When the City Fathers began construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal over a century ago, shipping on Lake Washington was an important industry. Today, however, it’s hard to make that claim.
Lake Washington has been left to the pleasure boats. People enjoying their yachts isn’t the worst thing in the world, but we clearly would not launch such a huge infrastructure project today for such a trivial purpose.
Meanwhile, the ship canal massively inflates the complexity and cost of most transportation lines that cross it. University Link had to lose lots of altitude from Capitol Hill to go under the cut, a constraint that both lengthened the tunnel and essentially eliminated the possibility of additional stations.
On the other side of town, Seattle and Sound Transit are trying to figure out how to pay for a new drawbridge at Fremont and some sort of grade-separated crossing at Ballard. If Seattle gets what it needs, it will be many additional hundreds of millions of dollars to cross this entirely artificial barrier.
Weighed against the cost of pushing dirt into a ditch, restoring the path between Fremont and Ballard to a creek, and the denial of boating routes to a wealthy few, the choice is clear. There are many legal obstacles (not least the fact that both canals are historic places of some kind). But the right thing to do is the right thing to do, even if those in the wrong will fight against it.