Like presumably many others I recently received the following email invitation to an Oct 29th Seattle Times “Livewire Event” entitled “Gridlocked: Driving Solutions to our Region’s Traffic Jams” sponsored by Sound Transit and the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Please join Seattle Times journalist Thanh Tan for a forum about how to turn our transportation problems around. The Puget Sound area is one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S., and rated among the worst for traffic congestion. Local and national leaders will explore creative ideas about how to keep people and commerce moving forward.
I have no idea who the “local and national leaders” are but, if Sound Transit is a sponsor, I’m dubious as to the results. Especially since the Seattle Times has been so slavish in their support of ST despite the fact many of the area’s transportation problems are a direct result of ST and WSDOT incompetence.
For example, 15 years ago ST and WSDOT could have added 4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways. The added lanes have been part of any cross-lake improvements since the mid 1990’s. The costs would have been minimal and commuters from both sides of the lake, but particularly “reverse” commuters would have benefitted immediately. Thousands of commuters have needless endured years of increased congestion because of the delay. Recently those switching to I-90 to avoid 520 tolls have simply added to the problem.
ST could have used the outer-roadway 4th lanes for non-transit HOV and divided the I-90 center roadway into two-way bus-only lanes. Each lane could have accommodated more than 1000 buses per hour, allowing direct bus routes from every P&R on the east side. The costs would have been minimal and ST could have spent most of the nearly $1 billion they’ve spent on East Link expanding existing P&R lots and adding new ones with connecting bus routes. Eastside commuters would have had the option of leaving their car near where they "live" rather than where they "work" reducing congestion throughout the entire area.
Instead ST and the WSDOT refuse to recognize two problems with East Link. The first is the assumption that the 4th lanes they intend to add to the I-90 outer roadways will provide sufficient capacity to accommodate all the cross-lake vehicular traffic. They used that claim to convince a judge in the Freeman suit to allow them to proceed with plans to close the center roadway for light rail (now scheduled for 2017).
That claim is debunked by a May 8th PSRC presentation to the Eastside Transportation Partnership (ETP) “Stuck in Traffic: 2015 Report”. It includes a chart (Page 20) showing I-5 HOV travel times between Everett and Seattle increased to ~75 minutes in the morning, and ~68 minutes in the afternoon in 2014. The problem is carpools dramatically reduce the number of buses, slashing lane transit capacity. (That reality is presumably what led the FHWA to conclude in a September 2004 "I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations Project Record of Decision" that the center roadway remain open to vehicles even with the 4th lanes added to the outer roadway in the R8-A configuration they approved))
The lane could provide the needed capacity if limited to buses. However, the lack of eastside parking and bus service precludes attracting the numbers of transit riders needed to take advantage of the capacity. (The ST closure of the South Bellevue P&R with no plans to replace it adds to the problem.) Thus, the lack of transit riders means ST closure of the I-90 center roadway in 2017 will undoubtedly gridlock vehicle traffic on the outer roadway.
The second problem is ST plans for operating East Link, one 4-car every 8 minutes, will never provide the capacity to accommodate the number of transit riders needed to reduce I-90 congestion. It’s not clear whether they'll continue to insist East Link will replace all cross-lake buses. If they do East Link operation will reduce peak transit capacity by nearly 50%. Those unable to use transit will add to the outer roadway congestion. If they relent and allow some of the buses to continue into and out of Seattle, the lack of parking and buses will still limit number of transit riders needed to reduce congestion.
In conclusion, ST delays in adding 4th lanes to I-90 Bridge outer roadways have already forced east side commuters to endure years of congestion. However the current congestion, at least on I-90, pales in comparison to what will happen when ST closes the I-90 bridge center roadway in 2017 and even worse when East Link begins operation.
The “Solutions” to the I-90 congestion is for ST to use the light rail funds to add thousands of parking spaces throughout the east side and bus routes to service them.
It's "unlikely" the forum will reach that conclusion.