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Another battle in Seattle?

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  • Ronald Dawson
    For those on the list who live in Seattle or the Pacific northwest of the USA. Just what is going on there and do you have any more details? Dawson
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 5, 2000
      For those on the list who live in Seattle or the Pacific northwest of the
      USA. Just what is going on there and do you have any more details? Dawson

      Light-rail opponents outline objections

      by Andrew Garber
      Seattle Times staff reporter

      Light-rail critics renewed their attack on Sound Transit last night,
      bringing in outside consultants to a packed forum to raise doubts about the
      $2.5 billion project.

      There was standing-room only during the sometimes tense session at the King
      County Courthouse.

      Two consultants from California joined a panel of mostly local critics to
      dissect the project, which would stretch 21 miles from SeaTac to the
      University District.

      The light-rail project, panelists said, is over budget, it won't reduce
      congestion and Sound Transit is hiding information from the public.

      "The costs have spiraled into the hundreds of millions. I'm greatly
      concerned about where we're headed with Sound Transit," said Peter
      Steinbrueck, a Seattle City Council member who is part of a coalition
      calling for a review of the agency's finances and its ability to build light

      The coalition, which also includes King County Council members Maggi Fimia
      and Rob McKenna, organized last night's discussion.

      They have argued Sound Transit should be audited before the agency accepts
      $500 million in federal money for the project. Congress is reviewing an
      agreement that would provide Sound Transit the money.

      Sound Transit officials were invited to last night's event but declined to
      participate, saying it was stacked against the agency. However, Greg
      Nickels, vice chairman of Sound Transit's board, made brief comments at the
      start of the session.

      Nickels said light rail is needed, but Sound Transit will not go forward if
      it doesn't have the money to complete the project. "The numbers have to line
      up, or it's a no-go."

      Thomas Rubin, a consultant and former chief financial officer for the
      Southern California Rapid Transit District in Los Angeles, led off the panel

      He questioned whether Sound Transit has the ability to complete the
      light-rail system. "In my opinion, you have a project out of control that
      could be $1 billion over budget," Rubin said.

      This isn't the first time he has criticized a light-rail project. Rubin
      worked to defeat a light-rail project in San Antonio last spring. He also
      has worked with Wendell Cox, a nationally known light-rail critic, and he's
      worked locally with the Save Our Valley group in Rainier Valley that has
      been critical of light rail.

      Last night, Rubin gave an overview of cost overruns for a rail project in
      Los Angeles and for other transit projects across the country.

      Rubin argues that federally funded transit projects almost always go way
      over budget.

      In an interview before last night's panel discussion, Rubin said his
      analysis of 22 federally funded rail projects in the 1990s found 18 had cost
      overruns, averaging 33.5 percent.

      He used Los Angeles as an example, saying a rail project there went several
      hundred million dollars over budget.

      "That's about the worst case I know of," he said. "It's not unusual to find
      50 percent cost growth."

      However, a recent U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) study had different

      The GAO last year examined 14 federally funded transit projects and found
      that about 60 percent of them, in cities such as Denver, Portland, Salt Lake
      City and Sacramento, were on schedule and in the black. Only three of the
      projects were more than 7 percent over budget.

      Portland is a nearby example of a light-rail project, with a 3-mile tunnel,
      that came in on schedule in 1998 and within its $963 million budget. The
      tunnel had about an $80 million cost overrun because engineers ran into
      crumbly rock, but the project still came in on budget because enough money
      was set aside in reserve to handle the problem.

      "Clearly not all projects go over budget," Phyllis Scheinberg, who heads
      GAO's research on transportation, said earlier. "It doesn't have to be a

      Ron Stauffer, who works with Scheinberg at the GAO, said the federal
      government scrutinized projects much more carefully after what happened in
      Los Angeles.

      "The Federal Transit Administration is doing a much better job of getting
      things nailed down" before handing out money, he said.

      Stauffer questioned Rubin's analysis of transit projects. "I don't think
      that would jibe with what we found," he said.

      In talking about Sound Transit cost overruns, Rubin said last night that the
      biggest potential budget buster is the 4 1/2-mile tunnel Sound Transit plans
      to dig.

      Rubin said the tunnel could easily cost $400 million more than the agency
      has budgeted.

      No one knows for sure what Sound Transit will spend on the tunnel, a fact
      acknowledged by one of the panelists, Hugh Cronin, a tunneling consultant
      from Costa Mesa, Calif.

      "Maybe (Sound Transit's) estimates are fine," he said in an interview before
      the panel discussion. "That is one possible scenario."

      Last night, Cronin said sources in the construction industry had told him
      the low bid for the Sound Transit tunnel was about $800 million and the high
      bid about $900 million. He would not say where his information came from.
      Cronin called for Sound Transit to release more information.

      Sound Transit has budgeted almost $560 million, including a contingency
      fund, to dig the tunnel and hollow out underground stations.

      The agency selected Modern Transit Constructors in August as the finalist to
      dig the tunnel. Sound Transit has said Modern Transit's initial estimate for
      the project came in substantially over budget, but figures have not been

      Sound Transit said it plans to get the price of digging the tunnel down
      during negotiations.

      Panelists last night also again questioned creating a light-rail system,
      arguing it would not reduce congestion in the Seattle area.

      Chuck Collins, former director of King County Metro Transit, was one of the
      presenters. Collins has said it would be cheaper and more effective to take
      the money going to light rail and invest it in buses.

      In an interview before the panel discussion, Collins said he recommends
      investing in more car-pool lanes, adding more van pools and more buses and
      making all the rides free.

      Such a plan would pull far more people off the roads than light rail, and it
      could be done for substantially less money, he said.

      Bob White, executive director of Sound Transit, has said his agency has
      never "argued (light rail) would reduce congestion or solve congestion."

      Light rail, he said, is an alternative way to travel. It does no good, he
      said, to reduce bus fares or put more buses on the road if they end up stuck
      in traffic.

      Research shows that making bus rides free doesn't necessarily get people out
      of their cars, said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State
      Transportation Center.

      Studies have found that free rides encourage people to get on the bus when
      they don't really need a ride, Hallenbeck said in an interview before last
      night's forum.

      What motivates people is convenience, not cost, he said, and cars for most
      people are still far more convenient than taking a bus.

      Andrew Garber's phone message number is 206-464-2595. His e-mail address is

      Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company
    • Craig Bollen
      Ronald Dawson wrote For those on the list who live in Seattle or the Pacific northwest of the USA. Just what is going on there and do you have any more
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 6, 2000
        Ronald Dawson wrote

        "For those on the list who live in Seattle or the Pacific northwest of the
        USA. Just what is going on there and do you have any more details"

        This is the same thing that happen in Portland. After thousands of people
        around the community worked for years developing the lightrail line, at the
        last minute a few local highway people jumped in with help from the out of
        state Wendell Cox's of the world to try and stop the project. They started
        a letter campaign to DC trying to convince them that the project was a waste
        of money and Portland didn't want it. The worst thing about it was the
        local paper , The Oregonian, tries to make the Anti-transit crowd into a
        story. It usually becomes a big issue when in reality it isn't. Its all
        about A few people who can't grasp the idea of community & transit. I don't
        know what's going to happen in Seattle but here in Portland our 4th rail
        line begins construction in November.

        PS. Washington State has an initiativ on the November Ballot that requires
        90% of all transportation funds to be dedicated to Highway construction and
        Maintenance. Its such a shame, with the examples all across the US that
        people never learn.
      • Mark Watson
        Being new to the transit scene, I m not sure I m qualified to comment. But since no else from the Puget Sound has answered, I ll try to give a basic overview
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 6, 2000
          Being new to the transit scene, I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment. But
          since no else from the Puget Sound has answered, I'll try to give a basic
          overview of a complicated matter. All this is, of course, my own opinions.

          An RTA [ http://www.soundtransit.org ] was created in 1996 by the voters in
          the "region" (basically the 3 counties encompassing Seattle & Tacoma). This
          RTA is providing transportation choices via bus, commuter rail, & (maybe
          someday) light rail.

          The following yr, Seattle city voters approved a plan to study & secure
          private funding for an expansion to our (2km) monorail [
          http://www.elevated.org ].

          While this are separate issues & could theoretically exist together
          peacefully (They have separate funding & different routes), it hasn't worked
          out that way.

          A lot of people are mad. The city & counties have appeared to really
          support Sound Transit while neglecting the monorail. The light rail plan is
          also heavily criticized for: not reaching shopping malls, displacing some
          homes & businesses in the south(because of surface street alignment),
          expensive tunneling in the north(to avoid above), displacing buses from the
          exiting tunnel downtown, not reaching across the lake(this was included in
          an earlier initiative that was defeated), etc., etc!

          In addition to all this, we have the usual anti-transit foes to deal with.
          Last year, Initiative 695 [ http://www.halcyon.com/phenry/695 ] passed which
          gutted transit funds & further subsidized cars by making them cheaper. It
          has since been ruled unconstitutional but the state has decided to honor the
          "spirit" of the initiative & keep the cheap car tabs.

          I believe (hope) that it passed because it was seen as a tax revolt. I say
          'hope' because they're at it again [ http://www.no745.org ] This
          initiative carries no such tax break, unless you are in the road building
          industry (it make road materials free of taxes!). It is a "more roads will
          help" effort that will hopefully fail.

          But, while transit advocates should be united against this enemy, we are
          fighting amongst ourselves.

          If this is truly what happened in Portland, Craig, I have hope. Portland is
          a great example for transit (& carfree-ness in general). And if Seattle
          even comes close, we will be much better off than we are now.

          Email me off-list if you want more info.


          "Everywhere were the great shells of beetles which men had made and
          worshipped. They were automobiles. They had killed everything."
          -Kurt Vonnegut

          Mark Watson __o

          mark_a_watson@... Seattle, WA, USA
          Get Your Private, Free E-mail from MSN Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com

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        • Ronald Dawson
          ... This I-745 sounds really crooked. Dawson
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 7, 2000
            Mark Watson wrote:
            >I believe (hope) that it passed because it was seen as a tax revolt. I say
            >'hope' because they're at it again [ http://www.no745.org ] This
            >initiative carries no such tax break, unless you are in the road building
            >industry (it make road materials free of taxes!). It is a "more roads will
            >help" effort that will hopefully fail.

            This I-745 sounds really crooked. Dawson
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