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.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dear Governor Inslee

I emailed the following to Governor Inslee’s web site today.  I decided to post it since he is unlikely to do anything about it.

Dear Governor Inslee,
I believe there is a “fairer” way to “pay for transportation projects” than your proposal in the Dec 17th Times for taxing CO2 emitters.  The vast majority of Seattle and surrounding area residents already pay hundreds of millions every year to Sound Transit ($651M in ST 2015 budget) to fund their $16-20B Prop 1 light rail extensions.  You need to use your executive authority along with the legislature’s WSDOT oversight responsibility to “persuade” Sound Transit to redirect a major portion of those funds towards transportation projects that will alleviate our areas transportation problems.  This email is my attempt to explain why you should do so.

The problem with Sound Transit and the WSDOT is they ignore the reality of light rail limits in our area. Their joint 2008 DEIS referred to a PSRC 2004 document “Central Puget Sound Regional High Capacity Transit Corridor Assessment” to “establish a basis for more detailed planning studies and environmental analysis”.  Yet the document they cited concluded the tunnel limited light rail through Seattle to a maximum of one 4-car train every 4 minutes, 60 cars per hour, with a capacity of 8,880 pphdh (people per hour per direction).  A relatively small number of riders for the huge financial investment required for the Prop 1 extensions.

The only rational justification for spending billions on the Prop 1 extensions to Lynnwood (2008 Prop 1 route went to Mill Creek) would be to reduce congestion on I-5.  However, the majority of those who will ride on light rail trains will be those who previously rode buses.   Since current transit ridership along I-5 is a fraction of the 8880 rphpd  its not "clear" how they intend to attract or find parking for all the additional riders.  

A 70-ft articulated bus can accommodate 119 riders.  If the buses they replaced averaged 90 riders during the peak commute, Central Link would reduce the number of I-5 buses by 99 buses per hour.  A freeway lane can accommodate 5000 vehicles an hour so 99 fewer buses on I-5 will have a minuscule effect on capacity.  Similarly, if the goal were to increase I-5 capacity, 75 buses would provide the same increased capacity without spending a dime on construction, again with a minuscule effect on I-5 congestion.

Since half of the Central Link capacity through the tunnel will be diverted to East Link, the Federal Way extension will have even less effect on I-5 congestion.  Yet their cost per mile of construction is presumably similar to the Lynnwood extensions.  It will take only 38 buses per hour to provide the same increased capacity from 30 light rail cars, again without spending a dime on construction. 

The ST East Link extension is the most absurd of all.  In this case they intend to use light rail to replace all cross-lake buses.   As a result I-90 transit capacity will be limited to the 4440 riders per hour, far less than the current peak transit ridership, and a fraction of ST EIS promises East Link would “Meet growing transit demands by increasing person-moving capacity across Lake Washington on I-90 by 60 percent”.   

East Link’s confiscation of I-90 center roadway forces two HOV lanes onto a single lane on the outer roadway, substantially increasing outer roadway congestion.  East Link construction will disrupt commuters who use the buses and the P&R along the route and devastate those who live along the route.  What’s “remarkable” is East Link operation will further increase outer roadway congestion since the lack of transit capacity will force many commuters to “drive” rather than “ride”.  Thus, while the billions spent on Central Link extensions will do nothing to reduce congestion on I-5, the money spent on East Link will increase I-90 congestion, inevitably leading to gridlock.

The Prop 1 extensions even defy the conventional wisdom that the high cost to initiate light rail service is offset by lower operating costs.  ST 2015 budgets show light rail cars cost $23.04 per mile to operate, more than twice their $10.00 per mile cost for buses.  Thus buses can provide the same capacity at about half the cost of light rail.  Also, transit times on buses, at least on south end routes, will be shorter than on light rail.  

Buses also have an advantage since they're far more accessible than light rail trains.  ST may decide to terminate some bus routes at Northgate to increase light rail ridership (They force all I-90 transit riders to transfer to East Link light rail trains.)  While doing so increases light rail ridership it does nothing to increase fare box revenue unless they decide to force those commuters to pay twice.  In either case not only will light rail operating costs be  higher, fare box revenue will be substantially less requiring a huge subsidy to cover the shortfall.

What is “beyond words” is ST long term plans (2040) to spend additional billions on Central Link extensions to Everett that will still be limited to 8880 rphpd by the tunnel.  The lack of increased capacity means very little additional fare box revenue but operating costs nearly double from the added route lengths.  Light rail capacity for the billions spent on extensions to Tacoma and beyond will still be limited to 4440 rphpd.    A huge construction cost with no increased capacity and a huge increase in operating cost with little added fare box revenue. 

The 2040 East Link plans are so stupid they’d be laughable if they weren’t such a potential disaster for the entire area.  They include extending Prop 1 route to Bothell, adding extensions to Woodinville, Issaquah, and Renton, as well as adding various other light rail routes.  The billions spent extending light rail will have a minuscule effect on I-90 or SR405 congestion. 

The most effective way to reduce congestion is to attract additional commuters to buses with improved service along the two corridors.  Yet the ST plan to eliminate all cross-lake buses is a huge disincentive for transit riders.   The Woodinville, Issaquah, and Renton light rail trains would presumably be routed along with the Prop 1 route across I-90 Bridge.  Yet all four routes will be limited to total of one 4-car train every 8 minutes or a total of 30 cars per hour, or 7.5 cars per hour per route, about 10 buses per hour.  Again, that is beyond words.

In conclusion, the only way to make light rail viable in our area is to terminate Central Link at a T/C near the UW light rail station and limit any southern extensions to the current 200 South extension.  East Link should be replaced with a light rail extension to West Seattle that will supplement existing bus routes rather than replace them. The ST 2040 proposal does just the opposite spending billions on light rail extensions that won’t reduce congestion but will double or triple the already heavy Prop 1 operating deficit.

The construction money saved by stopping the Prop 1 extensions and the sheer idiocy of their 2040 plans will be more than sufficient to cover needed highway improvements.  The fact that eliminating the routes avoids the operating deficits and “financial black hole” for the entire area’s transportation funds adds to the need to do so.    

Bill lHirt

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