The previous post commented on the absurdity of Sound Transit using a document called the "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) to "promote" East Link light rail. This post examines another improbable aspect of this debacle, namely the Washington State Department of Transportation support for East Link. The EIS includes the WSDOT as the “Co Lead Agency”.
East Link originated more than 30 years ago when the Sound Transit Board, “decreed” that light rail was the answer for cross-lake commuting. The board, recognizing that a major part of the Central Link funding came from eastside taxes, apparently felt the need to include light rail service to attract support. It was this need for eastside support that presumably led to Sound Transit making the absurd promises for East Link detailed in other posts. (eg 5/15, 5/19, 5/24,5/30, 6/27)
The ST board could be forgiven for “over-promising” (which I believe had a major impact on Prop.1 vote in 2008). The members were all appointed to their positions, with very few having any mass transit experience. What is truly unconscionable is the WSDOT going along with this debacle. (I vaguely remember a WSDOT official resigning in protest commenting East Link was more interested in “construction” than “transportation”.)
The WSDOT knew (or should have known) that bus rapid transit (BRT) was a far better choice for cross-lake commuting than light rail. The 40-ft. wide center roadway was ideal for two-way bus only lanes separated by a third lane for increased safety and maintenance access. The bus lanes had 10 times light rail capacity, at 1/10th light rail cost, and could have been in operation more than 10 years ago. Every eastside P&R could have had direct bus routes into Seattle alleviating congestion throughout east side.
Instead it was the WSDOT who conducted the September 2005 test attempting to ensure the I-90 bridge could withstand light rail loads, the first light rail installation on a floating bridge. As detailed in my 7/04 post, the FHWA was not convinced and the legislature commissioned an independent review. Their conclusion that “issues identified as potentially affecting feasibility can be addressed” was wide open to interpretation.
It was the WSDOT who told a Kittitas judge the center roadway wasn’t needed for highway uses and could therefore be closed down to install light rail. They ignored a 2004 study that showed HOV traffic dramatically reduced combination bus/HOV lane capacity. (See 5/15 and 5/16 posts for details)
It was this WSDOT support that undoubtedly played a role in convincing the media that light rail was indeed the answer for cross-lake commuting. When it comes to transportation, a retired Boeing engineer's concerns don’t rate that high on their credibility scale. (All the money the media received from “ride the waves” advertizing revenues didn’t hurt.)
When I contacted the Attorney General’s Transportation and Public Construction Division on these issues last year I received a letter from the “Chief Counsel for the Washington State Department of Transportation. It included the following “I believe your best course of action is for you to retain private council if your concerns are not adequately addressed by the appropriate entities“.
That’s why I run!