The real stupidity of ST3 is that it perpetuates Sound Transit’s Prop 1 extensions. That, despite Sound Transit claims to the contrary, unless they get the additional $1 billion annually beginning in 2017, they will have great “difficulty” convincing those with money to lend or buy bonds to provide the funds needed for the Prop 1 light rail extensions. Particularly in view of the huge deficits from the shortfall between fare box revenue and operating costs with the added route lengths. Thus, without ST3, all the Prop 1 extensions will likely need to be “reconsidered”.
Both ST3 and Prop 1 exemplify what happens when the chairman of the Sound Transit Board, Dow Constantine, has the following goal for light rail.
“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”
Not only does he refuse to accept the realities of light rail for our area, he appoints other “like-minded” individuals to the board. As a result the Sound Transit board is either unaware of or doesn’t care that the high cost of light rail extensions can only be justified if they have the capacity and the access needed to attract sufficient riders to significantly reduce congestion. The Prop 1 extensions fail on both counts.
The ST approach to congestion between Everett and Seattle exemplifies the problem. In 2014, I-5 HOV travel times between the two had increased to 75 minutes for the morning and 70 minutes for the afternoon. (Per Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) “Stuck in Traffic: 2015 Report”.) Peak commute travel times in the GP lanes varied from 70 to 90 minutes. The delays generally began around 145th St. NE.
The presumptive goal of light rail would seem to be to reduce both HOV and GP travel times by attracting more riders to transit. An August 2004 PSRC “Central Puget Sound Region High Capacity Transit Corridor Assessment” concluded the Seattle tunnel limited light rail capacity to 8880 riders per hour per direction (rphpd); The assumption being one 4-car train every 4 minutes with 148 riders in each of the 74-seat cars. (Slightly more than half the 16,000 rphpd Sound Transit claims)
An October 2014 Seattle Times article reported 33,000 commuters already rode transit buses between Everett and Seattle during the 3-hour morning and afternoon commutes. Thus, the Central Link extensions can’t even accommodate current transit riders let along attract more. Even if they could, the reduced number of buses would have a miniscule effect on HOV travel times.
Sound Transit apparently recognized the problem when, in a 12/05/15 Seattle Times article, “Would voters dig another tunnel?” they proposed a 2nd tunnel and set of tracks to Everett as part of ST3. Even Sound Transit, apparently recognizing the utter stupidity of two sets of light rail tracks to Everett, dropped the idea in their final ST3 proposal.
If Sound Transit were really intent on increasing I-5 capacity they could have proposed digging the 2nd tunnel with stations capable of accommodating the 10 or more cars needed to meet transit needs. They could have terminated Central Link at a UW T/C that would have provided thousands of 520 commuters from both sides of the lake with a combined 520 BRT/University Link commute.
The UW T/C would have provided cross-lake commuters with Central Link access to twice the capacity of East Link. Part of the Northgate extensions funds could be used to add the T/C and increase eastside P&R capacity with 520 BRT connections to Seattle with return routes to Bellevue and Overlake T/Cs.
As it is, when the Northgate extension begins operation, rather than increasing the number of transit commuters Sound Transit will likely require those using the Northgate buses or other I-5 bus routes transfer to light rail for the commute into Seattle. Whatever Northgate riders they have will reduce the capacity for riders further south. Transit riders currently added by the University Link will likely have difficulty getting access during peak commute once Northgate begins operation.
The real stupidity is the current I-5 congestion is not due to too many buses. Thus, the billions spent on Northgate extensions to replace some of the buses will not only reduce access for current University Link riders it will have a miniscule affect on HOV and GP travel times along I-5.
The other option would be to allow the 33,000 morning and afternoon transit commuters to continue riding existing bus routes and use the light rail capacity to attract additional transit riders. However providing the added riders with access to light rail will require adding thousands of parking spaces either near future light rail stations or more likely at existing or new P&R lots with bus connections to light rail stations. The fact that ST3 includes no provisions for the hundreds of millions required to do so makes that option “unlikely”. (Particularly since the added buses could be routed directly into Seattle rather than light rail stations avoiding the need to spend billions on light rail tracks.)
Spending even more billions extending tracks to Lynnwood and beyond is even more stupid as it will only increase operating costs (~$100 a mile for 4-car trains) and do nothing to increase capacity. Again whatever riders the extensions add will make it even more difficult for those nearer Seattle to get access.
Sound Transit refuses to “recognize” they could avoid the Central Link capacity problems and still provide the 8880 rphpd capacity increase by routing an additional 100 buses an hour along I-5. Light rail funds could be used to add thousands of P&R spaces for access to the buses. One of the two express lanes could be limited to buses (or +3HOV) during the peak commute hours to reduce transit times. Egress and access in Seattle could be facilitated by converting 4th Ave into an elongated T/C with dedicated drop off and pick-up locations on both sides of 4th Ave for each bus route
Assuming each bus costs $1.5 Million and a P&R space $40,000, Sound Transit could, over the next 5 years, add 20,000 P&R spaces (currently around 5000 with access to I-5) and 100 buses for half the cost of the Northgate extension. Allowing 20,000 additional commuters to leave their cars near where they live rather than where they work will do far more to ease congestion than a Central Link light rail extension to Northgate. Unlike light rail, additional parking and bus routes could be added as needed.
Rejecting ST3 is the only chance to make it a reality.
(More on ST3 Stupidity later)