NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Sound Transit celebrates new ridership milestones, advances engineering for Redmond & Federal Way light rail extensions

Hap­py news to share this after­noon: Sound Tran­sit revealed today that demand for its express bus, com­muter rail, and light rail ser­vices is boom­ing, while also announc­ing that it has restored fund­ing for engi­neer­ing work on future light rail exten­sions to Fed­er­al Way and down­town Red­mond, where NPI is headquartered.

Sound Tran­sit, as most Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate read­ers prob­a­bly know, is the mul­ti-coun­ty region­al tran­sit author­i­ty that vot­ers cre­at­ed in 1996 to build a high capac­i­ty tran­sit net­work for the cities of Seat­tle, Taco­ma, Everett, Belle­vue, and their sub­urbs. ST’s ear­ly years were rocky, but today, it is a mod­el pub­lic agency, deliv­er­ing projects on time (or even ahead of sched­ule) and under budget.

Sound Tran­sit’s ser­vices just con­tin­ue to grow in pop­u­lar­i­ty (as we have always believed that they would.) The lat­est rid­er­ship fig­ures bear this out:

Sound Tran­sit rid­ers once again set all-time annu­al records in 2015 for board­ings on com­muter trains, bus­es and light rail in cen­tral Puget Sound. Sound Tran­sit had an esti­mat­ed 34.9 mil­lion total board­ings last year, a 6 per­cent increase over 2014. Aver­age week­day board­ings were 116,839 in 2015.

And this year, with three new light rail sta­tions open­ing (includ­ing two less than a month from now!) we will cer­tain­ly be see­ing anoth­er rid­er­ship increase.

“We con­tin­ue to set new records for rid­er­ship by pro­vid­ing fast, reli­able alter­na­tives to dri­ving,” said Sound Tran­sit Board Chair and King Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine, tout­ing the fig­ures in a news release. “More peo­ple than ever in our region are choos­ing tran­sit to get to their destination.”

Here’s the break­down by mode:

Aver­age week­day boardings

  • Sounder com­muter rail: 14,600 — a 15 per­cent increase from 2014
  • Link light rail: 35,573 — an 8 per­cent increase from 2014
  • ST Express region­al bus­es: 62,981 — a 3 per­cent increase from 2014

Annu­al boardings

  • Sounder com­muter rail: 3.8 mil­lion, 13 per­cent increase from 2014
  • Link light rail: 11.7 mil­lion, 7 per­cent increase from 2014
  • ST Express region­al bus­es: 18.3 mil­lion, 4 per­cent increase from 2014

As Link con­tin­ues to expand north (to Lyn­nwood), south (to Fed­er­al Way), and east (to Red­mond), rid­er­ship will climb dra­mat­i­cal­ly. It won’t be much longer before light rail becomes the mode with the high­est over­all ridership.

Of course, there’s room for the Express bus net­work to grow as well. As the rail spine grows longer, Sound Tran­sit ought to be able to increase the fre­quen­cy and qual­i­ty of ser­vice to com­mu­ni­ties that are cur­rent­ly underserved.

Get­ting that rail spine built out as quick­ly as pos­si­ble is a top pri­or­i­ty for the Sound Tran­sit Board. That’s why, today, the Board vot­ed to autho­rize staff to spend the mon­ey to move for­ward with the design for Link exten­sions to Fed­er­al Way and down­town Red­mond. This work was sup­posed to be part of the 2008 Sound Tran­sit 2 pack­age, but it was put on hold after the Great Reces­sion wiped out a whop­ping $4.2 bil­lion from pro­ject­ed sales tax revenue.

The econ­o­my has improved, and sales tax rev­enue has rebound­ed some­what above what was fore­cast­ed. Con­se­quent­ly, Sound Tran­sit now has the resources to do this vital­ly impor­tant engi­neer­ing work. It’s very good news.

“Extend­ing light rail to Fed­er­al Way and down­town Red­mond has remained a top pri­or­i­ty for Sound Tran­sit,” said Con­stan­tine. “Restor­ing fund­ing for the next phase of project design brings us anoth­er step clos­er to con­nect­ing more peo­ple to our grow­ing region­al mass tran­sit system.”

Fund­ing still does­n’t exist to actu­al­ly build light rail to Fed­er­al Way and down­town Red­mond, but these projects are both a lock for inclu­sion in the forth­com­ing Sound Tran­sit 3 pack­age that the Board is expect­ed to send to vot­ers this year.

Tim Eyman, Wash­ing­ton’s infa­mous pur­vey­or of destruc­tive ini­tia­tives, is present­ly attempt­ing to qual­i­fy an ini­tia­tive to the bal­lot that would wipe out one of the fund­ing sources for Sound Tran­sit 3. This mea­sure, I‑1421, would also repeal state-lev­el fund­ing for Amtrak Cas­cades and freight mobil­i­ty projects.

NPI is already work­ing to orga­nize oppo­si­tion to Eyman’s I‑1421 so that we stand the best chance pos­si­ble of defeat­ing it should it qual­i­fy for the ballot.

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One Comment

  1. What a pleas­ant sur­prise. I guess if sales tax mon­ey goes away it can also come back… 

    # by Robby L. Spalding :: March 6th, 2016 at 7:13 PM
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