About this blog

My name is Bill Hirt and I'm a candidate to be a Representative from the 48th district in the Washington State legislature. My candidacy stems from concern the legislature is not properly overseeing the WSDOT and Sound Transit East Link light rail program. I believe East Link will be a disaster for the entire eastside. ST will spend 5-6 billion on a transportation project that will increase, not decrease cross-lake congestion, violates federal environmental laws, devastates a beautiful part of residential Bellevue, creates havoc in Bellevue's central business district, and does absolutely nothing to alleviate congestion on 1-90 and 405. The only winners with East Link are the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and their labor unions.

This blog is an attempt to get more public awareness of these concerns. Many of the articles are from 3 years of failed efforts to persuade the Bellevue City Council, King County Council, east side legislators, media, and other organizations to stop this debacle. I have no illusions about being elected. My hope is voters from throughout the east side will read of my candidacy and visit this Web site. If they don't find them persuasive I know at least I tried.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Salvaging Light Rail In Seattle

Sound Transit current plans for light rail extensions will create a perpetual “black hole” for the area's transportation funds.  The only reason high light rail operating costs ($45.60 per mile for a two-car train) and limited ridership (26,000 projected for 2013 vs. original prediction of 110,000 by 2010) aren’t an issue is light rail “trips” are limited to the 15.6 miles from Westlake to SeaTac.  They still cost $6.21 per boarder in 2012 nearly as much as the comparable $6.51 for express bus trips that average 25.42 miles. 

Sound Transit should ensure that any extension attracts sufficient additional riders to justify both the construction costs and the increased operating costs.   In 2012 they’re spending $500 million as down payment on a  $17.9 billion (2007 dollars) plan to add 34 miles of extensions.  They include extending Central Link south from SeaTac towards Federal Way, north from the University to Lynnwood and across I-90 through Bellevue to Redmond/Overlake area.  All three extensions fail to meet any reasonable initial construction cost/benefit analysis as well as subsequent operating costs rationale.

The 11-mile extension from Sea-Tac to Federal Way is a total waste.  Construction and additional equipment costs will probably total around $1.5 billion.   The extension will add over $1000 to the trains operating costs for a round trip.  Even more idiotic, it’s unlikely to attract many riders since it will take 30 minutes longer than the existing bus service. 

Rather than spending money extending light rail tracks Sound Transit should consider adding a T/C and improving bus access at the Tukwila Station.  The T/C would allow bus rapid transit (BRT) service to each of the south end P&R lots.  Doing so would attract far more riders at far less cost than the extension.
Sound Transit made a huge blunder when they allowed the UW to veto a T/C near the University Station.  The T/C is not only the way to justify the $1.9 billion University Extension, it’s critical to making the entire Central Link light rail system financially viable.  The 7/29/12 and 4/15/13 posts explain how a University T/C in combination with BRT service across 520 can attract the thousands of riders needed to justify the costs of construction and operation of light rail in Seattle.  Sound Transit’s agreement with the UW that precludes a T/C must be overturned. 

Extending light rail to Northgate is “problematic”.  The 4/10/13 post explains the ST/UW agreement concerning vibration and magnetic field affects adds a major risk to the extension.  It’s hard to justify since it will only attract significant ridership if Metro decides to stop operating their far less expensive bus service from the Northgate P&R.
Sound Transit plans for their East Link light rail extension across I-90 Bridge and through Bellevue to Redmond/Overlake are way beyond “problematic”.  The current plans for the Central Link extensions “only” waste hundreds of millions every year.  The $2.8 billlion spent on East Link will increases cross-lake congestion as well as devastate parts of Bellevue.  

Sound Transit concluded nearly 20 years ago any cross-lake improvement would include adding 4th lanes to the two outer roadways.  They could have added the lanes and initiated BRT on the center roadway more than 15 years ago.  Instead ST has spent the intervening years spending hundreds of millions promoting light rail for cross-lake mass transit. 

The initial 5/15/12 post on this blog explains the “Case Against East Link”.  What’s amazing is ST apparently spent all those years evaluating different options and never seriously consider bus rapid transit (BRT).    Even a cursory analysis would have concluded BRT had more than 10 times light rail capacity at a tiny fraction of the cost.  BRT would have provided mass transit access to every east side P&R and reduced congestion throughout the eastside.  The only East Link access will be a South Bellevue P&R with limited capacity and difficult access.  The 8/08/12 post provides additional details about BRT advantages.

In conclusion Sound Transit sold these extensions to the public in 2008 as Proposition 1 on the premise the $17.9 billion spent on construction would be justified by light rail train capacity.  The reality is none of the extension will ever attract enough riders to justify the added construction costs as well as the increased operating costs with the longer routes. 

Salvaging light rail in Seattle requires Sound Transit to attract more riders to a SeaTac-to-University Central Link with T/Cs at the University and Tukwila Stations.   The $300 million they’re "investing" in 2013 on extensions beyond those stations is a tiny fraction of the $17.9 billion planned for the next ten years.  If nothing is done Sound Transit will soon be “investing” nearly $2 billion annually with the end result a massive public debt and a light rail system requiring a huge subsidy because of the increased operating costs and limited ridership with the extensions.

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