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Everett rail summit: plenty of vision, but money is still down the line

A funding bill will come before lawmakers in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, there might be a thawing of the chilly relations between advocates of rails vs. bike trails.

The Amtrak Cascades train passes through the Everett Station.

The Amtrak Cascades train passes through the Everett Station. Amtrakcascades.com

Congressman Rick Larsen speaks to a summit of rail advocates in Everett.

Congressman Rick Larsen speaks to a summit of rail advocates in Everett. C.B. Hall

Congressman Rick Larsen kicked off a morning-long "rail summit" in Everett Tuesday (June 7) by urging transit advocates to throw their support behind a bill coming before lawmakers in the next few weeks — and by celebrating the federal money Washington state already has won.

Speaking at a gathering of some 120 elected officials, administrators and interest-group representatives, Larsen praised the high-speed rail initiative (HSR) that has thus far brought Washington state $781 million in federal funding for improvements to Amtrak's Cascades service. The sum includes $161 million refused by three other states whose governors sent the money back to the feds, calling the program a waste of money.

“If Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida don't want the money, we'll take the money,” Larsen (D-2nd) said, to warm applause from the clearly pro-rail audience gathered at the Hansen Conference Center for the meeting, titled "On Track: The Future of Rail in Snohomish County." The session, hosted by Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Seattle's Cascadia Center for Regional Development, formed part of a day-long program of rail-oriented events, with two subsequent gatherings taking place in Kirkland.

Larsen, whose district encompasses northwest Washington, including much of Snohomish County, discussed a six-year surface-transportation reauthorization bill about to come before the House of Representatives as the focal point for advocacy efforts, as the recession's economics and politics cut into support for transit across the country.

Interviewed as he left the hall, Larsen said that the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, on which he sits, would begin looking within three weeks at a bill authorizing some $210 billion for surface transportation. The sum, he said, “sounds like a lot, until you spread it over 50 states — then it's not much.” He compared it to the $300 billion in the last six-year authorization, which recently expired. The Obama administration has meanwhile been seeking an authorization of $556 billion.

Asked about the $50 billion or so that the Obama Administration has sought for HSR as part of the authorization, Larsen commented drily, “You'll have to get back to me on that.” Republicans in Congress recently stripped all HSR funding from the Obama request for the current federal budget.  

Subsequent speakers and panelists addressed the meeting on such things as the addition of a third Amtrak trip between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.; expansion of Sound Transit's light-rail system into Snohomish County; co-development of rail lines and bicycle trails; and the potential of the so-called Eastside rail corridor, which runs from Snohomish to Renton, for both passenger and freight rail. The speakers included Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak, Cascadia director Bruce Agnew, and spokespeople for a California rail-with-trail project being developed by Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART). 

The political agenda needed little further clarification once Earl, prefacing her remarks, noted that she had driven up to the meeting from her home in Tacoma, taking two hours and 10 minutes for the I-5 slog rather than using Pierce Transit and her own agency's buses — which would have taken roughly two hours and 52 minutes and gotten her to Everett 50 minutes late. 

Reacting to the pro-transit tenor of the proceedings, and perhaps to Earl's comment, an audience member subsequently asked how many people had taken public transit to the meeting —  no one volunteered an affirmative — and decried transit as accounting for no more than a tiny segment of the nation's travel. “How are we going to partner with cars instead of making this look like a coalition against cars?” the man asked.

From the speakers' table, Everett Transit's Tom Hingson responded that transportation planning's idea was “a balance of choices.” The growth Snohomish County is seeking, he said, “is not going to happen with more roads.”

The speakers did not lack visions of what Snohomish County and the rest of the Puget Sound region might expect instead of those roads. Earl said Sound Transit's light-rail trains would reach Lynnwood by 2023 and Everett by 2030, while Agnew and Cascadia consultant Tom Jones proposed a regional, “interurban” train between Whatcom County and Everett. 


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 9, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

While I am four-square behind more efficient passenger rail AND non-motorized transit as well, I wonder if folks looking at these options are considering the potential impacts of this Cherry Point coal terminal proposal and its 26-30 miles of additional trains traversing this corridor daily and derailing this opportunity and others. Washington residents and transit advocates seem to be unaware of this looming threat to these project and our quality of life.

Bob Ferris
Executive Director
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

bobferris

Posted Thu, Jun 9, 3:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Be VERY wary of SMART, they've shown an incredible amount of shortsightedness in their northern California operation, or better yet, lack of. They have possibly misled their own ridership base, put impossible restraints on other collaborating partners, and seem not to care what the populace thinks of their over-inflated plans.

We can have a transportation system that will work here, but its going to take coordination among groups and cities who normally otherwise don't want to. Looking at SMART is the wrong way to go, and fast.

Posted Sun, Jun 12, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

@sixriversrail:
Comments like your just drive me nuts.
"incredible amount of shortsightedness". Based on what? How about one little tiny shred of evidence that you have any idea you know what you're talking about?
Take a lesson from Bob Ferris. While I personally think the impacts of coal trains are overblown (pollution, traffic impacts, corridor saturation), at least he backs up what his point is with some evidence. Many corridors have both freight and passenger rail sharing tracks, with far higher daily volumes than the worst case scenario he paints. (BTW, I live in Bellingham)
There are many ways to increase the capacity of a corridor, and reduce the headways between trains that can and should be considered as mitigation, just like we make shopping centers build freeway on/off ramps to accommodate their operations.
It's not a matter of freight or passenger. It's a matter of how many of each, and how much more infrastructure is needed to accommodate both, and still have room to grow - and we will grow.

007

Posted Mon, Jun 13, 2:20 p.m. Inappropriate

"championed the rail-with-trail concept for the Eastside line"

This bit of single track with a large number of un-gated crossings is not suitable for rapid transit on the Eastside. The track is rated at 25ph, which many days is faster than the auto traffic but those crossings are a huge problem. An elevated system on that same right-of-way may work, but no studies have been done yet.

GaryP

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