Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

Costs are sinking a new Columbia River Bridge

September 18, 2009 in Blog

According to this article in the Oregonian, costs are forcing officials to look for cuts in replacing the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.

The preferred option costs around $4 billion and includes light rail. The light rail piece has a cost estimate of over $1 billion. So light rail represents about 25 percent of the total costs.

According to the Regional Transportation Council, the
bridge carries about 3,300 transit trips per day, so only 2.4
percent of all trips that cross the bridge are on public transit.
This means local officials want to spend over $1 billion more to serve 2.4 percent of total bridge crossings.

officials estimate transit demand
across the bridge would increase with light rail, because riders will
not experience congestion like bus riders do today. As a result, CRC
projects light rail would boost transit crossings to about 20,000 trips
per day by 2030.

Generally, the Federal
Transit Administration presumes there is no modal preference for trains
over buses when travel time, comfort level, and other factors are the
same. So there is likely some validity to the CRC logic that congestion
is somehow suppressing transit demand across the bridge. However, a 500
percent increase in transit demand is an unrealistic estimate of light
rail’s influence on attracting new passengers.

assuming their ridership estimate is correct and accounting for population and growth in
bridge crossings over the next 20 years, light rail’s mode share would
still only rise to about 9.8 percent of daily crossings.

what light-rail advocates claim, deliberately increasing costs by 25
percent to serve between 2.4 percent and 9.8 percent of all bridge
crossings establishes a very large gap between public costs and public

Washington transportation taxes should be used more efficiently and tied to congestion relief rather than to appease Portland politicians.

$100 car tab increase to pay for light rail

September 17, 2009 in Blog

According to this article in today's Seattle Times, Seattle mayoral candidate, Mike McGinn proposes to expand light rail in the city. He does not have any cost estimates but suggests a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) could be implemented to pay for it.

Under state law, at TBD could implement up to a $100 car tab fee on every vehicle registered in the district, subject to voter approval.

According to the Department of Licensing, there are about 454,000 vehicles eligible for a car tab fee in Seattle. If voters approved the full $100 per registered vehicle, the estimated annual revenue would be about $45 million per year.

Without knowing any specifics on how or where the system would be placed, its virtually impossible to know whethe!
r a TBD could fund such a project. Sound Transit's system is roughly about $350 million per mile, making it one the more expensive systems in the country.

Hypothetically, if the project were to cost $1 billion, it would take an annual revenue stream of $45 million about 22 years to pay.

While feasible, convincing voters, even in Seattle, to triple their car tabs would be difficult; given it would be within three years of Sound Transit's 1/2 cent sales tax increase, King County's sales tax hike for buses, and the city's street repair property-tax increase. Not to mention the negative impact removing the Viaduct and replacing existing streets with rail would have on mobility, congestion and productivity.

Nissan's All-Electric LEAF

August 4, 2009 in Blog

Nissan Unveils the All-Electric LEAF to the World (Exclusive Photos)

Nissan claims the car will run about 100 miles on a single charge and charging the battery could take anywhere between 16 hours with a common household plug or 30 minutes on a special charging station. Nissan also plans to lease the battery pack for each car.

Be sure to read the comment section as there are some insightful questions.

Highways and bridges: "more scenic or more safe?"

July 30, 2009 in Blog

The United States Senate just passed the bailout of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill now heads to the President.

Meanwhile, 'Senators
Tom Coburn, M.D. and John McCain released a report today revealing that
$78 billion from the soon-to-be-bankrupt Highway Trust Fund is not even being spent on bridges or roads.'

 Included in Highway Trust Fund Spending:

  • Over $2 billion on 5,547 bike paths and pedestrian
    walkways, including $878,000 for a
    pedestrian and
    bicycle bridge for a Minnesota town
    of 847.  An additional $2 million in federal
    stimulus funds for a
    bike lane along
    a deteriorating road in Pennsylvania
    , where exasperated local officials say the road is so
    bad they may be forced to drive on the bike path instead. 
  • $850 million for 2,772 “scenic beautification” and landscaping
    projects around the country;

  • $121 million for 63 ferry projects and ferry terminal
    facilities, including $1.6 million for a ferry boat program in Oklahoma
    that features Saturday
    morning cartoon cruises
    with Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote on the
    ferry’s flat screen T.V.; 
  • $84 million for 398 pedestrian and bicyclist safety
    projects, including a
    brochure that encourages bicyclists to “Make eye contact,
    smile, or wave to communicate with motorists. Courtesy and predictability
    are a key to safe cycling”;
  • $3.1 million in federal stimulus funds to make a historic canal
    a permanent
    floating museum in New York,

    in addition to the $28 million already obligated for transportation
    museums from FY2004-2008;
  • $18 million for motorcyclist safety grants; which
    helped fund a “cruisin’ without bruisin’”
    brochure reminding bikers to “Obey traffic lights, signs, speed
    limits, and lane markings … and always check behind you and signal before
    you change lanes”; and 

  • $3.4 million in
    federal stimulus funds

    for a
    road-kill reduction project in Florida, which will help turtles and other wildlife
    pass under a highway.

To read the full report, click here. 

Light rail ridership not as "strong" as ST suggests

July 30, 2009 in Blog

Sound Transit just released its ridership figures for its first full week of operation. See press release below.

ST estimates its light rail segment carried 12,000 riders per weekday.This figure however, represents the number of trips, not riders, served by Sound Transit. And trips do not equal riders.

For example, a rider who makes a round trip commute to and from work
counts as two trips. If that same rider took a bus to lunch and back,
he counts as making four total trips during the day.

Because daily trips can double, triple and sometimes quadruple count
the same individual, trips should be adjusted to estimate unique
riders. The standard assumption is that single riders will equal 45
percent of trips. To look at it another way, 45 percent assumes less
than half of total trips in a day will be the same person making a
round trip. This does not capture all of the double counting of a
single rider, but it is closer to accurately estimating how many
different individuals will ride a transit system.

This means Sound Transit's light rail segment is only carrying about 6,600 individual people per day. Sound Transit also estimates that two-thirds of these people come from the existing bus service. So in reality, light rail is only carrying the equivalent of 2,200 new transit riders per day.

The cost to provide this service: $2.3 billion. I'll let you do the math.



ridership during first week of Link light rail service

proves popular option for special events

During its first week of
regular service Central Link light rail carried an estimated average of 12,000
riders each weekday. Another estimated 16,900 riders took Link on Saturday and
15,100 on Sunday.

encouraged by the large numbers of people who boarded light rail on opening
weekend and have started using it every day," said Sound Transit Board
Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.  "This is a new way to think
about getting around our region and we know ridership will continue to increase
as more people try the system and we expand the line to more communities."

Nationally, ridership on new
light rail systems ramps up over time as more and more people find out about
the service and give it a try. Weekday ridership during the first week was
already more than halfway to the level Sound Transit projections show for the
end of 2009.

Sound Transit projects that
by the end of 2009 an average of 21,000 riders will climb aboard on weekdays.
Average weekday ridership is forecasted to rise to 26,600 in 2010 following the
December 2009 opening of light rail service directly to Sea-Tac International Airport.

An average of
1,300 riders a day rode the Link Airport Connector bus shuttle between the
airport and Tukwila / International Boulevard Station during the first week of
light rail service.

Last weekend’s Sounders FC
and Seattle Mariners games, the Seattle Seafair Torchlight Parade and people
turning out to try Link for the first time contributed to last weekend’s strong
ridership. More than 11,000 tickets or ORCA cards were sold from Link ticket
vending machines on Saturday and station agents sold another 1,400 paper
tickets to overflow crowds at Tukwila. Sound Transit has doubled the number of
ticket vending machines in Tukwila and reminds riders that buying an ORCA smart
card is a great way to bypass lines.

Coming up, Sound Transit is
preparing for another busy weekend with Seafair running free shuttles from the
Othello light rail station to the hydroplane course and air show on Lake Washington on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sound Transit estimates its
light rail ridership using automatic passenger counting technology installed on
some of the vehicles. Infrared sensors in the trains’ doorways detect boardings
and alightings, generating data that is used to develop estimates consistent
with Federal Transit Administration-approved methods.

Link light rail opened 14
miles of new service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila on July 18th, generating more than 92,000 boardings on
the opening weekend. Paid service running 20 hours a day Monday – Saturday and
18 hours a day on Sundays began July 20th.

      Bruce Gray—(206) 398-5069 or bruce [dot] gray [at] soundtransit [dot] org

Linda Robson—(206) 398-5149
or linda [dot] robson [at] soundtransit [dot] org

Geoff Patrick—(206)
398-5313 or geoff [dot] patrick [at] soundtransit [dot] org


Sound Transit plans, builds and
operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.

Undercutting the user-fee funding system in transportation

July 30, 2009 in Blog

Last year I covered how the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was running out of money. At that time, the feds transferred about $8 billion to keep it solvent.

In June of this year, we learned the HTF was again heading for bankruptcy. Yesterday, the House voted to transfer another $7 billion from the General Fund to keep the highway budget in the black through September. The Senate is expected to take up the matter next week.

Using General Fund dollars to subsidize the HTF is remarkable because historically the highway system has always been funded through a system of user fees (mostly gas t!
ax collections). Its also important to understand how policies aiming to reduce how much people drive will continue to erode revenues. Whether through tolls or gas taxes, paying for highways through user fees is based on the obvious principle that the more people drive, the more revenue is created. Likewise, the less people drive the less revenue is created. So federal or state policies that reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled will undermine the user-fee funding system that most Americans agree is the most equitable.

For more information on the unintended consequences of reducing how much people drive, read: State's Mandate to Reduce Driver Mobility Threatens Revenue for Transportation Projects.

Obama's High-Speed Rail Plan Spends Much, Delivers Little

in Press releases

Seattle – Washington should apply for its share of federal high-speed rail stimulus funds for safety improvements such as grade crossings and signaling systems, but not for new trains that will obligate taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in annual subsidies, says a new report from Washington Policy Center (WPC).

Light Rail Amnesia

July 21, 2009 in Blog

With the opening of the region's first light rail line, I'm reminded of what Sound Transit first promised in 1996 when voters initially approved funding.

Voters were promised 21-25 miles of light rail by 2006, which would carry about 107,000 daily riders for a cost of about $1.8 billion.

Today (2009), voters got 14-15 miles of light rail, which will carry about 26,600 daily riders for $2.3 billion.

In reviewing Sound Transit's 1996 plan, I also ran across this claim, which just seems kind of silly today:  

Sound Move is based on extremely conservative cost and ridership assumptions and methodologies reviewed by an independent expert review panel appointed by the governor, the state Legislature and the state Transportation Department.

***A quick thank you to John Niles for maintaining these documents online, which funny enough either don't exist on Sound Transit's website or are not in an easy place to find.

Obama Administration's Plan to Coerce People out of Their Cars

July 16, 2009 in Blog

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of a new report by Dr. Ronald Utt, a transportation policy expert from Heritage Foundation:

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood remarked in May that his livability initiative "is a way to coerce people out of their cars."
When asked if this was government intrusion into people's lives, LaHood
responded that "about everything we do around here is government
intrusion in people's lives," a sentiment that would have certainly
surprised the authors of the United States Constitution, a document
whose major purpose was to restrain government.

Read the full report:Obama Administration's Plan to Coerce People out of Their Cars

Upside down transportation policy

July 10, 2009 in Blog

This, in today's Seattle Times:

As light-rail opponent Emory Bundy and others have noted, the 36-minute
ride from Westlake Center to the airport, via Rainier Valley and
Tukwila, is longer than the 194 bus, scheduled to take 28 minutes using
freeway HOV lanes. Next year the 194 will be dropped, so transit riders
heading to the airport will have to take a train.

Tell me again, why spending dozens of billions of dollars on Light Rail is a good idea?