Sound Transit will send a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure—which would cost taxpayers $15 billion—to regional voters in November 2016. The transit agency has already launched a pro-ST3 campaign. The agency is kicking off the campaign by raising public awareness of ST3 via a citizen participation effort that includes a survey.
Sound Transit describes its survey as “chance to help decide which mass transit projects will be considered for a public vote as soon as November 2016.” The Sound Transit Board claims to want citizen input on which “projects to study as final candidates for an ST3 ballot measure.”
Of course, as Shift reported, Sound Transit’s idea of citizen participation is quite limited. Sound Transit officials just want to appear like they are concerned with taxpayer input on how their money is spent. Officials have already released a draft of “priority projects” that will be considered.
The survey options available for ST3 projects reveal Sound Transit officials are not open to ideas that would actually help reduce traffic congestion. Almost all mass transit options available to survey takers include light rail expansion projects.
As Shift has pointed out, the reality is that commuters choose light rail less than 1 percent of the time. A mass transit system projected to carry less than 1 percent of daily commuters cannot possibly reduce traffic congestion. And, even if light rail is vastly expanded, the Puget Sound Regional Council estimates that light rail would carry less than 1 percent of daily trips by 2040. Investing more of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars into a system that does not solve the key problem, i.e. traffic congestion, for daily commuters is, simply put, a bad idea.
The fact that all of the project options for ST3 would not actually reduce traffic congestion should come as no surprise. After all, reducing traffic congestion was never really a priority for Sound Transit. Joni Earl, Sound Transit’s executive director, admitted as much when she said, “We’ve never said we will reduce congestion.”
But, that hasn’t stopped Sound Transit official from repeatedly claiming ST3 would reduce traffic congestion. The theme of traffic congestion reduction is quite obvious in the survey. At one point the survey states, “There are a number of reasons cited for expanding regional mass transit in Puget Sound.” It then goes on to ask participants to select the three reasons that are most important to them. Here is the list of reasons it provides:
- By 2040 population in the Puget Sound region will grow by 30%
- Highway delays cost residents and business over $800 million in 2013A light rail extension can move up to 12,000 people per hour in each direction, compared to 700 cars per hour in a congested freeway lane
- Commute times on light rail are reliably the same
- Congestion delays doubled last year on I-5 in Pierce, King and Snohomish County
- A commuter from Everett to Seattle now spends the equivalent of two work weeks a year stuck in traffic
- Exhaust from cars constitutes the second greatest source of CO2 emissions into our atmosphere
- Mass transit benefits everyone by freeing up highway capacity
- For more than 40 years we’ve needed a regional mass transit system connecting Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue and Redmond. Now it’s time to make a final push and complete the system
- Finally completing a regional mass transit system will mean just about everyone can conveniently ride trains and buses to job and population centers
- Stations on an expanded light rail system will enable people to move easily between local buses and trains
- It would be nice not to have a car
- An extensive transit system would help me save car expenses
Note that reason number three states, “A light rail extension can move up to 12,000 people per hour in each direction, compared to 700 cars per hour in a congested freeway lane.” This “reason” is consistent with pro-ST3 advertising Sound Transit has already engaged in.
The keyword in this particular deceptive line of reasoning is “can.” The reality is that light rail doesn’t “move up to 12,00 people per hour.” Last year, light rail ridership comprised of only 0.28 percent of all trips people made in Sound Transit’s taxing district. And, as previously stated, by year 2040 light rail is project to carry less than 1 percent of daily trips. That fact alone directly refutes and/or invalidates most of Sound Transit’s other “reasons,” particularly those pertaining to increased traffic congestion concerns.
Sound Transit’s false “reasons” do not stop with deceptive traffic congestion reduction claims. Reason number seven states, “Exhaust from cars constitutes the second greatest source of CO2 emissions into our atmosphere.” In other words, Sound Transit can be expected to promote ST3 with the assertion that it will reduce CO2 levels. This isn’t the first time Sound Transit made the claim.
In a recent Seattle Times editorial, Sound Transit officials claim that “[light rail] is among the best things we can do to attract more jobs, connect major cities and job centers, and improve the air we breathe.” The claim is false. Light rail is, in fact, among the least effective and most expensive ways to reduce carbon emissions. The Washington Policy Center explains,
“According to Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link Final Environmental Impact Statement, building the 8.5 mile light rail extension from Northgate to Lynnwood would reduce CO2 emissions by 209 metric tons daily or 76,285 metric tons annually. Using the conservative construction cost estimate of $1.4 billion for Lynnwood Link, that’s a cost of $612 per metric ton of CO2 reduction over 30 years. That does not include the cost to operate the rail line, which would drive the cost per reduced metric ton even higher. Further, this analysis does not include the energy involved in building the light rail line, which would reduce the total CO2 reduction achieved by the projects.
“Terapass, a nationally known firm that helps people invest in carbon-reduction projects, charges $13.12 to remove one metric ton of carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Offsetting 76,285 metric tons of CO2 pollution at Terrapass would only cost about one million dollars per year.
“To put it another way, the money Sound Transit officials want to spend on light rail could buy carbon offsets from programs like Terrapass for over one thousand years, improving air quality far beyond the 30 to 50 year lifespan of light rail.”
It is clear that, contrary to the facts, Sound Transit is preparing to promote ST3 by claiming it would reduce traffic congestion and CO2 levels. Both those claims are, as pointed out, false. Sound Transit’s campaign strategy is clear, focus on results that appeal to the public all while dodging the truly important question haunting ST3: “Why, given all the broken promises, should taxpayers trust Sound Transit to keep its promises and spend their hard-earned dollars responsibility, on time and on budget?”
If would like to participate in Sound Transit’s survey and make your opinion on ST# known, you can do so here. July 8th is the last day to participate.