city, and many or most will find driving to be their best option well into the future.

When I cited the pattern, I wasn't referring just to Sound Transit. There's Metro's years of 40-40-20, a regional obsession with commuter expresses that make a trip from Issaquah faster than a trip across 45th Street -- at a much greater tax subsidy, despite charging only pennies more for the white-collar end-user -- and, of course, the toxic "leave the city holding the bag" rhetoric surrounding the deep bore tunnel.
Posted by d.p. on August 2, 2011 at 2:32 PM · Report this
cressona 26
d.p. @25: "And unfortunately, finding excuses to improve the suburban transit experience at the expense of vital improvements to the urban is a pattern here."

There's not a transit improvement in the City of Seattle currently going unfunded to the tune of the tunnel deficit that could give more bang for the buck for both City of Seattle residents and Seattle-proper-based businesses than getting the light rail route through downtown Bellevue done right. Yes, our region is that interconnected--and needs to be that much more interconnected.

Still, we're in agreement. Sound Transit needs to make the tunnel happen, but it needs to do so without playing shenanigans with subarea equity.
Posted by cressona on July 30, 2011 at 8:27 PM · Report this
25
Exactly, @24.

The Bellevue tunnel is a good thing.

But Seattle transit is still light-years from where it should be. And unfortunately, finding excuses to improve the suburban transit experience at the expense of vital improvements to the urban is a pattern here.

So as you also say, we can't "look the other way" if Sound Transit is robbing (future) Peter to pay (present) Paul.
Posted by d.p. on July 30, 2011 at 1:35 PM · Report this
cressona 24
Gold-plated tunnel? What does that make the Sound Transit tunnel through Capitol Hill to the U District--platinum-plated?

Years from now, commuters will find it hard to imagine that anyone could have been so shortsighted as to have considered not building a light rail tunnel through downtown Bellevue. If we want to be trashing the Bellevue tunnel option for not having its financing fully materialized before it was agreed to, then we might as well be consistent and maintain that Central Link should never have been built. Somehow, I believe future riders on the platinum-plated University Link will be thankful that our civic leaders way back when were more concerned about economic development and the environment than about appeasing parochial critics who don't want to be spending their money on somebody else's transit.

Now, am I saying we should look the other way if Sound Transit is somehow violating subarea equity? No. But how does the question of where the rest of the money's coming from make this tunnel a bad thing? If Bellevue were to pony up all the money, Dominic Holden wouldn't be calling it "gold-plated" then, so how is it "gold-plated" now?

Well, it's not the first time Dominic has written something that was good for page views but not good for the cause of Seattle-area transit.
Posted by cressona on July 29, 2011 at 10:46 PM · Report this
23
I almost want to say "screw you, Bellevue," especially after seeing all the anti-light rail signs along the ST 550 route. But like it or not, there are two big areas of high commute density on the east side: central Bellevue and the main Microsoft campus. Transit ridership to Microsoft is huge, with buses running to and from Montlake every 5-10 minutes at peak and still being so full they can't take all riders.

I live equidistant from I-90 and 520 and commute by bus to Bellevue. The downtown/I-90/Bellevue route and the U-District/Bellevue/Issaquah route have similar ridership, but 95% of I-90 riders get on downtown in the transit tunnel. The problem with the I-90 route is that it doesn't connect to the north (not even Capitol Hill or the CD). The only reasonably frequent bus routes from the Rainier and I-90 station go to South Seattle and downtown. People commuting from north of the ship canal will always have a faster trip by bus over 520. So people who are taking those full 545s between downtown and Redmond will take the light rail, but none of the ones connecting in Montlake will.
Posted by blueworld on July 29, 2011 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Matthew 'Anc' Johnson 22
Didn't all of King County help pay for the DSTT via Metro?

Personally I support a Bellevue tunnel, however I'd like the money to be a loan, not a gift. Just like North King borrowed from East King to help build Central Link.
Posted by Matthew 'Anc' Johnson on July 29, 2011 at 1:40 AM · Report this
the idiot formerly known as kk 21
@ What 19 said. Be magnanimous. Build a good system. Then abolish the dumb shit subarea equity and make sure South King County is well served.
Posted by the idiot formerly known as kk on July 28, 2011 at 11:32 PM · Report this
Donolectic 20
@13 - why would you wsnt to kill east link entirely? That's asinine, just like voting for an Eyman initiative.
Posted by Donolectic on July 28, 2011 at 8:58 PM · Report this
Donolectic 19
Bellevue is a city, a growing one, and we should look to the future. Give them their tunnel.
Posted by Donolectic on July 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM · Report this
18
I just figured out why Kemper Freeman is against light rail! Making it easier to get from Bellevue to Seattle means that more eastsiders will bypass Bellevue Square and shop in Seattle. Seattle Downtown businesses should pay the $150 million instead of complaining about increased downtown parking fees.
Posted by elaineinballard on July 28, 2011 at 5:58 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 17
@15 for the insightful Just Say No to Republican Socialism win
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 28, 2011 at 5:25 PM · Report this
16
@4, @7, & @8 are correct. Plenty of Seattlites work on the eastside and East Link will benefit them.

But there are even more people who live in the suburbs and come into Seattle for all sorts of reasons. Massive in-city transportation improvements/investments would also be helpful to them.

And strangely, I don't hear anyone from the "East Subarea" volunteering to kick their allotted money for a true subway to Ballard.
Posted by d.p. on July 28, 2011 at 5:13 PM · Report this
15
This is ultimately Rob McKenna's fault, for insisting on the damn subarea equity nonsense in the first place.
Posted by junipero on July 28, 2011 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Baconcat 14
Mr. Baker Neighborhood.
Posted by Baconcat on July 28, 2011 at 4:56 PM · Report this
13
Never been a Tim Eyman fan, but every day seems to give me one more reason to vote for I-1125. It would pretty much kill East Link across I-90. I'd much rather share our tax revenue with Federal Way, which wants light rail, than with Bellevue, which has made light rail as difficult as possible. Bonus points: the tolling provisions of 1125 will pretty much doom DBT tolling revenues.
Posted by Don't you think he looks tired? on July 28, 2011 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 12
I want to strap the experimental rocket jet pack to him.

Hope I don't forget the flame shielding ...
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 28, 2011 at 4:21 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 11
Bellevue's simply not dense enough to justify a tunnel when surface light rail works fine in downtown Portland. fuck this noise.
Posted by Max Solomon on July 28, 2011 at 4:21 PM · Report this
COMTE 10
@5:

I'm fine with that, but only if we can launch Mr. Freman into Lake Washington, say, every couple of hours, five days a week, for the next 20 years or so. And allow individual citizens to pull the lever. AND put a big target in the lake and give the person who comes closest to the bulls-eye each week a year's worth of free transit access. Heck, I'll bet people would even pay for the privilege.

Call it a little "funding enhancement" for ST...
Posted by COMTE on July 28, 2011 at 4:10 PM · Report this
9
@2 "This is total bull! If Bellevue wants a tunnel they should pay for it themselves!" and "This is just another example and reason as to why we need to consolidate all of the transit organizations, eliminate millions in jobs that are duplicated over all the agencies and create one big agency for Puget Sound transportation." are kind of contradictory, no?
Posted by "We simply can no longer continue to fall so far behind" on July 28, 2011 at 4:10 PM · Report this
8
Seems to me that if a Bellevue tunnel reduced the travel time to, say, the Microsoft campus, that would benefit all the Microsofties that live in Seattle.
Posted by shabadoo on July 28, 2011 at 4:09 PM · Report this
7
As much as it offends me to help people from Bellevue, I think it's worth it to build light rail to the eastside. As mentioned by @4 above, it'll help plenty of non-Kemper Freeman humping Seattlites get to work.
Posted by SLCamper on July 28, 2011 at 4:08 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 6
@5 sounds like a perfect solution. Count me in. Where can I buy tickets?
Posted by Reverse Polarity on July 28, 2011 at 4:07 PM · Report this
5
I'm fine with this if the some of the transferred funds are allocated to build a giant catapult in downtown Bellevue from which we get to launch Kemper Freman into Lake Washington. Think of the tickets Sound Transit could sell to watch that!
Posted by sevenless on July 28, 2011 at 3:58 PM · Report this
4
Tens of thousands of workers cross the bridges daily -- in BOTH directions -- to get to work.
Posted by bigyaz on July 28, 2011 at 3:49 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 3
Which part of stop subsidizing inefficient suburbs don't they GET?
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on July 28, 2011 at 3:42 PM · Report this
2
This is total bull! If Bellevue wants a tunnel they should pay for it themselves! They barely want light rail to begin with (according to their elected officials). The $150 million dollars is desperately needed for transportation infrastructure within out own city. What are these guys thinking. This is just another example and reason as to why we need to consolidate all of the transit organizations, eliminate millions in jobs that are duplicated over all the agencies and create one big agency for Puget Sound transportation. We simply can no longer continue to fall so far behind.
Posted by JoeGDWNTWN on July 28, 2011 at 3:42 PM · Report this
1
HULK SAY TUNNELS BAD! HULK SMASH TUNNEL!
Posted by clint on July 28, 2011 at 2:59 PM · Report this

Add a comment

Advertisement

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy