Peter Rogoff is the new CEO of Sound Transit, taking over in November 2015. Prior to his current position, Rogoff served as the Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy in the U.S. Department of Transportation. And, prior to that, he served as President Barack Obama’s Federal Transit Administrator.
Why should you care about Rogoff’s background? Well, because of certain remarks he made as the Federal Transit Administrator, when he could potentially tell the truth about the type of projects that Sound Transit loves.
On May 18, 2010, in remarks he made at “Next Stop: A National Summit on the Future of Transit” at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Rogoff stated the following,
“Let’s start with honesty: Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this — Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive. Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a “special” bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet. … it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.”
Presumably enticed by a generous salary offer, Rogoff decided to change his tune and accept an offer to head a transit agency that is obsessed with the “extremely expensive” option of transportation.
In 2016, Sound Transit wants to pass the so-called “ST3” package, a $15 billion scheme that may very well become a $27 billion boondoggle. ST3 is expected to extend existing light rail lines, all of which were built late and over-budget (we’re still waiting for some of them). It’s also expected to include completely new rail lines to appease Seattle voters, including a line connecting Ballard and West Seattle to downtown.
Sound Transit officials know that they have quite a lot of work to do if they are to successfully convince voters to, once again, trust them with their hard-earned tax dollars. Rogoff’s past comments certainly makes the task that much more difficult because they hold true in the greater Seattle region.
The reality is that there are more effective solutions than those presented in ST3. One example is the bus rapid transit (BRT) system already in place. As a Crosscut article pointed out, BRT offers riders “rapid boarding, limited stops and less congested special lanes.” And, BRT “can be in place in a matter of years, not decades, and can reach many more people… We’ve invested billions of dollars in 310 miles of HOV lanes. Let’s use them to move carpools and buses better.”
Certainly, as Rogoff pointed out, slapping some new paint on existing buses and roads would be a whole lot cheaper than what ST3 is proposing.
But that’s not the Sound Transit way.