The Sunday Seattle Times, B1 page article “Sound Transit ouster stalls, but car-tax bills could drop” is a welcome recognition by Republican legislators of the need to reform the Sound Transit Board. Its members were appointed by County Executive, Dow Constantine, whose approach to public transit is “clouded” by his vision of light rail:
“What we can do is create light rail to take you where you want to go, when you want to go, on time, every time, for work, for play, for school”
Apparently neither Constantine nor his appointed board recognized the costs for creating and operating a light rail system can only be justified when it has sufficient capacity to accommodate large numbers of commuters. That large numbers of commuters either live within walking distance of light rail stations or have access to P&R stalls with bus connections to stations. And that light rail takes them near where they wish to go.
The Sound Transit Board Prop 1 proposal was a clear indication they never recognized routing light rail though the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) severely limited its capacity. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) concluded in 2004 the DSTT station lengths limited light rail trains to 4 cars. It “likely” costs as much for tracks for 4-car trains as it does for 10-car trains.
The PSRC also concluded safe operation required an average of 4 minutes between trains and that each of the four 74-seat cars, could average a maximum of 148 riders. The resultant capacity of 8880 riders is slightly more than half Sound Transit's purported 16,000 and a fraction of what’s needed to justify costs.
The Prop 1 extensions beyond SeaTac and across I-90 Bridge, having to share the DSTT capacity, have even less justification. The board made a monumental blunder (and violated RCW planning requirements for HCT) when they “neglected” to consider BRT on the bridge as a “low-cost” alternative. Instead opting to promote the sheer fantasy that East Link was the equivalent of 10 lanes of freeway in their 2008 East Link DEIS.
Sound Transit’s initial ST3 proposals included a second tunnel and set of tracks to Everett, presumably “concerned” with Prop 1 extension capacity. In the end however ST3 simply extended Central Link from Everett to Tacoma and East Link to Redmond; spending the vast majority of $54 billion over the next 25 years perpetuating DSTT limitations on light rail spine capacity.
The Sound Transit Board compounded the problem by not providing access to even its limited capacity Only a tiny fraction of commuters will "likely" live within walking distance of the Prop 1 light rail stations. However, all of the P&R lots with potential access to the stations are already “fully in use”. Yet, even with their ST3 funding they wait until 2024 to begin spending $698 million on a measly 8560 parking stalls over the next 20 years; a fraction of the parking needed for access to both the Prop 1 and ST3’s “beyond Prop 1” extensions.
Barring additional highway lanes, the only way to reduce congestion is to dramatically increase the 10% of commuters who use public transit. Commuters throughout the area have already paid a heavy price because the Sound Transit Board has failed to recognize light rail in our area will never have the needed capacity. For years, they’ve failed to consider the only way to do so, initiating BRT routes along limited access lanes on I-5 and on inbound and outbound lanes on I-90 Bridge center roadway. Money spent extending light rail could have been used to add thousands of parking stalls. And the real costs are only beginning.
Thus it’s way past time to replace the current board. Rep Clibborn’s refusal to consider doing so claiming “we don’t get a lot of efficiency by going down that road” exemplifies incompetence. She’s also used her leadership on the house transportation committee to rebuff attempts to revise WSDOT HOT lanes on I-405 insisting they be expanded as “the only unallocated source of revenue in the state”.
Current Board Chair, Snohomish County Executive David Somers concern, “It could be really be disruptive to have a new board” fails to recognize the need to “disrupt” board current policies. Another board member, Issaquah mayor Fred Butler’s comment, “This is a solution that’s looking for a problem” is belied by his own November 22nd Issaquah Transportation Summit. Its goal was to “look for a way the entire region could come together to work on a problem that effects everyone”.
The bottom line is there is a "problem" that needs "fixing," and when it comes to starting to do so by replacing the Sound Transit Board, "It's about time!!"