Those familiar with this blog should be aware of the reasons why Sound Transit’s Prop 1 light rail extensions will be a disaster for the areas commuters and transportation budgets. Spending billions on Central Link light rail extensions that largely replace existing bus routes will do nothing to reduce transit congestion on I-5 corridor. Even worse, the longer routes for the light rail trains will require huge subsides to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue. Here’s what can be done to fix it.
Rather than extend light rail to Northgate and beyond, ST should terminate Central Link at a T/C near the University light rail station. The T/C would attract thousands of transit riders from both sides of the lake by serving as an interface between 520 buses and light rail trains. (Doing so may require they reconsider their decision to drop the 2nd bridge for the Montlake Cut.) The costs of construction and subsequent operation of any extension beyond SeaTac will far exceed any potential fare box revenue gains. Unfortunately nothing can be done about the extension to South 200th.
Stopping East Link would prevent ST from spending billions confiscating the I-90 Bridge center roadway for a light rail system with a fraction of the capacity of two-way bus only lanes. East Link will not only inevitably result in cross-lake gridlock, it will devastate the area along the route into Bellevue. It should be replaced with a light rail link to West Seattle, dramatically improving that area’s access to public transit. The shorter West Link to UW T/C route would allow 4-car trains to maximize capacity without excessive operating The recent rejection of the monorail makes this extension particularly important.
All I-90 corridor commuters would benefit if ST also expedited adding the 4th lanes to the bridge outer roadways. The added lanes could be used for non-transit HOV, allowing the center roadway to be divided into two-way bus only lanes. The bus only lanes would provide sufficient capacity for supplementing existing bus routes with additional buses and additional routes between P&R lots and downtown Seattle for future growth. Some P&R lots could merit bus connections to Bellevue T/C. Attracting additional riders would reduce congestion throughout east side.
The 2015 ST budget includes spending nearly $400 million on the Prop 1 extensions. Presumably these expenditures will escalate in future years to spend the 18-20B voters approved in 2008. However, the key to reducing congestion throughout the area is to attract more commuters to buses. ST should use Prop 1 funds to survey the major employment centers in Seattle and Bellevue to determine what additional bus service is needed to attract more riders and where additional parking is required to allow them to do so. Use the results to expedite additional parking and to supplement existing bus routes with additional buses and provide direct routes connecting P&R lots with dedicated drop-off and pickup points in Seattle.
In conclusion, it’s way past time for the ST Board of Directors to recognize the following needs to be done to reduce the area's congestion:
1) Cancel Central Link light rail extensions aimed primarily at replacing existing bus routes, do nothing to reduce I-5 congestion, and will require a huge subsidy to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue.
2) Replace the Northgate extension with a T/C near the University light rail station that will attract thousands of 520 commuters from both sides of the lake.
3) Expedite the 4th lane on the I-90 Bridge outer roadway for non-transit HOV and initiate two-way bus only lanes on the center roadway to increase cross-lake capacity
4) Use East Link funds to create a West Link light rail connection between West Seattle and UW T/C allowing 4-car trains to maximize capacity without excessive operating costs.
If they fail to do so, others need to “convince” them. This post continues the blog’s effort to make that happen. Commuters will pay a heavy price for a very long time if it doesn't