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, October 17, 2014

Why i'll Likely Fail in my Campaign to Stop East Link

My campaign against East Link began more than 5 years ago when I realized Sound Transit had made a monumental blunder in selecting light rail on I-90 Bridge for cross-lake public transit.  They facilitated that blunder by simply refusing to consider two-way bus only lanes on the center roadway as the “no-build” alternative.

I believed there were three ways to stop it.1) Convince the Sound Transit Board to abort it. 2) Convince the legislator to use their WSDOT oversight responsibility to prevent ST from shutting down the center roadway to install light rail, 3) Convince the city councils along the route to disallow the permits ST needed to begin construction.

I initially sent emails to the Sound Transit Board and eastside legislators, and made several appearances at the Bellevue City council meetings detailing my concerns.  They were all ignored.   Similar emails sent to Seattle Times including offers to meet with them to discuss the issues were also ignored.  Emails to the WSDOT and the state’s Attorney’s General office were responded with suggestions from the WSDOT I hire my own “legal council”.

Lacking the wherewithal to do so, I created this blog about my concerns and filed as a 48th District candidate to attract attention.  Since then I’ve also filed for the Bellevue City Council and repeated my 48th District candidacy this year.  While none of my candidacies have been successful in the conventional way, my over 200 posts have attracted more than 20,000 page views.   The fact that none of the viewers have ever disputed any of my posts “suggests” the validity of my concerns.   Of particular interest, the Seattle Transit blog, which earlier had been critical of me (See 9/10/12 Post), has been totally mute.

One would have thought the Sound Transit Board would have some ST staff member review my concerns and attempt to refute them.  Surely board member, Lynn Peterson, the WSDOT director has ample resources for dealing with potential transportation problems.  Instead their recent decision to expedite boring the 3.4-mile tunnel portion of the $2.1 billion Northgate extension typifies incompetence.  They could have terminated Central Link at a UW T/C that would have attracted thousands of 520 commuters from both sides of the lake.  Instead the extension will do absolutely nothing to relieve I-5 congestion and their current light rail operating plans will result in a “financial black hole” for the areas transportation funds.

The legislature has the Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) responsible for dealing with transportation issues.  In 2008 the JTC was sufficiently concerned about the ability of the I-90 Bridge to support light rail trains they commissioned and independent review team (IRT) to evaluate the bridge design with light rail.  Their report resulted in ST finally conducting additional tests last year in Pueblo Colorado that apparently were successful.  Yet the current committee headed by Rep Clibborn, whose Mercer Island constituents will lose their easy access to Seattle with East Link, is apparently unconcerned about ST.  (What’s ironic is Clibborn was probably instrumental in "persuading" the WSDOT to conduct a ~$9 million EIS in an attempt to avoid paying I-90 tolls.  In the unlikely event it's successful, it will make the bridge congestion even worse)

The Bellevue City Council, which could have use the permit process to "influence" ST, has simply capitulated to their demands. Council member Badlucci (now mayor) could have used her position on the ST board to demand they “consider” a tunnel from South Bellevue through the city.  Instead she and the council allowed ST to “extort” ~$200 million from Bellevue citizens to fund a “cut and fill” trench in downtown area.  Council member Wallace was instrumental in revising the city’s land use code to make East Link “permitable”.  Their recent decision to allow the maintenance yard "eye sore" to the Bel Red area is just the latest example.

As a result those living along the route into Bellevue will be forced to endure 6-7 years of construction followed by a lifetime of noise from light rail noise for 20 hours a day.   Light rail noise will also forever end the quiet solitude of Mercer Slough Park, a clear violation of federal environmental law.  Commuters will face I-90 congestion and have their South Bellevue P&R inundated with thousands of bus transferees.

The council is apparently trying to pawn off “responsibility” for approving the permits to the “Citizens’ Advisory Committee”, a group of well-meaning citizens who, when I appeared before them, appeared to be completely devoid of transportation expertise.  They were being “spoon fed” by ST officials and had absolutely no interest in my concerns or this blog.

My failure to persuade the ST board, legislators, or BCC to require ST change policies led to other potential allies.  For example the King County Council also had a Regional Transit Committee dealing with the area’s transportation issues. Its purported mission was to:

Review and make recommendations to the council on countywide policies for public transportation services operated by the County. The committee’s responsibilities include the Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, which is the blueprint establishing guidelines for allocation of transit service throughout King County.  

They were sufficiently concerned about the Metro funding shortfall and the resulting service cuts to propose a bill last June to defer the cuts.  County Executive Constantine vetoed the bill saying “somebody had to be ‘the adult in the room’ to face reality”.  (I thought at the time Constantine’s referring to himself as the “adult in the room” was almost laughable since he was obviously responsible for ST decision to “expedite” boring the Northgate tunnel, spending money they don’t have on a $2.1 billion light rail extension that will do nothing to ease I-5 congestion and will result in a light rail extension too expensive to operate for any rational ridership projection.

All of these council Metro concerns have been about a ~$60 million annual revenue shortfall. Yet the response from many emails referring Constantine and council members (several who are also on the ST board) to ST problems like gridlock on I-90 Bridge and a $285 million shortfall between East Link operating costs and fare box revenue has been limited to a few “Thank you for your information” replies. 

The other governmental organization that could “influence” ST was the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).  They’re responsible for doling out federal dollars for transportation projects throughout the state.  Over the last five years they’ve contributed over $800 million to ST. I would have thought one of the nineteen staff members dedicated to transportation activities would have been “interested” in the potentially devastating effect of light rail on the areas commuters and transportation funding. Yet when I referred several blog posts to Josh Brown, the Executive Director of the PSRC and Charlie Howard, the Director of the Transportation the only response was “Thank you for your insight” and ”Have a nice day”. 
The non-governmental organization capable of influencing ST was the Washington Policy Center (WPC):  “An independent, non-partisan think tank promoting sound public policy based on free-market solutions”.  Their Center for Transportation purportedly “researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement”. 
I've referred the WPC to many posts on this blog as they seemed to be a “public voice” for exposing ST problems.  Yet the only critical WPC  comment concerning ST over the last two years was an Oct 25, 2012 post “Auditor confirms Sound Transit light rail ridership forecasts are unrealistic”.   Hardly earthshaking news to anyone!
The bottom line is it’s unlikely my current attempts to raise public awareness about the devastating effect of ST policies will stop them.  The problem is reaching enough people.  I’ve never had the resources or the desire to ask for financial support from others to mount an effective stop ST campaign.  I’ve always been suspicious ST was able to use the millions they were dolling out to construction companies and their labor unions to garner support for candidates for various  offices and to use advertising money to assure media support.

It’s the media support that’s been so critical to ST ability to get this far.  The issues have never been very complicated.  Any competent investigative journalist would have quickly concluded ST’s 2008 DEIS was sheer fantasy.  A single Seattle Times article asking ST why they never considered two-way bus only lanes on the I-90 Bridge center roadway as the “no-build” alternative to light rail would have ended East Link.

Even today the Times could stop East Link with an article explaining the only purported “benefits” from the $3 billion spent on a light rail project that will devastate the route into Bellevue and likely gridlock I-90 will be cross-lake transit ridership will increase from 40 to 50,000 riders.  Particularly if the article detailed that 40,000 of the riders would come from forcing 20,000 eastside commuters to transfer to and from light rail trains at South Bellevue or Mercer Island for their commutes into and out of Seattle.  (The article needn't even mention the transfer would take East Link 4½ hours every morning and afternoon)

Even a cursory analysis by the media would conclude ST problems go way beyond the east side.  Light rail cars cost more than twice as much as buses per mile of operation.   The fact they have higher capacity is only beneficial on routes where the additional capacity is needed.  Yet ST plans to route twice the number of trains serving the entire east side to Northgate.  The resulting overcapacity will generate a ~$285 million shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue.  A Times article exposing this reality along with the absurdity of ST plans to add to the shortfall by extensions to Lynnwood, and eventually to Everett would stop it.

Instead the Times has concentrated its transportation concerns on King County Metro’s revenue problems.   They opposed King County Council’s April proposal to provide additional funding but have supported their November proposal.  They supported the later $45 million proposal because of the council’s promises for “renewed scrutiny of Metro”.  The Times also required an annual financial audit and “open access to the agencies financial and service data”.

The $45 million revenue increase the Times is supporting isn’t exactly “chicken feed”.  However it pales in comparison to the $285 million shortfall from East Link.  Yet the Times has not shown the slightest interest in Sound Transit policies which have already forced thousands of cross-lake commuters to endure years of increased congestion and whose future plans will devastate the entire area.  Their lack of interest led to my decision (4/24/14 post) to induct Kate Riley, Ryan Blethen and the other Times editorial board into my “Light Rail Hall of Shame”.

In conclusion I know with absolute certainty many of my concerns will be vindicated.  Cross-lake commuters will not be “happy” with the increased congestion from closure of bridge center roadway in 2017.  Neither will those living or commuting along the route into Bellevue “enjoy” the years spent constructing light rail tracks and power lines on what was a beautiful tree-lined avenue into Bellevue.  What will absolutely “enrage” them will be the "benefits" from years of increased congestion and disruption when East Link begins operation.  Even the Times may recognize their culpability in this debacle

What was initially promised as the equivalent of "up to ten lanes of freeway" will consist of one 4-car train every 8 minutes.  Every morning 20,000 bus riders will inundate the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations in a futile attempt to be get on one of those 4-car trains.  The end result will be fewer not more transit riders and more vehicles added to over-crowded outer roadways.

It doesn’t have to happen!.  The eastside legislators and the JTC can use the upcoming session to demand the WSDOT demonstrate, not use some phony ST “modeling”,  the I-90 outer roadways can accommodate all cross-lake vehicles well before they close down the center roadway in 2017.  It's highly "unlikely" they'll succeed.   It's also "unlikely" the WSDOT can explain how a light rail system that consists of one 4-car train every 8 minutes can accommodate 20,000 eastside bus riders for their commute into and out of Seattle.  The Bellevue and Mercer city councils can still stop East Link by disallowing the permits ST needs.

I can well imagine many who initially visit this blog will think the idea ST, with it's billion dollar annual budgets could be so incompetent for so long, is far fetched. (Especially from a retired Boeing engineer) It's nothing personal as I don’t live near East Link route and rarely commute into Seattle during peak commutes.  This entire effort has been my attempt to “make a difference” and to identify those who, if not directly responsible, allowed it to happen.   (LIght Rail Hall of Shame)  The only way I can succeed this year is for viewers who agree with the blog concerns to use “social media” to “spread the word” about it.   I’m sure many who “visit” will recognize the need to stop ST.  What’s needed is enough of those willing to contact the Seattle Times, the ST board, legislators, or councils with their concerns.  

Unfortunately, if "past is prolog" that's not likely to happen.   Maybe next time!


1 comment:

  1. I love that I can comment as my AIM account. Personally I think you are going about this all wrong. Stop looking at all the challenges, and ask whether or not we are better off with more modern mechanisms of transportation. Yes the transition will be painful, but you can't use that as justification. Yes it will be harder for cars to get across, but perhaps that is a good thing? Perhaps the budget can't support the project, but I am fine with it being a social service covered by tax dollars. I live in Bellevue off BelRed, and I am excited for the opportunity to stop driving my car. They are already doing tons of construction around here, and I would rather have construction that decay. While I admire your efforts, it seems crazy that this is your sole reason for wanting to be in office. If you want to win, you must bring more to the table then the destruction of a single transportation project.