Transportation Policy

Unnecessary $54 Billion Transit Package Passes Easily in Seattle

The measure will take two decades to serve a mere 30,000 additional riders.


Sound Transit
VeloBusDriver / Flickr

On Election Day, Seattle-area voters approved the massive Sound Transit 3 (ST3) proposition, which adds rapid bus service lines and 64 miles of light rail to the region's transportation network for the bargain price of $54 billion.

That the measure prevailed is hardly the most shocking thing to come out of this election. Traffic is becoming an increasingly important issue for Seattle, which ranks as one of the world's most congested cities, and ST3 was presented as the only way to tackle it by an array of influential voices.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray stumped for the transit expansion throughout the fall, while Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing all gave generous campaign contributions. ST3 also racked up endorsements from many local media outlets, with everyone from the left-of-center Seattle Weekly to the left-of-Marx The Stranger promising that the massive ramp-up in public transit spending would alternatively ease traffic congestion, save the planet, and/or alleviate racial injustice.

This all proved more than enough, with ST3 passing by wide margins in almost every county where it was on the ballot. However, those residents waiting impatiently for ST3 to unclog the highways and open up the city may want to start moderating their expectations.

As Reason has previously reported, ST3 is unlikely to do much to relieve current traffic or accommodate the 800,000-plus people that are expected to move to the Puget Sound area over the next couple of decades.

Indeed, by Sound Transit's own numbers, the huge expansion will only serve an extra 30,000 riders by 2040, nowhere near enough of an impact to affect congestion levels. And this takes Sound Transit's most optimistic projections at face value, even though the agency (like so many others) has a history of cost overruns, construction delays, and wildly under-met ridership targets.

For instance, when Sound Transit first proposed a light rail system for Seattle, it projected that it would be delivering 105,000 riders per day by 2010. Instead, it took a mixture of a University of Washington football game, a Mariner's baseball game, and Friday nightlife traffic for the rail system to get above 100,000 for the first time—in October of this year. A typical day sees closer to 70,000 riders.

And the far-off 2040 completion goal for ST3 may very well be missed. When Seattle embarked on a far simpler light rail project in 1996, it still managed to miss its deadline by 10 years (and at over twice the projected cost). That scenario seems likely to repeat itself.

Seattle-area residents can at least take comfort in one predictable element of ST3: Come January 1, sales tax, property tax, and car registration fees will all go up to start paying for the $54 billion project.

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  1. Don’t they already have their monorail?

    1. I think they sold it to Ogdenville. Maybe it was North Haverbrook.

    2. A solar eclipse. The cosmic ballet goes on.

      1. Does anyone want to switch seats?

        1. A reminder that George Takei was originally asked to be in the episode but backed out because he didn’t want to make fun of progressive public transportation policies.

    3. I can remember living in Seattle and seeing the monorail out of action for a week or so because two trains tried to pass each other in a bend – the mono-rail was not designed with this contingency aperantly and engineering hilarity ensued, as one might expect. It was also a municipal project.

      1. See what i mean?

  2. God forbid they build roads that everyone could use. That would make too much sense and benefit the wrong kind of people.

    1. I think, in their heads, the plan is probably to phase the roads out eventually and have everybody transport themselves at approved times to approved places on government provided trains.

      Most prog types I’ve ever talked to say we MUST do this. Their certainty is usually based on some backpacking trip to Europe they took in college.

      1. They forget that without roads, FEDEX won’t be able to deliver their supply of Artisanal mayonnaise .

        1. drones….delivery method, not Seattle area voters…sorry for the confusion

      2. Nah, the idea is to make all those poor people ride the train so the elite can drive on the highways without those proles cluttering up the roads.

        1. I mean, yeah, we’ll never be able to eliminate roads entirely. Government agents, law enforcement, politicians, important business leaders, etc will always need roads so they can freely travel on the people’s business.

          1. Plus people with government-subsidized low carbon emission vehicles.

    2. politics, money, technical correctness in that order. quality, cost, schedule, pick 2

  3. “””””” would alternatively ease traffic congestion, save the planet, and/or alleviate racial injustice.”””””””

    Its also a floor wax and a desert topping…..-wax/n8625

    1. cure cancer and grant world peace?

    2. Does the topping contain potassium benzoate?

      1. “The frogurt is also cursed.”

  4. $54B? For light rail? Good lord.

    At least Virginia Beach voters killed their light rail expansion. The pols here aren’t stupid enough to ram it through anyway,

    1. For about 64 miles of rail. By the time they actually build it, I’m sure it will end up costing over a billion a mile. And hardly anyone will use it.

    2. 1.8 MILLION dollars per expected user, which is an optimistic number. How many hybrid cars would that buy?

  5. Come January 1, sales tax, property tax, and car registration fees will all go up to start paying for the $54 billion project.

    There’s the benefit! And I’m sure all that tax money will only be spent on what it’s supposed to be spent on! Prog harder!

    1. Seattle-area residents can at least take comfort in one predictable element of ST3: Come January 1, sales tax, property tax, and car registration fees will all go up to start paying for the $54 billion project.

      That has the added benefit on cutting down on that projection of 800,000 people moving to the area.

      Speaking of which, where the hell’s the affordable housing for those 800,000 gonna come from? These jackasses better get on the stick and start ramping up the rent-control laws if they expect to be able to deal with coming housing shortage. And zoning laws to keep these newcomers from ruining the character of the neighborhoods the older newcomers moved to Seattle 5 years ago for.

      1. don’t worry, Seattle’s commie town council, by whatever name, are already working on those. Some forms if insantiy are a slightly harder sell than others. These thigns take time. After all, we only just now got the $ minimum wage passed for the state. Those businesses that opt to remain instead of flee will be hard pressed to cmpete nationwide.

      2. There won’t be any, just like Silicon Valley. My niece and her husband just paid $3 million for a 4 bedroom rancher. Fortunately they can afford it, but is an insane amount for a junior executive home.What I can’t understand is why worker bees and lower middle management aren’t shipped to flyover country or the Rustbelt with lots of bandwidth. Lower cost to employer, better life for employees, though earning less.

  6. while Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing all gave generous campaign contributions.

    I got an idea. If it’s so important to those companies, they can pony up the money themselves.

    1. Between the three of those companies I’m sure they could invent personalized carrier drones to fly people to wherever they want to go.

      1. This occurred to me with John’s propositions about roads above. $54B is about two smart cars for every person in the Sound. Even half that would get you a massively outsized personal driver labor force.

        1. Of course, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Smart Car, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t allow someone who voted in support of this to die in one.

          1. I, for one, think that leftists should be free to die in whichever mode of transportation they insist on inflicting upon us.

      2. and they’ll use unicorn farts for fuel!

    2. Here in Detroit the local equivalent companies (Quicken Loans, for example) are indeed paying for at least half of our almost-finished light rail system. And it’s going to be late. About six months late. Final rail was laid last week, and it’s supposed to be running in February or March. Given that construction started about 2 years ago, that’s pretty amazing. It will actually run by my office–watching the construction has been most entertaining.

      It can be done properly (leaving aside the whole public-private partnership stuff, which I get–I am a libertarian after all). It probably would have been cheaper and less disruptive for the past two years to do dedicated bus lanes and subway-shaped buses like they have in Cleveland, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

      1. Just in case anyone’s interested:

      2. but NOT in union owned Puget’s Sound region… the current “expansion” of light rail is now several times over projected costs and about ten years behind. AND the new “tunnel” along the Seattle downtown waterfront is only five years over time, and more than twice budget, and THAT after the voters twice told them NO TUNNEL. Their billion dollar tunnel chewing machine got sucked into the waterlogged dredging spoils that whole area is made of, and was almost given up for lost. I think it took them two years to finally get it back out. Then it needed a through giong through…. two years of being in salt mud is not healthy for any piece of metal equipment.

        Here we have the greedy controlling the stupid, who are answerable to the lazy.
        California here we come. Shades of their multibillion dollar light rail system from nowhere to nowhere…. as yet unfunded, but Moonbat Brown wants to move ahead on it anyway.

  7. These kind of projects often involve matching Federal funds. God, I hope not.

    In happier news, between this project and the destruction of Seattle’s economy via minimum wage laws, it shouldn’t be long until Seattle is Detroit’s sister city.

    1. Unless San Francisco gets there first.

    2. Nobody thought the car makers could leave Detroit. There’s even less holding those playing in the IT space where they are.

      1. I have made this comment many times, but nobody in Seattle believes it. I tell them about cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, and how raw materials moved via the Great Lakes, necessitating that the steel and auto plants be near the water. I tell them about how all you need to do to relocate Microsoft or Amazon is rent some office space in Phoenix, Dallas, or East Bumfuck, and they look at me blankly.

        Seattle has been on a 25 year roll and they refuse to believe the party could ever end.

        1. all you need to do to relocate Microsoft or Amazon is rent some office space

          And bring in a bigger internet backbone and run fiber, maybe increase power capacity?

          Very doable but not as quite simple as renting office space.

          1. Kansas City metro area has the needed fiber thanks to Google and later AT&T. On the Kansas side there is no business income tax. There are a lot of tech startups coming in. Amazon is building a shipping center in KCK. Outside of the Amazon warehouse, l have yet to see any major tech company setup shop here. I am hoping it will happen because the Ag economy is dragging Kansas down.

    3. “it shouldn’t be long until Seattle is Detroit’s sister city.”

      But they have Starbucks and Uber. They can always drive each other around to get coffee for each other. Keynesian economics FTW!

      1. When Mt. Rainier does its thing = Shovel-ready jobs.

  8. Seattle has $15 minimum wage now, right? They can all afford to pay more taxes now! That makes sense, right?

    1. Living wage! Living Wage! UNDEAD WAGE!

    2. Due to the trickle up effects of minimum wage increases, it works just like lowering the income tax tiers.

      Without the debate about raising taxes.

  9. “Unnecessary $54 Billion Transit Package Passes Easily in Seattle”

    You call it “unnecessary”. They call it “stimulus”.

    “ST3 is unlikely to do much to relieve current traffic or accommodate the 800,000-plus people that are expected to move to the Puget Sound area over the next couple of decades.”

    If those people (and the businesses that were going to employ them) will be paying for an additional $54 billion in taxes, somebody might want to revise those population assumptions down.

    Or I’ve got an idea! Maybe Trump should send them all those Syrian refugees Obama’s been taking in. Especially now that Seattle will have the transit system to accommodate them.

  10. “Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing all gave generous campaign contributions.”

    They paid for the campaign? That’s great!

    How much are they chipping in for the actual construction?

    1. actual construction? what’s that…virtual thingy or internet of ideas/things something, something something?

  11. Is this before or after they put a bubble over Seattle?

  12. Commies do love their choo-choos so

  13. Infrastructure Spending FTW!

    What could possibly go wrong???

    If you hate infrastructure spending, you hate American jobs!

    (Did I get the Trump-philia about right?)

  14. Unnecessary $54 Billion Transit Package Passes Easily in Seattle
    The measure will take two decades to serve a mere 30,000 additional riders.

    Yeah but we get to be more like Europe and stuff. That’s what matters.

  15. ‘…for the bargain price of $54 billion…’

    Do I hear $154bn? Going once, going twice…

  16. This should break even over 30 years if the cost per ride is $120.00

  17. Only in a prog mind does increasing capacity by 30k supply all their needs for the million more people that will be moving in.

    No, they are fucking evil. They don’t like how people drive their cars, and they want traffic to be as bad as possible to force people out of their cars. They divert money away from roads to useless union-operated public transportation, then they take a busy 2 lane road and make it 1 lane so it’s “bike friendly”, so cutting capacity by 50% for the 8 bikers that will use it.

    Fuck all those progs. They are bitter that people don’t do what they want so they use the power of the state to force it on others.

    1. Nailed it.

  18. If only we had an urban planner in our midst to help explain this. I’m SURE it would make sense, then.

  19. Glad I live in a county just outside of this boondoggle’s territory.
    Seems normal proceedure that a Seattle area project will cost twice to thrice as much, take twice as long to sort of complete, and serve a fraction of the projections. The ONLY such project in Seattle ever to even pretend to succeed was the Monorail, constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. It sill works well, and is what SHOULD have been expanded to serve more of the Sound. But that wasn’t promoted by an out of area consortium of special interest high rollers who get rich no matter HOW big a boondoggle it becomes.

    So it will “serve” an additional 30K riders? That looks to be one thirtieth of the expected number of new bodies to descend upon this area. Maybe property values will increase enough to finally sell out and move somewhere half sane, like this place was forty years ago. One can hope….

  20. I’d go for the busways, especially if they have exclusive lanes, but not the light rail. Light rail is too restrive everywhere except cities like New York. New Jersey has a fleet of 800 rapid transit buses weekdays between New Jersey and New York City, tailored between destinations to augment subway trains. They are more flexible, cheaper, employ more workers locally, and new equipment every 10-15 years lowers cost of capital maintenance.

  21. The light rail portion of ST3 costs about $100,000 per lineal foot. I need to get into that business. I’m sure it will be yuuuge and beautiful, yuuge and beautiful.

  22. Slight correction for article…there are parts of three counties in the Sound Transit district. Those in Pierce County rejected the measure, but will be forced to help pay for it. And as zaphod said, it is very expensive. Typical light rail system development costs vary between $15M to approximately $100M per mile. Seattle’s system is by far the most expensive at somewhere close to $180M per mile. The numbers are so mind-bogglingly huge, the common (Leftist) voter cannot understand and factor into voting decisions.

  23. I live in the Seattle area and, to be very clear, voted against this boondoggle. But having said that, I don’t see where the “30,000” number is coming from. The linked document very clearly estimates (in Table 4) an increase of 46k – 62k in daily transit trips by 2040, which would represent a 9-10% increase.

    There’s plenty of real reasons to criticize this transit plan. Why make up numbers?

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