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.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sound Transits Rising Costs Plague Light Rail

March 23-29, 2007

Sound Transit’s rising costs belie logic of light rail

By Michael Ennis
All sides can agree that the region’s transportation
system is woefully insufficient to handle the demand on
our road system. The state’s November Congestion
Report concludes that travel times increased on most
every major route monitored in the region. And
population estimates show the region will gain another
1.2 million more people in the next twenty years.
Elected leaders responded to this looming congestion crisis and urged the region to embark on expanding the public transportation system. In 1996, voters agreed to raise both the sales tax and the motor vehicle excise tax to fund the first phase of Sound Transit. Officials
promised it would cost $3.9 billion and take only 10 years to complete.
Today Sound Transit says it will cost up to $15 billion
and take until 2020 to complete the project — a total of
24 years. It says it will collect the 0.4 percent sales tax
forever, even after the first phase is complete in 2020.

In addition, Sound Transit officials are asking voters to increase the sales tax an additional 0.5 percent to raise up to another $20.2 billion to complete a second phase of projects, which would exhaust its current taxing

Combining both phases shows the total cost of Sound Transit would be $35.2 billion, taking inflation into account, according to my study of Sound Transit’s estimates. (Sound Transit hasn’t produced an updated inflation-adjusted estimate of total cost.)

It goes without saying that the proposed costs of Sound Transit are staggering. What does the public get for its $35.2 billion?
If Phase 2 is approved, Sound Transit predicts its total system would carry 351,000 riders a day by 2030.
This means Sound Transit will only capture about one in four of the predicted 1.2 million people that are expected to move into the region over the next twenty years. The remaining 850,000 people will spill onto our already
congested roadways.
Based on Sound Transit’s estimates, the cost to pull one
passenger vehicle off the existing roadway and into the

agency’s public transportation system is about $100,000
per person.

To put this in perspective, King County’s voter-approved
Transit Now initiative will remove an estimated 50,000
passenger vehicles from the roadways by adding 175
new buses. The expansion will cost taxpayers about $50 million by 2008. Under Transit Now, the estimated cost to move one traveler to the public transportation system is about $1,000 per person.

It would be cheaper for Sound Transit to pay these
people $100,000 each to stay home. The effect on
traffic congestion would be the same, we would not have
to wait until 2030, and it would save taxpayers more than
$100 million.

Traffic congestion is the result of policy choices, not an inevitable consequence of growth. Spending on transportation has tipped toward public transit, but congestion is worsening anyway.
Reverences to sound business principles free a
company from the pitfalls of failure and make long-term
sustainability more likely. If these values are violated,
the market will react and force more efficient decisions.
But in the public sector, when public money is at stake,
government officials poke at these time-tested values.
As a result, the public does not enjoy the protections of
the market and bad policy choices are allowed to live on.

Sound Transit’s plan to spend $35.2 billion to move less
than a quarter of the region’s projected population
growth by 2030 is not only expensive, it is not even
enough to reduce today’s congestion at today’s current
population. If Sound Transit’s second phase is
implemented, our daily commute will continue to get

Rather than pouring more money into light rail, we
should return to a policy of strategic increases in road
capacity, easing congestion and reducing travel times for
all citizens.
MICHAEL ENNIS is the Director of the Center for Transportation Policy at the Washington Policy Center, an independent research firm in Seattle.

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