Outside City Hall: Vote NO on ST3 – the arguments against Sound Transit 3

Sounder_Commuter_Rail_01

It’s really cool but is it worth $50 Billion and a payment by you of $10,000 to $20,000?

Originally posted June 7th from an earlier column of ours.  We’ve reprinted it to remind you to Vote NO on ST3

Carolee Colter and John V. Fox, reprinted from May 2016 issues of Pacific Publishing News

Before giving your support to Sound Transit 3, the $50 billion plan to expand light rail (and add $400-$500 to the average annual property tax), we ask you to closely review the arguments of those urging a no vote on this measure.

We support public transit, but not in this form. We join other progressives who believe light rail is a colossal waste of the region’s limited mass transit dollars and who back other forms of mass transit that are far more efficient and cost effective, such as buses, bus rapid transit, van, and car pool. Any of these options draw as many riders or more but cost far less to build and operate. And you can redirect these systems to serve areas where growth is occurring.

In contrast, rail is the tail wagging the dog. With so much focus on Seattle, rail enthusiasts appear to be missing the inherent growth patterns of the four-county area.

One implication we hear in the pro-rail argument is that living in an apartment near a rail stop will be so desirable that people will flock to the city (giving up their cars in the process.)

The simple fact is that more and more people, notwithstanding runaway growth in Seattle, have chosen, and will continue to choose, living in communities far from light rail. And in part that’s because an increasing amount of new jobs, notwithstanding runaway downtown office growth in Seattle, is occurring out there as well, in smaller commercial activity centers sprinkled around the region and on the margins, especially in Pierce and Snohomish counties.

As fast as Seattle is growing, these outer communities—east to Sammamish, Snoqualmie, North Bend, north past Marysville to Arlington, south past Bonney Lake, Lakewood, Dupont, and west to Gig Harbor and Port Orchard–are growing at an even greater rate.

We’re on pace to add an expected 1.7 million people to the 4-county area from 2000 to 2040. The region’s planners, aiming to prevent sprawl, anticipated that about a third of that growth would be concentrated in Everett, Bellevue, Seattle, Tacoma, and Bremerton. While Seattle has exploded in growth, exceeding its assigned growth target, and Bellevue is catching up, growth in the other three cities has fallen short.

And while King County has seen most of it’s growth concentrated in existing urban areas with little or no new growth outside designated growth boundaries, by contrast anywhere from 20-40% of growth in Pierce and Snohomish counties since 2000 has occurred in small cities and outside the growth boundaries, often spilling into rural and unincorporated areas.

Out there commuters have no choice but to drive their cars. They, along with the great majority of the region’s commuters, will realize zero benefit from light rail. Meanwhile rail’s staggering cost sucks up the dollars needed to provide viable mass transit alternatives to serve these growing communities.

Sprawl is contained through the promotion of a poly-centered approach to growth– concentrated relatively evenly among the numerous activity centers around the region, within existing urban areas already zoned for commercial development. The people working and shopping in those commercial activity centers need modestly priced transit centers with buses, van, and car pools connecting them to where they actually live.

This simply is not possible if all our transit monies go into high-cost light rail serving downtown Seattle and rail corridors. And lacking mass transit alternatives, we’ll continue to see land use patterns premised off use of the car, meaning development sprawling everywhere instead of concentrated in activity centers or along transit routes serving those centers.

Over-concentrating growth in Seattle and pouring our limited transit and other infrastructure dollars into a light rail system moving radially from downtown Seattle, leaving nothing for the rest of the region growing so rapidly, means more sprawl, the very thing light rail is supposed to avoid.

Do we want a regional cost-effective, flexible and efficient system of buses, rapid ride buses, carpool and vanpool moving in and out of all the rapidly growing smaller commercial centers in addition to dramatically expanded bus service to all of Seattle’s neighborhoods?

Or will we continue into the distant future facing frequent cuts to our neighborhood bus service (not to mention the exasperating practice of rerouting our formerly direct bus service instead to a rail stop), while committing 60-80% of the region’s mass transit dollars for the next 30 years into a light rail system that at best will serve no more than 3-4% of the region’s commuters?

In their efforts to hype light rail and draw riders sufficient to justify its enormous cost, Sound Transit has spent over $37 million on marketing consultants, surveys and advertising between 2007 and 2015 (in addition to a communication staff of 38 and $8,000,000 annual budget). To get you to vote for Sound Transit 3, they’ll spend several million more.

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About John V. Fox

Director, Seattle Displacement Coalition
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