Dave Honan (Flickr)
Dave Honan (Flickr)

At Thursday’s meeting of Sound Transit’s Capital Committee, staff updated boardmembers on both the latest concepts for expediting ST3 project delivery and modifications to the ST3 financial plan. It was an excellent and substantive conversation, and we’ll post video when it becomes available. CEO Peter Rogoff’s presentation on project delivery was a particularly good primer on how projects are developed and delivered in our region, one we’ll likely come back to again and again.

But the big news came later during a presentation on the financial plan, when ST’s Ric Ilgenfritz and CFO Brian McCartan led the committee through a discussion of subarea equity. While Sound Transit normally allocates project costs to the five regional subareas (Snohomish, North King, East King, South King, and Pierce) based on a determination of the proportional benefits that accrue to each, there is also a need to determine “systemwide assets” whose costs should be shared by all subareas. CFO McCartan gave the example of fleet and maintenance costs that should be equally shared between subareas even if the facilities that accommodate them are physically located in one subarea.

With that preamble by McCartan, Ilgenfritz then put up a graphic showing the future capacity constraints of the core segments underneath downtown Seattle, making the case that “All users benefit from core capacity expansion, and the core stations will carry the heaviest load.” CEO Rogoff then chimed in, saying “Ric put this in the positive frame, but it can equally be put in the negative. Absent new tunnel capacity, these regional lines will fail.

The upshot is that, if the Board approves, Sound Transit will seek to allocate the marginal cost of the new Downtown tunnel to all 5 subareas as a systemwide asset. As a refresher, the Draft ST3 plan allocated 80% of the new tunnel’s costs to North King (Seattle), and 20% to Pierce County since the planned Green Line to Tacoma would use the new tunnel. This would presumably free up additional financial capacity (potentially a few hundred million?) within North King to either expand project scope, expedite project delivery, or both.

The committee seemed warm to the idea, as there was little pushback. King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci particularly rose to its defense, albeit asking for transparency in cost allocation to appease the inevitable criticisms of suburban money funding “a Seattle tunnel.” But the benefits of the new tunnel to suburban riders seemed clear. A trip from Lynnwood to SeaTac, for instance, would use both Seattle tunnels even though the trip originated in Snohomish and ended in South King.

Several groups asked for regional funding of the tunnel during the comment period, including Seattle Subway and the Seattle Transit Advisory Board (disclaimer: I serve on that board). And it makes a ton of sense. Rogoff is right that the “regional spine” is impossible as as a single line concept, that new core capacity is essential, and that all regional users will benefit from it.

Without regionalization, Snohomish County in particular would be getting a free ride, as all 3 King County subareas paid for the original Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and Pierce County was already slated to contribute to the new tunnel. Recognizing the new tunnel as a regional asset would be good policy, and let’s hope the Board agrees.

81 Replies to “Regional Funding for the New Downtown Tunnel?”

  1. If approved, what does the horde think will happen to other N. King projects as a result? At grade Ballard to downtown? Faster built? More West Seattle (not sure what is the issues on that project other than length of time to build)?

    1. My guess is they invest it in faster timelines, since that is the biggest criticism of the existing plan. For example. I can see Grahm St pulled forward several years …. I still think the Ballard line is going to be at the end of the line (pun!) due to the technical complexity of the 2nd tunnel.

      1. Seattle Subway’s has stated on its facebook page that its “line in the sand” is grade separated Ballard to Downtown.

    2. Two waterways to cross, a second tunnel through Downtown, and another subway through the West Seattle Junction neighborhood. Very likely with some very bad soil conditions south of Jackson Street. No question we can, and should do it. But it’s not politics making this part slow.

      Mark Dublin

      1. It is politics that determined that those projects be built instead of more cost effective ones. Since funding is largely what is responsible for the delay (bonding authority and all that) you are technically correct. It isn’t politics that is making the construction of these things slow, it is politics that is making the construction of effective transit infrastructure slow, just as it is politics that may result in an inferior transit system when all is said and done (if we continue down the current path).

  2. I keep hearing about the sub-regional equity, but I don’t remember ever seeing anything about it for the current draft plan. Has this been published someplace?

    1. During the Q&A at Everett Station three weeks ago Pete Rogoff was pretty adamant the sub area equity would continue for ST3. Haven’t seen it published anywhere though.

  3. Great news!

    Well, I’m not sure how well it will go over with suburban voters. But the tunnel surely is a regional asset, as it is needed if everybody is going to get the frequency and capacity they want.

    The interesting thing is that it’s a bit out of character for Sound Transit to tip their hand like this. Typically they are careful about the control and release of information, and don’t talk publicly until enough negotiation has been done that they can present a united front.

    It makes me suspect they’re doing the old “leak to see what the public reaction is before you’ve committed to anything”. Maybe this is just optimistic speculation on my part. But maybe they’ve done their negotiating and looked at the poll numbers, and they’re doing a public vetting of the new plan.

    1. It seems like this will be a political loser. I already see a lot of problems in the suburbs, but this seems like a very risky move. I get why you want this — it does seem unfair that Snohomish County benefits immensely from good urban transit in the city but never had to pay for it — but that kind of thing happens all the time. Harborview is the best trauma center in the state which means that if you get hurt in a nearby county, you get sent there. But you didn’t pay for it — King County did. You can play that game all day long (when I drive in Snohomish County of city roads i didn’t pay for that either).

      But I really don’t see a direct benefit for Snohomish County residents with the new tunnel. The argument that this is all about capacity seems like a very weak one. It would be one thing if they actually addressed that and got headways down to 90 seconds by investing in Traction Power Substations and other things (as mentioned here: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/03/21/capacity-limitations-of-link/). But this is a brand new line — if folks are being told we need to build this because of capacity, then let’s address capacity. Speaking of which, I don’t think it is addressed directly with the new tunnel, either (or if it has, then I haven’t seen it). What are the headways on this thing — will we be asking to build a third tunnel soon?

      It just seems like a very expensive way to increase capacity, which is pretty much the only benefit Snohomish County will get out of Seattle’s ST3 plan. Getting to Ballard will still be done via a bus. Getting to West Seattle is not difficult today on a bus (there is no reverse commute problem). The stops at South Lake Union are OK, but not far enough from Westlake to make much of a difference. That leaves lower Queen Anne and Interbay. It just seems like there are too few riders to make a difference in this case. Snohomish County should, I don’t know, chip in 1% or something. As a Seattle resident, I’ll do the same for Everett light rail. Oh wait, I just remembered it won’t make much difference there (just as with West Seattle, there is no reverse commute and an express bus from Lynnwood would be faster).

      In comparison, much of what is being built or has been built benefits Snohomish County immensely. The bus tunnel has saved folks a lot of time (even when the bus doesn’t run in it). Northgate/U-Link will make a huge difference, and connect people quickly to many destinations. UW to Ballard light rail would do the same.

      I suppose that Ballard to downtown rail helps folks from Pierce County and the east side. But making that case (asking them, and only them to chip in for that line) seems like a very politically risky thing to do. Just like some of the city only projects (better bus service and new BRT lines) it is probably smarter to not worry about it, and have Seattle pay for it (if you really want this thing to pass).

    1. Like with the 70 year windfall generated by the Interstate Highway System, including billions worth of wealth and productivity, every part of this region will be repaid many times for this whole system.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Well, no. The system we pick will help determine settlement patterns that will be with us for 70 years to come. So, we will be reaping dividends, yes. But they might not be positive ones.

  4. Though this would have been VERY true for North Link — when opened to Lynnwood and Beyond, North King riders will be squeezing onto already full trains at Northgate and south of there, but as noted, SnoHoCo never chipped in so much as a dime for the DSTT — it really doesn’t fly now. The”regional benefit” boat sailed with ST 2. In particular the long-suffering East King SA will get essentially no benefit from the new tunnel. Well, none other than moving South King/Pierce bound riders off their platforms.

    Somebody traveling from East King to the Expedient Amazons Corridor will benefit from the tunnel to the north of Westlake, but it could just as well stub end there for them.

    Where is a bold plan for buses to cross the Ship Canal on a new transit-only bridge from the old Mohai site? THAT would be something to excite East King voters. Yeah, it would piss off the thirty-some professors who live between Montlake Blvd and the site, but professors are supposed to be progressives, right? Take one for the team, Profs!

    No, this is one more politically incorrect thing for the haters to latch onto.

    1. And, by the way, has anyone calculated the cost of mining longer side platforms and adding center ones for the DSTT versus the cost of a new tunnel? I cannot believe that it would be more than half the cost if they started on it before 4 car trains become critically necessary. By going to six — or even eight-car –trains, the capacity problem would be solved.

      They have to mine the entire length of the platforms at Midtown, IDS and Westlake for the new tunnel. And of course bore through the forest of deep foundations along Fifth Avenue. An offsetting additional cost for a single-tunnel plan is the “flying junction” east of Westlake. But there’s already an available lot for an East SLU station at Convention Center, and the complicated track work at IDS would not be necessary.

      Obviously, having some redundancy in the system is valuable, and that argues for a new tunnel. But $2 billion valuable? It seems a stretch.

      1. I think it would be very difficult to extend stations outside of Seattle to also handle 8 cars; otherwise it doesn’t matter if downtown can handle 8 cars but nowhere else can.

        Also, they want two lines for operational issues – they need to run move trains through downtown, not simply more cars. The issue is the operational complexity of running a train the full length of the “spine”

      2. Mining from an existing hold in the ground – not so bad. Mining from an existing hole in the ground, while keeping that area open to passengers, trains running through the area you are mining, everybody safe, etc? Expensive.

        A second tunnel comes with other benefits in addition to redundancy. It gets people closer to stations, including getting a station for the new Madison BRT (and while two blocks of extra walking isn’t much, when multiplied by the number of people walking downtown, it’s actually pretty big). It allows more flexibility in headways, so nothing gets awkward if one line is on 3 min and the other 4 min. Doubling train length means halving frequency for the same capacity, and we all know the benefits of frequency for wait time and usability. Two tunnels isolates unreliability from surface-running sections of a line from the schedule of the other lines.

        Of course, there are downsides in ease of transfer, system complexity, and perhaps construction costs, but I don’t think we armchair transit engineers can really say anything with certainty on that last one.

      3. I can certainly see the undesirability of driving a train from Everett to Tacoma. However, LA is going to through-route the north end of the Gold Line with the Blue Line when their new tunnel through downtown is completed, and that run will be of longer duration than Everett-Tacoma. And the fact is that the new tunnels are not redundant in the sense of offering parallel routes in a shutdown, except potentially for the Green Line south of Westlake, and only if the trains continue to the turn back at Northgate.

        Again, is that worth $2 billion? Yes, the costs of lengthening Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, and Husky Stadium are non-trivial. But the surface and elevated stations wouldn’t be much, and Brooklyn and Roosevelt have barely been started.

        It’s something to consider, if for no other reason than the difficult transfers that will result at Westlake and IDS with a new tunnel.

      4. OK, I’d like to separate the bus bridge idea from the single-tunnel one, so the bus bridge doesn’t get lost. Bus bridge replies here, please.

        So, assume that the second tunnel being a regional asset idea flies with both The Board AND the public. Please Seattleites, don’t effyouseekay things up by getting greedy and demanding Ballard-UW. Instead, be gracious and advocate for the bus bridge which is REALLY a “regional”asset, much more than Ballard-UW. There are a lot more east siders who’d like to get to Link and UW quickly and without the flustercluck on Montlake than there are all suburban riders who’d like to go to Ballard, no matter how cool it is.

        I have no illusions that the Administration at UW would not fight it, but at the end of the day, they are beholden to the citizens of the State of Washington.

      5. It’s unimaginable that they could resize the stations and realign the track for center platforms without suspending Link north of Stadium for a year or two. That would severely disappoint those who just started enjoying University Link, and reverse Link’s ridership gains by several years. It would require tons of replacement buses downtown and to UW Station. 3rd Avenue doesn’t have capacity for that many buses. There’s no way for a bus to get between downtown to UW Station without going through congested 520 and the Montlake Bridge or I-5 and Pacific Street. Would ST just pay Metro to reinstate the full 43 and a 10-minute 73X to 45th?

      6. Mike, there is no need to “realign tracks for center platforms”. Just add them where the bus bypass is today. KEEP the side platforms and increase the directional capacity of a station by 50%.

      7. And I did not say “suspend Link operations”. In fact I specified that the work should take place “before four-car trains become necessary”. I thought that would be enough to make the plan clear. Apparently not, so here goes.

        At one end of a platform at a time, a demising wall would be erected behind which the excavation of the lengthened platform would commence. One day’s worth of spoils would be accumulated on the embargoed platform section, then during the maintenance window every night an electric “donkey” locomotive would load and shuttle three or four car trains of gondolas to somewhere in SoDo for transfer to trucks or rail cars. A cavern half the width of the new station box would be excavated and supported using appropriate mining methods in this way, then the mess would be cleaned up and the work would move to the other end of the platform. The existing tubes would remain in place until the new station box extension was completed. This provides safety for trains running through the construction zone. It’s conceivable to do the work on both sides at one end of a station at one time.

        When the work is completely finished on the station box extensions at each end of the station, the existing tubes would be destroyed and the rubble cleared, probably on a long weekend on which operations would be suspended.

        There is no need for a two year interruption of Link service.

      8. Oh, I just realized that you thought I was advocating adding center platforms to all stations. Some already have them, but this would only apply to the four most critical DSTT stations from Pioneer Square through Westlake, where the bus bypasses exist.

      9. Doesn’t Portland manage to run several lines and a streetcar on shared track? Or Denver, several lines share the same track/stations – and they run on the surface!

      1. Oh, OK. Yeah totally we should build this – but can’t that be a part of the 520 bridge project? Seems like we can pay for that with 520 tolling, just like adding a flyover HOV/bus ramp from 520 to I5 southbound.


        Unfortunately, I think that ship may have sailed – I”m not sure how you would add another bridge here in a way that works with the Montlake lid they are putting in. This is where the placement of the UW station really starts to hurt with transfers bewtween Link & 520 buses, but I’m at a loss for a better solution short of waiting a new light rail station nearer to the Montlake lip

    2. Agree about the Montlake bus crossing. A bridge from 520 to a transit center at the UW station would be a huge benefit to eastside riders, increasing the bang for the buck of both the U-District station and the bus lanes (not to mention buses) on 520.

      As a resident of NE Seattle and an off-and-on bike commuter, adding bike and ped space to such a bridge is something I’d love to pay for.

      1. We’re still with ya, Anadakos! So talk to me more about this bridge – would it run next to the existing bridge? Replace it? I’m not seeing how it will all work within the space after the new Lid is in place

      2. AJ, EHS,

        Look at page 25 (of 56) in the document at the link a couple of replies above. You’ll see that the Montlake General Purpose lane offramp for southbound cars curves to the south and crosses about 24th Avenue to get to Lake Washington Blvd. The HOV exit crosses it in an intersection on the Lid. The buses would turn right there and continue straight on what is now East Park Drive to the Montlake Cut and bridge over it perhaps at a slightly higher clearance since there would be am elevated bus transfer facility just south of the Link Station.

        This would ruffle huge numbers of feathers but it would be a tremendous improvement in access to the UW from the HOV lanes. I’d even advocate that 3+ HOV’s should be able to use it as well. The volume won’t be that great.

      3. I think the Montlake HOV exit ramp will, alone, be a major improvement. Once the bus gets off the freeway, getting to the stop Pacific St. is, a most, 3 minutes or so, even in afternoon rush hour traffic. It’s the backup to the exit ramp that eats up most of the time, and the HOV ramp should bypass that.

        My only concern is what happens during Husky games. There are a lot of 3-person carpools driving to the game, and congestion along the Montlake bridge is usually much worse than, even rush hour. I think the best solution is to have the HOV exit ramp temporarily restricted to bus-only during Husky games. Even if the bus gets stuck in traffic on the Montlake bridge, at least, by then, the people on board would have had a chance to get out and walk.

      4. I remember talking about the various options for improving the 520 to Husky Stadium station way back when. I am too lazy to find the old comments, but here are a couple options:

        1) Build a station where they intersect. Just like expanding a station would be very expensive and tricky, this would be too. As I see it, you build a small second tunnel (under 520) with the platform in it, lay the rail and when that is all ready, connect it up and abandon the old section. You would still have to close everything when connecting things, but it wouldn’t be closed for very long (I would guess). I have no idea how expensive this would be (it might be huge) but it seems possible to me. The toughest part would probably be political, as it would be admitting to everyone that ST forgot to do something (connect up 520 with Link). You would still have to find a place for the buses to turn around. That could be done as the new 520 bridge is built. For example, you could add new bus only ramps to and from Roanoke or even just a turnaround ramp.

        2) Add a new bridge as you suggest. This would be a lot easier politically, and probably a lot cheaper. I don’t think this would involve removing a single house, though. If you look at a map (https://goo.gl/maps/68P72WZRvJk) you can see that just about everything to the east is park land (or land being torn up for the new freeway). Ramps could connect to E. Park Drive, and then cross a bridge there (to the east of all the houses). You could even just build a new road to the east of Park Drive, which would be an extension of the old road to MOHAI (https://goo.gl/maps/59GpKTsx7y72). It is a fairly flat plateau there, until you get close to the canal, where a bridge would be built anyway. So I don’t see any houses being torn down, but I do see some park land being lost. The neighbors won’t be happy, but at least they won’t lose their house. Meanwhile, if you built the bridge as a bus and bike only bridge, it would be really nice for the neighborhood. Bike riders could avoid the very tight, pedestrian congested part of Montlake Boulevard. They would instead cross on 24th and pick up this bike/bus way. At the UW side, with a little bit of work, the buses could drive right up to the station without encountering any general purpose traffic. Hell, it might even make sense as a way for the 48 to avoid bridge congestion (cut over to 24th, then cross there). That might be stretching it, though (it isn’t clear how much time that would actually save).

        Anyway, the second proposal seems like it would make a lot of sense. In the past their has been a lot of reluctance to build a second bridge from the Montlake community. There would be with this as well (I would imagine) but a bus and bike only bridge would stand a much better change, in my opinion.

      5. 1) If it means a second UW station that s actually at the UW then it migh beoubly expensive button worth it.

        I think you wind up keeping the current staton for special events at the stadium. Something like the station at the horse track on Long Island.

      6. I think I agree with asdf2 here – I think the HOV lane, bypassing exiting traffic, will be a major improvement. Widening the existing bridge (which likely needs to be replaced at some point) to have more generous walk/ped lanes and possibly a dedicated HOV lane seems to be the more straightforward solution.

        However, it if appears the Montlake triangle continues to be jammed, I like the idea of have having a dedicated bridge if it includes a dedicated, elevated bus transfer platform (presumably one that can be accessed by buses running from Pacific and Montlake?). But that strikes me as the next phase of capital development, to be coupled with whatever cross lake solution the region decides to invest it. If we decided to run light rail across 520, we’d have to tear down / convert this elevated bus station … but if we decided to run BRT across 520 as the long term solution, then yeah it would be a great investment.

      7. In not too many years, trains leaving UW Station will be full. There won’t be room for many riders transferring from eastside buses, certainly not enough to truncate eastside bus routes at UW Station. The system just wasn’t designed that way.

    3. Claudia Balducci said at the TCC forum that the Eastside has more north-south trips than east-west trips, so they’ll be excited for north-south transit.

      1. Well, gee thanks for the wet blanket. What exact plans do YOU have to offer for “north-south” transit. Plans, that is, which have not already been rejected?

    4. @Anandakos — Regarding your original comment, I wrote pretty much the same thing up above (I should have read further on). I just don’t see the suburbs gaining immensely with this round of Seattle changes, the way they did with the last round. Your followup comment is very similar. I was thinking they should focus on improving headways (get them under 2 minutes) while you suggested adding more cars. Either way, it means addressing the capacity issue directly, rather than say the main reason we are building a new tunnel is to deal with it.

      As for UW to Ballard versus a connection from 520 to Link, I also agree. While I think the number of suburban riders (especially Snohomish County riders) who would benefit from Ballard to UW rail is greatly underestimated, it doesn’t hold a candle to the number of suburban residents that would benefit from a better connection to Link from 520. There are a lot of people who work in Fremont and Ballard (which means that of course a lot of those people come from the suburbs) but everyone in Redmond and Kirkland (as well as other northeast suburbs) would benefit from a 520 to Link improvement. From a ratio standpoint — which is really the main issue — it is much bigger. Way more people in Seattle would benefit from Ballard to UW rail than the suburbs, whereas the other project would be a 50-50 thing. It would be especially nice if they built this — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/11/16/kirklands-brt-design/ — since it would mean fast, frequent service from various neighborhoods on the east side to Seattle.

      1. @RossB

        With respect to bus connections into Montlake, Sound Transit / CH2MHill did look at several options for a bridge through the area as part of the U-District/Kirkland/Redmond studies. Rail options too. None of the cross-lake projects advanced into the draft project list last year. It died due to the lack of interest in buses, and the preference of some Eastside leaders to focus on intra-Eastside mobility.

        With respect to CM Balducci’s comment, it is true that Eastside journeys tend to be north-south. However, transit journeys are generally to/from Seattle. Land use dominates transit effectiveness.

        If transit mode share on the Eastside grows a lot, then transit patterns should converge toward travel patterns generally. More north-south in nature. Over some arbitrarily long timeframe, this has to happen. The flailing I-405 BRT project is a belated recognition it won’t happen quickly.

    5. Not correct. Any EK rider going to the airport will use the new tunnel. Likewise, any EK rider going to/from SLU and Seattle Center venues will use the new tunnel.

  5. Just a hunch from my own firs 8-minute ride north from Westlake, but have a feeling word, and experience, are getting around as to what real rapid transit is like. Changing the perspective of people in every subarea.

    Where, as all the schematic maps, however much I make fun of them, show where the rapid stuff is going to go.

    Another recent factor is the exponentially-spreading every-single-rush-hour disaster on I-5 and the rest of our freeways. There really are a huge number of people both moving in here and forcing other people to “drive ’til they can buy.”

    Historically, transit finally really ignites when enough people who can pay for transit get stuck long enough to demand it.

    Like the way so many suburbs last century were actually developed by transit companies to meet demand for more room, and the way the Interstates swiftly went from providing defense to expanding personal space, at a certain point people begin to insist on a regional life.

    At one time, Ballard was its own city.


      1. Well, at least the USSR had some great trolley-bus systems. Some of which actually had buses coupled together, which might really increase the capacity of a bus bridge by eliminating all that passenger-less following distance.

        Also, that fantastic 50 mile long line over a mountain range in Crimea! Which I think would be model for a great extension for the Route 7, stewardess/tour-guides and all. But I don’t think passive aggression and small thinking is anything new in evil.

        It’s just not as much fun as the other kind. When he was ambassador to France he belonged to the Hell Fire Club in Paris. Which somehow has never been matched by our Base Board Heater club.


  6. This means a bigger bill for Snohomish, which I think is going to force staff to abandon Pain field alignment. The Paine “spur” options with BRT free up ~$500M, which Snohomish is going to need to afford their contribution to downtown. If the board endorses regional funding, then the Snohomish Link alignment may be forced to the I5 alignment purely on financial grounds.

    1. I didn’t realize this AJ, but you’re right this is part of a plan to force Snohomish County to abandon the Paine Field alignment nonsense. BRT for Paine Field – it’ll actually serve MORE of Paine Field.

      1. Aye – I’m all for the BRT alignment from an efficacy standpoint. But I think Snohomish’s leadership will now be forced for support Paine BRT given tighter financials … politically it might even given them cover, saying then had to “settle” for Paine BRT and I5 light rail given they are now paying for the regional asset.

      2. AJ, well said. I really don’t care how we get there, but all of Paine Field’s gotta get hydrated with transit. Preferably not via a means that has really divided the transit advocacy community.

    2. Most people I’ve spoke to in Snohomish County would rather forgo the Paine Field detour. It’s the local leaders that seem to want it.

    3. In the draft plan Snohomish would appear to be getting a nearly $2 billion dollar transfer of money from other sub-areas to build rail to Paine Field. Supposedly the timelines even this out some, but I’m not buying it.

  7. Good plan, Dammit Karen O’Brien just write the code already . We need light rail to Everett, and Peter Bauer better deliver!

    (Any and all references to “24” intentional.)

  8. Why was the new tunnel originally 80% north King/20% Pierce? The rationale that is provided doesn’t make much since, since the Tacoma extension is just the current line built out farther. There’s nothing about extending Link to Tacoma that requires the second tunnel. As a reminder, in the draft plan, the second tunnel is not needed until Ballard opens. It doesn’t make any sense to have Pierce and North King only pay for it without throwing South King in there as well.

    But it does just make more sense to make every subarea pay for the second tunnel anyway. I think a good distribution of the cost would be 40% north King (for Ballard and West Seattle), 20% South and East King, 15% Snohomish, and 5% Pierce. I give Pierce County such a low suggestion because (1), it is only getting light rail to one of it’s major cities (Tacoma, and not Lakewood) whereas Snohomish is getting light rail to both Lynnwood and Everett (if light rail went to Lakewood, an 8%/12% split might be more appropriate). Also, Tacoma is the farthest county away from the new tunnel, and would be hit with the longest travel time increase as a result of the replacement of express buses (35-60 minutes to 80 minutes), and this is the travel that it would take for anyone in Pierce County to even get to the new tunnel.

    1. A very fair and equitable division. It certainly shouldn’t be even because Ballard and West Seattle will reap most of the benefit.

      1. My thought exactly. Even if you want to classify this strictly under subarea equity and not under a regional asset, to be fair you have to designate it 100% to north King (Seattle), because as far as the draft package is concerned, it is Ballard (and only Ballard) that is what necessitates the second tunnel. If you look at the first blog post on the package, it shows that between 2033 and 2038, every segment of Link (meaning south to Federal Way, east to Redmond, north to Lynnwood, and southwest to West Seattle) except the Ballard segment is operational, and west Seattle was chosen because it “could be operational prior to the construction of a second downtown tunnel.” The entire Link system in ST3 minus Ballard could operate (albeit uncomfortably) without the second tunnel.

      2. The line to Ballard would still carry a fair number of people who live outside of the north King subarea. Anyone would works in South Lake Union or attends an event at the Seattle Center would use it, regardless of whether that person is coming from the north, south, east, or west. Furthermore, if it is the first tunnel being at capacity that necessitates the second capacity being built in the first place, which routes happen to be arbitrarily assigned to which tunnel doesn’t really matter all that much.

    2. The original tunnel was bus service until 2009.

      Tacoma express buses might skip the tunnel now, but they still use the Sodo busway, and still benefit from removal of gobs of surface buses into the tunnel from their way when they do come through downtown Seattle.

      The regional payment and benefit ratio for that (and the second tunnel too) is probably better than it is for, say, the benefit Puget Sound will get from dumping its share of state money into the cross-Spokane freeway project.

  9. I’m pretty sure Seattle Transit Blog can do some interviews with the various utilities that every inch of underground alteration through Downtown Seattle will have to re-locate. We built DSTT, stations and all, in two years. After a year of moving and re-assembling pipes and conduits.

    Really suggest anybody advocating anything technical, especially huge things, check out what exactly is in the way of it. Fact that a few decades ago nobody even bothered to write down where a sewer pipe was is a problem. Also the very old ones made out of wood, which often fails to show up before the mass of sewage laden rotten splinters does.


    1. Mark,

      If there is a second tunnel it will be under Fifth and (at the north end) Sixth Avenues. That means that the Madison station will be very deep, conceivably beating Washington Park at 260 feet. The cross-section of IDS that ST has shown (yes, it’s a concept diagram, but indicative of what they expect to do) is down about 50 feet at railhead. Ditto the north-south platforms at Westlake. Sure, they’re not going to run a perfectly flat grade between IDS and Westlake (absent the Madison Station of course); they’ll go pretty much flat between Madison and Westlake and put the rise in the first part. But in any case, the utilities won’t be an issue; they’ll be dozens of feet above the tube. What may be an issue, though, is the diagonal struts fanning out at the base of some of the buildings, if there are any. Nobody is publishing the structural elements of the skyscrapers along Fifth Avenue for obvious reasons.

      But don’t worry about the utilities, except of course above Madison Station. It will certainly be mined out from the tubes because it’s so deep and it’s much less disruptive of the surface above. But there will still have to be escalator and elevator connections to the surface.

    1. It’s probably because Sound Transit is not certain that BNSF won’t hold it up for some serious ransome. It makes so much more sense that Seattle-Tacoma be on the fast, flat, mostly straight rail line through Kent, Auburn and Puyallup that anything else is laughable. The problem is that ST isn’t its Captain of its own ship there, just a “tenant” operator on someone else’s tracks.

      Hence, they really can’t guarantee Pierce County reliable, 18 hours per day service with any confidence that they’ll be able to deliver for a finite amount of money.

      Sounder will be much faster than Link, even with it’s eight miles longer routing, because it won’t make nearly as many stops while actually serving more total people.

      It’s a conundrum and your question is a good one.

      1. Without a third track, real capacity constraints begin to show themselves on the South Line. That third track is still far cheaper than Link investments.

        The long game is uptimately diverting BNSF trains onto a heavily upgraded UPRR corridor a stone’s throw west. That way, the BNSF line can host passengers on improved passenger infrastructure, and the UPRR line can host toxic chemicals and cargoes outside of our city centers.

        You would think Sound Transit would do something with intensely valuable, redundant, parallel heavy rail infrastructure between Tacoma and Seattle, coincidentally the area with capacity problems.

        Or not……


        Improving Rail Mobility in the Puget Sound:


      2. Agree with this completely, Mr. Serad. 18 hour/day, 7 day/week heavy rail / commuter rail is the best option for Tacoma and Valley transit to Seattle. Apparently based on ST’s survey the subregions in question don’t disagree.

      3. You can do both, you know. More Sound AND light rail. That’s what ST is doing. We probably won’t see anything concrete on Sounder until negotiations are closer to done.

    2. Because it’s South King’s and Pierce’s top priority.

      “It’s probably because Sound Transit is not certain that BNSF won’t hold it up for some serious ransome.”

      Not really. Tacoma wants Link to the airport, and Sounder doesn’t go to the airport. Federal Way wants Link because, I don’t know but it really wants it and has wanted it for a long time.

      1. >> Tacoma wants Link to the airport

        This alone should inspire a whole new wave of politicians to run for office in Tacoma. What a profoundly stupid idea. I’ve read a number of different articles on how a city can improve its chances when it comes to improving its economy, but I can’t think of one that said “build an extremely expensive light rail line to the airport”. Absolute lunacy. Reminiscent of ice town (look it up if you aren’t fan of Parks and Rec).

        Keep in mind the Chicago ‘L’ didn’t go out to O’Hare into the 1980s. This meant that the second biggest city in the country didn’t have a subway line to the biggest airport in the world. It really wasn’t a high priority, and it sure isn’t for Tacoma. Just about as stupid as a streetcar (which Tacoma also has). The first thing a city like this needs is a bunch of good colleges. They have that, and it has helped. Unfortunately, a lot of the folks that graduate, just head up the road and invest there, not in Tacoma. A decent public transportation system for the city itself would also be very helpful, not spending billions on a new light rail line to the airport. Since Tacoma operates as a satellite city, it stands to reason that if a good public transportation network was built between Tacoma and Seattle, that it would help things. But Link obviously isn’t it. Bellevue does quite well as a tech powerhouse because it isn’t that far from Seattle. Tacoma is. You need an extremely fast means of transport to make up for that distance. Link can’t possibly do that. Sounder has a shot, but only if you invest heavily in the line. I’m not sure if it is worth it, but it sure beats the hell out of spending money on a light rail line to the airport.

      2. We all know that it is a lot more than a line from Tacoma to the Airport. If the airport wasn’t on the line, Tacoma would still be clamoring for it, obviously. It’s their connection to the rest of the region. As noted on an earlier post, Seattle is fortunate in that we can put a stop at the airport and then keep on going, and the airport connection is merely part of this larger system.

      3. For Tacoma, what part of the region is better served by Link, rather than Sounder? Let’s see:

        Federal Way and Fife — Sure, definitely. But if you are in Tacoma, why do you care? There is nothing special about the suburbs to the north of Tacoma (they are similar to the ones to the south) and there is nothing special about those particular suburbs. Neither is the most densely populated, or regionally important suburb. That would be Kent, which will never have a Link station (but it does have a Sounder station).

        Rainier Valley — If Link is built, this would greatly reduce the time to get to Rainier Valley. But it there really is demand for this, then you could run an express bus to Rainier Beach. No one has pursued the idea, because there simply isn’t the interest.

        SeaTac Airport — An express bus would be faster, but the difference between Link and an express bus to SeaTac isn’t as much as the difference between an express bus to other destinations.

        The best argument for extending Link to Tacoma is SeaTac, which just shows what a stupid idea it is. No city of 200,000 (especially one as spread out as Tacoma is) spends billions on a light rail line in one direction (and not a particularly special one). The only reason people are considering this is because it is supposed to (as you put it) “connect it to the rest of the region”. But that is absurd. It does nothing of the sort. It will take an hour and 15 minutes to get from Tacoma to downtown Seattle, even if you are standing right by the station! How many people — in Tacoma — do you think will do that? It is pretty obvious when you look at the census maps, or just walk around Tacoma, that very few will. This means that the average Tacoma commute — right into downtown Seattle — will take well over an hour and a half. That is downtown Seattle! What if they work in Fremont, or First Hill, or Factoria, or the dozens of places that are common employment centers? There aren’t that many people who even live in Tacoma, and the number willing to make a two hour commute (each way) is very small. It is ridiculous to say this connects Tacoma to the rest of the region in any meaningful way. To say so is to ignore the fundamental realities of subway travel that are clear when you do the math, or compare the system to any in North America. This sort of thing never works, and support for it counts on ignorance (or symbolism over substance). At best it is Tacoma leaders trying to build something (in this case a light rail line to the airport) to somehow fulfill their destiny. Like previous schemes, it simply won’t work. It will be largely irrelevant if it is ever built.

        What Tacoma could use is decent transit within its city (which means better bus service) as well as improvements to Sounder. In the middle of the day, express bus service will be faster. It will certainly be more frequent (than both Link or Sounder). But during rush hour, Sounder will be faster than the buses (especially if improvements are made to Sounder, and the state does nothing about the freeway). It is an obvious connection made by satellite cities all across the country. Commuter rail plus express buses. It’s not that complicated.

    3. Mike, you’re certainly right about Tacoma wanting Link to the airport. So they’re not likely to look kindly on a request that they help pay for a tunnel very few of their constituents will use.

      1. They know the line goes to Seattle; that’s part of the deal. If they object to tunnel funding we’ll hear about it in the next month. If there were any Pierce representatives on the Capital Committee, they had an opportunity to object then and didn’t.

      2. Anandakos, then Pierce must be really thrilled with the draft plan where it stands where everyone subsidizes Everett’s folly of light rail to Paine field.

      3. Chris,

        I don’t believe that’s really true. The cost of Everett via Paine is one reason they went to the 25 year construction and tax timetable.

  10. kp, I generally don’t scroll this far down to answer a comment, but this one gets to the truly important ideas that people think with, not about.

    History’s most massive pattern-changer has been the Federal interstate highway system. Started and constantly funded as a legitimate measure to defend a nation this big from a highly-possible two-front land and sea invasion.

    I-5 every morning could now probably confine an enemy beach-head to the Seattle Waterfront. If a single US Army convoy could get over Snoqualmie Pass before it hit a fifty-mile thick barrier of tail-lights.

    The Interstates, and the country’s whole treasury, for decades gave the average person living patterns of unparalleled freedom. A transit system in a fairly small region, as they say in Brooklyn “Should live so long!”

    Flash ahead to now. The Chicago area’s excellent transit and commuter railroad network is still working- surrounded by a whole prairie full of the world’s worst sprawl. Which is already adjusting patterns back toward the “El”.

    Like any other piece of machinery, both transit systems and countries require constant repairs. And trained operators at the controls, and on the Boards of Directors, read local governments, and shareholders, read voting citizens.

    Why I keep insisting on good technical assessments of vehicles and equipment, and section views on every schematic diagram for ST3.


  11. I can understand if ST wants the new tunnel to be rail-only, but I think it should be a joint-operation tunnel. Sure, having all bus traffic on the surface may not seem like much, but it is only a short-term solution, even if traffic distribution is reorganized to mitigate congestion. In other words, buses need their own grade-separated thoroughfare under the CBD.

    My idea:

    1. If the tunnel is joint-operation, make it a four-bore tunnel (two bores for buses and two for rail) instead of just two-bore (two bores for all vehicles)

    2. At stations have six lanes–a lane for buses to pick up passengers, a breakdown lane, and a lane with light rail tracks

    3. Stations would have 3 platforms–one in the middle for light rail and one on each side for buses.

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