Urban Politics #103: Sound Transit Resolutions


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Newell Aldrich on this issue.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

 

  • Sound Transit Resolutions
  • Link Light Rail Project Review Committee
  • Project Review Committee Resolution
  • Downtown Bus Tunnel Transfer Agreement
  • Tunnel Transfer Agreement Resolution
  • Scheduled Council Votes

 

 

Sound Transit Resolutions

I am co-sponsoring two resolutions now before the City Council that deal with Sound Transit. Votes are scheduled for both at the Transportation Committee meeting next Tuesday, April 3 at 2 p.m. Before addressing the details, some background may be helpful.

Link Light Rail Project Review Committee

On March 9, Sound Transit announced the formation of a Link light rail Project Review Committee. According to a Sound Transit press release.

“The committee was formed by the Sound Transit Board to take an independent look at ways to lower the cost, shorten the schedule, reduce risk and improve Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail project. It is charged with reviewing the light rail project over the next six months and providing recommendations to the Sound Transit Board and executive director.”

Former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer is serving as Chair; other members include former Governor Booth Gardner, and former Senator Slade Gorton.

As a member of Sane Transit, a coalition of transportation experts and environmental, civic, and business leaders, supporting consideration of transit alternatives, I called for an independent audit of light rail last September. This was before Sound Transit admitted to any cost overruns. Now estimates of cost overruns on the Link Rail line range from $1 billion to the $1.8 billion identified by Sound Transit critic Emory Bundy. Significantly, the Downtown Seattle Association has joined Sane Transit and neighborhood groups in calling on Sound Transit to consider alternatives beyond light rail.

Project Review Committee Resolution

While I believe the establishment of this committee is a positive step, I think the scope and membership of the review committee need to be broadened if its decisions are not to be a foregone conclusion. Given the size of the cost overruns on the Link light rail line before construction has even begun, now is the time to evaluate how alternatives, such a expanded bus service and monorail service, may lessen this region’s traffic congestion.

It also critical that those neighborhoods, including downtown, that will be impacted by station area planning, right of way construction and altered bus service along the light rail route have representation on the Review Committee. This idea has also been proposed by King County Council Member Greg Nickels.

To broaden the scope and membership of the Review Committee the resolution, co-sponsored with Councilmembers Steinbrueck and Nicastro, calls on the Board of Sound Transit to:

  • Allow the Link Light Rail Project Review Committee to consider other cost-effective transit alternatives, routes and alignments, in addition to thoroughly researching the financial and technical feasibility of the Plan as proposed; and
  • Add representatives from the proposed Seattle station planning areas to the Link Light Rail Project Review Committee at the earliest time possible to participate in the Committee’s work.
  • Delay the acquisition of property and contract negotiation relating to the implementation of the Plan until the Link Light Rail Project Review Committee completes its work;

Further, in order to make sure that the Sound Transit Board addresses these concerns, the resolution requests that it promptly put these recommendations to a vote of the Board in an open session.

Downtown Bus Tunnel Transfer Agreement

On June 1, 2000, Sound Transit, King County, and the City of Seattle signed an agreement to transfer the downtown bus tunnel from King County to Sound Transit on September 24, 2004. The City played a role as the owner of the street right-of-way.

In January, the Sound Transit Board voted to delay the schedule for light rail, resulting in a likely delay in the transfer of the tunnel. Section 1.3 of the Transfer Agreement requires that any change be agreed to in writing by Sound Transit and King County.

With Sound Transit projecting a delay in their completion of the Link line, the transfer of the tunnel to King County will be delayed, which will result in additional costs to the County and that could reduce bus service for Seattle residents.

Tunnel Transfer Agreement Resolution

The King County Council passed a motion on February 22, by a 12 to 1 vote, calling for a re-negotiation of the tunnel transfer agreement because of the delay.

Thus, the second resolution, co-sponsored by myself and Councilmember Nicastro, requests that Seattle participate with the County and Sound Transit in the re-negotiation of the agreement, and support the position of the County Council.

Scheduled Council Votes

The first Council action on the resolutions is in the City Council’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday, April 3. The Full Council could vote on these resolutions as early as Monday, April 9.

The members of the Transportation Committee are Chair Richard McIver, Heidi Wills and Jim Compton. The passage of these two resolutions is not certain by any means. There will likely be a split vote on the Review Committee resolution, given that Council Member McIver has expressed his opposition. Other Council Members have not taken public positions, but some have been very reluctant to criticize Sound Transit’s operations. Consequently. these resolutions may be seen in that light and not get their support.

I think it is imperative for the City Council to put Sound Transit on notice that our bus service cannot be sacrificed and that the City receive the least disruptive and most cost efficient transportation systems available. These resolutions send that message.

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