The Seattle Times reports that McGinn wants to ask voters for $10 million to do 15 percent design on an 8 mile potential light rail line. This is a good first step – it would do enough work to design a real ballot measure for construction, and to start looking for federal money.

I would be concerned about putting even a small measure on the ballot in 2011, but with West Seattle and Ballard residents still looking for solutions since the monorail project and light rail under way to other parts of the city, now is always the best time.

I think it’s important for the city to work with Sound Transit to prevent duplication of effort with the agency’s planning in the same corridor, but with Sound Transit’s work not planned for several years, I don’t see much risk there – Sound Transit can scope their future work to avoid overlap if they feel they can use some of the city findings.

This is encouraging – we haven’t seen any movement in this corridor since funding ST2. Any news is good news!

98 Replies to “First Steps toward West Side Light Rail”

  1. Why ask the voters for just 10 million? It sounds more like he just wants people vote on the idea of west side light rail. More of an advisory type vote. Or he wants this to draw out anti-tunnel supporters to the ballot box. The second one is probably the real reason. It helps to pose the tunnel in a new light. Do you want a new freeway or a new light rail line?

    1. These would be on different ballots. The tunnel referendum is August (on the primary ballot), and I believe this would be November.

      1. Too bad the timing doesn’t work out better then. How will turnout affect the tunnel. Do older people like the tunnel more or less?

    2. The $231 million Seattle school levy is on the fall ballot. They probably realized that another $10 million was all they would be able to get on that ballot.

      1. No, it won’t even come close to being the design needed for federal funding–not that there will be much.

    3. This is a great move on McGinn’s part.

      With a West Seattle tunnel in the works, the need for the downtown DBT becomes almost Nil as the complaints of West Seattlites will be nulled by having access to a fast, straight through LINK train to downtown.

      Add in adequate parking near the stations and we have a win-win situation.

      1) Better transit for West Seattle
      2) Save money by killing tunnel

  2. Has the Mayor’s Office published any chicken scratchings about what alignments they’d like to study?

  3. “This is a good first step – it would do enough work to design a real ballot measure for construction, and to start looking for federal money.”

    See, this is the way to do it. You line up the fed money early on. I never understood why Sound Transit didn’t do it this way . . .. Here we are two-plus years after ST2, we’ve spent $200 million on East Link engineering and environmental, and STILL there’s been no New Start or other fed grant applications. What’s up with the delay?

    1. Talk about a “gimme gimme gimme” culture. I am not sure if there is going to be much money coming out of the feds for awhile

      1. I guess that’s what happens when federal funding is reduced to a competitive grant process.

    2. I don’t think the feds will actually offer anything, with ST3 coming down the pipe. But this would still better inform ST3 planning.

    3. East Link isn’t a great candidate for New Starts. It’s serving the wealthiest part of the region and most of its ridership, at least to Bellevue, will mostly come from replacing the 550. New Starts is oriented towards funding transit that serves poor people and reduces driving. I doubt they ever planned to apply, doubly so in the current funding climate.

      And before all the Eastside-is-so-persecuted types come out to denounce ST, North Link (UW to Northgate) is not being submitted to New Starts either, probably for similar reasons, so you guys aren’t special and ST doesn’t secretly have it in for you.

      1. Bruce, there will be FFG (full funding grant) or other grant requests made though to the feds, and I agree, that process should be well under way at this point.

    4. The New Start process is a long one. ST is applying for a North Link federal grant now and the feds actually require them to restudy BRT instead of rail even though we all voted for rail. That is the price you pay for federal dollars and ST has done very well.

  4. Could the money be used to expedite ST’s study instead? I don’t see the point in doing more than one study. Maybe it would be cheaper to do it that way.

    1. Because the real intent is not provide west side rail service. The real intent is to serve as a counterweight to the tunnel vote. A sort of “Look, I am not just Mr. Negative, I can propose stuff too!”. The realities is that the economics of a West Seattle/Ballard aren’t feasible anyway ( Hello Salmon Bay Crossing! ).

      In the end , there will be a Rapid Ride line

      1. Speaking from West Seattle, we’ve got a growing population to rival any part of the city that could well make it very economically feasible.

        Rapid Ride=Express Bus. As long as there are not dedicated bus lanes to keep buses from getting stuck with the cars if there is an accident or heavy traffic, Rapid Ride is just a bigger express bus with more stops.

    2. Not really. Going to ballot to say “give this agency that’s already funded something in a few years money to make it happen faster” is probably a loser. Although yes, that’s what I’d like to see ideally.

      1. And, “Give the city money to study something that is already going to be studied” isn’t just as much (if not more) of a loser?

      2. Not really, barman. There’s no guarantee ST will pick that corridor for ST3. This would give the city an opportunity to say they’re going to be a good partner in planning there.

    3. We always study the same thing more than once in Seattle. In fact, if we study Westside LR only a few times it would represent some sort of Seattle efficiency record.

      And don’t forget that Mayor Schell studied this route before the monorail folks studied this route before ST promised to study this route before the current mayor proposed to study this route…

      And so it goes…

      And of course there is almost a guarantee that the criteria that ST uses in their study won’t be anything like the criteria that the city uses in their study.

      1. Let’s say this passes at the ballot. If it’s worded right, we can go push the city to use the money to fund ST’s study. I don’t think bitching about it moves us forward.

      2. The hesitation some of us have Ben, is that all lot of us have seen this before. Study upon study for what is essentially known. The ROW exists up the interbay corridor, you have to cross the canal, you have to somehow get over Harbor Island with enough clearance for shipping and make the climb up to the top of W. Seattle.

        Word the measure to say, “Give ST funding to execute the study now” instead I see more city money being thrown at a city study which may or may not be used by ST.

        So is the city going to build light rail by itself?

        You wonder why people get jaded in this town?

      3. “Essentially known” does not mean “ridership projected for a particular alignment.” You can’t move forward with the information we have today. I don’t feel like you’d be asking if the city will build light rail by itself if you’d read my other comments. This will probably end up informing Sound Transit’s decisions.

      4. I think it really would be important to have ballpark estimates of the costs of these bridges and tunnels, and to have some idea of various alternative routes. We’ve never had a study like this, specifically analyzing alternatives for a Westside light rail route, just vague studies that say it’s necessary and the monorail which was obviously a different technology.

      5. And for $10 million you’re getting going to get detailed enough estimates? What if the plan sits on the shelf for five years because of no funding mechanisms until ST3?

        Redo the study?

      6. groad: ST will use whatever they can. And I’d imagine ST will engage with the city to try to make sure this study work doesn’t duplicate their study work.

    4. How does this get us light rail sooner than ST3?

      I don’t see McGinn outlining a clear path to how that works–the Seattle Times article notes he’s clearly not working with Sound Transit.

      The ST Board will be reluctant to cut Seattle loose to have its own vote, because that would reduce the chances of a regional ST measure passing.

      What’s needed more than anything for light rail sooner is for McGinn to start to work productively with Sound Transit. Unfortunately I suspect it’s more likely he’ll use this proposal as yet another wedge issue to start bashing the City Council as being against light rail rather than taking a productive step like talking to the ST Board.

      1. ST has the sole ability by law in our region to build high-capacity transit. The only thing the city could build is a streetcar.

        McGinn obviously isn’t even talking to his fellow ST board members on this.

  5. Much cheaper than the required Port of Seattle vote for the $300 million for the Tunnel of Hamsters.

    Make it so!

    1. Yeah! More funny for stuff! Maybe a monorail too!

      It only costs a latte! on top of all the other lattes I am paying for!

  6. Of course I could point out that $10 million could potentially build a link to West Seattle using a gondola. All within a few years. But I won’t because I like light rail too, and it will have more capacity and more stops.

      1. I’m convinced Portland did it wrong. Or at least ended up with a solution that might be fine for them, but not what we need. Large arial trams require much larger stations and towers, and give you low frequency and capacity. We need off-the-shelf gondolas just like you’d see in any large ski resort. Drop a factory-built station up on West Seattle and custom build a small station at Link’s SoDo Station, and we should be able to make it for $10M (Crystal’s new gondola cost $5.5M, and they had to helicopter equipment in).

        Of course I wouldn’t mind paying for nicer stations or paying for it go directly downtown instead of the SoDo Station. I’m just saying I think we can get something done almost immediately and for cheap, if we wanted.

      2. Portland chose and announced their alignment before they did much engineering; that’s the kind of mistake we should try very hard to avoid. McGinn’s proposal might be helpful to that end, so I’m keeping an open mind on it.

      3. From my understanding of the tram, OHSU decided to make significant changes to the upper terminal because they wanted to construct a new building where the original terminal would have been located. This cause a significant, and much more costly solution for the upper terminal, thus the higher cost.

      4. two potential problems … the Gondola would have to be high enough to clear the port (the ships / container cranes / etc …) and yet be low enough that it doesn’t interfere with the approach to BFI

        that and the distance they have to travel would take quite a while to transit

      5. [Gordon] about 11 minutes. Single cable gondolas can move at around 22km/hr, and a trip from West Seattle to SoDo would be about 4.4 km. We could go faster with a 3-cable gondola, but that would add cost.

        I would think it would be easy to run high near the port since we’re starting on a hill, and it should be easy to stay low after that. Of course we’d need some engineering to be sure.

      6. Hmm, maybe we get the sky ride back from the Puyallup Fair that used to grace the Seattle Center.

        It’s really then just longer cables, more poles and a heavier motor to drive the system. The terminus stations are in Puyallup too. The number of individual cars can be added as demand increases.

        Almost an aerial PRT.

      7. Where would it go in West Seattle? The main centers of West Seattle are in thr middle of the hill, not on the eastern edge of it.

      8. [alex] No idea – I just don’t know W. Seattle well enough to make a good suggestion. But we don’t have to stop at the eastern edge.

    1. And then what about the connection from Ballard and Interbay to downtown? I’ve read about the gondola idea and I can’t say that it seems terribly feasible in this city’s political climate. If they thought the monorail (which would have been up and running and doing this job in this spot for years at this point) was ridiculous, what do you think they’ll say about gondolas?

      1. Yeah. We really shouldn’t try out affordable practical ideas because people might think they’re crazy. You’re totally right.

        I think Seattle’s just goofy enough to love this. If gondolas can’t work in the land of the Magic Carpet Zone and Monorail (which almost broke ground and would have worked if run a bit better), where can they?

        “And then what about the connection from Ballard and Interbay to downtown?” Again, I’m totally for urban light rail. And I’m totally for urban light rail between Ballard and W. Seattle if that route works well. But we’re talking multiple decades and billions of dollars. Why not throw in a cheap system that will do something right now? If we get bored with it by the time light rail is in we can move it or sell it to Tacoma. Or just junk the thing – it would have well paid for itself by that point.

      1. I like the Gondola idea very much but I think it should be used for specialized cases where light rail or streetcars are not practical. I think a West Seattle to SODO/Downtown link is a perfect case for application of a Gondola because it is scaling steep terrain and traversing a shipping harbor and train row.

        I also like his idea for a SLU to Ballard traversing Salmon bay. It’s actually very creative and I like that it doesn’t doesn’t preempt the usage of the Burke Gilmann trail to an exclusive purpose. But beyond that, for other routes I think street cars and light rail make more sense.

        As for station placements in West Seattle, when I was thinking about this, I felt a station near the junction might make sense because several bus lines already converge there or could be modified to meet the stations there.

        I know people’s first reaction is absurdum but I think a viable efficient system can be developed that transports a significant number of people per hour, reduces the need to run long bus routes over already over burdened streets and highways, and creates an opportunity to create frequent and convenient bus service WITHIN West Seattle that connects everything together.

  7. So…..wasn’t ST committed to fund a study of Westside LR as part of the voter approved ST2 package?

    I know the ST study was a bit further down the pike, but what is going to happen here? If the voters approve this study, does that mean that ST will then study the same thing a 2nd time? Or is ST off the hook for funding their study and then able to redeploy those funds to something else?

    Personally I feel better with ST doing the study. I feel a better approach would have been to work with ST to move their study forward (loan from city, direct city funds, or whatever). I’m afraid that with this approach we will get something watered down (like a glorified streetcar).

    And what’s the deal with McGinn wanting to put Joel Horn in charge of the study?

    1. Joel Horn?


      I hope not. That man has killed every project he’s touched. Commons, Monorail.

    2. The city has NO experience in building, designing, or pricing light rail. That means they have to hire someone to do it, reducing the money for actual study. ST has built the design expertise over years.

      McGinn and the Horn/Monorail crowd have a lot in common. Don’t worry be happy, we know what is best even if we have no experience…

  8. I hope this study won’t be specifically for a “non-Cadillac” line. I know this is a tired refrain, but it needs to be done right, which means it needs to be in a tunnel Downtown and only at-grade maybe in Interbay where it could still be traffic-separated. It needs to be high-capacity, leave opportunities for future expansion, and be fast enough to attract choice riders, and for that it needs to be grade-separated.

    1. I think it will be, but it’ll give us ammunition, probably, to say “this needs to be a real line.”

      1. We KNOW it has be a real line. Folks have been saying it since the effing ’20s.

      2. groan, I understand your schtick is being a Negative Nancy, so maybe you’ll understand that “everyone knows” doesn’t hold water.

      3. Of course WE know, but the vast majority of the city population has no idea, and is skeptical, and this HELPS with that.

    2. That is not what McGinn is talking about. See his recent blog on his trip to Portland. He is talking about at-grade light rail on the cheap, MAX style.

  9. Unfortunately, the bad blood around the tunnel will probably bleed over to this issue. People will vote against it because they see it as a proxy for not building a tunnel.

    The reality is that we need light rail on this alignment regardless of whether there’s a DBT.

    I wish this could work in concert with the Sound Transit study, paying for it to happen now (and relieving Sound Transit’s budget problems in the process by freeing up the money they would have spent later to do this.) What we need is a single full study of all options (including full grade separation and Aurora corridor alternatives), and not just the “do it on the cheap” options that McGinn is likely to favor. What we really should be aiming for is a second downtown transit tunnel, though the DBT being dug would complicate this a bit because any second tunnel would have to cross over or under the DBT as the DBT turns to the east.

    1. My fear is that the McGinn term will POISON the well for serious transit projects in Seattle for years.

      1. Dude, you’re afraid of everything. Sound Transit is delivering, even if this goes south they’ll still be on the ballot again in a few years.

      2. What is ST delivering? ridership below projections and a build out to Northgate by 2020?

        Be still my beating heart

      3. Ok, that was over the top snark, even for me.

        My problem is that in a world where we have the Chinese, Spanish, French, etc building out incredible systems in short order, we’re barely making up for ground we’ve lost since the ’70s with the Forward Thrust failure

        I am very pro-transit, but smart transit. It bothers me that we have a Mayor who has not awoken to the realities of doing politics as means to achieve an end, not as the end in itself. I see this light rail vote as a feel-good pander.

      4. And do you have any constructive suggestions on how to get to Northgate sooner, or is this just more kvetching you’re wasting everyone’s time with?

      5. Groad – if you don’t want to be behind, come HELP, the way we need you to help, to push the legislature hard and raise money to elect supportive candidates.

  10. With East and North link, wont the transit tunnel already be at capacity by 2021? So, in order for light rail to occur on the west side via Sound Transit, wouldn’t they have to expand the tunnel?

    1. I think the idea is to build a new tunnel through downtown. Would be pretty expensive though, with stations.

      1. Right now I don’t think McGinn is calling for a second tunnel through Downtown, but hopefully the studey will support that. It’ll be expensive but have such a huge public benefit, especially with stations in Belltown and Uptown.

    2. We’d need a new tunnel. That’s why if a Ballard-West Seattle line happens, it’ll be built and the construction will probably be funded by ST.

      1. Light rail from West Seattle would not likely come with a tunnel under downtown, at least in the near future. Most plans envision it meeting Central Link at the SODO station.

    3. They could just ban buses from the tunnel and make it rail only…like it should be.

      The surface street traffic in Seattle just isn’t that great that you need a “bus tunnel”.

      Put all the buses on the street which makes them easier to get to, and frees up the tunnel for rail.

      1. John, we’re talking about after that’s happened. Lynnwood-downtown will have so much demand that we won’t have room for another line in the tunnel.

      2. Once we build to Lynnwood and Redmond the tunnel will be nearly tapped out at 3 minute headways with no busses. It’s already tapped out at 7.5 minute headways with the busses in there now.

  11. I wrote to McGinn and Rasmussen and said, this is a good idea but please fund the First Hill Streetcar extension before designing other lines. There’s only a short window to get it folded into the rest of the line construction, and it’ll be cheaper and more efficient to do it all at once.

    The reason it’s only $10 million is that there will be several other expensive items on the ballot this year, and they think a cheaper design-only proposal is more likely to pass. As for why, it’s to get it up and running sooner. It’s pretty clear their intention is to give the result to ST and say, “This is what we want in ST3.” If there’s no other major proposal from North King, and they find the design sound, why wouldn’t they use it rather than doing a whole second design?

    1. I am pretty sure we don’t have the money to do the streetcar extension at the ballot – and it probably won’t poll well.

      1. If the Council doesn’t find the money for that somewhere they’re retarded. Plus what do you mean “don’t have the money?”

      2. I mean this ballot measure will get us $10 million, but I think that extension was more like $25.

      3. I thought we only needed the city to come up with something less than a mil for a study of the extension which would allow us to qualify for grants. Wisdom was that it would be a shoe in Federal Funding.

  12. Sigh……….I think that groan may be right about the mayor using this as a diversionary tactic; at either juncture though regardless of his intent,I do admire his gutsy call out to constituents to see if they’re royally upset with him, or have the tenacity to withstand the continuous onslaught of the scummy PR campaign eminating from the Gov’s office and kick this garbage tunnel back top up to their slimy money contributors.

    Times like this make me wish I hadn’t voted for her, but clearly Rossi was a poorer choice in my book. either way it was a lose-lose…

    1. Wait until 2012. Unless Dow runs, and I think it has to be a KC Dem in order to neutralize McKenna, the Governor’s mansion will flip parties

      1. My apologies for the name misspelling. I was a McKenna supporter BIG time until this crazy stuff he pulled regarding health care from the feds.

        He’ll only get my vote now if he comes clean on many many issues, transportation of course being one on the agenda. Otherwise, I’m lost as to having a viable candidate I can stand behind.

      2. This is off OT but I think McKenna will have strong support on the Eastside. He is that “law and order” but moderate Republican that they tend to like…

    2. The Republican no longer exists, nor will probably ever exist, to get my vote. The Dan Evans, “Blueprint for Progress” republicans have gone the way of the Dodo bird.

      Mr. so called moderate republican, Rob McKenna, is a joke. Healthcare? Forget about it!

      Transportation? Yeah, right.

      1. McKenna has a long history of not supporting transportation as a King County Councilmember. He tried to kill ST and was the father of the subarea equity policy.

  13. this would be the 6th or the 7th vote on high capacity transit in the west seattle-ballard corridor?

  14. I love the concept and would vote for it in a New York minute.

    Unfortunately, Mayor McGinn has alienated far too many citizens with his opposition to the Deep Bore Tunnel, a Washington State highway project. His laser beam of priorities in Seattle has become a cheap flashlight that has no focus. Other than ACTIVELY OPPOSING the DBT. If you all think the infamous snowstorm did Mayor Nickels in, you will see that this opposition to DBT will be Mayor McGinn’s Waterloo. Big time. You will see that Seattle, while quite liberal, will throw someone out QUICK that has no propensity to compromise.

  15. I agree with others — west side light rail is something that needs to happen, but Mike McGinn is way too polarizing a figure to take the lead on it.

    Further, this is the kind of thing he should have approached Sound Transit with — he’s on their board — before he thought ballooned it in public. People are far more receptive to plans than they are ideas, and this guy barely has the latter.

    1. I think those who think he has other motives are right. Light rail to the Westside polls well, and this mayor cares a lot about polls. I think he wants to influence the tunnel vote and council elections. He also realized that he made a stupid promise in his campaign to put a light rail vote on the ballot in two years and this is his pathetic effort to deliver something.

  16. I worry that if Seattle runs this it will be set up from the getgo as a Green Line replacement.

    I’d like to see a route neutral study, taking into consideration the existing N-S we already have/are constructing.

    Also ANY work done on Link needs to be made with expansion in mind. I’m just not sure the city has that ability.

    While I support more transit yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I would like to see some more details on how this will all work out. Is the city legally able to give money to ST to study WS and Ballard? Later on, would the city be able to give money directly in order to ‘Plus Up’ North King funds?

    1. All Seattle would have to do would be to front ST the money to move the studies up. He could have done that two years ago.

  17. McGinn is short-circuiting his own citizen CTAC III process to fund these studies. If he really cared about mobility in the city, this money could be far better spent on expanding the trolley system (something Metro has no capital funds to do), or building more bike and ped improvements, or loaning ST the money to do the study, or funding more Rapid Ride lines on existing busy routes like the 120.

    I want rail as much as the next person, but I fear McGinn is going to do damage to the long range ability to build transit funding. Who hasn’t he pissed off yet? Now he is taking on Sound Transit?

    Ben, take a careful look at his proposal and see if you still think it is a great idea.

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