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Friday, June 15, 2007

More Sprawling Contradictions…

posted by on June 15 at 13:37 PM

And here’s another ass backwards thing about the $17 billion light rails/roads package: the $972 million we’re spending on 520. In order to raise the necessary dough so that RTID won’t be seen as raising taxes for nothing (it’s more like a $3.9 billion to $4.4 billion project) the RTID folks talk about tolling—$1.2 billion in tolling, to be exact.

But wait, in order to hit get to $1.2 billion they upped the traffic numbers on 520 by 28% from their initial tolling and revenue projections over the same time period.

Huh? Isn’t this road expansion all about easing congestion? Upping traffic by 28% sounds to me like they want it both ways. Are they adding capacity to ease congestion or cater to more cars? And isn’t tolling supposed to decrease the number of drivers?

This revelation from RTID makes it clear what this package is all about.

From the PI:

[RITD] initially assumed it would raise $700 million from tolls over a 30-year bond repayment period. Staffers now think the amount could be at least that much but as high as $1.2 billion based on predictions that evening peak traffic on the bridge will be 28 percent greater than previously thought.

Oh, and ECB asked RTID what the 28% increase was based on and RTID did not provide any justification for the assumption.

RSS icon Comments


Wait a minute. Isn't the net effect of tolling a reduction in traffic numbers? Isn't that one of the reasons why tolling is brought up as a solution to congestions?

Posted by Gitai | June 15, 2007 1:48 PM

no, tolling is a user fee to help offset the cost.

They are just being realistic. This area is still growing. The traffic volumes are going to increase.

Posted by duncan | June 15, 2007 2:05 PM

Maybe the reason why the Monorail financing plan was such a spectacular failure is because they didn't have the requisite fabulousity in cooking the books that these RTID people display.

Or maybe they just weren't scrutinized adequately. At least by The Stranger. Where I get all my public project finance news.

Posted by JW | June 15, 2007 2:05 PM

You might wonder, have the likes of Josh Feit and Erica Barnett come down against this November's single ballot measure because they've made the tough, shrewd calculation that, if this measure dies, the state legislature likely will come back with something better?

No, and to even consider such a possibility is to misunderstand the way the puritanical mind thinks…

  • Right to lifers won't even tolerate abortion in the case of rape or incest.
  • Nativists won't support any immigration compromise, no matter how harsh if it toward illegal immigrants, so long as it stops short of kicking the millions of them all out.
  • Hamas won't accept Israel's right to exist.
  • Ralph Nader voters would rather see Bush than pull the lever for Gore.

Any dispassionate person would look at these positions and say that there is no chance in hell that any of these groups will get what they are holding out for. Any student of history can point to countless examples of where hard-liners ended up only undermining their own cause.

And yet none of these arguments matter to the fundamentalist. The fundamentalist is simply constitutionally incapable of compromising. To try to compromise with a fundamentalist is a bit like an antelope trying to negotiate with a lion. The only two choices in the face of fundamentalism are (A) to surrender or (B) to vanquish them.

Transportation fundamentalists like Josh and Erica are no different, and those of us who actually want to do something about sprawl and climate change have to understand that these people are ultimately just as destructive as the Tim Eyamns and Kemper Freemans.

Posted by cressona | June 15, 2007 2:08 PM

Josh, you're not this dumb, are you?

The 28% increase accounts for NEW RESIDENTS who move to the region. Yes, people move here.

I know you and the paper are desperate to pump out propoganda against this plan, but c'mon. Make an effort to think some of this shit through before you post it.

Posted by Gomez | June 15, 2007 2:09 PM

JW: Maybe the reason why the Monorail financing plan was such a spectacular failure is because they didn't have the requisite fabulousity in cooking the books that these RTID people display.

What's so ironic is that the monorail opponents used the same patent sophistry that Josh is using now. It went like, "So you're going to pay for monorail with car tabs. But if people use the monorail, then they won't drive cars. So how are you going to pay for the monorail?"

Funny that Josh here has sunk to Henry Aronson-ian depths of intellectual honesty.

Posted by cressona | June 15, 2007 2:14 PM

This is the same idiotic plan monorail had. They plan on paying for projects using a car tab tax that will make cars more expensive to own. They are counting on growth in a tax base that their taxing scheme is designed to depress. In addition, the increased transit (from ST1 coming on line, more ST buses, and the greatly increased METRO service due to Transit Now) will provide additional incentives for people to own fewer cars, and use their present cars less (resulting in delays of purchasing new vehicles).

It is like they learned NOTHING from the SMP fiasco. An income stream from car tab taxes will not increase nearly as fast as it would need to to meet the income needs of the projects they are trying to finance with it.

THAT is why Sec. Mike Murphy has not, and most likely will not, back RTID as a source of income to finance State bonding for the SR 520 project. He's already said it is a non-starter; he won't change his mind just because of this 28% projected "increase."

Posted by it is a loser | June 15, 2007 2:21 PM

it is a loser:

Sound Transit's main project that would serve 520 commuters - East Link to Overlake - wouldn't extend to Overlake until 2027. The first 20 years of the RTID toll payoff for 520 won't be affected significantly by new transit.


Hear, hear. Pass the projects, let RTID figure out they don't have the money later on. They're subject to the same auditing procedures as everyone else, and if the $1.2 billion figure doesn't look like it'll pan out, they won't be able to issue bonds based on it.


Josh, Microsoft just committed to expanding by 1.3 million square feet in downtown Bellevue, and Vista is now the fastest selling MS operating system ever. Boeing is seeing massive orders on the 787 coming down the pipe. Have you seen the high density housing construction boom in Seattle and Bellevue? That exceeds projections. That 28% didn't come from nowhere, and even if it's completely made up, it has no impact on ST and actually providing mass transit - so isn't it really what you want?

Posted by Ben Schiendelman | June 15, 2007 3:09 PM

Josh and Erica are on Kemper Freeman's payroll to kill light rail.

Posted by art | June 15, 2007 3:13 PM

Erica and Josh's "reporting" on this issue is getting real stale if you ask me.

About half of what they write is wrong (RTID is not building 1500 new lanes miles, it is more like 186 (with HOV lanes too).) and the other half is cut and pasted from one of their 200 other posts on this issue.

They should do us all a favor and move on to covering other issues.

Some hipster in the office surely said something witty this afternoon that they could post on right.

Posted by fred | June 15, 2007 3:26 PM

ECB: Remember what you thought it would prove if the Cross-Base Highway was dropped?

Well, unfortunately, now we know - Al Gore most certainly did not win. John Ladenburg's developer friends won.

Posted by An Inconvenient Truth | June 15, 2007 3:30 PM

There is a reason why the Sierra Club has finally come down AGAINST the combined RTID/ST2 vote.

Josh and Erica are right.

The days of Seattle paying for 1500 new road miles are over, especially when they don't even fully fund the 520 bridge rebuild.

Global warming is NOW, kidlings. Not Tomorrow. Not Soon.


Posted by Will in Seattle | June 15, 2007 3:34 PM

Will can you point to any documentation that shows that RTID will build 1500 new lane miles?

Do you believe everything you read here?

Posted by ted | June 15, 2007 3:47 PM

Hey Will how many years before ST2 is GHG neutral?

How will speeding people out to Redmond stop sprawl? Won't people ride the train and then drive even farther?

Posted by whatever | June 15, 2007 3:56 PM

An all transit plan is a non-starter. So is an all roads plan. Compromise is what's needed here and what the plan has achieved. Sadly, Will, The Stranger and the Sierra Club are showing the same type of destructive attitude that they criticize the road lobby for.

Posted by DW | June 15, 2007 3:58 PM

"Maybe the reason why the Monorail financing plan was such a spectacular failure is because they didn't have the requisite fabulousity in cooking the books that these RTID people display."

To the contrary, JW. Both WSDOT and ST are forced to follow conservative models for finances, ridership, cost estimating, etc. because state law forced an ERP process on them, and because federal grants also demand more rigorous evaluation.

The monorail authority was famous for making just about everything up, because THEY COULD.

Posted by Maurice | June 15, 2007 4:37 PM

That's cute: Will thinks killing the RTID package will save the planet from global warming.

Posted by Gomez | June 15, 2007 4:47 PM

"Hey Will how many years before ST2 is GHG neutral?"

whatever: electric light rail will be running off of Seattle City Light, has been - and will be - a carbon neutral energy source.

If you have a better idea, please share it with us. But given the track record of all the sour grapes axe-grinders here, I won't hold my breath for your response.

"This is the same idiotic plan monorail had. They plan on paying for projects using a car tab tax that will make cars more expensive to own. They are counting on growth in a tax base that their taxing scheme is designed to depress."

*it is a loser*: rather than spread simplistic urban myths, how's about you give us some proof for your theorum. For instance, before I-695, the tax on automobiles was high - then that tax was reduced significantly - then the monorail jacked it way back up again for a couple years - then it dropped significantly when the monorail evaporated.

Can you show us a commensurate change in vehicle ownership over this 7 year period to prove your theory is correct? Or, like most critics, are you just making this stuff up?

The average cost to own and operate a vehicle is $7,000 per year. The RTID tax will increase that figure by roughly $70 per year. Please explain to me how a 1/100th increase in vehicle ownership is going to stop people from buying cars.

"THAT is why Sec. Mike Murphy has not, and most likely will not, back RTID as a source of income to finance State bonding for the SR 520 project."

So, *it is a loser*, do you have any proof to back-up that last statement, either? Seems like you would have to work for him to know for sure...and by your earlier comments, it's fairly clear you're not a professional in any related field.

Posted by Maurice | June 15, 2007 4:51 PM

Number 3 - The Monorail's financing was shakey because it was a new public entity that had a poor bond rating. Meaning that to finance their project they would have had to purchase junk bonds.

Sound Transit 2 will be paid mostly in cash and the rest in high class bonds.

Posted by Junk Bonds | June 15, 2007 4:56 PM

"Will can you point to any documentation that shows that RTID will build 1500 new lane miles?"

ted: WillInSeattle always takes glee in repeating bad information. He's been doing it for years. I think Will hopes that if enough people will read and repeat his lies, his inability to formulate a viable argument will be justified.

*it is a loser* - State Treasurers pretending they are transportation planners is a BAD IDEA:

"Because the toll would likely be so high, people would take the I-90," said Murphy. "So now you don't have one problem, you've created two: a financing problem on 520 and a congestion problem on 90."

Sure, Mike Murphy is an independently elected official - but don't you think he would want to at least CHECK with somebody over at the DOT before shooting his mouth off???

Posted by Maurice | June 15, 2007 5:04 PM

maurice - ST2 will take 20 to 30 years to complete using up energy to build and will only carry 75,000 new transit riders and many of them will get off the train and drive to their rural mega mansions. This is not a GW reducing project.

Posted by whatever | June 15, 2007 5:41 PM

So, using your theory, we should never build anything ever again. Would you suggest office buildings made out of sticks, too?

Again, I ask: what is your solution or alternative, whatever.

Pretty simple request, no?

Posted by Maurice | June 15, 2007 5:49 PM

Thanks for holding down the fort, Maurice.

Good posts.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 15, 2007 6:10 PM

Is GW an issue? Is it urgent or do we have lots of time? Should we be acting to reduce GHG now as Will keeps saying?

If the answers are yes-no-yes then ST2 is not the answer.

As for buildings, we should be building density and not encouraging sprawl whether by car or train. We should spend precious public funds to reduce GHG now. In the building sector we could buy insulated windows for thousands (buildings contribute about half the GHG), tankless water heaters, etc.

We could encourage much higher gas mileage vehicles by waving sales tax, provide priority parking, actual subsidies, etc.

The recent advent of tolls to enter the downtowns of the best transit cities of the world indicate that congestion will be with us with or without a few more miles of ST.

Posted by whatever | June 15, 2007 6:37 PM

No, we don't have lots of time.

We did back in 1991.

But we used up that time by about 1997.

Too bad, you wanted that 13 mpg SUV, didn't you?

Well, now you had it, and now it's time to deal with the consequences.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 15, 2007 7:57 PM

Will, by all accounts we need to act on GHGs now not in 20, 30, or more years and your beloved ST2 will ADD GHG for at least 20 years and probably 40 or 50 which should make you consider whether spending $23 YOE (estimated by the same people that were under by at least 50% on ST1.1) is a good way to much less the best.

But GW really is just a cover to build mega transit projects whether they help with GHG or mobility - we must follow the transit/transportation planners thatb have done us such a service to date.

Posted by whatever | June 16, 2007 8:08 AM


We're only building rail in already-built areas. We're not going to unbuild those areas. Rail contributes to *infill*, not sprawl. The people driving to their rural mansions are only the users when the system is first built - economic pressures build high densities around the stations, and then by far the majority of your users are local to station areas.

I can't believe you're trying to sell the idea that rail drives sprawl. Have you read anything about urban planning or human settlement patterns? At all? People HATE to transfer, and that means park and rides, too - as transit becomes a viable main form of transportation (which it would really start to with ST2), many people forgo their cars entirely, as they do in EVERY city that has built rail, in a percentage that increases over the time the system is in place.

Posted by Ben Schiendelman | June 16, 2007 10:27 AM

Ben S - "many people forgo their cars entirely, as they do in EVERY city that has built rail"

Could you provide a link the data? Specifically could provide data for the recent poster cities of light rail (Portland, Denver, Minneapolis and Seattle )

Oh and look at the PnR money already in ST2 - the lots are full cause people hate transfers to another transit mode that they have to wait for not to their cars - Overlake hardly is a dense area and I doubt that high rise apartments will be popping up there this century. People will ride to the end of the line and drive to their dream house in the foothills -


Exhibit 4.4 Areas with Greatest Increase in Number of Workers Using Transit: 1990-2000

MSA 1990 2000 Change
Seattle 91,391 119,919 28,528
San Francisco 297,363 325,212 27,849
Boston 237,483 261,862 24,379
New York 2,297,445 2,320,155 22,710
Portland 41,023 63,126 22,103

Posted by whatever | June 16, 2007 1:05 PM


It is not a contradiction for the number of vehicles to increase.

First, under the un-priced conditons of today, too many vehicles attempt to use the limited-access highways at the same time and traffic is congested. Throughput goes down at speeds lower than about 45 mph. Secretary MacDonald shared a great illustration in about December with grains of rice and a funnel. The Seattle Times had a piece about it. WSDOT has graphics showing the throughput curve bending back on itself at high volumes and lower speeds.

Second, the new SR-520 is proposed to have six lanes instead of four lanes. If HOV and transit traffic shift to the new HOV lanes, capacity will be freed in the original four lanes for additional traffic.
Dynamic tolling, to the extent in improves throughput due to the first affect, may actually decrease diversion to parallel roadways.

The State Treasures is sharp and not a crank. We ought to toll all the limited access highways, not just SR-520. He was pointed out that the fiscal plan for SR-520 assembled jointly by the Legislature and RTID was incomplete. Now we have to examine its latest iteration. One problem is that the ultimate SR-520 project and its cost has not been determined.

The objective of tolling is not to reduce the total number of vehicles using a highway, but to better distribute them in time and mode. The toll should be high enough to induce enough drivers to shift to another mode or different time of day to reduce the number of vehicles attempting to use the highway at any one time to the maximum throughput at 45 mph.

The most congested arterials are those that feed freeway interchanges. We probably do not have to worry too much about parallel arterials under a systemwide dynamic tolling regime, as traffic is somewhat like water and will equilibrate to an even level. Drivers will trade off travel time (time is money) and toll cost.

The current practice with free freeways is bad for everyone: cars and transit are slow and unreliable and its produces no revenue and plenty of pollution and heartache.

Back to SR-520. Maybe it should have six lanes between Medina and the new Pacific interchange and only four lanes between the interchange and I-5. I-5 does not have capacity for more SR-520 traffic anyway and we probably do not want a big lid over Portage Bay. The governor should not be taling about four general-purpose lanes and two HOV lanes. All the lanes will be tolled.

Ben: ST has a current service that works pretty well in the SR-520 corridor, Route 545. It would be faster and more reliable under tolling. We should toll SR-520 as quickly as possible. Route 545 will probably be improved in February 2008 to run every 10 minutes during the two three-hour peak periods and every 15 minutes during the midday period.

Posted by eddiew | June 16, 2007 4:22 PM

I think Josh's point is that they RAISED the number to get to funding number they needed - their previous tolling revenue number should have had all the factors included like 6 lanes etc.

What is really interesting around here is the acceptance of the 520 expansion including a viaduct over the ship canal - I know 2 lanes will be HOV (until they're not) but clearly many more cars will come into an already packed city - where is the outrage?

Posted by whatever | June 16, 2007 6:03 PM

"Oh, and ECB asked RTID what the 28% increase was based on and RTID did not provide any justification for the assumption."

Have a problem with that? Just sue them. But you won't do that, will you?

Posted by Piney | June 17, 2007 1:45 PM

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