About this blog

My name is Bill Hirt and I'm a candidate to be a Representative from the 48th district in the Washington State legislature. My candidacy stems from concern the legislature is not properly overseeing the WSDOT and Sound Transit East Link light rail program. I believe East Link will be a disaster for the entire eastside. ST will spend 5-6 billion on a transportation project that will increase, not decrease cross-lake congestion, violates federal environmental laws, devastates a beautiful part of residential Bellevue, creates havoc in Bellevue's central business district, and does absolutely nothing to alleviate congestion on 1-90 and 405. The only winners with East Link are the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and their labor unions.

This blog is an attempt to get more public awareness of these concerns. Many of the articles are from 3 years of failed efforts to persuade the Bellevue City Council, King County Council, east side legislators, media, and other organizations to stop this debacle. I have no illusions about being elected. My hope is voters from throughout the east side will read of my candidacy and visit this Web site. If they don't find them persuasive I know at least I tried.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back on 2016

It’s the end of the year when many pause to review the year gone by and assess hopes and plans for the coming year.  When it comes to dealing with the area’s transportation problems it’s been another year and countless millions wasted.

Sound Transit wasted another year refusing to recognize routing light rail through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) limits operation to the point it will never have the capacity to significantly reduce congestion on I-5 or I-90.  Thus the ST3 funding package voters approved allowing them to spend $54 billion and 25 years primarily extending the light rail “spine” to Everett, Redmond, and Tacoma will do little to reduce congestion on those roadways.   Using even what capacity if does have requires Sound Transit allocate hundreds of millions more for parking with bus connections to future light rail stations. 

ST3 passed because 70% of Seattle voters approved it.  They did so presumably because it included light rail to West Seattle and Ballard, yet Sound Transit is making them wait until 2030 and 2035 respectively for the two extensions.  Rather than delaying the extensions they should expedite them, aiming for completion in the early 2020’s.  

Sound Transit claims they would cost about $4B and attract 80,000 to 100,000 riders, a bargain compared to their “spine” extensions.   The number of residents within walking distance of light rail stations would likely provide the ridership without the need to spend millions increasing parking.   Instead, it’s likely Sound Transit will waste hundreds of millions more and another year extending their spine.

The Seattle Times spent the year vacillating between ST3 “cheer leader” and “critic”.   For example in a March 29th article about Dow Constantine’s “State of the County” presentation extolling the benefits of ST3, the Times uncritically reported the only “push back” was for “more light rail, sooner”.  Yet four days later the Times April 3rd editorial, “Questions on Transit Need Clear Answers” included the following:

Public officials cannot prematurely dismiss questions about whether there are better ways for the region to spend $50 billion than the slate of trains, buses and stations in Sound Transit 3 (ST3). 

The point is voters need their representatives to provide clear, objective explanations of ST3’s pros and cons, not cheerleading.  Costs and benefits of rail versus buses is one of several topics that must be clarified.

Sound Transit simply ignored those concerns.  The Times, rather than pursuing them, turned “cheer leader” with an Aug. 8th front page article heralding  “about 65,000 riders a day are taking light rail because of the University of Washington and Capital Hill stations.”   They ignored the fact Sound Transit had initially promised more than 100,000 daily riders by 2010.  They parroted claims “People love it” and “want to ride it” despite the fact many of the riders were forced to do so because two-dozen bus routes were rerouted to feed the trains.  That those voting for ST3 "will be voting for more high-capacity transit and for meeting the need for the million residents expected to move to urban Puget Sound".  Apparently assuming voters weren't aware of DSTT limits on light rail capacity.  

Later an Oct 28th Seattle Times editorial objected to ST3, not because Sound Transit had failed to respond to their concerns, but because it would allow Sound Transit to extend taxes beyond 25 or 30 years from now.   A November 1st Seattle Times front page article “Parking finds its place in Sound Transit vote” extolled Sound Transit promises ST3 would add 8,560 parking spaces between 2024 and 2041; ignoring the reality that number's a tiny fraction of the added parking required for the transit access needed to reduce congestion. 

After essentially “cheer leading” the light rail extensions for several months, the Times reverted back to “critic” with a Nov 4th edition front-page article “Would transit plan ease traffic?”   The Time’s answer was “It would not”, with claims “even leading proponents don’t promise that traffic will improve”.  The best they could say was the plan “offers an escape from traffic misery for people who can reach the stations on foot, on a feeder bus, or via park-and-ride”.  Not much for $54 billion and 25 years. 

An April 29th Bellevue Reporter front-page article typified the Bellevue City Council support for the  year celebrating Sound Transit's East Link light rail extension “ground breaking".   Later, the council’s Fall/Winter edition of the "Bellevue It's Your City” newsletter, described what East Link construction will be like for east side residents.  The newsletter made it clear Sound Transit had ignored their MOU agreement to provide replacement parking and connecting bus routes for those using the P&R.  Their proposals in the newsletter for mitigating the impact of the planned construction closures along Bellevue Way will do little to alleviate the resulting nightmare for those who live in or commute in the area.

Once on I-90, Bellevue commuters as well as other corridor commuters will encounter the congestion resulting from Sound Transit’s 2017 I-90 bridge center roadway closure.  Sound Transit has apparently decided to ignore a 2004 FHWA ROD stipulating the center roadway was required for vehicles even with the R-8A fourth lanes added to outer roadways.  The likely result will be cross-lake commuters will be forced to endure heavy congestion on bridge GP lanes or very expensive tolls on HOV lanes due to WSDOT “requirements” to maintain 45 mph.

Yet the council urged voters to approve ST3 funding needed for East Link.  If it’s allowed to proceed, in 2023, after 6 years of disruption on the route into Bellevue and increased I-90 Bridge congestion, East Link light rail will have about half the current cross-lake bus capacity.  It will do little to ease the increased bridge congestion and nothing to ease the congestion along I-90 corridor.  Those commuters only access to East Link will be the South Bellevue Station.  If able to get there and find parking, they'll face the probability the trains will be full before they reach the station during peak commute.

The year has been sort of a “wakeup call” for the Mercer Island Council. While Islanders will have less disruption from light rail construction, East Link will essentially end their easy access to Seattle.  It’s unlikely the council’s discussions with Sound Transit concerning “loss of mobility” compensation will appease the island’s cross-lake commuters.  

Earlier they had bought into Sound Transit promises they would have SOV access to the R8-A HOV lane on I-90.  An August FHWA letter apparently ended that.  Thus, like other I-90 corridor commuters, Islanders will encounter long lines on controlled onramps for access to I-90 and heavy congestion on bridge outer roadway GP lanes or HOT fees on HOV lanes.  Once East Link begins operation the 2000 Mercer Island light rail station boarders Sound Transit predicts will have to be “very patient”.  They’re the last with access to its limited capacity making it "likely" the trains will be full when they reach the Island during peak commute.  

The council is, at last, attempting to do better.  Deputy Mayor Debbie Berlin’s goal in her year-end “Mercer Island mobility Island Forum” is to "secure a positive outcome in our negotiations regarding access to Interstate 90 and Islander mobility".  It’s unlikely Islanders will retain SOV access to I-90 HOV lanes.  It’s also not clear the council recognizes the impact of East Link’s limited capacity on Islander “mobility” via access to light rail.   The council’s best chance for minimizing both problems is to rescind the East Link building permits.  Sound Transit’s mendacity regarding East Link capacity is surely a legally defensible reason for doing so. 

In the meantime, this blog had success attracting viewers, more than 8000 this month.  (My candidate’s statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet as a candidate for governor garnered more than 48,000 votes.)  However, as the old saying goes "you can lead a horse to water but...."

As for next year, the FHWA could require Sound Transit demonstrate the 4th lanes added to the I-90 Bridge outer roadways can make up for the loss of bridge center roadway for East Link; refuting their claim the center roadways were still needed for vehicles.  It’s “possible” Sound Transit CEO Rogoff will acknowledge the futility of spending billions on a light rail spine routed through the DSTT and divert those funds to light rail extensions to Ballard and West Seattle.  The Seattle Times “might” decide to recommend that approach in an editorial or an audit that would substantiate the need to do so.  The Bellevue and Mercer Island council’s “could” rescind their approval of the East Link permits citing Sound Transit mendacity as grounds for doing so. 

Next year’s blog activity will depend on the above “events”.  (It's already shown plenty of "water".) The first indication will be if Sound Transit goes ahead with their plans for East Link.  Their January closure of the South Bellevue P&R, the beginning of serious construction along the route into Bellevue, and the subsequent closure of the I-90 Bridge center roadway will mark the beginning of the end of the "City in the Park" and change cross-lake commuting forever.  

Those "events" may merit future posts including the announcement of another candidacy; this time for county Executive.  Again, not to attract votes but to use the Voters' Pamphlet to tell those paying the ST3 taxes and seeing the results "it didn't need to happen".

Happy New Year!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment