Now that Capitol Hill-Portage Bay tunnel is plagued with cost overruns, the critics of Sound Transit will try to exploit the situation to promote their pet projects. With costs 30 to 40 percent above original estimates, however, the light rail tunnel has stayed within costs better than at least two projects favored by Sound Transit’s detractors.
In 1996 when the regional transit was on the ballot, a new Highway 520 bridge was estimated to cost $1 billion. The latest estimates by the Washington state Department of Transportation come closer to $4 billion.
In 1997 when I-41 was passed, monorail proponents said a 40 mile citywide system could be built for $1 billion. This was based on a mile long line in Las Vegas, which cost $25 million. Plans by the city of Las Vegas to expand that line estimate current costs to be $100 million per mile. With this area’s unique geography it could cost us even more to build.
Additional bus service may be cheaper than light rail. Making it free will not guarantee more people will take the bus however. The bus is already cheaper than driving, just not as convenient, especially when buses use the same roads as cars. Even the HOV lanes get congested during rush hour. One good fender bender can and does affect those lanes as well as the general-purpose lanes.
What we need in this area is additional right of way. It won’t be cheap and for all its problems Sound Transit’s light rail is still one of the most affordable means.
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