The best rail transit system possible, today, for communities on the Eastside
By WILL KNEDLIK
Bellevue Reporter Contributor
May 13, 2009 · 11:04 AM
By Will Knedlik
A majority of the present Bellevue City Council is supporting needless expenditure of up-to-$1 billion for an unnecessary rail tunnel to be drilled slightly west of Interstate 405 – instead of utilizing already-existing track immediately east of that freeway in the corridor defining a nearly perfect alignment for rail transit service there – because its current political vision for the principal Eastside city is short term, rather than even mid range, much less a longer view.
Beyond waste of as much as $1 billion while state-and-local tax crises threaten public-and-higher education here, inter alia, completion of a north-south rail line essential for connecting core Eastside communities would be delayed, for decades, and service able to develop trains’ potential ridership fully would be rendered infeasible, forever, without gigantic expenditures to fund park-and-ride facilities as proxies for substantial in-filling necessary to optimize rail.
In short, up-to-$1 billion in tax dollars would be squandered to construct a second-or-third-tier rail program for Bellevue, with useless tunneling west of I-405, instead of simply using the best rail alignment, already in place, within Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s right-of-way.
This is a particularly egregious repetition of key mistakes of Sound Transit’s north-south rail spine, in Seattle, identified squarely by that regional agency’s new Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Ron Tober, as its “Achilles Heel” – due to it lacking both density and also parking – in his frank and knowledgeable exchange with its Citizen Oversight Panel on April 16.
Still more disappointing is the simple fact that a billion-dollar misallocation of the high sales taxes paid by Eastsiders for transit – through an almost mindless replication of errors made in Seattle earlier – would guarantee a hugely suboptimal program thereby denying many of the greatest benefits of rail transportation for the major Eastside suburbs now regularly stalled in gridlock, twice each weekday, rather than the best rail transit system possible today, at much less cost, while also fostering in-filling at two pivotal locations (as required by state statutes).
So, what are the primary features of an optimal rail transit system, for Eastside communities, which can be built sooner and far less expensively than those less-good plans now evolving?
As indicated above, the starting point for optimality is utilization of the existing Eastside rail corridor, which is not merely the only route that can achieve sufficient density to make trains practical near-to-mid term, financially, without gargantuan expenses for multistory park-and-ride garages, but which is also the best alignment to meet state-required levels for in-filling.
In addition to readily fostering 20,000 new citizens housed in close proximity to a signature train station for Bellevue near to existing Best Buy and Home Depot stores (with a Grande Esplanade creating a magnificent pedestrian entrance to that city’s central business district with glass-covered moving sidewalks), and another large transit oriented development at the South Kirkland park-and-ride (with direct freeway access for bus-rapid-transit to and from the University of Washington and downtown Seattle), the optimal Eastside rail transit system will be built, from north to south, to connect a shared University of Washington and Cascadia Community College campus in Bothell to Woodinville to downtown Redmond to Microsoft at Overlake to downtown Bellevue to Newcastle to Renton to Tukwila and to the airport in Sea-Tac – mainly on existing BNSF right-of-way available presently at a bargain price – with links to Tacoma and to Everett by commuter rail immediately and, perhaps, by light rail later.
Rail spurs or shuttle services would afford access to Lake Washington Technical, Bellevue and Renton Technical colleges, while already-excellent bus-rapid-transit to Seattle would add rush-hour service to support 10-to-12-minute frequencies, over State Route 520 and over Interstate 90, until light rail is completed from Everett to Tacoma through the Eastside, as well as Seattle, and while underutilized vanpool-and-vanshare programs would also expand.
The Grande Esplanade in downtown Bellevue would cost from $35-to-$50 million, but this investment would eliminate up-to-$1 billion in taxes otherwise wasted on useless tunneling, as well as avoiding enormously adverse impacts on global warming from such drilling, while also promptly transforming Bellevue from among the least pedestrian friendly urban areas in our country, today, into one of the most pedestrian-accessible cities in the world, and while saving several billion dollars in taxes (as required by our state’s key least-cost-planning law).
Since the cost of the best rail transit system possible for the Eastside as outlined above is so much less expensive than all suboptimal alternatives now under review by Sound Transit to select a second-or-third-tier option, and since that regional transit agency’s “subarea equity” legal obligations require taxes paid by Eastside residents to be spent to benefit that subarea, funds in excess of all costs for additional rail, shuttles, bus-rapid-transit and vans can finance free transit service for Eastside residents during rush hours – in order to add riders then and, thereby, to cut traffic congestion – or to improve mobility throughout the suburbs otherwise.
In addition to optimal rail service for Eastside communities being able to start its operations with modern diesel multiple units two decades before suboptimal transit, debilitating freight-capacity losses in the I-90 corridor would also be prevented (such as for perishable products shipped to the Port of Seattle by eastern Washington farmers), as would the years of costly litigation over constitutionally required payments of $2 billion or more to our state for any exclusive use of I-90’s center roadway for light rail (for which Sound Transit has no funds), and over whether all or just most of those billions must be paid by Seattle residents (since that city created the huge “scarcity” value of the corridor at issue by blocking any expansion of cross-lake capacity for several decades), even if both state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and also state Attorney General Rob McKenna could somehow find those lanes to be unnecessary, today, for freight and other core road uses (as protected, constitutionally, because state gas-and-fuel taxes paid by car-and-truck drivers, statewide, have been utilized).
Thus, Eastside Rail Now! suggests that a multiple-decade delay for much inferior rail projects costing billions more, rather than a superior rail system years earlier for billions less, exceeds Jeremy Bentham’s “nonsense upon stilts” by so far that but one name applies both aptly and also accurately: “The Seattle Way” (which should not be allowed to create much the same “Achilles Heel” in the suburbs, for rail, as Mr. Tober has clearly identified in that bully city)!
Will Knedlik, who is president of Eastside Rail Now! currently and who represented the 45th District in the state House of Representatives previously, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information about the Grande Esplanade is available at: eastsiderailnow.org/bellevue_esplanade.html.Contact Bellevue Reporter Contributor Will Knedlik at email@example.com.