Getting Light Rail Done Faster

Sound Transit can build light rail faster than the current schedule if Seattle commits to finding innovative solutions in partnership with the regional transit agency to expedite permitting and financing of planned projects.

Passing Sound Transit 3 was exciting for Seattle because it promised light rail to Ballard and West Seattle, as well as an infill station at Graham Street. The excitement was tempered however, because ST won’t build the West Seattle line until 2031, the Graham infill station until 2032, or the Ballard line until 2036.  

Light rail lines take a long time under the best of circumstances - planning, permitting and construction generally takes at least ten years, and frequently  longer.

There is potential for delay at every step. With its expansive work plan, ST could prioritize its planning resources for other projects.  Lengthy fights over alignment or permits could also extend planning or permitting well past ST’s goal of 4.3 years.  

But even when permitting is complete, Sound Transit has another issue - it must stage its projects to reflect its cash flow.  ST construction is paid for with borrowing, and ST can only borrow so much at a time. That is how it has paid for past and ongoing construction. As revenues come in to pay down those bonds, ST borrows more to advance the later projects. That sequencing is understandable, but it means that light rail to West Seattle and Ballard will take longer than required by the technical logistics of building a light rail line.

Seattle can potentially help shave years off the timeline if it works to accelerate planning and permitting, and partners with Sound Transit to ease the cash flow crunch.  That means coming to the table with resources that are meaningful enough to make a difference.  

So here is my commitment if elected:

1.  Work with Sound Transit to front load planning for Seattle projects as much as possible. To prevent delaying other regional projects, that probably means Seattle needs to come forward with monetary contributions or other resources. In 2011 we did that to advance joint planning to Ballard, which actually led to Sound Transit advancing its planning regionwide.

2.  Work with Sound Transit to identify how to shorten the permitting process consistent with sound analysis and public input. We need to ensure we don’t end up the way Bellevue did, locked in a long dispute over alignment.  If we do step 1 and 2 right, we can move more quickly with construction if moneys become available from any source.  Recall, this is a multiyear process, and we should not yet give up hope that we might get a transit-friendly President and Congress in the years to come.

3. Work with Sound Transit to understand how much money they would need, and when, in order to significantly advance the timelines to complete Seattle projects. We could then assess Seattle’s ability to either use its borrowing ability to to make bridge loans to Sound Transit, or our ability to help finance some parts of the project.

Let’s be clear, this would be complex and potentially expensive. But given Seattle’s extraordinary transportation issues, we need to examine all possibilities to get light rail to more neighborhoods faster.

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Statement on Community Police Commission legislation

This week, the City Council will consider legislation to define the authority of the Community Police Commission (CPC) and make it permanent. In the words of reform advocates on the Commission, it’s a defining moment.

I know from my experience as Mayor the degree to which institutions can resist change and bog down reforms in bureaucratic inertia. I also know the role that politics can play, and the desire of elected officials to hide problems so that the people in charge can look better.

That is why I support the strongest possible community oversight and urge the council to pass the amendments recommended by the Community Police Commission. I also urge other candidates for Mayor to support the CPC recommendations before the Council votes May 22.

Community oversight is so important - it can hold all of us to our ideals for a police force.  One that is effective, free of bias and excessive use of force, and trusted by the community.  

I worked to create the Community Police Commission when I was mayor, as part of the settlement agreement and consent decree with the Department of Justice.

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