One of the reasons I filed as a 48th District candidate two years ago was I assumed it would give me an opportunity to talk to the Seattle Times about my Sound Transit concerns. They had declined to respond to my previously efforts to raise these issues via emails. The interview didn’t go well as they weren’t interested in my concerns and I was “excused” early (see 9/13/12 post). As of today, they still haven’t contacted me concerning my current candidacy so have decided to post what I would've (will?) told them if given the chance.
Why I’m running
17 years ago Sound Transit could have added 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways. The cost would have been minimal and cross-lake commuters from both sides of the lake would have benefitted, particularly those going in the reverse commute direction. By the time ST finally adds the 4th lanes in 2017 thousands of commuters will have needlessly faced nearly 20 years of increased congestion.
Why the delay? My guess is ST was concerned they would be forced to consider moving non-transit HOV to the 4th lanes and dividing center roadway into inbound and outbound bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes. They knew or should have known they could have initiated two-way BRT on center roadway some 15 years ago for a tiny fraction of light rail cost. It had 10 times light rail capacity that could provide every eastside commuter bus routes from local P&R lots directly into Seattle, reducing congestion throughout east side. They were “concerned” they’d never be allowed to shutdown BRT for light rail and never “considered” it for the center roadway as the “no-build” alternative in the DEIS.
Instead ST sold East Link with claims in the 2008 DEIS it could accommodate up to 12,000 riders per hour (RPH) in each direction and increase I-90 transit capacity by 60%. However, their East Link operating schedules call for a maximum of one 4-car train every 8 minutes or 30 cars per hour. If each 74-seat car carries 150 riders, the maximum capacity is 4500 RPH, slightly more than 1/3 of promised capacity.
ST claims 40,000 of the projected 50,000 riders will come from terminating all the cross-lake bus routes at either South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations. Thus, each morning and afternoon 20,000 transit riders will be required to transfer to and from trains at the two stations. ST apparently doesn’t recognize the nearly 4½ hours required for the 20,000 riders (peak capacity 4500 RPH) may not be acceptable for many commuters.
Mercer Island transit riders and those forced to transfer from buses there will have a particularly difficult time since all the light rail cars will likely be full well before they ever reach the station. The lack of capacity and the hassle of transferring will undoubtedly convince many to “drive” rather than “ride”.
Unfortunately “drivers” will encounter another example of ST failure to meet DEIS claims, namely:
“Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”
In essence, ST assumed the long delayed 4th outer roadway lanes would make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes. ST was allowed to proceed with East Link because the WSDOT convinced a Kittitas Judge the added lane, (R-8A) configuration made up for closing the center roadway. Yet the FHWA 2004 Record of Decision requires the “approved R-8A configuration" to maintain the two center roadways for vehicles. The WSDOT/ST lied. The single added lane doesn’t have the needed capacity.
The outer roadway congestion will actually increase when East Link begins service (2023?). First, as mentioned earlier many former transit commuters will chose to “drive” rather than “ride”. Second, ST will “likely” be forced by the lack of East Link capacity to allow many of the cross-lake bus routes to continue into Seattle on the outer roadway during the peak commute. Hardly the way to meet the DEIS need for “increasing person-moving capacity across Lake Washington on I-90 by up to 60 percent".
ST East Link problems go way beyond its devastating effect on eastside residents and cross-lake commuters; it will also create a “financial black hole” for the area’s transportation funding. The problem is the decision to route all the East Link trains to Lynnwood (and beyond) even though the Central Link trains will have more than sufficient capacity to meet the area’s transit needs.
The 12.8-mile Lynnwood extension adds 25.6 miles to the East Link route. ST schedules call for 484 cars daily so the Lynnwood extensions will result in an additional 12,390 car-miles-per day. If weekend car miles are half that level, East Link will add 74,342 car miles per week or 3,865,805 car miles per year.
ST 2014 budget estimates light rail operation costs $22.48 per car mile (excluding depreciation) for a yearly total of $86,903,291 in direct operating costs. Assuming the sixty ~$5 million light rail cars East Link will require for the longer route lengths and scheduled service can last an average of 10 years, depreciation will add another $30 million to the annual costs.
Thus routing East Link to Lynnwood will add nearly $117 million to ST operating costs for capacity that will never be needed. Even more absurd, the ST 2040 plan to extend light rail the ~10 miles to Everett will nearly double the annual operating deficit for the northern route. Stopping East Link is the only way to make any Central Link extensions to Lynnwood and beyond financially viable.
The bottom line is ST is planning to spend ~$3 billion on an East Link light rail program that will force cross-lake commuters to chose between trying to drive into Seattle on a totally gridlocked outer bridge roadway or trying to ride on light rail cars that will never have needed capacity. The fact that East Link will also devastate the lives of those living along the route and create a “financial black hole” because of high operating costs simply adds to the insanity.