Seattle is Crystal Ball Prediction for Austion’s Capital Metro Transit Plan

Roads & Transit are $39.7 Billion not $18 Billion–and other Seattle news

by Emory Bundy

Mr. Bundy’s resume is in the news article posted on June 8th: Cap Metro is taking Austin down this same track of severely understated costs, and greatly exaggerated estimates of ridership benefits.

This has been a good week for Seattle-area journalism.

The Roads & Transit package, to be put before Central Puget Sound voters this November, has been fraudulently represented by the agencies as $18 billion, rather than an honest $38.1 billion: $23.6 billion for Sound Transit (the agency wants it reported as $10.8 billion), 95 percent for an addition to its light rail program, and $14.5 billion for the Regional Transportation Investment District (it falsely claims $7 billion), for various highway and bridge projects. It appears it actually is $39.7 billion, due a last-minute $1.6 billion addition to RTID’s cost.

I say an “honest $38.1 billion” advisedly, because the capital cost estimates probably are as fraudulent as Sound Transit’s standard misrepresentations: We know that its Sounder commuter rail has a cost-overrun beyond 100%, and 21-mile Central Link light rail is poised to exceed 200%. It’s iron-clad certain that current projected operating costs are radically understated.

Sound Transit sold its $3.9 billion Ten Year Regional Transit System Plan to voters in 1996. Now it projects it will have collected $12 billion by 2016, including $2.24 billion in bonds, to be repaid through 2046–and it still won’t have completed its Ten Year Plan.

Hereabouts, the local newspapers usually parrot what Sound Transit wants them to say, no matter what the truth is. That coverage helps boost Sound Transit’s own elaborate propaganda. But things may be changing. This week Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times forthrightly reported that Sound Transit’s part of the upcoming package is $23.6 billion. And RTID’s is $14.5 billion. At the end of the week the $14.5 billion was raised to $16.1 billion, to accommodate a pet project of Sound Transit board chairman John Ladenburg, county executive of Pierce County. That puts the combined sum at $39.7 billion–plus long-term interest charges, bringing the total to $55.6 billion. Sound Transit and RTID want the newspapers to falsely report their projects at $10.8 and $7 billion, and are in the habit of getting their way.

The Tacoma News Tribune and Everett Herald (a New York Times-owned newspaper) continue to toady to Sound Transit’s tune, truth be damned. But not only Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times, but also Larry Lange of the Seattle Post Intelligencer is relating accurate information. Ted Van Dyk, who writes an every-second-week column for the PI, is a veteran who always can be relied upon to be perceptive and accurate.

The well-illustrated June 4 and June 9 articles by Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times are appended, reporting that the cost of Sound Transit Phase 2 is $23.6 billion, and RTID is $14.5 billion (a late-breaking story reports it at $16.1 billion). Adding long-term interest for the two packages comes to a total of $54 billion ($55.6 billion, with the late-breaking addition).

This is public works spending on a scale beyond anything ever contemplated in this region. So it is exceedingly disappointing that most of the press fails to report competently. But it is the more appreciated that some good reporters from the Seattle Times and PI are upholding a high standard of journalism.

PS: What is the public getting for its money? When planning for Sound Transit rail got underway in earnest, in 1990, transit market share was 3.5 percent. The portion of total federal, state, and local transportation spending devoted to transit was 29 percent; roads, highways, freeways, and bridges got 71 percent. In 2030 it is projected that transit, mostly on account of Sound Transit, will get 63 percent of the region’s entire transportation spending, and transit market share will have ascended from 3.5 to 3.7 percent–assuming everything works as well as Sound Transit says. For that pitiful result, Sound Transit will have absorbed more than $50 billion in local taxes, and have borrowed huge additional sums. Congestion will be much, much worse than it is today.

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