Sound Transit East Link Funding Not "Prudent"
Sound Transit, for all its faults, does provide a lot of information about their budgets. For example a December 20, 2013 article,“ST moves into 2013 with major planning, engineering and construction efforts” includes the following planned expenditures.
A. $166 million to continue construction of the extension from downtown Seattle to the University of Washington
B. $83.8 million for Northgate Link Extension design and construction
C. $91.9 for East Link final design
D. $72 million for design-build work to extend light rail from Sea-Tac
Not surprisingly the largest was the $166 million to continue the tunnel construction for the expansion north to the University District. Both the Northgate extension and the Sea-Tac extension apparently involve significant construction with the Ses-Tac extension scheduled for completion in 2016.
It’s more difficult to understand the need to spend $91.9 million for East Link “final design” when serious construction doesn’t begin for 3 years. What’s not “prudent” is that probably none of this money will be spent on two major concerns.
The first is Sound Transit refusal to spend the relatively miniscule funds required to finish the 4th lane on the 1-90 Bridge outer roadways by “restriping” the Seattle to Mercer Island portion. This 4th lane for bus/HOV traffic could have been added 15 years ago and would have reduced cross-lake congestion for everyone, but particularly “reverse” commuters.
The delay until 2016 has had two additional results beyond the needless increased congestion. Sound Transit could have verified their claims that the modified outer roadway could accommodate all the cross-lake vehicle by temporary closures of the center roadway. They “may” have been concerned the closure would confirm their 2004 study (5/16/12 post) which concluded the single lane did not have the needed capacity.
Adding the Bus/HOV lane to the outer roadways could have also allowed dividing the center roadway into two-way bus only lanes (i.e. BRT). The delay has eliminated any ST concerns cross-lake BRT commuters might “object” to losing their express bus service because the center roadway was closed to install light rail.
The second East Link concern that ST will probably not address is the ability of the I-90 Bridge to withstand the loads from their planned 4-car trains. The 7/04/12 post “LW Bridge Concerns With East Link” explains the problem. Spending $91 million on light rail design without confirming the bridge integrity doesn’t seem “prudent”. The ST risk is that further studies may confirm the FHWA 2009 “bridge-expansion-joint” concerns. As the post explains the result could restrict the number of cars (74 tons each) in each train, eviscerating East Links already meager capacity.
I may be wrong as to why ST money has apparently decided not to fund these issues. However, as many posts on this blog have detailed, ST past actions don’t inspire confidence.