Many posts on this blog have lamented the fact that fifteen years ago Sound Transit could have moved non-transit HOV to fourth lanes on the I-90 Bridge outer roadways and initiated two-way bus only lanes on the bridge center roadway. The added lanes on the outer roadways would have reduced congestion for commuters from both sides of the lake, particularly those commuting in the “reverse” peak direction. The center roadway lanes could have allowed direct bus routes between every eastside P&R that would have reduced congestion throughout east side by allowing commuters to park their cars near where they live rather than where they work.
Instead ST has delayed adding 4th lanes until 2017 that will never have the capacity to make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes. They will spend the next six years constructing a light rail system to replace all the cross-lake bus routes. However, ST’s proposed East Link operating schedules will never have the capacity for their projected number of riders during their normal commute hours. Thus what could have been a fast, reliable bus ride from a local P&R directly into Seattle will be a nightmarish choice between facing driving gridlock on the outer roadway or trying to transfer from a bus to a crowded light rail car at the South Bellevue or Mercer Island stations.
Not only will East Link devastate the lives of thousands of cross-lake commuters, it will also jeopardize the entire area’s transportation funding because of ST’s second major blunder. That’s their decision not to terminate at least the East Link trains at the University Station. The 7/27/14 post explains the combination of ST routing East Link the 77.6 miles from Redmond to Lynnwood and back, the high light rail operating cost, and their proposed light rail schedules will result in a $285 Million operating deficit. That’s more than 5 times ST’s total fare box revenue.
Its also worth noting 40,000 of the 50,000 riders ST is projecting for East Link will only ride 6 or 9 miles of the 77.6 mile light rail circuit. That’s the distance between the bus-to-light rail transfer points on Mercer Island or South Bellevue and Seattle. One would think spending $285 million a year for so little benefit would be a “non-starter” (even if it did have the needed capacity). Instead ST’s 2040 plans call for extending light rail to Everett adding ~ 20 miles to the circuit and $68 million to the East Link operating deficit. Any rational review would conclude ST needs to either drop East Link or terminate it at the University Station.