Public Interest Transportation Forum -

No Phase 2 Proposal Until the Sound Move Plan of 1996 is Completed

by Emory Bundy

In November 1996, voters approved Sound Transit's $3.9 billion Sound Move Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan.  Through 2007, Sound Transit collected $3 billion in local taxes, borrowed $900 million, received $700 million in federal grants, and spent $5 billion toward its Sound Move Plan.  Total Sound Move Plan revenue through 2016 is projected at $12 billion, including $530 million in local taxes in that single year.  And yet, after two decades, the Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan still will be far from complete. 

Prudence dictates that Sound Transit focus its energies on completing its Ten Year Plan, not look for ways to take on more in a 2008 re-do of the 2007 Prop 1 election.  The agency is already well beyond its capacities.

Performance of Sound Transit, 1996-2007:

1.  All 20 routes of Regional Express bus service are in operation--which wasn't difficult, as most routes simply continue service formerly provided by the local transit agencies.  And, now they are operated by those agencies, under contract to Sound Transit.  But Sound Transit still fails to provide the level of service it promised.  Its bus ridership is only two-thirds of that projected.

2.  The 82 mile-long Sounder commuter rail system was to be complete in 2002, with 15 daily trains in operation.  At the end of 2007, nine daily trains were operating, 60 percent of the number promised for 2002.   Completion of the line already is six years overdue, and the agency predicts will be delayed until 2011 or 2012.  Sound Transit still hasn't figured out how to get Sounder through Tacoma, en route to the south terminus in Lakewood.  The station in Mukilteo isn't built.  The installation of three miles of double-track between Seattle and Everett is years from completion.  Ridership is deficient.

3.  Central Link light rail was to be finished and operating in 2006, from Northeast 45th, in Seattle, to South 200th, in SeaTac, 21 miles, with 21 stations.  Only an "Initial Segment" of Central Link is scheduled to go into service, in 2009/2010, with only 12 stations, four of them pre-existing stops in the downtown tunnel.  Sound Transit plans to add only two more stations in the next decade, 14 total.  As of 2016, under the best of circumstances, Sound Transit will have three more miles of track yet to install in order finally to complete Central Link, and two more stations to build, the critical, costly north and south terminal stations.  Plus, the agency has abandoned/deferred stations promised at South 144th, Boeing Access Road, Graham Street, Convention Place, and First Hill, cutting the promised 21 stations to 16.

4.  After eleven years' work on its Ten Year Plan, Sound Transit's ridership is a small fraction of what was promised.  In 2007, the agency reported 14 million boardings--while in 1996 it assured voters its Ten Year Plan would exceed 50 million annual boardings. 

5.  The Citizen Oversight Panel recurrently points out that operating costs per unit of service are much higher than Sound Transit said they would be, and in future decades will be much higher than the agency's current financial plan projects.  Sound Transit persists in refusing to take corrective measures in its budgeting process, while COP implores it to adjust its financial plan to reality.  [See detail on this issue provided to the State Auditor.]

A "starter rail" and a "test drive":

In 1996, voters were told that Central Link was a "starter rail."  When complete, citizens were assured a "test drive" before deciding how much more of the vision to commit to [Sound Move, page 2].

To finish Central Link light rail, Sound Transit has more years of work yet to do than the total it claimed it would take when the Sound Move Plan was put to voters in 1996.  Prudence dictates that the agency's promise to complete Central Link, and give it a test drive before deciding to extend it, be honored.  Sound Transit is solely responsible for the cost overruns, performance shortfalls, and delays in execution.

The agency has major challenges to surmount to complete its Sound Move Plan, and a lot of catching up to do.  This is no time to multiply its commitments and obligations, burdens that have far outstripped the agency's capacity to perform.  The deal Sound Transit offered taxpayers in 1996 was first, to complete the Sound Move Plan, second, evaluate its performance, and only then submit a Phase 2 proposal to the electorate.

The agency should focus on fulfilling the promises it made in 1996:


Deliver the level of service projected for Regional Express buses


Figure out how to get Sounder commuter rail through Tacoma, extend it to Lakewood, and build the station in Mukilteo


Finish Central Link light rail (Northeast 45th to South 200th)


Upon completion of Central Link, carefully evaluate its performance, as Sound Transit promised to do

Then the agency will be ready to consider whether to ask that its Plan be extended to Phase 2.  Its Sound Move Plan either was incompetently prepared, or willfully misrepresented on every front:  capital costs, development schedules, ridership, and operating costs.  The region cannot afford  to repeat such mishandling of scarce public resources, especially in a field so critical as transportation. 

With the completion of the Sound Move Plan, a "test drive" of Central Link light rail, and a thorough evaluation of Sound Transit's performance, voters will be in an informed position to pass judgment on whether to raise sales taxes in order to proceed to Phase 2.

Return to the Public Interest Transportation Forum home page.

                        Hit Counter                                                              Last modified: February 07, 2011