Lander St Grade Crossing, looking west from 3rd & Lander
Lander St Grade Crossing. Photo by SDOT.

I suspect many readers are aware of yesterday’s announcement of a deal between new arena backer Chris Hansen and the Seattle City Council, which includes a $40 million fund for transportation mitigation in SODO. Judging by the news coverage (PublicolaTimes), it sounds like the focus of this fund is on mitigating the Port of Seattle’s concerns about freight mobility in the face of increased game-night car traffic congestion.

The city is vague on what specifically might be funded, deferring to a “stakeholder process”, and I have absolutely no inside information, but with $40 million in hand, and a focus on SODO freight mobility, there’s one project which stands out, namely the South Lander Street Grade Separation Project, a proposal from SDOT to build an overcrossing of the BNSF mainline at Lander St, which was shelved in 2008 for lack of funds.

Judging from the project website, it appears that SDOT had done the preliminary engineering and design work, and placed the cost at about $75 million*. It might, perhaps, be worth $35 million to the Port or the City or BNSF (or some combination of the three) to take the project off the shelf and get it done; and while the Lander overcrossing is certainly not what I’d build if I were given $40-$75 million to improve non-car modes in the area, it would have peripheral benefits for transit. Buses which must navigate the current Lander grade crossing suffer horrible unreliability due to train traffic; at the very least, the overcrossing would make Route 21 and the new Route 50 much more reliable.

That crossing’s unreliability (and the congestion on Edgar Martinez Dr) was one of the reasons why Metro eliminated any 4th Ave S pathway from consideration for RapidRide C, but between the new Spokane Street Viaduct and a possible Lander overcrossing, that pathway might become viable. Interestingly, as reader Matt L pointed out to me, Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (page 4-3) calls for “strong consideration” of a 4th Ave pathway rather than a 99 pathway, due to the better connection this provides for riders heading south or east on Link or crosstown services, as well as better access to SODO, Pioneer Square and the International District through a path which wouldn’t raise NIMBY objections from Pioneer Square.

Again, this is complete speculation on my part. We’ll have to see who’s on the future stakeholder group before we can get a better sense of what might be built.

* Postscript: Adam pointed me to this MIC Bulletin which puts the cost at $180-200 million, although it doesn’t provide a source for that number. If that number is accurate, then $40 million doesn’t appear to put the overcrossing within reach, except maybe as a part of a local match for a federal grant.

54 Replies to “Lander Street Overcrossing and SODO Transit”

  1. Ugh. No 4th Ave pathway for RR C. Even with the grade separation it would be slower than the old 1st Ave route for the 21/22/56, and add at least 6-8 minutes to a downtown to West Seattle trip. Leave the connections between the ID, Sodo, and West Seattle to the 21 and the 50.

  2. Is the option to trench the railroad just too expensive or impractical? I’ve never heard that discussed.

    1. I think it would be a great idea, but it might be a very large project. Take a look at the map of that area. Sure, there’s only 4 tracks at that point, but you’d have to slowly drop down and slowly rise. That means dropping the 9-track section to the south and the 15-track section to the north. They might be able to optimize the track layout or move some siding sections southward, but I could see this quickly becoming a very expensive project.

    2. I’d say both extremely expensive, as well as impractical.

      In addition to the reasons Matt listed, you have to keep in mind that this is a heavily used stretch of track with a ton of switches. You’d have to lay new track to bypass the area during the excavation/construction, and there isn’t close to enough room for that on the BNSF land.

      If you can deal with the logistical problem of where to put the temporary tracks, it goes from being both impractical and expensive to simply expensive.

      1. Looking at the report the railroad needs about 30′ of clearance. That at a 2% grade that would be 1500 feet on each side to change. Basically you would have to lower all the railroad related things in the area. Not going to happen.
        The report studied trenching the road under the tracks, But i guess decided that a bridge was better (probably cheaper).

  3. This would seem to be an opportune time to discuss/plan for potential high-capacity transit routing through the area as part of a west side line. It’s time to get in at the beginning and demonstrate that part of traffic mitigation should involve an alternative that gets people out of their cars (and out of the Port’s way), not only while attending events but regularly.

    I think that this would be a valid part of the “shovel-ready” planning that Seattle Subway is espousing….

  4. Or, for less than $40M, you could both bring back the waterfront streetcar, extend it to the stadiums, and add a gondola line between the new stadium and transit (or a really nice pedestrian pathway on the same route).

    1. Thank you, Matt. Funny (not) that in a town that claims to be working toward carbon neutrality, the response to the port’s traffic concerns is a new road, not mass transit.

      Even if you don’t bring back the GB streetcar, you could probably extend the FHSC down to the stadiums for far less than $40 million. As I’ve said before, an “events-only” Link infill station might be worth considering, too.

      1. Jason,

        Mass transit for containers is trains, but not the kind that people ride.

        And the “collectors” for container transit are the drayage haulers.

        That’s the sort of mass transit in which the Port of Seattle is interested.

  5. This is probably a stupid question, but why raise the road instead of trenching the railroad?

    1. trenching an active railroad is a VERY difficult thing … mostly because the maximum grade that US railroads allow is about 2%. The trench would would require A LOT of real estate to dip down and back up to the surface … potentially cutting off other streets in the process.

      Remember everything from coal to grain to cargo containers to 737 fuselages have to traverse these streets (and then of course there is the flooding problem that would require solving/mitigating)

      just for autorack cars (car transporters) to pass the clearance would have to be at least 20 feet (I think 737s need even more) …

      1. Wikipedia says a B737 fuselage is 12’4” wide. It could probably fit through a 20′ space just fine.

      2. Not to mention the fact that you are in the water table there and the railroad would never go for it. The cost would well exceed Lander.

  6. I would prefer to see a solution that creates a grade separated crossing for both the BNSF and the E3/Link crossings at Lander st. A retained fill between 1st and 6th would be appropriate and would require raising 4th as well, but would have the great advantage of moving E3/Link and BNSF to full grade separation. For Link all that would be left are Holgate and Royal Brougham, and for BNSF, Holgate, Horton and Spokane.

    1. Doable, but would be a nightmare for local business access, and would require some work on the intersecting streets (Occidental, 3rd, 4th, and the Busway) to make turning movements possible.

      Last time I rode that way, there were a fair number of buses who turned off of the busway at Lander – ramps to make that possible would be expensive.

      1. Yes, several of the base routes using the West Seattle Bridge require a turn off or onto the busway at Lander. The 50 will as well, once it starts service.

  7. I’m for it, in general. Grade separation here would be helpful to everyone involved.

    I’m somewhat surprised that an overpass at Lander would be built before one at Holgate, though. I think Holgate has more traffic (also the direct connection to Beacon Hill). But Lander would be better for transit access, since it’s closer to the west seattle bridge ramp on 1st, and could get buses to/from the busway on 4th with a minimum of 1st ave travel.

    1. I think the number of tracks at Holgate and their location makes grade-separating Holgate much more difficult than Lander. The city has actually considered closing Holgate altogether between 1st and 4th.

      1. Shut it down between 1st and E3 and you’re good (thus removing one of the other 2 at-grade crossings for Link.

      2. Whatever happens, post-game crowds and close-by at-grade railroad tracks do not mix.

        ST has had to resort to posting security at Stadium Station after games because of the idiot factor.

  8. Seems to me the Port’s problem isn’t that trains going to and fro are competing with trucks going to and fro. That’s what this project would mitigate, no? The port is worried about trucks competing with game-related autos. Any ideas on how 40 million could be spent on that?

    1. I don’t claim to know the Port’s thinking, but if I had to guess, I’d say they are thinking that traffic on Holgate would be hosed, so Lander becomes more important to them. Another may be that this doesn’t address stadium traffic per se, but it does improve access to the port, so the cumulative effect (current problems + stadium problems – lander problems) would be less than the no-overcrossing case (current problems + stadium problems).

    2. My guess would be that the Port isn’t actually all that worried about game-related congestion, but feels it needs infrastructure improvements in general and saw an opportunity for leverage.

      1. I think the Port was responding to the unions. And I don’t think the unions would oppose a huge public construction project without real concerns. (Yes, the Mariners’ concerns were nonsensical, but they weren’t all the same concerns.) It’s pretty much unprecedented that the unions took the stance they did.

  9. The $40 mil in funds the city gets as “mitigation” from the stadium consoritum should be spent mitigating the effects of game day events. If the city was smart they would create a parking tax district around the stadium district to bring in additional funding. If the city rebuilt and re-activated the waterfront streetcar that would take a portion of the money, further constructing dedicated bus lanes, and proper complete streets aspects from the E-3 busway to the stadium district would help (construct a “loop” with a dedicated, offset transit lane from E-3 busway to Jackson. Use barricades to keep the lane seperate, and where it can turn onto the street infront of the kingdome i mean seahawks stadium or what is it now, qwest field? use remote controlled barricades that raise and lower for the buses automatically). Sounder platforms at Safeco field and the new NBA arena could also be built, to ease access as well. Not to mention you could build a stub from LINK to the new facility (or extend the waterfront streetcar to SODO station for a cross platform connection…)

    1. I agree that a fixed-guideway transit corridor to the front door of the arena and stadiums sounds good. First Avenue South, with a leg on Lander to SODO Station, is an attractive corridor. This seems like a natural extension corridor for streetcar from Jackson Street and the Waterfront. However, the nasty intersections along First might require a facility that looks more like LRT. Maybe that’s OK, because the peak demand after stadium events would be huge. Consider the benefit for arena goers of a direct shuttle to either SODO Station or King Street/ID. Nice for the entire streetcar network to tie in as well.

      To make this work, the Lander overpass needs to accommodate transit–streetcar, in this scenario. Just what the truckers want to hear.

      1. If the streetcar can connect all the way from ID Station to SODO Station, that would distribute the post-game passenger traffic so as to use half as many streetcars, potentially.

        If the streetcar stops close enough to any existing parking facilities, that would hopefully eliminate any plans for by-the-arena parking.

  10. It seems like the city messed this one up long ago. There are already two overpasses over those tracks (Royal Brougham and Edgar Martinez Dr.) add a third and throw in the forgone opportunity to bury Link (and maybe high speed rail) and it seems like a shocking lack of foresight to have not buried the tracks through that whole corridor (King Street to at least Spokane Street) twelve years ago when the old new (Safeco etc.) stadiums were being built. Instead we’re stuck with sort of solutions to the problem, when the real problem is that the grid is horrifically broken in SODO, primarily due to the presence of at grade railroad tracks through the neighborhood.

    Of course it’s not like such a project couldn’t still be done, but a of the benefits would be lost. On the other hand there is probably more political economy for transit investments then there was twelve years ago. Regardless I think its fair to say that no neighborhood has the potential to improve more from the bold implementation of urban principles than SODO.

  11. Given that the SDOT Lander st. study was done before there was any talk of a SODO arena, it would seem that the Holgate viaduct study be opened again.

    Also, how best do we connect peds. from the stadium link station to the Arena site? It’s currently a mine field to get to…

    Gondola? Ped. bridge? It seems like it should be built into the Arena design from the start…

    1. The big problem is that all the pedestrian stairways/ramps/overpasses are on the west side of 4th. There’s no easy way to avoid having to cross 4th. But a semi-ideal path given current infrastructure would be:

      *Cross 4th at Royal Brougham
      *Climb ramp to Atlantic/Edgar Martinez.
      *Head west to Occidental
      *Cross Edgar Martinez and head south on Occidental
      *Enter the stadium through a large, pedestrian oriented entrance at Massachusetts X Occidental.

      Of course, this would be made easier if using Edgar didn’t force you to cross a freeway offramp. Every pedestrian path through this interchange leads you to standing on that island between the 4th onramp and the 90/5 offramp. A good bang-for-buck solution would be to add a pedestrian crossing attached to the underside of the offramp that’d allow pedestrians to skip the crosswalks. Perhaps that idea was proposed but nixed due to truck clearance issues on 3rd, or just to avoid building a secluded, dark, urine-smelling pedestrian walkway so close to the Jungle.

  12. Call me crazy, but how’s this for a long-term fix?

    1. We need to keep lots of crazy rail lines in SODO. It’s a major port, and trains take up space especially when you have to link them up and pull them apart.
    2. We’d like for cars, buses, trucks, and pedestrians to not have to stop so often and wait for trains.

    A. A significant fraction of road-rail conflicts are from trains that aren’t doing business in SODO. (anyone have a good feel if this is correct?)

    Here’s my proposal:
    Cut and cover 4th, with new tracks, designed to be an express line. Connect it to existing tracks just east of 4th near Costco. Drop down at the existing tracks, connect to 4th, and lid it all the way to King St. Station.

    This won’t eliminate conflict between road uses and local rail, but it will serve as a bypass for trains that are just passing through.

    Obviously this would take much more than $40M, but could serve to speed up passenger train service.

    1. +1 although I see it as more feasible to cut and cover (or lidded trench) somewhere between the existing tracks west of 4th and 4th using eminent domain, as that would avoid the nightmare of temporarily tearing up on 4th and would allow for the cheaper option of a lidded or unlidded trench.

  13. I believe the Lander Crossing project is in the $175M to $200M range, so even if the POS matched this $40M it wouldn’t get us there.

    I suspect the bulk of this will get spent on the POS’s truckway project (I can’t remember right now what they officially call it…), and hopefully a pedestrian bridge from the Link station to the new Arena.

    But in reality the problem the POS is fighting is a result of their own reliance on trucks. It is horribly inefficient to unload a giant container ship onto individual trucks that only go 2 miles before those containers are re-loaded onto rail. As long as the POS relies on such a system they will be at the mercy of anything that creates more congestion in SoDo.

    Na, the POS needs to move towards more dockside rail. This would reduce their reliance on the surface streets and reduce their exposure to congestion. Additionally it would allow them to benefit from all the changes made to speed (rail) freight in the SoDo region, and it would be overall just plain more economically efficient.

    And the POS has been losing business to other ports that do have dockside rail, so they might as well get busy now if they want to be competitive.

    But the real big loser here is the Mariners. They appear to get nothing except more completion for a limited sports dollar. And, with the product they’ve been putting the field, they won’t compete very well.

    1. Where does the ~$200 million number come from? Not saying you’re wrong, but I still haven’t found an official source for that.

      1. Yesterday’s Seattle Times story about the arena deal put the price of the Lander Street overpass at $120 million.

    2. I agree, the POS has to improve its dockside rail. What major things would need to be done to help this? I’ve always though that SR99 should be elevated from Spokane street to R Brougham. The POS would then be free to use the land under SR99 to get rail to the docks….

      1. They’ve had 50 years to get a rail line under elevated SR99 and did not. Why would it be any different with a new elevated 99? (for the record I think elevated would be better through here)

  14. The grade separations we’ve built to date have been terrible for pedestrians

    The route to cross at Royal Brougham requires going around a needless corkscrew instead of a straight set of stairs.

    Edgar Martinez is not very pedestrian friendly at all, and there are no cross walks between the sides of the street – and you have to cross the I-90 off-ramp to boot, where motorists don’t consistently mind the “no turn on red”.

    My understanding of the drawings are the that pedestrian crossing of the new Highway 99 in this area are also going to be very indirect.

    New grade separation means more pedestrian wasteland

    1. Totally agree. Not having stairs instead of the corkscrew is ridiculous.

      How do we make it quick, safe and fun to get from light rail to the arena?

      1. Gently arched pedestrian bridge, so that pedestrians can avoid the horrid 4th/Royal Brougham intersection.

        The only problem with that idea is that it would block the north gate of Ryerson Base. But it shouldn’t be that hard to slightly reconfigure the base to put another gate onto E-3 north of the parking lot staircase.

      2. Maybe bring people south towards SoDo station. It’s the same distance, and there’s less in the way for a pedestrian bridge.

      3. That’s what the arch is for. Hopefully you don’t need any stairs, and you can do it so that the ramps up and down are ADA-compliant.

  15. Bruce, the lack of a Lander overpass is only one reason Metro rejected Fourth. Game traffic on over 200 days a year makes West Seattle service miserable. Putting more buses through busy Fourth and Jackson is also very problematic.

  16. The Lander st. grade separation was proposed back in the 90’s as part of the FAST program by WSDOT. Keep in mind that getting rid of this grade crossing was part and building the bridge was part of a deal to close Holgate street, since it bisects the Amtrak yard.

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