Four newish tunnel items:

Some waffling on this issue below the jump.

In a world without political/constitutional constraints, anyone who at all shares the values of this blog should agree that we should spend $1.9 billion on transit**, not a highway under downtown.

If you’re concerned about freight traffic, be warned that there are two ways to solve congestion: steep tolls (or tolled lanes) and punitive gas taxes.  New highway capacity, in itself, won’t achieve that.  It’s unclear that the tunnel’s planned toll is large enough to deter drivers, nor is it clear that you couldn’t achieve the same by tolling a lane of I-5.

Moving back to the real world of constraints, there are a couple of compelling pro-tunnel arguments:

  1. The state is fundamentally malign and will do something even worse if we manage to stop the tunnel.
  2. Any attempt to stop the tunnel will fail, just making it more expensive while not changing the end result.

Although these arguments identify risks rather than hard facts, die-hard tunnel opponents really have to grapple with them more.  McGinn’s recent statement expressing resigned acceptance of the tunnel indicates that he is.

On the other hand, the tunnel “deal” isn’t what Gregoire, Nickels, and Sims originally agreed to.  The Governor agreed to a substantial increase in transit funding that didn’t materialize.   There’s also the infamous overrun provision.  Electing a candidate that hasn’t already given the legislation — unilateral State changes and all — a big endorsement might help fix the problems.

Similarly, as with most large projects there’s a significant chance of a near-death experience.  Having someone at the table who hasn’t signed on to the tunnel as a great idea means one less key figure trying to save it at all costs, someone more willing to look again at better options.


*  Facts are facts, and if tunnels = overruns, it’s fair to get that information to the public.  That’s useful for information for fence-sitters who aren’t sure about a project.  It’s not my place to say so, but I’m not sure if highlighting that argument fits in with Sightline’s broader goals.

** Two things that would likely cost less than $1.9 billion each: Ballard to West Seattle at Portland MAX standards, or a 2nd Avenue rail-convertible bus tunnel, massively improving bus service to Ballard and West Seattle and serving as a down payment on ST3 high-quality rail to those neighborhoods.  Yes, both ideas are 0% engineered, but that’s only 1% behind the tunnel we’re committed to build.

As we’ve explained before, a second rail tunnel is needed for ST3 because the existing DSTT will be filled to capacity with trains when ST2 is complete.

[An earlier version of this post stated that Eric de Place was in favor of underground light rail.  He has made no statement on this issue one way or the other.  I regret the error.]

43 Replies to “The Tunnel, Again”

  1. Wow I haven’t even considered the idea of a Second Ave rail-convertible bus tunnel before… That’s a really great idea! It probably would cost about $1.9b. This time they should lay the tracks correctly and maintain them until trains actually run though.

    1. The cost really depends on where you have the tunnel emerge, but if you take it all the way to Queen Anne Hill it’s probably about $1.9b, yeah.

      1. They designed the DSTT to be rail-convertible, so yeah they could design this one to be.

    2. That sounds like a good plan and would make the underground Seattle tunnel network resemble the London Underground in connections underground between lines. I hadn’t thought of another underground rail tunnel idea before now – this is all separate I am assuming from the existing plan for a tunnel replacement to the viaduct. Martin, it may only be 1% engineered but there is close to 100% momentum for it whereas all of these other ideas – welcome and great though they are – remain largely pet projects of most of us who read and comment on this blog. The Seattle Times may be a scathing newspaper on mass transit issues for Seattle, but it is at least a good barometer of what the movers are shakers are thinking about and so far, I haven’t seen any comment on another undergound rail tunnel. Let’s get the existing tunnel-viaduct replacement project underway first and then move on to how best to move other modes of transportation through or underneath Seattle.

      1. Tim, the context of the rail tunnel proposal was absent any political constraints. I fully recognize it’s not really on the radar, which is why I’ve never posted about it.

  2. Did you actually read de Place’s post? Categorizing it as “anti-everything fear, uncertainty, and doubt” is grossly misleading. To me it is an even-handed look at costs vs. estimates of some recent local tunnel projects. Three were over budget, one under. He doesn’t come out for or against the viaduct-replacement tunnel and admits that there is a lot of uncertainty.
    It would also be nice to link to his original post at Sightline Daily.

  3. We can’t build just an ordinary system like MAX. This is Seattle! The stations are too basic and not artsy enough. Heaven forbid a simple, well lit concrete pad with just enough to make a working stations just isn’t good enough. Even the most simple Link station (Rainier Beach IMO) is far more complex and overbuilt for a light rail station than the most complex station on the MAX Green Line. I know 4 vs 2 car but the structural elements are worlds different. And in the end, they had enough money left over to build a huge parking garage at the end of the Green Line ;-)

    How about a 1st Ave transit tunnel?

    1. I’m really not obsessed with the 1st vs. 2nd avenue question, although 2nd, as a one-way street, is easier to tear up, and the connections to the 3rd avenue tunnel is easier.

      1. 5th Avenue is another idea. While you couldn’t connect at University Street or Pioneer Square it would allow easier connections at Westlake and ID. Also a station at 5th & Columbia would be convenient to 3 large office towers (with a potential 4th tower) as well as city and county offices.

    2. We can’t build just an ordinary system like MAX. This is Seattle! The stations are too basic and not artsy enough.

      This is literally true. Washington state law requires that 1% of construction projects’ budgets go to art.

      1. Why settle for ordinary? Transit stations should be landmarks and gateways to the community they serve. If it’s a dumpy shelter people will treat it for what it’s worth.

        You might get your wish. The drop in expected revenue might force ST to standardize station design.

        Station design also has an influence on encouraging or deterring crime and vandalism. Not meaning to spread FUD but I have to wonder if station design is a factor in crime on MAX.

      2. And a good piece of legislation it is. These are not bus stops we are building, they are transit stations meant to last a half century or more, and they should be aesthetically pleasing.

  4. The best thing would be to have a new LINK line run from West Seattle via Fauntleroy, White Center, South Park, Georgetown, SODO, downtown (via 1st or 2nd ave tunnel), Belltown, Queen Anne, Interbay, Magnolia, then finally to Ballard (with extensions possible from there.

    You could also easily add a connector tunnel from between Georgetown to just north of Stadium allowing for West Seattle – 3rd ave tunnel with trains terminating at Convention place (they don’t need to go all the way to Northgate).

    This would allow for the connections to Vashon, White Center and West Seattle. All those busses could go elsewhere. This would also allow for the use of Convention Place … the West Seattle line could stop there … as well as some of the East Link trains in the case that they do not need all the service to Northgate.

    Furthermore, after a Belltown station the line could branch off and head via the space needle to dexter and then north to Freemont (and points north)

    Further down the road you could then build a line from ballard via freemont to the university district (cross-town line so to speak)

    1. Unless you go South of the turning basin any bridge across the Duwamish either has to open or be high enough to clear shipping traffic. True there is far less vessel traffic South of the First Ave S. bridge than at Spokane St. but it is still there.

      The other problem is a line going to the South would take far longer than a direct link to the junction with a crossing near Spokane St.

      One potential way to cross the Duwamish would be by taking road space on the high-level bridge, but I’m not entirely sure the bridge could be retrofitted for rail. There is also the political issue of taking traffic lanes for transit.

      You wouldn’t need to run a tunnel to connect with Central Link from Georgetown (or Spokane Street) an at grade alignment like the current Link line between Stadium and Sodo would be fine. Any trains entering the DSTT from the South are going to go at least to Northgate. It is the Northgate to Downtown segment that demands short headways and maxes out capacity in the DSTT.

      1. The other problem is a line going to the South would take far longer than a direct link to the junction with a crossing near Spokane St.

        That depends on where you start and where you’re going. It would likely be quicker for those living in White Center and trying to go downtown. Boeing is a major employer and I’m guessing a large portion of those employees live in a West Seattle neighborhood and would benefit by not having to go downtown. Maybe I’m off base here but I’d suspect White Center residents are more likely to be going to blue collar jobs in South Seattle than headed for high rise offices in the financial district or high tech jobs SLU.

        I’d like to see if it’s possible to connect at the south end of the King County Airport. I think that’s far enough south to avoid commercial shipping on the Duwamish. As a phase one the trains could perhaps interline until such time as there’s funds and demand to create an “express” route that would bypass the Rainer Valley; not just for East Seattle but for all commuters coming from points south. The “slow go” is a knock on Link that’s only going to become a bigger issue as commutes from Federal Way convert to a Link.

        I think in the not too distant future, probably before there’s another downtown Seattle transit tunnel, we’re going to see commercial flights expand to the King County Airport (aka “Boeing Field”). Southwest has already petitioned to move operations there. It would make a lot of sense for commuter service like Horizon to fly out of there instead of SeaTac. Or perhaps air cargo operations would benefit by having a hub closer to the CBD plus rail and sea connections. SeaTac is going to max out and I just don’t buy into the idea that airlines are going to start using Arlington or Moses Lake in my lifetime. And we’re sure as hell never going to allow another pair of mile long runways to be built in the Puget Sound.

        Question, what would the commute time from say Fauntleroy to Westlake be on south routed light rail via RV be vs bus to foot ferry to walk/bus from the waterfront?

      2. I thought the Southwest move was nixed because it would have favored one airline over others, and also allowed Southwest to get out of paying the Sea-Tac expansion fees it had voted for (which other airlines would still have to pay, giving Southwest an unfair advantage).

      3. I don’t recall all the reasons but yes SW was trying to get out of paying fees which are and will continue to be higher at SeaTac. Noise abatement is another huge issue. Eventually (10-20 years) King County Airport will become the overflow buffer for SeaTac. Air traffic is going to continue to rise and there’s no other place for it to go. The only other possible solution I can think of is McChord becoming a cargo hub. As much as that makes a lot of business sense it would be tough in a post 9/11 world. Especially as long as a fighter intercept squadron remains based there.

      4. Paine Field has often been tossed around as an airport option.

        Plus, when Boeing moves all its production to other states the Renton plant will have a nice airstrip. :-)

  5. I love the idea of another bus tunnel, especially since we’re constrained by car-loving state constitution to only spend fuel tax money (both cash-cow and potential source of traffic reduction) on roads. A bus tunnel is a road.

  6. That YouTube animation is unintentionally hilarious. Did anyone notice that the TBM requires the construction of train tracks to carry the dirt out of the tunnel?

    That’s right, folks — we’re actually going to pay to build tracks in the length of the tunnel, and then immediately replace them with asphalt. O, the irony! It’s like the entire, sad history of 20th century transportation compressed into 6 minutes.

    1. You just made my day Frank! I was hoping somebody would realize that.

      Pretty much all TBM’s use…dun dun dunnnn….trains to remove the dirt or “spoils”

      Real amusing when you think about it!

  7. So is the road tunnel for freight or for passengers?

    I know it’s for through-traffic, not local traffic

    If it’s for through freight, build a second rail tunnel to relieve the Great Northern BNSF tunnel under downtown Seattle! If it’s for cars, build a second rail tunnel for light rail!

    Heck, at the width of the planned tunnel, you could put a double-track freight rail tunnel and a double-track passenger rail tunnel! (Though it probably won’t be tall enough for doublestack freight trains.)

    I think the next fight should be to make the tunnel rail-convertible. :-)

      1. Except that it’s way too far underground to be able to build any downtown stations. The tunnels gonna have to be cut-and-cover to avoid demolishing skyscrapers for stations.

      2. The tunnel doesn’t need to be cut-n-cover (the DSTT wasn’t between ID and Westlake) but the stations should be shallow enough that they can be built with cut-and-cover. Even then a deep station wouldn’t necessarily require skyscraper demolition in order to build it.

      3. I don’t even think you need to be close to the surface. We could build an entrance out sideways toward the waterfront. This would make the waterfront more accessible, and you could still put an elevator to bring riders up to the surface.

    1. Totally wacky idea here, but all this tunneling talk got me thinking. How about a new rail tunnel for freight, and converting the ancient rail tunnel downtown into a passenger rail tunnel. It connects to King Street Station, which could be completely taken over for transit along with Union Station. Could Sounder commuter trains and a new Link run together with some kind of waiver from the Feds? Isn’t there a system in like Newark that does that? Could stations be added to the ancient tunnel without Pike Place Market disappearing into some unintended abyss? Does this idea even have a point?

  8. I e-mailed Bill Bryant at SDOT, head of transit planning, about future plans for 3rd Ave. possibly becoming a 24-hour transit mall. Now that ST2 has passed, we can count on those transit-only hours being maintained or expanded. Here’s what he had to say:

    Our current expectation is that tunnel buses will remain in the tunnel until Link reaches NE 45th, NE 65th, or Northgate in the 2020 time frame. I would consider it likely that the Third Avenue transit-only designation would be extended beyond peak hours when tunnel buses move to the surface.

    It is possible that transit-only hours could be extended prior to that time, although no firm plans currently exist. The City will be updating the Seattle Transit Plan during the next year or so and will likely address that issue in the new plan.

    1. Wait, what? The first leg of U-Link and buses in the tunnel? WOOHOO! (I love transferring on the same platform…)

      1. Yes! But which buses, all of them? Buses may remain in the tunnel but some routes are going to be modified to reduce duplication of service. My bus, the 255 (and 256) might come off the new 520 and terminate at UW Station instead. So that leaves the 41, 101, 102, 106, 150, all the I-90 routes including 550, and the 301.

      2. For some reason I thought the buses would disappear at the beginning of U Link. Does it matter which ones? I’m riding one of them!

  9. If he wants to oppose a tunnel, there is still time for McGinn to come out against the SR 520 tunnel under the Montlake Cut (Option K).

  10. this blog has discussed the continuums of LRT and BRT before. Note that the ST and TriMet systems are quite different, but both are LRT. TriMet is mostly at grade, especially in downtown and it uses a standard voltage. In contrast ST Link will be largely grade separated, with the notable exception of MLK Jr. Way South, and uses a very high voltage of 1500, as ST wants to build a long regional system and have well-spaced substations. To some extent, these differences stem from governance: the three counties of TriMet together are one-half the size of King County alone; the three counties of ST are huge. The north line of Link will be Metro-lite, at the very top of the LRT continuum. Both are “real” LRT, just just the BRT systems from Vancouver’s 99B with little grade separtation all the way to the Curitiba grade-separated spine are “real” BRT.

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