The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Sound Transits Broken Promises

Undermining trust in government; Sound Transit’s failed promises

by Paul Guppy, Vice President of Research

June 28, 2006

As voters across Washington consider new proposals for major public works projects this fall, they would do well to consider the lessons of the biggest ongoing project in the state: Sound Transit.

In 1996 voters in parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties created a new transit agency, Sound Transit, and entrusted it with new tax revenues based on a detailed ten-year plan of what the agency would provide in that timeframe. A comparison of what was proposed and the reality ten years later shows Sound Transit has failed to build the system it promised.

Follow-up studies show that promoters of the ballot measure used overly-optimistic planning assumptions and inaccurate ridership figures, which made the project appear more acceptable to voters.

The cost figures given to voters turned out to be wrong. Today, the agency keeps its spending within its tax revenues only by drastically cutting back on promised services. In addition, operating costs for the system are much higher than voters were told they would be, and are higher than many transit services in other parts of the country.

Most importantly, Sound Transit leaders show little regard for what people think about the project. They say they will not hold a vote on whether they should collect taxes beyond the ten-year limit approved by voters. Sound Transit lawyers assert that the agency’s claim on taxes is not limited to ten years, but is permanent. According their interpretation, Sound Transit can collect taxes forever.

Comparing what voters were promised in 1996 with what has been delivered shows how far short Sound Transit is of meeting its original goals. (Quotes are from the voters’ pamphlet and from “YES RTA” campaign material.)

Promise: “Implement a 10-year regional transit system plan...”
Reality: Sound Transit is far short of providing the system plan promised in 1996. The agency cut back on several projects and unilaterally extended its program to at least 13 years.

Promise: “After 10 years, any addition to the system will have to be voter approved, assuring accountability and satisfaction.”
Reality: Sound Transit has significantly reduced its original plans while collecting full taxes. The agency says it has no plans to seek voter approval.

Promise: “Cost of the plan is $3.9 billion.”
Reality: The cost of Sound Transit today tops $4.7 billion and rising. Sound Transit supporters now say the costs they gave voters in 1996 were only “placeholder” figures.

Promise: “Public transportation will have the capacity to move 40% of the region’s commuters to their jobs”
Reality: Public transit is well below this capacity. Also, creating capacity is not the same as moving people. Today, 95% of daily trips are in private automobiles.

Promise: “53,000 cars out of rush hour traffic everyday.”
Reality: There are more cars in rush hour traffic today than in 1996. Annual traffic data does not show a reduction of 53,000 cars a day.

Promise: Upgrading Burlington Northern Santa Fe track for use by Sound Transit would be $470 million.
Reality: Today the cost estimate for track upgrades is $942 million.

Promise: A 21-mile light rail line for $2.3 billion in ten years.
Reality: Sound Transit is building a 14-mile line for $2.7 billion; the last mile will cost $225 million.

Promise: “40% of operating costs will be covered by fare revenues.” “Fares will cover a growing share of the operating costs.”
Reality: The opposite is happening. 2004 fare revenues covered 12% of operating costs. Sound Transit expects this figure to fall to 10.3% in 2006.

Voters have not received what Sound Transit promised. Instead, the agency unilaterally changes the definition of success, usually by cutting services, while continuing to collect full taxes.

Sound Transit’s current leaders might say they were not around in 1996. Such a view is short-sighted and shows a lack of respect for the people. Sound Transit leaders volunteered for their positions; they should know that means fulfilling the agency’s commitments to the public.

In order to have trust in government, people have to feel that public leaders, and their successors, will honor long-term commitments, especially for major public works projects that take years to complete. The Seattle Monorail couldn’t meet its promises, Sound Transit keeps changing what it will deliver, and elected leaders now want to put several new tax measures on the next ballot.

Given the track record of Sound Transit and the Monorail, it is not surprising that people are skeptical when asked to vote for new taxes to fund major projects for the next ten years.

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