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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Legislature's Light Rail IRT Could Stop ST Prop 1 Extensions

It’s clear Sound Transit, in partnership with the WSDOT, is determined to proceed with the Prop 1 extensions voted approved in 2008.  They still apparently believe “it will be a gift to our grand children”.  The Seattle Times could have stopped them years ago with a single article detailing ST mendacity, incompetence, and arrogance in promoting light rail in our area. 

The Mercer Island city council is apparently willing to approve permits ST needs for an East Link that will end their constituents’ easy access to Seattle.  The Bellevue City Council rewrote their land use code to allow light rail construction and operation that will not only gridlock their cross-lake commuters, it will devastate those living along the route and end the quiet solitude of the Mercer Slough Park.  The Puget Sound Regional Council has spent nearly $1B over the years funding ST, apparently without any in the 19 member transportation staff objecting.  The Washington Policy Center seems to ignore the issue entirely.

At this point the most viable way to stop ST is for the legislature to use the upcoming legislative session to commission an Independent Review Team (IRT) study of the efficacy of ST light rail plans for dealing with the area’s transportation crisis.  To that end I sent the following email to leaders of the legislative Joint Transportation Committee (JTC).

Dear Sen. King, Rep. Clibborn and Rep. Orcutt,
As leaders of the Senate and House Transportation Committees I urge you to use the upcoming legislative session to  commission an Independent Review Team (IRT) to assess the efficacy of Sound Transits current light rail plans for dealing with the areas transportation problems.  This IRT study would be similar to what the Joint Transportation Committee commissioned in 2008 concerning I-90 Bridge/Light rail compatibility.  My reasons for making this request are detailed in my blog http://stopeastlinknow.blogspot.com.
Bill Hirt

That IRT was commissioned because East Link was the first attempt to install light rail on a floating bridge.  In Sept 2005, the WSDOT attempted to demonstrate the I-90 Bridge could withstand the loads using flat bed trucks to simulate the 74-ton light rail cars. The WSDOT concluded "the results of the test confirmed previous findings that the bridge can be structurally retrofitted to carry the loads associated with the light rail system under consideration”. 

However, the JTC (along with the FHWA) was not satisfied with WSDOT test and conclusion.   They commissioned an independent review team (IRT)  to evaluate whether the bridge could be redesigned to accommodate light rail.  The IRT concluded in Sept 2008 that additional tests were needed for the bridge expansion joint.  ST finally came up with an expansion joint which they claim was successfully demonstrated in full-scale tests of the expansion joint in Pueblo Nevada in 2013.

The bottom line is the legislature has the authority to commission an independent review of Sound Transit and WSDOT light rail policies. While not as critical to safety as bridge structural concerns, the legislature surely has an obligation to determine the efficacy of the Prop 1 light rail extensions for meeting the area’s transportation needs. 

I am absolutely certain any competent IRT would reach the following conclusions detailed in many posts on this blog:

1) The only practicable way to reduce peak congestion is to increase the number of people choosing to ride buses to and from work. 
2) The existing I-5, I-90, and SR405 routes already have or can easily have the needed capacity to accommodate the additional buses.
3) The billions spent on ST Prop 1 extensions aimed primarily towards replacing bus routes will do nothing to reduce I-5 congestion and will increase I-90 congestion with their plans to eliminate all cross-lake buses.
4) The costs of constructing and operating light rail trains over the Prop 1 extensions will dwarf fare box revenue to the point where hundreds of millions of subsidies will be required annually to cover the short fall.                

The only way to effectively ease the area’s 4th worst congestion is to:

1) Cancel Central Link Prop 1 light rail extensions
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    

The fact the JTC leaders have so far declined to respond is not promising.  They along with the rest of the committee need to be encouraged to commission the IRT in the upcoming session.  The Seattle Times could do so.  The Mercer Island city council could make approval of the permits ST needs contingent on IRT study results.  (They could use their legislative "influence" (Rep. Clibborn) to insist on an IRT for a fraction of the time and money spent fighting I-90 tolls.) The Bellevue City Council could use an IRT result rather than their Citizens Advisory Committee to justify the permits.   Time will tell whether any will do so.

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