Frankly, I wasn’t around actively advocating for Sound Transit’s Central Link when it was being conceived, but one common criticism that I’ve heard rail opponents iterate time and time again is that the Central Link alignment was some sort of a political ploy or gimmick. “Why Tukwila of all places? People don’t go to the airport on a daily basis. Why not the suburbs first?” First of all, it’s rather ironic that the same people wanting to block light rail to the Eastside (and anywhere else in general) are tied with those who criticize the Central Link alignment and throw their hands up in the air asking why the suburbs were not Link’s first destination. It’s a fair indication that these people are just against rail transit in general under the pretense of a number of other excuses up their sleeves.
More below the jump.
Jim Miller of the conservative blog Sound Politics, makes the implication that transit proponents support Central Link because it was built to make Seattle feel like a “real city.” Rather, we know it was built as a buffer to initiate the expansion of a much larger high-capacity transit system in the Puget Sound area. However, the arguments get a bit asinine when people start calling the line Mayor Nickels’ “pet project” and some kind of a political ploy. While it’s true that Nickels has long been an ally of transit even before he was Mayor, the attacks calling Link “toy trains” get crass when you consider the fact that the mayor lives in West Seattle. A look at the original routing negates the credibility in those arguments.
To the naysayers, a Westlake-Tukwila run does raise eyebrows. It’s reasonable to assume that until it is apparent how out of context the initial segment has often been perceived. When Sound Move was passed in 1996, voters were promised a line from the University District (UW) to the SeaTac Airport area via Downtown. Considering the relatively north-south longitudinal urbanization of the Seattle metropolitan area, these destinations were reasonably picked and for all purposes, should be linked. All three still exert tremendous economic influence in the region today: UW being one of the largest employers in the state as well as the Northwest’s largest university, Downtown being the largest city center in the Pacific Northwest, and SeaTac Airport being the region’s primary commercial aviation hub.
After Sound Transit’s dark era in the early 2000s and a near dismantling of Link, the line was effectively shortened to help mitigate cost overruns and the general volatility that had plagued the project. Central Link was cut from both termini and the new line ran from north in Downtown to south in Tukwila. A permanent shuttle service would run to and from the airport. It wasn’t until later that funding and grants were secured for Airport and University Links.
So was the Central Link initial segment a real gimmick? Not if the University of Washington and SeaTac Airport were chosen as the initial termini of the original line. Rail opponents often take things out of context, but it is clear from a simple glance at the original Sound Move plan that there is a real reason why the alignment follows its route today. Considering how troubled Link was in its infancy, it’s surprising to hear people suggest Link should have gone to Bellevue first. We’re lucky it wasn’t planned that way. Seattle might just still have a bus-only transit system.