Thursday, November 01, 2007

Light Rail to Tacoma: Bonanza or Boondoggle?

Regular readers of this blog know that both King County Executive Ron Sims and the Sierra Club say taking light rail to Tacoma doesn't make much sense. Today's front page article in the Seattle Times considers the pros and cons to this point of view.

The article reports that, when the King County Office of Management & Budget did a "rough" cost-benefit analysis of each proposed light-rail segment in Proposition 1, as well as bus and commuter rail, it estimated that for every $1,000 spent the Tacoma extension would carry 69 passengers; by comparison, the analysis found that light rail to Bellevue would carry 106 people per $1,000 and the extension north would move 369 people per $1,000. Sound Transit responds that its ridership projections from Sea-Tac to Tacoma are the same as its projections for the light-rail route to Redmond. Analysts arrived at the estimates by "taking projected costs of the projects and dividing them by estimates of how many people would ride each segment"--in other words, estimated guesswork. Does anyone doubt that a similarly "rough" estimate by Pierce County might derive a much different estimate?

Sims questions Sound Transit's projections that people would ride light rail to places inside Pierce County instead of traveling all the way to Seattle. That's a difference he needs to resolve with the Puget Sound Regional Council--the source of long-term regional employment estimates--not Sound Transit.

Elsewhere in that paper is a rail-bashing (at least south of Tukwila) editorial by editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey, in which he concludes with this intellectual exercise: "Imagine what it will cost, and how many people who now stream by Fife's car dealerships will get out of their cars, buy a ticket and wait for the train that stops at South Federal Way, Federal Way, Redondo, Des Moines, South 200th Street, Sea-Tac Airport, Highway 518, and on up the Rainier Valley into downtown Seattle." Unlike John Lennon, Ramsey doesn't seem to like what imagination brings to life--or maybe he just can't imagine the rail traffic going anything but one way, into Seattle.

Patrick O'Callahan, political columnist for The News Tribune, notes in that newspaper's editorial blog today that "[s]ome opponents of Proposition 1, like Ramsey and King County Executive Ron Sims, have decided it would just cost too much to extend Seattle's light rail line down to low-rent Pierce County."