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Fixing our big flat tire

Sound Transit, the Viaduct, 520, the Mercer Mess — everywhere you turn, there's a Puget Sound transportation problem awaiting solution. It's time for citizens to demand leadership from leaders and to push for reform of agencies and even government.
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The Sound Transit board will decide on Thursday, July 24, whether to submit a multibillion-dollar ballot measure to voters this fall. It mainly would fund a three-county extension beyond Seattle of a light rail line that is not yet completed in the city.

Meantime, we are embroiled in wrangling about plans and financing of replacement or repair of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and replacement of the Highway 520 bridge, as well as Mayor Greg Nickels' expensive proposal for Mercer Mess reconfiguration (which would not relieve traffic congestion) to make the road network more compatible with Vulcan's South Lake Union development.

All of this at a time of economic stress, falling state and local tax revenue, and increasing pressure on state and local business and personal taxpayers.

Here is an agenda for structural and policy change which would address these matters.

  • First, the Sound Transit board should not submit a ballot measure this fall. Then Gov. Chris Gregoire and state House Speaker Frank Chopp actively should sponsor the Stanton-Rice commission proposal [2.2 MB PDF] that the Sound Transit board be directly elected, and thus accountable to voters and taxpayers, rather than appointed as at present. Gregoire and Chopp have made favorable statements regarding the Stanton-Rice proposal. Now they need to move from talk to leadership.

  • Second, the new elected board should undertake a first-principles review of Sound Transit plans and priorities. Its Sounder service has proven horrendously expensive while carrying far fewer passengers than originally projected. The light rail system is billions over the promised pricetag, years behind construction schedule, and missing several stations from the plan voters initially approved. Meantime, the agency has shortchanged less expensive bus and bus rapid transit options which would make an immediate difference in addressing area congestion. Now is the time for a timeout and fundamental review. (I have little doubt that such a review would result in a light rail cutback, perhaps even termination, and investing of greater resources in more cost-effective transit alternatives). After the review, the board should consider the content of a 2010 ballot measure.

  • Gregoire and Chopp, before the fall election, should throw their weight behind specific Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 bridge design and funding proposals. The City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, King County, and others' input should be heard and assessed. But the governor and Legislature should do their jobs and make the necessary decision. Both the viaduct and bridge are state highways. The present punt-and-delay strategy is eating time and money. Both arteries remain public safety risks.

  • The Seattle City Council should demand a reconsideration of Nickels' Mercer Mess plan. It also should put on hold any further discussion of trolley-line expansion. It should undertake a review of the risks and expense attendant to Sound Transit's Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill tunneling. It should make individual and collective input into the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 Bridge issues. But is should — as should the mayor — recognize that these are state-level decisions which rest with state officials.

  • Finally, to help avoid future transportation and other snafus, a ballot measure should be submitted in 2009 to elect Seattle City Council members by district rather than at-large. Almost all major cities elect their city councils by district. If submitted in a mayoral-election year, the measure would stand a real chance of passage and would serve as a rallying point for Seattleites who believe that major city policy is now being made by big-time developers and campaign contributors via their mayoral/City Council puppets. We are long overdue in restoring power to neighborhoods and communities which now get a brushoff on matters such as transportation decisionmaking, which directly affect their citizens' pocketbooks and daily lives.

Not possible under the Seattle Way, you say? Sure it is. This kind of action is possible in any jurisdiction, anywhere in the United States.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 6:40 p.m. Inappropriate

This is not productive.: I see nothing but more process and red tape in your suggestions. Look how much more "accountable" our directly elected Port of Seattle is. Yes, they botched their grand entrance. You should get over it. There is new blood and Sound Transit is a completely different, more financially conservative agency now. Their projects have been on time and within budget since then.

How many times does it bear repeating that bus rapid transit is NOT a viable replacement for light rail unless you plan on giving the busses dedicated lanes? Even then, what about rising gas prices? What about when those busses turn onto busy city streets? What about the fact that more people will ride light rail than busses? What about the fact that light rail has been proven to attract dense, transit-oriented development that keeps urban sprawl in check? I am sick of this "BRT is being ignored" crap! It's being ignored because it sucks! There is one city where real, comprehensive BRT has been a smashing success but our version of "BRT" looks NOTHING like their's. You are standing firmly in the way of progress and are stuck in an old way of thinking that has not worked.

Yes, 520 and the viaduct demand solutions now. No, they will not be decided on before November for obvious reasons. You can expect solutions shortly thereafter.

The Mercer Mess has been studied for a lifetime and it's time to do something about it now. The current proposal is part of a big-picture plan for the area. To look at this project in isolation as being a mover of cars is silly and part of the old way of thinking. Whatever we do there now, we have to live with for a long, long time. They are improving east-west connections all around the city instead of funneling it all through Mercer, which is smart. This project also helps cars and pedestrians connect with South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne, and the Denny Triangle which makes it more livable. It's more compatible with Vulcan's South Lake Union development? Stop the press! The city is planning around what is ACTUALLY happening in the neighborhood!!

Maybe you have a point about electing the council by district, but I'll hold my breath for that about as long I would waiting for more progressive taxation.

You only agree with the state's authority on Viaduct and 520 because you agree with their tactics. I guarantee if they proposed putting a light rail line on 520, you would want your say.

Mass transit needs to be much better in this area if we want to continue attracting young talent who want to live in stimulating, active, urban areas. "BRT" running in HOV and HOT lanes/congested city streets is a joke and an insult to those who choose to forgo an auto-dependent lifestyle. We want real mass transit and we will vote YES for it in November.
Cale

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 7:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted, you're recycling again: This is just more repetition of what you've already said before, in the P-I and here at Crosscut. That tedious recycling is what got you canned from the P-I op-ed page. Chuck and David may be tolerant people, but I expect they have their limits also.

Abandon long-term solutions in favor of those that we know are only short-term (shelve rails in favor of more buses)? Extremely short-sighted. Light rail is expensive because it provides new right of way, new transportation capacity. Buses appear to be cheaper because they run in existing right of way, in competition with cars and trucks and other buses.

Whatever the temporary advantage, in five or ten years we're back to where we are now -- in need of new high-capacity congestion-free right-of-way. Only we will have squandered an opportunity and be faced with way higher costs.

My grandmother had a saying for such naivete -- Penny Wise, Pound Foolish. I'm sure you're old enough to know that one, Ted.

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 7:48 p.m. Inappropriate

i am legion: rest assured that if any of these oh-so-typical ted.van.dyk or other hackneyed schemes that promise "a way forward" make it as far as a public forum myself and legions of my ilk will amass and shout it down! and if some politician doesn't get the message that no solution is the only solution, then we'll vote the bastard out of office. and if there still manages to be some residual gasp of momentum we'll cobble together a referendum (sponsored by eyman if need be) to put it out of its misery. the mob has spoken! semper stagnantus per aspera

noah

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Van Dyk's Sound Transit performance claims are valid: Van Dyk makes claims about the high cost and poor performance of Sound Transit's railroads that are frequently poo-poohed as old news, invalid complaining, maybe even whining. I don't agree. He's still right, and his assertions are current!

Van Dyk Claim: "Sounder service has proven horrendously expensive while carrying far fewer passengers than originally projected."

Facts: As documented by the Sound Transit Report Card, Sounder was at an 89 percent capital cost overrun in 2005 in comparison with the 1996 Sound Move plan. A missing one-mile track segment between the Tacoma Dome Station and Lakewood is not yet constructed as of 2008 after 12 years, and it will raise the overrun higher.

On top of this, Sound Transit is about to seek taxpayer approval of another billion dollars in Sounder capital via the Prop 1 Do-Over election this fall, which will take this commuter train service to around a 2.4 billion dollar investment in what one Crosscut writer recently termed "sprawl rail." This will be a really good and big deal for the six thousand or so daily round-trip customers at over $400,000 investment per each (includes free train station parking), plus the daily operating subsidy per passenger.

As for Sounder customers taking advantage of this generous service from taxpayers, more are doing so lately. Sound Transit just minutes ago sent me a press release noting, "More than 1.2 million riders have boarded Sounder commuter rail since the beginning of 2008." That's up 31% from a year ago. Doubling that 6 month performance shows Sounder carrying 2.4 million riders per year as of now. It's getting closer to the 1996 hope for the future, but still no cigar.

Brief digression: 2.4 million train rides per year on the Tacoma-Seattle-Everett passenger rail line is a trivially insignificant number compared to the 12.6 million trips per day that the Regional Council reports are made in the central Puget Sound region.

Earlier in this decade, seeking to reach the Sound Move targets of up to 4.4 million annual riders in 2010, Sound Transit hoped for 3.2 million annual riders in 2007. One reason for the ridership not yet reaching the original goal is that the nine daily round trip trains of today are fewer than the 15 promised at one time to be running by 2002.

Van Dyk Claim: "The light rail system is billions over the promised pricetag, years behind construction schedule, and missing several stations from the plan voters initially approved."

This claim is less controversial, but some will try to explain it away.

Facts: Seattle's light rail as proposed and approved in 1996 in comparison with the status today 12 years later is described here.

Federal construction monitoring reports from the independent engineering firm STV are month after month still warning that the long-promised and ever-approaching early July 2009 scheduled opening day for the initial light rail service to the Tukwila park & ride lot is at risk of being missed, lately because of issues around the very complex communication system that will keep trains running safely.

I prefer seeing, touching, experiencing the Seattle light rail train in operation before having to vote on doubling Sound Transit's taxes. All things considered, it's amazing that Sound Transit is in such a hurry to get on the ballot this fall.
jniles

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 9:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Fronting for Kemper Freeman: Van Dyk carried water for Michael Milken, now he is fronting for John Stanton and Kemper Freeman. R on Beacon Hill is correct, Van Dyk repeats the same old stuff over and over and over. Rice wanted an appointed Seattle School Board then he wanted an elected Sound Transit Board. It has nothing to do with how they come to office; it is all about whether they agree with you. If you don't like their decisions change the rules. Van Dyk should know that over the years, including quite recently, Seattle has repeatedly rejected City Council elections by District and that Rice single-handedly damned near bankrupted the Seattle Federal Home Loan Bank. Rice is a nice guy, but not someone to look to for serious proposals or leadership.

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 9:47 p.m. Inappropriate

The Bailo Stationary Plan: We are always being asked to choose a "transit" plan...which assumes that people always need to travel. How about a Stationary Plan...how about a plan that seeks to find ways to keep people where they are so they don't have to travel so much? Whatever happened to telecommuting, to exurbian villages? And if you don't like those -- how about simple capitalism. While the big capital markets crumble, and people get tossed out of work, there are a host of small businesses or businesses that don't even know they are businesses, like bloggers, who are working hard, on their own and who could use more capital. How about finding ways to get capital to these workers so they can create home businesses and not have to take buses and trains and cars every day, 10 times a week? How about putting America back into the mode of the walkable small town, where you can stroll from your home to your shop or office or do work within bicycle range? We have to continue breaking down the Old System of Big Technology and spread the investments to everyday people. We need to create our way out of the mess as individuals...not as cattle herded onto shiny tin boxes.

jabailo

Posted Mon, Jul 21, 11:36 p.m. Inappropriate

I have a new nickname for TVD!: It's "copy and paste", because every one of his articles is the same. I hope no one is paying him to write the same article week after week.

Ted, you should read Knute Berger's columns. He often writes about the same topic week after week, but at least he's funny, and he changes up the topic to keep it entertaining. Even people who disagree with him enjoy his columns, because he knows how to write.

"Copy and Paste", on the other hand, can't even be interesting to those who agree with him; it's just too bland and too similar. Brewster, pull the plug on this broken record.
daimaoh

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 6:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Directly Elected Board: John Stanton pretty burned all of his credibility by being part of the team that tried to 'bleed' the ownership group from OK City during the Sonics ordeal. Ditto for Slade Gorton. The Rice-Stanton report can pretty much be viewed in the same light - Namely, a plan to bleed all tax money from rail transit in favor of a one size fits all roads and bus plan.

These plans to build only roads and run buses on them, by the way, would never pass because it doesn't have the approval of enough people. You know, the taxpayers. What's perhaps most dirturbing about the anti-transit folks is that they have so little regard for the voters. Voters approved a rail system as well as a bus system in 1996. yet the anti-rail crowd just wants to take away the rail portion by putting in place a directly-elected board and populating it with billionaire board members.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 7:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Comment by Ted Van Dyk: The proposals in my article are based on objective observation of transportation and related decisionmaking in the region. I have no bias in favor of any transportation mode. I derive no benefit from any interested party. My only concern is that we move people and goods via the most cost-effective means. Yet we are headed in directions which would invest billions in grossly cost-ineffective systems. The people and taxpayers of the region deserve better than that.

Many commenters on this article, as on just about any article which questions
current transportation policy and decisionmaking, have resorted to the usual diversionary arguments and personal attacks which they use to distract attention from substance. Billions of dollars, and the region's economic future, are at stake in pending transportation decisions. I urge all commenters, including those who may avidly disagree with me, to treat these decisions seriously and to frame their comments accordingly.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Comment by Ted Van Dyk: "I have no bias in favor of any transportation mode."

Come on, Ted. This is either a lame and disingenuous rhetorical tactic, or you really need to spend time getting to know yourself. You have completely written off light rail. Numerous times. In this very publication.
Sean

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Even minor bottle necks seem not to get unplugged: In Seattle for fifteen years now, 13 in the U-District, I have observed that the intersection of 15th Ave NE and 45th Street, where most of the bus traffic
going north must make a left, is a huge mess every afternoon as of about 3:30 PM, because there has been no effective relief on the 45th Street going west in all these years. However, at that intersection a single police officer in gas mask directing traffic would make all the difference. Since the price of a barrel of oil will soon be $ 250 and that of gas $ 8 per gallon, the city's comparatively excellent [compared to US cities anyhow] bus service should be in good shape. I am seriously considering bringing my mule Durango up from Mexico, if only the price of hay stays the same! The fact that the 520 bridge was built without bike or pedestrian lanes keeps amazing me, as did tiles falling off the once Kingdome roof, that something as hideous and comparatively fragile as the Viaduct was put up in the first place, blocking views of Elliot Bay; that the tunnel had the wrong gauge rail put in which had to be replaced. If bus service were extended into discrete parts of the neighborhoods via shuttle size vans a lot more folks might get out of their cars.
mikerol

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Lighten Up Folks: What a blow for civil discourse. Instead of coming to the table to discuss the best way to organize transportation in Puget Sound, just take pot shots at anyone with a different viewpoint. That should solve the problem. Geeez.

chance

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Where do I send my contribution?: I'm convinced - where do I send my check in support of "No Sound Transit Grab It."

The religious fervor of light rail enthusiasts puts any Holy Roller to shame. It's an attempt to remake society into an image created and ordained by them - bugger individual freedom, liberty, and choice.

Give me urban sprawl over enforced conformity and sardine-can density any day.

If another Sound Transit light rail package shows up on this fall's ballot, watch it sink like a manhole cover in Lake Washington. People are taxed out with the added proviso that they're pretty sick and tired of paying through the nose for stuff that never shows up either on time, on budget, or at all. It takes a lot of nerve to foist another big tax package on folks when you haven't demonstrated through real experience that the damn thing will work as advertised.

Hell, I'd vote against it just because of the rigid orthodoxy of its supporters - Nobody likes self-righteous municipal scolds and intrusive political puritans.

Light rail is a river of no return down which taxpayers care not to cruise.

The Piper

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

More Roads for Safety and Capacity: Ted Van Dyk is spot on by 'highlighting' all of Sound Transit's past and current failures. The region is plagued by unsafe road chokepoints and a dearth of road lane capacity. Leadership does not exist at the state and local level; time to change the players. No more money for light rail would be a good beginning.

animalal

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Wrong from the second sentence: It's hard to put any stock in an article that's spouting inaccuracies in the lead paragraph:

It mainly would fund a three-county extension beyond Seattle of a light rail line that is not yet completed in the city.

Is he counting King Co twice? As I've commented several times before, the new proposal doesn't get the Seattle light rail line into Pierce County. It stops near the county line, just like carpool lanes on I-5 do. It's typical Seattle-area arrogance that flips us South Sounders off with both hands.

The new proposal doesn't bother to extend Tacoma's own mini light rail system either, and thus give us something we can actually use. It merely buys half the land needed to get the main light rail line to the Tacoma Dome. After paying all these new proposed taxes for a decade, we'll still need to pay even more taxes to purchase the rest of the land and then build the tremendously expensive rail line.

Sound Transit is going to have a heck of a time getting a plan like that passed in Pierce County, so I guess TVD is right in that respect. I did also think the idea of electing Sound Transit officials was a pretty good one.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: This is not productive.: I do agree with you as to being sceptical about the reform proposal - the Port of Seatte example you cite being perfect.

However although there was lip service given to the 'reform' of Sound Transit before it was, in fact, quite the opposite. The folks who would have given us a feasible productive regional transportation model were removed - perhaps even with some sort of financial mistake, though I'm not convinced of that. The two faced control freak manipulators remained.

It APPEARS that the same folks behind the earlier 'reform' effort are those behind this one.

Yes, it will take dedicated bus lanes, IN SOME PLACES, in order to compete with the service times of light rail. This was in fact former executive Director Bob White's contribution to the long discussions leading up the succesful first funding vote.

Personally, I think a single elected executive would be a way of providing regional accountability - balanced with an appointed board NOT controlled by special interests is the way to go. I'm certainly not the one to make the final call on that matter.

But one thing I am qualified to state is that the current process is broken and it is not a mistake - to whatever degree the bad planning results in overcharges Sound Transit is guilty of fraud and extortion.

My opinion is that the elected official most responsible is Bob Drewel. Mr. Drewel, after being removed from office by his constitutuents, presumably in part for his Sound Transit role, was 'protected' by being given the job of running the PSRC, the fed mandated regional transportation planning agency.

Me thinks he was never qualified, my own testimony would be that he bullied and harrassed his way to the top - with the full support of the powers that need to also be removed.

-Douglas Tooley
My Blog

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Wrong from the second sentence: Working within the constraints of their budget, no, the main light rail line was not able to make it to Tacoma in this plan. However, there is money for more express bus service, more Sounder trips (including longer trains and platforms), and contrary to what you have been lead to believe, there is money for Tacoma's streetcar, it's just that Tacoma hasn't decided where they want to expand it yet.

Cale

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Where do I send my contribution?: I see the "I hate rail transit" Kool Aid, vintage 1974, is flowing freely amongst the Crosscut writers. Wake up kiddies, Emperors Van Dyke and Brewster are wearing no cloths on this one.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Fronting for Kemper Freeman: Rice is apparently a bellwether of the bad effects of what is, unfortunately, Baby Boomer management incompetence.

Though he claims to be a nice guy, he is not. He and many, not all, of his staff members are just a bunch of primadonnas who go around calling anyone who disagrees with them sexist or racist - and cites their objections as sole evidence of their degradation.

There are deeper issues here and they need to be addressed. Currently that is not possible due the actions of the Washington State bar as it is controlled by the lawyers of King County, and, ultimately, the criminal justice component of King County government.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:56 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Van Dyk's Sound Transit performance claims are valid: Your last point is perhaps the most persuasive - why is it that these folks are in such a hurry to get their financing nailed down for as long a period of time as the voters will give them - before delivering anything?

I was not aware of your stats regarding Sounder - unfortunate. On the surface it makes sense - an existing corridor relatively easily adapted for commuter use - and efficient enough to provide money to pay for parking. It seems like a win-win. One thing I don't understand is the fees paid to BN for the project - yes this is an added complexity to their system, but not an unworkable one. I think the big question in that matter is whether eminent domain and a government run system would be more efficient for freight and people than the current arrangement. Or for that matter vice versa, if BN were to run the Sounder. I fear instead what we are seeing is the worst of the public sector and a not particulary innovative version of the private - as opposed to getting the best of both.

-Douglas Tooley

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: The Bailo Stationary Plan: Good points, but it isn't easy. Who decides these sorts of economic questions?

There are certainly areas where large corporations with few competitors make sense - Boeing is certainly one of them, and the OS division of Microsoft is another.

However the reason we have the current large corporation and the suburban commute is perhaps an overextension of the historical benefits of these pioneering companies. Likely we have seen the peak of corporate benefits to this country in the recent past - forecast, from this observer, is for a general decline.

Unfortunately finance does impact the situation. While it is true that individual homeowners are making financial decisions that aren't based on the fundamentals of realistic income it is also the case that much of the National debt has wound up in the pockets of those corporate titans to which the current legal system gives us no accountability.

And it is these folks, including both national political parties, who are making those decisions.

-Douglas Tooley

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Where do I send my contribution?: And the damage done to urban lifestyles by the control freaks behind Sound Transit would surely outweigh any benefits provided by speedy interurban transit.

-Douglas Tooley

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Wrong from the second sentence: The founding board discussed at great length a couple of principles that the current 'control freak' powers that be have completely spat upon. First is the principle of sub-area equity - where you spend money roughly in proportion to the amount raised in the area, with some minor tweakings done through timing. For example, Tacoma did get the first working light rail line, but it is very short.

Second is the idea of serving areas where demand is already high enroute to suburban commuters. I personally played a big role in getting this done in the North Corridor, making sure there is good service to Capitol Hill and the University District en route to points north (like commuters to Northgate). Former Seattle Councilmember Marth Choe led the effort for a similar routing in the South end, moving the line from the Duwamish to Rainier Valley via Beacon Hill. Sure, this adds cost, but it is also where existing ridership is DOCUMENTED.

And, theoretically, some of these people over the capital investment time frames of transportation planning will actually move out to commuter type locations and carry transit life habits with them.

FWIW, I bet the folks on the East Side don't even want Light Rail, given a properly packaged choice. Tacomans probably do want it HERE, couldn't say for the remainder of this County.

-Douglas Tooley

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 2:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Obama and the Sound Transit Tax Cow: As an Obama supporter I audaciously hope that local, regional, and state government will make wise investments in our transportation infrastructure. This requires coordinated leadership. What we have now in terms of governance and leadership guarantees enormous waste and irrational poiltical decisionmaking across the board.

Properly pricing projects so that we as taxpayers can compare them and understand them in the context of a complete regional transportation system is a huge first step. This comparative pricing is one area in which Sound Transit falls down.

Secondly, the GMA requires that growth pay for growth. Sound Transit is infrastructure for the future and should be largely paid for by those future residents and workers who will live in future dense urban areas. So the fare structure should be much, much higher so that costs are recovered from actual riders (hopefully future riders who don't even own cars). The sales tax should not be used for funding Sound Transit. Too many people, particularly in non-urban areas will be poorly or only tangentially served by Sound Transit. Those who ride it and those who benefit from it, should pay for the lion's share. This means that we should also be directly taxing high-rise property owners and corporations such as Microsoft for much of the cost. I'd probably vote for a Sound Transit II that does that. So, I suspect, would Barack Obama.

But I would also need some cost containment on Sound Transit's taxing and bonding authority. The amount we bond should be an absolute limit on spending and not an opening for cost over runs and continuous debt service. I haven't seen the financing proposal, but I'm presuming that Sound Transit will ask for 30 years of taxation, which will be an open door and an incentive for everyone feeding off the Sound Transit teat, to delay and drag out the 15-year project as long as possible and to suck out the milk from the 30-year tax cow. With that open 30-year window, the $12 billion dollar project potentially becomes a $100 billion plus project (using year-of-expenditure dollars) in the eyes of the sucking horde.

Truly fiscally responsible infrastructure projects build projects and then fund them out of the revenues that the projects will generate once on-line. Unfortunately, Sound Transit believes this number to be negligible, even in the rosiest of scenarios. If the value cannot be created by the actual users, then why does it makes sense for the rest of us to pay? I understand that there are other externalities and collateral benefits and damages that need to be considered. If they are so compelling, then lets put prices on them and funding sources on them and present a comprehensive picture. Otherwise, I consider nearly anything that comes out of the mouth of a Sound Transit supporter, dangerously naive and fiscally incoherent.

Finally, we should never rubber stamp any Sound Transit initiative until we see real cost-cutting occurring within Sound Transit and a critical eye placed on the costs of the entire system of contractors, builders, unions, bond salesmen, law firms, lobbies, environmental groups, et al., who benefit directly from passing a taxing package. My guess is that each of these groups could easily and willingly work for considerably less if they knew that all such groups were being right-sized, and if they knew that we could okay a steady-stream of projects for the next hundred years. In the auto industry or the software industry the customer gets more and more for less and less. With government and bureaucracy you get less and less for more and more. This simple fact is why abolishing obstructionist regulations and agencies is at the heart of simplifying the transportation quagmire we find ourselves in. Obama will find the same to be true at the federal level.
Stuka

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

The Fog of Ignorance: It is simply fact, that Bob Drewel, formerly the elected Snohomish County Executive, ran for Exec three times, and won three times. He left office because he was term limited out under the provisions of the Snohomish County Charter.

If allowed, he would have won re-election to a fourth term in walk. He was never
'removed from office' as your ignorant commentator claims.

On August 4th, 2008 Snohomish County will dedicate and name the new Administration Building in his honor.

Enough said.

Ross Kane Warm Beach
Ross

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Van Dyk P.S.: It is good that we are having this dialogue before the Sound Transit board meeting Thursday. A similar dialogue is talking place among board members and elected officials and candidates in the region. Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit Chair Greg Nickels and King County Executive and former ST Chair Ron Sims, for example, have contending op-eds in tomorrow's Seattle Times regarding a possible fall ballot measure. Nickels wants it; Sims opposes it---although quickly explaining that he continues to favor light rail as a component of a regional transportation system.

An earlier commenter suggested that I indeed am biased against light rail because I have opposed it previously in print. Fact is, when I returned home to the area more than seven years ago, I was prepared to embrace and support rail transit, provided that it was an appropriate and cost-effective technology for this region. I undertook the kind of research to which I had been accustomed at national level, weighing the pluses and minuses of the various transportation technologies available to the region, and then assessing the options which would bring the greatest benefit for the least public cost.
Regrettably, there was no serious case which could be made for light rail on that basis. I have written before about the reasons: Light rail now being constructed in the south end, and proposed for the entire region, costs more, is less flexible, goes to fewer points, carries fewer passengers, presents more engineering problems, and takes longer to put into operation than other technologies available to us. Moreover, even if a finished-out regional system were put in place, it would have negligible effect on transportation congestion.

Why, then, are so many elected officials on board this train? They are on board for the same reason that other officials, in other places, supported the Boston Big Dig, Robert Moses public-works spectaculars in New York, and, yes,
light rail systems in other metropolitan areas which have cost more and carried fewer passengers than promised to the electorate. Such projects, once launched, have a momentum of their own. As a commenter noted above, a
huge network of the self-interested rallies behind it because of the contracts and fees associated with it. Politicians support it because the network comes through with political money and endorsements on their behalf. When financial shortfalls develop, the network sponsors legislation and/or ballot measures to close them. Influential elected officials at federal level, notably including Sen. Patty Murray in this case, shake the tree to keep project approvals and federal money flowing to the project and its dependent network. The publicly-financed
agency bureacracy, in this case Sound Transit, subsidizes front organizations, lobbies, polls, and undertakes media campaigns to sustain itself. No one in the appointed, governing body ever stops to ask: Is this a good investment of public money? Is it the best way to address transportation congestion in the region? No one asks because the answers are unwelcome.

No, I have no bias against rail transit nor do I have one for or against highway upgrades, bus transit, ferries or pedicabs. And I would object just as strongly as I do to light rail if I found that those other modes were an inefficient drain on resources better spent elsewhere.

The proposals in my article are meant to break the cycle and force a rational reexamination of transportation options in the region. Without such forced reexamination, inertia rules.

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Van Dyk P.S.: // it would have negligible effect on transportation congestion//

Please, Mr. Van Dyk, tell us about your magical solution to effect transportation congestion. More busses stuck in traffic? (ha!) A traffic-seperated BRT system? (try building that for less than rail) Private toll lanes for the rich? (at tax-payer expense) Widening roads? (without reducing congestion, for far more money)

When calculating the negligable effect rail will have on congestion (caused by regional population increase), did you factor in the congestion-free travel experienced by those actually on light rail?

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 10:03 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: This is not productive.: Mayor Nickel's Mercer Mess proposal is redevelopment masquerading as tranportation improvements. The community councils in both Queen Anne and Magnolia (the 2 communities who should benefit the most from a fix) have already expressed their disapproval of the proposal. Other communities around Seattle are also beginning to voice their horror. There is an alternative proposal in circulation which would cost considerably less and be a better fix. The citizens of Seattle should not stand for the Mayor and Council raiding the "Bridging the Gap" cookie jar to the tune of ~$150 million so Paul Allen can make even more money.

gonado82

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 10:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The Sims / Nickels debate: The op-eds are now posted.

http://blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/edcetera/

I read Ron's first. It is a serious attempt to serve the public with what he thinks they want.

Nickels tries to be funny. I don't think this one in particular is funny to people who are jammed onto the crowded buses Sims wants to expand:

5) Mass transit is popular. So popular, you may not have a seat on the bus. But standing all the way home improves your calf muscles and physical stamina. This strength-building exercise works even better in high heels.

I wonder if Nickels ever takes the bus?

Well, I guess people have a variety of perspectives. What's most annoying though is the way certain sound bites get linked together without critical examination, repeatedly, by advocates of more rail . Maybe they are true, maybe not. Maybe they were once true, but aren't true in a world of $4.50 gas.

So, a thank you to Mr Van Dyk for raising questions. Somehow it seems the best questions are the ones that don't get any response besides personal attacks and attempts to change the subject. Those are the ones worth repeating, because maybe some day they finally will get an answer.
sjenner

Posted Tue, Jul 22, 11:54 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Van Dyk's Sound Transit performance claims are valid: BNSF personnel operate the Sounder, with ST paying BNSF. BNSF owns the tracks, and ST buys rights to use them. ST owns the Sounder rail cars. ST pays Amtrak to maintain the cars.

As stated on the Sound Transit web, "How Sounder commuter trains work: Sounder commuter trains operate on tracks owned and maintained by the BNSF Railway, which also provides operating crews. As a result, train schedules are coordinated by the BNSF main dispatching facility in Forth Worth, Texas. The entire fleet of coaches and locomotives are maintained by Amtrak at its Holgate Yard Facility, one mile south of the King Street Station in Seattle."

The only one of the mass transit services ST actually operates with its own employees is the Tacoma Link streetcar.

Regional Express buses are operated by the three county (bus) transit agencies under contract to ST.

Link Light Rail in Seattle is operated by King County Metro Rail Division, the same outfit that runs the Seattle Streetcar to South Lake Union.

The very large payments made by ST to BNSF for Sounder ($260 million for permission to operate Sounder north to Everett, for example) were not contemplated in the original Sound Move plan approved by voters in 1996. Sound Transit understands now that BNSF does not give away access to their trackway assets.

ST CEO Joni Earl told the Expert Review Panel this past Monday that ST and BNSF would have a term sheet or memo of understanding negotiated by the end of this week on how more trains were going to be added to Tacoma Sounder in the ST2 plan about to be approved by the ST Board.

As I wrote elsewhere, another billion dollars is required to expand Sounder service between Seattle and Tacoma, much of that going to BNSF.
jniles

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 6:30 a.m. Inappropriate

We Already Know That Sims and Ted Think: What is wrong with seeing what voters think about this latest (and best) proposal Sound Transit will place on the ballot this Fall?

Even Dino Rossi is for that.

Ted has combined several prior rants into one column that paints a fancified dream that will result in big delays on big decisions. And ultimately more everyday delay and higher cost commutes for most everybody.

It turns out Ron Sims supports light rail after all, but only for Seattle.
Tarl

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 1:46 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Van Dyk's Sound Transit performance claims are valid: I as an adult student graduating into a slower economy I had the opportunity to attend a lot of the Board meetings ending not long before the 1996 successful vote.

My recollections was that capital costs for track upgrades were anticipated, I don't recall any other costs being discussed. Cost per rider projections were higher than on light rail and that has always been a question mark for me. Is it a question of NIH, etc?

The questions I have now revolve around the legal status of the railroads to generate fees from this. Certainly making a profit isn't a bad thing, but railroads do have a history of having monopoly style control problems - much like Sound Transit. I'd guess this hasn't been handled all that well - benefiting the lawyers more than anyone else. FWIW, at the core, government provided land grants aren't all that different legally from FCC provided broadcast channels...

The issues here are many and hopefully the conversation, and the coverage, will continue to explore and discuss these multiple facets in an intelligent manner.

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: We Already Know That Sims and Ted Think: Paula Hammond was on the Eastsider Dave Ross's radio program, neither particularly Rossi types - and both angling for no light rail on the Eastside, running buses on I-90 instead.

The plan is not the best possible and anyone who claims otherwise is conspiring with folks that might even be felons - heaven forbid even the 'saintly' Gregoire....

Posted Sat, Jul 26, 6:54 p.m. Inappropriate

What SecDOT Paula Hammond thinks: What Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond said on KIRO radio about buses and/or passenger railroad trains on the I-90 floating bridge corridor is available for hearing via your computer or other mp3 player by downloading this mp3 file. (A recording of Barack Obama's speech in Berlin is on the end of this same mp3 as a bonus!)

Since the I-90 bridges are owned by DOT and not Sound Transit, SecDOT's views are important.

One intriguing item that came up in this interview of Secretary Hammond on the Dave Ross show was a discussion of Sound Transit's back up plan to use buses for the Eastside connection if light rail does not work out.

Another point of interest is a new promise apparently made by Sound Transit on July 24th that all additional costs of light rail on WSDOT right-of-way in the I-90 corridor will be covered by ST's tax collections. Those costs are not worked out yet between ST and DOT, but perhaps will be by the time of the November 4th Prop 1 Do-Over election.
jniles

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