Sound Transit’s purported plans for ST3 are just another indication of their inability to deal with the area’s transit needs. Their ST3 plans for the east side are a perfect example. They’ve apparently finally recognized that East Link can’t possibly “meet growing transit and mobility demands by increasing person-moving capacity across Lake Washington on I-90 by up to 60 percent” they claimed in 2008 DEIS. They’ve dropped their earlier ST2040 plans for extending East Link to Bothell, Issaquah, and Renton.
However, that recognition has not “influenced” their decision to close down the I-90 Bridge center roadway for light rail next year precluding ever initiating BRT there, the only way to provide needed cross-lake capacity. The resulting increased congestion on the bridge outer roadways will simply add to the I-90 congestion in the Eastgate area. East Link construction will devastate the route into Bellevue and disrupt the city with the tunnel for up to 6 years.
When completed the vast majority of eastside commuters won’t even have access to East Link. The ST claim for 50,000 riders by 2030 is belied by the fact they’ve recently dropped plans for transferring 40,000 of those 50,000 riders from buses at South Bellevue and Mercer Island light rail stations. It’s not clear how many riders they now anticipate. Whatever that number East Link will change forever the commute into and out of Seattle.
Rather than deal with the cross-lake commuting problems Sound Transit’s ST3 proposal simply ignores it. They attempt to garner eastside support with “eastside-to-eastside” improvements. Their Feb 8th ST3 presentation to the Bellevue City Council included a separate light rail line between Totem Lake and Issaquah, BRT between Kirkland and Bellevue, and BRT between Lynnwood and Tukwila on I-405.
It’s difficult to believe that enough commuters would use light rail between Totem Lake and Issaquah to ever justify the cost of constructing and operating light rail. ST’s belated interest in BRT is a welcome improvement. The decision to initiate BRT between Kirkland and Bellevue would surely benefit Kirkland commuters who currently have no direct bus connections between the South Kirkland P&R and Bellevue T/C.
However ST3 “neglects” to even propose BRT for cross-lake commuting on SR520. Doing so in combination with a T/C at the UW light rail station could have provided an attractive transit option for thousands of commuters from both sides of the lake. Their failure to insist on a UW T/C near the stadium with BRT on SR520 along with their failure to ever consider BRT on I-90 Bridge exemplifies their incompetence.
BRT is also something they could begin doing in 6 months rather than waiting 6 years for ST3. On I-405 they could initially double or triple the 7 buses per hour (ST532 and ST535) they currently route during peak commute from Everett and Lynwood. Some of the added routes could skip intermediate stations to reduce transit times and some could be routed to the Overlake T/C to attract “Microsoft” employees. On SR520 they could similarly increase cross-lake capacity with more buses both from P&R lots on the eastside to UW station and from UW station to Bellevue and Overlake T/C’s.
The initial capital expenditures would be minimal and the only limitation would be the number of parking spaces commuters would have for access to the bus routes. Parking for thousands of additional cars are needed along I-5, I-405 and throughout eastside before BRT will have any effect on congestion. The fact the added parking was never considered in Prop 1 and has yet to be included as part of ST3 is a clear indication ST simply doesn’t understand the concept of BRT and is only proposing it to attract eastside support rather than ease eastside congestion.
In conclusion, ST failure to ever consider BRT on I-90 Bridge has already been a disaster for eastside commuters. It’s only going to get worse when they close the bridge center roadway next year. Their ST3 proposal forces eastside voters to contribute a major portion of the additional $1 billion each year to perpetuate this debacle. Despite ST claims to the contrary, voter rejection of ST3 is the most likely way to force them to “reconsider” it in the future.