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ST2 Link Progress

Jan 21, 2024Jan 21, 2024

I tried to keep this article on 2020s issues, but of course it’s hard not to talk about ST3.

I’ve long thought the subareas’ interests would diverge after ST3 and it might be necessary to split the tax district. The current structure was set up in the 1990s to get the Spine built, both because they needed Seattle’s Yes votes to make up for their No votes, and to prevent suburban money from going to Seattle instead of the Spine. SB5228 partly does that for Seattle, but only Seattle. And I think it’s limited to the monorail’s tax ceiling, which was around $1 billion, not enough for an entire line or to fill all the WSBLE gaps. Nobody has proposed a similar measure for the other subareas, so for now it’s ST# or nothing for them.

Ideally we should have done what Germany and Vancouver do. Düsseldorf and Cologne have a two-level system: a city rail network and a suburban S-Bahn. Vancouver has a hybrid system that’s similar to what Link would be if it only went to Lynnwood and SeaTac. Outer Surrey has real center-lane BRT, which is what we could do beyond that. (Vancouver doesn’t have a Bellevue/Redmond-like line, but then it has nothing like Bellevue/Redmond to go to.) But the suburbs didn’t want that. They wanted a metro to Everett and Tacoma (and Redmond), and they didn’t want to pay for a Seattle network instead. So we got ST’s current structure.

But after the Spine, Snohomish, Pierce, and East King will be harder-pressed to find large projects they want. That creates an imbalance with North King, which wants more Seattle lines. The only way to satisfy both is to split the tax district, so that each subarea can raise what it wants independently.“I don’t think Snohomish Co. will have the revenue to extend to Everett no matter what the cost”

I don’t think it’s so dire. Everett’s extent is fixed; it’s just a matter of filling in the gap. ST estimates a 5-year delay (2036->2041). That could increase but I don’t see it increasing greatly. The Everett station alternatives (which I’m going through now) would add to the cost, but so far I think they’re good enough that ST should delay for them if necessary. ST is already considering splitting the project at Mariner. That would shift the least-justified part and the more expensive options to the second phase. Who cares when that finishes as long as the first phase is close to on time? Everett may care but I don’t. ST could also economize by dropping Paine Field. So Everett has some challenges but not to the point of “No way, Jose”.

Why are you worrying about Pierce? The entire alignment is elevated in public right of ways. That’s relatively inexpensive. Pierce has been saving up since the 1990s for the extension, so it has a large down payment. ST estimates only a 2 year delay (2030->2032). So Pierce doesn’t need to worry about funding that. It only needs to worry about the soils and long bridge in Federal Way, which ST is looking at now.

Pierce has other problems: Link only reaches the nearest corner, and never gets to the population centers in downtown Tacoma or Lakewood. Sounder is subject to BNSF money extraction, which is hindering the supposedly-funded expansion. Stream 1 is an important achievement, but Pierce needs so much more. But none of that affects the likelyhood of Tacoma Dome’s completion.

“I really can’t imagine where you would extend rail in S. King Co. ”

What it wanted in 2015 was a Renton-Burien line. The study interlined it with Burien-West Seattle, and therefore with West Seattle Link. Westlake-Renton travel time was 40 minutes, which is better than I expected and the same as the 101. But the study showed it would have high cost and low ridership. South King got quiet about it after that, so I don’t know whether it’s still interested.

“like Mercer Island it got rail because it had to run through S. King”

It got light rail because it wanted Federal Way as much as East King wanted Bellevue/Redmond, Snohomish wanted Lynnwood.Everett, and Pierce wanted Tacoma. South King was demanding SeaTac and Federal Way, and they demanded it first before Burien-Renton.

“On the eastside East Link doesn’t serve 405 except for RR, and 405 is the main congestion point, but those folks often don’t work in offices and take 405 to head south on 167/169 and they have no interest in changing their zoning for transit.”

That’s why 405 is getting Stride. The 405 stations don’t have great walksheds, but it’s the best transit can do for north-south circulation there. When I lived in Bellevue the 340 was a 405 express route, and I took it to Renton, Newport Hills, Kirkland, Bothell, and SeaTac. I had to walk a half-mile or mile from the stop to somebody’s house or downtown Kirkland, but I still rode it. Others will do the same with Stride, or take a bus to it. East King is vaguely thinking about some kind of Link or BRT to downtown Kirkland but isn’t sure if it wants it. For Bellevue-Renton, ST says ridership isn’t there yet for Link but might be in several decades. Right now there’s no way to get from Bellevue to Lynnwood on Sunday without going through Seattle or taking local buses (which would take over two hours), so Stride will fix that.

You don’t need to change zoning for something inexpensive like Stride, and the Stride plans don’t attempt to upzone 405 station areas. It’s just a stopgap measure for north-south travel in a challenged environment that the people are too SUBURBANIST to fix the land use. A Renton-Puyallup Stride could be a similar stopgap, and I assume zoning wouldn’t be changed. Downtown Kent, Renton, and Auburn are densifying anyway. The important point is there must be a reasonable way ti get from Auburn or Kent to Renton and the rest of the region without a car, and the 566 doesn’t do it. We need at least an hourly express bus, or better yet 30 or 20 minutes, or ideally 15.

“Once ST finishes Lynnwood, Federal Way and East Link the ridership numbers will tell us whether it makes sense to extend rail anywhere else in the region,”

That’s the wrong metric. The right metric is what’s the optimal amount of transit to make it reasonable to get around the three-county area without a car, even if it’s not as much as Seattle can expect. Or what other industrialized countries have. And that would be at least 15-minute transit in all significant corridors, meaning all proposed Link corridors and all Metro arterials and between all urban villages. Some of it might be rail, some BRT, some RapidRide, and some regular bus routes, but we must get to that level.

I’ve long said Link is not necessary beyond Lynnwood or Kent-Des Moines. We could do the bus alternative. But if the governments and public are willing to build Link, I won’t stand in their way. Because it helps the person going from SeaTac to Tacoma or North Seattle to Everett. It may not be the best network or the most cost-effective, but it’s better than not having it.

“My guess is based on history Pierce, Snohomish and S. King Co. will vote no on any levy.”

They never wanted to pay taxes in the first place. South King residents think they’re too poor for transit taxes.

“One also has to recognize the free fall in ST’s reputation from 2016 when ST 3 passed to today. The reputation of ST is in tatters”

Yes. That makes it much harder to imagine an ST4 passing. I doubt it would in the 2020s or early 2030s. After that it’s another generation and and a lot of future factors we don’t know yet.

“did a middle brow neighborhood like Roosevelt really deserve the cost of tunnels, and if so every neighborhood — at least north of Yesler — deserves tunnels?”

The downtown tunnel was already there. It was always going to be extended north through the U-District because of the hills and Ship Canal. Rainier Valley got surface because it’s flat. ST’s thinking at the time was you only build tunnels where it’s not flat. It was going to emerge at 63rd and follow I-5 to Northgate and beyond.

Roosevelt convinced ST to extend the tunnel and have a station in the center of the neighborhood. ST did, and maybe that was unfair to Rainier Valley, but it’s in the best place, so we’re lucky it was built there. And after ST decided to build the underground Roosevelt station, subsequent engineering showed it was less expensive to extend the tunnel to 95th than to emerge at 63rd as it had originally planned, because it costs money to weave up and down around I-5, and the freeway is so old that just saying “Boo” to it would damage it and ST would have to pay restoration costs. So the Roosevelt tunnel turned out to be cost-effective. But that only works if you’re extending an existing tunnel, not creating a new tunnel.

“Link always was about getting to and around downtown Seattle, and there, not from there. Like any urban metro system.”

Like the American mindset assumes. Link is not just suburban-to-downtown transit like the radial ST Express routes that have no other stops in Seattle. It’s a proper subway corridor with stops every 1-2 minutes and frequent bidirectional service. The designers knew full well they wanted that, and that the future would be not just trips to downtown, but also from downtown, through downtown, and between neighborhood pairs that don’t involve downtown. The region needed a circulation system for both everywhere to downtown and also Rainier Valley to the U-District, Capitol Hill to Roosevelt, everywhere to the airport, Bellevue to Redmond, Redmond to the Spring District, several areas to Microsoft, Lynnwood to North Seattle, South King County to Tacoma, etc. That’s what a county of 2+ million people and a metro of 3 million people needs. It will become increasingly important as the population grows, and as I assume people will increasingly realize that driving everywhere is not environmentally sustainable or the best way to live in a large metro.