1. Yesterday afternoon, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff revealed some bad news that could spell trouble up and down the planned Link light rail corridor: The Federal Way station and light rail extension, which was approved as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure in 2008, is now projected to cost $460 million more than anticipated. That increase—the result, Sound Transit staff said yesterday, of escalating land, materials, and labor costs—pushes the price tag for the Federal Way extension up to $2.5 billion. Of that total, $500 million is supposed to come from the federal government—and President Trump has proposed no longer awarding capital investment grants for transit projects, including those that have already been approved. In briefing materials for yesterday’s meeting, Sound Transit expressed optimism at the fact that “In response to the Administration’s proposal to no longer award new [Capital Investment Grants], Congress is demonstrating its strong, bicameral and bipartisan commitment to keep the CIG program funded.” However, the fate of the Federal Way grant, as well as a $1.2 billion grant for a northern light rail extension to Lynnwood, which is also $500 million over budget, is ultimately in the hands of the administration, which has been dragging its feet even on grants that the Federal Transportation Administration has already approved.
On Thursday, Rogoff said Sound Transit had “the financial strength to withstand increased project costs, lower than anticipated federal funding,” or a recession, but if two or more of those problems occur simultaneously, it would “put stress on our ability to deliver.” Rogoff said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the likelihood that Sound Transit would win both grants. However, he added that “In the coming months, the staff and board will have to look closely at how some of these same pressures will impact the rest of the system,” and how market forces in particular (like high construction costs) “could have impacts across the more than two decades of projects of delivery ahead of us.”
In addition to those two financial question marks, Federal Way faces a separate challenge: Revenues have been falling short in the Board members and Rogoff hinted yesterday at another possible way of saving money, if the federal grants don’t come through: By shifting federal dollars from one of the five Sound Transit subareas (say, the North King County subarea, which includes Seattle) into the South King subarea, Sound Transit could fund the Federal Way extension. Sound Transit has a policy called subarea equity that requires funds raised in each of five geographic subareas to be spent in that area, but that policy does not apply to federal funding. As Rogoff said Thursday, “The Sound Transit 3 plan gives the Sound Transit board broad discretion over how to allocate federal assistance between subareas as necessary to complete the system plan, and as necessary to focus federal funding on the subareas facing the greatest challenges.”
Of course, if the Trump Administration decides to starve transit agencies of funding, the question of where to spend federal funds will be the least of Sound Transit’s problems.
2.The Sound Transit board also approved a new policy that will allow drivers of single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) to buy monthly parking permits at park-and-rides that are currently over 90 percent of capacity on weekdays, which will provide certainty for solo commuters, who often have to show up well before 7am or drive around looking for scarce free parking in the lots. The new permits would cost drivers, on average, $90 a month (the exact price for reserved parking at each lot is still TBD), but low-income drivers (those who are eligible for the low-income ORCA Lift pass) would pay around $30 a month. Meanwhile, carpool permits, which currently cost $5 a month, would become free. Half the space in park-and-ride lots subject to the new rules will be reserved, but the rest will still be available free of charge to carpool as well as solo drivers.
The idea behind the SOV permits is to raise revenue for Sound Transit (about $2 million a year) while giving people a financial incentive to carpool to transit instead of driving alone. (The permits will also, incidentally, make driving alone more convenient for people who choose to pay for new SOV permits). Editorializing here: Given that commute-trip reduction (reducing the number of commuters who drive alone) has been official state policy since 1991 , why not encourage carpooling (and increase revenues) by not only making HOV permits free, but charging a parking fee to everyone who chooses to drive alone?
3. One Table, the long-dormant task force charged with coming up with solutions to the root causes of homelessness, will meet again this coming Friday for the first time since April. In advance of that meeting, five mayors of King County cities (Renton, Bellevue, Kent, Auburn, and Kirkland) wrote a letter to the chairs of the task force urging action in several areas, including behavioral health. Specifically, they suggested that One Table look at ways that people who “refuse treatment … could be helped by new legislation allowing for involuntary treatment for those presenting an imminent likelihood of serious harm to self or others, or who are gravely disabled as a result of substance use disorder.”
The legislation, known as Ricky’s Law, allows specially designated mental health professionals to detain people who “present at risk of harm to self or others, or are gravely disabled as a result of a substance use disorder” in a secure detox facility, where people can be physically restrained, secluded, and forced to stay, for up to 17 days.
The immediate problem, as is always the case when the conversation around homelessness turns to no-cost detox or “treatment on demand” for people experiencing homelessness, is that there simply aren’t enough treatment beds for even a fraction of the people who need them. Actually, in King County, there aren’t any secure detox facilities.
So why not just ship people with incapacitating addiction outside the county? Statewide, there are only about 46 secure beds, total—22 in Chehalis and another 24 in Spokane. Because Ricky’s Law does not allow cities to detain people with addiction if there are no beds available, suggesting it as a solution for homeless people struggling with addiction in King County smacks of grandstanding.
If you’re addicted to alcohol, the most likely scenario is that you end up right back where you were—drunk on the street, creating a “nuisance” for the same people who reported you to authorities in the first place. If you’re addicted to heroin, relapsing can mean death. In fact, the period immediately after treatment is the most dangerous point for opiate addicts, who often relapse with the dose they’re accustomed to using, and overdose because their body has lost its tolerance to the drug.
Now you’ve got an increase in overdoses and a new round of treatment “failures,” which anti-homeless activists can use as a justification to say, “See? We told you so! They just want to sit around and use drugs and drink, they don’t want to get better!” From a policy, medical, and human perspective, 17-day detox, even if it includes the kind of vague “referrals to services” that we like to provide instead of actually, you know, funding services that actually work and providing housing to help them stick, is almost worse than nothing.