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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Future of Sound Transit

posted by on January 31 at 17:06 PM

Sound Transit met this afternoon to discuss what to put on a future ballot—and when they should take a new transit package to the ballot.

Currently, all three of the county executives on Sound Transit’s 18-member board want to wait to go to the ballot until 2010; most of the King County delegation, including Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, want to move forward with a ballot measure this year. Any ballot measure would involve an increase in sales tax, Sound Transit’s funding source; the most likely scenarios would increase sales taxes either three or four tenths of a percent. A 0.4 percent increase would yield an estimated $5.7 billion for new transit. That’s enough to get light rail across I-90 and up to Microsoft and to around Des Moines in the south. Reduce that to 0.3 percent and you get only to Northgate and Bellevue.

The biggest difference between the “Roads and Transit” proposal voters rejected in November and the “menu of options” they discussed today is that the new proposal relies heavily on “bus rapid transit” everywhere north of Northgate and south of Des Moines. (A segment from south of Tacoma up to Fife that would still leave a gap in light-rail service between Fife and Des Moines is listed on documents as a “potential new ST2 investment.”) The ST2 plan on the ballot last year had those areas served by light rail. None of the “BRT” lines would be truly rapid transit, however, because they’d have to operate in HOV lanes along with all the other HOV traffic.

That caused consternation among several board members. “Unless in the south corridor we’re going to be able, with dead certainty to promise, increased service on Sounder [commuter rail], I think people in Pierce County are going to see a broken corridor,” said Tacoma board member Julie Anderson. “It’s very difficult for me to make additional investments in BRT, which is not, in my view, a long-term, reliable, or sustainable mode of transportation.” King County Council member Julia Patterson noted in a similar vein that “we have to make sure we aren’t investing in BRT that ‘s just going to be stuck in traffic.” And Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, whose county arguably gets the worst end of the latest Sound Transit proposals, demanded not only more Sounder service and more parking but a bigger package overall. “I don’t agree that we should take a meat ax to this thing [the transit part of Roads and Transit], because I don’t think that’s what we heard from the voters. They didn’t say this is a terrible thing—you ought to cut it down by two-thirds,” Ladenburg said.

The board instructed staff to come back with “two or three scenarios” that would expand Sound Transit using rail and/or BRT; there are no current plans to add more service to Sounder commuter rail from Tacoma to Everett.

UPDATE: Josh just pointed out that this was a pretty depressing post. Lest it all seem like dark clouds, I should point out two very positive things about the current thinking at ST: 1)It would cost a lot less (and thus be more palatable to voters) than the original plan on the ballot last November; and 2) The tax would only go through 2020, so the whole plan would be finished within 12 years.

RSS icon Comments


Erica, Josh, Sierra Club - is it too early to say I told you so?

Posted by Jon | January 31, 2008 5:17 PM

But wait... I thought that if I voted NO in November, I'd get to vote on a Transit only initiative in February of '08.. Was I mislead?

Posted by Clint | January 31, 2008 5:48 PM

congratulations, SECB, you helped kill rapid transit in puget sound

at least you can all drive your cars up to the mountains so you can go skiing or whatever else passes for news these days...

Posted by kinkos | January 31, 2008 5:58 PM

Looks like I'm going to have to call out the cavalry on Ron Sims again.

Don't make me go there, Ron ...

(not that Pierce County's just miffed we're killing the SeaTac to Tacoma section that made no sense at this time)

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 31, 2008 6:15 PM

There may be disadvantages to BRT but it is rapid transit as much as light rail.

I bet the Metro 194 beats light rail from Seatac to SoDo by a few minutes

Posted by Johnny Rigor | January 31, 2008 6:26 PM

Will--can you just drop the Tacoma light rail meme? We need to focus on winning in 2008 rather than arguing about the past. But do call out the calvary on Ron...just don't expect your Sierra Club folks to help--they seem married at the hip.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | January 31, 2008 6:27 PM

How does BRT in Pierce/Snohomish counties come even close to costing a 0.3% sales tax for those areas? Would that come close to passing in Pierce? (I don't know.)

ECB, I'd support a smaller package (because it makes sense to focus on Northgate and Bellevue right now, and Bellevue -> Overlake 'BRT' will be up by this time) but I have to ask why Josh gloated just a few weeks ago about ST2 coming back?

Why did this blog try to rub it in the faces of people who were saying we might miss an opportunity? And why are you blogging as if the decision of what projects ST should move on is out of your (our) hands, when maybe we should participate earlier this time?

Let's not wait for the ST gods to hand down a decision. Let's talk about which proposals from ST are good or bad.

IMO, neither side should gloat about getting this vote back. The ST board members are all elected, they are all accountable to us, and if they all realize that transit is a common priority then we can get what I want. I feel like by gloating we get complacent.

Posted by bellevue & belmont | January 31, 2008 6:36 PM

ECB could you flesh out those numbers.

The tax would only last 12 years. Could you tell us how much per year would be collected per subarea?

Could you explain how the line will get to Northgate by 2020 if they won't get to 45th until 2018 at the earliest.

Will there be an out that allows the tax to go on for however long it takes to pay for whatever they promise. I don't believe they can cut off taxing authority if they plan to issue bonds.

I really doubt that the Northgate and Bellevue segments can be built or paid for by 2020.

Posted by whatever | January 31, 2008 6:47 PM

oh, t.t., I p0wned you once, I can do it again.

Do I need to bring out the big guns this time? That was just me and my friends dabbling ... don't tempt us ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 31, 2008 6:52 PM

9) Was that supposed to be funny? Because it was absolutely fucking hilarious.

Posted by Andrew | January 31, 2008 7:09 PM

is this plan really just going to be financed for just 12 years?
Fuck, that's pay as you go, no borrowing needed.

Even I couldn't do that.

Posted by Robt. Moses | January 31, 2008 7:54 PM

And kids -- stop all the bickering dissing and gloating and blaming, at least till we get some basic facts on the table.

Posted by Robt. Moses | January 31, 2008 7:56 PM

No Bob not that you couldn't have but your whole strategy was not to pay off bonds because that would have ended your agency. Remember?

Posted by whatever | January 31, 2008 8:01 PM

I think BRT is a waste of money. Everything I've seen is for it to be a stop gap measure of sorts until true ROW rail is installed to a particular area. I say let buses be buses- there's a funding mechanism for that now and let voters decide if they want more of that. Separate bus from train/rail. I've seen no proposals for that so far.

And yeah, if I lived in Pierce County I'd be pissed off as well. They should have rapid transit between the cities. Not dinky existing HOV BS.

BTW- @5: I completely disagree with you. BRT is not rapid transit. It potentially could be, if it had separate ROW. But in reality most of what has been put forth (including the dreaded W Seattle BRT proposals which I think are a piece of crap) has broken bits. Every broken bit = not rapid. More buses on the same streets/HOV lanes as cars with a million more people coming in will result in bus heavy traffic jams. At least I won't be sitting in it with my 4 minute commute to the office.

Posted by Dave Coffman | January 31, 2008 8:36 PM

The $5.7 billion would be the .5% rate according to ST not .4 as in the slog. There would only be $1.5 billion from North King County which doesn't seem enough to get to Northgate.

Posted by whatever | January 31, 2008 8:39 PM

Hell, just tell Bill, if he wants the pretty choo-choo to go to Microsoftland he can have it - for the paltry sum of $1.5B. That'll only lower the level in his swimming pool full of cash about a quarter inch or so.

Posted by COMTE | January 31, 2008 8:39 PM

I threw up the actually maps of the plans on Seattle Transit blog.

Check em out!

Posted by Andrew | January 31, 2008 10:00 PM

Bill's a smart guy -- don't think he would bite. Reason: why not see if taxpayers in Edmonds, Burien, and Crown Hill foot the bill?

Tax the poor, serve the rich. It's a formula that's worked for the Repulicos for years. Why not try it here?

Posted by Paul | January 31, 2008 10:04 PM

"The biggest difference between the “Roads and Transit” proposal voters rejected in November and the “menu of options” they discussed today is that the new proposal relies heavily on “bus rapid transit” everywhere north of Northgate and south of Des Moines."

Hm. I wonder when the study which proves half-full 70,000 lb diesel buses stuck in traffic "make global warming worse" will come out?

You know, the Sierra Club sponored study that shows that on a per capita basis, solo drivers in a hybrid, subcompact or electric car would kill less polar bears....

Posted by Maurice | January 31, 2008 10:05 PM

Whatever, thanks for posting those graphix.

It looks like about half the Prop 1 plan, with light extended to Northgate, Bellevue & Overlake, and somewhere around Highline CC south of the airport; Connecting HOV Bus in the areas not served by rail; and more Sounder service in the Kent Valley. All done in 12 years? Not bad. Not as good as getting all the way to Tacoma, Lynnwood, and Redmond, but pretty doggone good.

Seems like a lot of folks hollered on this forum about a transit-only plan in 2008. Well, now it's time to make good on those commitments.

Posted by clarity | January 31, 2008 10:07 PM

I think this would make for a great vote this year. Let's get this light rail extended as far as we can with what we've got. By this time next year we will have a democrat in the oval office who will increase spending on mass transit, and we'll build the rest of what needs to get built then.

Posted by Cale | February 1, 2008 12:56 AM

There's no way that Snohomish or Pierce County votes for anything that doesn't get them rail and just gives them more buses to get stuck on I-5. This will lose at the polls.

Posted by Bax | February 1, 2008 6:06 AM

Why can't King County be allowed to go it alone? If Pierce and SnoCo can't raise enough money to do light rail, maybe they should wait.
And what about the legislature's bill to abolish Sound Transit?

Posted by WS Native | February 1, 2008 7:27 AM

I spoke to a conductor on the Sounder a few days ago who he told me that either this fall or next spring ST will be adding more trains going South in the morning and North in the evening. It isn't extremely helpful since the one train doing the opposite commute is mostly empty, but it's at least something...

Posted by iwanttobealion | February 1, 2008 8:07 AM

Any word on that $350,000 west corridor study?

Posted by Greg | February 1, 2008 9:00 AM

Will in Seattle @ 9--you and your friends at the Sierra Club are good at telling people to vote no on transit. But you are both silent so far on getting light rail passed in 2008. It is a far harder task to get folks to vote yes, and apparently you don't have the balls to do it.

Whatever @ 8, 13, 15--whatever...

You have been a ST hater for years and spent years trumpeting the incompetent SMP. Why should anyone listen to your negativity?

Posted by tiptoe tommy | February 1, 2008 9:52 AM

"and 2) The tax would only go through 2020, so the whole plan would be finished within 12 years."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! . . . just like before the 1996 vote, when that tax was only be ten years. You kids are so freaking gullible.

The Everett Herald suggests Sno. Co. wants to do a Sno. Co. only RTID for its roads. The legislature has about four bills now dealing with ST. How about we all learn from the past, and try to do something coordinated for once? I know, I know - Sound Transit wants to go its own way. Trust me on this one, that'd be a BAD idea.

Posted by Mr. Whipple's Corpse | February 1, 2008 9:53 AM

whatever wrote: "The tax would only last 12 years. Could you tell us how much per year would be collected per subarea?"

Troll you have no fucking idea what you are talking about. Why would you care how much tax would be collected out of the subareas? Try to explain why you think that is relevant - if ST2.1 is ANYTHING like ST2 there won't be any need to account for raising tax revenue OR spending tax revenue on a subarea by subarea basis.

Here's how we know you are a fucking troll: quote the terms from Sound Move bearing on subarea spending, and quote the terms from the ST2 proposal that would have amended them.

Let's see if you know your shit, "whatever." I'm with tiptoe on this one: "whatever" is a useless gasbag.

Posted by Mr. Whipple's Corpse | February 1, 2008 10:03 AM

Oh God. Don’t say the tax will only go 12 years. Last time they said the tax was only 10 years. That’s the Old Math Sound Transit used in the 1990’s.

I don’t care if the tax goes on 30 years. Don’t say it goes on for only 12—that sounds way too much like 1996, and is bound to set off BS detectors region-wide.

Posted by BB | February 1, 2008 10:20 AM

Dear Mr. Whipple's Corpse @28: please re-install your sarcasm detection software, and restart your computer. Given your response to whatever @8, it appears to be malfunctioning.

Posted by Tech Support | February 1, 2008 10:30 AM

Big deal, I say, go for it.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | February 1, 2008 10:31 AM

@10 - you should always assume stuff I write is a bit tongue in cheek, but as the RTID people know, I'm deadly serious about certain things. And I deliver.

It's all about tipping points. Some things only need a few people to change the balance by 10 percent - which is way more than the usual win conditions for ballot issues.

For example, a recall petition is a useful ace in the hole, and I'm actually able to file them (unlike most voters).

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 1, 2008 12:08 PM

@7 - subnote on BRT - it actually makes sense to change the monies for SeaTac-Tacoma light rail (low ridership per millions spent) into BRT in the Pierce County region, due to the nature of the segment location. You need to think of the density levels of the areas involved and the available infrastructure. Some BRT can just be loading platforms near highways, for example.

This does not preclude, when the light rail/streetcar/monorail networks in the two areas are bigger, replacing or adding to the BRT with a light rail segment. You just defer it until you can get the ridership and the numbers make better sense.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 1, 2008 12:12 PM

@32: First, a recall petition will be dismissed by a judge if it is based simply on an officeholder making a decision you don't like. Under state law, you need to include a charge that constitutes a criminal act or a violation of the oath of office.

Second, nobody's scared of you, Will. Least of all Ron Sims.

Posted by J.R. | February 1, 2008 1:05 PM

I like this plan a lot, but like others I worry that Pierce County and Snohomish County will vote no if all they get is faux-BRT. Make the BRT in those areas on its own right-of-way, as a prelude for later light rail, and this would be a much better plan. That would cost a lot though.

I love that it's got a shortened construction schedule, though. That's great. It would be better if they could squeeze it into ten years, because that's a much easier sell to voters. People can see themselves using something a decade down the line, but it gets harder to sell really quick after that ten-year window.

Posted by Cascadian | February 1, 2008 1:50 PM

My my Tippy,

I linked to the ST pdf where you can see what the revenues forecast by ST are.

ECB states that at .3% we only get to NG and Bellevue. The .3% revenue "only" raises $900 in nominal dollars for each of the subareas. There is no way that UW Stadium to NG will cost less than $2 billion in FOE expeditures.

And Tippy why don't you refute something instead of using Ad Hominem attacks. Do you think that rail can be built to NG and Bellevue by 2020 with a grand total revenue of $3.5 billion for the entire RTA and $1.8 billion in East and North King County? If so lay out your argument. Stop with the W/Rovian attacks that contain no substance.

Wipple - if subarea is dead why would the state eliminate it in the new agency legislation? It is highly doubtful that ST2.1 would pass specifically building for Seattle/Bellevue using the entire RTA funds. Please give a link that shows that ST intends to do so or that it was eliminated in Prop 1. And BTW if you go to the linked ST page you will see that they list the subarea revenue. Why did they bother?

Posted by whatever | February 1, 2008 1:51 PM

Will, for the love of anything, please stay the fuck as far away from anything transit related as possible. Haven't you done enough damage already?

God, you are such a fuck.

Posted by Donolectic | February 1, 2008 3:09 PM

Let King County pay for their own mass transit.
The rest of the state has better things to do with their tax dollars.

Posted by Ricki | February 1, 2008 10:10 PM

Let King County pay for their own mass transit.
The rest of the state has better things to do with their tax dollars.

Posted by Ricki | February 1, 2008 10:11 PM

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