About this blog

My name is Bill Hirt and I'm a candidate to be a Representative from the 48th district in the Washington State legislature. My candidacy stems from concern the legislature is not properly overseeing the WSDOT and Sound Transit East Link light rail program. I believe East Link will be a disaster for the entire eastside. ST will spend 5-6 billion on a transportation project that will increase, not decrease cross-lake congestion, violates federal environmental laws, devastates a beautiful part of residential Bellevue, creates havoc in Bellevue's central business district, and does absolutely nothing to alleviate congestion on 1-90 and 405. The only winners with East Link are the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and their labor unions.

This blog is an attempt to get more public awareness of these concerns. Many of the articles are from 3 years of failed efforts to persuade the Bellevue City Council, King County Council, east side legislators, media, and other organizations to stop this debacle. I have no illusions about being elected. My hope is voters from throughout the east side will read of my candidacy and visit this Web site. If they don't find them persuasive I know at least I tried.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

East Link's Fatal Flaws

I have difficulty hearing presentations to the Bellevue City Council so I frequently view videos of the meetings when the agenda is “interesting”.   The January 25th agenda concerning the East Link Project Update was of particular interest, especially the status of the I-90 bridge design. 

East Link, as the first attempt to install light rail on a floating bridge, has been a concern item since February 2009 when the FHWA response to the Sound Transit 2008 DEIS concluded:

We think there is additional work to be done to determine if it is feasible to design an expansion joint to accommodate light rail.

While much has been done, the design is yet to be approved by WSDOT.  ST officials seemed to give great credence to their bridge engineers comment “he saw no fatal flaws whatsoever in putting light rail on a floating bridge’’.   I’m not sure whether his inability to “see any fatal flaw” means there aren’t any. 

Assuming the light rail/floating bridge compatibility issues are resolved still leaves East Link with “fatal flaws’.  The first of which will be evident next year when ST closes the I-90 Bridge center roadway to begin installing light rail.   The 4th lanes they're currently adding to the bridge outer roadway will not have the capacity to make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes. 

This lack of capacity of the single lane is presumably what led to the Sept 2004 FHWA Record of Decision “I-90 Two-Way Transit and HOV Operations Project” recommending the R-8A configuration they approved not only added the 4th lanes to the outer roadway but maintained the two center roadway lanes for vehicles.  This conclusion was recently supported by a PSRC “Stuck in Traffic; 2015 Report” showing 75-minute commute times between Everett and Seattle on HOV lanes.  The ST refusal to expedite adding the 4th lanes and temporarily close the center roadway to demonstrate outer roadway capacity typifies their approach to East Link "flaws".

The second "fatal flaw” won’t be apparent to commuters until East Link begins operation in 2023.  That’s the lack of East Link capacity. The ST 2008 DEIS promised East Link would “increase cross lake transit capacity by up to 60%”.  Yet they recently conceded East Link operation will consist of one 4-car train every 8 minutes.  Assuming an average of 150 riders in each of the 4-car trains gives 4500 rph, less than half current peak transit capacity.  

Presumably this belated recognition contributed to ST canceling plans to use light rail to replace even existing cross-lake buses.  It also was the likely reason ST abandoned their ST2040 plans for extending East Link to Bothell, Issaquah, and Renton in favor of the absurd separate light rail connection between Totem Lake and Issaquah.

Of course the most fatal flaw of all was the ST failure to add  4th lanes to the I-90 Bridge for non-transit HOV and initiate two-way BRT on the center roadway 10 years ago.  Commuters have already needlessly endured years of congestion because of that "flaw" and its only going to get worse. 

The end  result of all these "flaws" will be ST spending $3.6B on a light rail system disrupting cross-lake commuters, those who live or commute along the route into Bellevue, and a major portion of downtown Bellevue with the tunnel, all to create an East Link light rail system that will inevitably lead to gridlock on the outer bridge roadway.  Flaws that surely qualify as "fatal".  The real absurdity is it's all for one measly 4-car train every 8 minutes.

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