This post is an attempt to summarize Sound Transit's ten worst blunders
1) The “granddaddy” of all Sound Transit blunders was their decision more than 25 years ago that light rail was the answer for cross-lake mass transit. The idea that confiscating the center roadway for light rail, forcing all vehicles onto the outer roadways was the best way to improve cross-lake commuting demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge regarding the relative capacity, accessibility, and flexibility of buses. The fact the improved bus service would have cost a tiny fraction of light rail and would have been available in 12-18 months only compounded their blunder.
2) Their decision in the DEIS that the “No Build” alternative retain the current operating procedures with both center roadway lanes going in peak commute direction was inexplicable. It’s hard to believe they could spend millions and years evaluating options for east side transit without ever considering two-way bus only rapid transit on the center roadway. (The most logical explanation for never “considering” BRT as the “no-build” alternative was they knew it was far better than light rail.)
3) They exaggerated light rail benefits with claims it was like adding 10 lanes of freeway that would increase cross-lake capacity by 60%. Simple mathematics belies their claims a 4-car train every 7-9 minutes could carry up to 24,000 riders per hour. The only access for most cross-lake commuters will be a South Bellevue P&R with limited capacity and inconvenient access. The limited light rail capacity and poor access makes it unlikely East Link ridership will ever by more than a fraction of the 50,000 daily riders ST promised.
4) They blundered when their DEIS claimed that the increased capacity from adding 4th lanes on the outer roadways for HOV traffic would result in “shorter or similar travel times for trucks and vehicles with East Link”. They also used that claim to convince a Kittitas judge the center roadway was not needed for vehicles and could be used for light rail. They apparently weren’t aware of a 2004 FHWA I-90 study that concluded the added lanes didn’t have the needed capacity.
5) They blundered when they didn’t add the 4th lanes to the outer roadways 15 years ago. The added lanes would have reduced cross-lake congestion for everyone but especially “reverse commuters”. They would have been particularly useful now with the added traffic from those avoiding 520 tolls or when 520 bridge is closed. They claim lack of funding and planning has delayed the lanes until 2016.
6) They blundered when they didn’t anticipate the noise and vibration from light rail train operation. Central Link’s 2 car trains have forced ST to spend millions “sound proofing” homes up to 400 feet away from the tracks. East Link’s 4-car-train levels will surely be comparable. They refused to even consider a tunnel that would have minimized the problem. Their attempts at “mitigation” will likely result in many residents having their ambience devastated by light rail noise for up to 20 hours a day. The noise issue also raises questions as to East Link’s ability to attract development to BelRed area.
7) Sound Transit blundered with its Sounder Rail operation. Its not clear whether they under estimated the costs to initiate service and later operate the trains or they overestimated the number of people who would ride trains to King Street Station. The Everett Sounder cost over $500 million to set up and the high operating costs and limited ridership require ST to provide $20,000 a year for each rider to cover the costs. They have budgeted $130 million in 2013 for expanding and operating Sounder even though the total ridership in 2012 was only 2.8 million
8) Sound Transit blundered when they allowed the University to veto a T/C near the University light rail station. It could have provided an excellent interface between 520 BRT and Central Link light rail for thousands of commuters in both directions. The resulting increased light rail ridership would have reduced downtown bus congestion and made Central Link far more viable financially.
9) Sound Transit’s decision to extend light rail to Federal way and Lynnwood fails any cost/benefit analysis. High light rail operating costs ($45.60 per mile for a 2 car train) in combination with the 11 and 12.8 mile extensions increase operating costs way beyond what the potential ridership could justify. (The fact light rail commute times will be longer than buses doesn’t help)10) Sound Transit promoted East Link capacity based on 4-car trains although their recent depictions only show 3 cars in each train. (They also assume each 74-seat car will carry up to 200 riders.) However, East Link is the first attempt at installing a train on a “floating bridge”. ST still hasn’t confirmed the “expansion joints” on the I-90 Bridge can withstand the loads from 4 74-ton cars. (Prior traffic loads have already required the replacement of the original I-90 “expansion joints”.) The other problem is it’s unlikely Central Link ridership will be sufficient to justify the costs of operating 4-car trains ($24.80 per car per mile). It’s not clear how ST could operate trains with different numbers of cars. The combination of bridge structure concerns and operational problems makes 4-car trains highly “problematic.