The Seattle Times June 16th editorial “Shame on Access transit for failing riders” typifies their priorities when it comes to dealing with the area’s transportation problems. They profess great concern over some of those paying $1.75 to ride on Access, “being stuck in meandering trips”. While any unnecessary delays are grounds for concern, the Times has shown little concern over the fact that this week Sound Transit began constructing an East Link light rail extension on the I-90 Bridge that will inevitably change cross-lake commuting for ever.
This debacle began years ago when Sound Transit ignored the Revised Code of Washington regarding planning for HCT by never considering the far lower cost option of two-way BRT on I-90 center roadway. They perpetuated that failure by delaying the 4th lanes on bridge outer roadways for non-transit HOV, precluding any chance for center roadway BRT.
The delay also “avoided” an early demonstration of their claim in the EIS, “Travel times across I-90 for vehicles and trucks would also improve or remain similar with East Link”. After finally allowing I-90 Bridge commuters to use the outer roadway’s 4th lanes, the increased travel times with the closed center roadway are a clear indication they don’t have the capacity to make up for the loss of the two center roadway lanes.
For example, the June 8th, 8:10am travel times between Issaquah to Seattle increased from 30 to 46 minutes, June 12th, 7:10am travel times between Bellevue and Seattle increased from 15-24 minutes. Both are a clear indication Sound Transit should not have ignored a 2004 FHWA ROD conclusion the center roadways were still needed for vehicles with the R-8A configuration that added HOV lanes on outer roadways.
The current increased travel times are only the beginning. Sound Transit claimed East Link was needed because “transit demand across Lake Washington is expected to double in the next thirty years”. Yet East Link, which will only provide at most one 4-car train every 8 minutes, can’t accommodate current peak transit demand let alone future growth.
Sound Transit plans to use East Link to reduce cross-lake congestion by replacing buses with light rail for the commute into Seattle. However, during peak commute, its limited capacity can only accommodate riders from about 50 buses an hour. Even that reduction will be limited to the HOV lanes rather than the far more congested GP lanes. In fact, East Link operation will probably increase GP lane congestion since many bus riders will decide to "drive" rather than "ride" to avoid the hassle of transferring to and from light rail.
In conclusion, Sound Transit would have never gotten this far if the Times had not allowed them to ignore their few critiques. East Link capacity is never going to increase. Even a fraction of Sound Transit’s “doubling of cross-lake commuting” will lead to gridlock on I-90 Bridge outer roadways during peak commute. Seattle Times priorities need to recognize that reality. If nothing is done, the start of East Link construction on center roadway will mark the “beginning of the end” for reasonable cross-lake commuting.
That will truly be a “shame”.