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Prospectus Blog Greater Scrutiny Urged For I-90 Light Rail Plan

In a Seattle Times op-ed published today, the former chief examiner of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, George Kargianis, and former state Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge assert Sound Transit’s proposal to build light rail across Lake Washington to Eastside suburbs via the I-90 floating bridge just doesn’t pencil out.
We have taken no official position yet on either the Eastside light rail proposal or the larger November, 2007 roads and transit ballot measure of which it is a part. However, our Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute supports system wide, time variable automated highway tolling; taxpayer-friendly design-build contracting; enhanced opportunities for public-private partnerships to build and operate transportation infrastructure; improved transportation technology to help address congestion; regional governance in Central Puget Sound to plan, prioritize and fund road and transit projects; and cost-effective, speedy public transit that is well-integrated into the larger regional transportation system.
According to Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom, the price of the fall roads and transit package, if approved by voters, would be $37 billion through 2028. This includes financing costs and inflation, but not the additional bond payments that are expected to be necessary after 2028.
Headlines in April emphasized the draft package was not structured to fully fund completion of a crucial rebuild of the earthquake- and storm-prone State Route 520 floating bridge; and that the state treasurer urges tolls on both 520 and I-90 to pay for the 520 project in full.
Against this backdrop, the Kargianis-Talmadge piece in The Times today raises additional concerns about the fall ballot measure which deserve further analysis by the media, stakeholders and voters.
The co-authors note that Central Puget Sound transit ridership is now less than 3 percent of total daily travel in the region, and according to projections by the Puget Sound Regional Council, would grow to only 4.5 percent in 2030 with increased transit investments. They write:

…the I-90 center corridor would be acquired by Sound Transit exclusively for light rail between Seattle and the Eastside. Buses, vanpools, HOVs and all Mercer Island vehicular traffic now using this inner corridor would be rerouted to the outer lanes. The result would be increased delays and congestion on all traffic moving between Seattle and the Eastside…The I-90 bridge would suffer a vehicle capacity loss of one-third compared with today. Even with an optimistic doubling of transit ridership, there would be a 9-percent loss of total (vehicle and transit) person trips. Light rail would not give us either the flexibility or the capacity that rapid bus service offers at a small fraction of the cost. Bus rapid transit can share the center lanes, thus avoiding the one-third loss of vehicular traffic.
…..The proposed taking of the I-90 center corridor should be viewed for what it really is: an unwarranted, unnecessary, unproductive, wasteful and essentially disruptive use that would contribute to congestion, not alleviate it.

A very different and supportive view of the fall ballot measure is expressed in a guest op-ed by King County Council members Julia Patterson and Reagan Dunn in the current edition of The Puget Sound Business Journal (subscription required). Another recent voice of support for the roads and transit proposal heading to voters was that of Aubrey Davis, former chairman of the Washington Transportation Commission, in the Seattle Times.
The debate will surely continue, and sharpen, in coming months.
TECHNORATI TAGS: <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/SOUND TRANSIT, SEATTLE, EASTSIDE, LIGHT RAIL, BUS RAPID TRANSIT, GEORGE KARGIANIS, PHIL TALMADGE, AUBREY DAVIS"rel="tag"SOUND TRANSIT, SEATTLE, EASTSIDE, LIGHT RAIL, BUS RAPID TRANSIT, GEORGE KARGIANIS, PHIL TALMADGE, AUBREY DAVIS