The previous post detailed what the area’s public transit “could have been” if not for the collaboration between Sound Transit and the WSDOT. The two were either “unaware of” or "ignored” the limitations with any light rail routed through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). An August 2004 Puget Sound Regional Council Technical Workbook, “Central Puget Sound Region “High Capacity Transit Corridor Assessment” limited the DSTT light rail capacity to the point where it will never be able to accommodate the number of commuters required to reduce the congestion on either I-5 or I-90 into Seattle.
Rather than spending hundreds if millions on light rail extensions Sound Transit could have added thousands of parking spaces with BRT into the city. (Sound Transit apparently still doesn’t recognize the need to add the parking with bus access to even their limited light rail capacity.) On I-5 the WSDOT could have facilitated the routes by limiting one of the HOV lanes to buses. On SR 520 BRT could have been routed to a T/C at the UW stadium station. On I-90 the two could have added the 4th lanes on the outer bridge roadways for non-transit HOV and two-way BRT on bridge center roadway. None of that has been done.
ST3 simply perpetuates this debacle. They’ve spent the last year promising “benefits” from spending $54 billion over the next 25 years on “Prop 1 and Beyond” that are mostly sheer fantasy. It’s time Sound Transit detailed what the plans are if ST 3 is rejected. The additional $1.7 billion they were able to obtain in 2015 via loans and bonds will likely fund next years plans to close I-90 Bridge center roadway. They plan to begin installing light rail there and along the route into Bellevue. (Sound Transit’s decision to ask for the funding this year rather than 2017 “may” have reflected concern the resulting bridge outer roadway congestion would “detract” from eastside support. It’s unlikely any later vote will do better.)
However Sound Transit needs to detail how they would proceed in 2017 and beyond without the $1 billion they could expect each year with ST3 to complete the extensions purportedly already funded by Prop 1 until 2023. Do they intend to get loans or issue more bonds to maintain current spending levels or do they intend to “rearrange” their extension plans. “Most” of those with money to lend require some sort of assurance Sound Transit’s revenue sources will be sufficient to pay off the loans, the interest on the bonds and their face value when they mature.
Assuming the existing $1.7 billion and the $6 billion added debt for finishing Prop 1 from 2017 to 2023 is combined into a $7.7 billion 4% loan. Amortizing it over 45 years will require an annual payment of $385 million. That’s more than a third of their entire 2016 budget.
Increased operating costs once the Prop 1 extensions are completed could also be a “significant” financial burden. The light rail extensions to Lynnwood, Overlake, and Des Moines will nearly triple the current average miles per trip. The need for capacity will likely result in most trains having 4 cars rather than the current two. Assuming the same frequency of service with twice as many cars using routes three times as long will result in six times the car miles per hour with 6 times the operating costs.
Lenders "may" be concerned about Sound Transit's ability to pay off the loans and cover the increased operating costs if ST3 is rejected. Sound Transit presumably has an “in house” plan for doing so. They need to tell us what it is. Tell voters what will happen if ST3 is rejected. Does Sound Transit still intend to continue with their Central Link extensions to Lynnwood or close the South Bellevue P&R later this year and the I-90 Bridge center roadway next year and spend $3-4 billion extending light rail across I-90? Let voters decide if the “benefits” from ST3 justify the $54 billion spent over 25 years on the extensions. It would be “reassuring” if the State Auditor would validate Sound Transits financial plan.
Sound Transit surely has a plan if ST3 is rejected. They need to tell voters what it is before the vote in November.