I submitted the following to the Seattle Times in response to the recent editorial page question “What Headlines Would You Like to See in 2016”. I posted it since they will “likely” ignore it.
Sound Transit Terminates Prop 1 Light Rail Extensions
All one needs to know about the area’s congestion problem and the utter futility of Sound Transit spending billions on Prop 1 light rail extensions attempting to “fix it” is available on the WSDOT website www.wsdot.com/traffic/seattle/default.aspx.
It includes a chart showing “Traffic Conditions” as of the date and time in colors ranging from green, “wide open”, yellow “moderate”, red “heavy” and black “stop and go”. If one is interested in their particular commute, the “Travel Time” charts shows not only current travel time, but average travel times for 61 routes throughout the area. Again the current travel times are color coded green for “less than average”, blue for “average”, and red for “longer than average”. All the data is updated every 3-5 minutes at least during peak commute times.
The 7:25 AM December 15th charts showed major portions on all the area’s roadways were either red or black indicating “heavy” or “stop and go” conditions. The only exception was both the I-90 and 520 bridge "traffic conditions" were green. The more important data for most commuters was the current travel time for their specific route. For example the 65-minute Everett-to-Seattle time on the regular lanes was green because the average was 74 minutes. Those able to use the express lanes reached Seattle in 64 minutes, 4 minutes less than the 68-minute average. The 64-minute Everett-to-Bellevue time was also green compared to the 67-minute average. Those able to use HOV lanes did so in 33 minutes.
The Federal Way-to-Seattle route travel times were a red 72 minutes vs. 60 average and 54 minutes on HOV lanes. Federal Way-to-Bellevue travel was even worse, 85 minutes vs. 74 average and 65 on HOV Lanes. Alderwood-to-South Center travel times via I-5 were 68 minutes vs. 74 via I-405. By comparison the I:00 PM December 15th traffic conditions were green throughout and commute times slashed to 30 minutes Everett-to-Seattle and 27 to Bellevue; Federal Way 23 minutes to Seattle and 25 to Bellevue; and Alderwood-to-Southcenter 31 and 32 minutes for I-5 and I-405 routes.
Again eastside residents benefitted with 7:25 AM cross-lake Bellevue-to-Seattle travel times of 13 minutes via 520, 18 minutes via I-90 regular lanes and 16 on I-90 HOV lanes, and 11 and 12 minutes on the two bridges at 1:00 PM. However, eastside congestion was evident in the 7:25 AM red 24-minute travel time between Issaquah and Bellevue. Cross-lake travel times tended to increase later in the morning, requiring a red 31 minutes on I-90 and 22 minutes on 520 at 8:30 on the 16th.
Sound Transit plans to spend $3.8B on East Link to confiscate the center roadway for light rail will undoubtedly turn I-90 Bridge traffic colors from mostly green to perpetual red and black with commensurate increased travel times for much of the day. Rather than increasing congestion they could reduce current cross-lake travel times by allowing commuters to use the essentially completed 4th lanes on the outer roadways. Easing I-90 corridor congestion requires attracting more transit riders with added parking and bus routes both into Seattle and to Bellevue T/C. Dividing the center roadway into inbound and outbound bus-only lanes will reduce transit times making it even more attractive.
The other obvious conclusion is that Prop 1 light rail extensions will have absolutely no impact on I-405 congestion. (The fact that average 7:45 AM Everett-to-Bellevue times increased to 67 minutes speaks volumes about the efficacy of the WSDOT spending $484 million on HOT lanes to reduce I-405 congestion.) Current Everett-to-Bellevue, Federal Way-to-Bellevue, and Alderwood-to-Southcenter via I-405 commute times will only increase as traffic grows.
The best I-5 commuters can expect from the billions spent on light rail is a reduction in the number of buses on the HOV lanes. However, it’s “unlikely” the reduced number of buses will change either the average 68-minute, 7:25 AM, HOV travel times between Everett and Seattle, or the 54-minute HOV times between Federal Way and Seattle.
Again, the “average” Travel Times on the WSDOT web site define the congestion problem. (No one can rationally classify a 64-minute travel time on an HOV lane between Everett and Seattle as "green".) The Prop 1 extensions will increase I-90 travel times and have at best, a minuscule effect on I-5. The only way to turn traffic colors on the web site green and reduce the “average” travel times is to use part of the light rail funds to add thousands of parking spaces “near where commuters live” with express bus routes to “near where they want to go”. Sound Transits acknowledgement of that reality via a headline “Sound Transit Terminates Prop 1 Light Rail Extensions” would benefit the entire area.