Seattle is defined by its waterways. Seattle congestion is defined by its water crossings. Focusing on existing crossings of Lake Washington may have unnecessarily constrained Sound Transit’s study of the best northerly route across the lake.
Their options to get from UW to Kirkland on to Redmond are on pages 3-9 of the Central and East HCT Corridor Study. Each of the options presented misses opportunities to connect major population and employment centers and contains enormous challenges, such as a new bridge crossing of the Montlake Cut.
STB previously covered many of the problems with a 520 light rail crossing. Using 520 forces ST to double back on the west side of the bridge and deliver riders to the east side far from good transit destinations. Below, we will focus on what we want Sound Transit to study, why we want it, and why you should join us in supporting it.
The Sand Point Crossing (Option “SP1”)
We titled this option “SP1” because it doesn’t resemble the ST corridors at all: it’s a completely different idea, one on our vision map for quite a while. The way to solve the problems with 520 is to create a crossing for rail only from Sand Point to Kirkland.
1. On the west side of the lake there are three meaningful destinations that would be missed by a 520 alignment on the west side of the lake.
- U-Village: A major shopping destination also has significant residential development in its walkshed to the north.
- Children’s Hospital: Employs 8000 people and has many times that in visitors. A major employment center and key destination.
- Magnuson Park: In addition to being a major attraction, there is also some residential density to the west.
2. The Sand Point way crossing creates a direct connection from Ballard and neighborhoods north of the ship canal to Microsoft and Eastside employers. This connection is also critical for Eastside residents, creating or shortening connections to jobs at Children’s Hospital, UW, and Downtown Seattle as well.
3. Sand Point to Kirkland is the shortest possible crossing of Lake Washington, mitigating the added expense of a new rail crossing. Several of the crossing options studied by Sound Transit along 520 require additional pontoons and bridge lanes or even a new rail bridge across Montlake. The cost of this new rail crossing at Sand Point could be competitive with the options already studied by Sound Transit while providing much greater benefits.
4. Service is direct to downtown Kirkland, the 12th largest city in Washington state and a residential and entertainment district. Additionally there are transit transfer connections via the Kirkland Transit Center right after the crossing lands on the east side of the water.
5. From Kirkland it is direct to Redmond Town center along 85th/Redmond Way. Redmond is the 10th largest city in Washington State. Redmond town center is also the target of the East Link extension. A connection there would add to operating efficiency and connect riders directly to Microsoft and Downtown Bellevue.
We believe option SP1 will serve many more people more reliably and faster than any of the options Sound Transit presented. Although ST studies usually involve serious constraints, we believe that SP1 deserves full study for methodical comparison to the currently lacking 520 alternatives.
Why didn’t Sound Transit study the Sand Point crossing?
In Sound Transit’s Draft Supplemental EIS for their Long Range Plan update, they disqualify the Sand Point crossing on page 2-33 because the Trans-Lake Study, conducted by WSDOT in 1998, excluded it. We filed a public disclosure request to WSDOT and received the study and technical appendices, split into parts 1 & 2. What we found in the study was surprising.
While the study excluded the Sand Point crossing as an option for a highway, it appears the highway was the real focus of the study – not rail. This is no surprise, as WSDOT wrote it 16 years ago. There was an option resembling SP1 for light rail called “T4.” You can find it on page 1-4 of technical appendix 1, listed in a section called “concepts to be further evaluated” with the notes: “With service to two urban centers this would clearly have good ridership potential.”
There is no evidence of further evaluation of this alternative. Job and population growth over the past 16 years make this corridor worthy of another look. That’s right: The study that Sound Transit references as a reason not to study a Sand Point rail crossing says a Sand Point rail crossing should be studied further. Another surprise: In this corridor WSDOT considered a floating tunnel the most viable of the tunnel options.
There is no specific comment period for this study, as it was done primarily to inform the board. Nevertheless, you can voice your opinions to the ST board at this email: EmailTheBoard@soundtransit.org
You can also send your comments to LongRangePlan@soundtransit.org as this study is part of the long range plan.
What to say to Sound Transit in your comments:
1. I want the Sound Transit to study the Sand Point Crossing (Option “SP1”)
2. ST needs to complete the analysis on a floating rail bridge, floating tunnel, and suspension bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland to complete the analysis of the UW to Kirkland to Redmond study.
3. Building the best line possible is the most important consideration in this corridor.
4. Study driverless subway technology to control costs and increase flexibility in operations.