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.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The "Selling" of ST3

The recent full-page ads in the Seattle Times heralding the start of the Sound Transit University Link by asking “Where do you want to go?” is just a precursor to a very expensive (and very lucrative for the Times and the other media outlets) campaign aimed at garnering voter support for their ST3 funding proposal this fall.

The “Selling” of ST3 began with County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chairman Dow Constantine’s response to the 2015 legislation enabling the vote.

“What we can do is create light rail to take you where you want to go, when you want to go, on time, every time, for work, for play, for school”    

The recent ads were slightly more “modest”.

 “Link light rail makes it easy to get around Seattle, whether it’s to school, to soccer practice or just to hang out with friends”

Both of these “visions” for light rail would seem to be based on the rather dubious assumption that large numbers of residents would live within easy walking distance of light rail stations and that their destinations, schools, soccer fields, areas to play and "hang out" would also be within walking distance of light rail stations.  

The reality is, like Sound Transit’s East Link “vision”, they're sheer fantasy. East Link, which ST “envisioned” as the equivalent of 10 lanes of freeway capable of increasing I-90 transit capacity by 60%, is now conceded to consist of one 4-car train every 8 minutes most I-90 corridor transit commuters won’t even have access to.  East Link will increase congestion for the vast majority of cross-lake commuters.  The Sound Transit recent claim the University Link will add 45,000 transit commuters by 2021 is another fantasy because of their failure to insist on a T/C at the UW stadium station.   

The problem with their ST3 proposal is, like their Prop 1 extensions, Sound Transit doesn’t “recognize” the only way to ease congestion in this area is to provide thousands of additional parking spaces allowing commuters to leave their cars near where they live rather than near where they work. Neither Prop 1 nor ST3 include any provisions for adding the parking or the bus routes needed to connect the P&R lots to the light rail stations.      

Their “reluctance” to do so “may” reflect the concern commuters may ask “Why not save the billions they intend to spend on light rail extensions and route the buses directly into Seattle rather than a light rail station?”.  (Particularly if doing so requires they pay another toll for light rail.) The added bus routes would have a negligible effect on congestion and could be facilitated by limiting one of the two HOV lanes on I-5 to buses-only during peak commute hours.  Commuter egress and access in Seattle could be accommodated by converting 4th Ave into an “elongated two-way, bus only T/C” with assigned drop-off and pick-up locations for individual routes. 

Instead we have Sound Transit “selling” ST3 as light rail extensions “beyond” Prop 1.  This whole scenario reminds me of the recent movie “The Big Short”.   In this case the part of the “big banks and brokerage houses" who proclaimed the soundness of their mortgage lending practices is played by Sound Transit and their “vision” for light rail. 

The parts of the regulators and other organizations that gave the bonds AAA ratings until the end is played by the WSDOT and the members of the House and Senate Transportation committees in the legislature who “oversee” the WSDOT.  The part of the politicians who insisted the bankers make housing “more affordable” with “sub-prime” loans to those “unlikely” to afford payments is played by the Times, other media outlets, and other organizations who, if not “cheer leading” Sound Transit, are quietly acquiescing to ST3. 

The ratings agencies presumably did so to attract business from those wishing the good ratings.  The WSDOT has been an active partner with Sound Transit, co-signing their fantasies in the 2008 DEIS and refusing to require they demonstrate the I-90 outer roadway can accommodate all the cross-lake vehicles before they close the center roadway next year.  The legislation allowing the ST3 vote that, if approved, will surely benefit the construction companies and their labor unions.  The Seattle Times and the other media outlets have “benefited” from the money they’ve gotten and will continue to get from advertisements promoting ST3. 

I’ll leave it to others to decide whether the legislators’ approval, the Times actions as Sound Transit’s “cheer leader”, and other organizations support are “influenced” by campaign funds from construction companies, unions, advertising revenue, or financial support.  (The Times refusal to recognize the futility of Sound Transit’s Prop 1 and ST3 extensions in dealing with the area’s 4th, or 7th worst congestion in the country is a sad commentary on a paper that has earned 10 Pulitzers.) 

The current “Selling” of ST3 raises the question as to why Sound Transit is asking for the additional funds this fall for ST3 extensions that won’t begin until 2023.  Everyone’s aware of the fraudulent-mortgage-induced housing “bubble” and subsequent collapse of home values around the country.  What’s “interesting” is the possible effect of ST3 rejection on Sound Transit’s Prop 1 and ST3 extensions. 

In 2015 they borrowed $1.3B and issued bonds that netted then $600 M.  Their ST3 proposal this fall asks voters to essentially double their total revenue by approving an additional $1B in funding beginning in 2017 for at least 15 years. The fact they’re asking for the additional funds in 2017 coincides with their reported need for $6B over the next 6 years to pay for the Prop 1 extensions.

It raises the question as to what happens if their “Selling" of ST3 fails and voters reject the funding proposal.   Presumably they’ll have to find other funding sources.  While government grants are possible it’s likely they’ll have to find lenders or issue bonds for billions of additional dollars over the next six years to pay for Prop 1 extensions.  Unlike those who perpetrated the housing crisis, those with money to loan or to buy bonds "may" require Sound Transit demonstrate an ability to pay.   

My background is in engineering not finances but I suspect those with money could have serious doubts about Sound Transits ability to pay given their current deficits and the huge increase in operating and maintenance costs with all the light rail extensions.  It’s not “Impossible” their failure to get the added funds would result in Sound Transit “recognizing” the advantages of BRT over light rail.

The whole area would benefit. 

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