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Sound Transit keeps moving forward despite attacks from Tim Eyman, right wing talk radio

Ride The Wave may be Sound Transit’s current and best known slogan, but it’s not the only tagline the agency has used during its two plus decades of operations.

Around the turn of the century, as Sound Transit was working to develop more realistic plans for building the network of light rail, commuter rail, and express bus service authorized by voters in the 1996 Sound Move vote, it had a different motto: Moving Forward. Those words no longer appear prominently on Sound Transit’s website or public documents like they once did, but the sentiment they stand for remains deeply infused in the agency’s culture — as evidenced by its leadership’s commitment to accelerating and delivering projects in uncertain times.

Last year, voters in Sound Transit’s jurisdiction gave it the green light to extend Link light rail in all directions, develop new bus rapid transit lines in key corridors, add service hours to ST Express routes, and expand Sounder commuter rail with more trains and more stations, handily approving the agency’s Phase III expansion proposal. The outcome of that vote left the agency’s critics stunned and infuriated; disgraced initiative promoter Tim Eyman memorably characterized it as “a gut punch” when asked by a reporter for his reaction to the election results.

Shock has since given way to anger and scheming. Eyman — along with his Sound Transit-loathing accomplices on right wing talk radio — are hell bent on “sticking it to Sound Transit”. Their objective? Force the cancellation of as many voter-approved ST3 projects as possible by sabotaging the agency’s funding.

Eyman tried twice in 2016 to qualify a statewide initiative that would repeal Sound Transit’s authority to levy vehicle fees. Both attempts ended in failure, but Eyman has decided to try again. For this attempt, he’s getting help from right wing talk radio hosts like John Carlson, Dori Monson, and Jason Rantz, who have been using their programs to beat the drums for Sound Transit’s incapacitation.

Their yapping has seemingly gotten louder and sillier with each passing week. Fortunately, neither their on-air rants nor Eyman’s multiweekly email tantrums have stopped Sound Transit from getting the people’s work done.

Last week, the agency hosted an event at the site of its future Northgate Link light rail station with U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, who represents Seattle in the U.S. House. Representatives of local media outlets were afforded the opportunity to see the progress the agency’s contractors have been making towards the completion of North Link, which is scheduled to open in 2021.

North Link will bring light rail service to Northgate via the U District and Roosevelt neighborhoods, which will each have an underground station. At Northgate, the alignment transitions to an elevated configuration alongside Interstate 5 and the Northgate mall. Construction of the three station North Link extension is proceeding both on schedule and on budget, Sound Transit says.

Happily, North Link’s tunnels and cross passages have already been dug, which means the most challenging components of the extension are already done with.

But Sound Transit won’t be stopping at Northgate. When North Link service begins in a few years, the agency wants to be well on its way to Lynnwood and beyond. Weary commuters throughout the region want alternatives to gridlocked highways like I-5 as fast as possible — and Sound Transit is anxious to deliver for them.

Whether the agency can succeed at controlling costs and finishing on time or not will depend on whether Congress defies Donald Trump and keeps federal dollars flowing to transit projects. Trump’s budget office has proposed gutting funding for Amtrak and public transportation all over the country.

Lynnwood Link is among the projects that would be affected.

Pillars at the site of the future Northgate Link Light Rail station

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“We are grateful for the leadership of Congresswoman Jayapal, Congressman Rick Larsen, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell and other members of our congressional delegation toward maintaining critical federal transit funding, and particularly the $1.17 billion grant for starting Lynnwood construction next year,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said, emphasizing the importance of federal dollars to past, present, and future Link light rail projects.

“Federal funding for Link light rail is critically important to connecting our communities and strengthening our economy,” agreed Jayapal, who has taken up the mantle once worn by Jim McDermott as greater Seattle’s champion in the United States House of Representatives.

“Our region is doing its part to fund the growth of our mass transit system. But without strong federal partnership, project timelines will be thrown off and residents will continue to struggle with congestion,” she noted.

“I will do everything I can to ensure that the Federal Transit Administration follows through on funding the Lynnwood Link so that we can deliver the high-quality transit our region needs without harmful delays.”

The Northgate Station construction site is a busy place. Absher Construction serves as general contractor for the project, while subcontractor Granite Construction is responsible for the elevated guideway. Jacobs Engineering and CH2M are responsible for construction management through a joint venture, North Star.

Wide angle view of the Northgate Station construction site

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It is worth remembering that Sound Transit’s original Central Link line and University Link extension (which opened last year) would not have been built without federal dollars. The agency in 2003 secured a hard-won commitment from the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress to provide money to construct Link’s first twelve stations, trackway, and initial maintenance base.

Sound Transit wasted no time in getting started once Congress had given the project its blessing. Within weeks of getting the green light, ground was broken, beginning nearly six years of construction and later systems testing.

In 2007, Sound Transit finalized an agreement with the Port of Seattle to speed up completion of Airport Link. The SeaTac/Airport station ultimately opened to the public just five months after the initial twelve stations.

By that point, Sound Transit was already hard at work on University Link, an extension financed to an even greater extent with federal dollars than the original line. U-Link opened in the spring of 2016, six months ahead of schedule and over a hundred millions under budget, to wide acclaim. The inauguration of service to Capitol Hill and University of Washington prompted an unprecedented ridership boom that impressed critics and boosters of Sound Transit alike.

U-Link’s debut was followed in September of 2016 by the opening of Angle Lake Link, a new southbound terminus located in the City of SeaTac.

Angle Lake Station celebrated its first anniversary yesterday.

Meanwhile, today, Sound Transit inaugurated two new Sounder round trips on its south line, demonstrating it’s actively working to provide Pierce County commuters with more options for getting to work without a car.

“The new trains will provide more choices, more capacity and more frequent departures,” the agency said in a news release distributed last month.

“With the addition of these two trains, there will be thirteen daily roundtrips on the Sounder south line in South King and Pierce counties. During peak hours, Sounder trains will arrive as often as every twenty minutes.”

“In the morning peak, an additional train will run between the first Lakewood departure at 4:36 AM and the 5:45 AM departure. This additional train will help ease congestion on the line’s most crowded trains.”

There are also improvements to Sounder’s PM schedule.

“In the afternoon, the new schedule will provide earlier service to Lakewood during the traditional peak, and reduce the gap between the first and second trains to 40 minutes,” Sound Transit explains.

“To enable this earlier departure, the 2:35 PM southbound train will terminate in Tacoma, with connecting express bus service from Puyallup to Lakewood. The last evening trip will depart King Street Station ten minutes later, at 6:30 PM. Additionally, a third reverse-peak roundtrip will be added, allowing late morning travel to Tacoma and early afternoon travel to Seattle.”

Finally, to ensure more people can utilize the midday train that Sound Transit debuted a year ago, additional cars are being added.

The new schedule can be found here.

Because Sound Transit does not own the right of way Sounder operates on, it has not been able to expand the service as fast as as many commuters or its own leadership would have liked. (Sound Transit pays Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway both for access to its right of way and to operate its Sounder trains.) Nevertheless, the service has a much better schedule than it did when it first launched around the turn of the century.

In addition to regular weekday service, Sound Transit also operates special “game day” service to help fans get to events at Safeco and CenturyLink fields.

Sounder South does not yet have a late evening train running in either direction, which it really ought to have to accommodate people who get off work late or wish to spend the first couple hours of their evening in the city.

These developments show that Sound Transit and its many partners have become adept at making progress on multiple fronts simultaneously, which is great news for everybody, even transit haters.

Projects are presently in the planning phase, in the design phase, or are under construction in every single subarea within the agency’s jurisdiction.

The now-completed Angle Lake Station in SeaTac — along with the construction zones dotting the Eastside and Seattle neighborhoods north of the Ship Canal — are visible proof that the projects financed by the ST2 system expansion approved by voters eight years ago will soon be a reality.

Sound Transit’s staff and board are doing their best to speed up the successor ST3 projects approved last year to liberate even more communities from lack of mobility options, but those efforts will be for naught if Eyman and company succeed in their sinister quest to cripple Sound Transit. That’s why NPI is working to ensure Eyman’s ill-conceived I-947 gets the vigorous opposition that it deserves.