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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 20, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Sound Transit light rail

Fails to serve growing suburban population

A major problem, and perhaps a costly failure, with Sound Transit’s Seattle/airport light rail is that it fails to serve the larger community –particularly its commuters in the suburbs [“Who will ride this train?” page one, May 17].

It is in the suburbs where population is growing. It is the suburbs that lack adequate public transportation. It is the suburbs that need light rail. Seattle already has an excellent bus system that serves the commuters of Seattle. It is not airport-downtown Seattle that needs light rail as bus, taxi and limo service is more than adequate.

The light rails systems of Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco and San Diego run from far out in the suburbs to the central city. Each of these light-rail systems were based on serving undeveloped public-transportation needs from suburbs to city centers.

Sound Transit could have, and maybe still can, run a light rail from North Bend to Seattle along the I-90 corridor with park-and-ride lots along the way. It would then serve North Bend, Preston, Issaquah, Bellevue, Somerset, Mercer Island and Seattle.

It could have run along highway 99 from Everett to Olympia, serving Everett, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Northgate, Seattle, South Center, SeaTac, Puyallup, Tacoma and Olympia, and maybe eventually to Vancouver, Wash.

In each of these choices, a much greater population would have been served. Land-acquisition costs would have been significantly less. And construction costs would also have been considerably less. It would have served our communities that lack adequate or any public transportation. It still can with look-ahead leadership.

— E.J. Craig, Sammamish

A flawed, costly system

Seattle always likes to think of itself as unique and, after just 13 years, this region will finally get its own form of rapid transit that is truly unique to the world.

Typically, light-rail systems run within street-level traffic and have station stops every few blocks. The trains are slower and shorter, limiting their capacity. Sound Transit has chosen a hybrid option of lighter-capacity trains paired with the most expensive type of transit construction — tunneling.

Most of the rest of the line is grade-separated just like heavy rail, except along the completely rebuilt Martin Luther King Jr. Way, where it mixes with all traffic. Stations are all spaced over a mile apart, similar to heavy rail, but transit speed will slow considerably to avoid collisions.

Next, Sound Transit will start three miles of new bored tunnels to the U District, which will have only two station stops and cost $2 billion. Potential Eastlake and First Hill riders will have to make do with transferring onto proposed snail-rail lines, since those urban neighborhoods will be bypassed.

Our version of light rail is so costly that Seattle is typically excluded from transit-cost calculations for other new potential systems.

Only here do we get a new, forever-limited transit system at subway-system prices. Current preferred proposals for the Eastside extension will only continue this dyslexic strategy. Sound Transit is consistent, at least.

— David G. Wright, Seattle

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