Dominic Holden asks:

Transit nerds, what do you say? Is light rail [over 520] still unfeasible, totally workable?

Mayor McGinn claims that light rail is still “financially and/or environmentally infeasible”, even after WSDOT’s modifications to “accommodate” light rail. I believe the Mayor is basically correct. However, the modifications have made it somewhat more feasible, and after reading the white paper on the subject, I think the problems are beyond the powers of WSDOT to fix. The reason it is financially infeasible is that no one has a dime to spend on 520 rail. Even a minimal line, from UW station to South Kirkland Park and Ride via Montlake Blvd, would by my rough estimate cost about $800m.*

This is not like I-90, where an entire roadway already designed for rail already exists. On the other hand, WSDOT has at least eliminated the requirement to demolish parts of the span to build rail.

As reported previously, adding rail would require adding supplemental pontoons, which will cost significant money but not otherwise be all that disruptive, except while rails are being installed in the HOV lanes.

WSDOT has to hedge its bets on the cut crossing because no one knows how Sound Transit would attempt this. The four basic options are:

  1. A high bridge from Foster Island;
  2. A tunnel from Foster Island;
  3. Up the HOV ramp and across a third bascule bridge;
  4. Up the HOV ramp and at-grade on the second bascule bridge.

More obstacles after the jump.

If the train is to use the current HOV off-ramp, WSDOT has done the obvious things (grade and curvature) to accommodate rail, but “additional design work is necessary to determine that the ramps can, in fact, be directly converted to LRT.”

The alternative, leaving the roadway at Foster Island, has “significant environmental implications.” I think that’s code for “you’ll never get this past the lawyers,” but perhaps someone else can spell out those implications. And of course, a whole new crossing will be massively expensive.

There is no guarantee that rail could run over the second bascule bridge:

The design has not encompassed the need to accommodate flush mounted light rail tracks to facilitate a shared roadway surface with motor vehicles. Stray current protection design and adequate clearance for the overhead catenary system (OCS) are also features that must be considered in the design if this crossing alternative is preferred.

Could WSDOT do more? Engineering-wise, they could spend money to better develop one or more of the crossing options, especially to make sure that the Montlake path is a viable one. This might also result in some engineering changes to the offramp and the bridge. Of course, the rail authority might not ultimately approve a Montlake route. Any  work beyond that would require outlays in the $100m+ range.

The broader issue, of course, is that there is no rail authority looking at this issue. Seattle, rightly, is focusing on new rail on the west side of the City. Sound Transit is tapped out tax-wise and will be so for decades unless there’s a miracle in the legislature. It would be great if WSDOT brought money to the rail building game, but in this universe I think it’s best to focus our political firepower on bus access issues, which I’ll discuss in my next post.

* The distance is 5.8 miles. The A segment of East Link is $109m/mile, plus about $150-200m for more pontoons. This all assumes the issues with the Montlake alignment described above are not costly to address.

88 Replies to “The State of SR 520 Light Rail”

  1. It may very well be infeasible, but why should we be concerned with making it feasible? It’s also infeasible to take light rail to Bainbridge or Bremerton. Should we spend money to make it more feasible? That’s kind of a funny question in it’s own right when you think about it.

    Just like with bike lanes, people still have a hard time imagining things outside the framework of the roads.

    I agree that the bigger issue at hand is the bus access issue. That whole Montlake area looks like it’s going to be turned into a huge clusterf&*%.

    1. I agree. We convinced WSDOT to make changes to the bridge that didn’t utterly preclude the possibility of future light rail. With our current funding situation and more pressing needs at hand, I’d say that’s the best victory we could have hoped for.

    2. It’d be interesting what the cost of Ben’s Sand Point-Kirkland crossing idea would shake out to be… it’s a whole new structure but a shorter distance and the added track through U-Village and Laurelhurst is really just moving the track that would go through Medina and South Kirkland…

  2. I know the people on this blog tend to hate the idea of light rail on 520, but I have to say I’m still not convinced it’s a terrible idea. The question we should be asking ourselves is “in the next 50 years, will we want to build light rail on this bridge?” And I think the answer to that question is yes. Once the the next phase of rail expansions is done I think people will see that one of the next logical connections is along that path.

    If we think that 520 is good for BRT, then it’s also good for light rail. Light rail is essentially BRT except with dedicated ROW, smoother rides, and much more permanence.

    And since the bridge is going to last a very long time (hopefully) we need to plan out what we want in 2060 now.

    That being said, I don’t think we need to press for light rail on 520 in 2016, just a design that could accommodate it in ST3 or ST4.

    1. Although I have to admit it would be really cool if by some fluke WSDOT or ST got stimulus money to build light rail in 2016. They could probably pretty cheaply connect it to Ballad via the Burke-Gilman corridor, and to Krikland-Totem Lake-Woodenville, or Bellevue-Redmond via the BNSF corridors, since those corridors have both accommodated rail in the past, so they’re already graded and such

      1. I’m no expert, but from my understanding Ballard is best done with a tunnel (much more expensive I know). The Burke Gilman looses half of it’s walkshed and TOD potential simply by it’s location.

        Also, while I’d like to see LR on 520, I’d like to see it part of a Ballard, Brooklyn, 520, Bellevue, Issaquah line…

      2. No one is going to let you turn the Burke-Gilman into a light rail line (even though it was originally a rail line). Even if you could, it doesn’t have the right routing to make it a really useful line.

      3. It would most definitely NOT be cool if stimulus money went to something like this instead of where it was most needed — to make sure that ST2 is delivered on time.

      4. I can’t imagine FTA giving construction funding to any project until the NEPA documentation is done.

      5. The center of Wallingford is, well, Wallingford Center at 45th and Wallingford. A Burke-Gilman alignment would serve Ballard, Fremont, and the southern U-District fairly well but not Wallingford (and, if followed all the way to the U-District, wouldn’t connect to the existing north-south line well).

    2. I think where you get a lot of disagreement is in how you answer the question you posed. Right now, I don’t think the answer is “yes,” I think it is “maybe” or better put, “we don’t know.” There are no studies of possible route alignments beyond whatever someone’s put on the back of a napkin, no ridership forecasts, land use analyses, nothing. As Martin pointed out, there’s definitely no money to even do the studies now, or for a while.

    3. I doubt anybody hates the idea of rail on 520 except those who hate rail period. It’s a question of what we should build first with the limited tax dollars available. North Link serves the greatest number of riders and is the backbone of a regional system: a large percentage of people are going from, to, or through the Stadium-to-Northgate corridor (or Stadium-to-Lynnwood). South Link is cheapest to build, and the area is a large half of the county and below-median income. East Link leverages the existing I-90 investment and has long been considered the expected route on the Eastside. Westside Link (Ballard to West Seattle) covers the part of Seattle that has been left behind in transit improvements. 520 Link is not bad, it just doesn’t give as many benefits/cost compared to the other projects.

  3. There are pros and cons to building light rail on SR 520, but the idea that it is practicable or desirable to route 360 foot long trains (or even 180 foot long trains) at grade through the maelstrom of cars, peds, bikes and buses at the Montlake interchange (existing or planned) so they can have the privilege of sitting behind an open drawbridge for a period of time roughly equal to the headway between trains is nuts, IMHO. We’re near a tipping point now… If we could somehow keep away some more SOV’s from that interchange, rather than inviting many more, the interchange design problem would be a lot more tractable.

    Regarding funding for the SR 520 project as a whole, it’s important to remember we are over $2 billion short for the “cheapest” “solution”, with no concrete plan, as it were, to fill that gap. We can’t afford any solution there until we have the funding conversation most elected officials don’t want to have for another election cycle or two, which probably means tolling all the lanes on I-90 as well as SR 520, and sending the lion’s share of both toll revenue streams to construct highway lanes on SR 520.

    We’ve got a critical and long-term bus transfer problem to solve at UW regardless of what happens on SR 520 from here on out, and there are safety and efficiency issues with bus transfers in the Montlake interchange area given the current plans there. The long term discussion (including the potential of light rail on SR 520) is one we should be having, but it’s important to remember we’ll be dependent on buses on SR 520 in 2016 and possibly a very long time thereafter. And if we ever do have a SR 520 light rail station in the area, that would require local bus transfers too, like the UW station that we’re building now.

    1. It would be a lot easier to build a rail transfer station somewhere in the vicinity of the Hop-In Market intersecting with the U-Link tunnels rather than trying to cram in yet another crossing of the Montlake Cut. A 520 rail line could then continue west-northwest in a deep tunnel under Portage Bay with subway stations in Eastlake, Fremont and Ballard. This would also give residents of Montlake easier access to light rail.

      1. The U-Link tunnels won’t be able to accommodate such a station. ST is building a 100-foot deep vent shaft at the Hop-In Market, but the track there is on a 4% downslope to get under the Montlake Cut. The track there is at about elevation -40. Every drawing I’ve seen from the North Link EIS process show a tunnel under Portage Bay down to elevation -120, and even then they weren’t sure it was deep enough. I’m not sure how you could come off the 520 bridge and drop underground, have a level spot for a station, then drop even further down under Portage Bay, without exceeding a 6% grade. So I don’t think it is at all easier, but environmentally it may have fewer impacts.

      2. I’m pretty sure ST scrapped its plans to build vents at the Hop-in (now “Montlake Blvd Market”) a while ago, in favor of just more vent facilities over on the north side of the cut.

      3. Yeah, my bad. I was looking at the North Link EIS alternative drawings to get the depths of the tunnels, and those show the vent facility south of the Montlake Cut, and I know full well they moved the vent facility to the UW station site. That’ll teach me to comment without thinking things all the way through!

    2. Well-said, Jonathan. Personally, I’d like to see the new 520 HOV lanes follow the “high bridge from Foster Island” route, the top line of the triangle in the illustration, top.

      Having no HOV access at the Montlake interchange allows the footprint of that facility to be narrowed significantly and traffic volumes reduced — maybe to the point where the 2nd bascule bridge is no longer needed.

      And of course have these HOV lanes convertible to rail at some point in the future, providing a direct route to the UW Link station and avoiding the sharp turns and traffic (and bridge) impediments forecasted for rail on HOV lanes that would go through the interchange.

      1. What’s really disappointing about the Montlake design is that, given that light rail is not in the plans, is that in the Montlake area the new bridge design functions extremely poorly for bus transit. There Montlake flyer station has been eliminated, preventing transfers to north-south buses from cross-lake buses headed downtown. Only buses heading toward the Montlake bridge can serve the HOV stops on the lid – and those buses will be stuck in the congestion of general purpose traffic on Montlake Blvd and crossing the Montlake bridge. There is neither funding nor consensus to build a second Montlake bridge.

        It’s just not a good bus transit design. Given no rail, the effort should be made to make a good bus transit design. The current design increases the space for single occupancy vehicles and reduces the space for transit.

  4. It’s not “financially infeasible.” financially infeasible means that we will never have enough money and it will never be high enough on the priority list to build. The reality is that we just don’t have any money for it right now. And that’s okay, because, whether we build it in five years or twenty-five years, it will last for many decades if not centuries. It is a very long-term investment, and really, the current fiscal situation is irrelevant in the very-long-term outlook. The important thing is, we now physically can put light rail on this bridge. Sometime way off in the future, we actually will, and we’ll be very glad we made it possible.

    1. One thing about this though, and please correct me if I’m wrong because I think I may have read this only in passing. Isn’t the new bridge going to be built in sort of a disposable fashion? More or less how it is built now, but probably a little bit better engineered? I could swear it was going to be built so that it needed to be replaced in 50 years or so. If that’s the case then I would say this doesn’t hold water and all the more not to implement rail possibilities for “what if” scenarios.

      1. I’ve never heard anything like that, if they really are just designing it for a few decades, that would be incredibly short-sighted… Has anyone else heard this?

      2. A WSDOT fact sheet from 2005 claimed a 100-year design life. That seems a bit optimistic to me, but then again I’m no engineer.

      3. WSDOT “facts” also incorrectly listed the depth of Lk Washington by a 100′. The inconvenient “fact” remains that the deep point lies in a hole just east of Foster Island which might be the ideal location for a suspension bridge tower but is easily avoided with a cable stay design. WSDOT “facts” also claimed that towers as “tall as the Space Needle” would be an eyesore the people of Washington wouldn’t permit… yeah, like that eyesore in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and that towers of a cable stay design could be much lower. Incidentally, that “eyesore” the Golden Gate was completed in 1937 and nobody is claiming it needs to be torn down and replaced. Conversely, the Evergreen Pt. bridge opened in 1963 and sailing into it’s silver jubilee has the longest record of not sinking of any of the States pontoon temporary bridges (better lucky than good). Oh, least I forget to point out… the WSDOT 520 “bridge on stilts” design is going to be even more ugly than Hood Canal which is now on it’s third rebuild.

      4. What Bernie said. We’re replacing a 50 year old bridge as it is. Do we have any info on what its lifespan was supposed to be?

        I’m no bridge engineer, but pontoon bridges just don’t seem to be designed for longevity. Go to the wikipedia page for pontoon bridges and they basically say it’s meant for temporary purposes, usually during wartime. And rundown the list of notable floating bridges. Only 1 lasted longer than 75 years. All others are still rather new or were replaced or sank within 50 years. The disasters section is particularly humorous for us in the NW.

        But this isn’t meant to be a diatribe against the bridge itself. But I think this illustrates we really shouldn’t be planning around this bridge because I won’t be surprised when we have to replace it 50 years later (or less).

  5. the die is cast until north link is active.

    south link has not succeeded in selling anyone on the idea of rail transit. at least not people who weren’t already sold on the idea. any converts it has made have been more than counterbalanced by people souring on or at least losing interest in the endeavour.

    north link will change all that. as much as i’m pessimistic about south link, i’m very optimistic about north link. i think it’ll change everything in terms of what is considered “feasible” light rail expansion. it’ll activate many new transit riders who will demand more destinations.

    but what will those destinations be? i don’t think 520 makes sense in the short term [next 25 years] for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the primary reason to go *direct* to bellevue/redmond and back [or vice versa] is to commute, and i think that the current plans for I90 link already open up plenty of possibilities for people to live and commute there by train.

    i’d much rather see west seattle, ballard and fremont linked into regional light rail than to see an *additional* light rail line to bellevue/redmond, especially one that runs primarily through low-density areas.

    brooklyn station to downtown bellevue will be only 33 minutes. i think choosing to develop 520 over other opportunities is not worthwhile.

    1. What are the prospects for a Ballard — Fremont — Wallingford –Brooklyn line that would then continue south along U-Link to downtown? That would be only about 4 additional miles, and would add a lot of mobility along a popular (but slow) 45th st east/west route. That would get residents to and from those popular neighborhoods both to UW and to downtown in a reasonable amount of time.

      Does anyone know if this is under consideration rather than some sort of a Ballard — Queen Anne — Downtown line?

      As for Queen Anne, given its steep grade and fantastic views, what about an aerial tram like in Portland? That could be quite the transportation and tourist attraction.

      1. It would require a transfer at Brooklyn. The Northgate – Stadium tunnel will be full with ST2. The Ballard-UW corridor needs something but it’s not clear what. Surface is difficult due to the narrow rights-of-way. Elevated would cause major NIMBY opposition. Subway would be expensive. Any line would have to dip sideways to serve both Fremont and Wallingford.

      2. Will the tunnel really be full, Mike? Are there published capacities for the U-Link tunnel anywhere? I assume the major limiting factor would be block signalling. What’s the planned dwell time at the platforms? And I believe we’re shooting for 7.5-minute headways to Northgate.

      3. streetcar seems more likely to link the university and ballard directly.

        it could better handle the narrower rights of way and make more frequent stops along 45th.

        maybe some day.

      4. They’re shooting for eventual 2-4 minute peak headways from Downtown to Northgate, so no room for anything joining the party down there. I think a Downtown to Ballard line (grade-separated) should be built first, but then a (underground) line from Ballard to the University District should be in the long-term plan.

      5. I really don’t understand why we can’t have trains going through there every 30 seconds. its done in other non-automated systems, why do we have to have 2 whole minutes between trains? I think that is total crap.

      6. if you had trains running every 30 seconds it would be a tremendous waste of resources.

        i’ve lived in cities with *subways* that ran way less frequently than every 2 minutes.

        maybe when we’re tokyo we can have trains running every 30 seconds, but until then ..

      7. You’re talking about a limitation of the signalling system. Anything below about 90-second headways starts requiring an increasingly complex signalling system and a significant amount of operator training, as well as having zero margin for error. It can certainly be done, but other factors like platform width, train performance (acceleration and deceleration rates) and train design (size, number of doors, etc.) start coming into play once you get headways down that much.

      8. In Boston, the Green Line — which first opened in 1897, which should give you a hint as to the quality of the signaling technology — runs every 90 seconds at peak.

        Now, much of this frequency comes from the fact that there are four branches, each of which needs 5-minute frequency. And many of those trains are single-car, so the actual capacity isn’t much higher than in Seattle. But still, if Boston can have such small headways with their decades-old technology, surely our brand-new system can at least match them.

      9. You don’t have to be tokyo to have ridership that necessitates 30 second headways in parts of your city. The loop El (1890 built if im not mistaken) runs 5 or 6 lines at a minimum headway of, I don’t know how many seconds, but you can see 3 8-car trains at once in .75 miles on the wabash avenue side of the loop.

  6. What about an east-west line that starts at Ballard, then goes through the U-district, then crosses the lake on a new bridge around Sand Point, going directly into Kirkland?

    That’s the narrowest point. 520’s routing does a great job of avoiding direct contact with Kirkland & Bellevue, but that’s not what you want out of a transit line; you want the fastest practical route between your most dense population centers.

      1. Lloyd,


        At the moment, light rail over 520 is effectively a pipe dream. If we do build it, it will be at massive expense, and will require an intense mitigation effort on the existing bridge.

        If we do build a second rail crossing of Lake Washington, it will not be to solve a short-term need, but to build what we hope will be a key component of a 100+ year transit system.

        By crossing at Sand Point, any future line would have direct access to Kirkland and DT Redmond. And westward, the line would be poised to reach Wallingford, Fremont, and/or Ballard. All of these are major population centers that are completely unserved by ST2.

        By crossing 520, you almost connect UW to Microsoft… and nothing in between. And for that, you have to deal with the nightmare at Montlake, and deal with either a forced transfer at UW Station or a bizarre routing through the U-District.

        Given that we’re already thinking super-long-term, and that nothing we would do would be cheap, shouldn’t the default position be to build the rail line where, as Jeff says, you get the fastest practical route between the most dense population centers?

  7. We can’t even get rail access throughout Seattle proper at this point. How are we going to get across the lake, AGAIN? Some battles are worth fighting, but I don’t see how this one is. Frankly, I’m curious how long it’ll take them to even get a new car bridge in place. If we hit another fuel (cost) crisis in the next couple years, watch that plan disappear or change.

    1. Like I said earlier, that’s true, we have more lines that are higher priorities than this. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be built! It’ll be built in a couple decades, after we already have West Seattle to Ballard (and perhaps extensions on the ends of those), Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah and Redmond extensions, and maybe even others. But we should build it at some point, as our oil runs out and population gets more dense in the future.

      1. Good point Mr. Duke. Maybe we should have just one train to Microsoft. I vote for the 520 route. Tying technology to education.

        It would also be much easier and much shorter to reach downtown bellevue transit center from the North than approach it via a much longer route through a wetland from the south.

      2. “It would also be much easier and much shorter to reach downtown bellevue transit center from the North than approach it via a much longer route through a wetland from the south”

        Westlake to BTC is almost exactly the same distance via either bridge. Google Map it.

      3. Where else would a 520/Sand Point-Kirkland route go? If anything, I would back that to go to Redmond, but then I don’t know what you do with the I-90 line to Bellevue, or even the Bel-Red stretch.

      4. Belleviewer: There’s a great post on our very own STB about why Link will cross I-90 first.

        In my experience, most people who want to cross 520 first/only are overestimating the relative demand for travel to Overlake/Redmond over Bellevue. In fact, the 550 had 50,000 more boardings in Q2 2010 than the 545.

        It’s also important to note that the 545 is scheduled to take 40 minutes to go between the ID (5th and Jackson) and OTC. In contrast, East Link is estimated to take 30 minutes to go from “Downtown Seattle” (probably Westlake) to OTC. Thus, for anyone who currently transfers to the 545 from downtown, the I-90 route really isn’t any worse than what we have now.

        Now, I take the 545 every day from Capitol Hill to MS, and while I don’t travel during rush hour, it consistently takes 16-17 minutes. Obviously, going through downtown and across I-90 can’t match that. But I’m a commuter: I go to MS in the morning, and back to Seattle at night. Virtually everyone else on the 545 is the same (witness how no one gets off at Evergreen/Yarrow Points, and then the bus empties at OTC). Microsoft is perfectly capable of providing their own commuter service (i.e. the Connector), and by all accounts, they do a better job of it than Metro/ST. So why should we spend our limited resources building a rail line that basically only goes to one place, and is only useful for about 10 direction-hours per day?

      5. Some of us commuters stay on past OTC! I ride all the way to the end at Bear Creek, though I’m usually the only one on the bus at that point. Probably why the 542 doesn’t go out that far.

      6. Zed and Aleks,

        I think you missed the point — it pre-supposes that we would have two crossings, and there is no reason for both to go to Redmond. Do we have any argument there?

        If only one should go to Redmond and Microsoft, which one should that be? 520 or 90?

        If one needs to go to Bellevue, which is the shortest connect? 520 or 90?

        Yes, Google Map it. And you will find that the Bel-Red corridor is less than 1/2 the distance to downtown Bellevue than any of the B connections from I90.

        Please, ladies and gentlemen – think outside the bus.

      7. Aleks,

        I ride the other way on the 550 from time to time. And find the 4 people on the 550 in Bellevue at 7:00am a bit underwelming.

        Are those 50,000 numbers actually people in a Bellevue/Overlake comparison only, or does the 550 carry that much more cause everyone gets on at the South Bellevue (Mercer Slough)and Mercer Island Park and Rides?

      8. Belleviewer,

        I agree with you that crossing both 90 and 520 is superfluous. (I happen to think that a second crossing from Sand Point to Kirkland would be ideal, but that’s neither here nor there). Where I disagree is that I think 520 is not better for any purpose other than going directly to Overlake.

        According to Google Maps, from Bellevue Transit Center to 3rd and Pike is 11.1 miles via 520, 11.5 miles via I-90 + 405, and 10.9 miles via 112th/Bellevue Way to I-90 Express. I would call that a wash.

        If you want to go to both Bellevue and Redmond, just look at the map in the STB article I linked you to. Crossing 520 means one of two things. You can have Bellevue and Redmond be two separate branches, which is terrible for headways, and makes going between Bellevue and Redmond virtually impossible. (RapidRide B is pretty much a parallel of East Link between Bellevue and Redmond, which should tell you that it’s an important segment.) Or you can have Link go to Bellevue, then *turn around* and go back up Bel-Red towards Redmond.

        There’s also the crush-load problem. North Link is expected to have as much usage as Central Link (excluding downtown) and East Link combined. Thus, it’s very natural to have all the trains run from Northgate to ID, and from there, have half go to the airport and half to the Eastside. If you split trains at UW, then either you have 20-50% of trains skip downtown, or you force a transfer to get from North Link to East Link. Both options suck.

        But the biggest problem is simple: Your anecdotes aside, the 550 corridor has much stronger bidirectional transit demand and potential than the 545 corridor. Let’s assume for a moment that the routes are the same from Bellevue to Overlake, and the only difference would be in the A and B segments. The I-90 route stops in two significant transit centers (Mercer Island and South Bellevue P&R), and, as long as we don’t get B7, passes through at least some areas which are possible candidates for TOD. The 520 route passes through Clyde Hill and Yarrow Point. I couldn’t imagine a worse candidate for TOD if I tried.

        It’s not often that I find myself agreeing with John Bailo, but in this case, I think he’s right. 520 is just a terrible place to have a bridge. If we decided to just let the thing sink, and used the money to build a rail bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland, I think that would be a far better use of our money.

      9. I think that, should light rail be built over 520, there should be two routes on it: U District-Kirkland (maybe on to Totem Lake and Brickyard and Kingsgate) and U District-Bellevue-Issaquah. The 520 route would mostly be for people trying to get from North Seattle to the Eastside or vice versa, it wouldn’t be for Downtown commuters. But there’s plenty commuting from North to East.

      10. I think it should head north and east through Totem Lake to Woodinville.

        The Lynnwood, Bothell, Totem Lake, Woodinville area seems to be a pretty major population growth area and would make sense to have a line out that way. I also think some form of street car could connect downtown Kirkland with downtown Bellevue if it was interlined with the Light Rail.

      11. Aleks,

        The argument that your facts support is still “Why is 90 better than 520?” And I don’t dispute your numbers or other facts in supporting that argument, if only one is built, ever.

        But….if both crossings are completed, the Google distance from I 90 to the BTC is 2.5 Miles (through or next to a wetland). The distance from 520 Bell-Red Corridor is only .8 miles of already planned light rail track through the hospital zone. That’s not a wash – that’s 3X at how many $$$ Billion? And at what environmental cost. Nor is there any real opportunity for TOD in the wetland or anywhere else on 112th. TOD IS key on the Bel-Red corridor. That needs to be developed.

        We also can’t consider the BTC to be on the I-90 corridor – just cause the 550 goes that way; with the new weave and toll bridge – we may want to reconsider how Bellevue gets to Seattle. Nor can we compare the Medina Evergreen Point park and ride to the South Bellevue. They are both bad ideas, and not naturally occuring phenomena.

        Also, two branches crossing the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge (520) may be terrible for headways – but how would two branches (eventually) crossing 90 be any different?

      12. Belleviewer,

        My apologies. I thought you were assuming only a single bridge. I now see that you’re actually assuming two bridges where only one goes to MS and only one (maybe the same, maybe different) goes to Bellevue.

        Were we to build two rail crossings, I still maintain that Sand Point to Kirkland is a better choice than 520. In that case, it’s clear that the I-90 one would be better poised to reach Bellevue and OTC than the Kirkland one.

        520, if we built it, would then be a *third* crossing. You’d save some money by not having the I-90 route detour to Bellevue, but those savings would be more than outweighed by the extra cost of building yet another lake crossing. Is it worth it to build a third crossing just so the I-90 route can skip Bellevue and head straight to Issaquah? I find that hard to justify.

        It’s also important to note that such a routing would mean there would be no easy way to get from South Bellevue to Bellevue via rail. In comparison, with today’s East Link plan, this comes for free.

        As far as your headway question: where are there plans to have two branches crossing I-90? I suppose you could imagine extending East Link to Issaquah, but is that really any more than a pipe dream right now?

  8. Can anyone explain why it will take 7 years to build the westlake- UW station 3.15 miles extension to the Link? That seems extremely long time for a fairly short distance. Then they are planning on building the entire east link line in about 4 years. This seems strange to me.

    1. See here, pages 9-10

      The tunneling introduces a lot of project dependencies. You need to excavate the stations, reinforce the I-5 undercrossing and build the TBMs before you can start tunneling. Once you launch the TBMs you have to wait until they finish before you can do trackwork, OCS and signaling. One of the TBMs needs to start over and drill the second bore. You need to get the TBMs out of the way before you can do much with finishing the stations.

      East Link is mostly at or above grade. A lot more of the work can be done in parallel. Even so, its construction period is given as Oct 2013 to Dec 2021 (p. 37), so that’s 8 full years.

      Part of the stretched-out schedules may be to allow more tax revenue to come in before having to spend a lot. Federal funding timelines might have something to do with it also.

      1. I guess it’s really all about money. From what I’ve read the viduct tunnel will be dug out and built faster than the U Link extension. Both are tunnels and have the same potential problems while building. Although I’m pretty sure the viaduct tunnel is a lot shorter, but I could be wrong.
        Is microsoft not onboard for East Link? I would think with the number of people they employee that they would promote it and want it built.

      2. The viaduct replacement DBT has one challenge the U-Link tunnels won’t have, namely a record-setting diameter TBM. How are they even going to transport that thing to the site? Good thing the south portal is close to a seaport.

        I’m sure Microsoft is very interested in getting East Link up and running. Don’t expect that to turn into a financial committment.

      3. Microsoft has a very bizarre set of transportation priorities. For example, the amount of money they spend subsidizing Connector routes to the middle of nowhere (e.g. Duvall) is staggering.

        Thus, Microsoft will probably be very interested in subsidizing the portion between Overlake and downtown Redmond, and won’t care at all about the rest.

    2. One costly and rookie mistake ST is making is choosing to tunnel through hills. Smart transit agencies simply parallel them.

      1. Where? Be specific. You have to be in a tunnel on Capitol Hill. I don’t think it is realistic or saves any money to go to Montlake on the surface given the well to do opposition and the time lost compared to a tunnel.

        ST already goes at-grade wherever it can, elevates where appropriate, and tunnels in denser neighborhoods. That is the beauty of light rail.

      2. I think Sam is talking about routing north Link via Eastlake (no Capitol Hill) and south Link via Georgetown (no Beacon Hill or Rainier Valley) or via Dearborn/MLK (no SODO or Beacon Hill).

        “Smart” agencies put stations in existing neighborhood centers. Capitol Hill and Rainier Valley have the largest concentrations of transit riders in the state (besides UW and downtown), and Beacon Hill is also a high-transit neighborhood like Fremont. Capitol Hill is also the third-largest transit destination for non-residents (behind downtown and UW). If you bypass these areas, it defeats one of the main reasons the line was built — to put major pedestrian destinations within walking distance of stations. People are not going to walk 30 minutes over a hill to a station “in the middle of nowhere”.

      3. Forgot that Stadium and SeaTac are also high-transit. But I’m talking specifically about residential neighborhoods, so not those.

      4. If I were Light Rail Czar, I’d say that the line to the airport would go through Georgetown and Boeing Field, and the line through the Rainier Valley (which I might even route down Dearborn St rather than tunneling under Beacon Hill, were it not for the weird angle that would take coming out of the transit tunnel) would eventually end up in Renton and head down the 167 corridor. Where will a future line through that corridor go, and will Georgetown ever get light rail now?

        (I’m also not sure why I heard it explained in another thread a long time ago that Sound Transit went down MLK rather than the existing core of the neighborhood on Rainier to create more TOD. That’s Vision Line logic, especially since the slope of Beacon Hill, which goes almost right up to MLK, is probably steep enough to limit the area’s TOD potential.)

  9. I’m curious how much it would cost to tunnel from University of Washington Station north to University Village and then east to Magnuson Park and then to Kirkland/Redmond. Probably a ton, but curious nonetheless.

    1. Why tunnel from UW station to U Village and Magnuson Park? There’s plenty of street ROW at least as far as Children’s Hosp. Street-running would be a lot cheaper.

      1. Sand Point Way is pretty wide, complete with median, as far as 65th. But it’s also difficult to cross the Burke-Gilman Trail along 45th and Sand Point Way from U-Village as far as 95th; there just aren’t many crossings. A more TOD-friendly approach might be to continue down 45th, which narrows tremendously once most of the traffic splits onto Sand Point Way, into northern Laurelhurst and merely parallel Sand Point Way, which the rich residents of Laurelhurst and Windermere might never accept. Or, alternately, stay north of the Burke-Gilman Trail past U-Village through Hawthorne Hills (another super-rich neighborhood, and one where tunnelling is probably absolutely necessary, and probably still not very TOD-friendly in any case, and its walkshed could overlap with an eventual north-south line to Wedgwood and/or Lake City).

      2. The “obvious” route seems to be:

        – Central Way (Kirkland) to where 65th would be if the park wasn’t in the way
        – Cut through the park and take 65th to Sand Point Way
        – Turn left at Sand Point Way and continue to 45th (U-Village)

        None of this involves crossing the Burke-Gilman.

        From there, you have two options:

        – Take Montlake Blvd to Husky Stadium, connect at UW Station, go around the curve, and then take Pacific to I-5 (and continue to Lower Wallingford/Fremont/Ballard).
        – Stay on 45th, go under the viaduct, connect at Brooklyn Station, and tunnel under 45th/Market to Ballard

        In both cases, the line will probably go underground before it reaches the Burke-Gilman, so again, no crossings.

        Would this not work? If so, why not?

      1. In Mobile the Causeway tunnels and I10 tunnels both go under the Alabama River. Is the lake too deep for that?

      2. Both of those tunnels are of the immersed tube type. They are also less than a mile long, and have an underwater clearance of 40 feet.

        The crossing from Sand Point to downtown Kirkland looks to be over 8000 feet, and the lake bottom is likely deeper at that point. Wikipedia says the lake has an average depth of 108 ft. and max. depth of 214 ft. I am not a civil engineer, but I would think that building a tunnel on Lake Washington would be much more difficult.

        Interesting factoids about the Bankhead Tunnel: it was named for the grandad of Tallulah Bankhead and the bridge appeared in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    1. In Boston, there are parks right next to Longwood Station, Beaconsfield Station, the tracks between Chestnut Hill and Newton Center, and probably more that I can’t think of. Oh, and the PCC trolley (ironically called the “High Speed Line”) runs through a cemetery.

      I guess it would be less quiet every 10 minutes, but I think we could get used to it. It’s like that train in Spirited Away. When it comes like clockwork, and there isn’t any of the hustle and bustle of a highway or a station, the noise can actually be calming, in a weird way. :)

    2. Thanks for giving that pointer, I had searched for that post prior to my comments, but I couldn’t find it.

    3. This “old timer” is still mad they destroyed a perfectly good airport at what is now Magnuson Park. I don’t think the impact of a train line, especially one as quiet as Link is going to be all that significant to the park.

  10. 520 is an insane waste of resources.

    Look at this map, showing I-90 and 520 bridges:

    See, only a few miles distance between the two! If ever you were to want a second bridge, it would not be so close to the other one.

    1. John, how often are you on either bridge at rush hour? They are both at capacity or more in both directions (exception being the reversible lanes on I-90, but there’s a better use for those). In addition, the north-south freeways connecting the routes are congested from peak-to-peak.

      If an alternative bridge were farther away, it would just congest a larger stretch of I-5 and I-405.

      1. This is a classic case of induced demand. If it wasn’t so easy to cross Lake Washington by car, then fewer people would do it.

        I wouldn’t suggest that we should knock down a perfectly good bridge just because we can. But given that we’re about to embark on a multi-billion dollar rebuild of 520, it’s worth considering whether that money could be better spent elsewhere.

      2. I don’t get all this anti-520 bridge sentiment. I’m super anti-freeways, but bridges are connectors between places that have no alternate routes. If we didn’t have freeways, we would still have lots of streets people could use. If we didn’t have the 520 bridge, it would just take a long time to get from North Seattle to the Eastside every time (SOV or transit) with no alternate route in the area.

      3. There’s a perfectly good place to build an alternate route: from Sand Point to Kirkland. (In fact, the 520 bridge was originally planned to cross there.)

        I realize that 520 is getting rebuilt, and there’s not much I can do with that, and I’m okay with that. But if I had my way, I’d much rather spend the money connecting North Seattle to Kirkland by rail.

  11. Love the plurality- people who hate freeways can love bridges to pieces, and people who hate sprawl can want a third bridge across Lake Washington. Who says you can’t have it all?

    1. As alexjonlin says, bridges create access where there was none before. If there were no bridges crossing Lake Washington, then Bellevue would be 26 miles from downtown Seattle, instead of 11. Given that the Eastside is (for better or worse) a major population and employment center, you don’t have to be pro-freeways to think that bridging that gap is a good thing.

      It’s also important to remember that bridges do not necessarily carry freeway traffic. At an extreme, you can build a bridge that is transit+pedestrian-only. But less than that, bridges can carry arterial traffic, like the Fremont/University/Montlake/Ballard bridges. All of those bridges are great for the region’s mobility, and none of them carry freeway traffic.

      As far as the bridge, I think many of us don’t want a third bridge — we want a second, just in a different place. :) Either way, though, I don’t see why a bridge to Kirkland is necessarily endorsing sprawl. Downtown Kirkland is one of the densest population centers in Puget Sound. Creating a rail link from there to UW would make it easier for people to live in Kirkland without a car, which should reduce sprawl, rather than promoting it.

  12. In sum, the 520 project will be a net marginal negative for transit, and be built faster because WSDOT seems to have an unlimited credit card. East Link will take much longer, and only get built as fast as the revenue comes in.

    Maybe we need a constitutional ban on deficit spending for freeways.

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