The Seattle Times Oct 2nd B1 page article “Sound Transit 3 Taxes: How much – and for how long“ raises some interesting questions. For example, the $518 million Sound Transit agreed to send Olympia in order to be able to ask for ST3 tax increases. I thought Sound Transit was prohibited from using public funds to urge voters approve ST3. It’s “surprising” they would be allowed to send $518 million to Olympia, from funds they get from residents to improve transit, just to be given the “opportunity” to ask them to pay more. If ST3 is defeated do they still have to pay?
The article talks about another vote to provide ST4 funding. The 2015 enabling legislation supposedly allowed Sound Transit to ask for the $1 billion annually for 15 years. Yet the Sound Transit Board used that legislation to extend those taxes for an additional 10 years for ST3 and if approved they could extend those taxes for as long as they see fit to extend light rail.
The ST3 fees people pay will surely escalate over the years and yet they would have little control over how the Sound Transit Board spent the money. Their only option would be to elect a new King County Executive; a once-every-4-year opportunity.
The article quotes Sound Transit claim “ST3 helps them avoid 148 hours per year in traffic”. The problem is only a tiny fraction of those who will be paying will ever use light rail to commute. The PSRC concluded in 2004 that the Seattle Tunnel limited light rail capacity along I-5 between Everett and Seattle to 8880 riders per hour (rph) in each direction; A fraction of what’s needed to accommodate the number of commuters required to reduce peak hour congestion. East Link’s share of that capacity is about half the current I-90 transit capacity and its confiscation of the I-90 bridge center roadway will increase not decrease vehicle delays on the bridge outer roadways.
The article’s assumption “No shocking rise in operating costs” is also dubious. According to Sound Transit’s 2016 budget, it costs $24.31 per revenue mile for a light rail car. Dividing their projections for total revenue miles by total trips gives 35 vehicle revenue miles per trip with an average cost of $852. Assuming each train trip includes two cars, the average train trip is 17.5 miles reflecting the current UW station to SeaTac Central Link operation.
Completing the Prop 1 and ST3 portions of the spine will add 29 miles to Everett, 18 to Redmond, and 11 to Tacoma. Thus the added track lengths will add 47 miles to a trip from Redmond to Everett and 40 miles from Tacoma to Everett. Thus car-miles-per trip with ST3 will be about 3 ½ times current levels for the two routes.
Presumably with ST3 each train will consist of 4 cars rather than the current 2 average to maximize capacity and Sound Transit will attempt to maintain the same frequency of service. Thus car miles per hour with ST3 will be about 7 times current levels. The resulting increase in operating costs ought to shock the hell out of somebody. (And those operating costs don't include the costs for buying and depreciation on 7 times the number of $6 million train cars)
It’s clear far more needs to be done answering questions beyond "how much and for how long" residents will pay if ST3 is approved. It’s bad enough giving the Sound Transit Board the authority to spend so much of the public’s money with so little public control as to how it is spent for a minimum of 25 years. The fact that so few will use it and the many unanswered questions surely adds to the reasons ST3 should be rejected.