For years I thought Sound Transit’s promises for Prop 1 light rail extensions were the height of “Fantasy Land”. Their claim East Link was the equivalent of a “magic chariot” across I-90 Bridge with capacity for up to 10 lanes of freeway has turned into a “pumpkin” consisting of one 4-car train every 8 minutes. Even more absurd they intend to require 20,000 eastside bus riders transfer to and from this “pumpkin” every morning and afternoon for the commute into and out of Seattle
The key to reducing congestion on I-5 (or for any other corridor) is to convince more commuters to use buses. A single bus can replace 60-80 single occupancy vehicles (and 35 2-person carpoolers) on that highway lane. An HOV lane can accommodate more than 5000 vehicles an hour. It is sheer fantasy for ST to claim spending billions extending light rail along I-5 to replace some of the buses with trains will reduce congestion. What ST claimed, when their $20B Prop 1 extensions were approved in 2008 was “a gift to our grand children” will do nothing to reduce congestion on I-5.
The Prop 1 problems go way beyond the wasted construction costs. The extensions will increase track lengths from 16 to 50 miles, likely tripling operating costs. The vast majority of riders will undoubtedly be due to ST closing down far less expensive and far more flexible competing bus routes. The added operating costs will substantially increase the subsidy ST requires to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare-box revenue.
The only way to make light rail financially viable is to limit Central Link to a “trunk line” between a T/C at the UW and SeaTac. Rather than extending light rail to Northgate the UW T/C could attract thousands of 520 commuters from both sides of the lake. The added ridership would allow ST to fully utilize the tunnel’s maximum capacity of one 4-car train every 4 minutes. Their extension to 200th,, probably a done deal, will never attract sufficient additional transit riders to justify construction and increased operating costs. The Northgate extension can and should be dropped in favor of the UW T/C.
Instead the 10/31/14 Seattle Times headline “Sound Transit floats $15B plan” indicates ST has managed to soar to far greater heights of fantasy with even more extensions. (Maybe it’s their Halloween “trick”, it's certainly no "treat"). They talk about light rail from Tacoma to Everett, from Redmond and Issaquah to West Seattle and all places in between. They claim nearly 40,000 daily riders despite the fact the latest quarterly ridership gives 31,532 weekday riders for the year. Both numbers are a fraction of the more than 100,000 that was promised for 2010.
They glibly talk about having 280,000 riders by 2030 despite the fact the Puget Sound Regional Council concluded (2004 document “Central Puget Sound Regional High Capacity Transit Corridor Assessment”) the Seattle tunnel limits light rail capacity to 8880 riders per hour in each direction.
What’s surprising is there was a “pony in this pile of manure”; the proposal to spend $4B on a light rail extension via a Duwamish River rail bridge and subway to West Seattle. It wouldn’t effect vehicle traffic a welcome contrast with East Link which spends a similar amount to confiscate a I-90 bridge center roadway capable of more than 720 buses an hour with a light rail system having a fraction of that capacity. Replacing East Link with West Seattle Link would benefit both sides of the lake.
Like the Prop 1 extensions, none of the other $15 B extensions can possible attract sufficient additional transit riders to justify the cost of extensions, let alone the additional operating costs. The end result will be even further misery for the area.