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Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives

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June 2, 2003

Coalition for Effective Transportation
P.O. Box 33045
Seattle WA 98133
206 365-CETA (2382)

Contact: Maggi Fimia

CETA Releases Light Rail Report to Congress

The Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA) has released the CETA Report to Congress. The report documents unresolved operational, safety, and financial risks of the Sound Transit Link Light Rail Project. CETA sent the report to the U.S. Office of the Inspector General, and has made the report available to Congress, as it examines whether to issue funding for 20% of the Light Rail project. The Inspector General's Office and Congress must sign off on Link Light Rail before construction can begin.

Two years ago, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allowed the project to move forward to Congress even after members of CETA alerted the FTA that Sound Transit does not have the money to complete what it promised. This Report to Congress details where there are still serious problems in the proposed Link Light Rail project including major concerns about Light Rail's safety, justification and efficacy:

Highlights of the report include:

1) The proposed Link Light Rail Initial Segment is not a stand-alone project as defined by the FTA. The viability of the Initial Segment is completely dependent on the alignment, cost, and funding of North Link, all yet to be determined after six years of funded study. CETA estimates the full cost of getting to the University District and Northgate in the range of $3.5 to $4.5 billion additional dollars, which for eight miles would make this segment the most expensive light rail per mile in world history.

2) FTA erred in accepting Sound Transit's conclusion that joint use by trains and buses of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel is best use of the Tunnel. Adding the planned light rail to the Downtown Bus Tunnel will actually reduce both its present and future capacity and ridership.

3) Link Light Rail presents unacceptable safety hazards. The 1999 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Central Link Light Rail revealed that 29 collisions per year between trains and vehicles are expected in this corridor based on the history of similar systems. If built, Light Rail calls for 18 ungated street level crossings along Martin Luther King Jr... Way. Each weekday, 272 trains in two directions will cross the paths of tens of thousands of pedestrians, cars, buses and trucks.

4) The mixture of trains and buses in a tunnel with station stops is not operated anywhere else in the world and does not satisfy FTA safety standards.

5) The tunnel was built with $197 million of FTA funds in the 1980s, a 45% share of the project cost. It is the premier Central Business District right of way for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the U.S. Ten years after it was built, only half of its capacity is being used. The expansion of its use as a Bus Rapid Transit facility is much more aligned with present FTA policy.

6) The FTA¹s "New Starts Report" displays careless oversight and incorrect assumptions. For instance, in each of the two past annual New Starts Reports, the FTA told Congress that new riders forecast for the Initial Segment of Light Rail would be 29,000 rides out of 42,500. The correct number in the environmental record is 16,000 (8,000 actual new riders- the equivalent of the daily ridership on some Metro bus routes).

7) The New Starts Report also states that the light rail project will connect several of the regions major activity centers when in fact the Initial Segment would actually connect only Seattle's central business district with the Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley neighborhoods and a point two miles north of Sea-Tac Airport, all of which are currently served by frequent buses.

An analogy, according to CETA's Co-chair, Maggi Fimia, would be "If the umpire at the Mariners games kept calling Yankee runners 'safe' when they were clearly 'out,' the Mariners fans would have a problem with that," explained Fimia. "Well, it's the same for those of us who care about transit. The FTA officials involved with this project continue to act like fans instead of sticking to being umpires ­ the FTA is not calling 'foul' on poor transit investments and it is at the expense of good ones."

The report was principally authored by John Niles, a transportation researcher, analyst and writer affiliated with the Mineta Transportation Institute, the Discovery Institute, and the Transportation Research Board. His degrees are from MIT and Carnegie Mellon University.

CETA's complete, 38-page report can be viewed online at: Click here or go to http://effectivetransportation.org/ and click on "CETA's report to Congress."

CETA is a broad-based coalition of people and organizations supported by Governor Booth Gardner, Emory Bundy, King County Councilmember Rob McKenna and former King County Councilmember Maggi Fimia. The organization supports delivering more high-capacity regional transit as promised to the voters in 1996 with an upgraded and finished rapid bus system, monorail, vanpools, commute trip reduction programs and High Occupancy Transit (HOT) lanes.


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