As part of partnership more than a year in the making, on Thursday the Sound Transit board approved $2 million in funding to study rail transit connecting downtown to Ballard. This is joined by up to $800,000 from the City of Seattle. Sound Transit’s funding will go to study of modes in exclusive right of way, like Link, and the City funding will consider streetcar options, although the funding will be together in one contract. The Federal Transit Administration has indicated there’s no need to study buses further in this corridor.
The last time this corridor was studied, there was no updated Transit Master Plan, nor was there a Seattle Streetcar, so the outcomes will likely be different. The cost-effectiveness of extending the existing streetcar to Fremont and Ballard in its own right of way will be higher, and because of new development, the Interbay corridor will likely also look even better for more completely grade separated rail.
This planning will inform rail in both corridors, so regardless of exactly how the study work shakes out, it’s going to be beneficial for fast rail through Belltown, Uptown and Interbay, and slower rail through SLU, Westlake and Fremont.
During the board meeting, board member Paul Roberts (Everett city council) voiced concerns about Seattle “going it alone”. Before considering further projects, he said, we need to ‘finish the spine’, and build light rail to Everett. Most of the board, though, recognizes that in order to build to Everett, we need projects in Seattle in the next Sound Transit package – due not only to the need for Seattle’s high pro-transit voter turnout, but also because subarea equity requires that the revenue in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas goes to fund projects in that subarea. You can’t build in Everett without building in Seattle, Federal Way, Redmond (and maybe Issaquah), and Tacoma as well.
With that in mind, this makes a lot of sense. The more planning work (and even design and engineering) that can be out of the way, the shorter the timeframe can be for Sound Transit 3, and the better it will fare at the polls.
As for Seattle actually funding major rail construction by ourselves – that’s honestly unlikely. There’s need for rail transit throughout our region, and Seattle has plenty of smaller transit projects that very much need to be funded, like connecting our two streetcar lines together, improving our electric trolley bus system, and rebuilding our road infrastructure to prioritize transit. We’ll definitely help accelerate Sound Transit, but the grassroots groups who support transit expansion in Seattle want to do it in partnership with the region, not by ourselves.