Frequently Asked Questions
InlandRail's 2013 billboard campaign was a response to STA's stated desire to pursue a proposal dubbed the "Central City Line". In a September 24, 2013 Inlander article, STA CEO E. Susan Meyer described STA's vision for an electric powered, rubber-tired trolley that would serve Browne's Addition and downtowm, possibly all the way to Spokane Community College. InlandRail believes that such a system could work harmoniously in support of an overall regional transit system having an electric light rail backbone in the east-west south valley corridor.
It is InlandRail's hope that the billboard campaign might help spark a renewed interest in the overall light rail vision. To that end, we put together a list of questions that have cropped up over the years, together with responses we hope will help "fill in the blanks" for you.
What is the overall vision for a regional Light Rail system?
A fully functioning system would connect the major metropolitan centers along an East-West alignment extending from Coeur d'Alene ID to Cheney WA and Eastern Washington University. Proposed routing would include Post Falls, Liberty Lake, Spokane Valley, Spokane, the Spokane International Airport, and locations on the West Plains. Additional right-of-way has also been reserved within the footprint of the North Spokane Corridor freeway for future high capacity transit to accommodate growth on the north side of Spokane County.
How is a Light Rail system beneficial to the greater Spokane / Coeur d'Alene region?
The greatest benefits of a rail transit system are its potential for economic stimulus and to encourage growth & development to occur near the planned stations within the urban core areas where the necessary public services already exist; i.e. sewer, water, fire / police protection, and other transportation connection options. Waiting until after most growth and development has occurred significantly increases the cost and diminishes the value of redevelopment around the stations. It reduces the overall benefit of a rail transit system to simple congestion relief which is one of its most costly and least beneficial characteristics. Please read the Marketek / Applied Economics report available at InlandRail.org on the economic benefits projected as a result of a regional investment in light rail transit, summarized in the following paragraph:
By all measures, the light rail system would produce a positive net impact at both the corridor and station levels compared to the no build alternative. It would create a significant amount of multifamily, retail and office development in areas around the transit stations. As a result, assessed value and taxable sales would both increase, hence increasing property and sales tax revenues to local jurisdictions.Why Light Rail instead of other transportation options?
We need a balanced transportation system that provides mobility options for those who are too young, too old, physically unable, legally restricted, cannot afford, or simply prefer not to drive a car or ride a bus. A light rail system would integrate into the existing transportation network and is intended to complement rather than compete with other travel options.
There is very little evidence that even the highest quality bus based systems or any transit mode that operates on existing streets have any substantive economic stimulus potential or meaningful influence on growth and development. This is because of two major reasons:
1. Any system such as a bus route is too flexible to financially justify building investments because of the risk that the routing or stop locations would change, as they frequently do. Conversely, the presence of a built platform with steel rails embedded into a concrete alignment represents a permanent presence and therefore increases the viability of an investment in that location.Why should we plan and build Light Rail now instead of waiting until the region is more congested or more populated?
A major reason to build light rail now is that basic inflation increases construction costs at a rate that exceeds the actual rate of Spokane County's population growth. That means the system costs more per person with population growth over time, contrary to common perceptions.
Previous engineering cost analysis for a 15.5 mile system along the South Valley Corridor indicated a $300 million system would cost about $7 million annually to operate and maintain. Over ten years at 3% annual inflation, the initial cost would grow by over $100 million while the operating costs, subjected to the same inflation rate, would have been only $80 million. This represents a savings of $20 million over the first ten years, even if no one used the system. Accounting for the project's lowest daily ridership estimate would generate ticket and advertising revenues that would further offset annual operating costs by about $1.3 million, increasing the savings gained from building the system now by another $15 million over the first ten years.
Wasn't there already a vote on Light Rail in 2006 and it failed?
Two advisory votes did occur in 2006 but they were advisory only, asking:
1. Does the public support developing a funding plan for a $263 million system to run from Spokane through Spokane Valley to Liberty Lake? and,Ironically, it should be noted that the transit agency opposed the advisory votes and only a handful of private citizens campaigned on behalf of light rail. While close, the first question was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46% and the second question was defeated by a closer vote of 52% to 48%. A better informed electorate is more likely to support light rail as a long-range, strategic transportation initiative for the region.
How long would it take before a regional Light Rail system could be operating?
Previous engineering analysis indicated a starter system consisting of 15.5 miles and 13 stations between Spokane and Liberty Lake would take a minimum of 5-8 years to plan, design, and build. Expansion of the initial system to the above described vision extending from Coeur d'Alene to Cheney would occur gradually over a much longer timeframe dependent upon public demand and funding availability.
How much would a regional Light Rail system cost?
The original 2006 estimate for a 15.5 mile, 13 station system along the South Valley Corridor was about $263 million or roughly $17 million per mile, encompassing all costs including real estate, construction, and vehicle procurement. While this seems expensive, compare the per mile cost of the North Spokane Corridor freeway or current construction of light rail in Seattle, both at over $180 million per mile.
The Spokane light rail project would be among the cheapest systems ever built in the U.S. specifically because it would start smaller in scope along presently available right-of-way that is relatively uncongested. Much of the cost savings are derived specifically because it would be built before Spokane becomes fully developed and congested.
How could we afford and fund a regional Light Rail system?
Numerous funding schemes were identified in a project report published in 2006 as part of the alternatives analysis during conceptual development of the South Valley Corridor project and is available for review on the InlandRail.org website (Financing and Management of a Light Rail System). That report basically relied on NO additional federal funding and NO state funding. It utilized existing funds available at the time, a new two-tenths percent (0.2%) sales tax, and relatively minor amounts derived from tax increment financing and transportation benefit districts established around select station areas. A new funding plan would need to be developed based on current circumstances. Additional state or federal funds would further reduce the local burden.
Who would build and operate a regional Light Rail system?
The existing bus transit agency for the Spokane region (STA) could be an owner / operator of an integrated bus/rail transit system. However, it is not necessary for the existing bus transit agency to automatically become the owner and operator of a new rail transit system. Many communities have separate transit agencies that run rail service separate from other transportation services, Seattle and Tacoma being notable examples in the State of Washington. There are no legal or regulatory restrictions that would prevent a new regional agency from operating a rail transit system separate from the existing transit agency if the community deemed it in their best interest.
Has there been any planning already that gives us the information necessary to move forward with a regional Light Rail system?
The Boards of the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council jointly established the Light Rail Project Steering Committee in June 2000. It was charged to assist in the development of light rail for the south valley corridor from downtown Spokane east to Liberty Lake and to guide the project through design, construction, and start-up. Funding was provided through a series of federal grants totaling nearly $9 million to be used for the conceptual engineering, environmental impact analysis, and related studies necessary to complete the initial alternatives analysis.
After more than six years of deliberation and technical analysis, the Steering Committee published its recommendations for a single-track, 15.5-mile light rail system with 13 stations at key locations along the publicly owned east-west corridor on former railroad right-of-way, Sprague Avenue, and Appleway. The project reports are contained in their entirety on the InlandRail.org website for public review. Spokane Transit discontinued the project in December 2006.
What can I do to help make a regional Light Rail system happen?
Become a friend and/or member of the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association. We are a non-profit, non-partisan group of individuals who understand the importance of this issue to the greater Spokane / Coeur d'Alene region. We are comprised of former elected officials, retired engineers, school teachers, mathematicians, retired railroad workers, and many other with widely varying backgrounds who have joined to advocate for rail transit for all of the beneficial reasons outlined above.
Noteworthy is the fact that fully 100% of all donated funds are used for advocacy materials on behalf of InlandRail.org. No individuals receive any personal compensation for their involvement.
Who can I send my comments to in order to influence planning for a Light Rail system?
Provided here on the InlandRail.org website are the public email addresses for most of our regional elected officials who are charged with representing the interests of the region. Please take the time to provide your comments to your elected officials and/or to InlandRail.org via our website. [2020 Note: this list was as of the year 2013. These officials are most likely not in office now, but this will give you an idea of where to look.] Also, consider providing comments with respect to what you believe should be included in the long-range plans being prepared by the Spokane Transit Authority at www.spokanetransit.com and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council at www.SRTC.org.