We're still in denial about Sound Transit costs

New evidence appears for how costs are escalating and deadlines are stretching way into the future of light rail in the region. And there' a new consumer of the light rail Kool-Aid: Mayor McGinn.
A light rail train in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

A light rail train in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel Sound Transit

The Seattle City Council has joined Gov. Chris Gregoire and the legislature in signaling Mayor Mike McGinn that it simply won't tolerate holding up the 520 bridge project for another several years to meet his demand for light rail on the bridge.

There are other huge and expensive capital projects pending. Decisions loom on the Mercer Street project, Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement, waterfront seawall, new rail trolleys, and McGinn's proposed extensions of light rail to West Seattle and Ballard. What has priority? What can we afford? What should be rejected?

Thus far McGinn has only suggested, in general, that tolls should finance transportation projects and that most such decisions should be made via ballot measure.

If that's all the guidance we have, the council will need to step in again. Our state and local governments, just as the federal government, face big funding shortfalls. It will be a struggle, in Seattle, just to maintain essential services. Some priorities must be set among the capital projects now on the table.

The place to start is with the Sound Transit light rail system. I regard light rail as a horrendous waste of scarce public resources and the most cost-ineffective way to move people in this region to their destinations. It is, as former WDOT Director Doug MacDonald recently said, "not a transportation project but a construction project." Yet McGinn, who has been pushing for light rail on the SR520 bridge, which isn't even in any plans, seems unwilling to step on the Sound Transit brakes at all. He and the majority of the region's elected officials have thus far chosen to ignore the cost-benefit facts and consume the light-rail Kool Aid.

Recent Sound Transit actions and documents provide an alarming glimpse of the future. First, Sound Transit proposes a general fare increase later this week. Farebox-recovery ratios — that is, the percentage of operating costs covered by passenger fares — have been disappointing. In 2009, Sound Transit Express buses recovered 22.4 percent of operating and maintenance costs from farebox revenues; Sounder commuter rail, 22.2 percent; Central Link light rail (in Seattle), 10.6 percent; and the free Tacoma Link light rail, zero percent.

Yet according to the original Sound Move plan, the "minimum acceptable level" for rail systems was presented as 40 percent. However, the projected new fare schedule shows the Tacoma line continuing to run solely on public funds and Seattle's Central Link light rail raising fares only 25 cents for adults while lowering fares for senior, disabled, and youth riders.

By contrast, Regional Express bus fares would rise $1 for adults, with smaller increases for senior, disabled, and youth riders. Altogether, the increases are projected to generate 2.5 percent more fare revenue from light rail and 22.5 percent more from Regional Express bus service. Thus, the burden on bus transit is 9 times greater than on light rail.

This represents another example of Sound Transit's continuing effort to subsidize light rail at the expense of more efficient bus transit.

Second, Sound Transit's 2010 financial plan shows it has budgeted some $57 billion for its Phase I and Phase II projects, 1997-2040, with light rail getting the lion's share of the money. But that would cover only 53 miles of its planned 125-mile light rail network (not including McGinn's projected Seattle extensions).

According to financial/transportation analyst Jim MacIsaac, a Sound Transit critic, it will also take an additional 13 years of bond payments beyond 2040, at nearly $600 million per year, to retire the debt. Financing costs, MacIsaac concludes, would bring the overall total to about $65 billion. (For comparison, the notorious Boston Big Dig, after its overruns, came in at $18 billion). At that point, 72 miles of the 125-mile system would remain to be built.

The price originally cited for the entire 125-mile network was $13 billion. Its completion was projected for 2020.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 5:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Another part of the Sound Transit vision that may not be coming true is the number of people riding on its trains. The forecast seems to have melted down between 2008 and 2010.

The Puget Sound Regional Council's 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan described by Jordan Royer and Knute Berger over the past few days in Crosscut includes all of Sound Move from 1996, Sound Transit Phase 2 from 2008, and even some light rail extensions that would be part of a future Phase 3. You'd think that ten more years and track extensions would lead to 2040 train ridership above and beyond what was foretold as the 2030 result of the Prop 1 spending plan.

Yet, buried on page 100 of Appendix D of the Final Environmental Impact Statement of the PSRC Plan, the forecast average daily boardings for rail in 2040 is stated as 164,400, a 47% drop from the 2030 daily rail ridership estimate that Sound Transit used to sell us Prop 1: 310,000. This latter number made for a closer future year is the sum of light rail and commuter rail estimated daily ridership as stated on page 5 of the Mass Transit Guide that Sound Transit mailed to every household in the taxing district before the November 2008 election.

(Footnote: I earlier reported 312,000 that I calculated from an annual rider forecast for 2030 in another Sound Transit 2008 campaign document: close enough agreement of two separate sources.)

What's happening to make the ridership forecast sink even before the bulk of these rail lines go into construction?

jniles

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I look at the King County Foot Ferry as a model of transit cost recovery, 5%. You might as well just call it what it is, a taxpayer subsidized perk for Dow's old District in West Seattle and Vashon. South Park Bridge can wait.

Cameron

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Ted Van Dyk and John Niles are MASTERS at beating their dead horse...err, horsepower.

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

"We're still in denial about Sound Transit costs"?

You mean, "We're still being lied to about Sound Transit costs"?

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

"I regard" is not a convincing arguement. Rail is still a cost-effective way to move freight anywhere, and it works well for Asia & Europe. Oil demand is increasing in Asia while world supply is shrinking. How effective will that bridge be in 20 years when the price of gas is reflecting the result of those trends? And good luck getting that design past the residents of Montlake & friends of the Arboretum, whose clubhouse has the trophy of the RHThompson Expressway on the wall.
Jim Ellis had the vision for our own BART-style system, got I to the ballot, and it just failed to garner the required supermajority. What a loss that was, and all because too many voters listened to those that lacked vision, insight, and substituted "regard" for "reason".

NickBob

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

NickBob: Good to hear from you again. Local passenger light rail in no way can be compared to inter-city freight rail.

From the beginning, there has been one inescapable fact about light rail in this region. It is far more costly on any basis than bus rapid transit or just plain bus service. It will move far fewer people from a few fixed-point stations in the region to a few other fixed-point stations---after many years of capital investment and construction---than could be moved immediately by expansion of bus service. And these fixed-point stations cannot be reached, by most prospective passengers, except via private auto or bus. Former King County Executive Ron Sims discovered this late in his term, and called for diversion of funds to bus service, and was ostracized by a political establishment which was in too far with light rail.

The limited Seattle line already is way over its projected costs, even
after removing several of its originally promised stations, and years behind schedule. Tunneling on Beacon and Capitol Hills, and moving of dirt-filled trucks, will be proceeding over the next several years---incurring high energy costs and polluting the area. Greens presently in love with the light rail myth may change their minds about it, once they
encounter its side effects in their daily lives.

But the main problem is this: As my piece points out, the costs of the projected system are crushing and completely disproportionate to any benefit to be derived from it. Not only could bus transit carry more passengers to more places for far less money but there are, additionally, the lost "opportunity costs." That is, the tax monies allocated to light rail (wholly via regressive taxes, by the way) will not be available for other urgent public purposes.

Those questioning light rail do not lack vision or insight. Rather, they have vision and insight and recognize the need to stop a runaway train.

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 10:37 a.m. Inappropriate


This is a financing plan designed by sociopaths. No place else pays for transit like this – for good reasons. The reason it stinks like the monorail authority’s abusive financing plan is it was designed by the same lawyers and finance consultants.

The regressive tax cost to people and families represented by that ST 1997-2040 financing plan sheet is massive. It would take food off the table of poor families for decades, and it would act as an economic anchor by depressing consumer spending and limiting local job growth.

This new disclosure is just like how the monorail authority’s financing scheme came to light after the vote. Now we see considerably more taxing and bonding than people were told to expect by the pre-vote documents, and for the first time we’re hearing ST will use the interest-only “wrapped” payment technique the monorail authority would have used.

What were voters told before the ST2 vote about when the bonds would be paid off? Here’s ST’s finance director Brian McCartan, six weeks before the Nov. 2008 vote:

“Sound Transit staffers estimate the tax will raise enough money to pay off the bonds in 2038, an estimate that finance director Brian McCartan calls ‘pretty solid.’”

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/380438_transitcost25.html.

What’s new here in these documents ST just decided to share, via MacIsaac? ST will be issuing bonds up through 2023, and those won’t be retired before 2053.

Moreover, take a look at the footnote to the ST 1997-2040 financing plan document (link in the story). Instead of the bonds being paid off by 2038 as McCartan was saying before the vote, there is a $5 billion remaining bond balance as of 2040, with a $2.1 billion remaining interest balance at that point.

So much for Brian McCartan’s veracity. Here’s the thing about ST – it doesn’t care about telling the truth - it doesn’t have to. It is a government that is completely unaccountable to people.

How does ST’s newly-revealed financing plan stack up against the failed monorail plan? Let’s take a look at the numbers. The capital costs of that monorail financing plan were to be $2.1 billion, and there would be financing costs of about $11 billion:

“Comparisons will be made to the Seattle Monorail Project's short-lived, 50-year finance proposal, whose $11 billion total (to pay off a $2.1 billion Green Line) torpedoed the project's political support two years ago.”

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003733560_transpodebt04m.html.

This new ST document shows a financing plan that lasts about 50 years. The capital costs of ST1 and ST2 now are shown as $18 billion. The total revenues of the financing plan through 2040 are shown as $65 billion, but as there is now expected to be that $7 billion debt obligation remaining at that time, the $3 billion per year ST will be taking in in revenues by 2040 will need to continue. Assuming a very modest inflation of the tax revenues over the subsequent decade, and assuming defeasance of the final bonds by 2050, we’re looking at a $100 billion financing plan. That would make this Sound Transit financing plan a worse one than the one the monorail authority disclosed two years after voters approved that ballot measure.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

The minute I saw the title, I knew who the author was. Sure enough, it was Ted VanDyk mounting his favorite hobby horse once again.

Ted quotes Doug MacDonald as saying light rail is "a construction project" not a transportation project. Ted later says that light rail "is far more costly" than buses. Duh!

Light rail, of course, IS a construction project because it is creating new transportation right-of-way to help take the load off of the existing over-subscribed highways.

And that new right-of-way is put to extremely efficient use: carrying scores of passengers quickly and smoothly on steel rails. Contrast that with buses, which are bumpy and noisy and which use rubber tires that must be replaced regularly. And, unlike light rail trains, which can add cars to accommodate added passengers, buses cannot expand without adding more drivers at great operating expense.

Of course it is cheaper to add buses to existing crowded streets and highways than it is to create new right-of-way, which is always expensive and difficult, especially in a place with Seattle's geography and geology.

The question is can existing roads handle even today's traffic not to mention expected growth? The answer is no. The alternative to building new light rail right-of-way is to build new highways. That has always been John Niles' agenda. As for Ted VanDyk, he is just in denial.

Bus rapid transit, plain old buses, vanpools -- all are good things, even great things, and are needed. But so is new right-of-way linking urban centers dedicated to the most efficient and comfortable way to move people: rail.

We do have limited resources and must make tough decisions about how and when and where to use the various tools in the transportation toolbox. I, for one, doubt we will be able to afford light rail to West Seattle or Ballard, nor do I think it is the best choice in those circumstances. However, to rant against light rail in general is misguided. Light rail has its place in the transportation picture for most cities, as the rest of the world has realized -- but not Ted.

hoohah

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

The PSRC Vision 2040 and the light rail financial projections both seem to assume peak oil won't really impact energy costs, or sales tax revenue that can fund bus service as well as pay off the rail debt. This may be a bad assumption.

Those plans also assume no VAT to help with national finances. If a VAT gets enacted, then it will definitely impact local sales tax revenues. I think a VAT is a long shot, but the possibility exists. Our national govt can't keep borrowing forever at an increasing rate.

I appreciate this story about the update about Sound Transit's finances, and hope this will get more coverage. I also hope the Sound Transit board can discuss what happens if the financial and ridership assumptions prove overly optimistic when they are reviewing these projections, and that they will investigate why there's been such major changes.

sjenner

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

What is the fare recovery on the 520 bridge? Looks like the estimated cost of the new bridge is around $5 billion (this will, no doubt be much higher). Tolling will bring in maybe around $1 billion, so, 20%. I-90 is free, so the fare recovery is zero, just like the Tacoma Link. Why are you holding mass transit projects to some higher standard of user funding?

Link light rail and sounder are designed with capacity for 10 years from now, when they will be much more complete and the cost per rider will be lower. Also, rail is scalable, freeways are not. 520 will be at capacity when it reopens.

andy

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

The missing link in this discussion is the lack of federal funding. This city fiddled around for decades and missed the largess that Warren Magnuson earmarked for Seattle mass transit during the 1960's. That money instead went to Atlanta. What if we could have had 67% federal financing for a heavy rail subway? Or a Monorail? Or our light rail?

Had the voters of Seattle then had any foresight at all there would already be a base system of some kind in place and Mr. Van Dyke's piece above would be complaining about spending money to expand that. Unfortunately, that was an opportunity missed and given the economic outlook one not likely to return.

Seattle must go it alone to improve its circulation infrastructure. Adding more avenues for traffic through our congested city whether it be for light rail, a deep bore tunnel or trains needs to be done to avoid the increasing gridlock in our streets. Express buses are needed as well but anyone who believes the future of mass transit in this region belong only to buses is guilty of denial here, just as they were 40 years ago.

No, we truly have missed the train and now we must either pay or walk.

fred117

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Take a look at that 1997-2040 financing plan document (link in the story). It shows the capital costs of ST1 and ST2 now would be $18 billion. The total revenues of the financing plan through 2040 are shown on that document as $65 billion. As there is now expected to be a $7 billion debt obligation remaining at that time (see the footnote on that document), the $3 billion per year ST will be taking in in revenues as of 2040 will need to continue. Assuming a very modest inflation of the tax revenues over the subsequent decade, and assuming defeasance of the final bonds by 2050, we’re looking at a $100 billion financing plan.

A $100 billion financing plan for $18 billion worth of capital spending? That total is 5.5 times the construction tab alone. Hmm, what might that be called? How about “ludicrous”:

“The total [$11 bln.] also is more than five times the construction tab alone [$2.1 bln.] for the monorail. State Treasurer Mike Murphy has called that ratio "ludicrous." The typical principal and interest payments on a state project amount to double the construction cost of the project, he said this week.”

http://www.seattlepi.com/transportation/229677_monorail23.html.

I see we’ve got some screen names in this thread asserting we “need” light rail – how about somebody tries providing a justification for this LUDICROUS financing plan?

Maybe ST’s board should give us another vote, now that the true costs are starting to emerge . . ..

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 7:28 p.m. Inappropriate

This is how the LRT debate boils down to costs alone. Agreed, the financing plan must be credible, long term. TVD's view that "fixed-point stations cannot be reached by (some, but not most) prospective passengers except via car or bus" is considerable. Yet, the larger concern IMO, LRT potential to direct growth to then generate riders, is one I believe the initial Link failed to address. 154th, Sea-Tac, 200th stations will be park-n-rides. Stations further south appear the same.

This suburban corridor should redevelop much of its asphalt commercial strip to create jobs and amenities nearby stations and along major bus routes leading to stations.

The ultimate test of LRT is how it redevelops suburbs rather than city centers. Otherwise, LRT becomes a 1-way rush hour commute system, empty the rest of the time, empty in the reverse-commute direction. TVD fails to incorporate the land-use and development aspect, and fails to address how 1994 is the more pertinent election year compared to 2010, perhaps would rather everyone NOT study 1994, eh Ted? Seattlers, your DOTs and your transit agencies disrespect you offensively.

Wells

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 8:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit just sprang its monorail-style abusive financing plan on us.

Before the monorail vote, the public was told there would be 23 years of the taxes:

============

Local News: Saturday, October 19, 2002

Are taxpayers protected from monorail overruns?

By Mike Lindblom

Seattle Times staff reporter

* * *

Daniel Malarkey, consulting economist for the ETC, thinks that if the project is finished on budget, the tax can be removed in about 23 years — unless voters opt for more monorail lines.

============

Then about eighteen months later the SPMA announced there’d be some funky interest-only bonds, and the tax would need to remain in place 50 years. Everyone should remember that garbage pretty well:

============

Monorail officials say they'll overcome budget obstacles by extending collection of a Seattle car-tab tax until 2050 or beyond.

http://www.seattlepi.com/transportation/229677_monorail23.html

===========

That’s how the financing plan for the monorail authority got to be five times the capital costs. Seem familiar to what Sound Transit did? It should.

Now we’ve got Sound Transit pulling this exact same stunt. By pushing off the bond payoff for over a decade ST just sprang a financing plan on everybody that may come in around five and a half times the capital costs.

Of course, nobody at Sound Transit is making any kind of promises to the effect that this LUDICROUS revenue needs projection would be the end of it . . ..

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 8:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Any time you have a high percentage of interest payments for a project compared to the actual cost of the project, the most important driver in the overall total cost is the interest rates on the borrowing. Here's where our country's long-term finances are really sobering. I mentioned above how the need for a VAT could decrease revenues. Specifically, it would reduce demand for the items that make up a big part of the sales tax base: cars and construction. But if a VAT doesn't go into place, then our country may face higher costs on its interest. This in turn will boost other interest rates as well.

I doubt anyone planning Sound Transit finances wants to state this possibilities because they are really scary and not politically correct.

sjenner

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 10:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree. Backers of light rail across either bridge aren’t thinking what makes most financial sense. Replacing a – if not the most – productive route from Bellevue to Seattle on I-90 with light rail seems ludicrous. Then, there’s 520. A light rail line across the new span would go…to a fixed destination(s). A bus could go to any destination, potentially. It could even be a hybrid bus, and it would cost a lot less. As for cost recovery rates, 22.5% for bus service is about average, but given that Sound Transit’s lines are generally express buses not geared towards local traffic, and considering their coaches are more comfortable than the other agencies’, they should aim higher, say 30%. I do agree with their proposed fare increase, though, as it’s a step in the direction of simplification and unifying the fares of the various agencies. Frankly, disabled fares should be separated from senior fares, as many seniors are still working and/or aren’t low income, as that grouping would suggest, and 65 is an artificial age there as much as it is for Social Security eligibility. For disabled, the probablity is very high that they don’t have alternative transportation, i.e. they don’t have another viable choice. Meanwhile, youth are future riders. Central Link is new, and management chose “the honor system” for fares, thus I’d expect that return to be low. There also was a lot of confusion – and probably still is – in transferring to and from a Metro bus. On the other hand, Tacoma Link still offering free rides makes as much sense as half of the public not having to pay a penny of federal income tax. Riders should contribute something.

bricsa

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 10:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"King County Executive Ron Sims discovered this late in his term, and called for diversion of funds to bus service,"

Ted Van Dyk proves he is still as detached as ever (see: Pheonix snowbird condo paid for by corrupt Watergate era corporate cash).

Here's what Ron Sims ACTUALLY saw: 1) 70% over-promising Rapid Ride BRT. 2) the looming Metro budget crisis resulting from an unsustainable all-bus transit system. Like most politicians (especially all the populist/corrupt clowns Van Dyk worships) Sims found it a lot easier to blame the light rail boogeyman, rather than take responsibility for his own failed policies.

If Van Dyk bothered to lift a finger and do some basic research, he would have figured this one out a long time ago. Instead, Van Dyk relies on a tiny fringe element to feed his ridiculous conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories developed during Van Dyk's involvement with ACTUAL Nixon era conspiracies.

But this lazy O'Reilly/Hannity brand of faux populist journalism (projecting one's personal failures on the "elite") is so much more...entertaining, isn't it?

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 11:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Ironic that "crossrip" (and jniles) dedicated years of their lives to the monorail tea party movement.

But, when the house of cards fell, crossrip, jniles and (Van Dyk favorite) Emory Bundy all pretended they didn't even know what a monorail was. Even James MacIsaac got on that monofail bandwagon for a while.

You can tell all these light rail haters really know what they are talking about.

PS - BRT rose from the ashes of the monorail. That should tell you something.

Posted Wed, Apr 21, 11:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, sorry. It would appear crossrip IS Emory Bundy, of monofail and personal ret@rded transit (PRT) fame.

My bad for referring to them as separate entities.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 1:11 a.m. Inappropriate

An important thing that Wells also implies is that rail changes where people live and where businesses are built over time. Rail shapes how a city and a region develops by defining long-term where people opt to build houses, to live, to work, to open businesses, etc. Buses by contrast are completely passive and adapt to near-term and existing conditions without reshaping long-term urban planning at all.

When you look at fully rail-equipped cities, e.g. Berlin, you see that there are layers: heavy rail for interurban transit; light rail and subways for regional transit; buses for inter-neighborhood transit; bike lanes and pedestrian streets for core areas. Rail stop locations have over time reshaped where people live and work.

To say that buses could do the same thing as rail is to completely and dramatically miss the fundamental point of how layers of transit work together to achieve different things. They are not mutually exclusive, and the costs involved in rail development are high initially but pay off OVER THE LONG TERM.

smacgry

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 6:38 a.m. Inappropriate


"rail changes where people live and where businesses are built over time. Rail shapes how a city and a region develops by defining long-term where people opt to build houses, to live, to work, to open businesses, etc."

This argument holds no water in the case of ST's light rail system. That is because there are a small fraction of the number of stations in comparison to systems like Berlin's. There only are a couple of dozen stations on ST's rail route, and most can not accomodate any substantial TOD. There would be some TOD out along the Bel-Red road, but most of the rail stations are not located where huge apartment complexes could be built. Short of the abusive financing plan, it's the biggest flaw with the light rail line ST is trying to build out. We wouldn't get enough stations within walking distance of where enough people BOTH live AND work.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 7:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Pleased to see so many comments. The more, the better. Disappointed, though, that Sound Transit advocates do not address the cost, financing, ridership and other practical issues surrounding the projected light rail system. Public budgets are under great pressure. So are taxpayers. Priorities must be reexamined--particularly those involving multi-year commitments and big capital investments.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

One of the big issues is a reality check on best case how much new development can be built within walking distance of the stations. Does anyone have any figures on this? eg, if you have six story buildings, with a mix of studio, 1,2 and 3 bedrooms, within half a mile of a station, how many units can be built and how many people will live within them? And then, what percentage increase would this lead to in ridership if all of the people in them (or at least all adults) were to ride the rail every day?

sjenner

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 8:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Ted, all I'll say about rail is that it's the standard way to do high-capacity transit all over the world, and in that sense it's the best fix for Seattle too.

That said, if there were a different proposal on the table for making mobility improvements I'd probably vote for it. Real grade-separated BRT? $5 billion worth of vanpools? Electric trolley buses everywhere? Count me in. Just get it on the ballot first. (And for the record, I don't think building general-purpose freeways provides any long-term improvement at all. Talk about "not a transportation project but a construction project.")

joshuadf

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice to see Madison Ave. has not changed a whit. He contribures nothing but his usual infantile personal attacks.

ST light rail is not "mass transit." It is currently averaging about 18,000 boardings per weekday -- 9,000 in each direction. St predicts about 45,000 boardings per day by 2030. That comes to approximately 22,500 boardings per weekday in each direction by 2030.

A typical Seattle-area freeway, by comparison, carries about 40,000 to 47,500 people per weekday PER LANE!

And our freeways are not anywhere close to "capacity" in terms of carrying people. Adding buses to freeways takes cars off them -- people switch from driving cars to riding buses. The ignorance of lite train cheerleaders in this regard is amusing. One bus can take the place of up to 90 cars. If one bus takes only 30 cars off the roads, it reduces congestion. 100 buses per hour, each taking 50 cars off the road, take a total of up to 5,000 cars per hour off the roads. 100 buses per hour instead of 5,000 cars per hour certainly reduces traffi congestion -- it does not increase congestion. And by removing cars from freeways, buses open room for more buses, creating more people-carrying capacity without building more lanes.

Take a look at the new Las Vegas Gold Line bus rapid transit route.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/apr/08/ace-rapid-transit-bus-service-exceeds-ridership-ex/

This new bus rapid transit line is already averaging about 20,000 boardings per weekday, or 2,000 more than Central Link light rail. And this new Las Vegas bus line cost only about $52 million for an 11.2-mile line, compared to $2.6 BILLION for Central Link's 15.7-mile line. L.V. bus rapid transit cost under $5 million per mile, compared to ST light rail at around $160 million per mile (the next Link light rail segment is costing $600 million per mile!). ST light rail cost 32 times as much per mile as L.V. bus rapid transit, and the bus line is carrying more people per day!

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Interesting point about Las Vegas. I know some people will say "well we're building new capacity." That's partly true, partly not true. Retrofitting a tunnel is not adding capacity. The changes on I90 are changes, not a new bridge.

sjenner

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

There is a new tunnel through Beacon Hill providing an east-west route that didn't exist before, and more importantly the Westlake-Capitol Hill-UW tunnel provides a new option roughly along the same route as I-5, which is very congested a peak time. I've been stuck in an "express" metro bus in that traffic many times.

And again: Lincoln, come up with a funding place to add 100 express buses per hour on I-5 or SR-520 and I will vote for it.

joshuadf

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

yes, "partly true, partly not true" that the route has new capacity.

With the UW station, I just hope it will be possible to have some sort of connector buses to the nearby area, including the south side of Montlake. In the diagrams it is hard to see how buses will have be able to easily pick up and drop off people. The bottlenecks on Montlake Boulevard are so bad that the total travel time to many areas may not be any better, the bottleneck make take a different shape at a different location but it will still exist.

sjenner

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"And again: Lincoln, come up with a funding place to add 100 express buses per hour on I-5 or SR-520 and I will vote for it."

Sound Transit has plenty of money to do that right now. Stop wasting it on light rail, and spend it on express buses, instead.

This is exactly what Van Dyk was writing about in terms of opportunity costs. Sound Transit is flushing so much money down the light rail toilet that there isn't money available for things that make sense, like more buses.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

On behalf of my investment group on MLK, I would like to thank all the taxpayers of the Puget Sound and across our great land who have contributed so much towards our train. As soon as our condos are up, we're cashing in 'BIG-TIME'.
We never thought the region would swallow canabilizing the 194 route for the train trip, but you guys came through. Even at nearly $20 bucks a rider on Link, to replace the bus ride was, in our opinion a good deal. (source: ST 2010 Budget, $118.6 million for the projected 6 million riders this year. ST had projected 9 million riders in 2008, but has no chance of making that. Also, depreciation and amortization of loans is included.)
Anyway, like I said, the $20 a ride train trip is a real bargain compared to the Metro bus trip that averaged $3.67 per rider.
Thanks guy! :)
ps: We bought property on the Eastside. Can't wait for the trains to replace buses on I-90.

007

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Back to the point of Ted's piece, spending priorities and Mayor McGinn's part in this area, we must remember that he is mayor of Seattle, and is promoting Seattle's best interests. He, and rail transport, enjoy the support of the majority of voters in Seattle. The last thing Seattelites want is a giant new 6 lane (eventually 8 lane) bridge dumping more cars into downtown, or a downtown bypass tunnel on the waterfront for which we are on the hook to pay. Rail will serve these commute needs much more efficiently.

Also, somehow forgotten in these equations are the costs of parking: http://boingboing.net/2009/08/07/free-parking-costs-a.html This hidden cost is never factored into the cost of freeway centric development. This cost is assumed by all of us (mostly from property taxes), even if we do not commute by car. I could go on and on about the hidden subsidies for auto transport.

Transit detractors usually assert that commuters "don't want to be forced out of their cars". I believe this assertion is exactly wrong. Most people I talk to would gladly leave their car at home if they have a train to ride to work. The transformation on Beacon hill is quite astounding. Neighbors who were against light rail are now big fans. Once the trains get nearer to capacity, the financial numbers start to look a lot better, as is demonstrated by the rest of the world.

It is easy to cook the numbers of long term rail projects to suit a particular argument. Imagine if you looked at the cost per passenger/mile of the interstate freeway system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System) right after its inception. Rail detractors often include the cost of financing into the total cost, but this is almost never done for freeway projects. Using this accounting, the 520 bridge costs $5 billion, while light trail costs $65 billion (at least according to Ted's books).

Food for thought: If you run the statistics on bicycle travel, you can make a case that it is the least efficient per passenger/mile, most polluting mode of transport, simply because the human body is so inefficient, and our food supply is mostly petroleum fertilizer based! This is how ridiculous some of these statistical arguments can be.

andy

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the support Andy. See you at the investors meeting next week :)

007

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, sounds like you've identified a funding source so all you need is a plan and the authority to implement. Maybe you can base it off Las Vegas--looks like they have dedicated transit lanes for the ACE system and complete street enhancements too:
http://www.planetizen.com/node/43528

It will be a challenge to get dedicated transit lanes written into law throughout north Seattle, Bellevue, etc. but as I said I'd certainly vote for it.

joshuadf

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 9:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Thus Mr. Van Dyk reveals himself as yet another advocate for the Big Oil/Big Automotive cartel and -- via fossil-fueled, internal-combustion-engined buses -- preserving our ever-more-oppressive enslavement by those parasitic industries and the ecocidal aristocrats who own them.

His is a demonstrably outrageous viewpoint anywhere in today's world, but here in Pugetopolis, where Bonneville provides the second-cheapest electricity in the nation (the cheapest comes from the Tennessee Valley Authority), it morphs into tragicomic irony.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted Van Dyke is so full of it. He's been bad mouthing regional transit for years, but I bet he hasn't a clue what it's like to have to depend on unreliable buses. Seattle was the only major city of its size without a rail system until now. Name one city in the whole world that was ever sorry for investing in the infrastructure. Of course a system will not be instantly perfect. It will take decades before it is complete with other expansions, more stations,and connections, but when it is, it will be hard to believe the system was fought so long and hard by knuckleheads like Van Dyke. If it wasn't for these self centered idiots our system would have been started twenty years earlier for a fraction of the cost. Keep up the selfish fight numb nuts.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, do you really think "adding 100 express buses per hour on I-5 or SR-520 is a good idea"? Clearly you are nothing more than a peanut gallery regional transportation planner. We definitely could use fewer peanut gallery experts deciding our future.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

"Lincoln, do you really think "adding 100 express buses per hour on I-5 or SR-520 is a good idea"? "

Absolutely. That would take thousands of cars per hour off those freeways.

Thank you for you ignorant post which contains zero information or thought.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit detractors conveniently omit any discussion of reliability. Trains are designed for and have a proven record of being able to arrive frequently and precisely on time, something buses will never, never, be able to offer. I wonder how many no-show buses Mr. Vandyke has had to wait for, of how long he has been stuck standing up in bumper to bumper stalled traffic.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

"Thank you for you ignorant post which contains zero information or thought". Apparently over crowded traffic lanes, unreliability, inconvenience, and long range benefits are not considered concerns in your book to merit thoughtfulness. Too inconvenient to consider in the argument? I thought so.

Posted Thu, Apr 22, 11:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Look Lincoln, I agree with a fair number of your commentaries, but your small world view of regional planning issues comes across as a very old axe to grind. Your argument seems to be a retread of Kemper Freeman's opinions, which would have been great for his private developments but terrible for the region. You can't trumpet the greatness of buses without acknowledging their down side.

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 12:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually, Disclaimer, we're 40 years behind everywhere else, and globally notorious not just for our wretched public transport, but for the breathtaking hypocrisy of claiming superior environmental consciousness even as the record proves Pugetopolans to be not just the most anti-transit voters in the United States but quite possibly on the entire planet.

Take for example the 1968 and 1970 Forward Thrust measures that would have built – with federal matching funds of up to 80 percent – an electrically powered regional rail system.

Even then the governments of Washington state were wholly owned subsidiaries of the Big Oil/Big Automotive cartel, and the Ruling Class responded accordingly: agitating a closeted but nevertheless Ku-Klux-vicious bigotry into widespread panic the proposed subway would turn Seattle into another “Jew York” and racist fear the entire system would become a happy hunting ground for muggers. (The anti-Semitic quote comes from unpublished post-electoral opinion research.)

These hateful whisper campaigns each succeed, and each proposal was rejected by the voters.

Ten years later, as the era of federal matching funds for public transport was ending forever, State Senator Ted Haley (R/Tacoma) introduced a legislative proposal to build an electrically powered regional rail system centered on state-owned lands of Interstate 5 rights-of-way and medians.

The measure was specifically intended to take advantage of the matching-funds program, again up to 80 percent, before it was terminated by the Reaganoid conversion of federal government into the executive staff of the capitalist Ruling Class.

But Haley's bill died in Olympia, slain – how else? – by a combination of Seattle/Metro hostility to the concept of a regional transit authority and BOBA's perpetual ownership of controlling majorities of Washington state politicians.

An Evans/Rockefeller Republican of the sort now permanently extinct, Haley saw the monster the Ruling Class had unleashed in Reaganism and was utterly appalled by it.

Haley believed -- correctly -- his proposal was Washington state's last chance ever for adequate transit.

Had Haley's system been built, it would by now probably have fulfilled its intent: rapid transit from the Oregon state line to the Canadian border. And we would now be a model for the nation rather than the transit/hypocrisy laughingstock of the world.

But the Haley measure, during the 1979-1980 biennium, was the region's last significant public-transport effort until the advent of Sound Transit in the mid-1990s. ST's subsequent 2-2 record -- two electoral victories, two defeats -- shows how the anti-transit bigotry agitated by Forward Thrust's opponents remains uniquely alive (and uniquely effective) today.

As for Mr. Van Dyk's claims ST is radically behind schedule, that is true but disingenuous; it is also partly false.

Yes ST Seattle construction is running at least decade late -- but if you look carefully at the delays, you'll see the cause is repeated political sabotage: in many instances, the Ruling Class manipulation of minority fears in exactly the same way white/gentile fears were mobilized to defeat Forward Thrust.

Surely this is no coincidence.

Meanwhile – as if to demonstrate of what happens in a realm where the Ruling Class is not implacably hostile to mass transit – ST completed its so-called Tacoma Link within budget and in keeping with the original construction schedule. (Indeed it is my impression the Link was finished under budget and opened early, but I cannot document this so am qualifying it accordingly.)

In any case the Link, a streetcar line that could be expanded into a light-rail operation, was originally intended to connect Tacoma with Seattle via Federal Way.

Now – never mind it is clear Seattle's control of the Sound Transit budget means the Federal Way-Tacoma line will never be built (and though transit-bashers damn the Link as "the train to nowhere") – it has become a huge boon to downtown Tacoma workers, who park their cars outside the central business district and ride the trolley to and from work, substantially reducing automotive traffic and fossil-fuel befoulment of the air.

During rush hours the trolley is so popular it's often standing-room-only.

The question is whether growing recognition of the genuine advantages of adequate transit will ever overcome the Eymanrrhoid/Teabagger obstinacy Mr. Van Dyk clearly hopes to reinforce.

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

How "special" to see the usual chorus of nattering nabobs of negativity joining in a rousing round of "We Can't Do It!"

Yes, I feel better already to realize the future of the nation may lie in the hands of Saudi oiligarchs, Asian carmakers, and Kemper Freeman.

The only thing standing in their way is the fact that this is still a democracy. ST can't simply substitute buses for rail because the people voted for rail. Maybe too many of us have been looking at the goings-on in Europe and China and wondering what they know that we don't.

Well, to put it bluntly, what they know is how to rebuild after a total crash- an event that lies in our oil-dominated future.

Yes, we'll have fun fun fun until Daddy takes the T-bird away!

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 9:19 a.m. Inappropriate

So, if you want to claim that light rail is more "reliable" than bus rapid transit, where is your data to back that up?

The facts are that Sound Transit's light rail route cost about $2.6 BILLION and is averaging 2,000 boardings per day less than Las Vegas' new bus rapid transit line, which cost about $52 million. In other words, ST spent about 32 times as much per mile for light rail as L.V. spent for bus rapid transit, and ST light rail is getting fewer passengers.

So, explain to us just how much more "reliable" you think ST light rail is than L.V.'s new bus rapid transit line. And, if that is indeed the case, then why is Central Link averaging so few boardings per day?

Also, you fail to note that ST's new Link lght rail is about 10 minutes slower between Westlake and SeaTac than the 194 express bus was, and that Link drops people off 1/4 from the terminal, while the 194 dropped passengers off right at the curb of the terminal.

So, please quantify your unsubstantiated claim that Link light rail is more "reliable" than bus rapid transit. How much more "reliable" is Link light rail, in your opinion? And, if there is any difference in "reliability", how much money is that worth? Is it worth $2.55 BILLION more on a single route that carries fewer passengers? And, if "reliabiltiy" is so important to people, when why is Link averaging only 18,000 baordings per weekday, while the L.V. Gold Line bus route is averaging about 20,000 boardings per day?

We should be moving as many people as possible with the smallest amount of tax dollars possible. Buses clearly are far superior to Souund Transit's stupidly expensive light rail in cost-effectiveness.

As long as buses in our area are full during peak hours -- and on many routes they are -- that is actual proof that riders are satisfied with, and willing to ride, buses. That alone is all that is needed to refute your feeble complaints about buses -- buses are heavily ustilized in our area. The more buses that are provided, the more people whos use them. So, what is the problem? If people were not using our bus system, there may be some valid point in criticzing buses. But, since our bus system is heavily ustilized, your arguments are meaningless.

And you have offered no data to back up your claims, anyway. You claim that LInk light rail is more "reliable" than L.V.'s new Gold Link brt: prove it.

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Whenever the abusive financing plan Sound Transit uses is criticized the peanut gallery shouts out “we could have had several hundred million dollars from the federal government for light rail in the 1970’s”. That argument ignores reality. Voters may have done the best possible thing by rejecting that bond measure. People and businesses did well without a light rail route around the south end of Lake Washington in the 1980 – 2005 period. What the peanut gallery can’t do is explain how we’d be better off now if Metro had been running those trains over the past quarter century. Some 1980’s era apartment buildings would be clustered around rail stations in Renton? That wouldn’t be much of an improvement.

Of course we’d be better off in one way, the financial debacle that is Sound Transit never would have reared its ugly head.

Without light rail this region developed in such a way that it had among the most commuters using transit in the country. Sound Transit’s light rail isn’t going to improve that percentage much, and it is going to exact a terrible economic cost.

Let’s say MacIsaac’s chart is true, and the plan now is for Sound Transit to make bond payback amounts of $600,000,000 every year for decades. Think about that: six hundred million dollars a year for decades – most of it via regressive sales taxes – just to service the debt. That will bleed away the economic power of consumers and small business owners, and harm the job-creation capacity of this region tremendously, for decades. That money would be far more valuable if it could stay with people and families, and be spent locally by them. Economists call it the multiplier effect.

That is a punitive, and yes ludicrous, financing plan. Compare what ST’s financial designers came up with to how the Twin Cities built and financed its light rail line. That rail services provider paid for and built the light rail line from downtown Minneapolis out to the airport (and beyond, to Mall of America):

http://www.metrotransit.org/rail/facts.asp .

They have more stations along that line in MN, and tunnels as well. In the Twin Cities they used no new local taxes, and paid $715 million in capital costs. No new government had to issue billions of dollars of bonds.

Compare other aspects of the financing plans. In the Twin Cities grants and existing taxes were used, not the massive new “5.5 x capital costs, mostly new taxes” financing plan ST’s abusive financial architects selected.

In MN they started the same time as ST started, and began service about four years later. ST took twice as long to get its downtown-airport line up and running and it still is not done paying the contractors. The 3 million boardings ST has obtained so far will come to about 6 million the first year. No way will that initial segment serve people by providing as many boardings as the light rail line in MN experienced in the first five years of operation (42 million boardings).

The Twin Cities is just one example that makes Sound Transit’s performance look like dirt. Pick another: Portland, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver – it doesn’t matter – ST’s financing and execution look like garbage in comparison to all of them. Sound Transit slams people and our local economy with really heavy regressive taxes that cause far more harm than good. The infrastructure it eventually delivers is of nominal quality in terms of serving the transportation needs of the region. It is a harmful entity trying to hide behind a screen of green platitudes.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

"Maybe too many of us have been looking at the goings-on in Europe and China and wondering what they know that we don't."

What exactly is your point about China?

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2010-01/16/content_9331001.htm

"Chinese highways for fast traffic add up to 65,000 km
(Xinhua)
Updated: 2010-01-16 11:02

China reported 65,000 kilometers of highways designed for fast traffic by the end of 2009, second only to the United States, said Li Shenglin, Minister of Communications, on Friday.

China opened 4,719 kilometers of expressways in 2009 and launched construction of 16,000 kilometers of expressways last year as a result of increased investment in infrastructure, Li said at a national work meeting in Beijing.

According to the strategic plan for highway development in 2005, by 2020, China will establish a national highway network, totaling 100,000 kilometers, about the length in the United States today.

The network could be achieved ahead of time based on the current development speed, Li said.

China has maintained its second place in the world in terms of expressway lengths since 2001."

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 9:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Another article about China:

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/slpp/regionalities/2010/03/recently-opened_bus_rapid_tran.php

"Recently-Opened Bus Rapid Transit Line in Guangzhou, China: A Success.

"Thirty-one bus routes serve the BRT corridor, with a total of 310 buses per hour per direction (equivalent to about 12-second headways at the maximum bus-volume point). One route serves the corridor from beginning to end, while others act as feeders and operate in portions of the corridor only. At the beginning of March, 2010, four weeks after BRT opened for service, ridership had reached more than 800,000 passengers per day or about 25,000 passengers per hour per direction. This level of BRT ridership compares to 1.8 million riders carried by the five existing Metro subway lines.

"The total cost of the BRT system is estimated by the ITDP at $441 million ($31 million per mile), including stations, bridges, system controls, road reconstruction, etc.

"During the design and public consultation period, there was substantial opposition to the idea of taking lanes from an already-congested expressway, and many predicted a worsening congestion problem. These fears and concerns have largely died away in light of BRT's high use and popularity and, rather than worsening congestion in the general-purpose lanes, auto speeds are reported to have increased."

So, in this Chinese city, they just opened a new bus rapid transit line, which is already averaging about 800,000 passengers per day! That is 44 times as many passengers as Link light rail is averaging.

And, this huge BRT line in China cost about $31 million per mile, ocmpared to about $160 million per mile for Central Link, and $600 million per mile for the next segment of Link light rail.

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

There was a comment above about the oil oligarchs. The assumption seems to be light rail is a way for independence from them. That remains to be seen. As noted above, if oil prices go up anytime during the construction project, then construction costs will increase, and most likely sales tax revenue will drop. This double whammy will cause major problems. How will we solve it? Similarly, higher oil prices will increase the costs of running Sounder trains and buses. So where will that money come from?

ST has changed its very rosy scenario a few shades darker, but we are definitely very poorly positioned financially if some of the moderately bad or very bad scenarios of energy prices come true.

Don't assume inflation is going to reduce the cost either. Due to the timing of the borrowing, if there's any inflation at all in the next 20 years, it will be really costly for us by driving up interest rates for long-term borrowing.

ST's borrowing plan assume what interest rates? Does anyone know? Or instead of calling for some preparation, will we just see the same old diatribes and irrelevancies?

sjenner

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

It's not too late Lincoln. If you're serious about BRT on the eastside and throughout the region write an initiative and start collecting signatures.

joshuadf

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

And get Gates Sr. as your first signatory. He's perceptive to the needs of the less fortunate.

afreeman

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 6 p.m. Inappropriate

MacIsaac took what he says is Sound transit data, and displayed it in several charts.

Let's hear from Sound Transit now on these financing issues. Is this really another monorail financing debacle, writ large?

Brian McCartan said the bonds would be paid off by 2038, but one of MacIsaac's charts shows bond payments in 2053. That's one big difference, and there are others as well.

How about McCartan logs on here, and provides his explanation of what MacIsaac has right, and where he's wrong? McCartan is a public servant - he should provide that public service.

Also, it would be great if Sound Transit would post that financial plan that MacIsaac used. I can't think of any good reason for that to remain hidden.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Apr 23, 8:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree. Let's see the original numbers. Let's hear Sound Transit's side of this, and explanation of how the length of the debt and interest repayment schedule is different from that of the Monorail. Let's also hear their assumptions about what interest rates will be at the time they issue their debt, and check whether the assumptions they have are consistent, eg, if they assume a certain inflation rate that same rate is also factored into the level of interest. And let's hear what the plan is if the numbers go bad again, eg, interest rates are higher than forecast and sales tax revenue is lower than forecast.

sjenner

Posted Sat, Apr 24, 5:18 p.m. Inappropriate

A short version of Sound Transit's 2010 financial plan is posted at http://www.soundtransit.org/About-Us/Financial-Documents.xml about halfway down the page.

jniles

Posted Sat, Apr 24, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I am the Jim MacIsaac referenced in Van Dyk's article. I am a registered professional transportation engineer that has made a 45-year career in the planning of this region's transportation future. Since 1990 I have devoted significant attention to the creation and progression of Sound Transit.

It wasn't until 2001 that the "new Sound Transit" began to develop a detailed financial plan model. Upon disclosure reguests, Sound Transit has been good enough to provide me with file copies of those extensive fin plan models. Its first release since August 2008 prior to the ST2 election was finally released to me dated Feb 2010. It now extends out thru 2040, but with debt service estimates out thru 2053 when all ST2 bonds will be retired. Van Dyk's link to the bonded debt service plan comes directly from that fin plan model.

The link to "Sound Transit's 2010 financial plan" shows my summary of the Sound Transit fin plan estimates from 1997 thru 2040. Though the info for this summary is presented in the fin plan model, it has not been summarized in this manner even for the Sound Transit Board. I do hope that ST's CFO Brian McCartan will weigh into this blog to confirm this fin plan summary as an accurate summary of his fin plan model info.

For those of you that still lament our rejection of the 1968 and 1970 rail proposals, and the alleged transfer of "our" fed grants to Atlanta, I do hope you have researched the results of Atlanta's MARTA rail program. Today Atlanta's transit system only serves a 3.6% share of its region's work trips, compared to 7.8% of the work trips served by an all-bus system in our Metro region. After its 30-year primary system life, MARTA is facing the need for multi-$billions in refurbishment costs with no available funding. MARTA tried to get the state to take over the refurbishment financing. The state has refused. As system breakdowns become more frequent, noone knows what the future will be for the MARTA rail system.

JMac

Posted Sun, Apr 25, 10:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln and Ted Van Dyk really crack me up with this notion that Las Vegas BRT can be Seattle BRT. And China BRT can be Seattle BRT. Yeah - all we need is a zillion gambling tourists, huge grand boulevards, and expanses of flat pavement.

Even funnier: when Lincoln, MacIaac, Bundy and all the Kemper Co employees aren't out promoting vague BRT concepts.... they are bashing all over bus transit.

It's no wonder "professionals" like Jim MacIsaac spend so much time chasing their own tails.

Niles, MacIsaac... all these self-important pavement gurus have a hilarious history of getting behind failed light rail alternatives. Like the monorail debacle. Or Personal Rabid Transit. These jokers were even pushing commuter rail as the answer. It never takes them long to turn on their own ideas, and condemn their previous preference as a waste of money.

BRT is just the latest fad for lovers of the "one lonely dude in his car" model.

Posted Sun, Apr 25, 10:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey, Lincoln, here's what the General Manager of that Las Vegas transit agency had to say about their new BRT program:

Asked whether supporting BRT was the best choice or merely a pragmatic one, Snow said this: “Honestly, I prefer electric light-rail. If we had the money and the resources, that’s how I would have preferred to have gone. We don’t have the money and the resources. Nor did we have the support from the community to do the technology, so the answer is pragmatist. We’re making incremental improvements in transit that the community will support. And it’s important to point out that the whole concept of Bus Rapid Transit can be viewed and should be viewed as a precursor to making a higher level investment in the future.”

Posted Sun, Apr 25, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Regret that MadisonAve, per his name, keeps weighing in with personal insults and "spin" rather than addressing the facts regarding light rail costs, financing, and ridership. To my knowledge, none of the persons cited by MadisonAve is a Kemper Co. employee. Contrary to what he says, I have never brought China or Las Vegas into the discussion about Sound Transit light rail.

When I returned home to Seattle more than 9 years ago, I was interested in light rail as a local transportation system. (If rail will work rather than roads, why not rail?). I applied to light rail the same cost-benefit criteria I would apply to any policy option at any level of govewrnment (What are the comparative benefits, costs, advantages, disadvantages, etc. of the available choices?). It was, I quickly concluded, more a gravy train for the contractors, subcontractors, law firms, financial firms, p.r. firms, consultants, and others benefiting from its spending---plus the substantial Sound Transit bureacracy dependent on it---than a cost-effective transit alternative for the region. It also was a source of
campaign money and support for many of the federal, state, and local offieeholders who could keep the system operating and financed.
In that latter regard, it was no different than many of the big-ticket public works projects undertaken historically in many parts of the country.

Now, at federal, state, and local level, we face a financial crossroads.
At a time when big projects must be reviewed, and prioritized, light rail
advocates keep responding with diatribes and attacks rather than with the
hard financial data which taxpayers have a right to expect. The ballot measure authorizing a regional light rail system represented the biggest local-level tax increase in the history of the United States (all in regressive taxes). Now, it turns out, the costs of the system will be even larger than estimated then by Sound Transit.

Responses are badly needed from taxpayer-paid Sound Transit officers and board members and not from hit men such as MadisonAve.

Posted Mon, Apr 26, 12:05 p.m. Inappropriate

TVD should divide the undeniable potential LRT offers from the gravy train complaint. Metro and ST are sub par as transit agencies go, IMO. Another PR show like others in seattle. Who benefits from that sub-par performance other than car related business interests? Retiring the trolleybus fleet doesn't make sense. The SLU streetcar line is still serving too few. The failure of monorail was an inside job, IMO. Again, who benefits from poor transit other than car related business interersts? The 520 connection makes sense even if a permenant west terminus was UW surface station.

Wells

Posted Tue, Apr 27, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Looks like Portland's Wells is giving Arizona's Ted Van Dyk a run for his money in the way of ornate / ridiculous transit conspiracy theories.

Laziness, detachment and and fringe sources can be blamed for this ongoing mind circus.

And, yes, John Niles gets paid by Kemper Freeman to spew his anti-mass transit garbage. And yes, Jim MacIsaac has been employed by Kemper and his millions in campaign spending in the past. And yes, these people spent years trying to pitch monofail and Personal Rapid Transit as viable alternatives to light rail. And yes, this group of circus performers both bash upon and pitch BRT.

No conspiracy theory heresay or urban myths needed to expose the local rail haters.

Rather than rely on theoretical motivations for why things are the way they are to form the basis of their opinions, Van Dyk, Crossrip, Bundy, Niles, Knedlik, Kemper, Baerwaldt et al should start focusing on the actual substance of the issues at hand. Then, maybe we could start a real debate here.

Van Dyk's biggest intellectual offense isn't that he obsessively hates light rail - there are plenty of faults and weaknesses which can be analyzed and debated regarding its application in this region. No, Van Dyk fails because he comes at this whole issue from a Tea Partier perspective, seeing corruption and crazy conspiracies everywhere, rather than delve into the extensive planning and political history (read: democracy) which both forms and informs current decision-making and policy today.

Yet, Van Dyk insists on recycling the same-old sensationalist Watergate era / Kennedy Assasination conspiracy theories. The same way the Tea Party believes Alan Greenspan, the New World Order, and Obama the Manchurian Candidate Muslim are all responsible for the fact lots of their ranks are un or under-employed.

Posted Tue, Apr 27, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Pathetic stuff, MadisonAve. No conspiracy theories. Simple policy analysis of the kind any self respecting and experienced analyst would undertake before pressing forward with a hugely expensive and cost-ineffective light rail system for this region.

Ordinary working, taxpaying folk are paying the bill for all of this. They keep being peddled false promises and financial misinformation. There will be come a time---I am hoping sooner, rather than later---when responsible public officials come awake to the huge financial obligations the light rail enterprise has inflicted on their voters and taxpayers. They also will come to recognize the dampening effect on the regional economy which the wholly regressive light-rail tax burden creates and, as I mentioned earlier, the private and public purposes to which these monies cannot otherwise be devoted.

I have been around policy and politics over a lifetime. Sound Transit light rail ranks as the single most cynical and costly public-works
boondoggle I have encountered over that time. Huge financial transfers from ordinary taxpayers to a self-serving network. I presume you eat somewhere at the light rail trough yourself. Why not tell us your name and place of employment? That would be interesting.

Posted Tue, Apr 27, 11:58 p.m. Inappropriate

“[Y]ou eat somewhere at the light rail trough yourself. Why not tell us your name and place of employment?”

Fat chance he’d give that up.

Anonymity gives him whatever power he thinks he has. If told everyone his name, or disclosed who pays him, we’d see the little man behind the curtain.

It would be great if somebody from Sound Transit would log on here, use their real name, and post some responses to questions.

Somebody should try justifying Sound Transit’s fd*up financing plan. Every other light rail operator uses mostly state and federal grants to cover the capital (build out) costs. In contrast, Sound Transit imposes massive regressive taxes, with excessive amounts of taxing just as security for its long-term bonds. That’s a way of paying for infrastructure that is designed to punish the most economically vulnerable people in the community.

The regressive local taxes ST's board imposes can’t be reduced because of the bond sales contract terms. That taxing is far too heavy. The Sound Transit financing plan blows.

Now it is beginning to looks like Sound Transit’s financing plan may be even worse than the one the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority floated. Hard to believe, but that could be the reality of the situation.

Anyone from Sound Transit want to comment about these issues?

crossrip

Posted Wed, Apr 28, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

As usual, the anti-light rail debate is entertaining, but it doesn't seem to be based on sound policy analysis as Mr. Van Dyk would like to think.

If it were, the lead critics like John Niles, Maggi Fimia and Emory Bundy wouldn't have been such cheerleaders for monorail as a replacement for light rail. They gave up their spots as neutral critics when they favored one rail mode over another rail mode. The same criticisms of light rail (fixed route, high capital costs, regressive taxes) exactly apply to monorail. Yet, when the monorail debate was taking place, the light rail critics, as part of the Coalition for Effective Transportation, were pushing monorail as a replacement.

So the conclusion seems to be, 'light rail.. bad. monorail.. good'

Not very convincing or consistent policy in my opinion.

Posted Wed, Apr 28, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

What are your sources for your assertions? Can you point to news stories or web sites?

Monorail sounded good to lots of people at the price it was originally supposed to cost.

Monorail sounded bad to lots of people once they knew the true cost and the way it would be financed. Now the assertion is that light rail is in the same situation financially.

I was thinking about how the Mercer Island bridge has a limited life span. It won't last forever. I think that life time is estimated at 75 years. So that means around 2065 it will probably be worn out. Maybe it will be sooner, maybe later, it may depend on storms. But it won't last forever.

Given what the article states, in 2065 there could well be unpaid debt on the current round of light rail financing. Won't it be incredibly bad if our region (my children, my grandchildren) are stuck with a bill to pay off rail on a bridge that is all worn out and needs to be replaced? This actually makes Monorail look better than light rail.

sjenner

Posted Wed, Apr 28, 9:40 p.m. Inappropriate

sjenner -

Here's one source. A posting from John Niles in 2002 talking up the monorail as 'modern' compared to light rail. Sounds like a pretty warm endorsement of monorail to me while he speaks about Sound Transit folding its tent.

When John Niles and Emory Bundy were part of Sane Transit, they were fighting light rail and cheering for monorail. So this concern about the finances of rail and the regressive taxes rings a little hollow.

Posting from 2002:
Link has become an in-city "high capacity" system carrying people very
short distances along bus routes. The monorail has arisen through two
citywide votes and official opposition as a popular high capacity
alternative for in-city "high capacity" movement of people along bus
routes. You describe light rail as "modern." Ask 100 people on the
street, which is more "modern," monorail or light rail. Now that monorail
funding has been authorized in Olympia, and now that Link is not going to
see its Federal money released until the end of this year, even if
everything goes right through "project management," I wouldn't bet on light
rail getting built even if Sane Transit folded its tent.

The groundbreaking for light rail is going to be no more than the start of
clearing the Rainier Brewery site of environmental hazards, something I
hope the Link project does before folding its tent. I look forward to being
invited.

John Niles
Sane Transit technical coordinator

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 2:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Per sjenner, monorail looked pretty good at one time, and then "sounded bad to lots of people once they knew the true cost and the way it would be financed."

I was one of many people in Seattle who changed his mind about the Green Line monorail once the numbers were revealed. My web site published the most detailed independent analysis of the monorail in October 2002, by Dick Nelson at http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/greenline.htm, long before the final negative vote.

In the present day, Link light rail cost and performance numbers keep getting worse, and I would still bet against it ever operating on tracks beyond what is built already. East Link to Bellevue has legal problems, and North Link has six miles of twin-tube subway tunneling not yet started, which is likely to yield schedule and cost overruns.

As an example of numbers getting worse, the reliability of Seattle's light rail is so far revealed as not nearly as good as promoted. A recent sample of 40 Central Link light rail runs indicates delays of 3 minutes or more in about a third of trips, up from one quarter of trips last autumn. Documented at http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/LinkReliability2.htm .

Sound Transit's standard for reliability described on page 37 of the agency's 2010 adopted budget is that no more than 10% of trains will be 3 or more minutes late arriving.

As another example of bad numbers rising into view, see my comment up at the top of this thread, noting that Puget Sound Regional Council has recently issued a forecast for regional rail ridership in 2040 that is about half of Sound Transit's forecast for 2030.

jniles

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

MadisonAve is not an employee of Sound Transit.

jniles

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 7:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Niles, I'm laying out another route for the Circulator Monorail. The loop around Seattle Center remains the same elegant simple loop with the historic station relocated beneath Thomas roadway between Center House and Fun Warehouse dive. The loop downtown splits the double-track at Denny with a single track continuing on 5th, west on Stewart, south on 2nd, then 3rd over Jackson and across the Seasquawk Arena parking lot to the roof of Exposition Ctr with a stop there and at Sounder elevator, and so forth as proposed by the Greenline. The big difference is the simpler, cost-saving, low-impact, single-track arrangement. At Denny, the other track turns west on Clay, south on 3rd, west on Battery, follows SR99 to the waterfront sans AWV past Coleman Dock, turns on Railroad Ave and meets the other track atop Exposition Ctr parking garage. Stations located at Coleman Dock, Pike, Battery, Clay@3rd. All together 14 single-track stations and 1 double-track station at KOMO Plaza. With Seattle Center in the planning works, it makes sense to move the station. Price Tag? Like the earlier design, it's about 6 miles of single track, so maybe $500 million. Still expensive, but beats the Greenline for ridership. Spurs north, south and east are possible. It's possible the massive steel support structures north of Denny may be removed. Oh well. Whatever.

Wells

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 10:14 p.m. Inappropriate

sjenner -

Here is a bit more about the monorail. This was essentially the game-changing article written by Jane Hadley at the Seattle P-I. It should also be noted that Goldman Sachs was A-OK with the $11 billion monorail finance plan.

Monorail's building, debt costs balloon to $11 billion
http://www.seattlepi.com/transportation/229504_monorail22.html

MONORAIL COSTS

To pay for the 14-mile monorail project and the debt to finance it, more than $11 billion will be required. That's more than triple what Sound Transit will pay for construction and debt service for its 14-mile light rail line from downtown Seattle to Tukwila.

Monorail construction costs and debt service: $11 billion.
Light Rail construction cost and debt service: $3.24 billion.

Posted Wed, May 5, 11:15 p.m. Inappropriate

For what light rail costs, we could all have flying cars. Even the children who are too young to fly-drive.

Posted Fri, May 7, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Question: do our freeways have any farebox recovery? No? Well, there are gas taxes, but our cars do not necessarily use the roads those taxes pay for all the time. Moreover, different cars have different gas consumption rates. It's safe to say, except for toll roads, the highways have no farebox recovery. Even the NJ Transit River Line's 7% looks good in comparison to 0%. (And I, a New Jerseyan, am not sorry we built that line.) Second of all, I'm curious how people managed to build the equivalent of light rail (i.e., interurbans) and monorails (i.e., bi-rail elevateds) in the olden days via (largely) PRIVATE-SECTOR efforts and with the backing of numerous investors, and today we grumble and gripe about prohibitive cost overruns? What's up with that? At least in the olden days people developed neighborhoods to MATCH the light rail and elevated systems, and other transport systems (such as cars) were either nonexistant or impractical. (Note: we spend MUCH MORE MONEY ON HIGHWAYS THAN WE DO ON RAIL, and I wonder how good our highway carrying capacity is with cars. I think it might be cheaper to make it harder to use cars and then build rail than it is to simply build both highways and rail, but there's one sticking problem with that - freight. (It's tougher to go shopping without a car than with a car, but I suppose freight/shopping carts and accommodations for them would help with that.))

Back to the overruns. I think overruns may have four causes. 1) False advertising, the most obvious cause, is due to competition among bids and efforts to sell the projects. 2)Inflation. Any and all cost overruns should be adjusted for this. 3) NIMBYism. This is a pretty big cause: people perennially complain that something has to be put underground, which drives up costs, or not be in their neighborhood, or some other expensive idea. At least there was more of a tough-live-with-it attitude in old times that got things DONE. 4) Corruption. To wit, the METRA honcho suicide shows that there might be people grafting money off the government grants and loans, thus driving up costs. In any case, light rail and other transit costs must be divided by population and compared to road and other infrastructure costs (and government costs in general) to be truly appreciated. Only then can we determine what's affordable and how much of it.

Rickyrab

Posted Fri, May 7, 9:52 p.m. Inappropriate

"A recent sample of 40 Central Link light rail runs indicates delays of 3 minutes or more in about a third of trips..."

Is anyone analyzing the causes of those delays and adjusting or fixing those causes? If not, why not?

Rickyrab

Posted Fri, May 7, 9:55 p.m. Inappropriate

A fifth cause of cost problems: debt itself, which is expensive. Debt requires the payment of interest. This means more money has to be spent by the organization than it would without taking out a loan. Perhaps the monorail should've been built on layaway.

Debt also drives up prices, because it makes higher nominal prices affordable. Switch to paygo and the prices probably sink. I wouldn't know.

Rickyrab

Posted Fri, May 7, 9:59 p.m. Inappropriate

"the Mercer Island bridge has a limited life span. It won't last forever. I think that life time is estimated at 75 years."

The Brooklyn Bridge was built in 1883 and it's still around, some 127 years later...the Manhattan Bridge is more than a century old... while the Mercer Island Bridge won't last forever, why is expected lifetime at 75 years?

Rickyrab

Posted Fri, May 7, 10:02 p.m. Inappropriate

"North Link has six miles of twin-tube subway tunneling not yet started"

Is there any absolute need for such tunnelling? What's wrong with ground running or shoring up existing bridges and running on these? And is twin-tube tunnelling the best, most efficient, and cheapest form of tunneling possible?

Rickyrab

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