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Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives

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Samples of Letters We've Sent

Letter to FTA Administrator Jennifer Dorn

May 28, 2002

Jennifer Dorn
FTA Administrator
400 7th St. SW
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Ms. Dorn,

I would like to commend you for your remarks regarding Bus Rapid Transit on April 25, 2002, before the U.S. Senate's Housing and Transportation Subcommittee of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. I heartily agree that:

"Combining exclusive transit-ways, modern stations, high-tech vehicles, and frequent service, Bus Rapid Transit provides -- at a fraction of the cost -- the high level of service that people want and expect from more expensive transit systems."

Furthermore, you quite correctly noted Seattle's innovation in this realm:

"And in Seattle, a regional Bus Rapid Transit system provides no-transfer, high-speed rides for commuters going from home to work in Seattle's downtown district."

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) is indeed the heart of a well functioning regional bus system that boasts some of the highest transit utilization in the country -- higher, in fact, than any West Coast city outside of densely populated San Francisco -- higher even than other West Coast cities with light rail systems.

Which is why I find it so ironic that the FTA is supporting a project that threatens to dismantle all of that.

Sound Transit plans to convert the DSTT to light rail use as part of its Central Link Light Rail Project. The agency claims (and the FTA has seemed to uncritically accept) that conversion to light rail will ultimately increase the capacity of the DSTT. But Sound Transit has only been able to reach this conclusion by assuming no improvements in the current bus system -- essentially comparing best-case crush-capacity light rail ridership with current bus ridership.

In fact, Sound Transit has never compared light rail with an enhanced bus system -- a tragic mistake given how much innovation has occurred in BRT technology recently, and how far along our region's bus system already is. A far more sensible plan would be to maximize the bus usage of the DSTT and HOV lanes. Yet the Link light rail project stands in the way of taking such a least-cost approach:

- The DSTT is currently running at only half capacity, mainly because Metro lacks enough of the custom-built dual-powered buses required. Acquisition of a new generation of diesel-electric hybrid buses has been in limbo because of the expected takeover of the tunnel by Sound Transit light rail.

- Likewise, the light rail project's appetite for funding has left little money for completion of the region's HOV network, which -- coupled with the DSTT -- could be providing even faster enhanced BRT service for a fraction of the cost of light rail.

Ms. Dorn, the federal government has already played an important role in calling into question the wisdom of this project. Sound Transit has responded by putting forward a revised plan that is one-third shorter, will carry two thirds fewer people, will cost almost three times as much per rider, and for this it wants to remove the heart of our regional BRT system.

Please take action to stop this destruction of a national model for BRT.


On Behalf of Sane Transit:

Bob Gale, Seattle
Virginia Paulsen, Shoreline
Richard Harkness,Bellevue
Ron Lamb, Tukwila
Daniel Norton, Seattle
Don Vandervelde, Gig Harbor

CC: Stephanie Gupta, Sarah Batipps, Sherry Little, Tristan Sargent

Reply from Congressman Jay Inslee

June 5, 2002

Dear Mr. Norton:

Thank you for sending me a courtesy copy of your letter to FTA Administrator Dorn. I appreciate hearing from you. I am always concerned about waste within governmental programs and I believe the government has a responsibility and an obligation to make sure the taxpayers' money is spent efficiently and effectively.

Like you, I have concerns about Sound Transit's financial problems - they have an obligation to ensure that they spend tax dollars wisely. Currently, the Chair of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee in the House has indicated that he will not fund the Link light rail project at this time, and Sound Transit is not requesting funding from Congress for light rail this year. Despite Sound Transit's Link light rail problems, I believe it is important that Congress adequately fund Sound Transit's Regional Express Bus Service and the Sounder Commuter rail, which runs on existing rail lines. These are both already in operation.

I believe that in order to maintain a quality of life that we enjoy around Puget Sound, we must take measures to address our transportation and infrastructure needs. A more comprehensive mass transit system is a step in the right direction. There is no question that in the Puget Sound region, we are going to have much greater traffic problems unless we take action. With the absence of an alternative transportation corridor, the increase of busses and cars on the road will certainly overwhelm the already congested I-5, I-90, and I-405 freeways, even if these roads are expanded.

In addition to the financial problems, I am also deeply concerned that the current Sound Transit plan for light rail does not extend to Northgate. Since our region has decided to build an alternative transportation right of way, I believe that we must do it right the first time. I understand that the Sound Transit board is now exploring options to the light rail plan. I will urge the Sound Transit board to find cost savings and will review expected changes in the plan, prior to funding decisions being made next year.

I encourage you to stay actively involved in the legislative process and contact me with any questions or comments. You may reach me at 1-800-422-5521 or Jay.Inslee@mail.house.gov.

Very Truly Yours,

Member of Congress

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