In the long journey to a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure this November, the Draft System Plan is the next step. Expected in March before a Final System Plan is adopted early this summer, the draft plan will select a suite of projects from the list of Candidate Projects that matches the intended tax authority that ST will ask for at the ballot. We have covered the candidate projects extensively – see Kirkland-Issaquah rail, Kirkland-Bellevue BRT, I-405 BRT, Federal Way-Tacoma, SR 522 BRT, Downtown-Ballard, etc.)
Just as they did last summer when ST solicited feedback on ‘conceptual’ studies that informed the Candidate Projects – (see our summaries of Seattle, Snohomish, South King, East King, and Pierce – ST again asked jurisdictions to submit formal comment on the Candidate Projects by January 21st.
The letters not only provide ST with project-level feedback, but collectively they also help the Board gauge the regional appetite for the package’s size, whose options range from 10-30 years and total revenue of $26-48B. As the letters are made public, we’ll cover each of them in detail. But first, here’s Seattle’s feedback.
Though there is little new substance in Seattle’s letter, it is perhaps most striking for its urgency and occasional sharpness of tone (though still in a very Seattle-nice way). The letter notes that the potential 10-30 year timeframe for project delivery does little to solve near-term problems, with the city asking for ST to identify project elements it could complete quickly:
Even under the best circumstances most of these light rail connections are more than a decade or two away, and there is a growing disconnect between the long-range vision of ST3 and the immediate transportation needs Seattle and our region face today…we strongly believe an ST3 proposal that invests immediately in key regional transit corridors will not only help address today’s transportation crisis, but also garner stronger public support..the City requests that ST3 fund near-term transit in Seattle and throughout the region to address immediate needs, while planning and building out light rail over the life of the plan.
The letter then goes on to support 11 specific projects, including [all emphases mine]:
Early Transit Deliverables: In this section the City essentially asks ST to supply urban corridors slated for light rail with the same amount of transitional service improvements that suburban jurisdictions get via ST Express:
“Seattle supports and requests the inclusion of transit projects and service enhancements that provided needed immediate transit capacity to regional destinations…examples of this concept include funding operational costs of bus rapid transit lines on future light rail corridors to a Link level of service frequency; speed and reliability capital improvements; and early delivery of light rail infill stations.“
New Regional Light Rail Tunnel in Downtown Seattle: The City supports Operational Concept #3, which would provide a new rail tunnel and split the spine to form three lines, Ballard-Tacoma, Everett-West Seattle, and Everett-Redmond.
This new tunnel will ensure long-term capacity and reliability for the light rail lines originating in Tacoma, Redmond, and Everett as the regional system matures and continues to expand in the future. We applaud the opportunity to provide significantly increased capacity for Tacoma connection by terminating in Ballard, and likewise, terminating Everett Link in West Seattle.
Downtown to West Seattle: The City held its cards close on this project, strongly supporting West Seattle Link while punting on a preference between the various options this early in the process.
Seattle supports building light rail from Downtown Seattle to West Seattle, and would like to work with Sound Transit on integrated station area planning….the [process] should vet alignment options through a public participation process and consider the ridership, cost, equity, and impact tradeoffs.
Downtown Seattle to Ballard: Same as above for West Seattle. We’re beginning to see some strong community organizing around the Ship Canal crossing, with industrial and neighborhood groups coming together as the “Northwest Seattle Coalition for Sound Transit 3” to push a tunnel. For the purposes of this letter, the City remained agnostic.
Seattle supports building light rail from Downtown Seattle to Ballard through the Interbay corridor….the [process] should vet alignment options through a public participation process and consider the ridership, cost, equity, and impact tradeoffs.
SR99/Harrison Station: The City reiterated its support for this station near the SR 99 North Portal, which Sound Transit listed as a separate project (C1E) in the candidate list. The station which would provide an intermediate station between South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne.
Seattle supports inclusion of this station in the Downtown to Ballard corridor, which provides access to the Seattle Center and South Lake Union, and provides urban station spacing serving existing dense land uses and regional transportation connections, as well as future growth.
Additional Interbay Station: The City continued its support for a “Whole Foods Station” near West Newton Street in Interbay.
Graham Street Station
Seattle supports constructing this infill light rail station as an early deliverable project to quickly increase access to the regional light rail system. Seattle has committed a $10m contribution from the voter-approved Move Seattle Levy to support this project.
NE 130th St Station: The city asked for expedited construction and simultaneous opening with Lynnwood Link.
Seattle supports this infill station being constructed and opened as part of the Lynnwood Link extension. This approach will eliminate the risk of constructing a station while light rail is operating. This station will provide appropriate urban station spacing between the Northgate and 145th Street stations, and provide access to the growing and diverse communities of Lake City and Haller Lake.
…Seattle supports this project with a capital contribution from ST3 and a partial operating contribution to fund the remaining headways to bring the service frequencies up to Link light rail level of service…
The need to deliver transit projects as quickly as possible is clear and there should be zero patience for local jurisdictions, including Seattle, creating roadblocks and delay to the speedy delivery of the regional system. Seattle strongly supports the creation of incentive programs for jurisdictions that are willing to expedite permitting/review processes and additional incentives for jurisdictions that are willing to commit to local funding partnerships.
Seattle supports this funding program [providing] additional support for analysis of transit oriented development (TOD) opportunities and the potential for affordable housing. However, we suggest the following changes to the program:
- 1) Expand the scope of eligibility to all existing and planned Sound Transit rail stations
- 2) Expand the scope to include community TOD planning, policy assistance, and education for communities planning for rail
- 3) Work closely with local government, housing authorities, and non-profit housing developers and providers to ensure affordable housing is strongly considered throughout TOD program planning, development, and implementation
- 4) Increase the budget of this program to include the expanded scope included above
Seattle then closes the letter with a few process comments, asking ST to “pay particular attention to public outreach and engagement in communities of color, low-income communities, and non-English speaking communities. In what is perhaps evidence of institutional frustration with the disconnect between the preponderance of public comment and the projects Sound Transit chooses to advance, the City asked Sound Transit to ensure that both data and public comment factor strongly into their decision making:
Most importantly, we want to ensure that ideas generated and concerns express[ed] through these meetings are strongly considered by the Sound Transit staff and board…Sound Transit must put forward a system plan to voters that isn’t simply the product of a federated Board of Directions, but one that is prioritized based on the economic and mobility needs of the region, one that will make immediate investments in transit service, and one that will set the longer-term course to achieve our vision of a regional light rail system.
Download the full letter here.