Sound Transit and the WSDOT began “cooperating” some 20 years ago when ST was formed primarily to create light rail for public transit. The need for east side tax revenue to pay for light rail in Seattle likely “contributed” to the ST decision to also propose light rail for I-90 cross-lake transit. Their joint East Link DEIS in 2008 provided the basis for asking east side voters to approve increased sales tax for cross-lake light rail as part of the Prop 1 extensions.
However, any rationale review of the DEIS would quickly conclude the “cooperation” resulted in a fatally flawed approach to dealing with cross-lake transit. The ST/WSDOT duo managed to spend several years looking at transit options without ever apparently considering inbound and outbound bus rapid transit (BRT) on the I-90 Bridge center roadway. Something they could easily have done once they added their long-promised fourth lanes to the outer roadways for non-transit HOV. Both the added lanes and BRT could have been initiated 10 years ago dwarfing light rail capacity at a fraction of the cost. There would have been no East Link with BRT.
Instead their DEIS “no-build” alternative to light rail was to maintain the existing reversible “peak direction” HOV configuration, an obvious looser to two-way light rail. They sold light rail to voters with claim East Link “would have a peak-hour capacity of up to 18,000 to 24,000 people per hour, equivalent to between 6-10 freeway lanes of traffic”. They recently conceded East Link would be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes. Assuming each 74-seat car can reasonably accommodate 150 riders gives a capacity of 4500 riders per hour in each direction, far below their “up to” levels. Rather than providing the promised 60% increase, East Link will have less than half current peak transit capacity.
Their DEIS also claimed the added fourth lanes on the outer roadways would provide “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”. WSDOT lawyers used similar claims to convince a federal judge in the Freeman case the 4th lanes added to the outer roadways would make up for the loss of the two center roadway HOV lanes, allowing light rail to be installed there. Yet the documents they cited stipulated the center roadway was still needed for vehicles.
The two have “cooperated” in delaying the fourth lanes that would have benefited cross-lake commuters from both sides of the lake. Not only has the delay forced cross-lake commuters to endure years of increased congestion, it has also precluded any chances of initiating BRT on center roadway. Even worse, the delays likely mean WSDOT will not require ST demonstrate the outer roadways can accommodate all the cross-lake vehicles by temporarily closing center roadway before they do so “permanently” next year. Cross-lake commuting will change forever with I-90 center roadway closure.
One likely change will be thousands of cross-lake commuters will decide to pay tolls to use the 520 Bridge rather than endure the increased I-90 congestion. The increased toll revenue from former I-90 commuters is just one of the WSDOT benefits from the “cooperation”. They also benefit from ST failure to consider BRT on SR-520 to a T/C near the University Link stadium station. The connection between BRT on SR-520 with the University Link would have provided fast reliable transit for thousands of commuters from both sides of the lake. However, it would also have reduced the WSDOT’s bridge toll revenue.
ST purportedly didn’t include the needed T/C because of a “dubious” UW claim locating a T/C at an existing UW station parking lot would “detract” from the University. Whether its part of their “cooperation” with WSDOT or simply another blunder, the lack of a UW T/C is a setback to an effective transit system for the area.
In conclusion, both ST and WSDOT have benefitted from the “cooperation”. While there may have never been any direct quid pro quo their apparent “cooperation” has been to the detriment of the area's commuters. The ST3 funding proposal this fall adds countless billions to the cost but does little to reduce the congestion.