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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

AWB Presentation

I presented the following to the AWB representatives yesterday at their candidate interview forum.  They were very attentive though it’s unclear what action they will take as a result.

Why I’m a Candidate
I’m here today not to ask for support for my candidacy but to ask for help  exposing concerns about Sound Transit’s East Link light rail program.  In 2017 ST is going to close down the center roadway and begin light rail construction.  Closing the center roadway will significantly increase vehicle congestion on the bridge outer roadways.  The construction efforts will disrupt the lives of those along the route into Bellevue and the downtown Bellevue area for 6-7 years. 

When light rail begins operation, 20,000 transit riders will be forced to transfer each morning and afternoon to and from light rail trains at either South Bellevue or Mercer Island.  East Link won’t have the needed capacity to meet peak commute demand.  As a result I-90 corridor commuters during the peak commute will have to choose between trying to drive into Seattle on a heavily congested outer roadway or ride a bus to a light rail station and attempt to get on an overcrowded light rail car.

Not only will cross-lake commuters suffer, light rail operating expenses will dwarf potential fare box revenue.  ST will be forced to subsidize East Link by $285 million annually to make up for the short fall.

The clearest example of ST problems is there schedule for adding 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways.   The added lanes have been part of any proposed cross-lake improvement since the mid ’90’s. 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 lanes in 2017 thousands of commuters will have needlessly faced more than 20 years of increased congestion.

Why the delay for something so inexpensive and yet so beneficial?   My guess is ST had two reasons.  The first was they were concerned about being “forced” to consider moving the non-transit HOV traffic to the 4th lanes and dividing the center roadway into inbound and outbound bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes.  It’s difficult to believe ST never considered BRT during the years spent studying ways to improve cross-lake commuting.  

It could have been initiated some 15 years ago for a tiny fraction of light rail cost.  It had 10 times light rail capacity that could have provided every eastside P&R with express bus routes directly into designated drop off points in Seattle.  The improved service would have attracted more transit commuters reducing congestion throughout east side.  ST was “concerned” they’d never be allowed to shutdown BRT for light rail and consequently never “considered” it as the “no-build” alternative in the DEIS. 

Instead they sold East Link with DEIS claims it could accommodate up to 12,000 riders per hour (RPH) in each direction and increase I-90 transit capacity by 60%.  However, 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 also anticipates 40,000 of the projected 50,000 daily East Link riders will come from terminating all the cross-lake bus routes at either the 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 with its 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 those choosing to drive will encounter the second “likely” reason for ST delaying the 4th lanes; their concern about another DEIS claim, namely:

“Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”

ST assumes the long-delayed added outer roadway lanes could make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes.  They were allowed to proceed with East Link because the WSDOT convinced a Kittitas judge the added lane, their R-8A configuration, made up for closing the center roadway.   Yet the 2004 FHWA Record of Decision (ROD) requires the “approved” R-8A configuration to maintain the two center roadway lanes for vehicles.  ST delayed the 4th lanes over concern any subsequent closure of the center roadway to verify outer roadway capacity would fail.  

Even worse, outer roadway congestion will actually increase when East Link begins service (2023?).   First, as mentioned earlier many transit commuters will chose to “drive rather than “ride”.  Second, the lack of light rail capacity will likely force ST to allow many of the cross-lake buses to continue on the outer roadway into Seattle.  

East Link will also create a “financial black hole” for the entire area’s transportation funding because of high light rail operating costs.  The ST 2014 budget includes a $22.48 per car-mile operating cost (excluding depreciation) or ~$90 per mile for their 4-car trains. 

At that rate the 26-mile Redmond-to-UW portion of the route will cost $4675 for each round trip or $566,000 for the scheduled 121 daily trips.  If weekend frequencies are half those levels the operating cost will be $3.4 million weekly or $176 million annually.   Depreciation will add $30 million to the costs assuming the sixty ~$5 million cars required for East Link will last 10 years.

By comparison, East Link fare box revenue will be miniscule.  ST projects 40,000 of their anticipated 50,000 riders will transfer from buses to and from East Link at either Bellevue or Mercer Island.   Since those transferring presumably won’t be required to pay twice, the only net fare-box revenue will be the 10,000 non-transfer riders paying ~$30,000 daily.

In essence ST will be required to pay more than $500,000 daily to subsidize light rail service that requires 20,000 bus riders to transfer to light rail at Mercer Island or Bellevue rather than continue on the bus the remaining 6 or 8 miles into Seattle.  The fact that the East Link trains won’t have the needed capacity adds to the insanity.

ST exacerbates the East Link operating-cost problem with their decision to also route the trains to Lynnwood even though the Central Link trains will have more than sufficient capacity. The 12.8-mile Lynnwood extension will add 25.6 miles to the East Link route.   ST schedules call for 484 cars daily so the Lynnwood extensions will add 12,390 car-miles-per-day to East Link operations.  Again, if weekend car miles are half that level, East Link will add 74,342 car miles per week or nearly 3.9 million car miles per year.  

At $22.48 cost per car mile, the Lynnwood routes will cost an additional $87 million annually.   Since Central Link trains provide more than sufficient capacity for any potential riders, any East Link revenue will be offset by a loss in Central Link fares.  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. 

The bottom line is East Link has been a transportation failure.  15 years ago ST could have moved non-transit HOV to 4th lanes on the I-90 bridge outer roadways and initiated 2-way BRT service on the bridge center roadway.  The costs would have been minimal and the additional riders attracted to direct bus routes into Seattle would have reduced congestion throughout east side.  Instead cross-lake commuters from both sides of the lake have endured needless congestion for years while ST spent hundreds of millions on consultants for detailed designs and open houses for public comment on things like light rail stations that won’t be needed until 2023.   

ST past failures will pale in comparison to the debacle that awaits the area if allowed to continue.  In 2017 they’ll close the center roadway to begin light rail installation on the center roadway.   If the 2004 FHWA analysis is correct, outer roadway congestion will substantially increase.  Over the next 6-7 years ST will complete construction of a ~$3 billion light rail system that will increase rather than decrease cross-lake congestion, devastate parts of Bellevue and require an annual subsidy of $285 million to cover operating costs. 

ST’s goal for doing all this is to increase the number of daily transit riders from 40,000 to 50,000.  The fact that even this meager improvement is “highly unlikely” surely qualifies East Link as a debacle.

I’m here today to ask the AWB for help in stopping it.

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