Thursday, September 10, 2009

Live Blogging at Sound Transit Board Meeting

I am at the nice air conditioned Union Station live blogging at Sound Transit's Board meeting.

So far they've showed a video of the pedestrian bridge being installed at the SeaTac station, which was exciting, and now CEO Joni Earl is giving an agency update. Ridership continues to be slightly down from last summer's record high levels and contract bids continue to come in under bid across the board.

On the agenda for today is a discussion of PSRC's Transportation 2040, which should fold into long term Sound Transit discussions (and ST 3). It should be interesting. Stayed tuned.

1:48-In Joni's update she gave an update on various federal grants they are going after. She noted that while ST apply directly for High Speed rail money some of the projects that WSDOT applied for would directly benefit Sounder. The biggest application was for 60 some million to rebuild the wooden train trestle in Tacoma that brings the trains into Freighthouse Square (where Amtrak will operate as well once the Pt. Defiance Bypass is complete). Building a permanent Tukwilla station is another project on WSDOT's High Speed rail list that would also benefit Sounder. She also mentioned that Sound Transit is applying for the TIGER grant, part of the Federal Stimulus package. The projects they are applying for funds under that grant are extending central link south to 200th Street from Seatac as well as the Sounder D to M project in Tacoma. UPDATE: I got clarification on the potential Link extension. The grant would fund the extension of Central Link from Seatac airport to 200th St and 99 in South Seatac. This is the next planned station on the Sound Link extension. If they got this grant from the TIGER funds the South Seatac station would be accelerated ahead rapidly. I am not sure what effect if any this would have on the rest of the South Link extension.

1:50-Dow Contantine brought up a discussion about what ST's contingency plan is if the Kent Valley floods (which apparently could very well happen in the coming months). ST said they would have to reroute bus routes as well as possibly cancel South Sounder Service if that happened. Patterson stated she is worried I-5 would fail if 167 was flooded. Sounds Dicey!

1:56-Ric Ilgenfritz is stating the presentation on PSRC. PSRC is asking the board which light rail and commuter rail (HCT) extensions PSRC should include in Transportation 2040 and how those expansions should be funded. Staff is asking the board to think about which problems should be in the financially constrained portion of T2040 (meaning the planning would be to fund and build those projects by 2040) or in the unconstrained portion (meaning the funding plan would not be completed and it the timeline is less defined).

2:00-The Board is looking at the map for ST's long range plan. It is a pretty site. Can you imagine light rail stretching from Tacoma Community College to Burien to Everett and Bothell? The map being shown is only the Light Rail portion of the long term plan. McCarthy asked why no other South Sound projects are on the long term plan. Staff clarified that the Sounder extension from Lakewood to DuPont is still in the long range plan but the map only shows light rail extension. They also clarified that no other Light Rail projects beyond Tacoma Community College are in the Long Range.

2:07-Patterson (who chair's the PSRC Transportation Policy Board) stated that they should ask to have all of ST's long-term plan included in Transpo 2040. She stated that it makes sense to have all expansions beyond ST 2 go into the unconstrained portion of 2040 because is not dedicated funding for those projects yet. Patterson then asked if they could recommend projects beyond and outside of ST's long range plan into the Transpo 2040. She went on to say, "The easy part is what to put in the unconstrained plan lets just put everything in there. The hard part is what we include in the constrained portion of the plan (where the path for funding in clear)."

2:13-McCarthy is now asking why ST did not decide extend the light rail system further South of Tacoma and connect it to Olympia. Nickels and Joni calmly answered her question. Nickels mentioned that extending the commuter rail to Olympia and DuPont was in the original 1995 discussions. Joni chimed in stating that Commuter rail would make more sense in the Tacoma to Olympia corridor in terms of technology and cost effectiveness. She pointed out that there is a good heavy rail corridor there already that ST owns and with the land use south of Tacoma heavy rail would be a more cost effective technology. Joni also mentioned that they have been in discussions with Thurston County over the past 3 years about a potential Sounder extension to Olympia.

2:18-Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow chimed in that he thinks Sounder to Olympia would be great. He also stated that he thinks Sounder would be much more successful if it had limited midday and weekend service.

2:19-Julie Patterson tried to bring the conversation back on track in terms of what they are trying to accomplish for the meeting in connection to the Transportation 2040 plan.

2:22-A lively debate has come up about if building light rail outside of the UGA is bad policy (in relation to the demand due to the Issaquah highlands).

2:24-Councilmember Conlin requested that a light rail connection from Ballard directly to Northgate be added to the PSRC's 2040 plan. McCarthy said that's great, but she is concerned that Lakewood is not connected at all by the plan (Sounder is not on the current map being shown, although it is in ST's plan. I am not sure if McCarthy doesn't realize that Sounder isn't shown on this map, or if she is indirectly arguing that Light Rail should be extended to Lakewood).

2:30-Tacoma Coucilmember Julie Anderson is bringing up some process issues. She wants the board to come up with a process to think beyond the long term plan and take more time than what is allowed to grapple with some of the challenging topics being brought up (such as extending service beyond ST's current boundaries, which would be needed to get Sounder to Olympia.)

2:32-They have moved past HCT extension discussions and are talking about tolling as it related to the Transportation 2040 plan. They board unanimously agreed, informally without a vote, that a portion of regional tolling dollars should go to help fund transit. The board then restated its position that transit vehicles should not be charged tolls and asked staff to convey that to PSRC.

2:38-Conversation around T2040 is wrapping up. Lots of good thoughts and ideas were kicked around. They are moving into an update from the Citizen's Oversight Panel.

2:52-The COP discussion has wrapped up, there wasn't anything too exciting there. Now they are taking public testimony. Will Kenedlic (sp) is testifying and complaining about Sound Transit in general, their bonding practices, and says ST unfairly attacks Kemper Freeman. He also complained that "the turbulence on the Link in Tuwkilla was as bad as the turbulence over he experienced earlier in the day flying over the Rockies". He is now yelling at the board telling the board members that they are criminally liable in the State of New York if they do not role back the ST1 sales tax after ST1 is completed and collect over 17.8 Billion dollars over the course of ST 2.

2:58- Perennial public commenter, who I heard earlier today at a PSRC Transportation Policy Board meeting, Paul W. Lock is testifying in front of the board. He is complaining about cost overruns and taxes saying there people can't afford these taxes or projects. Like usual he spoke over his time and is quite flustered.

3:01-Tom Jones from the Cascadia Institute is testifying. He is giving a general update about Cascadia and talking about the need to move forward on the East Side Rail BNSF rail corridor. He mentioned the Sonomia-Marin Rail and Trail corridor tour that Cascadia is hosting and re-invited the ST Board members. The Sanoma-Marin project is similar to the East-side Rail Project being on an historic rail corridor and connecting suburbs. One of the things they will be looking at on the tour is why the per-mile costs on the Sonoma Marin projects cost are .75% less than the ST estimates for the Eastside Rail corridor.

3:07-They are now discussing the need to increase the contingency funds by $1.7million to deal with the geological voids above the Beacon Hill Tunnel that are leading to unstable ground conditions there. The Motion passed unanimously.

3:26pm-they are wrapping up with some administrative business including approving the the issuance of ST2 bonds, which right now they can get at a low rate.

Re the long term plan discussion and Transportation 2040, check out this long range plan map

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