STA’s Central City Line Hidden Costs

January 17th, 2017

To no avail, I’ve tried twice, now to share some of my thoughts in the Spokesman-Review letters to the editor column regarding very real operational costs that STA is magically shifting to the City of Spokane. Make that the CITIZENS of Spokane. So, just for personal cathartic effect, I’m including my unpublished letter to the editor:

I’m concerned the public isn’t receiving the entire story regarding STA’s planned Central City Line BRT project. Rather than rightly accounting for all costs, STA intends to externalize a significant portion of the project cost—improvement and maintenance of the line’s proposed travel ways. Specifically, they don’t plan to pay for improving and maintaining the existing paved routes. Instead, they expect the City of Spokane to maintain them as part of normal roadway maintenance.

In 2004 I produced a report for the City of Spokane entitled Pavement Performance Considerations For Heavy Traffic Loads: Buses; Refuse Trucks; Concrete Trucks; Fire Trucks (http://www.inlandrail.org/editorial_page.php#axle_load_primer) identifying STA as causing by far the most roadway damage wherever they run. In their apparent effort to obfuscate, STA amazingly ignores a major BRT marketing expectation—ride quality—thus rendering them incapable of controlling their own destiny. I see the potential for finger pointing in our future as the CCL’s ride deteriorates, victim to the City’s historically underfunded roadway maintenance program. The citizens might thus expect a future request for higher taxes in order to maintain STA’s BRT lines.

There’s only so much you can say in 200 words. Here are the salient takeaways:

  1. STA’s bus traffic is by far the worst “offender” when it comes to inflicting damage to the City’s roadway network
  2. STA’s proposed CCL vehicles are, in fact BUSES running on regular roadway pavement, with no dedicated travel/guide way
  3. public acceptance and utilization of high capacity transit systems is historically related to ride quality
  4. perhaps in an effort to make the overall numbers look better, STA has not included any allowance for travel way maintenance with respect to the CCL; rather, they’re going to let “the City” handle that, thus making their total cost of ownership look a lot better than actual
  5. in absorbing these future costs, the only way the City will be able to cover these expenses is (a) through their street maintenance account (an element of the general fund, which is tax-based, and the most probable source), (b) future dedicated funding mechanisms such as the current street levy (by definition, tax-based and demonstrably viable), and (c) potential future low interest loans or grants (extremely competitive and highly doubtful)
  6. by relegating CCL travel way maintenance to the City of Spokane, and thus relinquishing internal control, STA is fecklessly positioning itself as to its resulting inability to manage ride quality—its destiny, if you will—short of “harassing” the city to timely respond to ride quality issues as they materialize.

I’m a big fan of cost accounting, which relies, of course on accurately identifying and assigning applicable costs in order to facilitate sound decision making. Astonishingly, STA seems either clueless, or simply doesn’t care about what that means when it comes to getting the Central City Line on the ground.

STA’s Latest Shenanigans

July 23rd, 2014

Full disclosure: I (Dick Raymond) am not a fan of STA. First, as the City of Spokane’s representative on the Technical Advisory Committee (to STA’s Light Rail Steering Committee) during the very exhaustive and comprehensive study that concluded light rail transit, along what was called the south valley corridor would be a desirable and feasible regional alternative providing not only long term transportation/transit benefits, but also very significant and positive near and long-term economic development impacts; Second, as a concerned citizen.

So, why the attitude? I am, to say the least, nonplused that after the change in STA leadership late into the study, emphasis at the highest level suddenly changed from “how might this vision be accomplished?” to “how can this whole thing be scuttled?” This ultimately culminated in a vote by the STA Board to set aside the project and disband the Light Rail Steering Committee, thus putting the kibosh on any further development.

This cancellation was after spending $8 million on the study. Eight million bucks down the drain! I wonder how those who worked so hard to obtain the federal grant in the first place feel after that, let alone the feds themselves? The sorry history of this entire ordeal is fully documented on the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association’s (InlandRail) website at http://www.inlandrail.org. You are encouraged to check it out, particularly the Editorial Page. Read the rest of this entry »

Boeing

November 14th, 2011

Probably like a lot of folks, I (Dick Raymond) have been following the tantalizing story around Boeing’s intent to consider locations other than Everett when they ramp up production of the 737 in response to seriously increasing demand. To their credit, the Spokane area politicos seem to be saying and doing the right things as they prepare their pitch to sell the West Plains area as the most logical location for the new facilities.

While I was working at the City of Spokane, they brought sewer and water to the West Plains in anticipation of such an eventuality. Finally, the County Commissioners are at least saying they’re not going to do something stupid (again) when it comes to zoning and land use issues that affect such industry. And, to be sure, it looks like they’re making a solid effort to back up the rhetoric.

As the various groups add up all the “pluses” for why Boeing ought to seriously consider the West Plains area for their next assembly plant, how cool would it be to say, “…and our light rail provides service all the way to Coeur d’Alene!”

Yeah, that would be very cool. It would also require—let’s see—a light rail system. But, that would have required vision on the part of the regional leaders. Oh, well…

STA Comprehensive Plan Update

August 2nd, 2010

As part of their current (2010) comprehensive plan update effort, STA has produced a pamphlet entitled “The High Performance Transit Network”.  InlandRail picked up a copy when we staffed a booth at the recent Liberty Lake Days celebration, where STA was also staffing a booth.

As you may have surmised, STA is embracing a concept they call High Performance Transit, touting it as “…relevant to both near term challenges and long term opportunities while working towards connecting people with places throughout the Spokane region. A defining element of this vision is the High Performance Transit (HPT) Network.”

In large part, InlandRail agrees with what STA is purportedly attempting, which among other things appears to be proposing a comprehensive and unbiased look at the region’s future transit needs in order to determine an appropriate modal mix to meet those needs. Sounds pretty good.

Well, as great as it feels and sounds, all may not necessarily be wonderful here in River City.  As you may have already guessed, I (Dick Raymond) have written an editorial on this subject that spells out some of my thoughts and concerns regarding STA’s statements and claims. You are encouraged to check out the editorial on our website. 

What’s your opinion? Do you think STA has managed to move beyond their former selves as to be trusted? I hope so. Or, is it more of their legendary status quo-esque sleight of hand? I hope not.

Spokesman-Review Editorial: Transportation Vision

July 16th, 2010

In their Tuesday, July 13, 2010 editorial entitled Public input critical piece in fulfilling transit needs, the S–R editorial board spoke to a visioning process being undertaken by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) “…designed to focus on the full array of agencies, activities and infrastructure needed to move people and goods efficiently around the region. ” Interestingly, we think the editorial board displayed remarkable insight and candor. Read the rest of this entry »

Spokane’s Sustainability Action Plan

June 16th, 2010

At their June 28 meeting, on a 5-2 vote Spokane’s City Council adopted the Sustainability Action Plan produced by Mayor Verner’s Task Force on Sustainability. This document addresses climate mitigation, climate adaptation and energy security—all timely topics—and presents an action plan with strategic recommendations. Notably, Avista’s Roger Woodworth and STA’s Susan Meyer were part of the 13-member task force that developed the Plan. Read the rest of this entry »

KREM TV interview

March 8th, 2010

KREM TV recently interviewed me (Dick Raymond), purportedly about the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association and light rail. Well, to put it kindly it turned out to be not exactly as advertised. You are invited to read/see the KREM story on their website, and then read my website editorial page comments.

My frustration is that no media folks have yet seen fit to do an in-depth analysis of just what has transpired with respect to the light rail story.  Read the rest of this entry »

Promising recent developments

January 15th, 2010

Two recent developments may offer a glimmer of hope for regional light rail: (1) the recent election, and (2) Federal Transit Administration’s January 13 announced revamping of the way proposed major transportation projects are evaluated.

To put it succinctly, the “bad actors” are now off the STA Board, and their replacements seem to be informed listeners without agendas. My hope is that this new STA Board will in fact be characterized by a renewed, informed, visionary, open and transparent dialogue regarding regional light rail, devoid of personal agendas. Let’s see if STA at least gives the new Board a chance to “weigh in” before doing anything rash,  or worse — stupid.

With respect to FTA, their new policy is to now include economic development and environmental benefits when evaluating projects. Read that as admitting, “sustainability and livability matter.”  This monumental about-face is HUGE! They removed their blinders and now admit that “getting there” will be only part of the equation when it comes to evaluating proposed transit projects for financial assistance under their New Starts and Small Starts programs. Their action unequivocally validates the Light Rail Steering Committee’s (and InlandRail’s) contention that transit projects must be evaluated holistically when considering and comparing the merits of competing proposals. 

Let’s see if these new developments give the regional light rail effort any momentum.

STA bus route fracas in Browne’s Addition

October 30th, 2009

In a recent Spokesman Review article, it said how a group of residents in Browne’s addition are up in arms about some bus route shuffling STA recently put in place. It made me think of some work I did while with the City of Spokane regarding the real impact that STA buses have on our city streets — particulary residential ones. I wonder if STA and the city talked about the ramifications with the route adjustments? A paper I wrote on the subject quantified those effects. You can find it here: http://www.inlandrail.org/documents/FactPaperForHeavyAxleLoads.pdf

Editorial page content

October 28th, 2009

The purpose of the InlandRail editorial page is to present in as straightforward a manner as we can, issues pertaining to the whole idea of transportation planning (and, certainly rail-based transportation solutions) and how it fits into the overall regional scheme of things. Essays that reflect the board’s thinking or action have no byline. Other essays Read the rest of this entry »