Afternoon Jolt

Sound Transit Plan Reins in Parking Costs

$1 billion earmark for parking spaces cut in half.

By Josh Feit March 31, 2016

Jolt axth2t

There's a lot to be antsy about in the proposed $50 billion Sound Transit Three project. For example, why is it scheduled further out than your grandson's bris?

But as opposed to initial signs, it turns out excessive spending on parking is not one of the red flags on the list.

Like everybody else in town, I'm thrilled about the recent light rail expansion. You know transit is working when it doesn't only help you get to and from work, but you also find yourself using it on the fly socially; try taking light rail to the International District and catching the water taxi at Pier 50 to Alki Beach for Saturday lunch at Marination Station. (Yum, sexy tofu tacos.)

But also like a lot of transit advocates in town, I'm concerned about the slave-to-the-spine mentality of the new $50 billion ST3 proposal. It feels like King County Executive Dow Constantine and the ST board are chasing votes (with a must-please-everybody approach) more than they're taking notes—on how you actually build an efficient transit system.

Pro-tip: building from the core out, rather than creating some hybrid NYC subway/New Jersey Transit line all in one, is the preferred planning option. I've been fretting about the dangers of sprawl oriented development (an unintended consequence of suburban transit lines) since 2007.

However, one of the indicators of transit oriented sprawl is the rate at which transit agencies build parking stalls and garages along with their transit. And in the runup to the ST3 proposal debut, I was hung up the $1 billion on roughly 18,000 new parking stalls. But now that the proposal is on the table, I've crunched the numbers and the money earmarked for parking facilities comes out to only $470 million for 8,440 stalls. Out of the nearly $20 billion in total capital costs, we're looking at just 2.3 percent of the budget. (By the way, the $50 billion number—versus $20 billion—reflects ongoing operations and maintenance costs, inflation, and debt service.)

Footnote: There were a few projects—the North Sounder parking program, the Rapid Ride C and D capital improvement project, and the South Sounder capital improvements project—that identified parking components, but notably didn't include a price tag. For example, the planning document on "Early Deliverables" notes: "This project would provide an early deliverable within the ST3 System Plan by providing additional parking at Mukilteo and Edmonds Sounder Stations," without ever flagging the actual parking costs.

Having said that, the Jolt's on me.

It's unlikely the unknown dollar figures for parking projects—smaller elements from a batch of larger projects that total about $500 million overall—would ultimately jack the $470 million identified for parking projects anywhere close to $1 billion.  

What's more: There's about $350 million in bike and pedestrian access projects in the proposal. For example, there's $4.7 million in non-motorized access for the new Graham Street station in Southeast Seattle; $350 million versus $470 million is not a freaky imbalance in favor of parking.

And meanwhile, some Sound Transit Board members—see this morning's editorial—are thinking about changing ST policy and charging for parking. Perhaps that new revenue could be used to balance out the non-motorized access/parking equation even more. 

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