Yesterday, the Sound Transit Board held their final meeting for 2014. There was a lot on the agenda in order to close out the year, including: an agreement with Amtrak to operate along Sound Transit-owned trackage in Pierce County, adoption of the 2015 Service Implementation Plan, and a presentation on improving wayfinding and signage. However, the most significant items that transit nerds will care about were the adoption of an updated Long Range Plan and approval of the 2015 Budget.
The Board’s 2015 Budget
The Sound Transit Board approved a $1.2 billion budget for 2015. Highlights of the Board’s budget include light rail construction, fleet replacement and retrofit, and implementation of new Route 580. The 2015 budget will include $932.9 million in anticipated revenues while expenditures are projected to be $1.2 billion. Sound Transit currently has $155 million in unrestricted cash on its balance sheets, which will fund the lion’s share of $280.0 million spending gap. Additional revenues will come from the Capital Replacement and Emergency/Loss reserves, which is projected to cover another $48.4 million. The agency projects that up to $173 million in bonding will be necessary to meet its obligations for 2015, largely due to capital investments, not operations.
On the budget, Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine said:
Sound Transit is poised to see record ridership growth in 2015, while staying on track for the early, under-budget completion of light rail to the University of Washington and rollout of the next rail expansion plan.
Service-wise, there will not be too many changes, but Sound Transit does have 2,000 unrestricted service hours to allocate toward overcrowded buses, largely on the Eastside. Sound Transit will begin a new Sound Transit Express service designated as “Route 580” funded under the new budget. The route will operate from Lakewood Station to Puyallup Station via SR-512. The route is focused around providing access to connecting Sounder trains to/and from Puyallup neighborhoods and Lakewood when not serviced by Sounder trains. The route is peak-oriented with only 20 daily trips, and would replace Pierce Transit Router 495. The success of this route will be interesting to watch over the next year.
There were some major capital expenditures allocated through the budget, largely for light rail expansion and completion work. These biggies include:
- Completion of station construction, systems installation, and testing of University Link ($121 million)
- Northgate Link construction ($208 million)
- Pre-construction work to prepare for East Link ($143 million)
- Preliminary engineering and final design funding for Lynnwood Link ($16.3 million)
- 22 new Sound Transit Express buses–5 of which will be double-deckers buses for Snohomish County routes–and the retrofit of seven Sounder locomotives ($19.7 million)
The Updated Long Range Plan
After a year of engaging the public, collaborating with municipalities and other agencies, and talking about what should be in an updated Long Range Plan (LRP), the Board finally adopted a final version that will guide Sound Transit’s investments in new services and facilities over the next 20 years. The decisions were not easy as there were so many good ideas for future investments by the agency, but choices had to be made.
27 text amendments to the Long Range Plan were considered by the Board. 12 of these text amendments were considered individually due to the establishment of entirely new policy as opposed to the clarification and enhancement of existing policy under the LRP. The Board further considered 14 map amendments to the LRP on an individual basis.
One of particularly contentious text amendments amongst the Board was T18, an amendment to study a second tunnel in Downtown Seattle for high capacity transit. Boardmembers Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Mike O’Brien sponsored the amendment to the LRP. Board members were not favorable to the language, which seems odd considering that the concept appeared to be very practical. Specifically, the amendment as proposed said: “In addition, as part of implementing a regional transit system, Sound Transit can explore policy and funding alternatives to address significant regional facilities such as tunneling for future core system capacity (through Downtown Seattle); operation, maintenance, and storage facilities; and transit vehicles.” During the voting on this amendment, Mayor Murray was shockingly absent having left for a separate press conference. Ultimately, T18 lost on a 6-to-8 vote, and therefore failed to be included in the LRP.