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.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

ST's East Link Insanity to End I-90 Buses

I attended the Jan 21st Mercer Island council East Link meeting with WSDOT and Sound Transit officials in hopes the “questions” I suggested in the previous post would “stimulate” the discussion.  The council “declined” to do so except for asking why the 4th lane couldn’t be implemented in 2014 rather than 2016.  (My question would have been why it wasn’t added in 2004.) 

This lack of “curiosity” indicated the council was in favor of approving permits needed for East Link.  However, even they were “skeptical” of ST plans to terminate I-90 bus routes at the Mercer Island light rail station.  ST discussed in detail their plans to terminate all the I-90 bus routes at the South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations. They had earlier predicted 40,000 of East Link’s projected 50,000 daily riders would come from the terminated bus routes.

Light rail was initially considered the best choice for cross-lake mass transit more than 20 years ago.   The ST 2008 and 2011 Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) both detailed how light rail was better than their “no-build” bus option.   The problem was ST never bothered to consider moving the non-transit HOV traffic to 4th lanes on the outer roadway and dividing the center roadway into two-way bus only lanes.  Each of the two lanes could have accommodated up to 1000 buses per hour providing access to every eastside P&R. 

The Puget Sound Regional Council 2040 plan ST cited as their basis for selecting light rail can be used to determine its capacity.   PSRC compared light rail capacity with other cross-lake modes and concluded 2 or 4-car trains required a minimum of 4 minutes between trains (headway). This minimum headway limits light rail in Seattle to 15 trains per hour through the tunnel.  Presumably only half of those trains, 7½ per hour, would be assigned to East Link;  a  tiny fraction of bus capacity.

The second problem with the ST plan is their EIS claimed East Link was needed to “meet growing transit and mobility demands by increasing person-moving capacity across Lake Washington on I-90 by up to 60%”.  Forcing commuters to switch from buses to light rail does very little to increase cross-lake capacity.   The idea cross-lake light rail is a better way to meet “growing transit demand” than additional bus service is absurd.

Finally, the best way to reduce congestion in the area is to attract more commuters to public transit.   Two-way bus lanes on the center bridge roadway would allow Sound Transit to add bus rapid transit (BRT) routes between all of the eastside P&R lots (and the Bellevue T/C) and downtown Seattle.  Many commuters would likely welcome the opportunity to leave their cars near where they live and have a fast reliable non-stop ride into and out of Seattle.

Compare that scenario with East Link where the commuters’ buses will face the congestion associated with getting off I-90 to the stations.  Riders will have to get off the buses, wait for a train, and likely have difficulty finding a place to stand let alone sit for the ride into Seattle.  Light rail trains will never have the needed capacity in either direction.  

Their return commutes will force them to wait around at the light rail station for the bus to their P&R.  Thus even if light rail had the needed capacity many commuters would not find it an attractive option. East Link will likely result in fewer transit riders, not more, with resultant greater congestion throughout area.

In conclusion, the idea ST, in 2 short years, will close down the center roadway and spend the next 7 years and the remainder of the $2.8 billion East Link money installing light rail tracks for trains is bad enough.  The idea they would then force all cross-lake bus riders to switch to light rail cars to commute into and out of Seattle is insane.  

It is particularly insane when you compare it with the alternative of eliminating the bridge closure and implementing two-way bus lanes on the center roadway capable of 1000 buses per hour in 2015 at a fraction of the $2.8 billion East Link debacle.  The fact ST, in partner ship with the WSDOT, has already been allowed to spend hundreds of millions on this debacle is bad enough.   It's way past time for those with the power to stop them to do so. 

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