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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Sound Transit Central Link Debacle

The previous post detailed how Sound Transit will spend nearly $3B on an East Link light rail that will not only devastate the route into Bellevue, it will increase congestion on I-90 Bridge and create a ”financial black hole” for the areas transportation funds.   This post explains why the billions Sound Transit is planning to spend on Prop 1 Central Link extension along I-5 is even more inept and far more costly.

The Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) May 8th report to the Eastside Transportation Partnership “Stuck in Traffic: 2015” explains how commuting times have increased dramatically recently.  Of particular interest was the chart showing that the ~25-minute HOV travel times between Everett and Seattle during "off peak" operation increased to nearly 75 minutes during morning commute and close to 70 minutes in the afternoon.  

It was a "surprise" congestion had already essentially eliminated the travel-time advantages from car pools and buses with the two HOV lanes.  Still an Oct. 21st Seattle Times article "Region's commute times worsen" reported the HOV lanes carried 33,900 people in each direction during the six hours from 6-9 a.m and 3-6 p.m.

Sound Transit’s plan to spend billions extending Central Link to Lynnwood and beyond is supposedly aimed at reducing congestion and travel times for all I-5 commuters.  Unfortunately the Central Link does very little of either.  In 2021 when the Northgate extension begins operating, those with access to Central Link will avoid the delays along that portion of I-5 into Seattle.

However the PSRC concluded the Seattle tunnel will limit Central Link to one 4-car train every 4 minutes or sixty 74-seat light rail cars an hour carrying 8880 riders per hour.   Even that rather limited capacity is only relevant if ST provides sufficient access for riders along the route.  Doing so will presumably require ST route buses to the Northgate station.  Thus the extension will have no effect on congestion further north.  It's also unlikely the extension will generate much additional revenue since those riding on buses routed to Northgate presumably won't be required to pay a second fare.

The Northgate extension will also have a minimal effect on congestion into Seattle.  Whatever the number of buses ST chooses to route to the Northgate station (rather than into Seattle) it's “unlikely” to significantly reduce congestion on the two I-5 HOV lanes, each capable of 5000 vehicles per hour.  The eventual extension to Lynnwood and beyond would face the same limitation on riders and have even less affect on congestion. 

What makes the ST Central Link extensions such a debacle is the “delay” for buses during peak commute could be largely eliminated by simply restricting one of the two HOV lanes to buses only.  A single lane can accommodate up to 1000 buses per hour.  Since each 70-foot articulated bus can accommodate up to 119 riders, a single bus-only-lane could easily provide more than ten times light rail capacity for a miniscule amount of money.  Not only would the bus-only lanes provide access and reduced travel times from every I-5 corridor P&R, they could be doing so in a month. The benefits would surely outweigh the increased commute time for car pools restricted to a single lane, although initially +3 HOV would still have access.  

The resultant ~25-minute commute times from Everett to Seattle would undoubtedly attract thousands of additional riders along the route, easing congestion for everyone. The only limitations would be the available bus capacity, parking near where people live, and suitable drop-off and pick-up points in Seattle.  A 70-foot articulated bus costs a fraction of a light rail car and less than half as much to operate. The costs for the additional parking (which would be needed even with Central Link extensions) would be a fraction of light rail construction costs.  Limiting 2nd and 4th Aves to buses would allow assigned drop off and pick up points for each route facilitating transit egress and access in Seattle.

The other ST Central Link blunder was their agreement with UW officials not to locate a T/C near the University Station.  The T/C could have provided an interface between 520 bus routes and Central Link light rail.  (What ST presumably hopes to do with the Northgate station for I-5 transit.)   Doing so would make maximum use of Central Link capacity providing 520 commuters from both sides of the lake with twice the capacity of East Link.  The miniscule amount of money spent on the T/C would likely result in thousands of additional commuters attracted to transit.  The additional fare box revenue would go a long ways towards making Central Link financially viable, something their Central Link extensions will never do.

The bottom line is ST needs to work with WSDOT to restrict one of the I-5 HOV lanes to buses, abort the Northgate extension, and  “persuade” UW to allow a T/C at University station.  Failure to do so only extends their current debacle. 

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