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We need a cheaper light rail path to West Seattle – one that doesn’t require a new downtown tunnel and doesn’t require a new Duwamish crossing. Forcing West Seattle to wait till ST4 for transit is both bad for the people who live there and bad politics.  The Senate appears likely to hold the line on larger packages options for ST3.

Build a new line south through Seattle, turn east in South Park, then loop north through West Seattle.
This allows new stations in Georgetown and South Park, excellent connectivity in White Center and Westwood Village, and continues on through West Seattle.

Why:  ST has studied a new bridged and tunneled solution for West Seattle.
Its very expensive, and likely won’t fit into any ST3 packages.

Studied Proposals:
The problem statement from David Lawson and STB in 2013 still seems good.

Both David’s writeup and the corridor analysis from Sound Transit called out the desirable stops as Youngstown, Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction, High Point, Westwood Village, and White Center.

The central challenge confronting any project in West Seattle is topography. West Seattle is built on a series of dramatic hills, with neighborhoods largely separated by cliffs and ravines.
The Triangle, Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction, and High Point are all at relatively high altitude — but are themselves separated by significant altitude changes. South Delridge and White Center are only slightly lower. Roads connecting many of these areas are steep and narrow.

However, both the Sound Transit analysis and David’s write-up assume that the Duwamish needs to be crossed near the West Seattle Bridge, and must therefore be on a new and very expensive high bridge. Both also assume that there the entire line needs to be tunneled for good ridership, and to avoid political acceptance problems from residents.
The LRT costs from ST were all 4-6 billion, although a new downtown transit tunnel was included in these estimates.
However, we just built a new lift bridge in South Park, with four lanes dedicated to cars. Traffic requiring the bridge to lift is very low, as is vehicle traffic on the new bridge.

The elevation changes between these sites mean that a fully tunneled solution would require very deep stations in sites like High Point and Alaska Junction in order to keep the elevation changes elsewhere to something LRT can handle.


Sodo:  Start at Sodo station busway.

From Sodo Station continue on Busway to Industrial.   Begin elevated segement on Airport Way at the railroad tracks.  Bear right at the stub street 8th and continue south on Corson.

Georgetown:A station above Michigan and Corson would capture nightlife, industrial area jobs, and the job training at South Seattle Community College.

Build south elevated along Corson.  Corson has some residences on it, but is primarily a freeway offramp. Continue elevated along East Marginal.  Drop down to street level and take the center lanes along the new South Park Bridge.

South Park:  Elevated station just south of south park bridge.

Continue south elevated along 14th, cross 99 however possible, then turn west in the industrial area at S 96th.  Begin 3k tunneled section under SR509, and climb up to an undergrond station in…

White Center:  Underground.

Westwood Village:  To catch RT 21 ridership
Emerge and continue elevated west to 35th, then turn north along 35th elevated to a stop at…

Roxhill/Chief Sealth:

Where the hill gets steep around Thistle, begin 2.4k  tunneled section to High Point.

High Point: Buried station here.

Turn west, and continue dropping down to emerge midway down the hill, to a very elevated station in…

Morgan Junction:

continue elevated above California – five lanes wide to…

Alaska Junction:  Elevated Station here, with potential to continue to North Admiral or to Alki, should density warrant.

North Link and S 200th ST

Northgate link is 3.6 miles tunneled, 4.1 miles overall.  2.1 billion.
S 200th ST is 1.6 miles at 300 million, and one large parking garage.

8.7k to elevated to south park
2.9k tunneled to westwood village
1.6k elevated to high point
2.4 k tunneled to morgan junction
2.0 k elevated to alasak junction

12.3k elevated   7.6 miles
5.3k tunneled    3.3 miles

Napkin math suggests 2 billion for the tunneled sections, and 1.5 billion for elevated.


  • Serves jobs and job training in Georgetown
  • Serves low income and transit underserved fast in South Park and White Center
  • Allows a realistic proposal for a Seattle only package, for leverage with state legislators.


  • Doesn’t serve Burien or points south.
  • Slower service to Admiral Junction than other proposals
  • Doesn’t serve Delridge.

The West Seattle U is an alternate proposal that is cheaper than an all tunneled solution, better support economic justice concerns, and supports a Seattle only light rail solution for West Seattle.

20 Replies to “Build the West Seattle U”

  1. These are just the kind of alternative ideas we need, thanks. And if a Georgetown/SeaTac bypass is ever built, it could share the track. This is more or less how cars go when the bridge is blocked, so West Seattlites are at least somewhat familiar with it. The travel time may be an issue though, and it’s still expensive, and the population is as undense there as it was before. Nevertheless it deserves consideration and a fair comparison.

  2. Elevated is also faster to build than tunneling, so if it has only a bit of tunnels it could open sooner. Are there any opportunities for surface sections without crossing car traffic? That would lower the construction time and cost further. The south end has so much highway ROW that there may be opportunities somewhere.

  3. My biggest problem with this is it tells Ballard they have to wait until ST4 which is bad for the people who live there and bad politics as well.

    There is no way West Seattle should be jumping in line ahead of Ballard.

    Even with cutting the cost of serving West Seattle it is still way too spread out and low-density to really effectively serve with rail.

    1. I took it as “This is an alternative that should be considered alongside the other West Seattle rail alternatives”, not “We must build this before Ballard”. I guess the title can be interpreted that way though.

      I don’t think anybody will allow West Seattle to get rail if Ballard doesn’t. The ridership, density, and transit enthusiam around 45th is obvious.

      What I like about this idea is it brings another way to serve West Seattle. The impact on Delridge and 35th is going the other direction to transfer, and it puts the transfers right in urban villages rather than in isolated locations, so the stations serve two markets at once. It also raises the question of what’s an acceptable travel time for the Junction. The bridge route was studied not because people thought another way was too long; it was studied because people couldn’t conceive of any other way.

      What I don’t like is the price. It’s still 2/3 of the existing alternatives, and higher than any other Seattle corridor, and not affordable in ST3. Since as I said, there’s no way ST3 will put all its North King money into West Seattle.

    2. @Chris

      For effectiveness; Ballard-UW has got to the priority.
      The politics of Seattle building something like this and UW Ballard w/o Sound Transit let King County legislators to bargain effectively with the Senate Republican caucus.

  4. The big downside to me is that the largest pocket of density being served is the Alaska Junction, and are you spending $3.5 billion (or more by my mental math) only to make all those riders detour south? Paying for miles of tunnel that don’t appreciably improve travel times for the most riders seems like a waste. And I think you will still have a challenging Duwamish crossing no matter how you do it.

  5. So. This is an 18-mile line. You’d do well to achieve 35-minute end-to-end run time from Alaska Junction to SODO, with all the grade transitions and a couple sharp turns. Times of 45 minutes wouldn’t surprise me, more if the line was actually popular enough to have boarding delays.

    The 50 is scheduled at a maximum of 15 minutes between Alaska Junction and SODO. The 56 is scheduled at a maximum of 20 minutes between Admiral Junction and downtown. The 55 is scheduled at a maximum of 27 minutes between Alaska Junction and downtown. The C Line is scheduled at a maximum of 26 minutes between Alaska Junction and downtown. I know none of these routes hold to these schedules reliably, and I know the schedules will get worse when the viaduct comes down, but even if they run 20 minutes late by the West Seattle Bridge they’re doing as well as the U would for the one kind of West Seattle trip with demonstrated large transit demand, which is going downtown.

    So… if you think $3.5 billion could keep those routes (again, the only ones with demonstrated large transit demand) close to their schedules, or if you think $6 billion could keep those routes close to their schedules and do something for Ballard and Aurora (as the WSTT backers seem to think), it’s hard to see how this is a more worthy project than those.

    You don’t even have to know where specifically it goes to know a “West Seattle U” is a bad idea. A U is rarely a good shape for a transit route. The exceptions are routes where the two halves of the U stand as excellent routes on their own, and maybe some cases where there’s no competing direct route between the branches. Would you spend half of $3.5 billion on Alaska Junction-Georgetown light rail? Would you spend the other half on Westwood-South Park-SODO light rail? Does the West Seattle Bridge not exist? I don’t think the answer to any of these is, “Yes.”

  6. We can quantify the overhead of this route: it’s the backtracking from 96th Street to Alaska Street (4600). That’s 50 blocks (96 – 46) or 2.5 miles. Thta’s roughly the distance from Columbia City Station to Rainier Beach Station, which is 7 minutes on MLK. But MLK is surface (35 mlh plus stoplights) while this is grade separated (55mph without crossings), so the net overhead is around 4 or 5 minutes.

    To respond to Al Diamond, other reasons for U-shaped routes are to avoid hills and avoid the expense of constructing another bridge or retrofitting the West Seattle Bridge. You can’t pretend the existing roadways are flat and cheap.

    1. Multiply the “overhead” number by 2 if you’re riding around the U, and forget about in-service total speed averages of well over 30 MPH (i.e. 4 minutes to go 2.5 miles) on a line with a few sharp turns, some climbs and descents, and a bunch of stops. A more realistic “overhead” number based simply on subtracting address numbers is at least over 10 minutes.

      Then a sanity check. It’s a bit over 4 miles from Alaska Junction to SODO Station. I used 18 miles for the length of the line in my post, but I misread, it was 18 km (who does that?), just short of 11 miles. 22 minutes to SODO would be doing really well at any time of day, 30 wouldn’t be surprising. Just under 6 miles longer than a direct route, probably more than 10 minutes slower than even mediocre buses… and that’s to SODO, not downtown, the overwhelming destination from most of West Seattle.

      “Avoid hills,” is, “There’s no competing route between the branches.” But there is! It’s the one people take in great numbers by every mode despite congestion because it’s so much more direct than going around!

      This line isn’t flat or cheap either, and its cost estimate assumes elevated segments in places where it’s otherwise been assumed they’d be rejected. To be sure, the counter-proposal isn’t, “Do nothing, the West Seattle Bridge is fine,” it’s, “Spend actual money fixing the West Seattle Bridge.” Probably not on trains.

    2. It’s only multiplied by 2 if you’re going to the Junction. The length of track is not two more in that segment but one more. The travel time from downtown to White Center and Westwood Village is not more, and it may be less. That won’t serve people in north Delridge and Avalon Way directly, but it’ll serve other people in the south end of West Seattle directly , so it’s not a loss without a gain. Not everyone is going to the Junction; in fact, the bus on’/offs I see now are about the same at all those stations.

  7. Interesting idea, although I’d point out that branching off Central Link at Boeing Access Road instead of SODO would reduce the amount of (very expensive) new elevated guideway by almost four miles, a pretty significant cost savings. Not being as familiar with the Georgetown / South Park areas, is there enough density there to warrant the cost of LRT service, rather than using the (already paid for) Rainier Valley alignment?

    Using Rainier Valley via a Boeing Access Road branch would increase out-of-direction travel between SODO and Alaska Junction to 14 miles, vs. 4 miles for the direct route across the bridge, so that’s not good. It would, however, provide a much better connection to the airport and points south, so there’s that.

    1. If the goal is to provide West Seattle better access to points south, simply adding service to the 560 would be a lot cheaper than building rail there.

      And, if light rail to West Seattle was highly questionable to begin with, light rail to West Seattle that is slow enough to require the C-line to be run alongside it really doesn’t make much sense.

      I like the Seattle Subway proposal of building Ballard to UW and helping West Seattle with new ramps and a bus tunnel to keep the existing buses flowing smoothly.

  8. Appreciate the comments.

    I wrote this post because I believe ST3 needs lots of support from both West Seattle and Ballard – meaning light rail. I think it unlikely that West Seattle will vote aye in large margins for more buses.

    I also think building another bus tunnel in downtown first will be perceived and messaged as a giveaway to downtown developers. The anti-tax crusaders would love that sort of opening.

    The post uses kilometers because google maps uses them for its lines.

    Neither South Park nor Georgetown is dense, but both are very diverse for Seattle, and correspondingly low income.
    Both also have multiple small Boeing facilities – South Park on both sides of the river.
    Georgetown also has a vibrant night life district along Airport.

    Access to Boeing Field in Georgetown is both a pro and a con for the proposal.

    DIverting south to Boeing Access Road is not the direction anyone in West Seattle wants to go, and this proposal sets up the line for a second train tunnel under Seattle that should get built in ST4.

    I don’t think we can emphasize enough how dysfunctional the legislature in Olympia is, or quite how much seattle reps need real bargaining leverage with state senators.

    I’m shocked this costed out at 3.5 billion. Northgate Link is really expensive (2.1b) for only three stations at 4.1 miles.
    All of East Link (14 miles and 10 stations) is budgeted for 2.8 billion.

    Anyone know how to upload a PNG to page 2. A link to a google map is not as good.


    1. This is hardly the first transit route proposal in history whose utility is hampered because its creator insisted on mode first and utility second! Some of those proposals come from professionals and are realized by governments trying very hard to do the will of the people! This is not a good thing! Transit projects that aren’t useful are rarely used; rarely-used, expensive projects do not make very good advertisements for the proposition of spending more money on transit… least of all when they ignore actual, demonstrated transit needs (of which a train that stops in a bunch of parts of West Seattle is not one unless it connects those places to where people need to go).

      1. >> This is hardly the first transit route proposal in history whose utility is hampered because its creator insisted on mode first and utility second!

        I agree. The same thing could be said for every light rail proposal to West Seattle. I commend the author for a very interesting thought experiment that once again proves that light rail to West Seattle is simply not a good value. It won’t get people to where the want to go very quickly, while alternatives will, at a much lower price. Spend half of this money on bus improvements (to the freeway, to roadways, etc.) and the vast majority of riders can get to SoDo much faster than they would with this rail line. Spend some more money building the transit tunnel, and folks from West Seattle as well as Ballard and Queen Anne (and Interbay, and Magnolia, and West Queen Anne and Phinney and Greenwood …) will benefit to a much greater degree than this, or any other West Seattle rail proposal.

    2. I commend you for a very interesting and well thought out proposal, that once again proves that light rail to West Seattle doesn’t make sense. West Seattle is huge (physically) and the pockets of density are too spread out. The vast majority of West Seattle residents don’t live close to the stations proposed by this, or any other rail line. It isn’t just population, either. This manages to skip Alki (as all proposals to date have) as well as South Seattle College. That means that this (like every rail proposal) manages to only connect to one of the top three destinations (the third being the Junction). Huge amounts of money and very little in the way of connectivity or service to those wanting a fast ride to downtown (or Bellevue or the UW). You basically have a two seat ride to all those locations. Wait, this didn’t include a new tunnel through downtown — this would be a three seat ride. As other folks have mentioned, a lot of people would simply ignore this rail line and take the bus downtown (e. g. the C Line).

      The obvious answer is to improve the roads that the buses use. This includes the West Seattle freeway as well as surface roads. Build the transit tunnel, connect the West Seattle bridge to the SoDo express way, add HOV lanes and add bus lanes. This isn’t cheap, but it is way cheaper than building a light rail line to West Seattle. The end result would be buses that are as fast as rail (remember, our rail travels on city streets as well). But more importantly, it would result in a trip time much faster than the alternative. If you are on Delridge headed downtown, which is better, stay on the bus or transfer to a train? The bus will simply keep going, get on HOV lanes all the way until SoDo. From there it goes to and through downtown (the same way the train does). Meanwhile, if you transfer, you have to wait until the train comes (and it only comes every ten minutes at best). Nothing has been done to improve the bus route (you spent your money on the train) so you either allow a long “cushion”, or just take your chances (this is different than two grade separated routes, which can be timed). Then you transfer again at SoDo (unless we did spend the money on a tunnel). There is simply no way that a train transfer is faster than taking the bus, once you improve the roads that the bus travels on. Meanwhile, you gain nothing from taking the train. The 41 might be a bit faster than the train, but with the train you get service to the UW (huge) and Capitol Hill (big). But there are no stops between West Seattle and SoDo.

      Like all rail proposals, this route provides better service for a handful of people. In this case, the handful are further south. But the numbers we are talking about are tiny. There are way more people in other, underserved areas (like along the Metro 8). Why spend 3 or 4 billion serving a handful of people in West Seattle, while the vast majority of folks in the peninsula are no better off, when there is an obvious, much cheaper, much better alternative?

      I honestly with that we had called the streetcar “light rail”, and RapidRide something besides BRT. Somehow people have the idea that all rail is fast, and that all buses are slow. They aren’t. They don’t have to be, anyway.

  9. I live almost exactly at the intersection of Alaska and California (Alaska Junction). Believe me, an elevated station simply cannot happen, as there is practically no space for it to be put while still being convenient for riders. High rises and overhead wires in a very dense location already make it congested in terms of vertical space, and residents here will simply not allow another large structure to fill up the already shrinking views from street level. Our roads are too narrow to allow a station at grade, meaning the only solution is an underground station and tunnel.

    I invite you to come over here and look for yourself, rather than just treat us as numbers and data. We simply cannot have any more structures to add to the visual pollution here. West Seattle was never meant to have a skyline.

    While your proposal of a large “U” shape that comes up from the south is good, it defeats the main purpose of the West Seattle light rail: the Alaska-Downtown stretch. That one section is the lifeline for commuters here, and with the C Line already crowded to its maximum, we need a quick and efficient method of reaching downtown. Having to go south and around to get to downtown is a waste of time, and commuters would just take the C Line instead.

    I am way too passionate about this XD

    1. While the Junction is hardly a bastion of urban density ( far from it in fact) I agree an elevated alignment through the Junction is likely politically unacceptable. While the station could go in the parking lot 1/2 block west of California the elevated tracks themselves are sure to raise many objections.

      Unfortunately insistence on an underground station means rail is highly unlikely for West Seattle in ST3. There simply is not enough money to build it.

    2. California Ave is as wide as many streets around the world with elevated rail… even stations! The barriers are political, not technical. Fauntleroy, up north, is even wider, and there’s nothing remotely qualifying as a streetscape worth protecting there. Often you don’t really want an elevated train running directly over a street like California; in Chicago the L often runs over back streets and alleys instead of pedestrian commercial streets. Of course, if you proposed that in an already built-up area in 2015 you’d be run out of town on a rail. So the only thing we can possibly build is subways — well, we’ll be riding buses for a long time, then!

      (I actually think an all-elevated Westlake-Fremont-Ballard line would be a great idea — less expensive than the all-tunnel routes with much of the connectivity. Many permutations of details would satisfy me. The same is basically true here, there would be multiple good ways to build an elevated train within West Seattle, but the bridge is more complicated. But I’m from Chicago and don’t go in for most of the view protectionism that passes for politics this side of the Rockies.)

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