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Why Bellevue's Vision Line makes some sense

It avoids prolonged neighborhood fights and may, long term, shape the new Eastside and attract more riders than the proposed Sound Transit route.
Sound Transit's preferred route, west of Mercer Slough. Vision Line would follow BN line, in black, to the east of the Slough

Sound Transit's preferred route, west of Mercer Slough. Vision Line would follow BN line, in black, to the east of the Slough Sound Transit

Kevin Wallace

Kevin Wallace Bellevue City Council

Drawing of the Bellevue station in the Vision Line plan, with tent-like structure covering the moving sidewalk to the center of downtown Bellevue

Drawing of the Bellevue station in the Vision Line plan, with tent-like structure covering the moving sidewalk to the center of downtown Bellevue The Vision Line

Few interesting ideas have landed with a bigger thud than the "Vision Line" proposal by Bellevue City Councilmember and developer Kevin Wallace. A rookie politician and the son of leading Eastside realtor Bob Wallace, Wallace has laid out a new way to get Sound Transit light rail through downtown Bellevue and its neighborhoods south of downtown.

Seattle density-dogmatists pounced, declaring Wallace's Vision Line, as he calls it (grandly), in violation of basic principles of how to use transit to stimulate transit-oriented development and get more folks out of cars and into trains. In turn, the hostile, ad-hominem attacks show how emotional our local debates about transit remain, even after the issue was supposedly "settled" by the passage in 2008 of Sound Transit 2.

Turns out the Wallace plan is far from dumb, at least in my view. So allow me to present a more dispassionate account of this proposal, which has its strengths along with its weaknesses. Bear with me.

First, some context. We're talking here about what's called Eastlink, the $2.8 billion route of Sound Transit light rail after it crosses the I-90 bridge and then heads north to Bellevue and then onward northeast to Microsoft's campus and (almost) Redmond. Sound Transit's preferred plan is to run the line up some settled suburban streets like Bellevue Way and 112th Ave. SE, traversing leafy neighborhoods like Surrey Downs, skirting the Mercer Slough, and then cutting through the Bellevue central business district, either on surface streets or by a tunnel. Less disputed is the route heading east from downtown Bellevue, passing through the relatively underdeveloped corridor (with prime transit-development prospects) connecting Bellevue with Microsoft and western Redmond.

The Vision Line plan as originally proposed by Wallace, who ran on this issue in getting elected to the Bellevue Council last fall, would continue eastward along the I-90 corridor (which means crossing, near the freeway, some more wooded land of the Mercer Slough); join up with the abandoned right of way of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway; then diverge from the rail corridor to enter Bellevue on an elevated viaduct leading to a massive intermodal station alongside I-405 at NE 6th and 114th Ave. SE (where Coco's restaurant has long been a landmark), near the large I-405 cloverleaf as well as Bellevue City Hall and the Meydenbauer convention and performance center.

The Vision Line is responding to some obvious problems with the Sound Transit plan. First, the Vision Line doesn't go through the suburban enclaves lying west of the Slough, where the neighbors don't want the noise and disruption of Sound Transit's planned route, relatively few riders will be attracted, and lawyers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of long resistance in courts. Before Seattleites sneer at the suburbanites, just think how, say, Capitol Hill and Montlake would have reacted if Sound Transit had proposed running on the streets rather than the far more expensive tunnels it chose. Likewise, think about the proposed South Bellevue station at the Mercer Slough park-and-ride lot — hardly a good siting for transit-oriented development with the protected wetland all along the eastern side of this route and station.

A second advantage of the Wallace route occurs when it comes to downtown Bellevue. It may save as much as $500 million by not building a tunnel in downtown Bellevue — money Sound Transit doesn't have and Bellevue doesn't want to spend — and that savings might extend the line eastward toward Redmond. (As for a surface route, the Bellevue Council seems unlikely to agree to that, saying it would worsen congestion on the already busy superblocks of the downtown.) So, while the Vision Line may have fewer riders in Bellevue, by not having a station right in the center of its downtown (if there is a center), it might gain more than the preferred Sound Transit route by having a better station to the south in Wilburton (with 1 million square feet of commercial space) and where two major bike trails converge. And by getting closer to Redmond. So far, however, Sound Transit studies give the Vision Plan poor marks for attracting riders.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 4:20 a.m. Inappropriate


The Puget Sound should be planning for self-driving cars, which will appear in the next 10 years. At that point, we can abandon "mass" transit and have "personal" transit. Self-guided taxis on demand, that operate with very low cost, and run on hydrogen made from solar, wind and hydropower.

jabailo

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Bellevue should bite the bullet and put in the downtown tunnel. It's the right place for the LINK station, it serves the greatest number of downtown workers. Crossing the Slough is another environmental disaster. The I-90 bridge through there is already dumping oil and latex and gasoline residue into the lake and the wetlands adding more concrete pilings to support a heavy rail line in a swamp is just plain dumb and environmentally worse.

The Surrey Downs neighborhood is no more immune to growth than the downtown core is. If you think that the downtown core is going to be sufficiently large to lid over 405, then Surrey downs will be high density low rise apartment and condos. You can already see the infill along Bellevue Way.

The Wallace plan severs only one thing, Wallace properties.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

No mention of Kemper Freeman's influence on this issue and on Kevin Wallace?

I suppose you withheld this seemingly relevant info in the interest of fostering your reputation as a level-headed "moderate". Fair enough. However, it's becoming increasingly difficult in these polarized times to tease apart "moderate" from such terms as "timid", "mealymouthed", and "ineffective".

Sean

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

The only vision I see with this freeway station is a vision of grafitti all over those cement columns. It will be a hideous eyesore in a matter of years.

Plus, freeways are inherently bad places to locate stations because there are no people there. No one lives there. No one works there. No one wants to be anywhere near there.

There's a reason Sound Transit studies give the Vision Plan poor marks for attracting riders. For starters, look at the station. Half of all possible riders are cut off by the I-405 freeway.

This plan should more correctly be dubbed the 'Freeman Freeway Vision Line' because it accurately describes both the station location as well as the vision of Mr. Freeman. Namely, a vision of freeways as far as the eye can see.

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

The Kemper Freeman aspect of this story has been seized on and magnified by critics of the proposal. Freeman gave $500 to the Kevin Wallace campaign for Bellevue Council, according to Wallace, and Freeman has contributed to the studies for the Vision Line, in the order of several thousand dollars. There is also the issue of whether Wallace Properties would benefit by this plan. They are scattered around Bellevue and so don't seem affected, but there is one large property near the proposed station that would be sold or condemned by Sound Transit if the 405 location is picked. (Whether going through condemnation is a boon or a bane is an open question.) I agree that having a property developer advocate for a transit plan is laden with conflicts of interest, but at least Wallace has been forthcoming about his backers and the property his firm owns.

Mostly, I wanted readers to be able to judge the proposal on its merits, apart from their feelings about Kemper Freeman and developers. But of course questions about the origins of the plan and various competing economic interests are entirely valid ones to raise.

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

The Vision Line station is a good example of why transit systems don't work; not that such stations cannot attract and serve transit users, but that the elementary notion transfers is rarely built into transit systems. No transit system can work without transfers. And, this station must build one. Light rail always comes with a reordering of bus routes, and this should be viewed as beneficial.

The moving sidewalk is of course nonsense, but why wasn't a bus shuttle system preferred from the start? To make a transfer convenient, a bus line need only run at the same frequency as Link, every 5 minutes or so. No waiting. Such a shuttle line is a short route to downtown and won't need many buses. Yet, this frequent service is ideal for activity centers like downtowns. I'd guess this shuttle should run east of 405 to the nearest major destination.

I'm not a fan of the Bellevue Transit Center. Like many transit centers, it has more buses converging circuitously to one place than is necessary. A single shuttle line between downtown and the station would offer no-wait service with no-wait transfers to peripheral bus lines that need only cross the shuttle route rather than converge at the transit center.

Building shuttle connector systems can best match supply to demand; improve effiecienies; increase development opportunities, etc.

I'd move the station away from the very edge of the freeway if possible.

Wells

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice work David -
It never ceases to amaze me that there is so much vitriol coming from the Seattle side of the lake regarding ongoing development of Eastlink in Bellevue. Those of us who live and work here are working very hard to make sense out of the proposals in front of us, defining the impacts, near term and longterm, as well as the benefits of this project for Bellevue.

Your presentation of Mr. Wallace's Vision Line concept is balanced and takes into account much of what we have been discussing for years- Where WILL Bellevue's "Center" be in 20,30 or 40 years? Additionally, Light Rail is not a street car and shouldn't be thought of as such. This system has to move people quickly (and fast!) from places they want to be to other places they want to be. It is laughable to read a number of the comments regarding impacts. The ST preferred routing along Bellevue Way SE has a huge impact on the Mercer Slough wetland as well as the Sturtevant Creek spawning grounds that is continuous - the route is located in the buffer zone all along the West rim of the wetland. The B7 routing will contain this impact in an area already impacted by I-90 an impact, I might add, that has been minimal on the valuable wetlands at the head of the slough.
In any case, this decision must be made based on best guesstimates for the future - where will the center of town be in 2040? Where can significant TOD be done in Bellevue? Where can workforce housing be developed close-in? How can we best answer the multi-modal questions that should be driving this debate? Many important questions, indeed, with articles like yours helping to further the debate and filter the emotion.

GandolfST

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

David, I appreciate your doing this post. Dispassionate review is always a good idea. I am not convinced by your arguments, and find Mark Hinshaw's analysis much more cogent, but reasoned debates should lead to conclusions.

What I do object to, however, is your use of the very kind of namecalling that you profess to abhor. Give me a break: "density-dogmatists pounced", "hostile, ad hominem attacks". Is that how you view Mark? Better stop publishing him then.

If we are ever to have sane political discourse, we have got to stop belittling people with other ideas. I know that the web easily degenerates into that, but it should be resisted, not inflamed.

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 12:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Even if 116th is heavily populated in 2040, rail will still be inconveniently far from Bellevue Way, 104th, etc. They're already dense, and will be much denser even by 2020 if some of the current proposals get built.

mhays

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

I mean the freeway station would be uncomfortably far. While some of us will walk anywhere, transit use goes down dramatically with those walking distances, particularly when there's a hill both ways.

mhays

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

David, have you actually looked at the distance from downtown Bellevue to the closest approach of the "Vision Line"? It's a long, long way, too far for people with handicaps or small kids or large packages.

Also, this:
"Think about the proposed South Bellevue station at the Mercer Slough park-and-ride lot — hardly a good siting for transit-oriented development with the protected wetland all along the eastern side of this route and station."

That seems silly, when the Vision Line actually DESTROYS part of the Slough.

DannyK

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 5:13 p.m. Inappropriate

GandolfST -

In response to your statement, "In any case, this decision must be made based on best guesstimates for the future - where will the center of town be in 2040? "

The center of town will be directly related to where the transit stations are located. These 2 things are not unrelated. The location of the stations will help determine where the center of town is.

I must agree with Richard Conlin by his criticism of the author's characterization of Seattle as 'density-dogmatists'. The reason people pounced on this plan is that it should be called the 'Visionless Plan' or more accurately, the 'Freeway Alignment', since that's what it is.

A basic rule of station planning is to locate stations where the people are, not where the cars are, and especially not where the freeways are. The Wallace Plan fails that basic test. This isn't dogma, this is BASIC urban design.

The 2nd basic rule of station planning is to locate stations where people can walk to/from fairly easily. This means a pleasant walking environment as well as a comfortable walking distance. The Wallace Plan also fails that test by its own inclusion of a moving walkway. Again, this has nothing to do with "Seattle density-dogmatists" pouncing. It has to do with BASIC urban design.

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe you are a little too intense, Mr. Conlin. DB did not mention Hinshaw that I can find and your examples are not what I would define as "namecalling". I think Hinshaw makes a good argument.

kieth

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Richard Borkowski
Good comments. I guess that is why there are tunnels in Seattle? This is a great dialog started by David B...It would seem that a tunnel application may well be the best option for Bellevue - so be it. I am constantly entertained by people who have no concept of Bellevue's size & scale pontificating on walking distances, future developability etc. It would be refreshing for the folks who come forward with strong opinions on the matter to actually know something about land use in Bellevue as well as likely future growth in density of housing and commercial development (there are some extraordinary nonsense numbers being quoted out in the blogosphere!). Bellevue will be growing signficantly to the East while growing up along I-405. We all must remember that it is highly unlikely that the Transit Center, as sighted today, will be in the same location 20 years from now. In fact, there may well be more than one in the Bellevue core. Regardless, keep the educated input coming!!!!

GandolfST

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 7:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Richard, light rail often requires a reordering of many bus routes. The notion that light rail must reach every important destination at any cost is not entirely correct. When a destination can't be reached and a bypass station sited, a transfer shuttle system can do more than make up for lost ridership calculations. With a good transfer systems, ridership at bypass stations can increase rather than decrease.

Wells

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

An anonymous reader writes to remind me of another advantage of the Vision Line that I neglected to mention: it's faster. It gets to Bellevue faster by having one less station to the south and less time on streets (where trains have to contend with traffic and traffic lights), and it cuts down on the time for the Eastlink line to loop through Bellevue's downtown. My informant says the savings might be as much as 5 minutes, at least compared to the surface route for Bellevue. This translates into faster system time and getting to Microsoft and Redmond area. Speed is not everything, of course, and the tradeoff in number of passengers would be key. But speed really does get people out of their cars.

Thanks for the many excellent comments. I agree with my friend Richard Conlin that I should have eschewed the epithets. Something about transit debates in Seattle brings the insults out! Maybe the next proposal should be called The Venom Line?

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 10:31 p.m. Inappropriate

David -

The speed issue is definitely something that is important and not mentioned thus far. Anyone who has concerns about surface alignments, however, really should make their way to Portland and ride the MAX out to Gresham. Or take the Yellow Line, both of which run right in the center of the streets. They are comfortably fast, and equally important, reliable.

Posted Tue, Mar 2, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

David--

Kevin Wallace's has said repeatedly that his primary goal is not to build a light rail line for the future, but to avoid impacts on landowners in the present. This is precisely the wrong reason to build rail. Rail should move people, but it should also influence where we want growth to occur in the future and serve the largest number of people in dense downtowns like Bellevue. Neighborhoods will always oppose transportation projects because of the disruption of construction and the fear of the unknown. Mercer Island opposed I-90, the Rainier Valley and Tukwila opposed Link, and there are many more examples around the country. Change never happens without unease and disruption, but that is no reason to not advocate for forward thinking solutions.

You say,

"Before Seattleites sneer at the suburbanites, just think how, say, Capitol Hill and Montlake would have reacted if Sound Transit had proposed running on the streets rather than the far more expensive tunnels it chose.

Um, Sound Transit did run rail on the streets in Seattle in the Rainier Valley. Are we not Seattleites too? It was the right decision and will help build some amazing neighborhoods in the next twenty years. As for Capitol Hill, it is the densest neighborhood in the state of Washington--by a long shot and up a very steep hill. And Montlake for surface light rail also makes no sense because of topography--it is a very steep drop to the ship canal. That is the advantage of light rail--it can go at grade and save money where appropriate, it can go elevated where needed, or operate in a tunnel.

You also assert that Wilburton is a better station but actually, the South Bellevue Park and Ride is designed to offer easy access to I-5 and 405 for transferring buses. It is a major connection point for Eastside buses from Issaquah and many Eastside neighborhoods. wilburton offers very poor freeway access for buses, a fatal flaw.

One of the biggest problems with the Vision Line is that it is right next to a freeway. This is great if your main desire to have less impact because you can probably get right of way. But it is extremely poor urban design. Freeways are a wall of cars that prevent urban pedestrian movement and divide neighborhoods. Traditionally people do not enjoy living next to them either because they are dirty and noisy. So, you wall off transit oriented development on the freeway side and cut the developable area in half. Bellevue will grow to the east of 405 equally under any alignment you choose because you largely preclude development effects from rail with the freeway. If you locate a station near the Bellevue Transit Center you get a much larger share of the downtown job market and a much larger area of downtown that will be within the six blocks most people will walk to a station.

As for the comment string about the Vision Line saving time--what gets people on transit consistently is reliability more than speed. No one will ever care if the train takes them 33 minutes instead of 31 minutes to get from Seattle to Microsoft.

The real vision is to build a rail system that will essentially define our region's growth over the next 100 years. That means doing the right thing, not the politically expedient thing. The Vision Line is anything but visionary because it sacrifices the future for the present.

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Richard Conlin writes: "Dispassionate review is always a good idea." No kidding!

So where's the big I-900 audit report of ST's financing and contracting practices we were told we could expect over a year ago:

http://www.seattlepi.com/transportation/364477_soundaudit24.html ?

That audit report was supposed to be a far more comprehensive review than the one produced in October 2007. Read the story - the SAO was going to really dig into what ST is up to. Any idea why the SAO hasn’t delivered that performance audit report yet?

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm guessing it'll be positive. For many years (after the initial debacles of the 90s), ST has budgeted conservatively and delivered on budget and on time. For the DT-UW line, bids have been coming in massively under budget due to the economy and conservative estimating.

mhays

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I have to say I am rather amazed at the fear and loathing of doing a cut and cover Tunnel down Bellevue Way, or one of the next super blocks over...

Seattle managed through cut and cover to build the metro tunnel. Seriously, is there more traffic and less detour options for 104th, 106th or 108th then there was on Pine or 3rd Avenue in Seattle? That was a complex project due to what was known, and unknown below the ground. (There was far more tangle of infrastructure, basements, old tunnels, Tunnels in daily use and skyscraper pilings, not to mention natural springs by Spring Street.)

What lays below the streets of Bellevue is fertile farm soil, and the utilities are well known and documented as Bellevue is a very young city.

By most every major experience, where rail goes dicates future growth. It is why the early streetcars in Seattle were paid for an run by DEVLOPERS seeking to sell sub divisions and town sites. The Wallace plan will help sustain Braven, and over time, keep Bell Square in a time freeze, and insure development along the freeway rather than in what is considered the downtown core today.

IF they bypass the downtown, it would almost make more sense to run it on I-90 to Eastgate and follow 148th to Redmond. The room and land is there, and you would loose very little of the previous investment. Stations at Belleve College (by 2040 perhaps a University Campus?) then cut up to Crossroads at Main Street. Stops at Crossroads, Group Health, and off to MS and the Tech Corridor...

THAT makes more sense to me than the Wallace Plan and offers an alternative for future growth to major desnsity areas.

Cut and Cover downtown Bellevue, or skip the West side of 405 altoghter.
by 2040, they can become the Pioneer Square of Bellevue.

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

mhays writes:

“For many years (after the initial debacles of the 90s), ST has budgeted conservatively and delivered on budget and on time.”

Ha! You’re a real comedian.

If you look at page 14 of the 2Q '09 Financial Report that came out two months ago it says Phase I Sounder has a capital budget of $1.43 billion.

Go back two years though, and on page 4 of ST’s 11/07 Official Statement it says Sounder’s Phase I capital costs would be $1.27 billion.

Go back three years from then, and on page 7 of the 3Q 2004 ST Financial Report it says Sounder’s Phase I capital costs would be $1.21 billion.

Go back two years from then, and on the “Sources and Uses” summary table of the 2002 Financial Plan it says Sounder’s Phase I capital costs would be $1.14 billion.

The Phase I Sounder capital costs have increased by about $300 million in the past 7+ years – that’s about a 30% increase. Phase I of Sounder was supposed to have been completed three years ago. The final costs are going to be higher (maybe $1.6 billion), and the Phase I work won’t be done until 2012 at the earliest.

So much for “on time and on budget.” Don’t get me started on light rail Phase I. Bet you can’t even calculate what the expected capital and operations costs of Phase I light rail might be by the time the University Link segment is completed!

“For the DT-UW line, bids have been coming in massively under budget due to the economy and conservative estimating.”

Why are you trying to spread garbage information? We’re grownups – tell the truth!

A year ago Sound Transit put out a press release touting how the University Link contract to prepare the sites for the tunnel boring machines came in 34% below the engineers’ estimates. The bid was for a $19 M contract to prepare the site where the tunnel boring machines will begin their work northward under I-5.

Take a look at one of the motions the ST board just approved (“M2010-18”) – it’s on ST’s site. It shows where that “$19 million” contract now stands. ST is about to become obligated to pay something like $26.5 million to that contractor for that work.

This new motion authorizes “the chief executive officer to increase the contingency for the contract with Condon Johnson and Associates for the University Link I-5 Undercrossing Construction Pits in the amount of $3,900,000 for a new total authorized contract amount not to exceed $26,537,810.”

That is the ST pattern. ST signs contracts, then it agrees over and over to pay huge additional amounts under those contracts. All that stuff about “contractors are hungry so we’ll get a good deal for the public” and “now’s a great time to be entering into construction contracts” is meaningless when it comes to how Sound Transit negotiates contracts and oversees contractors.

Why did ST roll over for that contractor mhays? Did it say “gimme more money?”

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 2:51 p.m. Inappropriate

You might be right about Sounder. My understanding is it's involved all sorts of work not originally included, much of it to placate BN and its freight commitments. Sounder is essentially subsidizing freight (or paying to mitigate its impacts on freight), much as the new federal Amtrak money is also helping Sounder and freight.

On DT-UW bids, $400,000,000 of bids came in at $300,000,000 (just the ones I'm aware of). In any "low bid" scenario the bids only cover what's clear on the drawings and specs, and there are always omissions, which are soon pointed out by the contractor. I'm guessing that the new dollars is a mix of that, plus new scope.

Mostly I'm talking about the big picture. The UW segment is aided by savings from past phases, and the DT-UW segment appears to be doing well overall.

You've studied the "trees" more than I have, but you seem to be ignoring a pretty successful "forest."

mhays

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

You want to talk “forest”? By my reckoning ST has hauled in something like $5 billion in regressive taxes, and sold something like $1.2 billion in long-term bonds. That is a staggering amount – far greater than its peers. What have we obtained in the “big picture” as far as deliverables for all that spending? Very little in comparison to what the peer transit services operators are able to deliver in terms of new infrastructure and services. Ridership on all modes is dropping, and it was below expectations (by a lot) to begin with.

As one example, TriMet has taken in about a quarter of that amount of revenue over the same period, and delivered scores of miles of light rail and stations, and a greatly expanded bus fleet. Here’s a useful document from TriMet:

trimet.org/pdfs/publications/factsheet.pdf

ST doesn’t produce any useful documents like that to show what it has done and at what cost, and that is because ST is doing a lousy job. I can’t find anything ST has done better than any of its peers when it comes to infrastructure building or services provided in terms of cost.

Care to comment on ST’s practice of securing bonds with grossly excessive amounts of tax revenue? ST employs abusive financing practices.

ST’s performance in terms of taxes imposed vs. “transit deliverables” is abysmal when compared with its peers. Why do you believe that is? Bad management, or something else?

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 3:37 p.m. Inappropriate

It sounds like you disagree with voters about rail overall. Your arguments are full of holes of course. Ridership "is" dropping? You're talking about a past trend that appears to be the back side of the gas price bubble plus reduced employment. More cost per mile? You're comparing a system that's full of elevated/tunnel/bridge segments to the at-grade systems most cities build, with their cheap ROWs.

mhays

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate

"It sounds like you disagree with voters about rail overall."

Hardly. It's not the voters' fault the financing plan presented was abusive and the execution poor.

Do us a favor - try addressing the important issues I've raised here in a cogent manner. I understand that won't be easy. It will help you - and others - appreciate how poorly ST is performing in key ways in comparison to its peers. Then we can discuss reasons for those deficiencies, and possible ways of moving forward in positive ways.

I'm all about looking for areas of agreement.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 8:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I've already addressed your major issues. You seem oblivious.

As for the voters, look what they did in 2008.

mhays

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

"As for the voters, look what they did in 2008."

What on earth is that supposed to mean? Explain yourself.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

crossrip -

Your comparisons of Seattle to Portland is rather useless, in my opinion. It's like saying a house in Spokane costs 1/3 of the same sized house in Seattle and somehow concluding that the Seattle house is overpriced.

The same holds true for Portland. Portland's rail system was built back in the 70s, 40 years ago! They've crossed all of the political hurdles and rail-baiting fearmongering that come out of groups like the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which slow things down and cause Sound Transit to perform lots of defensive transit planning. Have you forgotten all of the lawsuits filed over the years, the initiatives filed by Tim Eyman and the sabotage attempted by the State Legislature? Sound Transit made it through all of these minefields and came out as a fairly trusted agency. The voters certainly rewarded the agency with over $14 billion to spend on ST2.

As far as financing, have you forgotton the $11 billion financing plan of the monorail agency, just to build a $1.7 billion project?

When cities like Bellevue want to run light rail down the middle of the streets the way Portland does, then the costs of light rail will be more comparable to Portland. However, that day will never come.

Posted Wed, Mar 3, 10:32 p.m. Inappropriate

[i]Portland's rail system was built back in the 70s[/i]

No, it wasn't. It was paid for concurrently with ST’s lousy system, only TriMet spent much less and the people and businesses there received much more.

TriMet uses an excellent financing method. Businesses with the most employees pay for it, not the poor, those without regular income, and the elderly (the Sound Transit targets).

ST's financing plan designers are sociopaths. They targeted the most vulnerable people here (“vulnerable” means they lack money to live well).

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 4, 6:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Richard: Here are some facts about TriMet that show how ST is not doing well.

The revenues needed by TriMet for excellent bus and light rail service are much less than what ST and its sister transit providers (Metro, Community Transit and Pierce Transit) haul in.

TriMet uses a financing package comprised of a greater percentage of federal grant money, less regressive taxes, less taxing overall, and NO sales taxes. It doesn’t target the most economically vulnerable people.

The people and businesses TriMet serves have received an extensive bus network, 50+ miles of light rail, streetcars, and scores of rail stations. TriMet has only several hundred million of debt outstanding. ST and Metro haul in sales taxes at a 1.8% clip. ST alone already has over $1 billion of long-term bonds outstanding, and in the next ten years plans on selling $8 billion more in long-term bonds.

Portland's businesses pay a payroll tax of about $250 million a year. No new local general taxes are levied on people there by TriMet. ST already has confiscated about $5 billion in new local taxes, and it has covenanted with bondholders to confiscate something on the order of $40 billion in additional sales taxes between now and 2038. Apparently some Oregon state cigarette tax revenue is used to secure some debt whose proceeds TriMet uses, and some Oregon State lottery revenue also may be used to secure some of the modest bonding incurred for TriMet as well. None of that however is anything like the excessive new local taxing ST has pledged to its enormous pile of bonds.

You wrote that TriMet’s light rail was built in the 1970’s. That’s not true. The first 15 miles of TriMet light rail there were completed in 1986, Fed grants paid the most and local taxes paid only 17% of that.

A 18-mile extension was completed in 1998, Fed grants paid the most and local taxes local taxes paid only 27% of that.

A 5.5-mile extension to the airport was completed in 2001, local taxes paid about 70% of that with the rest from private money making up the balance.

Two new extensions were completed last year. A 8.3-mile extension (Fed grants are paying the most and local taxes local taxes cover 40%). Another 14.7-mile extension was paid for half by Fed grants and local taxes covering the balance.

TriMet’s financing tools and ability to deliver demonstrate how unreasonable – and abusive to people – ST is being run. TriMet taxes in a fair, modest way. That approximately $230 million in TriMet taxes is on par with what TriMet took in during all the prior years it was in heavy light rail construction-phase spending. That amount of tax is not expected to go up much over the next couple of decades either, despite all the good TriMet is doing with it. And again, that is a modest tax on businesses, with bigger companies paying more. ST (and its sister transit service provider governments) hammer the public to the tune of about $1.3 billion this year alone, and that amount is set to continue for decades.

The story is essentially the same with all of ST’s peers (Dallas, Denver, San Diego, the Twin Cities, etc.). ST performs exceedingly poorly. ST is not even slightly successful when compared to its peers in terms of cost – especially tax costs.

This brings be back to the question of why the performance audit report the SAO promised is over a year late.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Mar 4, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

No wonder Portland has hardly any big companies!

As long as you keep comparing Seattle's system with at-grade systems it's hard to take you seriously.

mhays

Posted Thu, Mar 4, 4:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Richard_Conlin, meet Erica C. Barnett.

"BREWSTER’S HALF-BAKED ARGUMENT AGAINST LIGHT RAIL"

http://www.publicola.net/2010/03/04/brewsters-half-baked-argument-against-light-rail/?utm_source=RSS+Feed&utm;_medium=feed&utm;_campaign=Feed%3A+publicola+%28PubliCola+%7C+Seattle%27s+News+Elixir%29

Mr Baker

Posted Sat, Mar 6, 4:31 p.m. Inappropriate

"ST's financing plan designers are sociopaths. They targeted the most vulnerable people here (“vulnerable” means they lack money to live well)."

Strike the financing plan and I do agree. When DB or someone, I've lost track, wrote just think of the Montlake or Capital Hill protest if they had to suffer a surface line, I did think and what I thought of what the long and loud protest throughout SE Seattle and to no avail when the route preferred route switched from the west side of Beacon Hill to the east side.

Along with some respect for others opinions what I would most like to see is social justice and a little recall of history and the lay of the land (and waters) around here. Half-baked is not quite right. We keep trying to bake things not ready for the oven.

afreeman

Posted Mon, Mar 8, 7:31 a.m. Inappropriate

mhays: You want to focus on "comparing Seattle's system with at-grade systems"? Fine. Explain how much you think ST has spent on "not at grade" that it would not have spent if light rail were "at grade." Whatever number you come up with, it will in no way explain the gross discrepency in taxing ST and its fellow transit governments here engage in. Nor will that delta explain away the excessive taxing required by the kind of bond contract security terms ST uses, or the overly-regressive nature of the taxing transit services providers engage in.

Of course, nobody thinks you have any idea of how much extra ST might or might not pay for its "not at grade" system. You just wanted to post that you don't take me seriously.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Mar 8, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

It's hard to take someone seriously when they ignore basics while foaming at the mouth about their chosen subtopics.

If you do know anything, you know that it's impossible to name a figure for what you ask. The variables are huge even for an at-grade system, and pricing on one can be multiples of another. (My company builds buildings, not rail, but the principles are similar.)

For example, some at-grade systems use existing ROWs. It's cheap to lay track, upgrade a few crossings, and build basic stations, which are often themselves on existing ROW. But this is Seattle. Our at-grade portions on MLK required a rebuild of the entire street, purchasing a lot of additional properties (at Seattle's high land costs), and all sorts of mitigation for construction.

Until next time.

mhays

Posted Mon, Mar 8, 9:20 a.m. Inappropriate

"a rebuild of the entire street, purchasing a lot of additional properties (at Seattle's high land costs), and all sorts of mitigation for construction."

Those are not big-ticket items in terms of ST's financing. Plus, you are pointing at those things without making ANY effort to quantify their costs.

Your posts do not challenge the merits of anything I've mentioned, and you appear unable to back up with any facts your vague assertion that ST's uniquely massive taxing and bond selling scheme is justified by different light rail construction techniques. Your "explanation" is not convincing; your mere expressions of faith in Sound Transit's management righ hollow.

I've compared the amounts and types of tax revenue ST has confiscated (and has pledged to confiscate) with the much smaller and less regressive taxing practices of five peer transit services providers. You've been unable to justify the way ST operates in comparison to its peers.

ST's performance in terms of delivering transit infrastructure for a reasonable tax cost is unbelievably poor. Rather than attacking me personally ("foaming at the mouth"?) you could try presenting a cogent argument about why ST might be justified in pledging something like $40 billion worth of future regressive tax collections to secure the 2007 and 2009 bonds (face value ~800 million dollars)for this particular infrastructure and rolling stock. That might be a way to try countering my argument that ST's taxing practices and management are abusing the public.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Mar 8, 12:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I haven't commented on their financing methods at all.

Your first post says I'm a "comedian" and "spreading garbage". I see no reason to mask my lack of respect for you.

mhays

Posted Mon, Mar 8, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Another fine day in the Calvin and Hobb's club house. We will be making headway come the day that 30 plus comments mean more than that!

afreeman

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