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Sound Transit Fact of the Day

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Fact of the Day Archive

Here are the facts we have published to date. This list is updated weekly:

FACT #1: The currently planned "Initial Segment" of Sound Transit's Central Link Light Rail project is not what we voted for. In 1996, taxpayers approved 21 miles, 10 years to complete, $1.67 billion, from U-District to the Airport. The current plan is 14 miles, 13 years to complete, $2.9 billion, and goes only from Downtown to two miles north of the Airport terminal. (Sources: Sound Move Ten Year Regional Transit System; October 2001 New Starts Submission, Appendix B)

FACT #2: The average cost to build surface light rail in this country is $35 million per mile. Sound Transit's surface light rail is costing the taxpayers roughly $200 million per mile. And those are some of the easiest miles to build. (Source: GAO report "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise" Sept. 2001)

FACT #3: Sound Transit's Link light rail project will have a negligible effect on downtown Seattle congestion. By the year 2020, it will reduce the number of cars traveling to downtown Seattle each day at the most congested hour by only 400 -- 34,000 with Link, 34,400 without. (Source: Sound Transit Environmental Assessment 2002) The same 400 riders could be accommodated far cheaper by adding seven buses to the downtown tunnel instead of light rail. (Each tunnel bus carries an average of 60 people during peak hour, according to the Metro Transit Spring 1998 Downtown Seattle Bus Survey.)

FACT #4: Portand built surface light rail in the 1980s and 90s, while Seattle expanded and improved its express bus and van pool system. And what happened? Seattle commuters' use of transit was higher than Portland's in 1990. By 2000, Seattle's lead over Portland had become even wider. That year, Seattle's growth in the commuter use of transit was measured as the highest for any big city in America! (Source: US Census 2000 and 1990)

FACT #5: In 1996, taxpayers in three counties agreed to fund a regional transit system with five light rail stations outside of Seattle. The system they are getting includes only one. (Source: Sound Move Ten Year Regional Transit System Plan pg.22; Amended Record of Decision 2002 Attachment A)

FACT #6: Sound Transit's surface light rail trains will take 33 minutes to travel less than 14 miles -- an average speed of 25 mph. (Source: Sound Transit)

FACT #7: Even during rush hour, Metro's #194 bus currently gets you from the downtown tunnel to the airport faster than Sound Transit's surface light rail and shuttle bus system will in 2009. The 194 takes 32 minutes directly to the terminal. Light rail will take 33 minutes to get you as far as Tukwila -- two miles short of the airport terminal. (Source: Metro, Sound Transit)

FACT #8: On June 28, 2001, Sound Transit board member Greg Nickels voted against studying an initial light rail segment from downtown to Seatac, calling it "kind of a trip to nowhere." (Source: The Seattle Times, June 29, 2001) He now supports the plan.

FACT #9: Sound Transit forecasts its surface light rail trains will collide with 29 cars and three pedestrians a year. That's an accident every 12 days. (Source: Sound Transit Transportation Technical Report, November 1999)

FACT #10: Metro operates the largest and most successful vanpool program in the country. It is supported entirely by rider fares and employer contributions. (Source: Metro)

FACT #11: Sound Transit plans to close the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel for two years, putting 140 buses during peak traffic hour back onto downtown streets. This will add 23,000 passengers to congested downtown streets. (Source: Appendix L, Central Link Light Rail Transit Initial Segment Project Environmental Assessment, February 2002)

FACT #12: Building Sound Transit's surface light rail line requires full or partial buying of more than 300 homes and businesses. (Source: Sound Transit Environmental Assessment, Feb. 2002) Other technologies, such as monorail and bus rapid transit, can achieve the same transit capacity with little or no property taking.

FACT #13: Regional transportation officials ruled out surface light rail as an option in 1993 because: "While surface LRT has been very successful in some systems due to low-cost right-of-way or a very dense urban setting, its operating performance relative to grade-separated systems is generally characterized by slower speeds, lower ridership, lower capacity, and lower reliability. These characteristics mean that surface LRT is unlikely to satisfy the demands of a three-county system." (Source: Final Environmental Impact Statement Regional Transit System Plan, March 1993)

FACT #14: Sound Transit says its initial light rail segment will stop "about a mile" from Seatac airport. In fact, the distance is from 2.3 miles from the station at South 154th Street to the airport terminal. (Source: Sound Transit, Seattle Times)

FACT #15: We've invested a billion dollars building 200 miles of HOV lanes, about two-thirds of a complete system. They provide the backbone of our successful express bus system, and provide speed and reliability for tens of thousands of people a day. (Source: WSDOT)

FACT #16: Sound Transit does not yet have approval of the Federal funds required to complete the construction of the Central Link Initial Segment. This approval is months away from happening. (Sources: Federal Transit Administration, Annual Report on New Starts, Proposed Allocations of Funds for Fiscal Year 2003; Office of Inspector General, USDOT, Interim Report on the Seattle Central Link Light Rail Project, April 4, 2001)

FACT #17: None of the studies that lead to the current Sound Transit plan analyzed the effectiveness of light rail vs. a similar investment in bus rapid transit or monorail. (Source: "Historical transit technology review and analysis documents," Sound Transit website)

FACT #18: In the Rainier Valley neighborhood, Sound Transit's light rail will cross 18 streets at street level -- mixing with pedestrian, automobile, truck and bus traffic. Sound Transit will not provide safety gates at any of the 18 crossings. (Source: Sound Transit)

FACT #19: Planners have learned that people living within walking distance of stations are much more likely to use transit. Fewer than 2.5% of Seattle residents live within a quarter-mile walking distance of Sound Transit's Initial Segment Light Rail stations. (Source: Sound Transit New Starts Submittal, October 19, 2001)

FACT #20: Our current transit system was twice honored by the American Public Transportation Association as the best-run large public transportation system in North America. (Source: American Public Transportation Association)

FACT #21: Sound Transit's $3 Billion, 14 mile long initial Light Rail line fails to connect any of our region's 21 urban centers. It reaches downtown Seattle, but stops short of Seatac's urban center boundary. (Source: Sound Transit, Puget Sound Regional Council, City of Seatac)

FACT #22: Sound Transit's planners projected that combining light rail with buses in the downtown tunnel would carry more passengers than an all-bus system by comparing buses at 80% seated capacity with trains at 100% seated and 100% standing capacity. (Sounce: Evaluation of Joint Operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, August 21, 2001)

FACT #23: America's most expensive Bus Rapid Transit on exclusive lanes was built for $55 million per mile and provides service equal to light rail. At $200 million per mile, Sound Transit's Light Rail costs over three times as much. (Source: GAO report "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise" Sept. 2001, Sound Transit)

FACT #24: A typical household in the Sound Transit district pays about $122 a year in taxes to support Sound Transit. (Source: Sound Transit)

FACT #25: Two-thirds of U.S. cities with light rail systems saw no increase in the percentage of commuters taking transit from 1990 to 2000. Half saw this percentage decline. Seattle, with its all-bus system, gained transit market share, and it grew faster than any in big metropolitan area in America. (Source: 1990 and 2000 Census)

FACT #26: Because they travel above other traffic, monorails have never collided with a car or truck. Sound Transit forecasts its surface light rail trains will collide with 29 cars a year. (Source: The Monorail Society, Sound Transit Transportation Technical Report)

FACT #27: Sound Transit plans to run buses mixed together with trains weighing 10 times more in the same lanes and stations of the downtown bus tunnel. (Evaluation of Joint Operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, August 21, 2001)

FACT #28: Unlike light rail, vanpools can carry commuters anywhere that streets go -- from any point of origin to any destination. (Source: Metro)

FACT #29: This year Sound Transit will spend over $9.5 million of taxpayer money on public relations and lobbying. Instead, that $9.5 million could operate 40 additional peak hour express buses every weekday for a year. (Source: Sound Transit 2002 Budget)

FACT #30: Running trains through the Rainier Valley and pushing traffic closer to homes will create so much noise that Sound Transit must build 850 feet of 6-foot-tall sound walls -- and may ultimately need to build more than twice that amount. (Source: FTA Amended Record of Decision, Attachment E, May 2002)

FACT #31: Commuters in our region currently take 11 million work trips per day using single-occupancy cars, carpools and transit. Planners forecast that number to increase by 3.7 million trips per day by 2020. Sound Transit predicts its 14-mile light rail Initial Segment will attract only 16,000 new transit trips per day by 2020 -- or less than 1/2 of 1% of all new trips. Sound Transit's $3 billion light rail plan does nothing for the other 99.6% of new trips. (Source: PSRC; Sound Transit)

FACT #32: Sound Transit estimates that the maximum bus-only capacity of the downtown tunnel is only 5,520 passengers per hour per direction, and that light rail is necessary to increase its capacity. However, all previous studies put the maximum bus-only capacity at more than 13,000 passengers per hour per direction. (Sources: Evaluation of Joint Operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, August 21, 2001; Regional Transit System Plan FEIS, March 1993; Review and Analysis of Sound Transit Evaluation of Joint Operation in the DSTT Technical Memorandum, DMJM+Harris, 2002; DSTT Joint Bus/Rail Operations Capacity Assessment Technical Memorandum, Parsons Brinckerhoff/Kaiser Engineers Team, April 2, 1992)

FACT #33: Sound Transit's calculation of the capacity of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel with light rail of more than 16,000 passengers per hour per direction is based on light rail being extended to Tacoma, Everett and across Lake Washington. (Source: Sound Transit Evaluation of Joint Operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, August 21, 2001)

FACT #34: Adding a monorail line through downtown Seattle and keeping the bus tunnel for buses would offer just as much transit capacity to downtown as closing the bus tunnel and converting it to light rail. (Sources: ETC Seattle Popular Transit Plan, August 5, 2002; Review and Analysis of Sound Transit Evaluation of Joint Operation in the DSTT Technical Memorandum, DMJM+Harris, 2002; Sound Transit Evaluation of Joint Operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, August 21, 2001)

FACT #35: Unless Sound Transit replaces or grinds light rail tracks every three to five years, noise and vibration levels would increase beyond acceptable levels. (Source: FTA Amended Record of Decision, Attachment E, May 2002)

FACT #36: The downtown segment of Ottawa's bus rapid transit system carries more people in the peak hour than most light rail segments in North America. (Source: "Bus Rapid Transit: An Overview." Journal of Public Transportation, Volume 5, No. 2)

FACT #37: Bus Rapid Transit systems have a higher operating speed than light rail in five of the six U.S. cities that have both systems. (Source: GAO report "Bus Rapid Transit Shows Promise," Sept. 2001)

FACT #38: Three of Japan's six major monorail systems currently carry more passenger each day than Link light rail expects to in 2020. The Tokyo Haneda line carries three times as many. (Source: The Monorail Society, Sound Transit)

FACT #39: The Benaroya Co. had to cancel plans to redevelop the old Rainier Brewery site when Sound Transit took over part of the site for its Link light rail maintenance base. Sound Transit will not know until next year whether it will have the federal funding to build the project. (Source: Puget Sound Business Journal, June 17, 2002)

FACT #40: Sound Transit is seeking a federal grant for its light rail plan. The grant would cover less than a quarter of the cost of light rail construction and has not been approved by the Federal Government. (Source: October 2001 New Starts Submission)

FACT #41: In order to qualify for Federal funding, Sound Transit must show that its light rail route between downtown Seattle and Tukwila, using a converted bus tunnel, can stand alone as a mass transit route even if it is never extended. Contradicting its own position, Sound Transit states it will not convert the bus tunnel to rail unless it has a new plan and additional tax money to extend the route to Northgate. (Sources: Sound Transit Initial Segment Environmental Assessment, February 2002; Sound Transit Letter to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Nov. 26, 2001)

FACT #42: According to a study commissioned by the Downtown Seattle Association, the cost of bringing a new transit rider downtown via monorail will be 1/4 the cost for the same rider on Sound Transit's light rail. (Source: Evaluation of the Cost-effectiveness of Transportation Investment Options in Downtown Seattle, September 2002)

FACT #43: The Seattle Monorail's 14-mile Green Line will carry 60 percent more riders than Sound Transit's 14-mile light rail line while costing taxpayers 30% less. (Sources: ETC Seattle Popular Transit Plan, August 5, 2002; Sound Transit Initial Segment Environmental Assessment, February 2002)

FACT #44: Despite the effort of closing the downtown tunnel for two years to convert it to light rail, more people would continue to ride buses in the tunnel than Sound Transit's trains. (Source: Sound Transit Initial Segment Environmental Assessment, February 2002)

FACT #45: With limited publicity and a modest taxpayer subsidy, vanpools remove 11,000 cars per day from Puget Sound regional highways. After billions of dollars and years of construction lasting through 2009 or longer, Sound Transit's 14 mile Light Rail Initial Segment is expected to remove 8,000 cars daily. (Source: WSDOT Puget Sound Regional Market Assessment Technical Memorandum Final Draft, Feb. 14, 2001; Sound Transit New Starts Justification for Link Light Rail Initial Segment)

FACT #46: Taxpayers will pay $31 per day for each car removed from traffic by Sound Transit's light rail initial segment -- 15 times more than the $2 per day cost for each car removed by Metro's award-winning vanpool program. (Source: Metro Transit General Manager's Quarterly Management Report, year-end 2001; Sound Transit New Starts Justification for Link Light Rail Initial Segment)

FACT #47: Sound Transit's Project Review Committee concluded in September 2001 that the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel should not be used for light rail unless Central Link could be built all the way to Northgate without asking voters for additional funding. (Source: Letter by PRC Chair Charles Royer to Sound Transit Board Chairman and Executive Director, Sept. 27, 2001)

FACT #48: This year Sound Transit will spend more than $400,000 of taxpayer money on travel. That's enough for more than 300 round trip tickets to Tahiti. (Source: Sound Transit 2002 Budget; Expedia.com)

FACT #49: If Sound Transit builds its Link Light Rail, every weekday 272 trains weighing 300,000 pounds and 180 feet long will share the street with 100 thousand cars, trucks, and buses in the Rainier Valley. (Source: Korve Engineering memorandum to Sound Transit, "Sound Transit DEIS LRT 2020 Traffic Impacts Analysis" dated June 25, 1999; Central Link Initial Segment Environmental Assessment, February 2002)

FACT #50: The State law establishing Sound Transit created a layer of government whose constituents can be taxed but cannot file citizen initiatives or directly elect board members. (Source: Revised Code of Washington Chapter 81.112)

FACT #51: In 2001 and 2002, the "changed" Sound Transit agency spent over $1,000,000 of public dollars on advertising just for radio/TV/Outdoor/ sports venues. That is in addition to its hundreds of thousands of dollars on its print advertising and public relations fees.

(Source: Sound Transit Contracts Reports, November 26, 2002. Available online at: http://www.effectivetransportation.org/docs/Radio.4.7.03.pdf)

FACT #52: In 2002, Sound Transit spent $47,400,000 just on Administration -- almost as much as what they promised they would spend over 10 years. In the Budget document they actually say:

"The agency's current trajectory for administrative costs will, if unchanged, exceed the original 10-year $55 million budget. In anticipation of these additional costs, the agency has set aside additional funds in its long-term financial plan."

Yet, the 2003 Sound Transit Administration Budget is 7% higher - over $50,700,000. Sound Transit is spending more to run the agency than it does to run the Regional Express buses - ($50,269,000 for 2003).

(Source: ST 2002 Budget pg. 22 and 25; ST 2003 Budget pg. 24 and A-2, 131; 1996 Ten Year Regional Plan A-12)

FACT #53: Sound Transit has over 347 full-time staff, none of whom drives a bus or a train. Sound Transit contracts those actual service out -- those costs are not reflected in the Administrative costs.

(Source: ST 2002 Budget pg. 22 and 25; ST 2003 Budget pg. 24 and A-2, 131; 1996 Ten Year Regional Plan A-12)

FACT #54: Sound Transit says that the $80.4 million Tacoma Link Light rail project is being completed under budget. However, the 1996 Sound Move plan, approved by the voters, priced the project at a "conservative estimate of $50 million." That would be about $60 million in today's dollars. Any honest accounting would place Tacoma Link with a 34 percent cost overrun.

(Source: Sound Move Ten Year Regional Transit System Plan A-10; Daily Journal of Commerce, April 4, 2003)

FACT #55: Sound Transit will spend $448,855 on travel and meetings this year, $35,589 higher than the $413,266 budgeted last year.

(Source: Sound Transit 2003 Budget, pg. 25)

FACT #56: The 18-member Sound Transit Board has staff of six that costs taxpayers $658,674 this year to maintain, almost $73,000 more than last year.

(Source: 2003 Sound Transit Budget document pg. 234)

FACT #57: The light rail design chosen by Sound Transit and endorsed by FTA now includes 18 grade level, ungated, signalized road crossings and an additional 10 signalized grade level pedestrian crossings. Furthermore, the design also includes joint bus-rail operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, where 120 buses will share a common right of way with 20 trains during peak hours. Buses will cross train tracks at each end. The number of trains scheduled every weekday is 272 counting both directions.

Sound Transit intends to certify that this physical design and schedule of train movement will operate for 131 years (or a million hours) without a fatality that can be blamed on Sound Transit. At the same time, the 1999 Final EIS for the Rainier Valley segment reports an analysis that indicates there will be 29 collisions per year between trains and motor vehicles, plus 3 pedestrian/bicycle hits.

Thus, Sound Transit's safety certification depends on the point that any fatalities and serious injuries that result from collisions made possible by the design of Central Link cannot be blamed on Sound Transit.

(Source: "Your guide to Link light rail in Southeast Seattle," by Sound Transit, August 9, 2002; Initial Segment Environmental Assessment, February 2002; Link Light Rail Safety Briefing to the Sound Transit Board, March 27, 2003; Transportation Technical Report for the 1999 Final EIS for Central Link Light Rail, October 27, 1999)

FACT #58: Sound Transit's Federal Grant for light rail would only cover 20% of the cost of the 14 mile line. The rest would be covered by local taxes.

(Source: Table 1-A of Fiscal Year 2004 New Starts Report)

FACT #59: In the summer of 1999, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and County Executive Ron Sims acknowledged that running light rail trains on the street every six minutes through Rainier Valley would be disruptive and possibly dangerous to that community. However, Ron Sims, now also Chair of Sound Transit is still planning to operate such trains.

(Source: New York Times Northwest 8/11/99 and Seattle Weekly 9/23/99)

FACT #60: For two years in a row, the FTA has erroneously reported in its summary of projects considered for funding, that Sound Transit's proposed 14-mile Seattle Link light rail will attract 29,000 new trips per day by 2020.

However, Sound Transit admits that the correct number of new trips is only 16,000 in 2020 and that the error is only in the "Summary", and not in the data provided to the FTA. That is an 80% over-inflation of the true projected ridership not corrected by either Sound Transit or the FTA.

Just for comparison's sake,16,000 new trips is about 8,000 new riders -- people taking a round trip. Here are actual average ridership numbers for existing Metro routes:

  • #7, Seattle to Rainier Valley - 9,219
  • #150 Seattle to Tukwila, Kent, Auburn - 6,327
  • #550 Seattle to Mercer Island -Bellevue - 5,590

Metro provides over 300,000 trips/day now - 23,700 boardings in the Bus Tunnel alone, about 1/2 of its capacity.

(Sources: FTA Annual Report on New Starts 2001 and 2002; ST Environmental Assessment Response to Comments pg. 22 point A; Evaluation of Joint Operations in the DSTT August 21, 201 pg. 4)

FACT #61: Buses operating on HOV lanes are capable of carrying several times more passengers than Link light rail will ever be able to carry, over 50,000 persons per hour each direction for BRT, versus 16,400 for Link light rail.

(Source: White Paper "Comparison of Link light rail versus Bus Rapid Transit trunk (main) line capacity" R.C. Harkness PhD, March 11, 2003, Executive Summary)

FACT #62: Key transit officials have had this to say about Bus Rapid Transit:

"Combining exclusive transit-ways, modern stations, high-tech vehicles, and frequent service, Bus Rapid Transit provides -- at a fraction of the cost -- the high level of service that people want and expect from more expensive transit systems.

"The signal priority system of the Los Angeles Metro Rapid BRT system along the Ventura, Whilshire and Whittier corridors has reduced transit travel times by 20 to 25% and total ridership is up by almost 30%. In Miami, ridership along the eight-mile South Busway has doubled to over 15,000 trips per day since it opened in 1996. And in Seattle, a regional Bus Rapid Transit system provides no-transfer, high-speed rides for commuters going from home to work in Seattle's downtown district."

- Jennifer L. Dorn, Administrator, Federal Transit Administration, April 25, 2002

"I think Bus Rapid Transit is the transportation system of the future for the City of Los Angeles."

- Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan

(Source: "Why more communities are choosing Bus Rapid Transit," FTA/Transportation Research Board publication, 2001)

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