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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sound Transit Update

posted by on July 10 at 11:37 AM

As I reported in this week’s In the Hall, the latest iteration of Sound Transit’s light-rail plan—tailored to appease Snohomish and Pierce County board members who felt the previous plan didn’t do enough for their counties—is a 15-year plan that would extend light rail to Lynnwood, Federal Way and Bellevue—farther north and south than the previous 12-year, $6 billion plan.

Yesterday, Sound Transit sent me a more detailed version of the proposal. It would:

Cost $10.4 billion in 2007 dollars.

Get light rail to Northgate by 2020, with expansion to Lynnwood by 2023.

Extend light rail through Bellevue to the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond by 2021.

Extend light rail south to Highline Community College by 2020, with an extension to South 272nd Street (the border of Federal Way) by 2023.

Expand express bus service.

Expand Sounder commuter rail to 8-car trains and more trips between Lakewood and Seattle.

Twelve members of the 18-member Sound Transit board will have to vote for the plan in order for it to pass. Currently, the likely “No” votes include King County Executive Ron Sims and Everett City Council member Paul Roberts. Those who are reportedly on the fence include King County Council chair Julia Patterson, Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, for whom the most significant changes in the new package were made. Sound Transit staff will present the new plan at the July 17 meeting of the agency’s finance committee, and the full board will vote July 24.

Meanwhile, even before the board signs off on the proposal, light rail opponents on the Eastside have already launched a preemptive strike. The Eastside Transportation Association, funded in part by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, is running radio ads saying Sound Transit’s money should be spent on buses and roads.

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Why are they pricing it in 2007 dollars?

I'm sure the thing would only cost a million or two in 1838 dollars--what a bargain!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 10, 2008 11:51 AM

Sooner or later the groups like ETA are going to realize that their positions are untenable; commuters aren't going to sit in 2-hour traffic jams between Bothell and Lynnwood when they're burning $16 worth of gas to do it.

Posted by Banna | July 10, 2008 12:03 PM

Just approve it already! Only extending to Lynnwood by 2023?!?! Jumping jesus, barring complete collapse of our economy, most of the growth will have extended to freaking Stanwood and Mt Vernon by then! Like Banna said, people are sick of traffic jams NOW.

Posted by laterite | July 10, 2008 12:12 PM

I still say Seattle needs to just find a way to pay for this ourselves and keep it in Seattle. The fact is that the suburbanites are basically correct: mass transit does very little for them, so spending their tax dollars on it doesn't seem fair. Of course the inverse is also true: spending Seattle's tax dollars on their ridiculous bloated car infrastructure is also patently unfair.

I'm sick of being held hostage by people who have been investing in car infrastructure for 30 years, the whole time knowing full well that the energy sources that make personal transportation possible are finite and diminishing. They can have more roads and van pools when they show me a phased plan for increasing density, limiting sprawl and reducing per capita resource consumption. But as long as they're lobbying to clear more land in the watershed, they can build their own fucking eight-lane surface streets and pointless cul-de-sacs.

Posted by Judah | July 10, 2008 12:15 PM

@1: Because government agencies usually price capital projects in current dollars. It's $13.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars.

Posted by ECB | July 10, 2008 12:23 PM

@1: Because government agencies usually price capital projects in current dollars. It's $13.5 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars.

Posted by ECB | July 10, 2008 12:24 PM

Seattle voters won't approve massive additional sales taxes to make Reardon and Ladenburg happy. This new plan doesn't do shit for Seattle voters. Take ST out back and shoot it. And I like trains . . .

Posted by slurplick | July 10, 2008 12:32 PM

This would be all new sales taxes, right? Probably a .5% sales tax increase, on top of the 9.1% sales tax we already pay (about the highest in the country). So, when would these new sales end (or are these the famous "neverending taxes" that the politicians around here like so much)?

Posted by Ollie | July 10, 2008 12:47 PM

Kemper Freeman can go suck wind.

And we in Seattle have had it up to here with excuses and calls for more "process".

Unlike you at the Stranger, most voters are paying $4 to $5 a gallon for gas and are going broke doing so - they need transit and they need it NOW!

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2008 12:50 PM

@4 As a suburbanite, let me add this:
Just build the fucking thing already! Double the capacity of the major Park-and-Ride lots (ala Issaquah, Eastgate, and Mercer Island) while you're at it. More Transit!

Posted by Mike of Renton | July 10, 2008 12:53 PM


Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2008 12:54 PM

Yes! Yes! For the love of Christ yes!

Posted by karst | July 10, 2008 12:56 PM

@7: Seattle is already getting the light rail first. Not sure what more you want there. Sound Transit is a regional organization, therefore its obligation is to serve the entire Puget Sound region. This needs to get moving NOW NOW NOW!

Posted by laterite | July 10, 2008 1:06 PM

Glad to see that expanding commuter rail between Lakewood and Seattle is on the list, considering that Sound Transit just finished building a gigantic commuter rail / bus station in Lakewood.

Posted by Hernandez | July 10, 2008 1:25 PM

"Seattle is already getting the light rail first." And we're paying a fuckload for it. So we should now agree to pay for decades for some businesses in Fife and Everett to get the benefits of insanely expensive rail too? I think NOT.

And Erica - don't be so gullible. All that message to you from the spinmeisters at ST is can be described as campaign fluff. Wait until the real ballot measure terms are released: there won't be any enforceable obligations on the part of ST to provide anything to any of those locations by those dates.

Look kiddies - proponents of ballot measures are free to lie. It is called free speech. Anything the supporters of this new ST measure say it will do should be assumed to be a lie. Too many businesses would make too much money off the taxes for them NOT to lie about what kind of trains and buses and service would be delivered. They have absolutely no incentive to tell the truth.

I see the peanut gallery above wants to vote yes immediately, without reading the measure that would go on the ballot. Typical mindless reaction - hey, everyone loves transit, right?

There are better ways to pay for light rail. If Obama is president, there'll be fed money available (for example), especially with a "D" controlled Congress.

Notice how Nickels is selling out Seattle - that's the guy's MO: he's a sellout.

And really, what has ST done to earn our trust. Let's make sure it can actually get service up and running from downtown to the airport first. The opportunity cost of waiting for that to happen before agreeing to 50 more years of high sales taxes for the region is negligible. And that goes double for how we can expect more fed assistance under Obama. Why be suckers and agree to a an all sales-tax financing scheme when we could get light rail paid for like every other metro area in the US - with mostly fed money?

Posted by knarr | July 10, 2008 1:38 PM


We should build what we can now. There are plenty more places we need to go with federal assistance.

You're obviously jaded, but Sound Transit is not the same agency it was when light rail to Northgate was first approved.

Posted by CP | July 10, 2008 1:54 PM

I moved from Seattle to Boston, so that I could live without a car. It's been fantastic--the subway here sucks ass, but they HAVE A SUBWAY, which makes it way better than Seattle! Not to mention easy commuter rail that goes from Maine down to RI and CN, and $15 buses to NYC.

I voted with my feet. Fucking Seattle should have built this commuter rail 35 years ago.

Posted by Erik | July 10, 2008 1:58 PM


Seattle isn't paying for anything in Fife or Everett. The principle of sub-area equity ensures that tax dollars collected in Seattle and Shoreline are spent in Seattle and Shoreline. The same goes for SnoCo, Pierce, East King, and South King.

Posted by Martin H. Duke | July 10, 2008 1:59 PM

Tack on $2 or $4 or $6 billion or whatever it takes so it can be built in half the time!

For fuck's sake. Jesus fucking christ! 2020? I'm going to be fucking forty years old! It's already got me swearing like my 88 year old grandfather!

Posted by wtf?! | July 10, 2008 2:01 PM

@15: Seattle isn't paying any more than anyone else in the ST district. We all pay the same amount of sales tax to it. The only difference is that Seattle is actually getting a benefit currently, whereas many places (for instance, Shoreline) have no access to Sound Transit service. This new plan would change that, which is one of many reasons I will certainly vote for it if it's on the ballot this year.

@7: Extending light rail to the north, south, and east would actually do quite a bit for Seattle voters. It eliminates the need for a great deal of expensive commuter and express service that Metro operates, and they can then redeploy those hours to other places where a need exists (eg West Seattle/Ballard Rapid Ride).

Posted by sahctu | July 10, 2008 2:11 PM


Stop whining.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2008 2:17 PM

I just held my Countywide Community Forum the other night, and when I was calling people to confirm, one person asked about the video: "Do they have Kemper Freeman? We go with what he says".


I really, seriously, unequivocally, would put decent money on it, doubt that Kemper Freeman takes the bus. Any more than is necessary to be able to say that he has.

In fact, I don't think hardly anyone in Bellevue takes the bus.

Posted by K | July 10, 2008 2:17 PM

I'll vote a happy yes, but Federal Way and Lynnwood will be ghost towns in 2023. By then, nobody will be able to stomach the $120/gallon gas or the shame of still living in the suburbs.

Posted by suburban archipelago | July 10, 2008 2:19 PM

Then don't include Bellevue.

It's not like they matter.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2008 2:22 PM

Add my voice to the chorus of JUST DO IT.

I'd like more faster, but I'll take what I can get. (Insert jokes here).

Posted by Cascadian | July 10, 2008 2:25 PM

Parts of Federal Way are served by the SeaTac lightrail line to Seattle, but you'd know that if you'd ever driven or bussed thru there, @23.

If they have light rail they won't be ghost towns.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2008 2:26 PM

But what about bike paths and bike lanes!?!?....

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | July 10, 2008 2:29 PM

Oh, and for Seattleites who are whining that this doesn't get them anything, what else would you have it do? This completes the entire Seattle/North King central line from county border to county border, and completes the necessary eastward expansion across the lake. All that's left are in-city routes that are lower priority in a regional system.

The great thing about sub-area equity for Seattleites comes with ST3. Every dollar spent to expand the system in Pierce, Snohomish, and East King County will have to be matched by dollars spent in the city. Sure, it sucks that we have to wait until 2020 for all of ST2, but on the other hand do you really think ST3 won't be voted on until then? Most likely, if ST2 passes in November, ST3 will come in the 2012 timeframe with another 12-15 year package.

Also, that's plenty of time for the city to raise the funds to expand the system on its own dime if ST3 isn't forthcoming or doesn't do enough quickly enough.

Posted by Cascadian | July 10, 2008 2:32 PM

What keeps ST from starting up light rail projects that originate in Tacoma & Everett? Then over time they meet up with the Seattle-based expansion? I'm genuinely curious here. The idea of the project taking 15 years just to reach Lynnwood strikes me as hugely inefficient.

Posted by laterite | July 10, 2008 2:33 PM

@19: Down the road, ST has the option of putting up an "acceleration vote" which would raise taxes in order to get it done faster. This could maybe come as part of an eventual ST3 proposal.

The problem is that this much money is a big commitment already, so it's better to get things going and speed them up later if/when more people come around.

Posted by Ben W. | July 10, 2008 2:43 PM

@29: Because such an approach wouldn't be any cheaper, and would have a fraction of the ridership while it's being built. You start with the densest area because that's both where most people leave from and go to.

As for the timeline, infrastructure takes time to build, and AFAIK ST is restricted in how it can fund these projects. If they could take out a big bond and have a stack of cash at the start to pay for construction, they'd be able to build a lot faster than they can when financing directly from the sales tax.

Posted by Ben W. | July 10, 2008 2:52 PM

@29: Tacoma and Everett are keeping lines from originating there. Everett's mayor can't even decide if he wants a streetcar and Tacoma is busy deciding if it wants to take over Tacoma Link and build out a system within their own city.

Posted by AJ | July 10, 2008 2:53 PM

@22 says: "In fact, I don't think hardly anyone in Bellevue takes the bus."

Go to the Eastgate Park and Ride some morning. Or Overlake. Or South Kirkland. Thousands of people ride buses. They come to Seattle, they go to Bellevue Community College, they go to Microsoft.

Light rail ridership to and from the suburbs would be huge, and a lot of bang for the buck.

Posted by bigyaz | July 10, 2008 3:00 PM

@29, I think it's a matter of getting the most ridership possible for each chunk of money. Far more people are commuting south from Lynnwood to Seattle and back than are commuting between Everett and Lynnwood, even on a cost per passenger basis. A line within Everett only makes sense if it's part of a network that reaches Seattle.

I do think Tacoma should get an expanded system along 6th Avenue, and it would attract a lot of ridership. The problem is that support for Sound Transit is weaker in Federal Way so political viability requires helping those voters first. 6th Avenue light rail in Tacoma has to be the first priority of ST3.

Posted by Cascadian | July 10, 2008 3:04 PM

I don't know. Why do Kemper Freeman, Doug MacDonald, and all keep up the charade that somehow bus transit is a viable alternative to light rail? I mean, are they really fooling anybody?

Doug, why not just come out and say what you really believe?

  1. You're against raising taxes substantially to fund better transit service that will make people want to get out of their cars.
  2. You don't believe in giving people a reason to get out of their cars because, well, you believe cars are and always will be better.
  3. You're perfectly happy with the auto-dependent, spread-out development patterns we have now.

For their own sake, I think the perennial light rail foes could do better than disingenuously arguing for a lame alternative they themselves don't really believe in.

Posted by cressona | July 10, 2008 3:13 PM

Makes sense, I suppose I'm just shocked at the lengthy timeline for the overall endeavor.

Posted by laterite | July 10, 2008 3:13 PM

It would also increase sprawl, @33.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 10, 2008 3:13 PM

An expanded light-rail or bus system without expanded park-and-ride lots is useless.

A system without ACCESS TO IT is not a solution.

Posted by bud | July 10, 2008 3:19 PM

Light rail to Bellevue will not increase sprawl. No one is going to move out to Duvall or Carnation or North Bend because of a light rail line that stops at Overlake. For that line to produce sprawl, it would have to be accessible to areas on the exurban edge. The sprawl already goes well east of where the Eastside line will stop. Even if it went all the way to downtown Redmond it wouldn't produce appreciable sprawl.

What light rail to the Eastside will do is transform existing sprawl into density.

Posted by Cascadian | July 10, 2008 3:20 PM

@36- This just in..... There already IS sprawl. There are thousands of voters in outlying areas wanting access to the system, without any viable option.

The housing crash will ensure the end of future sprawl, not narrow-minded transit policies.

Posted by bud | July 10, 2008 3:23 PM

I don't know about that, Will. Lynnwood and Federal Way have been established communities for, what, 85-90 years? So the rail is just coming to fill in a critical transit gap that's existed for decades. Anyone thinking they will be "ghost towns" in 15 years is delusional. By that time, the sprawl will have reached Mt Vernon, Stanwood, Enumclaw, Shelton, and North Bend.

Posted by laterite | July 10, 2008 3:23 PM

Build it, fer cryin' out loud! I just got back from a weekend in San Francisco, and whisked around town between Oakland and SF on the BART, and rode the MUNI rail system as well as buses. SOOOOOO easy, and I was able to get to the places I needed to go efficiently. I was jealous.

Posted by coffeeboss | July 10, 2008 4:10 PM

Will, Bellevue (though I heap scorn and ridicule on it at every opportunity) is actually being smart and proactive about transit. The city made a big push for the Bellevue -> Overlake / Microsoft part of ST2, and did a lot of work coming up with plans for preferred corridors for transit. Give them some credit.

Posted by Greg | July 10, 2008 5:15 PM

What cascadian @39 said.

Also, what everyone who said "do it" said.

Posted by Steve | July 10, 2008 5:17 PM

No one, not even ST, claims any reduction in congestion. The best treatment will be highly efficient individual vehicles, most likely electric.

ST should go for the absolute maximum nothing less will make any impact. At least if they get the max they can come back in year for another 1% sales tax cause we will need to add that a year to make an impact.

BTW year of expenditure will be $13.5 and last years dollar cost was $10.4 - don't think so, it will be way more - and the reason they use last years dollar value is to sell a low price - nappy is right why not use 1950 dollars it would be way cheap.

Posted by brilliant | July 10, 2008 6:09 PM

"It would also increase sprawl,"

Pick the most ignorant possible thing anybody could ever say...and Will Affleck-Ashe will get there first.

Of course, when Will was promoting his massively expanded elevated Viaduct across Seattle's Waterfront, that was the "green, progressive, anti-sprawl thing to do."

WillinSeattle is a very small man. It's easy to spot these people: they think the entire world revolves around them.

In many ways, Will has a lot in common with today's vicious brand of self-centered conservatives.

Posted by Ronnie | July 10, 2008 6:52 PM

First, I'd like to thank ECB for a very unshrill post. One that I could read!

Will In Seattle@37, sprawl isn't such a bad thing if there is a way to get around. Especially here in Seattle, where we don't have rent control yet.

With rent increasing city wide, we're left with having to bus in the marginal employees who earn less than average. Yay with pushing everybody into the ghettos. But, that's what happens when the people from the 'burbs, begrudgingly, move into the city to reduce costs such as transportation.

What will soon happen is that rent in inner neighborhoods where there is lots of commerce and business will skyrocket as the outlying areas will plummet, and the suburbs will become the new ghettos.

If sprawl doesn't occur, and people keep pushing out precious snowflakes more quickly than pit bulls can kill them, we'll experience a dichotomy which will not be beneficial to anybody but executives.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | July 10, 2008 10:11 PM

Everyone was so distracted by the pinata Will offered up with his inane "rail causes sprawl" comment, that they ignored the far more misleading stunning load of bullshit that Knarr offers in #15.

Knarr message #1--Seattle is getting screwed.

Um, sorry pal, for better of for worse ST has subarea equity. That means what Seattle puts in, we get out. And this plan gives us one of the best prospective lines in the country north to Northgate, Shoreline, and as far as Lynnwood. The rest of the package benefits Seattle as well. The reverse commute to the Eastside is almost equal to the people coming into Seattle. Seattle people will get to Eastside jobs and bus connections far easier. And all extensions will take cars off our streets.

Knarr propaganda #2--ST is a rogue agency. These people are crazy.

Never mind that the board is made up of your city councilmember, your county councilmember, your mayor, your county executive--every area of local government. And never mind that ST is the most audited agency in the region since their troubles. Facts are that for the last six years or so ST has delivered almost all projects on or under budget--not a easy task with volatile construction costs.

Knarr argument #3--Santa Obama is coming, we don't need to pay for rail--he will pay it for us.

I think that is a huge assumption that Obama will massively increase funding for transit. But even if he did, most people in this region would say use the additional federal money to go even further, and build even faster. And Knarr simply lies, rail systems haven't been built with mostly federal money since Reagan was in office 25 years ago.

And nutty Knarr nugget #4--Lets wait until the rail line opens before we commit to more.

This one is my favorite from opponents. You see, light rail has never been tried anywhere before. And those rail cars being tested on the line right now are merely an illusion.

Knarr's post and Will's typical inanity are just a preview of the type of misleading tripe we will hear if ST makes it to the ballot this year. The choice is pretty clear. Almost two million people are projected to come to the region in the next twenty years. We are already late the party. We need to start now building a system that will give people reliable transit and create dozens of new vibrant, walkable, and compact neighborhoods around station areas. Will's goofy idea about rail causing sprawl ignores the fact we have a state Growth Management Act. We have an urban growth boundary which says where we will accept growth. There are already 120,000 people in Bellevue, 90,000 in Federal Way, 80,000 in Kent and also in Renton, 300,000 around Tacoma, and on and on.

We couldn't build the roads to handle all of these people and their cars without paving the region and building massive parking structures everywhere. Our only choice is transit. Buses are a workhorse of transit and always will be. But rail is what begins to alter the land use choices that will help keep this region so liveable.

To paraphrase Dan Savage, Build The Mother Fucker Already--BTMFA!

Posted by i prefer a reality based commute | July 11, 2008 12:59 AM

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