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 25, 2008

Sane Transit tries to rein in Sound Transit

Dear Sound Transit,
It's time for us to get reacquainted--We, the voters and taxpayers, and you, the agency taking billions in public tax dollars. I must admit we've been feeling a little neglected, ignored even. You know how we are, we get angry but we don't always know how to express it. Which is why it's so nice that the lawyers have done it for us. I don't mean to beat around the bush. So, it's time for a revote on light rail, and maybe commuter rail too. It's hard to face but really, it's time.
Luv, a Northgate resident

And, if the public's will is not enough, there's also watchdog group Sane Transit's recent Valentine letter to Sound Transit. The note is intended, by way of pre-emptive legal strike, to save Sound Transit, and taxpayers, a costly financing failure like the WPPSS scandal in the early '80s.

At a briefing last month, City Councilmember Nick Licata asked Sound Transit executive director Joni Earl what assurance she could provide that the public still supports the light rail project, given that it is only two-thirds the length that was voted on, $1 billion more expensive, and projects only one-third of the original estimated ridership.

After a long silence, Earl answered that Sound Transit assumed the support was still there, so there's no need to allow the public to vote for alternatives. City Councilmember and Sound Transit Boardmember Richard McIver then asked if there is any evidence that the public does not support the current project.

They both really ought to know better, but since the truth can be hard to see when you're smitten with dollar signs. Maybe a quick look at three polls about light rail planning will shed some light on the public's wishes.

The Polls

Three polls were done in 2001: The Seattle Times did a poll on Sound Transit's Link light rail project last May. Last June, Sound Transit polled on how, as an agency, it was perceived. King County polled on Sound Transit's Link light rail project and alternatives in December.

The Seattle Times poll and the King County poll each asked whether there should be a revote. The Seattle Times poll showed 50 percent yes on revote, 40 percent no, 10 percent no answer. The King County poll six months later showed 67.5 percent yes to revote on a new plan, to 19 percent no, and 13.5 percent no answer.

The Sound Transit poll did not ask about a revote. What Sound Transit did ask is this: If light rail cannot be built according to the original plan, should we scrap light rail altogether and use the funds for other transportation services (28 percent), or decide what we can build with the currently available funds and start building light rail immediately (52 percent). Interestingly, seven percent voted for both options. The problem with this question is that it doesn't provide any other regional high capacity alternative, such as monorail or bus rapid transit, or a new light rail plan. We are offered either a portion of the current plan, or the appearance that nothing can or will be done to provide a new corridor.

The agency is currently straitjacketed by the need to save a semblance of the 1996 plan, despite the blown budget. It has led to all kinds of Orwellian word games. For instance, voter-approved Phase I from the U-District to SeaTac Airport has now morphed into two parts: the optimistic-sounding "initial segment," which runs instead from downtown to Tukwila, and the currently unfunded "extension of Phase I" from downtown to the U-District--sounds like we may get a bonus!

'Sane' Comes Calling

Requiring a revote is a job for our elected officials, the Sound Transit Board. If board members don't read the polls, hopefully they will read the letter sent to them recently by Sane Transit, a group of "civic leaders, lawmakers, business people and concerned taxpayers." It says the law prohibits Sound Transit from using tax funds to build the currently planned light rail project without a new vote of the people. Actually, it includes Sounder commuter rail as well.

Current light rail planning is in violation of Washington State Supreme Court rulings because projects funded by voter approved taxes must be built in "substantially" the form approved by the vote. Sane Transit also contends that Sounder commuter rail is in violation because the State Legislature specifically prohibited Sound Transit from spending tax revenues on commuter rail unless the cost of the system is at least as economical per passenger per mile as bus transit.

Bond (Just Bond)

Sane Transit cites legal rulings dating back to the '20s stating that a government agency cannot issue bonds for a project that deviates from that approved by voters. $350 million worth of bonds have already been issued for light rail construction, and there are plans to issue $1 billion more. If the rail projects were ruled illegal by Washington State legal precedent, the taxes meant to repay the bonds would be disallowed and the bonds would go into default. Sane Transit mentions that if Link light rail proceeds, there is sure to be legal challenge. Sound Transit can go to court to get a preemptive ruling on the bonds' validity (and utilize the 100 law firms it keeps on retainer), or the Board could get a revote on a new plan.


The Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) defaulted on $2.25 billion worth of bonds twenty years ago, when the costs for a project to build five nuclear reactors ballooned out of control and the need for the expensive plants was questioned. Four of the plants were not completed. The State Supreme Court ruled that public utilities that had bought into the project weren't liable to pay for the project, and Wall Street was left out in the cold with the biggest bond default in U.S. history. Sane Transit claims its forewarning is to nip a "WPPSS on Wheels" scenario in the bud.

Palliatives like "We've just got to get started" suggest that Link supporters are afraid that if we lose Link, we get nothing. They're still living in the world of the early '90s, when only environmentalists were for transit. Now even Eastside Republicans want more transit. Every poll says that transportation is the No. 1 issue. If the Sound Transit Board does not ask for a revote, it is because they don't want to know the outcome. It's time to recognize that we don't need just any "alternative," we need alternatives that work.

Tara Peattie really does live in Northgate. She can be reached at

The articles are posted solely for educational purposes to raise awareness of transportation issues. I claim no authorship, nor do I profit from this website. Where known, all original authors and/or source publisher have been noted in the post. As this is a knowledge base, rather than a blog, I have reproduced the articles in full to allow for complete reader understanding and allow for comprehensive text searching...see custom google search engine at the top of the page. If you have concerns about the inclusion of a specific article, please email for a speedy resolution.