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TRANSIT: Is light rail really worth the cost?

Letter by Allen MacDougall, Puyallup on May 27, 2011 at 11:43 am with 21 Comments »
May 27, 2011 1:10 pm

Has anybody noticed that when Sound Transit officials talk about the light rail extension into Federal Way, they say, “The extension from Highline Community College (HCC) to 272nd Street”?

But 272nd Street is North Federal Way, while 320th is Federal Way proper – another 48 blocks. Highline Community College is at 240th Street. The HCC extension is from 240th to 272nd. That’s 32 blocks.

The extension is projected to cost $600 million. That’s $18.75 million per block! Still think it is worth the cost?

Leave a comment Comments → 21
  1. truthbusterguy says:

    Allen, may I be the first to answer your question.

    Hell NO!!!!!

    How many buses can you buy for those bucks$$$$.

  2. sincere says:

    Has anyone else noticed how many times cost overruns on the States projects always seem to have? Hey,if none of my money was at risk I could care less either,On the other hand, if I were required to put up all my Personal Property to ensure the completion of these projects,you can be sure they would be finished on time and under budget! It seems to be much easier to say, let someone else take the blame for any foul ups.

  3. I could build a performing arts center for $18.7 million dollars. Which has more longevity and true value to the com munity?

  4. truthbusterguy says:

    Want another example of state waste in transportation? Take a look at how proud WSDOT is for the $370 million they have already “invested” in the 520 bridge. Millions spent on studies and PR. And, they are proud of it.

    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/financing.htm

    The original bridge cast $250 million in 1964. These nubs have not put a shovel in the ground yet. And they want their own “big dig” in Seattle too.

  5. aislander says:

    Light rail doesn’t reduce congestion on the highways, and NEVER pays for itself. It is an eternal, revenue-sucking monster.

    I heard Kemper Freeman, Jr. talking about public transportation perhaps ten years ago. He said that the most cost-efficient and congestion-reducing method that his studies had found was a system of vans that were not bound to fixed routes, but were free to go where the demand was. If I recall correctly, Denver, CO had such a system, which proved out, but dismantled it for political reasons. There was no organized constituency for it, since the riders and car drivers who both benefited didn’t really count.

    Those vans cost a small fraction of light rail, and therein lay the problem. Politicians get to spend money for toy trains, and contractors and unions get to rake it in, using some of it to, in turn, support those same politicians. THAT’S why we’re getting stuck with these things…

  6. BigSwingingRichard says:

    The quick answer: No. Long answer, no and it never will be.

  7. aislander says:

    For more about a system of mass transit that makes money (!), increases convenience, and reduces congestion, the following was picked up from the Boulder, CO “Daily Camera.”

    http://old.i2i.org/main/article.php?article_id=988

  8. Publico says:

    More ridiculous answers. When are you folks going to learn that cars powered by petroleum and freeways to carry them are going to become things of the past? Without a rail backup that is ever expanding you better be able to work from home or walk to work.
    The reason the cost is so high is because nobody had the foresight to set aside land for rail access. Now we pay for subdivisions and commercial development alongside the roads to make access for rail.
    I think rail ridership will increase as the cost of gas and diesel fuel rises. How about $7 a gallon for starters? Buses are not the total answer because they use diesel too.

  9. “Without a rail backup that is ever expanding you better be able to work from home or walk to work.”

    Maybe you should move closer to your food source which makes more sense then your post.

    I guess you forgot about those green electric cars that Obama will soon require us to purchase as part of our health plan.

  10. I don’t care if gas goes to $100.00 a gallon, I will STILL drive my CAR. Of course the roads will be easier to drive because there will be fewer cars on them, and those that will no longer be driving will be walking or riding their Chinese made bicycles while chanting “Drill here, drill now, drill baby drill….” But it will be far too late.

  11. alindasue says:

    aislander said, “I heard Kemper Freeman, Jr. talking about public transportation perhaps ten years ago. He said that the most cost-efficient and congestion-reducing method that his studies had found was a system of vans that were not bound to fixed routes, but were free to go where the demand was. If I recall correctly, Denver, CO had such a system, which proved out, but dismantled it for political reasons.”

    I couldn’t find anything about this system in Denver. All I could find was a reference to a system Mr. Freeman and associates had proposed “Personal Rapid Transit” that involved pod-type vehicles run along tracks… reading about it brought to mind images of the transport system in the movie Logan’s Run. It wasn’t actually implemented in Denver, although a modified version of it was being built in the new Denver airport as a baggage transport system. The report is that the opening of the airport was delayed by a year because the system wasn’t working right and had to be abandoned.

    http://www.tc.umn.edu/~hause011/article/prt.html

    I did find Mr. Freeman’s “Freedom Project Mobility 100″ proposal.

    http://www.truthabouttraffic.org/

    When I was reading about the Personal Rapid Transit, one commentator stated, “For some reason, Personal Rapid Transit advocates (especially of the Boeing variety) all now advocate for more freeways,” which I would dismiss as just somebody’s opinion – except that one of the main elements of Mobility 100 is just that: adding more lanes to our freeways. Aside from that he recommends expanding “private” van-pools (already a successful Sound Transit program), running a system of certified taxis, and something that sounds a lot like the Shuttle Express vans that currently go from the airport.

    While some of his ideas have merit (for instance, increasing the availability of van-pool vans and adding 450 miles of bike and pedestrian trails) I fail to see how his Mobility 100 proposal is going to eliminate congestion on the freeways to the level he claims while at the same time saving tax-payers money – especially since his ideas to increase ridership on public transit are “providing higher quality and more comfortable buses” AND “eliminating fares.”

    Mr. Freeman seems to not know much about the bus systems – typical for people who never ride them – or maybe he’s just never been outside of King County, since he states that all bus routes start and end in Seattle. He also states that 95% of all transit ridership is subsidized, rather than the actual 70%… or was he saying that transit ridership would be 95% subsidized under his proposal? It’s hard to tell from his wording.

    Anyhow, now he’s wasting our time and tax dollars suing Sound Transit to stop the light rail into Bellevue because “Kemper Freeman’s Engineers Calculate that More Freeway Lanes are Superior…”

    http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/seattle-bellevue-density-kemper-freeman-sues-suing-sound-transit-mass-transit-light-rail-transit/

    I’m sure than after the entire Puget Sound region has become one solid mass of “more freeway lanes” that traffic will move along just fine, right? No, I’m pretty sure that AGAIN adding more lanes to our freeway is going to decrease traffic congestion just as much as the last lane additions did… which is to say, not much.

    There are some serious design issues with the central link light rail that need to be worked out, but the concept is still sound. Personally, though, I think an expansion of the bus systems and more traditional trains (like Sounder) and trolleys (similar to Tacoma’s link light rail) would probably serve our needs just as well.

  12. ktcmairman says:

    What is with the dream of an outdated mode of transportation as in trains???
    Cost ineffective, high maintainence, trapped on a single line, and not one bit of flexibility.
    You fools that did vote for this are too stupid to look at the rest of the world and see the light.
    Even the JPR, The Japanese National Railroad, which has the highest ridership in THE WORLD, is broke.
    1 mile of track buys 100 buses.
    It does not, or I should say, should not take a rocket scienetist to see the fiscal disaster waiting for the Seattle area.

  13. alindasue says:

    ktcmairman said, “You fools that did vote for this are too stupid to look at the rest of the world and see the light.
    Even the JPR, The Japanese National Railroad, which has the highest ridership in THE WORLD, is broke.”

    Could you please provide a link to your information, please? I tried to Google information about JR (Japan Rail – The proper name for Japan’s government owned rail system) and found nothing about them having financial difficulty.

    As you say, the rail systems in Japan, JR and the smaller systems that expand the range beyond the JR lines, have the highest ridership in the world. They are very good at transporting a lot of people along each of its fixed lines. When we visited Japan, the trains took us to within easy walking distance of just about anywhere we wanted to go, although we did ride a bus from the train to our destination in Hiroshima.

    Buses do have greater flexibility, but trains can carry hundreds of passengers while a bus can only carry 30 or 40, making trains the better choice for commutes where a large number of people are going to the same place. I’ve noticed that some communities, like the area around Kent Station, seem to have begun developing the community around the station just as the do in Japan.

    Ideally, a transit system will have a combination of both, just as they do in Japan.

  14. alindasue says:

    aislander said, “For more about a system of mass transit that makes money (!), increases convenience, and reduces congestion, the following was picked up from the Boulder, CO “Daily Camera.” ”

    I only reference I could find for “City Dollar Ride” (aka “CDR”) outside the few quotes of that opinion piece was a site supporting public transportation (http://www.publictransportation.org/systems/state.asp?state=CO), so I don’t know if the company was actually able to run successfully charging only a dollar per ride. The range was limited – Aurora to Denver is only a few miles – but the personalized pick-up service would make it attractive for some people. Do they have a web site that you know of?

    Publico said, “When are you folks going to learn that cars powered by petroleum and freeways to carry them are going to become things of the past? Without a rail backup that is ever expanding you better be able to work from home or walk to work.
    The reason the cost is so high is because nobody had the foresight to set aside land for rail access. Now we pay for subdivisions and commercial development alongside the roads to make access for rail.”

    That is very true.

    During the first half of the 20th century, we had a network of commuter rail stations here similar to the network they had in Japan. The difference is that when we started running buses, the train system disappeared. Japan kept their train system and expanded on it. Many stations built in the 1930s are still in use. We, on the other hand, are having to start over again from scratch.

  15. ktcmairman says:

    alindasue,
    I do stand corrected. I lived in Japan in the 80’s and it was titled as the JNR
    Anthrax and old age has caused memory issues.
    .
    From Wiki, take it for what it’s worth, By 1987, JNR’s debt was over ¥27 trillion ($280 billion at 2009 exchange rates) and the company was spending ¥147 for every ¥100 earned.[1] That year, the network was privatized by an act of the Diet of Japan, and divided into several companies collectively called the Japan Railways Group (JR Group). Contemporary offspring of JNR include the East Japan Railway Company, West Japan Railway Company, and Central Japan Railway Company.

    It was very broke.
    Throw in the fact this is a country that “bought” property where ever and when ever it needed ROW’s. (Right of Ways).
    We cannot afford that this late in the game.
    Thanks for the information!

  16. If you are interested in how Japan solved their rail problems and created a profitable system, an article here is very informative:
    Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 2 (pp.2–9)

    Japan required the national rail line JNR to serve all rural areas without any subsidies from the government. The urban lines made money, but the rural lines became big losses after WWII. Japan did not allow JNR to restructure its debt, and it had major difficulties during the extended Japanese recession of the 1980’s.

    The restructuring into smaller privately-held groups allowed each one to have a major urban concentration and eliminated much of the rural lines. The system carries a high percentage of commuters and makes money. It still is not subsidized by the government.

  17. SwordofPerseus says:

    ItalianSpring says:
    I don’t care if gas goes to $100.00 a gallon, I will STILL drive my CAR!

    At that price, no tanker would ever make it to the pumping station in your neighborhood, it will be pirate hijacked for the value! lol

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