Friday, January 30, 2009

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In the "what have you done for me lately?" department this article, "Sounder commuter rail facing growing pains" raises some question over the fiscal responsibility of rail as public transit. The article is from 2006. Since then the southern Sounder route has continued to do well but the route from Everett continues to flounder. How much longer does it make sense to hemorrhage money into this when funding for transit is in short supply? When one of the major obstacles to increasing transit usage is over crowded buses should Sound Transit continue to shell out four times the cost per rider for the relatively few that use an under utilized rail line?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trolling for Tolls

According to an article in the Seattle Times the Feds [are] OK with I-90 tolls to help pay for new 520 bridge. What's even more interesting is the last statement, "The federal letter said excess toll money could be used to pay for transit, if it's used for the Lake Washington corridor."

Apparently the Feds are all about giving out cash to implement electronic tolling and using variable fares to manage traffic. So, even though the SR520 bridge project is no where near shovel ready the State can bring home a nice slab of pork if they start tolling now rather than after construction as has always been the case in Washington.

So, my question is why not expand this to convert the I-5 Express Lanes (an oxymoron if you ever look at the traffic reports during rush hour). More money for more buses that could actual operate at the speed limit funded by drivers that choose to use the Lexus Lanes. The fat cats using the Lexus Lanes get to work faster and probably write it all off on their federal income tax anyway, right? A win win for everybody. Go HOT Expresso Lanes!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GNP Railway

At the ERN! meeting this evening I learned of a new player in the game, GNP and it's head honcho Tom Payne. This article in the Seattle P.I., Eastside Rail & Trail a Great Plan is one of the first hits turned up by a Google search.

Another good read from the Seattle Times: Entrepreneur wheels, deals for Eastside rail

The Everett Herald has this to say: Who's on board with proposal for new commuter train?

Back in Sept the Seattle Transit Blog had this to say: BNSF selects GNP/Ballard to serve Snohomish County shippers

Alec Fisken iswas a Port Commissioner. Alec says: ... and add a separate trail

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For Whom the Bridge Tolls

Here's a little light reading to follow up on:

Imposition of Tolls (E2SHB 1773)

This legislation establishes the statewide framework for imposing tolls. The bill has passed the Senate and is expected to receive concurrence in the House.

Financing the 520 Bridge Replacement Project (ESHB 3096)

The "520 Bridge Bill" passed the Senate and is expected to receive concurrence in the House. The 520 Bridge Bill establishes an SR 520 finance plan. The SR 520 finance plan must include certain assumptions, including savings from early construction of certain on-site project elements, early construction of a single string of pontoons, and preconstruction tolling. An SR 520 tolling implementation committee (Committee) is formed, consisting of three members, one each from the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Department, and the State Transportation Commission.

The committee must evaluate various issues relating to the SR 520 bridge replacement project, including traffic diversion to other state and local roads, tolling technology, partnership opportunities, and also must survey citizens about the project. The committee must confer with mayors and city councils from cities located along the SR 520, SR 522 & Interstate 90 corridors. A report is due from the committee to the Governor and Legislature by January 2009. The Department may seek approval from the Legislature to begin tolling on the existing SR 520 bridge and its replacement only after the committee has submitted its report.

Eliminating Regional Transportation Investment Districts (RTID) (SB 6771)

This bill had a striking amendment in the House Transportation Committee. The striking amendment establishes a study to determine the merits of continuing or changing the structure of an RTID. AWC is skeptical the bill will pass the House. If it does pass, it is unlikely the Senate will accept the proposed striking amendment.

Monday, January 26, 2009

We Have a Plan.... (sort of)

Crosscut may not be "news as we know it" but it does provide some color to an all to often bleak picture of the news. This article from Doug McDonald is one of many they've provided on regional transit. One thing that caught my eye was this WSDOT picture of Highway 520 westbound through Bellevue on a Wednesday evening. If this isn't a poster child for how bassackward Metro and ST transit thinking is on "the reverse commute" I don't know what is. Just remember, the most important funding priority is downtown Seattle to Bellevue Transit Center via I90... keep repeating, the most important funding priority is downtown Seattle to Bellevue Transit Center via I90... cost is no object.

Microsoft Transit Solutions

Doing a Google search what I was hoping to find was information on Microsoft corporate positions on local transit initiatives. What I expected to find was information on Microsoft's own transit fleet of tour buses to Prius'. What I did find was most disconcerting, Microsoft Worldwide Government Home :-0

Friday, January 23, 2009

If I Were King of the World

If I were king of the world, or maybe just the Washington transportation Czar, I would:

  1. Immediately convert the I5 Express Lanes to HOT lanes (might need to be King to do this on a Federal highway) and adjust fares so that traffic was always moving at the speed limit. If necessary convert to bidirectional BRT only.
  2. Build out one tunnel of the Central Link immediately and put the savings toward completing a connection with Northgate and improvements to the west end of the 520 corridor.
  3. Reconfigure all bus routes to a trunk and feeder system.
  4. Uncouple the various phases of the 520 bridge replacement

    • Build a "signature bridge" (most likely cable stay) to replace the Portage Bay viaduct.
    • Immediately eliminate all Arboretum on and off ramps and make Montlake transit only. Replace as soon as possible with a transit tunnel from 520 to Huskey Station and terminate all cross lake bus routes here as soon as the Central Link is operational.
    • Leave one GP lane of 520 connected with I5 northbound and leave southbound I5 to 520 in place. The other 520 GP lane would connect with the 10th Ave southbound and traffic northbound on 10th would be able to merge onto 520 (eliminate on street parking on 10th Ave).
    • Extend 520 to Eastlake Union via tunnel for Seattle Center traffic (eliminate 520 to I5 southbound connection).

  5. Start rail service on the old BNSF route

    • Immediately from Wilburton to Woodinville.
    • Repair track as required and extend service to Snohommish
    • Replace the right of way lost by the removal of the Wilburton Tunnel
    • Extend the service to Tukwilla Station

  6. Start laying track on the East Link from East to West

    • Start in Redmond (option E2)
    • Connect with BNSF right of way southeast of the 405/520 interchange
    • Connect Redmond to Woodinville along the BNSF spur
    • Decommission tracks through Totem Lake and convert to bike trail
    • Use single track across I90 (no need for trains to pass on this stretch with an adequate signal and control system) allowing for rail and two way BRT across this corridor.

  7. Replace the Evergreen Point floating bridge with a suspension bridge. Four GP lanes on the upper roadway plus two HOT lanes. The lower deck would have light rail and BRT. Light rail would complete a loop from downtown across 520 to Bellevue and back across I90. Trains would always run clockwise on the loop. Passing tracks at stations would allow a mix of local and express service but rely heavily on the trunk feeder concept and connections with the BNSF line. At least once an hour a train leaving Bellevue would go direct to Seatac returning to the loop to continue in the standard direction.

SR520 Ramblings

A few days ago I posted a link to the Seattle Times story detailing the $813 million dollar grant from the FTA to Sound Transit to help fund the extension of the Link Light Rail from downtown thru Capitol Hill to Huskey Stadium (ironic how the biggest transportation projects seem geared toward getting people to football games). I didn't realize that they were literally going thru, as in underneath Capital Hill. Sounds expensive, and it is but going over Capital Hill isn't really an option because of the grade and the tunnel has one other benefit in crossing under rather than over the Montlake Cut. Since The Cut is a navigable water way the only other options are to build a high level bridge (at least 70' clearance) or to have an opening bridge like the one just outside the Locks. Such a route would be possible by following Freeway Bridge and then coming back along Boat Street and Pacific. It would be cheaper but far less elegant and wouldn't serve Capital Hill at all. C'est la vie, the money is all but spent; let's hope wisely.

So, what does all this have to do with SR520. Well the Link (pardon the pun) lies buried in the station at Huskey Stadium. Buried as in 100' underground. That's not only below lake level, that's below sea level. Yikes! Anyway, a major concern with all of the options for the SR520 corridor is how the Montlake Exit, excuse me... interchage, will function and particularly how will it work with transit.

There's some bad news and then there's some more bad news. First is that all the plans seriously being considered eliminate the Montlake Flyer Stop. According the the Draft High Capacity Transit Plan, "people south of the Montlake Cut will generally have their access times to SR 520 HCT and downtown Seattle transit service increased." What do you expect for $4 billion. They neglect to mention that unlike now where "any bus in a storm" will do to get you from the eastside to the UW, without the Flyer Stop only routes that go to Huskey Stadium, I mean Station, will work. Add to that the plan to reduce the number of routes across the lake once Link Light Rail is operational from Bellevue to the International District and it's starting to look more and more as though they really want you to just drive there.

Drive, did I say drive? Surely any plan that has as one of it's stated goals to promote the use of public transit wouldn't encourage the use of private vehicles to get to the UW. Well, several of the options that are at the forefront propose to do just that. The most hideous is a high level bridge (remember, navigable waterway, minimum mast clearance 70') which would add a whole new interchange out in the lake in the vicinity of Foster Island and cross Union Bay on a diagonal to Pacific at "The Triangle". Just what that area needs, more traffic.

Another option is to tunnel from SR520 under the Montlake Cut. By itself this wouldn't seem very cost effective but if they make it Transit only and tie in directly to the Link station then it would be money well spent. The tunneling machines will already be on site and a continuation of a tunnel northward would provide bus service now via the route planned for the future extension of the Link system to Northgate. Maybe, not in my lifetime, it would Link the eastside by rail to Seattle.

In a previous post I mentioned that cost for the Eastside Link were undoubtedly going to be driven up by local neighborhoods demand for new parks created by lids over the right of way. Well, that's here in spades for the SR520 project. Huge new parks would be created on top of the concrete causeway.

A far better idea would be to adopt the "Signature Bridge" approach proposed by Go to their website and take a look at some of the sketches proposed for Portage Bay. Unlike a real bridge across Lake Washington a suspension, or more likely a cable stay bridge to replace the viaduct portion of 520 over Portage Bay has a chance of being built.

The real glaring omission in all of the proposals is that none of them touch on the ridiculous way SR520 merges with I-5 southbound causing most traffic to cross five lanes in less than a mile to exit at Mercer. That's the first thing that needs to be fixed. It is partially address for transit in a provision for reversible approaches to the Express Lanes. This would actually be a fantastic solution for BRT if the Express Lanes were changed to bidirectional transit only. But that would encourage people to use transit instead of drive single occupancy cars... silly me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Redmond ST Public Hearing On Eastside Link

Wednesday January 21st I attended the Sound Transit Open House in Redmond and signed up to speak during the pubic hearing portion. I was second on the dockett (a couple of people bailed). The first speaker made a strong pitch for one of the ideas I am partial to which is reversing the construction schedule and build from east to west. One point he brought out was that cost overruns typically affect the finishing of a project. Meaning overruns on the build across the lake and through Bellevue would most likely doom any possibility of the Bellevue to Redmond portion being built on schedule if at all.

Most of the comments were from condo owners on Old Redmond Road opposing the E1 and E4 options. They were generally in favor of option E2 which follows SR520 along the northern edge of Marymoor Park and then doubles back along the old BNSF right of way through downtown Redmond. This option is the least expensive proposal, provides the most connectivity and presents the least undesirable impact.

My question is how does this route compare to the ERN proposal to bypass Totem Lake and connect Bellevue to Woodinville via SR520 and the Redmond/Woodinville spur? The idea of taking the rail line all the way to the end of SR520 and then coming back through Redmond along the old rail line has a number of benefits and appears to be the most cost effective. (note, on the official ST plans there is no longer an E3 option; how stupid must that one have been ;-)

For my testimony I decided my main emphasis would be expressing my reservations about sinking billions of dollars into a bridge that by all real world experience is nearing the end of it's useful life. I also echoed the sentiment of the first speaker who lobbied for the construction of the Eastside Link from east to west rather than the proposed west to east schedule. Reversing the construction provides capacity on the eastside exactly where it is needed the most and can be done faster and for less money. I spoke with one of the ST representative during the open house portion of the meeting about this subject. It's obvious they have a bias to xtending their existing line irregardless of what benefits eastside residents the most. One argument was that it was essential to have the line connected with the maintenance facility in Seattle. Evidently the planned "maintenance" facilities on the eastside will be incapable of performing major repairs. I didn't think of it at the time but the answer that would have stopped them in their tracks is to use DMUs instead of electrifying the route at the outset. Cheaper, quicker to implement and nullifies the need for connection to the Seattle maintenance facility.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At first blush the Eastside Link light rail extension is a project that would directly help me, a Bellevue resident. But the expense of adding light rail to the I90 bridge and acquiring right of way on the eastside far outstrip any benefits. The plan for rail across the bridge significantly decreases it's capacity for vehicle traffic and can only accelerate the decay of the bridge. Legal wrangling amongst well funded lobbies on the eastside which want/don't want the corridor near them and pet projects (like the I90 lid) would doom the project to endless delays and escalating costs dwarfing even Boston's Big Dig.

The topper is that even though I live less than 4 miles from the proposed termination at the Bellevue Transit Center this area is so congested that no matter what the time of day it would be faster, cheaper and more convenient to use the existing bus service from South Kirkland Park & Ride when going downtown.

The rational alternative is to take advantage of the rail right of way recently acquired from BNSF by the County and the Port. Known as the Woodinville Subdivision it runs from Renton up the I405 corridor to Kirkland continuing through Woodinville to Snohomish with a spur from Woodinville to Redmond. Even though it doesn't intersect the existing Link Light Rail pushing through a connection from Renton to the existing Link station on HWY 99 would have to be orders of magnitude cheaper than a connection from the International District to Bellevue. True the existing tracks do not go directly to the doorstep of the Microsoft Campus. However, there is a proposal to deviate from the existing BNSF corridor and follow the existing State owned right of way along SR520 past Microsoft and reconnect with the BNSF spur from Redmond to Woodinville. This idea has merit not only because of the direct connection to Microsoft and downtown Redmond but it would also eliminate a number of at grade crossings through the Totem Lake area. Even without this addition a stop at the I405/SR520 interchange (near the South Kirkland P&R) provides a central hub for bus connectivity to downtown Seattle, Belleuve and Microsoft (which already provides it's own shuttle service). The key is that the BNSF route connects a far greater number of existing P&R lots along I405 including Woodinville which serves as the terminus for all buses taking the northern route around Lake Washington.

The Eastside railroad is the spine sowing the seed for light rail as the ribs which together provide the skeleton to flesh out the system. Short haul high density service is what light rail does best. In fact the current order of construction proposed by Sound Transit is completely backward. Instead of building the most expensive, and by itself useless portion of the line from the International District to South Bellevue the staging should be to complete the segment from Redmond to the Bellevue Transit Station first! Sound Transit's current proposal for the Eastside Link no matter what their desire is a street car named rapid transit.

Construction of the Eastside Railroad provides much better connectivity for the vast majority of residents now rather than a decade from now and at a much lower cost than the Eastside Link Sound Transit has proposed. This rail corridor provides an alternate for the most overburdened portions of I405 and relief to the congested and often deadly SR522 route. Moving forward the existing rail right of ways can be connected with a north/south line in Everett. That's transportation with a vision! The Eastside Link, I just don't see it.
The previous post questioned WSDOT 's myoptic view that only a floating bridge could be used to cross Lake Washington. A google search turned up this gem of a response (keep in mind the deepest part of Lake Washington is 214'):

Why is WSDOT building a floating bridge over Lake Washington as opposed to a conventional suspension bridge? A conventional suspension bridge over Lake Washington would not work for several reasons:
Suspension bridges need to travel in a fairly straight line. Because SR 520 is a curved corridor, a suspension bridge would not be possible.
Lake Washington is between 200 and 400 feet, and the bridge’s support towers would have to be approximately 630 feet in height, nearly the height of the Space Needle, to support the bridge. These massive towers would be out of character with the surroundings because it would create more noise and block views.
Conventional fixed bridges, such as the new bridge over the Tacoma Narrows, are expensive to build in deeper waters with soft beds, such as Lake Washington.

Suspension Bridge Over Lake Washington?

Maureen Sullivan & Julie Meredith,

I've lived in the Seattle Tacoma area since the mid 60's and for as long as I can remember local lore has it that floating bridges were built across Lake Washington because the depth and length of span make any alternate construction technique impossible. I think it's been repeated so many times that people living here except this without question as a God given truth.

The average depth of the lake is only 110 feet, less than the Tacoma Narrows. And, while the length of the Evergreen Point bridge is longer that the Tacoma Narrows it wouldn't even make the top 20 list for longest suspension bridges in the world. Ironically, the 20th longest bridge at 8,000' spanning the Firth of Forth in Scottland was constructed at the same time as the Evergreen Point Bridge.

The other argument floated for this construction technique is that it's cheaper. This may be true in the short term but our long experiment dating back to the original I90 span (1940-1990 R.I.P.) certainly has proven otherwise. With estimates for replacement at $1.5 to $3.4 billion one has to question even this fundamental truth. The new Tacoma Narrows bridge came in on budget and ahead of schedule at $744 million.

The Evergreen Point Bridge at 46 years of age is the Grand Dame of our fleet (her sisters have all sunk). Somehow the Homer Hadley bridge stressed beyond it's design limits by light rail is supposed to last 100 years yet experience has proven 50 is as long as anyone can hope for a concrete structure floating in the water to last. Why can't we move past the old wives tale of a floating bridge being the only possible method of construction and build a bridge that will span

Bernie Hayden
Bellevue, WA