SeaShore Transportation Forum: April 1, 2011
Last Friday, the SeaShore Transportation Forum met at Shoreline City Hall to discuss Sound Transit’s North Corridor Transit Project and a few other issues. First, Kenmore Mayor David Baker expressed concern that transportation earmarks like TIGER are being cancelled or delayed by congress, noting that Washington State is not slated to receive any federal transit funding this year. Baker also pointed out that many small cities depend on earmarks to fund road work and other transportation projects.
Then Sound Transit Government Relations Director Patrice Hardy and Capitol Hill Station/TOD lead Michelle Ginder presented their North Corridor Transit Project update. The project will connect Lynnwood to Northgate, at its eventual Link station. Sound Transit has already proposed a North Link light rail extension. However, to obtain a full federal grant, they must submit a thorough analysis comparing their plan to other alternatives. Sound Transit surveyed local residents, who expressed a preference for light rail over Bus Rapid Transit as well as an alignment along I5 or SR99 rather than along 15th Ave.
Sound Transit will analyze a light rail alignment along I5 and one along SR99 and decide in the Fall which is best. The I-5 option, their preferred alignment, goes straight to Lynnwood. It's the fastest, most cost effective route by their account. The SR99 route involves laying extra track west to 99 and then back to I5 in Lynnwood, which means it would be slower and more expensive. The upside is that it there is more opportunity for development along that corridor. Light rail could not run at-grade along 99 because there are too many traffic lights, while an elevated or underground line would be expensive. The main purpose is to connect Lynnwood to Northgate, so they prefer I5 because it does so more efficiently. North Link is intended to be a "backbone," and feeder lines can be considered later.
Councilmember Rasmussen warned that many of his constituents feel Central Link is too slow due to its at-grade segment in Rainier Valley. He encouraged Sound Transit to pick the fastest alignment, arguing that the main benefit of light rail is that it's faster, so slowing it down diminishes its value. He said that many of his constituents resent the light rail's detour through Rainier Valley, where it runs more slowly and has to deal with traffic lights (it couldn't have been elevated because Rainier Valley values its views of Rainier immensely and tunneling would have been very expensive).
King County Executive Alternate Chris Arkills defended the alignment, pointing out that the slower speed through Rainier Valley (for only 4 miles) only slows the trip to the airport by 4 minutes. He believes that ridership is more dependent on reliability than speed. "People don't care if it takes 33 minutes to get the airport instead of 29 minutes as long as the trains run often enough." He also said that ridership would have been low had Central Link bypassed Rainier Valley since few people would board along the Duwamish and there was less potential for development there, in contrast to the great potential for development in Rainier Valley. Thus, Arkills argued, efficiency must be balanced with reliability and potential for development. However, he supports the I5 alignment for the north corridor. Rasmussen acknowledged Arkills's points, clarifying that he was only referring to voter perceptions while implying that those perceptions should still be addressed.
Finally, they discussed Seattle’s upcoming commercial parking tax increases and UW’s bid to be exempted in order to fund their U-Pass program. While some agree with this, it has prompted other schools and hospitals to apply for exemptions as well, greatly complicating the situation.
Patrice from Sound Transit called me to let me know that they don't have a preferred alignment yet because they are still in the middle of the alternatives analysis process. The I-5 alignment is the "presumed alignment" in original the ST2 plan.
I initially attributed comments by Chris Arkills to Chris Eggen.