Completing the Spine: Federal Way to Tacoma

Rail passengers began traveling between Seattle and Tacoma in 1884, a 25 mile trip that took three hours.   Eventually, the interurban made trips between Tacoma, Seattle and Everett until 1928, when Highway 99 opened and intercity rail travel began a long decline.  Sound Transit brought a commuter rail connection back to the City of Destiny with Sounder in 2000, and it’s long been the agency’s goal to connect the regional “spine” between Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma with frequent, all-day transit.

One can certainly debate whether a 60-mile N-S light rail line is the right vision for regional transit (one that transitions from highway-running to at-grade streetcar to urban subway along the way). If I ran the zoo, I’d probably spend my money building expensive rail connecting close-in urban areas instead.  Alas, due to the outright hostility to transit at the state level, we’ve opted to roll our own “regional” transit solution. And so, as we evaluate high-capacity corridors for possible funding in future Sound Transit capital expenditures, connecting Tacoma is almost a given at this point.

The original ST2 package included not just a corridor study for the Tacoma extension, but a full environmental review.  When the recession hit and the South King subarea’s sales tax revenue declined, the board shifted gears and instead opted for a shovel-ready plan to Federal Way, which could be used to start construction, along with a lighter corridor study from Federal Way to Tacoma.

So what does an extension to Tacoma look like? Unlike the South King study, the 10-mile stretch from Federal Way to Tacoma is fairly straightforward. We can choose either SR-99 or I-5, and we can have light rail or bus rapid transit.  Thus we see Sound Transit’s relatively straightforward options in the chart below:

fw-to-tacoma

At the low end, we have BRT along I-5, costing $600M-$700M, and carrying 6,000 to 11,000 passengers.  Reliability would be fairly poor due to I-5 traffic, and the transfer penalty would be significant.  The cheapest LRT option runs along I-5 and costs between $1.7B and $1.9B. The most expensive option runs along the SR-99 median and costs between $2.5B and $2.9B.   Running the train along the west side of SR-99 drops the price to $1.9B – $2.2B, with no cost to ridership or time penalty.  Median-running makes life easier for pedestrians (no one has to walk across the entirety of SR-99 to catch the train) but may or may not be worth the almost 50% increase in costs.

That said, Sound Transit isn’t making this decision in in a vacuum.  In an alternative universe, it might make sense to build the cheaper option and use the savings elsewhere in the region. But due to subarea equity, Sound Transit may find itself with excess cash in this subarea that it can’t spend elsewhere, and so it’s good to have a superior option on the table.

Full report after the jump.

ST SCAP Level 2 Presentation Executive Comm 2-6-14

Comments

  1. Alex Francis Burchard says

    If they have excess cash in the south subarea then they should put it to the sounder, or extending Tacoma link into a full streetcar system for Tacoma. They shouldn’t just spend it on putting link in the median because they can, IMO. As someone who has worked and gone to school in Tacoma and commuted there by transit from Kent.

    • schala says

      If they have excess cash, *and* they’re building rapid transit anyway, then using the cash to improve a rapid transit line strikes me as a much better solution than using the cash to improve a commuter rail line that only runs a few times a day.

      I agree with you that building a richer Tacoma Link system would be a lot better, though…

      • Josh F. says

        What Sound Transit needs to do is to seriously study how much it would cost to improve Sounder to either (a) 15 min peak, 30 min off-peak frequencies, or (b) 15 minute frequency all day. Unless the cost is ridiculous (even though I don’t see why it would be since most of the ROW already exists), this should be a more cost-effective way of improving trips to Tacoma and the Kent Valley, and the mobility improvements would be drastic.

      • William C. says

        Cheaper than Link, very likely. But let’s not forget that BNSF is regularly using that line for freight service, so Sound Transit would almost certainly have to build a third track.

      • djw says

        (even though I don’t see why it would be since most of the ROW already exists)

        This isn’t actually true, is it? I was under the impression that BSNF hold the ROW, and is actually using it for freight during off-peak hours. Obviously, adding off-peak trips would seem to make a good deal of sense, if the tracks weren’t otherwise occupied.

      • MrZ says

        It would be better to double track the UP (ex MILW) line from Tacoma to Tukwilla, with CTC signaling, and crossovers. Than you could move a majority of the BNSF traffic to the UP line. You would still have to have freights on the former BN though for local access, and access to the Auburn yard and Stampede pass. However, I think this would be a cheaper option than expanding LINK to Tacoma for Tacoma-Seattle traffic, which by the time it gets to Tacoma will not be a fast way into Seattle.

  2. NJL says

    It’s a long slog of nothing between Federal Way city center and Fife. For whom would this be built? Even *if* the Tacoma/Seattle commute demanded improvements over the current situation, it would make far more sense to pour money into improving/expanding Sounder and ST Express. A lousy I-5 light rail isn’t going to improve commute time between Tacoma and Seattle, and it won’t pick up very many other customers either. I don’t see there being a huge demand for trips between Tacoma and Federal Way.

    Granted, this might marginally improve the reliability of trips between Tacoma and SeaTac Airport, but few people do this commute regularly. It would benefit Tacomans far more to expand their own intra-city rail.

    More Tacoma Link and Sounder investments are a clear winner over “completing the spine.”

    • mic says

      If memory serves me correctly, Tacoma specifically wanted rails in the ground as part of Sound Move, so that later on (now) the ST Board wouldn’t be inclined to stop short in Federal Way.
      In effect, they created a gap, that now need to be filled.
      I’d prefer to have freights move over to the UP ROW between Seattle and Tacoma, and run bi-levels, RDC’s and Amtrak along the BNSF corridor all day, in both directions.
      I also want to find the Fountain of Youth

      • mic says

        UP (Union Pacific RR) yards in Georgetown runs along I-5 with the BNSF to Tukwila, then they diverge, with the UP taking the westerly course down the Green R. Vly, skirting the downtowns to Tacoma yards, while the BNSF runs through the heart of downtowns to the same place.

      • Anandakos says

        It’s important to remember that the UP route is rather tightly hemmed in by development; there are a few places where it couldn’t be doubled without moving the existing track which would be a major disruption.

        But much more expensive is the necessity of building highway overpasses if the UP route is to become the main artery for freight.

        Of course, the cost of doing such things is much lower than a Link extension, but it’s non-trivial and doesn’t give the same level of service, though travel times would be faster from downtown Seattle to downtown Tacoma for an all-day Sounder service, even though it’s a considerably longer routing.

    • djw says

      Even *if* the Tacoma/Seattle commute demanded improvements over the current situation, it would make far more sense to pour money into improving/expanding Sounder and ST Express.

      Right; I can’t imagine Link will never be competitive with express buses for Seattle/Tacoma trips, except during the worst traffic times, and we’ve already got Sounder then. For it to make sense there must be enough demand for shorter trips in the area.

      • Anandakos says

        mic,

        Take a close look around Pacific and Algona. The ROW can’t be more than fthirty feet wide through there.

      • mic says

        OK, I just came back from my low level google flight through there, and am happy to report the 100′ ROW is still intact. You got me worried there!

  3. Kyle S. says

    “Completing the spine”

    The spine runs from the University District to Beacon Hill. Tacoma is a burr on a tumor on a prolapsed tail.

    • says

      Tell that to anyone outside the City of Seattle, especially those who don’t understand how transit actually works, which is pretty much all of them not already on the ST board.

  4. Brent says

    “I don’t see there being a huge demand for trips between Tacoma and Federal Way.”

    I just don’t see there being a huge demand for trips between Tacoma, Lakewood, Ruston, Puyallup, and Sumner, either. But until we test the hypothesis with something approaching semi-frequent and useful transit, it is just a wild guess.

    It’s too bad we can’t create an all-day frequent BRT-style line between Tacoma and Seattle, stopping at Federal Way, ya know, kinda like the wildly-popular ST Express 512. It seems like it wouldn’t be that expensive to install direct HOV ramps leading straight into Federal Way Transit Center, that could keep the time penalty to, say, 5 minutes for those going all the way between Tacoma and Seattle. It seems like it would also be pretty cheap to install freeway flyer stops close to Kent-Des-Moines Rd, with a frequent cross-Kent bus intersecting it.

    Certainly, we can make Seattle-Tacoma transit service at least as good as Seattle-Everett transit service, given that there is more there there to Tacoma than to Everett, and a more concentrated feed of Federal Way’s bedroom-community commuters into Federal Way TC than there is to any connection point in Lynnwood.

    What would be the capital cost of such a plan?

    • RossB says

      I don’t know what the cost would be, but I agree that spending money on freeway ramps and similar improvements would likely be a lot cheaper than anything involving rail. Depending on the improvements, it might be a lot more popular. Most of the the dense and popular spots in Tacoma are fairly close to the freeway (with the exception of UPS). If a bus can go along a main street, then get over to the freeway quickly, it could, potentially, get to downtown Seattle ten minutes before any the light rail.

    • MrZ says

      This should be done as an interim until more formal and useful high capacity transit can be built linking Tacoma-Seattle. Based on my expierence on the 594 a few weeks ago this was needed years ago. And it needs to have a high frequency as well.

      • RossB says

        I think things will get better once they finish the HOV lanes on I-5. The other issue (and maybe you can speak to it) is getting from the HOV lanes over to SODO. The HOV lane is on the left side, but the exit to the Spokane Street Viaduct is on the right. I assume this is a problem, and costs the bus a couple minutes. Maybe an HOV ramp from I-5 to the Spokane Street Viaduct freeway would help. Likewise, I wonder how much time is spent getting down to the Busway. How does that work, anyway? Maybe the ramp from I-5 could directly connect to the busway. Extend the busway a bit south, then just build a ramp from I-5 over to that. You would have a lot of flexibility that way in terms of where you build the ramp.

        As far as frequency goes, the 594 runs every five minutes in the morning and evening. Link south of Beacon Hill will never have more frequency than that, which is yet another argument for BRT (along that line).

  5. Wells says

    Have a look at Honolulu elevated beams and station areas now in place, new sidewalks, crosswalks, infill development. google map

    The money defines the politics.
    Why can’t Bill Gates people build decent sidewalk, treescapes, park shrubbery. But they do oh-so-love their Sculptury sculpted sculpturafical sculptursations!! Ooo Aaa! (^;
    The Waterfront design isn’t as good as it should be.
    Traffic will be rows of cars entering along rows exiting.
    Long lines at ferry exits/entrances. Backups blocks at a time.
    Not sure current design is best. Fundamentals are neglected.

    I’m sorry, but Sound Transit grandiose parking garage stations leave me feeling a little sick. How about better trolleybuses for hillclimbing downtown? Oh that’s metro,
    worst route system design I’ve ever seen by far.
    Trust these guys? I don’t think so.
    Bertha must be stopped, period, end of story.
    No pretense of repair and restart.
    Box Cut-Cover Tunnel/Seawall instead.
    Still possible and makes way too much sense.
    You guys are so so screwed, you have no idea.
    Put Mike back on the job of stopping Bertha, K?

  6. Mark Dublin says

    Talk about a radio carbon selfie! Until I was ten in 1955, we lived a half mile from Lake Michigan and same distance from north city line. Wikipedia: Interurban railway, Chicago and North Shore and most of all, the Electroliner. All these terms are as pertinent as they are forgotten.

    What we’ve already started doing with Central Link, and will continue north and east, is essentially interurban electric rail- with quite a history. Between late 1890’s and the early 1960’s, everybody knew what the interurban was: a big, powerful, heavy streetcar that ran main streets through small towns, and very high speeds on reserved track in between. Subarea equity was somewhat different then.

    For decades, average interurban car looked like a George Benson streetcar on steroids. But in the late 1930’s, fifteen years into the decline of street rail precipitated by sudden ability of the average person to by an automobile, the streetcar industry- all private- made some efforts to modernize. Look up PCC Streetcar.

    The “North Shore” ran 90 miles between Chicago and Milwaukee- 30 miles farther than Seattle Olympia. But in brave effort to save the industry, the line built two four-segment articulated trains. Same front end as The Burlington Zephyr diesels- short of a shovel for a nose. Green with red detailing.
    Street track in mixed traffic through Milwaukee.

    Then a hundred miles an hour on its own track down the Skokie Valley, single pole trolleywheel on overhead catenary. At Howard Street, the Chicago city line, the conductor would reach out a door window and pull the pole down with a rope- and the train would take the “third rail” on the Chicago “El” (for elevated- see the first Blues Brothers flick) Downtown and around the “Loop.” Which was several miles of structure that looked like a linear Brooklyn Bridge without the suspension. Then back out to Milwaukee.

    The memory makes me a little more sympathetic to ST’s rail plans. By the numbers, probably a lot against. Imagine driving a ’51 Plymouth alongside one of those monsters. Also, trying to keep the train on time through traffic. But the real beauty of street rail is that the same train can, basically, run the most efficient right-of-way for each location along the track.

    I’d incline to Pac Highway because good service would guarantee that business and residence would swiftly follow. I-5 will, and probably should be, somewhat isolated. But interurban design could be more of an art than a science as to choice of street, median, elevated, and subway operation. Central Link is definitely an excellent proving ground for interurban. Wisely no mixed traffic- but aside from that, got it all.

    One more absolutely critical thing: one of the segments of the Electroliner was a restaurant car- bistro’s were all in France and nobody ate anything wrapped in plastic. White tablecloths. Real coffee- there’s a menu someplace online. Try that with BRT!

    Mark Dublin

    • Anandakos says

      Mark,

      Agree on the choice of SR99 rather than I-5, because of the possibility of

    • Anandakos says

      contd

      development. But do remember that from just south of the King-Pierce line they’re only a couple of hundred yards apart, and sometimes less. The east and south side walksheds are mostly non-existent or already filled up with auto-oriented development. Most of the development potential is up in King County.

      Your description of the Electroliners make it clear that their competition was the parallel NorthWestern and Milwaukee streamliners, not buses. There were only a couple of stops between Skokie and Milwaukee, west of Evanston and Waukegan. It really wasn’t anything like Links is planned to be; that’s why it was able to average 60 mph.

      LRT is simply too slow for sixty miles trips because of its many stops — even the Light Metro version like Link. If South King County grows significantly in the next few decades because business and people flee the overbaked southwest, perhaps there will be enough activity at all those stations to make it worthwhile. But it would be a long, frustrating ride from downtown Tacoma to UW, for instance.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Many good points, Also remember the Northwestern and the Milwaukee Road. The Northwestern and the North Shore shared some right of way above Evanston, and the two stations at Howard Street were close together.

        A case could be made that there should have been room for both, The Electroliner was a North Shore train on a special express line, but the railroad’s map included other routes where the older cars went right down main streets with soda fountains.

        Until everybody got a car. And a freeway. One thing to remember: in 1950, huge number of men were combat veterans of both World Wars. And the country had just come out of two decades of massive depression.

        American consumerism, and a lot of other aggravations, including sprawl, malls, and suburbs, have to be seen in that context. The Depression and the war were the last really bad times that most people in the US have ever seen. It was natural that people should feel entitled to some comfort and fun.

        Two main things really killed the interurbans: first, the massive move from the country to cities and suburbs – and then the Interstate Highway system. Combined with the new affordability of cars, coupled with the average person’s increased ability to afford them.

        Won’t say “You young people just don’t realize…” Have already been advised to hang out at the Senior Citizens Center. But around Chicago in the early 1950’s, I do remember rural street/combined with high speed electric rail.

        In contemporary books, you’ll find pictures of the interurban cars- a fair number of them had baggage doors- loading milk cans and other farm goods. And likely mail. Made sense considering that within twenty miles of the city limit, many roads were still gravel.

        Nobody’s trying to go back to the world of the interurbans- though R. A. Lafferty wrote a howl of a story about a world where interurban coaches all had rifle cabinets so passengers could defend themselves from savage illegal drivers roaming the land like Mad Max.

        But that technology still has a lot of lessons and possibilities for us.

        Mark

      • William C. says

        Do you happen to remember the title of that Lafferty story? It sounds fun.

  7. d.p. says

    Amazing that Seattle and Tacoma were
    7 miles closer to each other in 1884 than today!!

  8. Sam says

    While normally I believe we shouldn’t reward and enable an unsustainable lifestyle, like choosing to live miles from work, by building them a multi-billion dollar rail system from their house to downtown (freeway congestion is a healthy and good filter and penalty that naturally restricts sprawl), because the densification of downtown is causing rents to rise to a point where only the wealthy and the subsidized poor can afford to live there, the middle class, due to the push for urbanism by density zealots, is being pushed further and further out to chase affordable rents, so while this run-on paragraph may seem like a bunch of outrageous, incoherent claims by an idiot pretending to be a transit expert in order to provoke a response, what I’m really trying to say is we may now have to build rail further out, because the rising rents caused by density is forcing people to move further out, and now these people, which urbanism forced from their homes, have to have a way to get to work downtown.

    • Anandakos says

      Run on sentences or not, you’re basically right on this one, Sam. The process you’ve described is indeed what is happening.

      But, the reason it’s happening is not a cabal of developers and “density zealots” destroying cities in smoky rooms. It is the collective decisions of millions of members of a new group of young people who are tired of the lack of activity in the suburbs. They grew up with mom and dad hating one another from the boredom and isolation that the ‘burbs enforce on people. They’re sick of having to drive fifteen miles to do anything! So they’re moving to the cities.

      The drop in crime from an aging population, removal of lead from the air, increased incarceration and improved policing has made the cities safer than they were a couple of decades ago, and it’s where the action is. Many young people have decided not to have families in order to reduce their footprint on the planet. So they don’t need and don’t plan to need a large house and yard to maintain.

      They actually are “middle class” in terms of income, education, expectations and prospects. They just aren’t “middle class” in the traditional sense of being small landowners.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Transit history this last century really shows one thing: no trend is forever. There may also be many other ways to organize our living patterns so that we have productive, relaxed, and satisfying lives that combine the best of previous modes.

        What rail makes more useful than private cars is that it may be able to create many individual cities and towns, like neighborhoods, with miles of fields and forests between them.

        A lot of the ugliness and waste of land-use right now is not people traveling longer distances for everyday life, but the huge number of cars, and the giant expanses of concrete created for them to go nowhere and do nothing.

        This is definitely a generational thing. But one caution: the dangerous tendency to create neighborhoods that are not only expensive to live in, but pointedly don’t include the way ordinary people used to be able to live in cities. Meaning manufacturing work paying decent money without three decades of college.

        I’m not entirely kidding when I harass the Waterfront Project that what’s needed is not just streetcars, but for them to run on a line that also carries some freight for the new neighborhood.

        Where I think that being around something really being produced is exactly what modern life is missing. The old Waterfront made a lot of things. Some of which likely moved part of their trip by streetcar or trains of that caliber.

        Mark

  9. John Bailo says

    All this readily available transit can turn two cities into a Bi-Cities region.

    The Tacoma Dome for example, now becomes an idea place to situate an NBA and NHL franchise to provide weight between the two.

    Also, I’ve recently read that the port traffic to the Northwest has been dwindling to the point that one port can support it all. Imagine the Tacosea bi-cities with clean clean waterways hosting high rise condos bordering Elliot Bay. A much reduced Boeing (as COMAC increases its production) allowing us to reclaim the Duwamish.

    • Mark Dublin says

      I like your basic idea, John, but you’ve got a couple of details backwards.

      Downtown Tacoma has a stunningly beautiful location, especially looking northeast to Mt. Rainier. And three amazing museums along the waterfront, with some really nice new high rise buildings and doubtless more intended.

      With the huge amount of money the condo industry, and its tenants will bring in, should be no problem making the place smell like mountains and forests again.

      Willing to consider moving the stadiums. Anywhere. Moses Lake has more room. But the last forty years nationwide ought to give you a good idea of what happens when any entity gives or throws away its manufacturing industry, and adjuncts like the Port of Seattle. Namely: Detroit.

      Both the pollution and the drop in business are the curable results of industries who have themselves have given up and are being trashed out, managed by people who would rather make bets than products, dressed in pin-stripes instead of brocade vests.

      BTW: derivatives, credit default swaps, bank loans, and ORCA cards are not products. Fact that it’s so popular to call them that shows that these industries know that people still see that producing wealth is more sound than trading claims on it.

      But more than anything else, the new young money now moving into cities share one thing with the middle aged money hanging on in the suburbs: the communities they create is teenage girl-roll-your-eyes BO-RING.

      Aside from that, though, we agree.

      Mark

      Clean, modern manufacturing work people can get after a couple of years in trade school, paid off by a couple of years work- not twenty years in school and in debt for life.

      Ever since South Lake Union demolished Moka’s cafe, I’ve been holding on at Kakao, but don’t like not to have any back up.

      Tacoma always seemed to me to be a place that started out to be a very active city- at one time, the smart money had it eclipsing Seattle. I wasn’t out here yet when the place became something out of sci-fi, where the whole population switched dimensions.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Ever notice how typed screw-ups happened a lot less with old Remingtons and correcting tape? Sorry: know author has to take responsibility, though would be good if OT mechanism also had instant DIO message- DO IT OVER. Also, recognizing truth: TGDL. First word TOO, last one LONG!

        Mark

    • Bernie says

      Northwest has been dwindling to the point that one port can support it all.

      Where on earth did you hear that? The NBA would rather temporarily play in the old inadequate Seattle Center Colosseum while they wait for their new palace to be built in Sodo. Nobody but you John has ever dreamed of an NBA and/or NHL team in the Tacoma Dome which is a concert venue and high school sports facility. About as likely as the NBA locating in the Yakima Sun Dome; or hydrogen powered cars.

  10. Glenn in Portland says

    Sometimes the preferred alignment can be ovwrcome by an alignment that makes more sense. For the west side MAX line the official preferred alignment was a surface route along highway 26. Many people could see the advantage of putting than in a tunnel under the west hills, but tunneling is expensive. However, after enough public testimony favoring the tunnel, this was finally changed. It was not easy to do so, and it was more expensive.

    Today, I don’t think anyone can imagine the line to Beaverton being anywhere other than in the tunnel. Sometimes, when the superior alignment costs more money, it is best to bite the bullet and spend the money.

    Light rail along major roads such as hwy 99 seem to ultimately generate the best long term ridership. For faster speeds, the existing ST expresses really are not exceptionally expensive.

  11. Erentz says

    “If I ran the zoo, I’d probably spend my money building expensive rail connecting close-in urban areas instead.”

    Yes please. As an outsider I can’t help but think Everett to Tacoma would’ve been better served as part of a larger integrated regional rail solution, extending to places like Olympia too. Use existing railways. Over time improve them with extra connections, improvements for speed, diversions into/under towns, etc. The history of “commuter rail” in the states seems to be one of lost opportunities due to ownership and regulations governing railways when compared to European models.

    • RossB says

      I agree. A regional rail system that connected Everett, Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia would be really nice. Then build good transit systems within each city. Seattle is the only one big enough to warrant a big light rail rail system, but I have no problem with Tacoma (or anyone else) building streetcars or whatever else they want. But a light rail system works best when it involves lots of very popular stops. Most of the stops in our core are like that. Now someone can go from Roosevelt to Capitol Hill without having to go downtown first. Someone from Northgate can go to the U-District. These trips are fast and frequent because you will ride with lots of other people who will be doing similar trips (UW to Westlake).

      The Tacoma line simply doesn’t have that. There is only one significant stop along the way, and that is the airport. Will huge numbers of people go from Federal Way to Angle Lake? How about Star Lake to Tukwila? Or how about Tacoma to Rainier Beach? Even that combination, which is way more populous than the other ones will probably garner a handful of riders.

      I see four possibilities here, and they are at odds with each other, to a certain extent:

      1) Build an intercity express rail system (an expansion of Sounder). That is discussed above, and it would not be easy or cheap, nor would it be especially fast. People complain about the curves in the light rail line (to serve Rainier Valley) but the curves of the rail line (to go to Puyallup) make a lot less sense (and slow things down more). Nonetheless, it could be reasonably fast, and reasonably cheap and popular. That would actually compliment some of the other ideas here.

      2) End the southern part of Link at either Highline Community College or Federal Way. In either case, substantial work would have to be done to make the bus transfer to the station(s) fast and easy. Spend money on that. This includes the possibility of spending money on adding HOV lanes on other highways (e. g. 516). For that reason, I would end it at Highline Community College, since, for the same money, you could get more benefit (more HOV lanes, a better transit center, etc.). Now buses from other areas, including Tacoma, would interface with Link at the sound end.

      3) End the southern part of Link in a similar location, but run buses towards a different part of Link or just downtown. I’m not sure where the best spot is. But if a shortcut is desired, then I think the best spot might be SoDo. Substantial work would have to be done here to make this viable, but I don’t think this work would be anything close to the money spent on light rail to Tacoma. You would be talking about extra ramps, extra docking stations, etc. There is already some transit infrastructure there (bus lanes). SoDo is a nice location in its own right, in that it could easily become part of greater downtown Seattle, just as South Lake Union did.

      4) Build light rail all the way to Tacoma. I think this would prove to be the least popular of all the options. You wouldn’t be able spend the money on the other projects to make the stations really popular (e. g. no money would be spent on making it easy for riders from Kent Valley to get to the light rail). A train ride from Tacoma to Seattle would be fairly slow (although pleasant). It would, however, benefit a handful of people who commute to Tacoma but live near a train station in the suburbs (e. g. Federal Way), as well as the handful of Tacoma residents who need to get to the airport. You could also get tourists to Tacoma. I would ride it, for example, as I really like Tacoma, but live in Seattle and don’t feel like taking a bus to check out the glass museum. But I would take it, maybe, once a decade. I really don’t see that many people doing that more often.

  12. RossB says

    >> Reliability would be fairly poor due to I-5 traffic, and the transfer penalty would be significant.

    In a few years (before anything is built to Tacoma) the entire I-5 line, between Seattle and Tacoma, will include HOV lanes. So the idea that a bus would often be stuck in I-5 traffic is simply wrong.

    I’m not sure what transfer penalty you are talking about. For most people, using Link would involve a transfer penalty. Look at the density map of Tacoma. Look at the possible destinations. It isn’t hard to imagine a pretty good set of stations, but the large majority of people will not be close to a station. If you built a train system, and the train system was extremely popular, then the vast majority of people would arrive at the station by bus. They would then have to transfer.

    Imagine a bus running through the streets of Tacoma, then directly to an HOV on-ramp, then an HOV lane, then another HOV exit ramp to an HOV street until they connect in downtown Seattle to a train station. This would be much better for the vast majority of users. The key here is to make sure every part of this is done right. This is what we should spend money on. Build the ramps, and build the transit centers so that the buses can move very quickly and people can transfer very quickly to the train.

    As Richard Conlin said, a spine needs ribs. Beyond the core, this spine will never serve a substantial portion of Seattle, let alone the less populated cities north or south. But it can provide a very good feeder system for buses, so that people can quickly and easily get to where they want to go. What is true of Lake City, and West Seattle is also true of Tacoma. They will probably never get light rail, but if they have a fast, easy, frequent way to move faster than a single occupancy car, then they will use it. Run a bus between Lake City and Bitter Lake at five minute intervals all day long and it would be extremely popular, even though there is a “transfer penalty”. But if that transfer penalty involves simply walking a few feet from the stop to the station at 130th, I’ll take it (and so will many others).

    If we spend money on these types of improvements, then all similar areas benefit. For example, if we spend money on a SODO transit center, and provide a way for buses to get from 99 or the West Seattle freeway to get to it without interruption, it could be used by buses from everywhere from West Seattle to Tacoma. On the other hand, if we extend light rail to Tacoma, then it does nothing for the other areas (except the handful of stations along the way, most of which are practically uninhabited).

    I don’t know all the little reasons why buses are stuck in freeway traffic, but I know the big reason (lack of HOV lanes) are going away. We obviously need to do more, but spending money on those types of improvements will lead to way better outcome per dollar than a light rail line to Tacoma would.

    • RossB says

      Aaach! Sorry, I thought I closed the anchor tag. I didn’t mean for the entire second half of my comment to be a link (I should stop trying to inline HTML in my comments).

  13. Al S. says

    It’s disappointing that this study is looking at Central Link LRT or BRT as the only options, and only looking at two obvious corridors that run less than a mile from each other. This is not a DEIS! This is a visioning study! This looks more like a North Link style DEIS than it does a real systems strategy study.

    They could have been much more creative with blending modes and routes. What about extending Tacoma Link to Federal Way or to a midpoint? What about a two-way, frequent DMU that could extend to Olympia from Federal Way? What about a BRT that would extend through Tacoma to JBLM? It just amazes me how Sound Transit narrowly scopes these studies and doesn’t take the opportunity to get some ballpark costs for other system options.

    • RossB says

      I agree. Even treating BRT like it is light rail is silly. Yes, there are some lines that can operate as pure, unadulterated BRT. But most of the people that ride any line south of Rainier Valley will arrive via a bus. It doesn’t make sense for those bus drivers to transfer to another, more frequent (and more grade separated bus). Make the necessary improvements to the roads and/or transit centers, and all buses (and all bus riders) benefit. As I’ve mentioned in other comments, I am curious as to what slows up the buses. If it is I-5 traffic, that problem is largely going away (as soon as they finish the HOV lanes). If it getting from I-5 to SODO, then let’s solve that problem. If it getting from somewhere down south (say Kent) to the airport, then let’s solve that problem by building a really good transit center around Highline, and add HOV lanes (and whatever else it takes) to make it easy and fast for buses to get from the main part of Kent to the station. I would really like to see how much specific improvements would cost, instead of looking at BRT work like it is the same as light rail. It isn’t. Create an HOV lane, or an HOV ramp, and every bus can use it. Create a light rail line, and it is only used by the train.

      By the way, this might sound like I’m anti-rail, but I’m not. It has certain advantages; the problem is, any line south of Rainier Valley will lack most of the advantages. Interim stops will not be very popular (with the exception of the airport, which is still not that popular) and the volume of passengers will never be that big.

  14. MrZ says

    I have long thought that ST is going the wrong way for its regional “spine”. The Regional “spine” should be a system like BART, that is capable of moving large amounts of people over long distances in a short amount of time. Unfourtuanly what is forming is a semi-regional light rail system that is being extended out to such lengths to make a end-to-end trip unpractical. I also think that there is false optimism in ST (as there was when Sounder started) that the express bus service (59x) can be eliminated in favor of these new rail connections. While I think that having a local light rail line along the SR 99 corridor is a great idea, the travel time will be so great that it will make a end-to-end trip impractical and the overcrowded express buses will be forced to remain from both Tacoma and points beyond and federal way.

    I think the more logical approach, short of spending billions to build a BART system from Tacoma to Seattle, is to expand sounder to all day, every day service, running on frequencies of half hourly or less. This would probably require Double tracking and significant upgrades on the Union Pacific line (if not completely buying it out) to make this happen, and would not eliminate all the freight traffic from the current BNSF line (so a third track would probably be necessary from Auburn North given current operational patterns) and starting all day service. some additional equipment would be required, and additional parking in cities as i’m sure the service is going to be more than successful given past successes on the line), and with high capacity and high frequency on this line it would be easy to justify elimination of the 578* and 594. Although the 577 would have to be expanded from FWTC north since there is also a shortage of capacity in-between those destinations as well.

    Finally, if Sounder went to the big-leagues with all day bi-directional service, Sound Transit should investigate the option for building a station around Bell Street, and maybe even Galer street to improve connections to the north of Downtown.

    • d.p. says

      BART does very, very little outside of the peak. It does very little for most of those along its route, but with terrible access to the system. It does pathetically little even for those who happenstance has placed next to a station, if they should need to go anywhere other than the downtowns that flank the bay, a single prominent university, or an airport.

      Anytime someone invokes BART, I feel compelled to remind them that the outer branches run only every 20 minutes, yet routinely travel most of the routes with an average of 1 or 2 passengers per car, at a taxpayer subsidy of about $32 per boarding. Even though Fremont proper has more people in it than Tacoma. The damned system simply serves too few needs, too poorly.

      Replicating BART in an even scanter metropolis, with even worse urban transportation, is the height of folly.

      • MrZ says

        I agree, it can be a very unfriendly system to use. they have made planning and design mistakes over the years, Most of the stations are not well sited and are showing their age, and it seems that transit has never been well integrated with them. However, some core design principals remain sound, and for a “spine” I think they would work rather well here since each train is very high capacity (a ten car train seats 560-2000 people at crush load). Not to mention a dedicated right away, that is all high speed track. Even a 20 minute headway with a ten car train is still 503 more seats than a single 594 bus. And the last time I rode that route it needs all the seats it can get.

      • d.p. says

        And that capacity is used in precisely one location, precisely ten times per week: crossing the Bay at rush hour.

        The other 106 service hours, and 90-odd track miles, those 2000-capacity trains may have just a few dozen people on them, if that. Meanwhile, getting around the genuinely urbanized parts of the Bay Area continues to suck. Daily. Forever.

        Thus is the risk and the waste of applying the wrong tools to the wrong situations, because your politicians flew off to New York/Chicago/Portland/Curitiba and learned nothing about scale, scope, and context.

        As Kyle jokes above, our “spine” is about four and a half miles across the center of Seattle. That’s the only place where enough origin-destination points will overlap across the same segment to ever arbitrarily set load capacity. And Sound Transit has arbitrarily reduced the usefulness and success of its urban segments through walkshed-killing stop placement and intermodal-hostile design that puts even BART to shame.

        East Link is predicted to be nowhere near crush loads at rush hour, without even nearing its headway-design capacity. I will be shocked if the supposed “need” for 4-car trains running at 3-minute intervals all the way to Northgate proves remotely true, even in the distant future. We can’t properly determine our “correct tools”, and then make the best use of our limited funds, if we refuse to admit that we are fundamentally a medium-sized, disproportionately-sprawling, not-truly-dense-anywhere city whose “blockbuster nodes” frankly seem totally lame when viewed in a global context (context note: not a remotely major node).

        Hard truth: a 55mph arbitrarily-noded rapid BARTway will barely save anyone in our region time over what is available today. If we want to save people time and grief, urban transit needs to be designed and integrated better, and commuter transit needs to provide excellent connections to the urban and near-urban everywhere. At no point along the way will we need 2000-person maximally-overbuilt ultra-long “spines” to accomplish any of that.

      • mic says

        Having lived along BART when they were building it in Fremont/Union City, I can attest to every single word that d.p. has spoken on the subject. I lived in the theoretical ‘1/2 mi walkshed’ of a BART station, and worked at Oakland Airport. I was a great candidate choice rider for the system, except:
        1. The Nimitz freeway stood between both my walk from home and my walk to work.
        2. Bus service on AC Transit really sucked.
        3. Stations were built for cars, not for riding buses (I guess BART knew buses sucked too).
        4. There was a wasteland of nothingness between the two OD pairs to want to chain trips.
        In short, Bart existed for the shirts going to work in SF, and coming home, and had a BMW stashed at the local P&R.
        Sound like something being built in the Puget Sound?

  15. eddiew says

    Sound Move provided center access ramps in both directions at South 317th Street and the Federal Way Transit Center. Either the HOV lanes could be completed, or more hopeful, all the freeway lanes will be variably tolled. that would make the bus options reliable enough. in 2007, the ST ridership estimation for the south line showed it was very slight. between Seattle and TDS, Sounder is 60 minutes and reliable; bus is 50 minutes and less reliable (see above); Link was estimated at 72 minutes. would not the capacity and cost of Link be overkill for the segment between SeaTac and Tacoma? why not use all its tools: Link, Sounder, BRT, and express bus? if the bus options cost less, other corridors could be improved.

  16. says

    Hopefully it takes the 99 route but deviates enough to serve St. Francis and the Park and Ride at 348th and 9th. and then come back out to 99 at 351st or 356th.

    It’s a shame it can’t follow the BPA trail and actually provide walking access to all those neighborhoods, but it would fly off the side of the cliff above the 509 but it would provide access for Port of Tacoma workers. Speaking of spines, maybe the BPA could someday be trolley or BRT leading to a Federal Way Commons stop (unless that’s too close to a Federal Way Transit Center stop.)

    99 alignment doesn’t get you a lot, but it could mean a lot of TOD potential for Fife. And I’m pretty sure Emerald Queen Casino would probably be willing to pay handsomely for a stop.

  17. Atenhaus says

    As a resident of Tacoma, I’d much prefer the money coming from our subarea to build Tacoma Link out to a proper rail system that followed the old Tacoma Streetcar ROW. I don’t see the point of extending Central Link all the way down here, as it simply won’t be time competitive with ST Express and Sounder.

  18. Anonymous says

    “If I ran the zoo, I’d probably spend my money building expensive rail connecting close-in urban areas instead.”

    If I ran the zoo, the cost of housing wouldn’t be astronomically expensive in close-in urban areas. But I don’t run the zoo, and so many of us are forced to choose between home-ownership/long-term financial stability and being a perpetual renter. I’d love to own a house in Seattle, but can’t. My salary does not allow that, and I won’t jeopardize my future and retirement just to live close-in. Unless our region changes housing policy (which it is attempting to do with efforts like the Rainier Rezone), a regional system is absolutely necessary. Not to mention all of the urbanization that has already taken place in the suburban areas of the region.

    I love the idea of an SR 99 alignment. It doesn’t directly benefit me (at least not in my current home), but could be a great catalyst for redevelopment and densification of the endless strip malls that line 99 through Federal Way and Fife.

    • Frank Chiachiere says

      Right, obviously building rail in close-in urban areas would have to go hand-in-hand with allowing more housing to be built near those expensive rail stations.

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