The October 28th Seattle Times editorial “No on ST3 and Permanent Tax Authority” exemplifies the fact they still don’t understand the real problem with ST3. The ST3 problem is not that it will allow Sound Transit to extend taxes some 25 or 30 years from now. The problem with ST3 is it allows Sound Transit to spend billions beginning next January over the next 15 years extending light rail tracks for a light system that is routed through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT).
In 2004 the PSRC concluded the DSTT limited light rail capacity to 8880 riders per hour (RPH). They apparently based that capacity on the assumption that the tunnel station lengths limited each train to 4 cars, that safe operating procedures required a minimum of 4 minutes between trains, and that each 74-seat car could accommodate 148 riders.
While others may disagree with some of the assumptions any rational analysis would conclude light rail through the DSTT will never have the capacity to accommodate the number of riders needed to significantly reduce congestion on either I-5 or I-90. Thus it makes no sense for Sound Transit to spend the hundreds of millions per mile on light rail extensions beyond the UW stadium light rail station, across the I-90 Bridge to Overlake, and beyond SeaTac to Federal Way. (It presumably costs the same to extend light rail tracks for 4-car trains as for 10-car trains (ala BART)).
The SeaTac and East Link extensions, having to share the DSTT capacity, are particularly nonsensical in terms of cost/capacity. East Link, which confiscates the I-90 Bridge center roadway, will have about half the current cross-lake transit capacity. Even worse, a 2004 FHWA ROD concluded adding the 4th lanes to the outer roadways for HOV (R-8A) did not make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes. Yet, Sound Transit has no plans to temporarily close center roadway and demonstrate outer roadways have needed capacity. The Times apparently is either unaware of the potential congestion problem or unconcerned.
They’re also apparently no longer concerned Sound Transit has failed to provide “Costs and benefits of rail versus buses is one of several topics that must be clarified”, something they requested in a 4/03/16 editorial “Questions on Transit Need Clear Answers”. Any rational review of BRT would conclude it had far more capacity, at far less cost, far sooner than light rail.
The Times also doesn't recognize part of Sound Transit’s “Prop 1 and Beyond” ST3 problem is it fails to provide access to even its limited capacity. Those living within, or able to find parking within, walking distance of likely light rail stations are only a fraction of the numbers required to reduce current I-5 or I-90 corridor congestion. (Most of those are already riding buses.) The fact that “future growth” could provide more riders doesn’t change the fact that current commuters need better access.
Thus if Sound Transit wants to use the proposed light rail extension capacity to increase rather than simply replace transit capacity they will have to route buses to light rail stations from P&R lots. However all the existing P&R lots with reasonable access to I-5 and I-90 are essentially already full. Yet ST3 makes no provisions for adding the hundreds of millions required to provide the $40-50,000 per-space P&R lots. If they did manage to add the parking the limited light rail capacity would still preclude any significant congestion reduction over what could be achieved by routing the buses directly to Seattle.
The Times also seems unconcerned about the costs associated with operating light rail trains on ST3 light rail extensions. Sound Transit’s 2016 budget anticipated fare box revenue would provide 28.5% of light rail operating costs. They estimated average trip lengths would be ~ 17 miles. Presumably operating costs would increase directly with trip lengths.
Part II of Sound Transits July 13, 2015 Expert Review Panel (ERP) provides the ST3 Financial Plan detailing their sources of revenue and use of funds up to the year 2060. One assumption on the revenue side was fare box revenue would provide 40% of operating costs. Its not clear what the average trip lengths would be with ST3, but the added 100 miles of track would surely increase them “substantially”.
Increasing fare box recovery to 40% of the “substantially” increased operating costs would seem to require a “substantial” increase in tolls. Not only are they apparently anticipating increasing tolls, their June 2015 financial plan predicts thousands more will be willing to pay predicting ridership will increase from 24 million in 2020 to 84.1 million in 2030. Again, the Times is either unaware of, or unconcerned with, this “optimism”. The "likely" result will be a huge subsidy (ST3 taxes?) will be required to cover the shortfall between fare box revenue and operating costs for far into the future. Sound Transit may need to make use of one of the more interesting provisions in the ERP presentation: “Sound Transit determines the optimal debt-to-equity ratio”.
The Times suggests if ST3 is rejected “Sound Transit should return with a measure specifying which taxes would be terminated and when”. They apparently don’t understand the impact of Sound Transits plans for East Link beginning in January. They include a closure of the south Bellevue P&R that will result in all the other eastside P&R lots being full well before many “transit hopefuls“ arrive. Beginning construction that will require closures creating a nightmare for those living or commuting along Bellevue Way. Closing the I-90 Bridge center roadway without demonstrating the 4th lanes added to the outer roadways (R-8A) can accommodate all cross-lake vehicles.
Its unlikely those affected will be more likely to support ST3 because they know which taxes will be terminated and when.