The Aug 21st, Seattle Times B1 page article “Sound Transit’s cost overruns for first phase hit about 86%” provides an excellent analysis of their inability to provide the 1996 promised light-rail service from SeaTac to the University district within decade for $1.67 billion. The rest of the article then goes into considerable detail about the validity of Sound Transit cost projections for the “Prop 1 and beyond” extensions voters will be asked to approve this fall with ST3.
The article fails to deal with the far more important issues. For example, “Should any organization, no matter how accurate its cost estimates, be given an additional $1billion a year from taxes and fees plus borrowing whatever additional funds are required to spend $54 billion over the next 25 years?” That seems like an awful lot of money to spend over a very long time. Particularly since once ST3 is approved voters will have very little if any control over how the money is spent.
Sound Transit will undoubtedly reject John Nile’s suggestion, “The agency shouldn’t attempt Sound Transit 3 until the second round to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Highline College is completed in 2023” since they won’t have the funds for those extensions without ST3.
There is also the issue as to how much it will cost residents. The article quotes $326 per household. It's difficult to believe that the additional sales tax, property tax, and license fees for a typical household living in Seattle or most areas affected by the ST3 funding proposal wouldn’t be far higher. For example an earlier Times editorial quoted former Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald's estimate ST3 would bring the overall transportation taxes and fees paid by the typical Seattle household to nearly $2,800 per year.
Even more important is “What will voters get for their money?” Those who don’t commute will get absolutely nothing. ST3 will also do nothing for the 78,000 Seattle commuters who, according to an April 11th Seattle Times article, ride buses. It will also do very little to increase the 32,000 Seattle area commuters who currently ride Central Link light rail trains.
The only way to attract the 189,947 commuters who (according to article) drive alone is to make transit more convenient. Presumably most of those with access to either Central Link or current Metro bus routes are already using transit. Thus the only way to attract significant additional riders is to add more bus routes. ST3 includes no money for additional Metro bus routes.
The only real hope for reducing congestion on the area’s major roadways is to dramatically increase the number of commuters (currently 10%) who ride transit for their morning and afternoon commutes. The best way to do so is to provide them with access to transit near where they live with capacity and routes to near where they work. ST3 will do neither.
It doesn’t provide the hundreds of millions required to add the thousands of parking spaces (@$40,000 or more per space). The ST3 funding also doesn’t change the fact that a 2004 PSRC study concluded the Seattle tunnel limited light rail service to one 4-car train every 4 minutes in each direction. Sound Transit conceded that East Link service will be limited to one 4-car train every 8 minutes.
Thus even if Sound Transit adds thousands of parking spaces to increase access neither Central Link nor East Link will have the capacity required to accommodate the numbers of commuters needed to significantly reduce congestion. The fact that Sound Transit could provide the “Prop 1 and Beyond” light rail extensions within the $54 billion budget over the next 25 years is no justification for approving ST3. And despite what Sound Transit says, rejecting ST3 could jeopardize the finances for all the extensions. The entire area should celebrate if that happened.