Its bad enough Sound Transit’s East Link program spends $6 billion on a transportation project that will gridlock I-90 bridge, devastate Bellevue and do nothing to reduce I-90 and 405 congestion. The real corker is East Link also makes it more difficult for Sound Transits Central Link light rail to be financially viable.
The “bus tunnel” underneath Seattle limits any light rail system to a single set of tracks in each direction. The station designs in the tunnel allow only 4 cars in each train. A typical London or Paris subway route provides 4-minute headways between trains. Sound Transit’s 2008 DEIS set East Link minimum intervals at 9 minutes rather than 8 presumably because of the need for the extra 30 seconds to merge with Central Link. Their 2011 version shortened that to 7 minutes but provided no explanation. It’s also worth noting their assumption that 200 riders can be accommodated on a 74- seat car “might” seem to require additional time.
Whatever the final headways, light rail capacity in Seattle is very limited. It’s vital to maximize the number of people who will have access to that capacity. East Link flunks that test! It takes up at least half of light rail capacity (more if additional headway is required to merge) but most cross-lake commuters only access is a single P&R in South Bellevue. This P&R will never have the capacity or the accessibility to accommodate the numbers of commuters needed to meet cross-lake demands. (East Link’s confiscation of the center roadway also eliminates any two-way bus only lanes there, the only realistic cross-lake public transit commuting solution)
Sound Transit should concentrate on attracting more riders to Central Link. Its current 20,000-30,000 daily ridership is a fraction of their original 100,000 projections. Typical of Sound Transit, their plan to attract more riders is to extend light rail towards Federal Way, presumably with one or two stops at P&R lots along the way. Unfortunately, the costs of extending light-rail tracks along with the additional equipment and operating costs for maintaining service over the longer system will far exceed the revenue from additional transit riders attracted by the trains. Like East Link, the only real winners are the construction companies and their labor unions.
Sound Transit could attract far more riders at far less costs by offering direct bus service from every south end P&R to the Tukwila light rail station. . Commuters throughout south end would be able to leave their car at a nearby P&R with fast reliable service into and out of Seattle. Terminating the bus routes at Tukwila rather than in Seattle would also reduce Seattle congestion.
Eliminating East Link would allow Sound Transit to double the number of trains to meet the increased demand. The increased train frequency could allow alternate trains to skip half of the station stops between Tukwila and downtown, reducing transit times but still maintaining current service. The shuttle bus service could be providing additional riders for Central Link, helping commuters and reducing congestion within a year.