One would have thought those responsible for the area's transportation system would have at least some knowledge of the issues involved. This post is another attempt to show why those directing or approving the local transportation policies seem unable to understand the basics
The issues involved are very simple. One way to increase cross-lake capacity is to add a fourth lane to the I-90 bridge outer roadways, particularly for those on the three lanes going in the reverse commute direction. The added lane has been part of any I-90 transportation improvement since the mid ‘90’s. Sound Transit apparently doesn’t recognize the benefit since they’ve delayed it until 2017.
Conversely they don’t seem to realize the impact from reducing the number of lanes in the peak commute direction. They apparently think the 4th lane they refused to add for 20 years suddenly has the capacity to make up for the loss of two lanes on the center roadway they’re closing to install light rail. Closing the center roadway, forcing the traffic from the two HOV lanes onto the outer roadway obviously reduces capacity in the peak commute direction and increases cross-lake congestion for all vehicles.
A transportation lane's capacity is easily defined by the number of vehicles per hour times the number of riders per vehicle. East Link peak commute operation will consist of one 4-car train every 8 minutes for a total of 30 light rail cars per hour. If each 74-seat car can accommodate 150 riders, the capacity is 4500 riders per hour (RPH). At that rate it will take nearly nine hours to accommodate the 40,000 eastside bus riders ST intends to transfer to and from light rail at either the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations. ST apparently has its own definition of "peak commute" hours.
By comparison, a single bus-only lane can easily accommodate 720 buses per hour. Assuming 70 riders-per-bus gives a total of 50200 RPH, more than 10 times light rail capacity. Equally important, the bus-only lanes could provide I-90 corridor commuters access from every eastside P&R lot whereas access to East Link for those commuters is limited to South Bellevue P&R. Yet ST neglected to even consider this option as the “no-build” alternative in the 2008 DEIS.
ST plans to route the East Link trains as well as the Central Link trains to Lynnwood (and beyond) is another example they don’t understand the idea of “capacity”. Central Link, assuming ST continues routing their current 120 mostly 2-car trains there, has more than enough capacity to meet reasonable current ridership projections. If needed for future growth, they could easily add one or two cars to the trains during the peak commute. Yet, ST currently plans to add the East Link trains’ 484 cars daily to the ~240 Central Link cars, dwarfing any rational capacity requirements.
ST plans to route East Link to Lynnwood (and beyond) also “suggests” they don’t recognize the devastating effect of high light rail car operating costs on light rail finances. Each light rail car costs ST $22.48 per mile (per ST 2014 budget) or $10,880 per mile for the 484 East Link cars. The 12.8 mile extension from the University to Lynnwood adds 25.6 miles costing $278,536 daily and ~$87 Million annually in light rail operating costs. Even worse, the current 2040 plan extending light rail ~ 10 miles to Everett will nearly double the East Link operating costs for the route.
Again, none of the issues involved are very complicated. Yet Dow Constantine, the head of the Sound Transit Board is either unable to understand the problems or doesn’t care. After all he is the one who insisted on cutting Metro bus routes because of a financial short fall that’s a tiny fraction of Sound Transit’s future deficits. Lynn Peterson, the head of the WSDOT, while new to the board, seems willing to go along with ST plans to confiscate the center roadway for light rail that will devastate cross-lake commuting for the entire area. Board members Balducci, McCarthy, and Marchione, whose supposed transportation expertise has also led to their leadership positions in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s transportation policy board advocating extending light rail to Everett, adding to the financial debacle.
Local legislators responsible for transportation issues are also culpable. For example, 41st District Rep Judy Clibborn, the head of the Joint Transportation Committee, and 48th District Senate candidate Cyrus Habib, who served on the JTC, both seem unaware or unconcerned about issues with ST plans for the future.