The Expert Review Panel (ERP) was formed in response to Washington State law requiring an expert review panel provide an independent technical review of a high-capacity system plan that will be funded in whole or in part by local option voter approved measures. The October 27th Sound Transit Board Meeting summary minutes included the following statement from CEO Rogoff concerning the ERP ST3 review.
Sound Transit received the final ST3 Expert Review Panel (ERP) letter which signals the completion of the technical work required for ST3. The ERP held five meetings and worked with staff for 18 months. The panel concluded that Sound Transit has included in the ST3 plan all the elements required by state law for a high capacity system plan. The elements include the level and type of transportation services, route alignment and station locations, performance characteristics, and social, economic, and environmental impacts”.
The ERP Sept 26, 2016 final report included the following item in the “Summary of Findings”.
Sound Transit identified high-capacity transportation system options and studied an appropriate range of services and technologies.
Sound Transit did so presumably in response to the following from RCW 81.104.100(2)(b):
High-capacity transportation system planning shall include a study of options to ensure that an appropriate range of technologies and services are evaluated. The law requires the study of a do-nothing option and a low capital cost option, along with higher capital options that consider use of different technologies.
The ERP reported Sound Transit had used a multi-step process to consider these options. Yet, the Sound Transit 2008 East Link DEIS failed to consider two-way BRT on the I-90 Bridge as a “do-nothing or low-capital cost option” for the I-90 corridor. There’s also very little indication Sound Transit ever considered BRT along limited-access lanes as an HCT option for the I-5 corridor. Yet the ERP concludes:
Sound Transit has met its requirements for developing options.
The ERP also concludes:
ST3 proposes improvements that add major new capacity in the region’s most congested corridors to help serve the transportation demands of people and businesses here today as well as the more than 800,000 new residents anticipated in the next 25 years.”
Yet the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), one of the “major partner agencies during the course of its meetings” concluded in a Sept 2004, "High Capacity Corridor Assessment" that light rail through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel was limited to 8880 riders per hour in each direction. Thus, the light rail spine will never have the needed capacity.
The ERP ST3 Benefit-Cost analysis concludes:
The ST3 benefit-cost analysis reports that over half of the benefits accrue to the transit users and also a high proportion of benefits accrue to highway users. Four percent is due to improved highway travel-time reliability.
It’s “debatable” whether a 4 percent benefit due to "improved highway travel-time reliability" constitutes a “high proportion of benefits for highway users” for a $54B, 25-year transportation project.
ERP estimates for ST3 extension operating costs per rider for ST3 transit operations range from $13.56 to $17.13. The estimated cost per new rider for ST3 capital expenditures ranges from $38.83 to $49.05. The range depends on the number of riders and both are about 4 times current levels. Both of those numbers could increase dramatically unless Sound Transit adds parking with bus connections to light rail stations to provide access. (Both are also reasons for Sound Transit to use ST3 to expedite West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions rather than light rail spine)
The bottom line is Rogoff can claim the ERP concluded, “Sound Transit has met its requirements for the required elements of a high- capacity transportation system plan”. However, the ERP definition of “what’s required” does little to ease the area’s congestion problem. Its failure to provide a competent "independent review" is surely reason to require a competent independent audit before Sound Transit is allowed to proceed.