July 31, 2006
Transportation Challenge to Sound Politics Readers
Debate on transporation and taxes isn't likely to become less heated since Tim Eyman's I-917 failed to make the 1st cut of signature review to get on the ballot, and now faces unfavorable odds of surviving a full signature check to make it to the voters in November.
This humble writer seems to have sparked some disagreement as well with this post criticizing Eyman, which elicited this coverage from David Postman, and this resulting clarification from Stefan.
Now that I-917 faces at best significantly reduced odds of getting on the ballot, the onus falls on conservatives even more to give consideration to the idea of actually attempting to solve the transportation problems facing the Puget Sound area.
Orbusmax has taken a stab at such an effort, with this call for input from fellow conservatives. I think he has the issue fundamentally correct. It doesn't work to just say "no" anymore, that's not a realistic solution. I elaborated on this theme earlier in a speech titled "What Makes a Winning Republican" that can be found here, and which lays out my core political concern that there is an electoral price to be paid by the GOP if we continue to be viewed as unresponsive to a glaring local policy issue.
As one could guess from that speech, which argues for a proactive agenda rather than simply the reactive "No!" as seen in Tim Eyman's approach to transportation taxes, I remain concerned this has become a default position for some conservatives, and the stereotype many non-Republicans assume applies to all Republican candidates. Some Sound Politics commenters at the posts noted above fit this stereotype with glee, accusing me of bashing conservatives, not being a conservative (particularly a fiscal one), and having been offered a spot at Horse's Ass. Charming, intellectually simplistic arguments all. [Note: Thanks to the many commenters at those posts, on all sides of the debate, who posted in good faith.]
I was particularly bored with those commenters less than witty enough to claim I'm permanently cursed because my dad used to be the Chairman of Sound Transit. Now, I realize that some people go immediately into a lather when they hear the words "Sound Transit," but I hardly need to point out the weakness of that broader argument. Anyone that has talked with me at length or worked with me - or read my posts at Sound Politics - knows I am my own thinker, not shy about formulating my own opinions and expressing them accordingly.
I understand such conspiracies fit into the line of thinking of the Reagan Wing and its kindred souls follow - that being that if you don't agree with them you must be a heretic and a liberal (in no particular order). Heaven forbid a Republican, me, actually disagree with some of the tactics used and policy advanced by another Republican, Tim Eyman. Of course, these are the same people that think Slade Gorton is a champion of liberal ideals. Right.
Now that we're back in reality, I must confess that while I applaud Orbusmax's endeavor, I've found the feedback from his readers rather insufficient. Most of the suggestions are either already being implemented (focusing bus resources on heavily utilized commuter routes), cost a ton of money (double-decking freeways), or are absolutely unworkable (ticketing cars eligible for the HOV lane but who choose not to drive in it).
Personally, though I am more pro-transit than most readers here, I actually fall in the middle of the roads v. transit debate. I often dislike ideas coming out of the Seattle crowd as generally unrealistic and transit heavy. Not only did I think the monorail was terrible, if I lived in Seattle I would oppose the propositions from Ron Sims and Greg Nickels appearing on the ballot this fall.
Yet, I also dislike roads-heavy packages like Kemper Freeman's transportation plan since the geography and growing density of our region means transit makes a lot of sense, while roads alone doesn't - though give him credit for at least putting forward a plan. Thus, I applaud the fact the possible 2007 joint transportation ballot might actually have a decent balance between the two, though I'm withholding further judgment until I see the details. I also admire John Carlson for being willing to join that effort to see if he can advance his justified belief that such a plan needs a good dose of road construction to help reduce congestion.
So consider this post a challenge to Sound Politics readers, in follow-up to the speech I referenced above, and my critique of Eyman: what plan would you actually support to improve transportation in the Puget Sound region? The gas tax increases were a good start, but the backlog of projects in our area is so large there is no argument more money is needed. Just saying "no" is not an option, in part because we saw with I-912 the general public has reached a tipping point where they want solutions, not just complaints. Let's hear what you think.
Posted by Eric Earling at July 31, 2006
11:35 PM | Email This
I like the idea of a toll HOV lane, where frequent commuters buy a toll pass and pay a fee for using the "fast lane", something I'm freely willing to do to cut down the time I have to spend in my car.
Second, I think Bus Rapid Transit makes more sense than light rail, though where existing routes and geography allow, a fixed line could be appropriate. Tracks through downtown would be nice if it reduced congestion on the streets.
2. The state should provide tax incentives to businesses to encourage telecommuting. Most MSFT employees could work just as well from home, if not full time, then at least a day or two each week.
Anyone consider that this area is just full up and all that can be done is to cram more into it?
Get rid of the HOV lanes all together and give us back 25-33.33% of our capacity? Toll my arse, I already paid for them.
This just isn't europe in so many ways, but it could well become another Detroit without much more effort.
Good post Eric. I realize that saying no is not an option. I think that even the staunchest conservatives can see that, despite rhetoric that the conservatives are divided and vulnerable, etc.
What I think is important is to realize that there are a lot of tax dollars being collected for transit, so to me it is a matter of reprioritizing. I've got no problem with some transit, but the biggest transit follies such as the Sounder Train must end to free up those dollars, and we've simply got to move roads up the priority list because they are the main mode of transportation for almost all people and goods in the region, and will be for some time to come.
I propose that we end HOV lanes immediately. There might be useful HOV lanes somewhere in the region. Possibly on 520, at least until it is widened (not holding my breath.) But the majority of the region, especially I-5 south of Boeing Field is very negatively impacted by HOV lanes, with very little mass transit benefit. This does not apply to the Express lanes north of Seattle, those are useful, and would be costly to change. But deleting the HOV lanes on I-5 is a no brainer and it's as cheap as a few passes with a grinder and taking down the signs. Granted, the new bus overpass in Federal Way will turn out to have been a huge waste. But at least the primary mode of transportation would see an immediate benefit of effectively widening the freeways, without actually having to build more lanes.
As for trains, even though the southerly Sounder goes through the mostly suburban areas, there is little ridership, which should tell us that the old model of a centralized downtown business district is gone. And light rail south of the airport will have extremely long ride times to downtown, because of the airport, most probably making driving still far more cost effective and efficient for most.
The only mass transit options that seem viable to me are to build a light rail in the heaviest commute densities. It's not politically correct to start a light rail away from a major downtown, but the reality is that building light rail on the east side along 405 towards Remond might actually be far more beneficial given the wider geography than that of the narrow strip between the Sound and I-5 heading south of Seattle. I suspect that there would also be better commute density North of Seattle. In short, everywhere but where light rail is currently planned. A lot of money will be wasted up front on flagship routes that look good on paper but won't generate ridership.
I'd love to say yes to more options, but the politicians and planners have yet to propose any rail options that would actually serve a large population of commuters on a daily basis.
Congestion tolls are a market-based solution, have worked well elsewhere, and could be easily implemented on our floating bridges.
Whenever traffic on a bridge reduces average speed below some threshold, a toll is applied, and continues increasing until enough entrants have been discouraged to push the average speed back over the threshold.
If anyone here thinks this is too much government interference in his life, I am also happy to sell the bridges to the highest bidder and let the new owner implement a fully privatized toll system.
How about simply demanding a results oriented metric. Dollars spent to either congestion or riders. One where a "rider" is only counted in some new bus or train system if that rider got out of a car, not another bus or train.
The point is that we spend billions of dollars to move a few thousands of people, people we mostly move off of other mass transit solutions and all without an effect on congestion. These kinds of solutions are about social engineering, providing what government wants it's society to come to believe in rather that producing what it's calling for and actually using while not directly addressing the problem, congestion.
If someone wants to put real metrics to dollars spent and show how transit solutions create better benefits than fixing road choke points (I-5 under the convention center) and adding lanes I'm all ears. Of course, only sort of because last time we did this, they.... LIED and my ears are still ringing.
Hard to discuss options, Eric, when you toss out the idea of another north-south freeway through the metropolitan area that would increase capacity by 15-25% over Sound Transits 5% maximum for the same cost. At least, that is what Rob McKenna said while King County Councilman.
So, for you to toss out the baby with the wash water makes your whole premise here wrong.
Also, I am one to support $4-5 per gallon gas (if we can be sure the money is spent properly, which is another problem for another topic).
Just saying no is not an option, but how about saying no to all subsidies, and especially cross-subsidies? Let every penny of the gas tax (minus a reasonable
amount for administration and enforcement--say 5%) go entirely for building and maintaining roads. It's important, in this scenario, that any road-using public entities, especially bus transit, pay the same gas taxes as everyone else, so they don't receive any hidden subsidies that way.
And that's all we get for roads; not a penny from the general fund. Similarly, not a penny of subsidy for Sound Transit's rail projects.
Does anyone think rail could possibly survive in such a financial environment? Of course not, and that would be wonderful--while it's possible that, occasionally, you need to subsidize things, it's inconceivable that transportation, which consumes so much of our income and large parts of which operate entirely within the free market, should need such a thing.
A north south toll way for those who like to drive 70+ to work during commute hours would be welcome. Considering anyone who values their time at more than 5 bucks an hour, the acceleration is well worth the cost of a mocha.
Those who don't believe there is a problem can continue driving 25 between Olympia and Seattle. Or if you don't happen to make that commute, it's not really an issue.
I fail to see why I should pay for additional lanes in north pugetopolis when I rarely leave a county road down here. So just saying 'no' IS an option for me and many other drivers who pay too much in taxes for roads we don't drive on.
The transportatin problems aren't going to go away until the elected officials decide to (a) face up to the fact most people (including themselves) like to drive because of the convenience and independence and to (b) own up to the realization that there are only so many tax dollars to go around. The government needs to show it can fund basic needs first, such as maintaining the roads we do have, before thinking about a tax increase.
So far the transportation projects have been fiscal disasters and will only divert riders from the bus system, not hard core drivers.
First, fix the pot holes, repaint lines, and resurface where needed. Next,dump the HOV lanes. For the ones who think the HOV lanes are a great idea, keep in mind they do not go all the way through which results in people trying to merge at the last minute (Hwy 167 is a prime example). Extend 509 at least through Tacoma. Take a hard look at the exit only lanes and merge lanes and try to figure out if there are ways to extend these so there is greater "straight through" capacity on I-5. Expand the bus fleet so the buses run more often, especially during the day. Make 167 three lanes now before things get too built up. Remove the Convention center lid. In other words, there are a lot of things that can be done now that won't have the ridiculous price tags of the Sound Transit/light rail projects.
The HOV lanes on I-5 may be problematic because that might be tied to federal funding. However, instead of focusing on that one issue and using that as an excuse to push another billion dollar boondoggle, officials need to show a plan that not only addresses the fact people like to drive, but also is fiscally responsible. Personally I think Hades will enter the Ice Age first, but one can dream.
For those who think high gas prices will keep people out of their cars, my mom just returned from a trip that included a visit to Oslo. Gas is the equivalent of $8/gallon and there were plenty of cars on the road.
Andy, I do agree with you, except for the "Just Say No" option. We are going to have to pay; the question is how.
While I don't necessarily agree with the assessment that Pugetites fund roads in the rest of the State they don't use, the fact remains there is a huge chunk of change out there.
BTW, the Kemper Freeman plan is several years old and from what I saw of the parking lot from Bothell to Kirkland after the merger from 522, road capacity is both lacking and will not be the total fix.
25mph? The people making the run on I-5 and 405 would love those speeds.
Another Way to Look at HOV lanes.
I've been taking the sounder bus over the past year and have have gained a bit more perspective on the issue.
On of the bigger realizations was coming to think of the HOV lanes as not for primarily for cars but mostly for busses.
What we have effectively built is a regional mass transit system that uses busses rather than trains or monorails. The tracks to that system are the far left lanes of our highways.
This system does have its own set of benifits. Car pools are able to benifit from the facilities and the system is very flexible in its ability to schedule routes and use the rest of the transportation infrastructure.
We just have to get past the idea that we don't have a subway system and consider our busses as the in lieu of alternative.
For this reason, I don't see any proposals that get rid of the HOV lanes as at all practical.
I think the HOT lanes/roads are part of the elite wanting more for themselves. It remindes me of the exclusive lanes that ran through Moscow in the CCCP. If you are rich (the supposed dregs of society) you pay a little more to pass by the peons.
These roads were built from taxes paid for by everyone for everyone. Public money being spent and public land being used for the rich to travel amoung the masses easier is not the purpose of our road system.
This holds for HOV lanes/bridges/exits as well. They realized this in Vancouver, WA where the HOV social engineering project was removed.
Eric, your (tentative) support of the RTID/ST2 proposal fails to take into account how those particular local governments are designed to operate without any fiscal restraint. For example, as you are familiar with Sound Transit, I am sure you know that when it received voter approval the voters approved a plan that specified $1.98 Billion could be collected in taxes for capital expenditures. If what I read now is correct, Sound Transit may collect about seven times that amount, without getting approval for it from the voters. Sound Transit is run by appointees of the County Executives, so it is unaccountable. That model of government is about as hostile to citizens as can be imagined. Given all that Eric, how on earth could you think approving additional taxing authority for ST could be adviseable?
Here is my main question: what source can you locate that indicates ANY type of projection by ST of how much in taxes it expects to collect for the currently-approved phase of construction? ST may take in over $10 billion in taxes for its current projects, which is many multiples of what it told voters it would take in. Then compare that cost to this region with the economic/social benefits to the region. Your statement that we need more light rail is entirely glib and baseless when viewed in terms of cost.
My suggestion for transportation is this. Retrofit the SR 99 viaduct, and replace the seawall. Put the State money saved into the SR 520 bridge (and approaches to that bridge between I5 and I405), along with the additional gas tax money. Finance the rest of the 520 construction with tolls. IF any additional money is needed for SR 520, then a region-wide MVET for the balance. We need to digest all that we've chewed off up to this point.
15. Also, I am one to support $4-5 per gallon gas (if we can be sure the money is spent properly, which is another problem for another topic).
I would support adding another 25 cents immediately to the gas tax, if it could be spent properly. It wouldn't cost me any extra, because I'd save time and gasoline moving at the speed limit instead of stop and go; heck, I'd be willing to pay 50 cents additional tax. Gasoline taxes are dedicated to roads and ferries. That's why so much of any additional funding packages rely on other fees; it's not about more road capacity, it's about "options."
Of course, if there's one thing of which you can be assured, it won't be spent properly. It will be spent by those who seek to merely provide 'alternatives' to SOVs. That's why light rail is being built at an outrageously high cost per passenger; it's not about moving people, it's about providing "options." We'll have slug overpasses and 12 foot bicycle lanes. In the case of the Viaduct, it will be a tunnel or nothing...mark my words. We'll spend an additional billion or two to improve the visual and civic appeal to Seattle...and their preferred option reduces capacity.
Then there's 520...I wondered why we hadn't heard from the shoreline communities regarding this planning. They were merely biding their time, as we'll see at their press conference. I-90 on MI set an impossibly high standard to meet regarding mitigation and cost. The Viaduct, for the Taj Mahal it will become, will be cheap in comparison to any 520 replacement. Any 520 replacement, to pass muster of the shoreline communities, will cost a minimum built price of $6B. It will add HOV, bicycle, and rail capacity only; no additional GP lanes. Anyone who doesn't believe that they can't or won't hijack the process, wasn't here during the 60s, 70s, or 80s when I-90 was planned and built.
It's insane to try to plan transportation with those who do not want you to drive your car, who are genuinely antagonistic toward roads. If the past 20 years have illustrated anything, it's that. I have no expectation that both halves of the upcoming vote on a regional transportation package will pass. That means that the state DOT will be free to move the tax money approved last year between projects as they please. If I have curoisity about anything, it's where that money will be directed.
I frankly don't care if Seattle decides to dynamite the Viaduct and create pea patch gardens. I have little interest if the 520 bridge sinks. Call it a memorial to that vaunted "Seattle Process"...may it rest in peace.
It will just accelerate the already inevitable shift of businesses and jobs away from Seattle. I'm convinced that's a good thing.
16. Fred, become an 'elite'; get a passenger!!!
17. Swatter - if my job and hours would allow it, I would. Unfortunately it doesn't.
One way to cut down on traffic congestion is to reduce the amount of lane closures due to construction. I don't know about anyone else here, but it seems that construction crews keep entire lanes closed when the only problem is one missing sewer cover, or a small work in process that could easily be covered with a steel plate. (SB SR202, just South of 520 comes to mind.)
I remember travelling through Utah recently and hearing about a city transportation plan in Salt Lake City that incentivized construction crews to keep lanes open as much as possible. Basically, the State (or City) would require company awarded a construction contract to "rent" lanes that they kept closed on an hourly basis. The rent was higher during the heavy volume times, lower during weekends and nights. In other words, the road construction crews had a financial incentive to keep all lanes open and moving as much as possible.
Anyway, this is a tiny idea, but in this areas I think every little bit helps.
Swatter to Fred: get a passenger!!
Fred to Swatter: if my job and hours would allow it, I would.
Me to Fred: why not hire some someless person as a rider; they can hang out in Seattle for the day and then assist with your return trip in the evening!
Transportation, shmansportation. Why worry about stuff like this when we can spend our money building new sports stadiums for billionaire Oklahoma owners and their millionaire players?
Tell the King County Council what's more important, a rebuild of KeyArena for the Sonics with tax money, a new Arena with tax money in Bellevue or Renton, or fixing roads for the rest of us?
3:00pm, King County Courthouse, Wed, Aug 2nd, 2006--public hearing on how important professional sports are to the community (AKA a pitch for public funding for the Sonics new Oklahoma owners from Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer).
PS: Pete's a REPUBLICAN. At the very least, send him an email and ask him why he's signed on to this strange brand of socialism.
Eric, surely you know that you'll find no common ground by describing those with whom you disagree as not dwelling in reality.
As for being a "just say no" conservative, that's a self-serving description offered up by lib activists and their water carriers in the press, and other defenders of the status quo. I'm not saying no to everything, I'm saying no to what's been proposed.
I'm not advocating to tax them to pay for something I want; they want my dollars. "We need options" is not a compelling case, and pet overpasses and Cadillac lanes for bicycles is not a compelling case. They need to make the case for their proposals, and they failed to make their case. You do no favors for anyone by ignoring this, or putting some imaginary burden on taxpayers to provide alternatives. If I wanted to run the state DOT on a purely democratic basis, there would be no need for Doug MacDonald. I don't want to start transportation planning personally; given what we've been offered, I say fire their @sses and start over.
The campaign to retain the gas tax increase will be remembered as setting a new low standard for truthfulness and clarity in political advertising. It argues against giving any more funding for the same, as I do not wish to reward those who propose to persuade me by insulting my intelligence.
By any objective measure, Sound Transit has been an expensive fraud and failure. No serious person could follow the issue for the last 10 years, then propose to give Sound Transit more mandate and money. That's not an intellectually serious position.
I have no other course to object to multi-million dollar wildlife overpasses than to just say no to the funding mechanism. I do not support the current philosophy of the state DOT, which is to provide "options," not build more roads.
I can support:
---Sub level equity, which provides that money raised in a given area is spent in that area.
---Area appropriate solutions. IMO Seattle can spend it's transportation dollars however and wherever they want. Buses make sense in Seattle. For this to work, however, Seattle would have to stop insisting that I, as a resident of SE King County, should also ride a bus. Dollars for roads make sense here.
Given this, I could support additional gas taxes of as much as 50 cents per gallon. I am willing to provide zero cents additional per gallon to fund the latest preferred alternative to SOVs.
Of course, these positions are at odds with business as usual. BAU says that King County outside the Seattle City limits (and for that matter, the rest of Washington State) are colonies to be exploited for the use and benefit of Seattle. They want to spend OPM and they want to tell me how to live and how I can use my property. Ron Sims doesn't even dare come out here anymore.
The system, if you will, of how we make decisions such as these is broken. You propose to fund the same system with additional dollars. I don't think so.
Supporters of more spending correctly point out that you'll have to pay for improvements. However, that's much different than saying that we'll get what we pay for, which is demonstrably not the case.
22. 1) HOV lanes don't work anywhere. Get rid of them and immediately increase the carrying capacity of current roads.
2) It has taken Dallas, TX 25 years to make light rail work and then only on a limited scale. In another 10 years it should be viable for many more in that congested area. Unfortunately they don't seem to have planned for much if any east/west movement. Puget Sound should look at the Dallas effort as a model and then come up with something better.
3) I personally hate toll roads, but that may be the way to resolve funding issues with new roads.
Sorry, I disagree. Saying "no" IS an option when the plans on the table are idiotic, wasteful, have no impact on the main problem of transportation (congestion) and are built with a view towards social engineering.... all of which describe Sound Transit.
When populations increase by a third and drivers increase by a third and freight traffic increases even more... light rail and the subsequent waste of billions doesn't fix it.
Ferries are not roads, even though we act like they are. Busses do very little to nothing to decrease congestion. Plans that punish drivers are a non-starter.
Build more roads. knock off the social engineering. Remember that our cars are $30,000 investments that we're not interested in watching rust in our driveways.
And, until these things happen, I damned sure AM just "saying no."
Something other than 'Just saying no':
1) Plan on increasing traffic on the _current_ city streets. Make a category of road above 'arterial' and below 'highway', and do things on those roads that increase throughput. Examples: NW 85th, there are cross streets at 1st, 2nd, 3rd... Dibble, Fremont, every cart-track between Aurora and I-5, and on to 15th. This is a high-traffic road - allowing that number of spots for left & right turns while still not having a single bus turn-out is just asking for backups all the way onto I-5. Which are inevitably nasty. Declare it a 'Major Arterial' then start restricting access. It won't kill residents (me included) to go over a block or two to find a road that either allows left turns or otherwise connects to 85th. 85th is just an example - there's zillions of these. Madison has _one_ block of on street parking around 12th. There's plenty of streets that were _designed_ for sizable traffic flows, and are currently 'residential streets'. Often with 20+ foot 'traffic circles' to try to get people to slow down through the pretty quiet neighborhood. Look, your road was designed for 4 lanes of traffic, and you're trying to wipe out the 1-lane of traffic it still has.
2) Treat Aurora as a six-lane road. Which it already is in large parts. Traffic on 99 out of town to the north flows quite well until it gets to the circus around Green Lake. Here even the highway has the 'too many access points' problem. 85th, 80th, Winona, (+75th?) and Green Lake Dr. After it gets through that spot it flows well until 105th, and on out of town. There's still streets (like 90th) that have a stoplight for no real good reason. Traffic volume on Green Lake Dr & 80th is pretty light - especially when you compare and contrast the various crossings here. Learn to block a road darn it. And/or put in an overpass. An overpass at 85th would suck the cross traffic off of both 90th and 80th in a flash - both of those streets seem to have 'overflow' traffic from 85th currently.
3) Still on Aurora north of the cut. It doesn't 'connect' very well with I-5. 85th doesn't have its own northbound entrance, 105th runs afoul of the traffic near Northgate that's always backed up to Meridian. 135th, 145th, 175th all connect 'ok', but by the time you get there, you've stopped at 400 stoplights. (Ok, ok, maybe 10). Pick a cross street or two, and start deliberately making it a solid choice for 'how to get to Aurora and back'.
4) Point 3 applies south of town as well. There isn't a clear convenient way of ending up behind the airport. I'm not as clear on the layout of streets down there, just that viaduct-to-airport-and-back is nearly always much less traffic-per-lane than I-5 and faster.
5) Point 3 & 4 point towards _increasing_ the capacity of the viaduct. There's a lot of people that are frankly scared of the current viaduct. It has fairly sharp turns with no shoulders to speak of, etc. So whatever we do needs to plan for _more_ traffic. Even if it isn't there today, the replacement is supposed to last another 50 years - and can we imagine that traffic might possibly double by 2060? This point is why I'm on the 'replace viaduct' or 'build bridge' side of the coin. The tunnel option will _dramatically_ cut _current_ capacity. The only reason that the tunnel is within spitting distance costwise is that they've gutted the flipping thing. Two lanes, cars-only. There's a strong current of thought 'Gosh, every time we build something it gets slammed to capacity immediately (I-90 bridge)'. That's a sign you're way-way low on capacity, not a sign "Hey, I can make cars appear from the ether by building a road!". A decent western corridor through town might put building-pressure on the areas it services - but it will draw cars off of the permanently - deliberately - overloaded I-5.
6) Plan on improving the bridges across the cut. Not today necessarily, but jeeze. Montlake could be a 6 lane bridge and still get complaints about traffic. I'm not sure about the university bridge - I don't drive it very often. The Fremont bridge is going through a massive refit... to re-become a four lane bridge. Where there's again easily 6 lanes width of traffic. The Ballard bridge is pretty solid - but at least _plan_ that when you do work on it, it will widen. And jeeze, the Aurora bridge could use some Jersey barriers between north and south, ya' think? Yes that might wipe out pedestrian access on one side, tough. For all of the little bridges, just look at how many well travelled arterials are being funneled down to cross that bridge. Sand Point, 25th, 15th, the Ave, + Pacific. 10 lanes southbound. Backups southbound to the U village are common.
7) Mercer. Um, make an overpass or two? (Westlake & Fairview)Cut a side road or two off? Not brain surgery? Perhaps even make an elevated 'to the freeway' viaduct? That way you can have 4 or 5 lanes both ways... and if you can connect to Aurora you'd have your first honest to goodness east-west corridor. This would all certainly take pressure off the area near South Lake Union Park.... There's a whole pack of side streets north of Mercer that are completely underutilized.
25. That's "South of Mercer".
26. I want to fix transportation but it will never be fixed with the current Transportation board. the questions I have that never get answered.
1. Why does every major expensive road project provide less general car traffic capacity than the current system. The 520 bridge will be able to handle 85 to 90% current general cars traffic but they add a light rail lane. Does that make sense. Over a billion dollars for a bridge yet less capacity for cars. The same goes for seattles tunnel plan. 85% of the current capacity and no trucks. The trucks have to go to I-5 which is already has traffic issues.
2. Why do you not separate Mass transit requests from Highway requests? Could it be the only way they can fund these glorious projects is to tie them to Road Construction. That these projects can not standup on their own merits. So we the tax payers get blackmailed to support these mega taxpayer waste projects to get some road work accomplished.
I would pay more money to fix the roads but I have a very hard time voting yes if we get mass transit projects added. I am sorry but It is a problem that I see no solution to. Look at the transportation package they are going to offer. I will place a bet that more money will be spent for Mass Transit than general purpose highway lanes. The Mass Transit will get the money first and we will not have enough money to do the general purpose lanes. Because of cost overruns of the Mass Transit projects. Look at light rail costs. Double the cost and a decade until it is in service. SUre you will see some road work but as long as Mass transit can tap the money they will demand it all. Please note that for each mass transit project that comes on line means half the cost of operating it will need to come from tax payer money. Golly gee they need to increase taxes to keep it running. So it is a never ending demand for more money. Yes we have a backlog of over a decade yet it will take at least 30 years to get it done due to the demands for mass transit over highways. This is the mentality I vote against. ALso every 2 to 5 years they will ask for more money. WHy because they took a loan out and now all the money we agree today will be spent on bonds and they will need more revenue to continue the work. In English the lawyers in Seattle make millions of tax dollar money making the bonds. We pay for the bonds over 30 years. SO 30 years of payments for 3 to 4 years of roadwork. Then no more road work because we are using all the increase in gas taxes to pay for bonds. Does that make sense?
Nick: "1) HOV lanes don't work anywhere. Get rid of them and immediately increase the carrying capacity of current roads."
Not really sure how you can make that statement. If you carpool, they work just fine.
"Puget Sound should look at the Dallas effort as a model"
Dallas? Why look at a city that is flat city with very few natural geographic barriers. Wouldn't it make more sense to look at Portland's MAX light rail? I don't know what the ridership numbers are there, versus what they were projected to be, but I know when I visit on business, the system if very easy to use, reasonably inexpensive, and full of people (at least on the route and time I was taking it).
David, the Sound Transit folks think they can raise the sales tax without asking you- up to 3% (they are lower than that now). Sound Transit and others are just playing along with the road people to be good sports, but they tell you that they can and will increase sales tax, anyway.
I think that is the point of Mr. Earling's question. It's going to happen unless something pops out of questions like he raises.
And at the risk of getting hammered like I was several months ago, why can't the transit people make a concerted effort to get people out of their cars? I haven't seen a real effort in terms of getting carpoolers together. I mean, in that parking lot I saw last week for two mornings- there just has to be 10% of those people who could and would want to car pool.
Not only does the rapid transit system need to be mobile, but also the immobile human (and I use the term loosely)brains in the government agency needs to be mobile and not inflexibile.
My word, this is the information age and the age of the internet.
As much as anytime in this area’s history, citizens are going to have the opportunity to make a series of decisions that will affect the quality of life we may or may not have in the future.
For the most part, I am referring to the odious stench arising from anything associated with that most malignant of bureaucracies: Sound Transit.
Sure our traffic’s getting worse and will continue to do so for as long as there are people having kids and commuting ever greater distances. That’s obvious. But the solutions reside and must appear in the 21st century. Not the 19th. That’s when trains were used for mass transit. Yes, trains were a step up from the horsedrawn carriage. But, they are a giant step backwards from any and every aspect today.
Financially, the return-on-investment for trains is pathetic. Sound Transit currently loses hundreds of dollars per trip per train passenger per day. That’s a solid fact. It’s their data. My econobox car costs me pennies per mile, all expenses included: Road taxes, gas, insurance, purchase price, maintenance, everything. Busses cost a little more per rider than my car (that’s why they’re subsidized). But trains are so fiscally out-of-whack that only a government employee or manager could love them. Sound Transit proposes to use 50% of our transportation dollars to move less than 1% of the population: That’s insane.
Geographically, trains are a catastrophe. They travel in a relatively straight line, must be travelled to and from for use, and have no alternate route (busses?) for their frequent stoppages due to weather-related calamities. The passenger volume on a train is horrific, because unlike a car or bus that can follow mere feet behind, trains must pace themselves several miles apart. Incredibly inefficient.
When a citizen calls 9-1-1, the ambulance, police or fire engine use the roads to get to our houses. School busses use the roads, as do delivery trucks of every kind. The mail comes on the roads (as an aside, very little mail travels on trains any more in the USA because of their multiple inadequacies). Every bit of food we eat, every strip of clothing we wear and all the building materials in all of our homes arrived on a truck. Almost all of us must use the roads to get to our jobs. Trains can never be frequent or efficient enough to offer a less expensive alternative to anything that can be done over a road. Government should be about saving the taxpayers money, not featherbedding their own careers. (Are you listening John Ladenburg, Ron Sims, Joni Earl, et al? Given these folks’ histories, they’ll just argue louder rather than wiser.)
Trains are exactly as I described them above, an 19th century solution to 21st century traffic. They do offer one thing, though. Sound Transit’s trains are sucking the life right out of our area. Imagine how much less we’ll have for schools, bridges, hospitals, parks with Sound Transit’s trains.
People: Be smart. We are supposed to have a representative government. If they force us to an all-or-nothing choice for trains –and- roads, say “No!”. Say it emphatically. Trains are an anachronism, like the horse and buggy. Imagine how inefficient we’d all be in a horse drawn cart. Tell our elected leaders that busses are multi-purpose, van-pools are efficient, economy cars should be tax-rebated. But trains will choke the financial life right out of Puget Sound.
P.S. Government collects MORE than enough in taxes now. It is the non-stop corruption and evil (who needs Hezbollah when ya got John Ladenburg, Ron Sims, et al? No, that's not an exaggeration. Very soon folks will be stuck with the decision of food vs Sound Transit taxes.).
The transportation problems can all be solved quite easily with the dollars collected ALREADY!
30. I think Eric is gonna be disappointed with our attitudes...
Here's a suggestion, and Eric, I'm damn serious, and I think everyone should be. If we are going to continue to invest in mass transit at the expense of the vast majority who prefer cars, then we should create a population that must use the expensive and wasteful transit systems that are being built.
I propose that all government employees, including elected officials be required to use mass transit to get to and from their place of work. Even Mayor Greg Nickels should have to fist take mass transit to get to his office, and then, he could get in to a government funded chauffeured car if he needed to go to a remote destination where there is no transit, etc.
If we required those planning and campaigning for mass transit to actually use the transit systems, then at least there would be some justification for building them in the first place.
Jeff B.: "If we are going to continue to invest in mass transit at the expense of the vast majority who prefer cars..."
Just a hunch, but I think that attitude is going to change in the not to distant future. Once gas hits $5 or more a gallon, and I think that is entirely possible, the free market will demand mass transportation. This seems inevitable. All the more reason to get the infrastructure in place now, while we are only about 10 years behind the curve.
E. E. wrote: "Not only did I think the monorail was terrible . . ."
Then I don't understand why you would favor what Sound Transit does. As near as I can tell, from an operational perspective they are identical governments: the boards are appointees, the amount of taxes is multiples of what voters were told, fixed rail serves very few people and does not address the real transportation problems with economic consequences on a macro level (road congestion), and no voter control is possible after they are approved because of how they lock in taxes by selling bonds.
34. I suggest the following
1 Remove the HOV lanes
2 Add additional lanes and break down lanes where necessary
3 Add light rail to the BNSF line that goes from Renton to Everett along I 405
4 Reclaim the Interurban routes that went Tacoma to Seattle and Seattle to Everett as light rail lines
5 Install competent people in WA DOT, Sound Transit, and City of Seattle
6 Note how the I-5 widening from South Everett to Evergreen should have included additional break down lanes plus the Evergreen exit use to be 2 lanes, now it is just one
35. Splinter: One must recognize reality. Reality is that in all areas of life, large institutions are not responsive and are slowly dying off. Fortune 500 companies employment has been decreasing for years. The economy is becoming more decentralized, record number of new and small businesses are being formed; transportation is accordingly decentralizing. Yet, WSDOT etc are planning for more centralization and think junk like light rail, HOV lanes, bikes and buses are the answer. These people are in utter, extreme, arrogance induced reality denial. Attitudes at $5/gal gas will not change because it is not about attitude, it is about how the world works, where the world is going. We will squander billions on mass transportation schemes and no one will use them. Can you imagine a Mom with 2 or 3 kids using anything other than a safe and roomy SUV? Remember, CAFE standards eliminated roomy autos and consumers demanded SUVs for safety and comfort. Who put in the CAFE standards? Loon liberals trying to reeducate/reprogram the public, and all they did was.......nothing. An SUV is nothing but an extension of a 60-70 Buick station wagon, but now on a truck chasis. So, wet dream on about mass transportation, squander what little goodwill WA gov't entities have left by wasting transportation dollars on idiocy unrelated to reality. Doug MacDonald-WSDOT head honch-and his planning staff are a mortal menace to the smooth functioning of the public. Arrogant, disconnected with real life, determined to punish the majority. Sick......
I will never vote for any package that includes money for the wasteful Sound Transit. It's obvious that a vote to increase funding for Sound Transit couldn't stand by itself - so they had to tie it with a roads-package to give it a chance. Personally, I'd rather suffer with General Purpose Lane congestion than give 'them' more money to waste.
Right now, WSDOT management is stacked with people who are against General Pupose Lanes. When people start dying because ambulances, fire trucks, and police cruisers are stuck in traffic; maybe some DOT management and government attitudes will change to being a bit less road-phobic.
37. When it comes to a mass transit solution for reducing traffic problems, you're fighting the numbers. Well over 100,000 vehicles enter Seattle every day on EACH of the main Interstates (I-5 northbound @ Tukwila, I-5 south @ Ship Canal Bridge, I-90 westbound @ I-5). That's about 40 people on a bus, every 15 seconds, for 12 hours, on each Interstate. Sounder averages what, a few hundred riders per day? Any proposal for a transit solution has to be in the tens of thousands of riders per day to make a dent in traffic. If you can't meet those kinds of numbers, look at building more lanes.
If they _REALLY_ want more transit, then start a major rezoneing proposal. If all of Seattle was populated like, say, Capital Hill, getting transit would be a no brainer.
As it is, we're essentially 'over booked' on bus transit - the outlying routes can be mighty empty. Hard to generate numbers in swaths of single family homes on 5k lots.
Notwithstanding "humble" Eric's snarky comments about "Sound Politics commenters", it is readily apparent that we are
concerned, we are
engaged, and we are
capable of saying more than "no" (note to Eric: My mama used to tell me an axiom about "good little birdies don't poop where they eat" it was good advice then - it's still good advice).
Not to drift too far off-topic but with this: "Now, I realize that some people go immediately into a lather when they hear the words "Sound Transit," but I hardly need to point out the weakness of that broader argument. Anyone that has talked with me at length or worked with me - or read my posts at Sound Politics - knows I am my own thinker, not shy about formulating my own opinions and expressing them accordingly." all I gotta say is - Eric, you poor baby! You really should do your self-help therapy on your own time ;'}
Now, on to Transportation matters...
Conservatives don't say "no" to supporting the infrastructure, they don't say "no" to maintaining our roads, they don't even say "no" to "mass transit". They do say NO! to corruption, waste, and Socialism. The bubble-brains at WSDOT and Olympia have attempted to foist a hodge-podge of "force you out of your car" programs and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that they have failed miserably. Like good little Socialists, each time they are confronted with their incompetence they whine that "We just haven't spent enough money!
One form of mass transit has consistently proven its worth - busses. Busses are (or can be) economical, adaptable, and environmentally friendly. Busses go places that monorails, trains, and other forms of mass transit can't. And for a fraction of the money - even when horribly mis-managed like they are here in Pugetropolis. It's no wonder then that the pointy-heads at WSDOT disdain them in favor of obscenely expensive carnival rides like the Sounder Train and light-rail.
Eric summarily dismisses Kemper Freeman, and that says everything I need to know about his notions about Transportation planning. Kemper recognizes that "since 1970 we haven�t been building capacity�we�re not even meeting demand." Every responsible person knows that building more lane-miles isn't the only solution to our congestion problems, but it should be our primary solution. However, it is only conservatives who will speak the "heresy" of lane-mile expansion. There hasn't been a significant addition of lane-miles built in over 30 years! (HOV lanes do not count because they do nothing to alleviate congestion). How much has our area grown in that same period? We need a visionary like Kemper Freeman to point us back in the right direction!
Reality check: We are going to drive our cars. Get over it and get on with it. We can spend our grandchildren's grandchildren's fortunes trying to "force people out of their cars" but if you do not provide a viable alternative, you will fail. As a driver in the 60's and 70's I used to love to "joyride" - go for drives just for the enjoyment of driving. Most nearly all of that is gone now, but the necessity remains. Others commenters on other threads have told how they get along without a personal automobile and I applaud them. Great! If you can, by all means don't drive. I need my car. My business takes me close to a hundred miles down the road each day. I can't telecommute and I can't teleport (yet). So I drive.
So, once again, my wish list for transportation (in no particular order):
Eliminate HOV lanes
Privatize the bus system and make it a money maker and more responsive to the folks they are supposed to serve.
Fire all the pointy-heads at WSDOT and make sanity a prerequisite for employment.
Build some freaking roads!
I also like the idea of incentives to entice employers to utilize flex-shift and telecommuting options for employees.
40. Nice post alphabet soup. Also, clearly the political, legal, and media heads in Seattle enable the existing disfunctioning transportation systems primarily because of the payoffs to them (including fee payments and fat jobs).
Lots of constructive comments here, good to see that. Certainly some of the comments disagree with each other, and I have issues with some of them as well, but good to see people laying out serious answers.
For clarification based on some of the comments here, most people here and at my original post on Eyman posted in good faith - regardless of whether they strongly disagreed with me or not. My beef was with the small minority that cried foul simply because of my dad's role in Sound Transit, which I still think is a ridiculous argument. That small group were the people I was saying weren't dwelling in reality, which generally doesn't apply to most commenters at either thread.
I would like the following:
1. honest assessment of what's gone according to plans, what has not, and why things will be different going forward, for Sound Transit and also for past roads programs.
In particular, I think we deserve to know the full story about what the Sound Transit programs were supposed to cost, and how long the taxes were going to run, vs how long they are actually running.
I do think toll lanes are a good idea. But most of this post is focused on sound transit because I think they are the biggest obstacle to implementing transportation solutions. Fixing them is the key.
2. apples to apples comparisons of targeted outcomes and objectives for public transit, where it is easy to understand what assumptions drive the forecasts for ridership of rail, and for busses, and the effective cost per rider is. And yes it is sometimes true that rail adds new capacity, but sometimes it doesn't, as it goes in the place of existing roads or otherwise diminishes throughput.
3. clear explanation of what happens if there are cost overruns. Revote? Or cancel certain projects (which ones). or extend the taxes, perhaps after borrowing?
4. clear explanation of where all money spent to date has gone for Sound Transit, and also, where the roads money has gone / is going.
5. rebut opponents with facts, not spin, slander or by ignoring them. The Coalition for Effective Transportation group has some amazing work. The Sound Transit board ignores it. They never respond. They should go through point by point and give their responses.
6. truth in borrowing: how much debt are we taking on?
7. goals and objectives for all variable investments, with clear triggers for what happens if those goals and objectives are not met. Example: Sounder Everett, have cut off points where either the ridership reaches a certain level or else the cost goes up or the services gets dropped.
8. Clear numbers from Sound Transit. They hide. For example, they no longer give daily ridership levels for Sounder, just quarterly numbers that are impossible to decipher.
I do believe climate change could have a very big impact on our society. An interesting question is: if we are really serious about cutting emissions, what would we do? Build 20 miles of train, or do something more radical, like giving everyone free bus, giving everyone a chance to catch a bus within 10 mins walk of their house, giving everyone a chance to get to a major transit cener in King County within 30 - 40 mins where they will then be able to catch a bus to a given area?
The point here is "objectives and outcomes." This is what I want, not a bunch of hype or rail guilt trips.
Splinter - Your statement "HOV lanes work if you use them" makes my point. Few use them making them a hinderance to the vast majority of us. I do not see my needs for personal transportation changing any time soon, nor do I suspect many others will readily change their driving habits/needs either or they would have by now.
FWIW, I lived in Vancouver for four years while working in Beaverton (96-00). The Portland light rail system was not a viable option for my schedule even in the last year when they opened the line to Hillsboro. Regardless of my personal situation it was and is a viable option for many people and Seattle would be wise to consult with Portland.
Dallas is indeed flat in comparison to Seattle. I suggested the Dallas light rail system as a model as Dallas and it's DART system has had to overcome a number of physical and political issues to make their system work (for now in a limited fashion). Their future expansion plans reveal a great deal of promise. Seattle will face many of these same challenges in the near future. This is one time where a little diverse thinking won't hurt.
Anyone looking for questions answered about Sound Transit can get them answered pronto. They may not like the answers, but they can get them. It is one of the most audited and closely scrutinized government agencies on the planet. It has turned around and significantly rebounded after suffering from bids that came in way too high.
CETA has done a lot of work but is biased - its goal seems to be to mount evidence to prove its initial core belief that buses are better than rail. It does not provide any amount of balance. It ignores things like: rail provides a higher level of transit service for many people (a lot of people who would never ride a bus will happily get on a train) and rail provides a much more reliable level of service, rail will carry more people across I-90 than new buses, and rail can provide far higher volumes of transit riders during peak hours. There's more. But it is ignored by CETA, which goes to work every day and bats the same ball to the same place.
Eric is on to something here. So is Orbusmax. The only real conservative GOP idea on transportation in the past 10 years his Kemper Freeman's half-baked road builing bonanza - which would cost taxpayers many 10s of billions more than any other ideas out there. More efficient use of current and future roads and bridges is a solid thing for the GOP to focus on. But good luck. Freeman will never change his stripes. He's spent millions to promote his scheme and back candidates who support him - most of whom lose. he's been spinning his yarn for about a decade now and accomplished next to nothing aside from dragging the GOP down with him.
thor wrote: "Anyone looking for questions answered about Sound Transit can get them answered pronto."
OK thor, I'll bite. Here are a couple of questions I have for ST. Where should I address these so ST will respond "pronto?" These touch on financing issues raised in this thread, so I'm sure you'll agree ST's responses should be posted on the soundtransit.org site (maybe a new "Tax FAQ's" page).
-- The actual plan creating ST that was approved by voters in 1996 was called Sound Move. In it (in "Table 2-Revenues") ST estimated the amount of taxes that would be needed for constructing the entire system (HOV lanes, commuter train, and light rail from the airport to the U-District) would be $1.98 billion. How much in taxes has ST collected to date (it appears to be just about $2 billion), and how much in addition to that $1.98 billion does ST now intend to collect for this system it has scaled back in numerous respects during the past ten years?
-- One of the promises in Sound Move was that the sales tax rate would be rolled back from its current very high level of .4% to a lower rate after enough was collected for construction costs. Assuming a second phase of capital expenditures (ST2) is not approved, Sound Move provided that the .4% rate would be reduced twice: first to a level necessary to generate revenue necessary to retire any outstanding bonds plus enough for some O & M subsidies, and then after the debt was retired to a lower level still (so that just enough revenue is generated for some O & M subsidies). In light of those promises to the voters, and assuming ST2 is not successful, 1) when does ST expect to make the first of those sales tax rollbacks, and 2) what will the eventual, lowest sales tax rate be (that is, after the debt is paid off)?
-- Why did ST's board agree to the outrageous tax covenants last year in the 2005 bond sales resolution requiring collections of the sales tax at the .4% rate for twenty five more years? Assuming a 5.75% growth in that revenue source over that period (last year the revenue from the sales tax grew 8.2%), ST will collect over $12 billion in sales taxes pursuant to those new tax covenants with its new bondholders. And that massive commitment to collect future taxes only was made as security for a $423 million bond sale. Why did ST need that $423 million so desperately that it would agree to collect $12 billion as security for it? That ratio of 1:28 debt to security is completely unreasonable by any commercial metric. Also, why would ST agree to collect twenty five more years of sales tax at the .4% rate when there is nowhere near that much additional revenue needed for it to pay for the construction and O & M costs associated with the system described in Sound Move?
Despite the full-blown attacks from the profiteers of growth, the Growth Management Act has required road infrastructure to be funded as a condition of growth since its adoption 15 years ago. So what happened?
"The gas tax increases were a good start, but the backlog of projects in our area is so large there is no argument more money is needed."
Why is there such a backlog of unfunded projects and why are the taxpayers now on the hook to pay to make up this shortfall?
Road capacity needs to be increased throughout the Puget Sound to simply handle the growth that has been approved without the necessary road funding. But to do so in this environment where the growth industry controls governments is simply to invite capacity in the areas where the growth profiteers are foaming at the mouth to develop.
Until there is reform, or even the simplest recognition and admission of why and who has gotten us into this roads crisis, more money into roads will only be directed to where it is most needed by the growth industries to develop. If there is no reform, that growth will always outpace capacity improvements and this will not get better, but even worse.
One day we'll wake up living in a Southern California-like region with nothing but asphalt, people, and traffic congestion.