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.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ST High Risk/No Reward Northgate Extension

One of the reasons light rail costs threaten the entire area is Sound Transits agreement with the University of Washington regarding the Central Link extension to Northgate.   The 3/29/13 post suggested Sound Transit use the University Station as a terminus for 520 BRT rather than extend light rail to Northgate.  A viewer referred me to a “Master Implementation Agreement with Sound Transit”  (MIA) dealing with UW requirements for Central Link. 

The MIA “Background” list of five principles begins with the following:

Light rail alignment which provides reasonable pedestrian access to station locations from the University’s Seattle campus is desirable and wanted by the University and Sound Transit”

The UW apparently recognized extending Central Link light rail to the university would benefit students, faculty, and others.   However, the next principle stipulates
Sound Transit’s commitment and funding to extend the northern portal beyond the University District is necessary to minimize further congestion in the area.

They later require

Sound Transit shall aggressively pursue funding to extend the Light Rail Transit System beyond University property toward Northgate as expeditiously as possible

They reinforce their concerns with the following warning:

Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent or limit the University’s ability to seek further remedies and/or compensation from Sound Transit or any other party should the Light Rail Transit System fail to extend to Northgate in a timely manner.

The UW obviously believes the way “to minimize congestion in the area” is to extend light rail towards Northgate.   However, later the MIA does open the possibility of a transit center (T/C) near the stadium with the following:

Sound Transit shall not include design features for public automobile parking or bus service changes with layover or loading areas in the vicinity of University of Washington Station that do not, in the University’s judgment, directly benefit the University

Currently Metro 271 and ST540 and ST542 provide bus connections across 520 to the University.  The HOV lanes on the new 520 Bridge will probably lead to increased eastside bus traffic.  However Central Link will presumably reduce the number of Seattle bus routes into the area.  Sound Transit could probably convince the University a 4-6 bay T/C near the University Station would not cause excessive congestion.   As the 7/29/12 and 3/29/13 posts detail, a University T/C could also provide eastside commuters with improved access to the University as well as access to light rail service into Seattle.  Seattleites could benefit from improved BRT service from University station to Microsoft and other eastside work locations.

The MIA also raises concerns any UW gains from not terminating Central Link at a T/C near the University station are offset by the potential adverse affects from light rail operation under the campus.  Excerpts from the MIA detail these concerns.

Concerns regarding impacts upon vibration and electromagnetic sensitive teaching and research located in buildings on the Seattle campus resulted in the Modified Mountlake Route (MMR).

The MIA requires that any light rail tunnel under the campus:

Protects research and instruction by defining levels of vibration and magnetic field (MF) thresholds which ST shall not exceed without advance approval by the University; includes a monitoring program to assure real time compliance as well as liquidation damages if any threshold is exceeded by ST.

The tunnel risks have resulted in:

ST and UW agree upon a lump sum payment of $20,000,000 by ST to the University as consideration for the terms, conditions and easements contemplated in the MIA as well as reflecting the allocation of risks and obligations afforded to each party associated with the first two segments of the North Link program on and under the Seattle Campus east of 15th and south of 45th.

They also resulted in the following tunnel design requirements:

               In order to minimize vibration and MF, Sound Transit shall have a continuing obligation to employ, over the term of this Agreement, the most current and effective design and material, including but not limited to quadrupole mitigation techniques at least within the limits of the University’s Seattle campus, floating slabs and ultra straight track designed to produce minimum undulation and vibration, particularly at low frequencies, from the University of Washington Station to at least the northwest boundary of the University’s Seattle Campus,

Even with these probably expensive design features the completed tunnel light rail must demonstrate compliance during “pre-Revenue Service Testing”:

               In no event shall Sound Transit commence Revenue Service on University Properties if  (Vibration and MF) Thresholds are exceeded.

Other parts of the MIA include huge fines if the tunnel takes too long or if problems during service result in vibration or MF exceeding limits.  The MIA assures any disputes regarding these issues will likely be resolved in favor of the University.

Board of Regents has ultimate approval authority on design, mitigation and monitoring plans required of ST under the MIA.

The bottom line is rather than attempting to persuade University to accept a T/C near the stadium as the Central Link terminus Sound Transit has agreed to risk hundreds of millions of public funds designing (presumably with UW design concurrence) and building a light rail tunnel with no assurance they’ll ever be able to use it.   Even worse, even if they succeed, the added ridership from the Northgate extensions will never justify the costs for the extension or the added operating costs.

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