NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Sound Transit rolls forward with ST3 projects while Legislature dithers on state budget

Ear­ly this after­noon, Sound Tran­sit’s elect­ed lead­er­ship held a press con­fer­ence to announce a series of strate­gic ini­tia­tives aimed at stream­lin­ing and accel­er­at­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of our vot­er-approved ST3 sys­tem expan­sion plan.

Fol­low­ing that press con­fer­ence, the agen­cy’s board of direc­tors held a busi­ness meet­ing in Union Sta­tion’s Ruth Fish­er Board­room and approved motions autho­riz­ing the acqui­si­tion of prop­er­ty (real estate) and equip­ment (new light rail vehi­cles) for new light rail exten­sions run­ning north, south, and east.

“Today we’re push­ing the ‘go’ but­ton on crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture expan­sions to serve the peo­ple of our region,” said Sound Tran­sit Board Chair and Sno­homish Coun­ty Exec­u­tive Dave Somers. “These projects will help keep com­muters, freight, and our econ­o­my mov­ing as our pop­u­la­tion grows and our con­ges­tion wors­ens. It’s imper­a­tive we deliv­er the projects vot­ers have approved with an eye towards sav­ing mon­ey and being as effi­cient as pos­si­ble.”

Somers was joined for the press con­fer­ence by Sound Tran­sit CEO Peter Rogoff and Board Vice Chairs Mar­i­lyn Strick­land of Taco­ma and John Mar­chione of Red­mond. Strick­land not­ed they’d been to a Puget Sound Region­al Coun­cil meet­ing that morn­ing where it was high­light­ed that Sound Tran­sit is the fastest grow­ing tran­sit agency in the Unit­ed States, thanks to the Uni­ver­si­ty Link-sparked rid­er­ship boom.

The three kept their remarks focused on the need for the projects Sound Tran­sit is work­ing on, and did not com­ment on any state leg­isla­tive mat­ters.

But they did­n’t need to. Actions speak loud­er than words, and Sound Tran­sit’s lead­er­ship demon­strat­ed today that they’re all about action.

While the Leg­is­la­ture dithers and pro­cras­ti­nates on get­ting a bud­get togeth­er, Sound Tran­sit is rolling for­ward, work­ing hard to fig­ure out how to get more light rail, com­muter rail, and bus ser­vice (includ­ing bus rapid tran­sit) to the peo­ple. The agency is deter­mined to speed up project deliv­ery, and is realign­ing its peo­ple and process­es in order to get more ser­vice to more neigh­bor­hoods more quick­ly.

Sound Tran­sit explains:

To meet the expe­dit­ed time­lines in the final Sound Tran­sit 3 pack­age, the agency will start projects soon­er and col­lab­o­rate with cities, stake­hold­ers and pri­vate cit­i­zens ear­li­er and more inten­sive­ly.

The great­est poten­tial for improve­ments falls in the plan­ning, envi­ron­men­tal and per­mit­ting phas­es of projects. The agency will focus on iden­ti­fy­ing pre­ferred routes and sta­tion loca­tions ear­li­er, stream­lin­ing the num­ber of alter­na­tives stud­ied, acquir­ing real estate soon­er, and devel­op­ing ear­ly per­mit­ting plans with part­ner agen­cies.

The plan will also guide sig­nif­i­cant inter­nal process improve­ments. Project teams will include all dis­ci­plines, with a focus on inte­grat­ing work func­tions across depart­ments, elim­i­nat­ing depart­men­tal hand-offs between project phas­es. Co-loca­tion of staff for each project in the same work space will increase effi­cien­cy.

The excerpt above con­tains some famil­iar buzz­words, to be sure, but essen­tial­ly what Sound Tran­sit is say­ing is, we’re not sat­is­fied with the sta­tus quo. We think we can do bet­ter, so we’re reor­ga­niz­ing inter­nal­ly to become more effec­tive at deliv­er­ing projects, and we want to become a mod­el part­ner to our cities too.

Sound Tran­sit’s com­mit­ment to reform­ing itself to bet­ter serve tax­pay­ers and rid­ers is admirable. Con­trast that with how the Leg­is­la­ture has been con­duct­ing its busi­ness late­ly (which is sup­posed to be the peo­ple’s busi­ness).

When you com­pare the two insti­tu­tions, the dif­fer­ences are stark.

Sound Tran­sit oper­ates in a busi­nesslike, inven­tive fash­ion; the Leg­is­la­ture, mean­while, has become known for polit­i­cal the­ater and grid­lock, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the last four years, thanks to Repub­li­cans’ grip on the state Sen­ate.

The elect­ed lead­ers and pub­lic ser­vants at Sound Tran­sit see grid­lock as some­thing that needs to be fought, not embraced for self-serv­ing ends. Lib­er­at­ing com­muters from traf­fic con­ges­tion is a mis­sion they are pas­sion­ate about.

“Through the six­ties, sev­en­ties, eight­ies, and nineties, our region did not invest in enough in pub­lic tran­sit options,” lament­ed Sound Tran­sit CEO Peter Rogoff in his remarks. “And dur­ing that peri­od, lead­ing all the way up to the cur­rent day, con­ges­tion on our roads has con­tin­ued to dete­ri­o­rate.”

“In fact, it’s more than dou­bled in just the last five years. What that means is not just auto­mo­bile dri­vers, but even our bus rid­ers are see­ing dete­ri­o­rat­ing per­for­mance… in their on-time arrivals, in the amount of time they have to lay aside just to get from home to work, to their stops on a giv­en day. And that, more than any oth­er rea­son, is why vot­ers in this region adopt­ed a $54 bil­lion bal­lot mea­sure — to real­ly give them­selves a con­ges­tion-free option [for get­ting around].”

It’s par­tic­u­lar­ly nice to see Sound Tran­sit act­ing deci­sive­ly to lock in low prices for new light rail vehi­cles. ST’s board has autho­rized staff to pro­cure an addi­tion­al thir­ty LRVs from Siemens to ensure smooth ser­vice to Fed­er­al Way and down­town Red­mond, NPI’s home­town. ST pre­vi­ous­ly placed an order with Siemens for new LRVs last fall, opt­ing to go with a new man­u­fac­tur­er for its sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of LRVs. (The first gen­er­a­tion was man­u­fac­tured by Kink­isharyo of Japan.)

What ben­e­fits will the new LRVs offer over the cur­rent fleet? Sound Tran­sit says:

Man­u­fac­tured in Sacra­men­to, Cal­i­for­nia, the new light rail vehi­cles will fea­ture sev­er­al improve­ments in on-board sys­tems and pas­sen­ger expe­ri­ence over the cur­rent fleet of 62 cars.

Each of the new LRVs will pro­vide 74 seats, with larg­er win­dows, extra stand­ing room in the cen­ter aisle, more space under seats to stow lug­gage, and four bicy­cle hooks — twice as many as pro­vid­ed cur­rent­ly. Each car will come equipped with dynam­ic pas­sen­ger infor­ma­tion dis­plays and LED des­ti­na­tion signs will also be includ­ed.

“Order­ing more Link cars ear­li­er than planned is just one exam­ple of how we’re mov­ing aggres­sive­ly for­ward to build a light rail net­work that will serve up to 188 mil­lion rid­ers a year by 2040,” said Rogoff.

“By the time pre-rev­enue test­ing begins in 2024 on the first two Link exten­sions approved by vot­ers last Novem­ber, we’ll be ready.”

Rendering of a Siemens-made LRV

Ren­der­ing of a Siemens-made LRV in Sound Tran­sit liv­ery

The ST3 plan explic­it­ly includ­ed fund­ing for the pur­chase of new LRVs.

Sound Tran­sit does­n’t want to waste time putting our dol­lars to work, espe­cial­ly if it means secur­ing sav­ings for tax­pay­ers. That’s real­ly great to see.

NPI con­grat­u­lates Sound Tran­sit on mov­ing one step clos­er to imple­men­ta­tion of the ST3 pack­age. We will con­tin­ue to vig­or­ous­ly defend the plan that vot­ers approved so that we’re not at the mer­cy of ever-wors­en­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion.

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