1. Sound Transit rolled out a $50 billion proposal yesterday to expand light rail beyond the current ST1 line that voters approved in 1996 and the ST2 line voters approved in 2008.
The ST1 line opened in phases, first in 2009 from Sea-Tac to downtown and then last weekend from downtown to Capitol Hill and the Husky Stadium. (The $3.9 billion 1996 ballot actually authorized an ST1 project to go as far as Northgate, but cost overruns forced the agency to scale that back.) The $17.8 billion ST2 line will extend the line north to the U District proper at Brooklyn and 45th, to Roosevelt at 65th Street and 12th Avenue Northeast, and to Northgate by 2021—and from Northgate to Lynnwood by 2023. ST2 will also extend the line south from SeaTac to Highline Community College by 2020 and to Federal Way by 2023, and east from Westlake to Rainier Avenue at I-90 over the water to Bellevue by 2020—and to the Overlake Transit Center near Microsoft by 2021.
The new proposal—with super regional ambitions—would expand the line north to Everett, south to Tacoma, and east to Issaquah and downtown Redmond, while also adding new lines (including a second downtown tunnel) within Seattle: with one line going from Ballard through South Lake Union to downtown and another line going from West Seattle to downtown. The West Seattle line would open in 2033 (that’s exactly 100 years after King Kong was already upending subway trains in New York City) and the Ballard line would open in 2038.
The Sound Transit board stressed yesterday that there are some “early wins” to address immediate transportation needs (and presumably to get voters excited about something that’s happening sooner than your grandson’s bris) such as improvements on the Rapid Ride lines.
Like with any massive infrastructure project, questions and criticisms emerged immediately—both from finicky transit nerds (why is the Ballard to downtown line partially at-grade) and general observers ($50 million?!); the project will be funded by a .5 percent sales tax and an .8 percent motor vehicle excise tax (on top of the current sales and MVET taxes that are paying for ST1 and ST2) along with a new .25 cents property tax.
ST says the package will cost $200 per adult annually, though that estimate does not cover the ST1 and ST2 taxes that will eventually be shifted over to help covers ST3 once they are done paying off their respective projects.
My criticism has to do with the heavy parking expenditures—$1 billion worth on things like park and rides. When ST leaders such as King County executive Dow Constantine and mayor Ed Murray wax eloquent about regionalism the implication is that the project is laying the foundation for a green megalopolis, not for enhancing car oriented sprawl by building 11 parking projects in the Southern portion for roughly 8,400 new stalls, four projects in the East corridor for roughly 4,600 new stalls, six projects in the Northern portion for 3,513 new stalls, and two projects in the central corridor for about 1,300 new stalls.
At least ST board member Mayor Murray pressed ST staff on this issue during yesterday’s presentation by asking staff if the parking would be paid parking. “There’s a considerable amount of parking in this project, is that going to be paid?” he asked—which would be a departure from the status quo. Staff noted that that the paid parking component on the revenue side was “minimal.” They bashfully added that private parking facilities adjacent to some light rail stations “have no trouble getting people to pay…”
At the press conference after the presentation, I asked new ST executive director Peter Rogoff if the policy would change to paid parking. He said: “There is an assumption of some parking revenue, but not a robust amount. The board has yet to take a firm position on paid parking all across the system.” He noted that there are some pilot paid parking projects and added: “We would love to use our Orca system as a way not only to get people to pay seamlessly for parking if the board approves it, but it has the added benefit of being able to provide Orca Lift benefits for low-income individuals so they might pay less for the parking. It’s also way to ensure that people who are parking in Sound Transit parking facilities are actually using the Sound Transit system.”
Sound Transit board member and Bellevue King County council member Claudia Balducci said paid parking “is a hard discussion to have because people are not used to paying for parking,” but added that “it should be something we put on the table and talk about.”
Meanwhile, new Seattle city council member and new ST board member Rob Johnson floated the idea of scaling back the ST3 park and ride expenditures by partnering with existing facilities.
2. On a completely separate note (it's Friday): Go see "Rodney King," the jaw-dropping, one-man play at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. It's playing tonight at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. Langston Hughes is located at 104 17th Avenue South.
The one man is veteran Hollywood and TV actor Roger Guenveur Smith. And his free verse, spliced monologue is a human cacophony of tragic history. It is not to be missed.
Buy $25 tickets online or call 877-784-4849.