The 11/20/15 Bellevue Reporter about Sound Transit’s Bellevue Tunnel prompted the following post
East Link Insanity Continues,
Sound Transit’s decision to begin the light rail tunnel this month is just another example of their insane approach to the area’s transportation problems. I chose insane because their actions reflect far more than just mere incompetence. (Their decision to partially close 1-90 Bridge on the same weekend as a 520 closure is an even more recent example.)
It’s almost as if ST gets some sort of perverse pleasure out of making things miserable for east side commuters. It’s not clear what the immediate impact will be but they could have at least waited until after the holidays to begin. According to the Bellevue Reporter it will take 4½ years to finish the 2½ block long tunnel.
This raises two questions. First, “Why are they beginning the tunnel more than 7 years before East Link service will begin in 2023?”. Second, “Why does it take 4½ years for the 2½ block Bellevue tunnel when they can complete the 4.3-mile Northgate tunnel in two years?
Apparently at least part of the reason is the ST decision to use a “Sequential Evacuation Method” (SEM) rather than a more conventional “bore-driven” tunnel. It involves carving out a section of tunnel and spraying the unsupported section with fast drying concrete to keep it from collapsing into the excavated area.
This SEM technique has worked well in other areas, most notably in Australia. Apparently the longer construction times are offset by lower costs as attested to by the fact the winning $121M bid was 23% lower than ST estimated costs. It wasn’t clear whether the winner had what would seem to be needed experience with this SEM technique.
The benefits of the lower cost apparently didn’t reduce the $100M the Bellevue City Council agreed to pay for the tunnel. Thus SEM is another example of where ST benefits from lower costs and the Bellevue central business district is faced with an additional 3 or more years of disruption associated with the excavation and construction of the tunnel.
Again, the tunnel decision is just the latest example of ST apparent animus toward eastside residents. Fifteen years ago they could have added 4th lanes to the I-90 outer roadways for non-transit HOV lanes and divided the center roadway into inbound and outbound bus only lanes. The bus lanes could have been combined with additional parking spaces to allow thousands of eastside residents access to express bus routes into Seattle; leaving their cars near where they live and easing congestion throughout the area.
Instead they never considered two-way bus lanes in the 2008 DEIS claiming light rail could accommodate up to 12,000 riders per hour in each direction and promising the 4th lanes, when finally opened to traffic in 2017, would provide “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”. Yet East Link will be limited to 4500 riders per hour and ST refuses to demonstrate that the outer roadways won’t have the same congestion problems I-5 HOV commuters are currently having. Meanwhile ST is in the process of devastating the route into Bellevue and plans to close the South Bellevue P&R next March, severely limiting eastside commuter P&R access to transit.
The ST decision to drop their “Integrated Transit Service” (ITS) with I-90 bus riders transferring to and from light rail for the Lake Washington Bridge portion of their commute essentially ends light rail access for most eastside commuters. (ST may or may not have recognized ITS would have increased I-90 Bridge congestion since the lack of light rail capacity would have resulted in more commuters forced to “drive” rather than “ride”.)
The end result is the vast majority of the 10,000 daily riders able to use the $3.6B East Link light rail will be Seattleites. Meanwhile eastside commuters can look forward to ever increasing congestion on I-405 and I-90. Blaming it on “mere incompetence” doesn’t do justice to the resulting debacle.