Last week the Sound Transit board received the report of the initial planning process for the Lynnwood to Everett corridor, a corridor especially notable for two reasons. First, it has consistently been the highest priority for the Snohomish County representation on the Sound Transit Board. As a key political motivator for Sound Transit 3 in a subarea with relatively low funding capacity, the cost of this project is likely to drive the size of the overall ST3 package; if nothing happens to subarea equity, cost estimates in Snohomish County may determine how much is available to meet the effectively infinite demand in Seattle.
There are three light rail options and two BRT. Although they all terminate in downtown Everett, all five have the possibility of continuing to Everett Community College, like most colleges a decent generator of all-day demand (the figures in italics above).
There are five basic alignments coming down from Everett:
- Rail straight down I-5 (Option B);
- Largely elevated rail down SR99 to Airport Rd, and then over to I-5 (Option C);
- Same as #2, but with a sharp right turn to serve the Boeing plant (Option A);
- BRT down I-5 and to the Boeing Plant via separate lines, using freeway HOV lanes and business access and transit (BAT) lanes (Option D);
- BRT down SR-99 till it cuts directly south to the Lynnwood Link Station, mostly in new, dedicated right-of-way (Option E).
As with almost all of these studies, there’s a philosophical choice between low-cost, low-quality, low-ridership BRT options and more expensive, high-quality rail with significantly more ridership. The LRT costs and benefits are on the order of Central Link as a standalone line, and would allow Community Transit to get almost entirely out of the business of running North/South commuter buses. Roughly speaking, the BRT ridership numbers aren’t a clear improvement over current Snohomish County buses into Seattle.
Among the rail options, the cheapest option (B) has the lowest ridership, and like most freeway alignments has less development potential. However, as the fastest alternative it’s the clearest improvement over freeway express buses (currently 28-30 minutes). But even the diversion to SR99, with much more ridership and development potential, is about as fast as today’s buses while being somewhat more expensive than B. From the perspective of spending as much as needed to make the line as good as can be, Option C is clearly the best.
The Boeing diversion is a substantial addition in delay and cost that brings no net additional riders. Certainly the extension to the college is a better use of marginal dollars than Option A, in particular because rail is far more suited to the uniform all-day demand of a college than a shift-oriented workplace. It’s unclear how the presentation rates Option A as “high performing” in travel time, as it’s worst of the three rail options in that regard. It’ll be interesting to see how Boeing’s influential voice in Snohomish County policy affects this discussion.