Elevated Alaska St (Columbia City) Station on MLK
Elevated Alaska St (Columbia City) Station on MLK

I wasn’t around for the public process of Central Link and I was curious to what was being considered before the preferred alignment was selected. I found a book of drawings from the 1999 Central Link Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) at the UW’s Engineering Library. Combing through the pages, I took some photos of a few pages that I was interested in. You can view the entire set on Flickr. Here are some findings that you may find interesting. It would be nice if someone who was involved could share their stories.

Focusing on the south section, there were quite a few alignment options. Getting to Mount Baker, there’s a I-90/Rainier path and the SODO/Beacon Hill path. Between Mount Baker and Othello, Link could’ve gone down the side of Rainier with a station at Columbia City then tunneling to a Graham St Station or elevated down MLK to Graham. There’s even a cross-section of a Graham Station in a cut below grade.

There was consideration of a center platform for Mount Baker Station. The Mount Baker Transit Center was going to be right next to the station instead of across the street. Rainier Beach Station had a full-fledged transit center. Both of them would be served by trolley buses.

You can see what Boeing Access Road Station might’ve looked like, complete with a Sounder platform and bus bays. Then there’s the Tukwila surface alignment on 99 or a Southcenter alignment with a station by the mall and an integrated Tukwila Sounder & Link station. We all know what we got in the end.

What I wasn’t aware of was the multiple options for serving Sea-Tac. Yes, there was an option with a station next to the terminal. There’s also one that expected shuttle buses to get people to the terminal, one integrated with the automated airport shuttle trains, and one that actually veered away from the airport before heading back to a station at International Blvd and S 200th St.

42 Replies to “Scans from the Central Link EIS”

  1. From someone who worked on the Central Link NEPA process and EISs, thanks for the memories. Back to my self imposed exile.

  2. There are a lot good features in some of those drawings. It’s a shame that cost and political resistance didn’t allow them to come to fruition.

  3. Go over to Suzzallo-Allen and see if they still have all the plans from the the Forward Thrust and the proposed EMU service designed to run in the median of I-5 from Seattle to Northgate.

  4. Some of these ideas were better than others. I’ve wondered: Why isn’t the Mount Baker transit center underneath or adjacent to the station?

    While it is truly a shame that the defeat of the Forward Thrust transit proposal deferred real transit investments by a generation, running a rail line down the middle of I-5 was never a good idea.

    At one time there was a potential station around Eastlake/Harrison with a pedestrian bridge over I-5. While the station isn’t happening, a pedestrian bridge across I-5 from Capitol Hill to South Lake Union is still a great idea.

    The UW station was at one time proposed under Rainier Vista between Stevens Way and Pacific Place. This was probably a better location for both those headed to campus and for bus transfers than the one currently proposed east of Montlake Blvd., but the UW nixed that plan due to the impacts.

    Subway stations were proposed at First Hill and at the top end of Broadway up by Aloha (which hopefully the streetcar will serve) as well as the current Capitol Hill station site.

    Years ago I spent a day once at the Central Library reviewing all of the transit and freeway proposals from the 50’s and 60’s. I have since met many veterans from those battles. It’s a fascinating lesson in what could have been. Knowledge of these prior concepts can help us make the right decisions going forward as we decide vital alignment issues in Bellevue and elsewhere.

    1. “At one time there was a potential station around Eastlake/Harrison with a pedestrian bridge over I-5.”

      A Vision Line in Seattle! Glad we didn’t get that. A whole lot of people on Capitol Hill would be riding buses rather than walking a mile down a steep hill to the station.

      1. Vulcan really wanted transit, and pre-SLUT they were trying to get something to go through SLU.

      2. Since I live in SLU I would love a Link Station (and a footbridge over I-5) but I’m really glad it didn’t go at Eastlake/Harrison because of the historic Eastlake buildings. The station would have required demolishing several like the Grandview:

        There’s a great little paper “Mapping Neighborhood Identity in Seattle’s Cascade District” at http://courses.washington.edu/ordinary/
        100 years ago Cascade was almost all residential but housing was zoned out in 1957. The Seattle Times and PEMCO tore a lot of it down for parking–compare the maps on pages 11 (1904) and 19 (1987), and of course I-5 and the Mercer ramps took out a bunch too. I’d hate to lose any of the few old brick apartment buildings. I don’t like everything that Vulcan does, but getting residential back into the city is a great thing. (There are also several new non-Vulcan apartments in SLU, too.)

      3. I’m with you on the value of historic preservation, though I suspect a number of those buildings are sadly doomed as they won’t be considered significant enough to preserve. Personally I’d rather see us preserve more of them and upzone the remaining underdeveloped properties than tear all the old stuff down and build uniform density in a district…

        As for the footbridge several people wrote in favor of:

        We could land the footbridge on the NW corner of Eastlake and Harrison in what is now a parking lot, and/or the SE corner of Yale and Harrison, also a parking lot. This could be integrated with inevitable new development on these sites, which would receive various bonuses in return for supporting this plan.

        The east end of it would have to land east of Melrose on public ROW for Harrison Street. This would mean some view impacts for some folks, though there would also be a huge new access benefit.

        Alternatively, the footbridge could be at Republican Street, once the site of a grand staircase 2/3 of which was tragically replaced by I-5.

        The footbridge would provide an ADA-compliant grade assist (via elevator) connecting the densest residential area in the northwest to the fastest growing urban center in the northwest. It would send a message to the quarter million drivers on I-5 that Seattle is a place that values pedestrians and bicyclists.

    2. I agree, the design for the Mt. Baker station with the integrated transit center is a much better design than what we ended up with. Similarly even though it takes away from TOD somewhat I like the TC that was envisioned for Rainier Beach. However it would still be possible to add a TC to Rainier Beach and it is possible to provide a better pedestrian connection to the current Mt. Baker TC or even move it next to the station.

      I don’t think the EMU down I-5 was part of the forward thrust proposals. I believe that was something that came up when I-5 was planned and again in the 80’s as part of the process that lead to RTD and Sound Transit.

      I agree the Eastlake/Harrison pedestrian bridge over I-5 is a great idea even without the rail station.

      While Rainier Vista would have been a better location for the Link station, hopefully the Sound Transit, the UW, SDOT, Metro, and WSDOT can work out a sane transit, pedestrian, and bike access plan for the Triangle area.

      As for the First Hill station, blame the FTA New Starts criteria, though Sound Transit was also a bit gun-shy about attempting another deep mined station after their experience with Beacon Hill.

      1. What’s the deal with that Firestone shop? It’s between Mount Baker station and the transit center. I assumed it was left there because the owner refused to sell. But now ST is talking about what to do with the Firestone space? So does ST have control of it or not? If it does, why didn’t it build the transit center next to the station?

      2. I’ve often wondered that too, but Metro was in charge of siting the transit center, so you’d probably have to ask them. When I first saw the Mount Baker Station being built with all that open space underneath I assumed there would be bus bays underneath, I was shocked when I later saw the transit center being built across the street.

      3. Not sure what the story with the “Firestone space” is. They might be talking about the parking lot next to the building ST took for a construction staging area. Tearing down the Firestone Building might be a bit difficult as it is old and kind of funky looking. I don’t know if it is on the City, State, or National register though.

        The EIS plans show the Mt. Baker TC behind the station in the Grocery Outlet parking lot.

      4. I heard, but haven’t confirmed, that “they” (I don’t know if it was ST or Metro) wanted to put the Transit Center where the UW Consolidated Laundry is (just west of the station), but that UW wouldn’t “agree” to relocate, and that because UW is a state entity, they couldn’t force UW to leave if they didn’t want to.

        Has anyone else heard this story?

      5. How many people avoid transfering at Mt Baker because of the distance to the transit center (which you have to add to the 10-30 minute wait for a bus)…

        /me raises hand.

        It would be nice if ST razes the Firestone building, Metro moves the transit center, and the housing goes to where the transit center is now.

        Although a historic Firestone building could be used for something artsy….

  5. I think the most interesting story is the north Link segment – and how the Seattle Times turned against the project once Capitol Hill was picked over an Eastlake alignment…which would have served their Fairview HQ.

    Preferred alignment decisions make 9 enemies for every one supporter.

      1. Yes, exactly, Norman.

        That way you can’t provoke epic tantrums from people like, say, The Seattle Times, which is by no means a major employer for the region. They’ve attempted to scuttle two different rail systems because it didn’t pass close enough for their comfort.

        It allows people to say “yes, we want this” and then opens us up for a relatively untainted discussion of potential alignments, station sighting and such. It keeps dimwits from trying to scuttle the plan by lobbing money against the system because they (and not the region as a whole) are not served directly or don’t want to be near the alignment.

        Folks who demand a specific alignment be known beforehand are typically looking to kill the plan by cherry-picking very vocal and very selfish people to be their posterboy from areas not directly served or from areas that are near the alignment that (almost always) wrongly believe the new system and alignment will change property values in the wrong direction and destroy a quaint setting.

        It doesn’t mean, of course, that those certain special interests won’t come out and try to distort the public process with “alternatives” or “studies that show this will be too loud/damaging/busy”, but it blunts the effects of such things.

      2. That is interesting, because people on this blog seem to think it’s important which route is chosen for east link. But you seem to be arguing that it is not important which route is chosen, since voters weren’t told which route would be built before they voted on it.

        So, if the exact route of east link is not important enough to inform voters of before the vote, then why are so many people here whining about which route is ultimately built?

        This is just a variation on the “bait and switch” scam.

        Or, better yet, like buying a “pig in a poke.”

        Just a tad more expensive for the light rail, however.

      3. No Norman it isn’t some sneaky trick to “fool the voters”. It is mostly a matter of how far along the planning is when a proposal goes to ballot and if the agency has the money to do the EIS ahead of the vote.

        With the 1995 and 1996 Sound Move votes there was no Sound Transit as of yet so there was no money to do any EIS work for specific alignments.

        With ST2 the EIS was complete for North Link between UW and Northgate stations and for Airport to S. 200th prior to ST2 going to the ballot. The DEIS work had already started on East Link, and I believe anything beyond basic scoping has yet to start for either S. 200th to Star Lake, or Northgate to Lynnwood.

        With Sound Transit the corridors capital projects have been proposed for and the finance package to pay for those capital projects have been part of the ballot measure.

        Frankly if road projects were subject to the same process and performance criteria I suspect they would have an even poorer success rate in passing at the ballot box and just as much griping and Monday morning quarterbacking about the decision process used to arrive at a final preferred alternative.

      4. The DEIS for east link was made public just a few days after the vote. Are you really expecitng me to beleive it could not have been made public before the vote?

      5. The route and general alignment of East Link was known and publicized a long time before the DEIS came out. It was included in all the information for the Roads & Transit vote and the subsequent ST2 vote. To say people didn’t know what they were voting for is a farce.

        The route and planning for the deep-bore tunnel has advanced to the stage of advertising for bidders even though the EIS has yet to be released. Do you think people don’t know about the tunnel or don’t have an opinion about it because the EIS hasn’t been released?

      6. People still don’t know what the route of east Link will be. How can you claim that they knew this before the vote?

      7. From a July, 2008 Sound Transit informational mailing;

        “ST2 expands light rail across Lake Washington via I-90 from Downtown Seattle to the Overlake Transit Center area of Redmond, with nine planned new stations serving Rainier Avenue/I-90, Mercer Island, South Bellevue, Downtown Bellevue, Overlake Hospital, the Bel-Red corridor, Overlake Village and Overlake Transit Center.”

      8. So, it doesn’t matter what the exact route is? Then why do people on this site whine about the exact route so much, if that is not important? It obviously was not important enough to tell the voters before the election, right?

        Ben wrote that if people knew the exact route, it would have cost nine votes for every vote it gained. You disagree with him?

      9. Don’t you ever get tired of putting words in people’s mouths and setting up straw-man arguments?

  6. What was the UW’s reasoning against the Rainier Vista Station (the one actually under the Vista)? I looked at the North Link EIS earlier and saw some sketches that looked pretty darn nice. I originally thought it was because they wanted the station to continue the whole Rainier Vista line through campus, but seeing as the station is under-ground, and oriented parallel to the Vista, I wouldn’t think there would be many issues. Can anyone who wasn’t 8 years old at the time the decision was made tell me why the UW didn’t like it? Was it the impacts to the Triangle Garage?

    1. Probably the station and tunnels would have been too close to the Physics Labs. They certainly didn’t think of that in the original Portage Bay tunnel route with a station at 15th and Pacific.

      The current route arcs under the HUB and skirts the north end of Kane Hall and Red Square (that has a huge underground parking structure) which stays as far away from that sensitive quarter of campus as possible.

      1. As I recall the Chemistry buildings were also a concern. Apparently there is a lab in the basement of Bagley Hall (right next to the fountain) with some experiments particularly sensitive to vibration and EM interference.

      2. Speaking of other buildings with labs, More Hall (the closest major campus building to the Station) has a 2.5 million pound compression testing machine and shake tables to simulate earthquakes in the basement structures lab. Occasionally, I can feel the building vibrate during classes.

      3. I love More Hall, I would always look around there during the engineering open house. I’m really looking forward to getting to do some work in the new molecular engineering building that’s going up across from Architecture Hall. The amount of work they’re doing to make that building vibration proof is amazing.

      4. The UW never planned for a north/south rail corridor through or adjacent to campus, even though they knew this idea would come to fruition eventually. They put their Physics Bldg right on top of one of the early-on alignments, the one under 15th Ave. NE.

        The UW exists in its own little world, and acts accordingly.

        (And yes, I’m a UW grad. Sigh….)

      5. “The current route arcs under the HUB…”

        What if we had planned for a station right under the HUB (or its lawn) on the UW campus? I’ve heard that suggested over the years. Would it yield new ridership? Sure would be great for bus transfers…

  7. While reminiscing about what was never to be in the way of Seattle’s rail mass transit, don’t forget the Bogue subway plan for Seattle in 1911.

    Map of the Bogue network at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/local/seattle_history/articles/covermap05.html

    Just before the March 1995 vote where ST’s first plan to build light rail was defeated (non-presidential election, Greg Nickels would point out!), journalist Ross Anderson detailed the Bogue plan in the Seattle Times: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19950224&slug=2106696

    And if you haven’t seen the map of the street railroad network that actually existed in Seattle back in 1916, go to http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/SeattleStreetRailwayMap1916.pdf

  8. It seems like we picked on the worst possible alignments for this line.

    Thankfully ST2 is better designed. That is, if the vision line doesn’t become a reality.

    1. Now that seems a bit harsh. What we have built (and what is under construction) is imperfect, but it is a long, long way from the worst possible alignment. If you are going to plan a single north south rail line that leverages the existing bus tunnel, it absolutely makes sense to serve the stadiums, SODO (a major employment center), the Rainier Valley (which comprises the majority of SE Seattle, uses transit heavily and represents a huge TOD opportunity) and Sea-Tac Airport (which is a huge employment center, actually.) Tukwila happens to be on the way and got room for parking. Beacon Hill is a meaningful population center and the bored tunnel a reasonable way to get east from SODO to the Rainier Valley. It would have been easier and cheaper to follow I-90, but ridership would have been sacrificed. The tunnel is now built and we’ll be leveraging that investment forever.

      Meanwhile, heading north, it’s hard to argue it’s not vital to serve Capitol Hill (a very dense, transit-dependent urban center), the UW (Seattle’s largest employer) and Northgate. The tunneling that is required is expensive, but given our topography and our choice of technology, it’s the only feasible option. Roosevelt is a meaningful destination en route and the tunnel through there that the neighborhood strongly fought for is a good solution from an urban design perspective.

      I think it’s fair to question the decision to go at-grade through the entire Rainier Valley, the alignment through Tukwila and some other aspects of the Central Link alignment, and I would take issue with some of the station area access plans, but at least from Northgate to Sea-Tac, the basic alignment for Link seems quite reasonable to me. I suppose time, in the end, will tell.

      1. In addition to the slow speeds through the Rainier Valley, the real downside to running at grade is that it forced the route to be on MLK, rather than Rainier. A tunnel under Rainier would have been the best route.

      2. I’m late to the party, but having ridden Link from Westlake to Sea-Tac and back this weekend, I have to agree: it’s definitely imperfect.

        I LOVE the idea of hopping a train to the airport, but the practice falls short. It takes me three times as long to get to Sea-Tac from Capitol Hill:
        * Walking to Westlake (not Link’s fault, but factors into my planning)
        * 37 minute transit time (if the train doesn’t make any extra stops, which wasn’t the case on either of my recent trips)
        * The walk from the station to the terminal. This is just asinine–the train really should stop in or very close to the terminal.

        And for those of us who get motion sick easily, there aren’t many forward-facing seats with good views that help mitigate the swaying of the train.

    2. Actually, if you look at the priorities for any rapid transit line — downtown, airports, universities, community colleges, densest neighborhoods, stadiums, malls — ST2 Link will serve almost all of them. The two biggest omissions are Southcenter and Seattle Center. But it does serve Northgate, and Seattle Center has the monorail, and there’s only so much you can do when destinations aren’t linearly located.

  9. Ah, so they were thinking of another subway station on cap hill. A station at Aloha would have made all kinds of sense. Oh well…

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