Public Interest Transportation Forum -

The 20-Year Bonded Construction Cost of November 2007 Puget Sound "Roads and Transit" Proposal is $38 Billion

And the 50-year sales tax hike and 30-year doubling of the license tabs tax (MVET) totals $157 Billion

Bellevue-based transportation engineer Jim MacIsaac, using data provided by Sound Transit (ST) and Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID), has calculated the cost of the roads and transit package to be submitted to voters on November 6, 2007, as well as the tax collections that are authorized.

In year of expenditure (YOE) dollars including interest expense, RTID is a $14.3 billion 20-year program and ST2 a $23.6 billion 20-year program -- a combined total of $37.9 billion thru 2027.

Detail of 20 Year Roads and Transit Package Finances
RTID Revenues  

ST Revenues 

Taxes         $7,900,000,000 Taxes $14,990,000,000
Bond Sales    6,240,000,000 Bond Sales 7,320,000,000
Other                   190,000,000 Fed Grants/Other 1,250,000,000




RTID Expenses ST Expenses
Capital Projects $9,280,000,000 Capital Projects $17,505,000,000
Finance Costs 4,945,000,000 Finance Costs 2,010,000,000
Other      105,000,000 Admin/O&M/reserves 4,045,000,000





Descriptions from RTID and Sound Transit (external link) for taxpayers focus on new tax revenues and capital project expenditures in back-dated 2006 dollars, leaving off the other lines in the table above. The amounts these agencies quote are thus much lower, intended to make the package seem more affordable.

The Sound Transit tax extensions and new authorizations up for approval on November 6, 2007 are permanent, and amount to about $157 billion over the 50 years of light rail construction and bond repayment.  The RTID taxes to be included do have an expiration date, and are not the largest part of the $157 billion.

A year by year schedule of regional Roads & Transit tax collections through 2057 is provided for download here.

More details are provided in the document What you Need to Know by Jim MacIsaac, P.E. of Bellevue, WA, available for download here (18 page pdf, about 500 kilobytes).

NOTE:  As of mid September, the Yes-on-Roads-and-Transit campaign has begun using $47 billion as the cost of the Proposition 1 package, including the interest on construction bonds that goes beyond  20 years.  This figure is the sum of $30.8 billion for Sound Transit expansion and $16.1 billion for the RTID portion. See Larry Lange story of September 17, 2007 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for details.

Of further importance are lists of what projects these billions pay for. 

The "Roads and Transit" web site listing all RTID projects is here (external link).  Many traffic bottlenecks will be addressed, with improvements set for highways such as Interstate 405, U.S. Route 2, and State Route 167.  Modeling by Washington State Department of Transportation concludes that afternoon peak traffic delay will be 18% less bad in 2030 with these RTID improvements than would be the case in 2030 without these improvements.  However, regional afternoon peak traffic delay overall will nevertheless be 79% more than in 2006 even with the RTID improvements.

A listing of Sound Transit Phase 2 projects is here (pdf).  About fifty new miles of light rail will be constructed.  Until recently, Sound Transit has never claimed that people riding light rail trains would mean less traffic congestion on the roads.  See for example the op-ed by Sound Transit's chairman on December 26, 2000.

However, Sound Transit now does make the claim in Table 4 of Appendix C of the ST2 Regional Transit System Plan that the ST2 light rail expansion reduces annual highway delay by 40 million hours in 2030. This unprecedented claim is examined and rejected by John Niles in a Policy Note for the Washington Policy Center titled, "Cost Exceeds Benefits in Sound Transit's Light Rail Expansion."

Furthermore, based upon last year's computer modeling by the Puget Sound Regional Council, an overall reduction in regional traffic congestion from implementing this "integrated roads and transit" package would not happen.  Between now and 2040, regional traffic congestion is forecast to increase somewhere between doubling and tripling.  Details are here.

The dollar amounts estimated here are higher, and the associated transportation performance results are less positive than in the proposal tested by Sound Transit in its tracking survey of October, 2006 and by WSDOT's assessment of the package in April, 2007.

Back in October, 2006, Sound Transit's polling firm found 75% support among voters for a $14 billion roads and transit package that would "alleviate congestion."   In early April, Sound Transit tested again with a higher cost number (but using back-dated 2006 dollars and understated costs per household) and found support dropping to 63%.  Thus, the trend was downward between these two points in time.  Subsequent polling since April 2007 has revealed that the more people know about the costs and benefits of "Roads and Transit," the less likely they are to vote for it.

Voter support next November would likely be less than 63% if government officials present a $38 billion construction package supported by $157 billion in new tax authorizations that does not show an alleviation of congestion at the regional level.

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