2. It would provide little environmental benefit. Reasons include (a) the relatively small number of new riders that would be attracted to transit, (b) the many years required before the rail lines become operational, (c) the minimal effects on constraining sprawl and (d) the massive contribution to greenhouse gases from construction (including from production and transport of concrete and other materials).
3. Poor choices were made on selecting the rail routes. The worst is "East Link" (from Seattle to Bellevue via the I-90 floating bridge) for a number of reasons including (a) it would produce little or no increase in passenger capacity in the I-90 corridor despite its truly massive cost,2 (b) the most urgent need for rail transit on the Eastside by far is in the I-405 corridor (which would also be vastly cheaper than the I-90 corridor), (c) a variety of serious problems exist with regard to use of the I-90 floating bridge for rail, (d) such trains would not be much faster than the existing express bus service in that corridor and (e) it would result in a downgrading of service for many bus riders.3 Usefulness of the proposed extension of the light rail line south from Sea-Tac would be limited because of the unnecessarily long travel time to downtown Seattle due to the poor routing (i.e., circuitous and in streets) of the section from Sea-Tac north to downtown Seattle.
4. It would downgrade some existing bus service. For example, several bus routes between Seattle and the Eastside would likely be eliminated or cut back in attempt to induce current riders to switch to the light rail line. This would result in an inconvenient transfer for many commuters from the Eastside who now have a single-seat trip. There would also be an increased trip time for express routes that continue to operate over the I-90 floating bridge because of the lower speed limits mandated by lane-width reduction. Moreover, buses could no longer use the downtown Seattle transit tunnel due to its capacity restraints, thereby further reducing speed and reliability.
5. It would result in wasteful construction of duplicative facilities. Sound Transit proposes to spend several hundred million dollars to construct special freeway ramps and stations for express buses, particularly in North Seattle and Snohomish County, to run parallel to where it wants to eventually construct light rail.
6. The start of rail operations would be too slow. The 15 years now promised by Sound Transit would be too long to wait even for well-planned rail lines. Moreover, last year Sound Transit promised completion in 20 years, and it is not clear how it would be able speed up its construction schedule by five years, especially when it is more than a decade behind on its current light rail project. Other cities have completed rail construction much more quickly -- and, with better planning, we could, too.
7. It is mainly a transit system for Seattle. This is a Seattle-centric plan, and it does little to serve other cities in the region. This is in spite of the fact that Seattle already has intensive transit service, including several rail lines in operation and under construction4, whereas other areas have only minimal or non-existent rail service. Only a small amount of rail construction is included for Snohomish and Pierce Counties, and this was added at the last minute in an attempt to gain political support in those counties. Even East Link is designed mainly to provide service to and from Seattle rather than providing service in the north-south corridor that would be most useful to the Eastside.
8. Serious technical problems remain regarding use of the I-90 floating bridge. Rail transit has never before been attempted on a floating bridge, and this region has already experienced the sinking of two such bridges. Among the possible problems are (a) a shortening of bridge life due to corrosion of its iron rebar reinforcing rods from stray current,5 (b) increased vulnerability of the bridge to severe storms because of the greater weight from the steel rails and (c) the danger of derailment from operating trains on the bridge during severe storms. Stray current affects areas around all electrified rail-transit systems to some extent, but the floating bridge could be particularly vulnerable. Many scientists believe that the severity of storms could increase accompanying climate change.
9. It would have an adverse effect on freight mobility. Constructing a rail line on the I-90 floating bridge would reduce the freight capacity of the region's most important east-west highway freight corridor. This is because the accompanying narrowing of the remaining lanes would require lower speed limits and the banning of trucks carrying some types of hazardous cargo. A better planned rail system could actually improve freight mobility in much of the region by reducing road congestion.
10. It would result in years of costly disruption to neighborhoods. The disruption from construction could be severe in downtown Bellevue and adjacent, long-established residential neighborhoods. Because of the greater density and extensive wetlands, the effects could be even worse than what has been experienced with light rail construction in the Rainier Valley.
11. East Link cannot meet minimum standards for federal funds. This line is apparently not eligible for FFGA (federal funding granting agreement) funds, in contrast to Sound Transit's other light rail lines, because of its particularly poor conception, thereby further adding to its difficulties.
12. It does little to promote use of the existing rail infrastructure on the Eastside. This 42-mile railroad is ideally suited for use as the core of a low cost and environment-friendly commuter rail service.6 Sound Transit's offer of contributing $50 million to a "partnership" comes with the difficult-to-meet requirement of $50 million in matching funds from a private sector entity. Yet, Sound Transit has spent vastly larger amounts of money, with no strings attached, on projects which have far less ridership potential, such as the Sounder's North Line.
13. No proper project evaluation methodology was used. Modern best practices call for the use of least cost planning (LCP) or cost-benefit analysis to evaluate major transportation infrastructure projects.7 However, Sound Transit did not use LCP, because it would make it difficult to disguise the fact that its plans do not make economic sense. Although it conducted a cost-benefit study of sorts, such study was deceptive in that it (a) failed to look at the proposed light rail extensions individually and (b) failed to consider alternative rail routes. A cost-benefit analysis of East Link conducted by Eastside Rail Now! showed that the costs would not only exceed the benefits but could even be two or more times the benefits!8
14. It is enormously expensive, despite only marginal benefits. The $17.9 billion cost projection provided by Sound Transit exceeds Boston's notorious, $14.6 billion Big Dig, the most expensive public works project in U.S. history.9 This is because Sound Transit spends five to ten times per mile the industry average for light rail projects in the U.S.10 Moreover, the $17.9 billion figure does not include cost overruns, which have repeatedly characterized Sound Transit projects in the past and which could likewise add greatly to the cost of the new projects. Furthermore, these are only the direct monetary costs -- not included are a variety of other costs, including the opportunity costs, that is, the loss to the region from not using the same funds for more effective projects, such as lower-cost rail lines with better routes. The total tax collection authorized by Proposition 1, inclusive of extensions of the existing tax, appears to be much greater than $17.9 million, and it could actually exceed $100 million according to some sources,11 making it by far the largest local tax increase in U.S. history.
15. It includes local projects, which should be funded locally. There is no good reason that the entire region should be asked to pay for construction of a costly new streetcar line in Seattle (between Capital Hill and the International District). Sound Transit was established for the purpose of constructing a regional rail transit system, not local trolley lines.12
16. It would preclude the region from taking on more worthy projects for decades. The region would become legally locked into this massive and unprecedented tax increase and its poorly planned projects for many years. Tax capacity would be exhausted for decades, and all flexibility to reduce taxes or to replace the Proposition 1 projects with more effective projects, including those that might become necessary due to changing circumstances, would be lost.
17. Sound Transit could keep expanding rail transit without increasing taxes. For example, funding is already available from Sound Transit's existing sales tax and other sources to (a) complete 15.7 miles of construction from downtown Seattle to the airport, (b) extend the same line northward 3.1 miles to the University of Washington and (c) launch an approximately 40 mile commuter service on the Eastside railroad. These three projects would provide a total of roughly 59 miles of new rail transit service, all without any increases in sales or other taxes! Although still more miles of rail transit would clearly benefit the region, if well planned, holding off on tax increases would still allow Sound Transit to keep busy with major rail projects for years and also give it -- or its successor -- time to clean up its act and learn how to plan more cost-effective rail lines.
18. Claims that it would benefit the economy are greatly exaggerated. The massive expenditures authorized by Proposition 1 to provide mediocre results would actually become a drag on the local economy, because they are a relatively unproductive use of the region's limited financial and other resources.13 On the other hand, establishment of a rail transit system that actually improved regional mobility, and that could be implemented at a reasonable cost, would do a great deal to benefit the local economy.14
19. The tax increase is highly regressive. Washington already has what may be the most regressive state tax structure in the entire U.S. because of its heavy reliance on the sales tax. The full half-cent increase authorized by Proposition 1 would give this region one of the highest sales tax rates in the country and further add to the burden on the working poor and those on fixed incomes.
20. It is bad economic policy to increase taxes during a recession. Economists have long known that any tax increases should occur during a period of strong economic growth and that tax reductions are most effective in recessions, since increasing taxes tends to act as a drag on private sector economic activity and reducing taxes tends to stimulate growth. This is particularly true of regressive tax increases, such as the proposed one. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that we now may be facing one of deepest recessions in many decades.
21. Sound Transit continues to be dishonest with the public. This deception takes a variety of forms. It includes (a) exaggeration of the benefits, (b) greatly understating the potential tax burden, (c) performing a misleading cost-benefit analysis and (d) making misleading statements on the official ballot description. It is clearly not wise to make a decision to lock our region into the most massive local tax increase in history and have our transportation future in the hands of an organization that has consistently shown that it cannot be trusted -- in addition, of course, to having a track record of incompetence.
22. The official description on the ballot is highly deceptive. It is designed to create a bias among the voters in favor of Proposition 1 with statements such as the following15:
The transit improvements will increase ridership, decrease travel times, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fares, federal grants, existing and additional local taxes fund the improvements. Additional local funding comes from a 0.5% sales tax increase, costing the average adult approximately $69 annually. Taxes will be reduced when the plan is completed.In fact, as discussed above, total transit ridership will likely increase relatively modestly, travel times will decrease only for a very small percentage of trips in the region (but they will increase for others as a result of growing traffic congestion), and any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be marginal. Moreover, there is considerable controversy as to whether the average cost would be only $69 per average adult (and several hundred dollars per average family). And taxes are unlikely to be reduced for a very long time because (a) construction will take decades, (b) Sound Transit will then want still further taxes to add to the very truncated system it is proposing, (c) a substantial portion of the taxes are to pay for operating expenses, which would continue into perpetuity, and (d) it will take still more decades to retire the bonds.
Adds 36 miles of light rail that never gets stuck in traffic -- expanded north to Lynnwood, south to Federal Way, and east to Redmond.
Proposition 1 will not allow light rail to get anywhere near downtown Redmond, or even to Microsoft's headquarters. Although it might permit construction to the border of Redmond and Bellevue, even that is unlikely because of Bellevue's requirement that the tracks be constructed in a tunnel under downtown and the consequent massive increase in cost, probably well in excess of $500 million.
This year's Proposition 1 is different. ... offers IMMEDIATE SOLUTIONS to relieve gridlock.
There are, in fact, no immediate solutions in the plan other than adding some more buses. While this could reduce crowding on existing buses, more buses would do virtually nothing to reduce traffic congestion. Also, if adding more buses would be so effective in reducing congestion, why not just eliminate the rail portion of the plan and save taxpayers many billions of dollars?
Opponents are anti-transit and have no plan.
Yes, some narrow-minded, well-funded and highly vocal opponents are obviously very anti-transit; however, Eastside Rail Now! certainly is not. Nor are the many thousands of citizens who desperately want a well-planned rail transit system but who do not want to see their tax dollars wasted and this irreplaceable opportunity squandered on another poorly conceived plan. Moreover, Eastside Rail Now! has a plan (as discussed below).
Sound Transit's deceptive wording clearly violates the spirit of Washington State law16, which states that the ballot description must
be a true and impartial description of the measure's essential contents, clearly identify the proposition to be voted on, and not, to the extent reasonably possible, create prejudice either for or against the measure.Such deception should not be rewarded by the voters for several reasons, including that it will encourage more deception and still more massive waste of resources.
23. There is still no effective mechanism is in place to assure accountability by Sound Transit. Sound Transit's first stage projects, ST1, which were authorized by the voters in 1996, have been characterized by poor planning, massive cost overruns and very long delays.17 Although progress was apparently subsequently made on some aspects of controlling costs and improving accountability18, there is still no way to ensure that the projects authorized by Proposition 1 would not likewise be plagued by still further irresponsible decisions and a lack of accountability, in addition to all the problems cited above. The much touted Citizens' Oversight Panel actually has only very limited authority, and is not allowed to influence Sound Transit's policy.19
24. It is mainly just a rehash of last year's failed Proposition 1. It was rushed through without much thought. The biggest difference is the elimination of the roads portion of the package. Other changes are a mysterious reduction in the supposed tax burden for the average adult from $125 to $69 and a suspicious promise that construction would be completed in 15 years instead of 20. There has been little or no genuine improvement in the transit portion, which retains all of the problems of the soundly defeated 2007 ballot measure.20 Moreover, both plans are merely a rehash of Sound Transit's "Sound Move" plan, which it adopted in 1996. Much has changed in the past 12 years, but Sound Transit's plans have remained virtually stagnant.
25. It represents "the old politics". Proposition 1 represents the tired old tax-and-spend model, with plans that were created by a rigid bureaucracy, one that is lacking in imagination and creativity and that is -- or at least gives the appearance of being -- beholden to powerful special interests. Now is the time to move towards an approach befitting the 21st century, one that involves truly creative planning and a decision making process that is based on what will truly benefit the region and its citizens as a whole.
26. We should strive to set an innovative example, one that the rest of the world could emulate. The Seattle area, with its great wealth of talent and concern about the environment, can do much better than this. And it should do so, not only for itself but also to set an example of excellence for the rest of the world. If we cannot get it right here, how can we expect other regions, most of which have much smaller concentrations of talent and resources, but whose actions also affect us, to do so?21
27. Even some of its creators and supporters do not really think it is a good plan. Although most political leaders in the three-county region have publicly stated that they support Proposition 1, their support often is at best lukewarm. Privately, some of them have admitted that they do not really like it and see it as an ugly compromise based on political expediency rather than what is really best for the region, just as was the case with Proposition 1 last year. Many of them are so desperate to get the region moving with rail transit that they feel they have no choice but to support even a bad rail transit plan.
28. There would be no harm, and only a huge benefit, from waiting a year or two for a more sensible plan. This is despite the claims by the advocates of Proposition 1 that a "No" vote would be a major setback because it would delay urgent projects by years and add greatly to costs. It would be wise to spend a year or two on developing more effective and less costly plans while continuing to work on already funded projects.
29. Sound Transit deliberately ignores a much better plan. Eastside Rail Now's regional rail transit plan, which was formally presented to the Sound Transit board on June 12, 2008, would provide many more rail route miles, a quicker startup of operations, greater inter-regional equity, and the possibility of substantially lower costs. Sound Transit ignores this plan because it is dysfunctional as now constituted and is not truly interested in innovative, effective and low cost projects.
Moreover, this projection appears to be a wild exaggeration. For example, it apparently does not consider that much, or most, of the ridership would just be former bus passengers, diverted largely from King County Metro's express routes. Indeed, even the busiest light rail line in the U.S., a 22 mile route which connects downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach in the second largest urban area in the U.S., has a ridership of 84,000 daily, and most other light rail lines in the U.S. have substantially less ridership.
2The two tracks of the light rail line would replace the two center, express lanes on the bridge. This would be accompanied by narrowing the remaining lanes to add a new HOV lane in each direction. Capacity of the bridge would be reduced because (a) the narrower lanes would require lower speed limits because of the higher accident risk, (b) there would still be an increased number of accidents due to the narrower lanes, resulting in delays to traffic, and (c) the light rail on the bridge would have less capacity than the two traffic lanes it replaced because weight restrictions (due to the greatly increased weight from both the steel rails and the trains) require that only a very few trains can be on the bridge simultaneously.
3A much more effective and vastly less expensive solution would be to improve express bus service over this route. Among the ways in which this could be accomplished would be (a) making the two express lanes bidirectional throughout the day instead of the current one way (i.e., inbound to Seattle in the morning and outbound in the afternoon and evening), (b) giving buses priority at traffic signals in Bellevue, (c) increasing the frequency of service and (d) making the ride more pleasant by taking steps to reduce noise pollution, offensive behavior, etc. There is potential for a large increase in capacity on this route by adding more buses, whereas the capacity that could be achieved by using trains would be severely restricted because of bridge weight limitations.
4Seattle currently has two commuter rail lines and one operating streetcar line (plus another dormant streetcar line). Construction of one light rail line is nearing completion and construction of a second is scheduled to begin in 2009. Sound Transit's current proposal calls for further extensions of the light rail system, the addition of more commuter trains and the construction of another streetcar line in Seattle. But the only rail that it provides for the entire Eastside, whose population and level of economic activity are coming to rival that of Seattle, is a line that will do little if anything to improve mobility and the possibility of participating in a modest "demonstration" project on the existing north-south rail line from Renton to Snohomish.Moreover, Sound Transit has said that if Bellevue wants the light rail line to run through a tunnel under its downtown rather than on the surface or on an elevated structure, then it, not Sound Transit, would have to pay the extra cost, which would likely be well in excess of $500 million. Yet Sound Transit is paying for several tunnels in Seattle, which, it could reasonably be argued, are no more necessary than that through downtown Bellevue. And this is despite the fact that Sound Transit is collecting vastly more in sales tax revenues on the Eastside than it is spending for capital investment projects in that sub-area.
5Stray current is the leakage of electricity (i.e., return current) from an electrified railroad's rails into the ground and into underground metal pipes, etc., where it accelerates their corrosion. Although expert engineering can usually keep it under control, it can never be entirely eliminated. This problem could be exacerbated on the floating bridge by the fact that Sound Transit's light rail system will use a 1500V power supply, in contrast to the 750V power supply employed by most transit systems and by the large amount of moisture around and on the bridge. Special mitigation measures are planned, including increased electrical insulation and the use of conductive matting, but it remains to be seen how effective they would be.
6This railroad, which parallels the most congested freeway in the entire Northwest and passes through or near most major destinations on the rapidly growing Eastside, is one of the region's most valuable transportation resources. It could play a leading role in increasing mobility and combating the growth of toxic emissions on the Eastside, and at minimal cost. Yet, the region has been faced with the bizarre situation in which King Country Executive Ron Sims and other local leaders have devoted substantial effort to attempting to scrap it and replace it with a bicycle trail at great cost to the taxpayers. Moreover, this is occurring in a region that already has 175 miles of bicycle trails, some of which already parallel the railroad. A pilot commuter service could be started in a matter of months, and the railroad could be upgraded to serve as the core of a high quality regional transit service within two years and at a cost of about what Sound Transit spends for a single mile of its light rail construction.
7Cost-benefit analysis is really just a common sense rule that basically says that (a) only those projects should be considered for which the total benefits exceed the total costs and (b) and among such projects only those having the highest ratios of benefits to costs should be selected. LCP is based on cost-benefit analysis, but differs in that it evaluates the entire range of alternatives both on the supply side (i.e., increasing capacity for the various modes) and the demand side (i.e., measures to reduce demand) and treats them all on an equal footing. For more information see A Brief Introduction to Least Cost Planning, Eastside Rail Now!, September 2007.
8Although these defects were pointed out to the Sound Transit board by Eastside Rail Now!, that agency has failed to take any corrective action.
9The Big Dig was designed to replace an elevated freeway through Boston with an underground one, in large part in order to restore the urban environment and reconnect the city with its waterfront. The goal of removing the much disliked eyesore was admirable, and the project itself is an engineering marvel; however, it turned into one of the most costly and controversial transportation projects in human history. Initially budgeted at $4 billion (in today's dollars), the Big Dig wound up costing more than twice as much as the Panama Canal (also in today's dollars), according to the article $14.6 billion later, Boston's Big Dig wraps up, Christian Science Monitor, December 19, 2003.
10The total cost of basic, at-grade light rail currently ranges from $20-40 million per mile (including all capital costs, maintenance facilities and rail cars), according to a variety of sources, including data published by organizations developing light rail systems. However, Sound Transit is spending roughly $173 million per mile (exclusive of the cost of the downtown transit tunnel) for its Central Link light rail that is currently under construction between Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. The official explanation for this extraordinarily high expenditure is that it has been unavoidable because of the difficult tunneling required though Beacon Hill and the extensive section of viaduct required on the southern portion of the route. However, critics respond that the more fundamental reason is that the selection of route was based on political considerations rather than on the basis of costs and region-wide benefits.
Sound Transit's projected maximum costs for the other sections proposed in its most recent plan are $334 million per mile for the 4.3 miles from the UW to Northgate, $168 million per mile for the 2 miles from Sea-Tac to South 200th Street and $176 million per mile for the 2.3 miles from South 200th to South 240th Street.
11See Sound Transit's Prop 1 in 2008: $107 Billion Tax Collection Authorized, by John Niles and Jim MacIsaac.
12This is not meant to imply that there is anything necessarily wrong with streetcars. In fact, they can be highly effective in some situations, most notably in many European cities as well as in Hong Kong. But streetcars are not the reason that the region pushed for the creation of Sound Transit. Moreover, Seattle already has two streetcar lines, including the mysteriously dormant Waterfront line, whereas the Eastside and Snohomish County have none.
Sound Transit decided to contribute $120 million to the construction of the Seattle streetcar line as mitigation for its decision to eliminate its proposed light rail station at First Hill. However, had Sound Transit selected a more direct and less costly alignment for its light rail route running north from downtown, there would have been no mitigation issue. Moreover, the vast savings would have allowed construction of an entire network of streetcar lines in Seattle, should the public have so wanted.
13This is similar to the policy that was sometimes advocated during the Great Depression in the 1930s of having the government hire unemployed people to dig holes and then bury them in the hope that it would stimulate the economy. Such policies have long since been discredited by most economists.
14It will be remembered that Boeing moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, citing the poor transportation system here as a major reason. And this dysfunctional system may be keeping other major companies from wanting to relocate here despite our region's other advantages. It is doubtful that Sound Transit's poorly planned light rail system would do anything to convince Boeing or other companies to change their minds and relocate here.
15Proposition No. 1 Mass Transit Expansion, King County Local Voters' Pamphlet November 4, 2008 General Election.
16See RCW (Revised Code of Washington) 29A.72.050.
17For example, prior to the 1996 vote that authorized its first construction phase (ST1), Sound Transit proclaimed that it could construct a light rail line from the north end of the University District to south of Sea-Tac Airport as well as develop a commuter rail and regional bus service by 2006 for $3.9 billion, adjusted for inflation. The projected cost for the light rail alone was roughly $2 billion. The most recent projections are for the 15.6 mile segment from downtown Seattle south to the airport (and minus its originally promised additional station south of the airport) to be completed by 2009 at a cost of $2.7 billion, and for the 3.15 mile segment from downtown north to Husky Stadium (and minus the originally promised additional stations at First Hill and in the heart of the University District) to be completed by 2016 for an additional $1.8 billion. The stations south of the airport and in the University district (which would be much more useful than the Husky Stadium station) have been delayed until a future phase. The total projected cost for the originally promised first phase system (exclusive of the abandoned First Hill station) currently stands at $6.2 billion, already far in excess of the original promise. Moreover, the completion target has been extended by 14 years to 2020.
18See the Accountability page on Sound Transit's website for a list of ways in which it claims to have improved its admittedly sloppy and opaque operations. Unfortunately, this is still not sufficient, as is illustrated by the fact there is as yet no monitoring of the agency to compel it to comply with best practices and with legally mandated project evaluation techniques, such as cost-benefit analysis and LCP.
19Some COP members have told Eastside Rail Now! privately that they believe that COP oversight is too restricted and that it needs to have the ability to provide the Sound Transit board with advice regarding policy matters in order to be truly effective.
20The Sound Transit board did this because they saw a good chance for it to pass this time because (a) some polls showed that Proposition 1 would have passed last year in the absence of the roads portion, (2) the public is getting desperate for improved transportation as a result of soaring gas prices, growing congestion, etc., (3) there was insufficient time to seriously revise the plan and (4) they believed that the "Obama effect" would cause many young people to vote and that such voters would likely be more in favor of rail than would older voters.
21The Seattle area has been losing its leadership in the aircraft field with the departure of Boeing and has lost much of any leadership it had in the computer software field with the failure of Microsoft to innovate. The question is whether we want to continue to be a backwater as far as transportation is concerned or whether we want to finally reverse course and exhibit some excellence in this area.
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This page created October 13, 2008. Updated October 14, 2008.
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