Testimony Regarding the PSRC's "BNSF Corridor Study"
In case you have not already read it, you might want to take a look at Eastside Rail Now's testimony at the most recent (Sept. 13) Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board meeting regarding that organization's "BNSF Corridor Study." The $800,000 report has been frequently cited by opponents of the Eastside railroad as justification for scrapping it and replacing it with a bicycle trail.
This testimony is very significant because it is apparently the first major public testimony revealing that the report is seriously flawed and not suitable for use in making serious decisions about the future of the railroad. These flaws include the use of faulty assumptions and logic, the failure to utilize any recognized (or rational) transportation infrastructure decision making methodology, and the failure to comply with Washington state law.
A much more detailed examination of the PSRC report is now being prepared and will be published on our website in the near future.
The PSRC report has been at the core of the arguments used by the opponents of the Eastside railroad. The exposure of that document as basically just a big, and very costly, snow job demolishes any argument for scrapping the railroad and replacing it with a bicycle trail. It also apparently creates a major legal hurdle to scrapping it under current state law.
A big thanks is due to those Eastside Rail Now! members who have struggled to read the long and tedious PSRC report and who have conducted related legal research, etc.
One of the reasons that is repeatedly cited by opponents of utilizing the Eastside railroad for a transit service is that it has grade crossings (i.e., tracks crossing streets "at grade" instead of going on bridges above them or in cuts below them). But is this really a valid objection?
The answer is clearly "No!" Nearly all railroads that are used for commuter service in the U.S. and abroad have grade crossings, and it has rarely proved to be a serious problem. In fact, there are even many grade crossings on the BNSF tracks used by Sound Transit's Sounder commuter train service from Seattle to Tacoma and Everett. Sound Transit never said "We don't want to use the BNSF main line through Seattle because it has grade crossings." Even brand new light rail systems (including that currently under construction in Seattle by Sound Transit) typically have numerous grade crossings. The Eastside railroad has been in use for more than a century and there has never been any serious problem with its grade crossings -- until now. Why is this such a big issue all of a sudden?
The disruptions to road traffic by BNSF's main line through Seattle are already far greater than they would ever be on the Eastside railroad because that line is used daily by numerous very long freight trains in addition to a growing number of moderately long passenger trains. In sharp contrast, the Eastside railroad would be used by only relatively short and infrequent (initially several times per day or hourly) commuter trains as well as by occasional freight trains.
Moreover, as traffic increases on the railroad in the future, it would be a fairly simple matter to construct overpasses or underpasses to replace the busiest grade crossings, such as at NE 8th Street in downtown Bellevue and in the Totem Lake area. Although such projects would cost several million dollars each, this is almost insignificant in contrast to the more than $300 million that Sound Transit hopes to spend for each mile of its proposed East Link light rail line between Seattle and Bellevue.
The new least cost planning (LCP) article on the website may have looked like some pretty heavy stuff if you tried to read it. (No need to feel guilty about ignoring it.) What LCP really boils down to is a methodical technique for evaluating potential transportation projects. While it is not an exact science, it is far superior to the usual practice of making decisions on the basis of backroom deals, contractor profits, etc. And it is widely accepted by economists and experienced project planners.
The article is really meant for transportation planners, many of whom (at least in this region) seem to either be completely ignorant of LCP or pretend that they are. In either case, they probably shouldn't be transportation planners.
By the way, in addition to being a best practices method for finding what are really just common sense solutions for transportation planning, LCP has been the law in our state for a number of years. This means that organizations that fail to utilize it could eventually be held accountable and their projects could be at risk.
A careful observer may notice that those who are attempting to scrap the Eastside railroad keep repeating that they are in favor of retaining the corridor. But what does this really mean?
Actually, it could mean something very bad. It could mean that they are attempting to retain only a narrow strip of land perhaps only 20 or 25 feet wide which is sufficient for a trail or single track and allow the remainder of the mostly 100 foot right of way to be sold off to developers.
This would be very bad for several reasons. One is that replacement of the tracks by a supposedly interim trail would make it much more difficult to put the tracks back in at a later date. This is obviously because there would be no room left for a trail, and thus there would be intense opposition to removing the trail. Just as there would be to removing the Burke-Gilman trail.
There are additional reasons that this would be very harmful to the region. One is that it could preclude, or at least make it very difficult, to add a second track. Although the initial traffic volume could likely be handled by a single track with judiciously located passing sidings, eventually a second track would be needed if the region continues to grow as projected.
Moreover, stripping the right of way of much or most of its width for commercial development precludes another important use. It is as a linear park and/or linear nature preserve alongside the railroad. Few urban areas have the opportunity to create such an asset, and at minimal cost. This is something far too precious to be squandered just for the sake of short term political and financial gains for a few individuals.
Developments in providing balanced and environment-friendly transportation are occurring abroad, particularly in Europe and Japan, far too frequently to even begin to mention. But here is one recent example.
Several people who have not been able to attend recent meetings have asked about them. The answer is that they have been well attended with an excellent quality and diversity of participants. The discussions have been lively and generally useful. We have also been delighted to see some new faces at each meeting, including those of public officials.
The question keeps coming up as to whether we are still meeting twice monthly. The answer is that general public meetings are now being held only once a month (on the first Tuesday), but that we are continuing to have smaller, working meetings. Twice monthly general meetings are no longer necessary because we have established a solid core of membership and have made tremendous progress towards our goals.
Thanks again to all those members who continue with a variety of efforts aimed at preserving and upgrading the railroad -- and at bringing some sanity to transportation planning in the region.
Our next regular public meeting will on October 2 (Tuesday) 7:00 p.m. at the Bellevue Regional Library.
The focus of discussion will be recent developments with regard to our effort to save the railroad and start a transit service on it. We may also discuss the timely topic of Proposition 1 (the Roads & Transit or RAT measure), which will appear on the November ballot, and its relationship to the future of the Eastside railroad. Although a few people have insisted that there is no connection, we think that there is a big, although perhaps not immediately obvious, relationship.
The library is located near at 1111 110th Avenue NE, west of the I-405 freeway in downtown Bellevue. It is just a few blocks north of the Bellevue Transit Center, should you dare to try our so-called bus rapid transit system.
This newsletter is intended mainly for Eastside Rail Now! members. However, please feel free to send copies to members of other groups with which you are involved, such as neighborhood associations, as well as to friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. Such retransmission apparently accounts for most of its readership.
Please do not hesitate to send us corrections as well as suggestions for future issues. And be sure to let us know if you want to be removed from the mailing list, or if you are not a regular recipient but would like to be added to it. We can be reached at email@example.com.
This page created October 4, 2007.
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