The Bellevue City Council's resolution during their last meeting (9/12/16) allowing those for and against ST3 to make presentations prompted me to write the following. (It's "unfortunate" the Bellevue Reporter never made any mention of the resolution.) However, they selected the “People for a Smarter Transit Coalition” to make the 10 minute “con” argument. Since my presentation far exceeded the 3-minutes allowed for other speakers I decided to post it instead.
Thank you Mayor,
First I would like to thank the council for the opportunity to express my opinions on ST3. My public transit experience began during the 15 years I spent commuting primarily by bus to Boeing. After retiring in 1998 my travels to the UK and throughout Europe allowed me to sample public transit in London and all the major European cities. Last year I experienced subways in New York and Toronto. It’s that experience that’s led me to conclude the Seattle Tunnel limitations prevent Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail extensions from ever significantly reducing congestion on the area’s major roadways.
The ST3 proposal asks voters to approve spending $54 billion or roughly $2 billion a year over the next 25 years, primarily on light rail projects. Their 2016 budget included $480 million for expanding light rail. Thus ST3 approval will allow Sound Transit to spend roughly 4 times their current expenditures each year for the next 25 years. And they will be able to spend it at the discretion of a Sound Transit Board with little or no accountability to the public.
It’s bad enough any board would have that authority. What’s worse, residents have no choice as to who is on the board. Private company board members while nominated by the board chairman generally must be approved by the company stockholders. The Sound Transit board chairman gets to select whomever he chooses. This is particularly unfortunate with ST3 given current chairman Dow Constantine’s response to the legislature allowing the transportation package 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”
I doubt even he really believes that. What is clear is he apparently doesn’t understand the limits on light rail capacity because of the Seattle tunnel. It limits the number of light rail cars per hour that can safely pass through the tunnel in each direction. (Its that limitation that presumably led Sound Transit to initially propose a 2nd tunnel and light rail tracks to Everett) As a result, no matter how many riders they cram into each 74-seat car, the ST3 spine will never have the capacity for more than a fraction of the 500,000 riders Sound Transit projects.
Even the capacity if does have will be of little use unless Sound Transit adds hundreds of millions to ST3 funding for added parking to provide access. Any rational analysis would conclude the costs to construct, equip, and operate their ST3 spine will far exceed any benefit.
What’s even more disconcerting is apparently there is no fixed end date for the increased taxes. Sound Transit simply extended the 15-year package approved by the legislature for an additional 10 years for ST3. If the board determines more light rail extensions are needed the taxes can be extended to pay for them. This lack of accountability for so much spending over such a long time is reason enough for the entire area to reject ST3.
The council has even more reason to recommend eastside voters reject ST3. First of all, many if not most eastside residents will pay far more than the $370 additional taxes Sound Transit claims if ST3 is passed. Second, most of the eastside ST3 taxes will be used to pay for the "limited benefits" of the Everett-to-Tacoma portion of the spine along I-5.
It’s clear Sound Transit board simply abandoned the “obligation” to spend taxes generated on the eastside to benefit east side commuters. Apparently state law regarding sub-area equity only requires they tell people what they’re getting not whether they’re getting their “fair share”. Eastside residents are certainly not getting their “fair share” from ST3.
What eastside residents are getting from the ST3 taxes should also raise alarms. Sound Transit in their 2/08/16 meeting with the council dealt with the financial aspects of ST3. One of the more interesting comments was they didn’t need ST3 funds to complete the Prop 1 extensions. They claimed to have 98% of the funds required even if ST3 were rejected and the remaining 2% would simply extend the program slightly.
Thus, if ST3 is rejected Sound Transit's promised East Link portion of the spine to the Overlake T/C would still be completed. The Bel-Red area would still have the benefits of light rail. I happen to believe a South-Lake-Union style streetcar system is a far better choice. It would cost less, be far more accessible, more esthetically attractive, and far less intrusive than elevated light rail tracks with four 74-ton-car trains trundling through the area for 18 hours a day. However, either option would provide the Bel-Red area with the benefits of public transit without ST3.
What will eastside residents get if ST3 is approved? Well, apparently in ten years they’ll get East Link extended to downtown Redmond, something that was promised as part of Prop 1. Sound Transit 3’s only potential new light rail project on the eastside is the link between South Kirkland and Issaquah and its not scheduled to begin operation until 2041. Until then, the anticipated growth Sound Transit is using to justify ST3 will only add to the current congestion along I-90.
I-405 commuters will get BRT service around Lake Washington to light rail stations at Lynnwood and 145th in 2024. ST3 also includes funding for a “future investment study across SR-520" and an “environment study to examine HCT options from Bothell to Bellevue”. Wow! First of all, I-405 commuters deserve BRT in 2018, not 2024. The limited amount of funds required could put an end to the less-than-popular HOT.
Rather than a “future investment study” ST3 should have included BRT across SR-520 to the UW light rail station. Doing so would provide commuters from both sides of the lake with an effective BRT/light rail commute.
(Of course Sound Transit could have initiated two-way BRT on the I-90 bridge center roadway years ago and save the entire area the problems associated with the closure of the South Bellevue P&R this year, the closure of the I-90 bridge center roadway next year, and the disruption from light rail construction along the route into and through Bellevue.)
In conclusion, the voters’ decision in November on ST3 will affect their lives for far into the future. Many of them will be relying on the council’s recommendation tonight as to how to vote. You surely have an obligation to provide them with a recommendation.
You should consider the following. Sound Transit uses the dramatic increase in the area’s population by 2041 to justify ST3. The problem is eastside residents need help now. ST3 will do very little to do either. Instead ST3 approval will allow Sound Transit spend an average of $2 billion a year for at least 25 years with very little of that money going to help the eastside.
It should be an easy decision.