Sound Transit recently completed the second of their 2-day presentations to the Expert Review Panel (ERP) about the status of light rail. The ERP was created by the legislature to provide an independent system oversight. Its web site contains the following:
1) The legislature recognizes that the planning processes described in RCW 81.104.100 provide a recognized framework for guiding high capacity transportation studies. However, the process cannot guarantee appropriate decisions unless key study assumptions are reasonable.
(2) To assure appropriate system plan assumptions and to provide for review of system plan results, an expert review panel shall be appointed to provide independent technical review for development of any system plan.
9) The expert panel shall provide timely reviews and comments on individual reports and study conclusions to the department of transportation, the regional transportation planning organization, the joint regional policy committee, and the submitting lead transit agency.
While it was apparently open to the public, ERP events are pretty much held quietly and news coverage is rare. The recent ERP review was preceded by a similar review in May. While I didn’t attend either, the agendas for both meetings suggest they were “limited” to Sound Transit presentations they wanted the ERP to hear. Thus, its highly unlikely anything will come out of the review.
A more “balanced” approach would have raised the following issues:
1) ST Failure to recognize limitations for any light rail system.
2) Why ST is desperate for additional funding in 2016
3) What a successful light rail (BART) can do.
4) Why Prop 1 light rail extensions will never have the capacity or accessibility to justify the billions spent to construct light rail or the additional billions required to cover their increased operating costs.
5) Why the billions spent on Central Link extensions to Northgate that will begin operating in 2021 will provide a 10th of the capacity that could be achieved in a month by limiting one of the two HOV lanes to buses.
6) How the hundreds of millions and years spend on East Link could have been avoided 15 years ago by moving non-transit HOV lanes to the I-90 outer roadway and initiating two-way bus lanes on the center roadway.
7) How the operating costs of Prop 1 (and beyond) light rail extensions will require massive subsidies each year to cover the shortfall with fare-box revenue.
One of the more “interesting” items on the ERP web site is the latest Sound Transit Financial Plan showing, with no ST3 tax hike, they would need to borrow $6.6B between 2015-2023 to pay for their Prop 1 extensions. That’s in addition to their earlier $1.3B loan that already requires they pay $50M annually for 45years to amortize. If they do get the additional money to complete even their Prop 1 extensions, the additional money will be forever needed to cover the shortfall between operating costs and fare box revenue.
As it was, the ERT review was just another example of Sound Transit's ability to ignore the reality of their light rail debacle.