Sound Transit’s 2008 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) promised voters East Link would “Meet growing transit and mobility demands by increasing person-moving capacity across Lake Washington on I-90 by up to 60 percent”. Light rail on “the center roadway would have a peak hour capacity of up to 18,000 to 24,000 people per hour equivalent to between 6-10 freeway lanes of traffic.” Thus it’s no wonder voters approved it.
If true, such capacity might justify the loss of transit access from South Bellevue P&R closure, the years of increased congestion on I-90, the disruption to those who live or commute along the route, and even the disruption to downtown Bellevue despite the $100M paid for a tunnel.
Unfortunately, the DEIS promises were sheer fantasy. ST has “conceded” East Link will provide one 4-car train every 8 minutes. If each 74-seat car can accommodate 148 riders (per PSRC) East Link will have the capacity for 4440 riders per hour per direction (RPHPD). Even that capacity is not assured since the latest information I have is that federal authorities have still not approved the ST I-90 bridge design. (East Link is the first attempt to install light rail on a “floating bridge” and there is concern as to whether the “expansive joints” connecting the fixed and floating sections can withstand the loads from light rail trains.)
When East Link service begins, those riding buses on I-90 will be forced to transfer to and from light rail trains at either the South Bellevue or Mercer Island light rail stations for their commute into and out of Seattle. ST predicts 40,000 will do so daily. Assuming they’re divided equally, each station will be inundated with 10,000 riders during morning and afternoon commutes dwarfing what the stations are supposedly designed for.
It will take East Link 4 ½ hours to accommodate the 20,000 commuters who transfer at the two stations each morning. That doesn’t include those who get on prior to S Bellevue. It also means Mercer Island residents and those transferring there will have “difficulty” attempting to use transit at least during morning peak commute hours. The afternoon commutes will also be “problematic” since its unclear how and where they will make connections to their respective buses.
Rather than increasing person-moving capacity by 60% East Link will “likely” result in thousands choosing to “drive” rather than “ride” exacerbating the outer roadway congestion from closure of center roadway. East Link operation will be a disaster for cross-lake commuters.
East Link operation, despite ST promises to FTA and FHWA that “light rail noise will have no impact on Mercer Slough Park” will end the park’s quiet solitude. Noisy light rail trains operating into and out of a huge maintenance facility for 20 hours a day will do nothing to add to Spring District “ambience”.
Contrary to claims by East Link proponents, developers and others will likely be dissuaded by noisy four 74-ton light rail cars trundling though Bel-Red every 4 minutes for 18 hours a day and with access limited to stations at 120th and 130th. . While commuters there will have “first” access to light rail in the morning they’ll “share” the same lack of capacity with other eastside commuters on the return trip. Bel-Red residents would have far better transit service into and out of Seattle with 520 BRT routes.
The “benefits” from East Link operation go way beyond the east side. The entire area will get to “contribute” to the subsidies required to cover the shortfall between the added operating expenses with the extended route and the minimal additional fare box revenue (assuming they won't be asking the 40,000 transferees to pay twice) it will generate.
The only real “beneficiaries” will be those involved in promoting, planning, designing, and constructing East Link. Millions have already been spent promoting East Link in the media with countless fliers and open houses extolling its benefits. Millions more spent on consultants and planners leading up to the actual construction of light rail tracks and light rail stations. However, these moneys likely pale in comparison to the billions those doing the actual construction, presumably the Associated General Contractors and their labor unions will benefit.
I’ll leave it up to others to determine their influence on the approval process.