The future Northgate Station under construction Image: Lizz Giordano

The opening of three light rail stations in 2016 made for a busy year for Sound Transit. And with 58 more Link stations coming online by 2041, along with 21 new bus rapid transit stations, the transit agency is streamlining the project development process to expand the transit system quicker than initially proposed.

To speed up project timelines, one of the key strategies of the System Expansion Implementation Plan is to shrink the amount of time each project spends in the planning phase.

The biggest change in the planning process moves the identification of the preferred alternative to much earlier in the process, prior to the completion of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Rather than the board choosing a preferred alternative from a set of options, after all, are studied in the draft environmental impact statement. The transit agency said this change will avoid the “time-consuming necessity of studying numerous other alternatives.”

ST has set a goal of choosing a preferred alternative in 18 months, which in the past generally took 2-3 years.

“This streamlined process came out of public feedback during development of the ST3 Plan, when the public and stakeholders indicated a strong desire to deliver projects earlier than proposed,” wrote Kimberly M. Reason, spokesperson for ST in an email. “As a result, we identified what it would take deliver projects earlier, and, after more work, committed to more aggressive timelines.”

Reason pointed to the East Link Extension when 24 different alternatives were studied. “Time and dollars are consumed with chasing alternatives that have little possibility of being carried forward,” she said.

According to ST, “early identification of the preferred alternative will jump-start the public debate about station and alignment decisions, revealing areas of broad agreement as well as areas where project leadership needs to focus problem-solving efforts.”

The new streamlined process also includes working closely with local jurisdictions to expedite the permitting process, hiring a customer experience officer who will report directly to ST CEO Peter Rogoff, and by developing a public dashboard to track the progress of individual projects.

ST said the goal of the dashboard is to provide greater transparency and accountability so milestones are clearly understood by the public and local jurisdictions. The dashboard will illustrate key project milestones, outline when public input and feedback is being taken and highlight when local city permits or approvals are required. This dashboard will be available on every project web page.

Another key component to speeding up project timelines is increasing external collaboration to expedite project permitting. Moving forward ST plans to execute project partnering agreements to establish project scope and timeline with local officials which the agency says will provide “greater transparency and broader understanding of alternatives being studied and when permits will be issued by local jurisdictions.”

The ST3 package, which will expand the current ST system by a factor of five, is as big as Sound Move and ST2 combined. When introducing the new streamlined planning process to the ST Board, Rogoff told members the multitude of projects in the Sound Move and ST 3 package happening all at once was the number one reason a new development process plan was needed

Rogoff said the new implementation plan will help ST reach expedited deadlines approved by voters with the passage of the ST3 package in November 2016. According to Rogoff, the timeline for the light rail project in Redmond was cut by almost a third between the March 2016 draft of ST3 and the final package.

According to ST the West Seattle and Ballard Extensions, Tacoma Dome Link Extension and I-405/I-522 BRT projects are all currently in early startup mode — with most of the work until the end of the year focused on selecting design firms.

Public engagement will be based on the schedule for each project and will be communicated through traditional and social media, project updates and home mailings.

63 Replies to “ST: New Planning Process Will Speed Up Light Rail Expansion”

  1. I shouldn’t have to spend five minutes trying to parse what you mean in this paragraph:
    “The biggest change in the planning process moves the identification of the preferred alternative to much earlier in the process, prior to the completion of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS). Rather than the board choosing a preferred alternative from a set of options, after all, are studied in the draft environmental impact statement.”
    I think you mean, in the second sentence, “THIS, rather than the board choosing a preferred alternative from a set of options after all are studied in the draft environmental impact statement.” (Commas removed before and after “after all.”) We all benefit from better writing and editing.

    1. Indeed. A key part of the story. Do you mean: The biggest change in the planning process moves the identification of the preferred alternative to much earlier in the process, prior to the completion of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), rather than after all alternatives have been studied in the DEIS.

    2. I agree. The writer needed to spend a little more time reviewing and editing this piece before publishing. Frankly, it’s just sloppily written. Take this example:
      “Rogoff told members the multitude of projects in the Sound Move and ST 3 package happening all at once was the number one reason a new development process plan was needed [sic]”

      Is this a misstatement by Rogoff or did the writer actually mean to say ST2 rather than Sound Move?

    3. It’s one or two ambiguous statements out of a lot of clear and well-done writing in Lizz’s total span of articles.

      Lizz, please do clarify what you meant around “after all”. It’s not quite obvious what you meant, and I wouldn’t want to guess wrong, nor should I have to be in that position.

  2. I like the idea in general, but I’m worried we’ll muck this up too. What if it turns out some critical section of constituents decides something about the preferred alternative from the DEIS is unacceptable? If they haven’t studied any other options, they will have to go back to square one.

    1. Try less appeasement of local, parochial interests. Sick and tired of all the whining about light rail from local, parochial interests – especially those who move onto an island getting light rail or those hugging their “LynnwoodTreeLink” (TM) whom are helping Trump-Pence hold Sound Transit hostage.

      There are entire communities – like Renton – who should have got light rail to their Boeing factory. No seriously.

      There are transit fans stuck outside the Sound Transit region who travel in the Sound Transit region like me who wish our local areas could afford Sound Transit awesomeness. I kid you not.

      There are folks well aware a slower ST3 means higher costs and higher risk of a ST4 taxation package necessary to finish off the ST3 projects. I’m one of them.

      Time to speed up ST3. Period.

    2. The main thing that could go wrong with less planning is a greater chance of underestimating risks and costs. Shorter timelines have advantages, but their are risks as well.

    1. The cities and neighborhoods that have been the most vocal about wanting Link sooner had better not object, or if they do their prior enthusiasm can maybe be leveraged to counteract it. “Hey, you’re bring hypocritical and delaying your own transit.” Redmond is the star: it made light rail a generally-permitted use so ST wouldn’t have to obtain custom zoning waivers. That’s where the delay and obstruction comes in, for rail and also, in many parts of the country, any multifamily structure. “Design review” is a lite version of that, at least when abused. Seattle said it would follow Redmond’s example. Well, has it?

      There will probably be other Mercer Islands and Mointlake Terrace that sort of want Link but mostly want their single-family area unchanged.and a big P&R. They have ST somewhat under a barrel because they’re straight in-line to a larger must-serve city, and ST is reluctant to use eminent domain and make long-term relations with them worse. But Everett and Lynnwood are part of the main reason we’ re building Link, so hopefully they and their counterparts in other subares can appeal to their county to counteract cities’ excessive demands.

      1. Eminent domain is the means by which tax parcels are acquired for public works projects. Let’s be clear on that point. What varies is the degree of cooperation between parties that follows in condemnation actions, whether the takings be in whole or in part. Litigation can follow several courses depending on how the negotiations transpire.

        Your classification of municipal demands as excessive is entirely subjective. I for one don’t see what has transpired in Mercer Island or Mountlake Terrace as excessive. Cities and other jurisdictions have every right to ask for certain things in this process. It’s part of the compensation for the taking by the acquiring party.

        Finally, municipalities have their own autonomy of course and sometimes their interests do no align with the county in which they reside.

      2. What I meant was, ST is reluctant to use eminent domain contrary to the city’s wishes. ST as as regional agency can override cities’ refusal, whereas it can’t for UW property because UW is a state entity and considered an essential service of the state.

  3. Great news and after the debacle that Lynnwood Link is becoming, timely. I got confidence in most of the Sound Transit staff to right the ship. A lot of good guys working there who hopefully will help Lynnwood Link staff correct their course, fly right and act like first string guys.

    I’m angry about this Lynnwood Link thing and I have reason to be publicly angry. STB commentors and STB admins know how I get when I get angry, behind a keyboard and on this website so that’s all I’m saying here

    1. I’m angry (but not terribly surprised) by the recent development with regard to the Lynnwood Link project. So far what the agency has said publicly is not good enough. They owe the public and the taxpayers answers as to when this situation became known. I have a hard time believing it just became known this year. For instance, please see the risk assessments that were attached to the project (4X115) in the last two published annual TIP reports. Then, on the other hand, refresh your memory about what ST was touting about the project just last year in April.

      https://m.soundtransit.org/About-Sound-Transit/News-and-events/News-releases/lynnwood-link-moves-final-design-041116

      Another thing that has been overlooked in this whole Lynnwood Link costing estimate debacle is that the earlier estimates seemed to INCLUDE the contributions being assessed to the Snohomish County and North King County subareas for their share of the costs associated with the needed fleet additions and the additional maintenance facility. (Again, check out the initial estimates given in the original 2008 ST2 proposal.) Now apparently those costs are on top of the initial $1.5-1.7 billion cost estimate.

  4. Might get a lot more support if the agency would list the basic criteria behind every choice.

    Mark

  5. ST badly needs to have a systems plan prepared next. ST produces these multi-colored maps, but actually running a rail system requires developing an operations scenario. This kind of systems planning is needed — but making it part of the environmental process carries some cost and time risks. A full integration plan, including an analysis of how transit will feed the lines and what bus transfer facilities are needed, would give all of the agencies time to consider alternatives without the burden of having to seek major environmental clearance.

    One key example: Will we really run every train from Ballard to Tacoma? I really doubt it. The demand in SLU is much higher than in the Rainier Valley (and that’s much higher than the demand at south of Federal Way). If every train is supposed to be doing this trip, then ST may be on the official hook to put in grade-separations in the Rainier Valley as there will be a traffic impact of running high-frequency trains from Ballard and one obvious mitigation is to instead halve the frequency south of Stadium or SODO station. Keep in mind, we are also seeing the capacity of a parallel route (Rainier Ave S) get cut in half, while SE Seattle is gaining population like everywhere else in town. If the train frequency on MLK increases, the impacts will have to be studied and mitigated. If they ignore this, then ST could end up getting sued for inadequate environmental study and mitigation and would have to go back and revised the report, which would result in lawsuits that don’t advance the schedule — not to mention how much ST would have to eventually pay out in capital projects to mitigate the impact.

    Generally, an alternative is more detailed than a mere alignment. There are issues about station placement and elevation of the track and stations (portals and piers) and the frequency of the trains as well as numerous natural, historical and neighborhood impacts which will emerge at some point and could easily make ST to do supplemental environmental work to address those.

    For corridors where there is already right-of-way this can probably expedite things, but only a bit. Any environmental process that is followed appears to take more time getting agency permits than it does getting the documentation ready. I don’t see this saving more than a year.

    For corridors where there is no right-of-way, especially if it means boring or digging deep into the ground, this probably doesn’t help at all. Instead, ST runs the risk of spending tens of millions only to discover later that they overlooked something or that they don’t have the funds allocated to complete a section of the project and they have to look to save money with a cheaper approach (aerial for example). I don’t see this saving time.

    My suggestion to ST would be to do a fully-integrated systems plan in conjunction with the bus operators, but then only do an initial environmental documentation for projects intended for completion by 2030 or 2031 (I’ll call it ST3A) first, followed by another environmental document for those complex projects after 2031. I would further separate the infill station parts to be separate environmental documents as that would keep any issues about those from delaying the larger systems implementation and could help get these done earlier.

    In other words, do we really want an Eastgate environmental issue delaying the West Seattle extension construction? Do we really want a South Lake Union tunnel path environmental issue delaying a Boeing Access Road station?

    1. Good point. I think that is what has been missing the entire time. There doesn’t appear to be long term vision for transit in the area, other than “we will build light rail to various neighborhoods”.

      I think part of the problem is that ST and Metro are two different agencies. This isn’t the end of the world, but it means that they need to coordinate better. Even though they report to the same boss, this just doesn’t seem to be happening. If you ask Metro where they would like to see the stations — and how the stations should be designed — I think you will get a lot of detailed information. But ST seems blindsided by that, and acts surprised when Metro (or even ordinary people) insist on better bus to rail integration. A good example of this is the NE 130th station. I’m sure there is some planner at Metro that is drooling over the possibility of a station there.

      As you wrote, that doesn’t mean it has to happen all at once. I think it is a shame that Ballard to UW light rail has to wait, but eventually, it should be built. But are they actually thinking about that? Did they consider that when they built the Brooklyn Station? Will they do the same when building the Ballard Station? I guess it is less of a big deal because that station will be elevated, but what about a Metro 8 subway? Where would it intersect the Ballard Line, or would it?

      But there are other contingencies as well. We are already seeing that with Lynnwood Link. If money is short, maybe just going up to Mountlake Terrace (which has nice bus lane service) would suffice for a while. The same might be true heading north of Lynnwood, if we encounter similar problems. I feel like we have problems both with unexpected delays as well as providing a long term transit vision.

      1. Ross, good to have some help with my number one Regional pet hate. I’m not ideological about number of agencies. Pretty much same as with a crew of individual workers: how effectively they work together owes partly to their official leadership and supervision, but mostly to each of them personally.

        Short contract working around EastLINK-related drafting project, featuring staff of several firms together in one floor of a building showed me a lot. Not easiest place to work, but I didn’t have any comparison for a work-place like that. All others could be worse.

        Easy but misleading to say we’d have been spared a lot of stress wasted time if we’d had better leadership. But Seattle administration as a whole shows a couple real truths about leadership:

        1. Workers themselves have to demand it. Or better yet, agree to create their own leaders.

        2. Which in turn reveals another fact: People will very quickly get themselves a leader when they personally and collectively really want to make a decision. And not for decades if they don’t.

        For what it’s worth, my transit time in more than one transit agency workplace, starting with a driver’ seat, leave me convinced that between Metro and Sound Transit, neither interagency coordination or cooperation problems are instigated from the top. Or be cured there either.

        Most powerful motivation at political levels will come when large groups of citizens start jointly visiting their rep’s offices and more or less demanding working cooperation between Boards and Councils.

        Starting with deliberately locating every public presentation where residents of every subarea are encouraged to get together at same event. Along with all their politicians. And starting early on, stage occupied by engineers instead of convention presenters,

        Mark

  6. Would also be good to discuss what we all think the basic criteria for the decision should be. For me, starting with “Both as few and as flexible as possible.”

    Second one should top the list. To mention for the last time a maritime cliche I really hate: Statelier experience, I imagine, watching one of the old “Clippers” clear the harbor.

    But for both an image and trip to the Kitsap, transit planning needs a marine hydrofoil. Fact it’s sailed can be remedied by a simple maneuver if Harvey changes course for Corpus Christi.

    Mark

  7. This is great. Now, how about accelerating the real estate planning and acquisition process for these lines, before we run out of places to put a station at Denny, South Lake Union, Uptown, Ballard, the West Seattle Junction, etc.

    In the event we purchase something we don’t end up needing that ends up being a block or two from a future Link station, what’s the chance that real estate investment would go down?

    1. This. And “future proof” the new tunnels by stacking them at points which might become junctions in even “woo-woo” scenarios.

  8. “Preferred alternative” is a technical term in the EIS, the zero point that other alternatives are compared to. ST does not have to build the PA; it can build any of the alternatives studied in the EIS because their impacts have been sufficiently disclosed (unless the EIS is flawed). The EIS requires the preferred alternative, a “no-build” alternative, and one or more other alternatives requested by the community. Those “other alternatives” are what ST wants to minimize because a large one can add six months and a million dollars. So it wants the community to agree on a small number of alternatives. It has been saying this since 2015 or 2016. So the PA does not tie ST’s hands; it just means that if ST later finds it wants an alternative that’s not not in the EIS, then it will have to study it and amend the EIS.

    The biggest risk of choosing the PA earlier is it won’t have as much information, especially the engineering studies. As we recall it was engineering studies that raised doubts about the soil under the Portage Bay Ship Canal crossing, the soil under First Hill, and the angle from Convention Place to First Hill.

    With an 18-month timeline, we must assume ST will defer even more heavily to the alignment in the ballot map, since there won’t be much time to consider others. The cities have already assented to those alignments because that’s what got them into the ballot map in the first place. So the most likely opposition will come from “non-governmental organizations”. Since we know this is how the default process will play out, and ST will ask once or twice for public input on its drafts, we should start taking now about which one or two alternatives we want, and our feedback on the assumed default PA. Remembering that only alternatives that fit within the tight ST3 budget have a chance of being built. So it’s definitely worth promoting an alternative that has a chance. It may be worth promoting one perfect alternative that doesn’t have a chance, to show what we’re missing out on. The Queen Anne – Fremont – Ballard tunnel is the most obvious example of a probably-impossible alternative. (I’m assuming a Ballard-UW line tp “also serve Ballard-downtown trips” won’t get out the gate, especially with the critical need to serve SLU.) But we should focus on an impossible alternative only if it doesn’t displace or add to a possible alternative in the same segment.

  9. As a starting point, here are the ST3 projects. What alternative do you recommend for which project? And would this cost more than the default?

    The first thing I can think of is having more of Everett Link on 99, a better Link/Swift transfer location (where?), and deleting the Paine Field detour. Those would cost less. Deleting Paine Field has no chance because Snohomish and Everett made it their top priority.

    Oh, and prebuild for N 130th Station so it can open earlier.

    1. Are you suggesting doing what I mentioned above, and treating the environmental processes for infill stations like 130th outside of this big environmental effort, since adding those into a big environmental effort adds a risk that could hamper their progress?

      1. I don’t fully understand what you said. A complete operating plan including when each train will pass a station and where bus transfers will be and which buses go where, is orthogonal to this. If you can state your concerns in terms of specific projects or groups of projects then maybe they can be incorporated, but it sounds like you’re asking for a whole additional process to be done first, and that overwhelms me in terms of identifying concerns about each project. I’m saying that we need to be prepared for ST’s soon-coming questions. Your other process is an additional concern about ST3 as a whole. Certainly you should promote it if you think it is important; I don’t understand it well enough to say whether I agree ST isn’t doing X and should do X. (And discussions on that would best be outside this thread.) Regardless of whether ST does or doesn’t do it, or postpones the project-alternatives timeline for it, ST will ask us about project alternatives and that’s something we need to have an articulated response on.

      2. If infill stations are not part of a big environmental document, they can get cleared faster! That will speed up their opening dates. After all, they don’t lay track; they add only platforms and buildings and access options. They are clearly eligible for faster reviews for permitting than would occur if it was within a much larger environmental document. Keep in mind that no matter how fast a draft environmental statement is published, the permits are what takes the most time.

      3. Thinking it about it further, infill stations MAY actually be environmentally cleared under prior environmental statements. It may be that they merely can be approved with an addendum to those previously approved documents and permits. I would leave that to the environmental specialists and attorneys to figure out — but that would save lots of time and money!

      4. Infill stations are separate projects, with separate EISes processes. I don’t know whether they will technically be amendments or new documents, but I don’t think it matters from our perspective. The projects are not “Ballard to Tacoma” but “200th to Federal Way”, “Federal Way to Tacoma Dome”, “Ballard + downtown tunnel + diverting Rainier Valley operations to it:” (or those may be separate). Graham Station and BAR Station are on ST1 projects which are finished. 130th Station is on an ST2 project which is ongoing. However, the Lynnwood Link EIS is finished, and it already approves 130th Station as an option; although it says its impacts have not been studied yet so they would have to be studied before it’s built. (220th Street in Mountlake Terrace is the other option in it.) As for deferred stations in ST3 like Everett 99/Swift, I assume you’re not referring to those. If you want those included or predesigned, then that would be a comment for the containing project.

      5. Rereading the Lynnwood DEIS, it appears as though several of the specialty reports already evaluated 130th Station. While ST may not have the right official permits, I would think that getting environmental clearance for this station would be done quickly and easily since the Draft EIS document is from 2013.

        I can’t find the original environmental documents for Sound Move’s Graham and BAR station discussions on line. Again, if they have been studied, it may not take much to get them through an environmental documentation and permitting process. Because these will both involve some property purchases and substantially more construction, it may be that they will need a more thorough environmental review depending on how detailed the environmental studies were.

        In any of these cases, it may be acceptable to just send a letter to the agencies that reviewed prior work and say something like “We’ve modified the preferred alternative to include this additional station, which we analyzed for impacts and you reviewed in the prior environmental work in your specialty. Can you either confirm that no further impacts are identified, as this work was performed several years ago — or update us on whether further environmental study is needed?” At worst, some specialty topics may need to be reexamined — but it appears to be relatively simple to get supplemental RODs for each station registered by the Federal and state governments. Hopefully ST can do this and leave the infill stations out of this big environmental effort.

      6. It makes a big difference whether the 130th Street Station has a center platform or two side platforms. If the tracks are not splayed apart and a rudimentary station shell not constructed around a center platform, it will not be built! The station will be stuck with side-platforms which are a much less efficient use of space and material.

        Rough in 130th Street when Lynnwood Link is built. Please, ST.

    2. Moving the Everett extension to 99 is also a non-starter. The car dealerships, who for some reason have an unusual amount of pull in local government, didn’t want it.

      Also, it would duplicate Swift. Is that really necessary?

      1. Swift could be truncated. You wouldn’t be splitting trips to downtown Lynnwood, only to Edmonds CC and Aurora Village. And people coming from north of the split would do better to take Link to Mointlake Tersce and transfer to a westbound feeder.

        That assumes Link has stations similar to Swift. It may have fewer stations. In that case we’d have to evaluate whether those stations justify not truncating Swift. Of course, CT has given no indication it would support any of this.

    3. I think most things I would like to see are either more expensive or significantly different than what voters approved (like your “skip Paine Field” example). For the most part these are trade offs, although some are clearly more expensive.

      1) Extend 522 BRT to Greenwood Avenue. Also move the station to 145th (which is, actually, what people voted for).

      2) Have the new downtown tunnel serve First Hill.

      3) Build the WSTT instead of the Ballard to West Seattle line.

      4) Build Ballard to UW rail.

      5) Build the provisional station where Link crosses SR 99 in Everett.

      6) End Everett Link there.

      7) Build as much bus lane (not HOV lane) as you can north of Lynnwood. Build it cheaply, using only the median. The bus lane would then work like a passing lane, since it would not exist for the entire route (it would end close to some of the bridges, where building new lanes would be expensive).

      8) Build a bus lane from Eastlake to downtown Bellevue.

      9) Add BRT to the CKC (as the city of Kirkland proposed).

      10) Don’t build the Issaquah to Kirkland line.

      11) Build a bus only ramp from southbound 405 to westbound 520 (and the opposite direction). That way, an express from Totem Lake (or Woodinville) could quickly get to the UW.

      12) Speaking of which, fix the 520 to UW station mess. Build new ramps, along with a new bridge or tunnel if necessary. Whatever it takes to build a congestion free route for buses from 520 to Husky Stadium

      13) Spend money making Sounder faster and more frequent.

      14) End the south end of Link somewhere near where it is now, but next to the freeway. Build a big bus to freeway transit center there, along with a big park and ride lot.

      15) With the exception of that station, push for a “No park and ride” option at every new station.

      Anyway, I don’t think any of that will happen. I also can’t think of any big omissions like NE 130th was. The only tricky bit I can think of is around South Lake Union, and my understanding is that we’ll have one station at Denny and Westlake, and another at Aurora and Mercer (more or less). That seems fine.

      Oh, wait. I think we should have the station next to the Seattle Center, not in it. 1st and Mercer or 1st and Roy make sense. Walking a few blocks for an event at the Seattle Center is no big deal (especially since the monorail goes right to it). It is better to serve the connecting buses and neighborhood next to it.

      1. It’s utter madness that they’re spending 400 million on that BRT line and not even looking into an extra 2-3 stops/1.5 miles to the West, which would dramatically improve the North Seattle grid, connect the line to the busiest, most frequent bus in all of King County Metro, and add service and access to a major E-W route that should have it now, and will cry out for it even more when the Link station opens..

        I generally think the problems associated with Metro and ST being two separate agencies are overstated, but this seems like a place where it may have really hurt. I have too much respect for Metro’s transit planners to think they would ignored this extraordinary opportunity.

      2. It’s because East King is paying for 522 BRT and they aren’t very interested in Aurora or Greenwood. And North King has a packed plate even without it.

      3. Isn’t there a planned BRT from Shoreline College to Lake City via Greenwood, 130th and 125th in the 2030 plan? That pretty much handles the Greenwood/Aurora access to Link. How many people are going to want to ride south to 145th in order to go north along SR99 from Lake Forest Park, Kenmore or Bothell? Most people would prefer to take a bus up Ballinger Way to the Aurora Village TC. There are direct connections to many Snohomish County buses there.

        There are likely a few rides from Lake Forest Park and east to the Aurora corridor in Shoreline that 522 BRT won’t serve, and there is no easy way south of 205th/Ballinger to link Shoreline to the east. But overall, number 1 is just a nice to have.

        Number 7 sound like you’re advocating adding another lane inside the HOV for buses only. It’s far more likely that WSDOT will add a HOT lane there rather than a bus lane. Haven’t you accepted that yet? DOT is under the thumb of Olympia which simply does not understand, has no desire to understand, and refuses to educate itself about urban transit.

    4. I would propose looking refining the SLU segment. Keep in mind that what was shown in ST3 was not an alternative in the Ballard-to-Downtown study! It was a last-minute SDOT idea!

      1. I would look at an aerial option, at least at SR 99. The optional SR99 station is a great idea but the deep dig to get under 99 is a big expense and rider inconvenience.

      2. I would study shifting the SLU east-west alignment further east to have the major transfers at Capitol Hill Station. First, Capitol Hill to Westlake will be the most overcrowded segment and this would ease that. It would relieve the need for Ballard-to-UW as this would push the transfer just one stop away from UW. It would allow for an additional station between WSCC and Virginia- Mason (University and Boren?) with perhaps pedestrian connections to both places ( possibly even connecting to Westlake Station) in addition to the Madison stop at around Fifth. It would be an easier grade change than the planned dive under the existing tunnel at Westlake so that a Madison Midtown station would not have to be as deep. The tunnel may be able to even cross above the existing rail tunnel under Pine Street in lower Capitol Hill. The Capitol Hill mezzanine could be excavated westward to serve a second drop to new platforms.

      The big drawback is that it would be further from the Denny-Westlake area (being moved four blocks north) and be further from Amazon and Belltown. However, the streetcar already serves that area and could simply get more frequency. Other streetcar or rail shuttle options could also be developed that could close this gap and perhaps even extend into Belltown or Pike Place Market/ Waterfront.

      3. Depending on grade issues, the SLU-to-CHS segment may have to be aerial through part of east SLU, perhaps with the tunnel portal on one side or the other from I-5. It would be great if the segment could be subway but the grade difference may be too steep for that.

      4. A “Y” at Elliott or LQA could also then be a back-end way to get rail into Belltown.

      Overall, while one could quibble about track design and station placement, most of the ST3 corridors have fairly solid alignment strategies. In contrast, the major investment of a second Downtown tunnel is the biggest per-mile cost and hardest to construct because it’s surrounded by adjacent high-rise buildings; this key project deserves much more consideration and debate than it has been given to date.

      1. Are you proposing bellying east to CHS and then looping back to Fifth and Madison? Those are some nasty curves!

        I agree that if there’s ever an ST4 it should have a Belltown-Denny Way-Fairview-CHS-Seattle U-14th and Jackson-JPS-MBS “inner loop” (the much-desired “Metro 8”), but the Green Line should serve the urban core from north to south. East of the freeway at Madison? If it can be done economically and underground walkways connect it to Fifth at flat level.

      2. Al,

        Jumping from tunnel to aerial and then diving back into tunnel between Denny Way station and Lower Queen Anne station (you said make the Gates Foundation Station “GFS” aerial) is, frankly, crazy.

        The Green Line is going to be deep, deep, deep, because it has to underrun the existing DSTT at Sixth Avenue or so. There must be some sort of mezzanine above the track level in order to make the connections between what will presumably be a center platform and the two side platforms at Westlake. It’s either that or dip the walkways below the tracks which would require a LOT of up-and-down to transfer.

        All that means that Denny Way will probably be pretty deep, though certainly it can be somewhat shallower than “Westlake II”. But it has to be flat, and there isn’t that much distance between the north wall of Westlake II and the south wall of Denny Way for an elevation change. And finally, it makes a great deal of sense to “stack” the tunnels through the curve to GFS and build the station itself “stacked” to allow a flying junction to a future West Lake Union/Fremont/Greenwood/Aurora Shoreline line to take some of the enormous pressure Central Link is going to suffer when it gets to Lynnwood.

        Such a line should have a station under Dexter about Galer or so in order to serve that enormously dense area between Westlake and Dexter. Mercer and Denny will always be major barriers to high frequency transit to and from West Lake Union.

      3. The corridor would have a wider-angled curve than the one between Fith and Westlake, and maybe a reverse slight angled curve south of CHS but neither would be severe. By having the required 90-degree curve under Capitol Hill rather than in the middle of SLU (current scheme), it can be gentler and taken at a higher speed — which is a good thing.

        There have been many on this blog that have pondered a deviation as far as Boren already. This would make such a goal much easier — with less severe curves than if tracks from IDS up to Boren at Madison and back to Westlake would have.

      4. Continuing the reply above.

        I don’t think you’ve thought this through. You state that you’d have the platforms for the Green Line Capitol Hill Station “parallel to Link’s“. Are you proposing to move the Amazon station a few blocks north? Because if you’re thinking to keep it at Denny and Westlake, you’d have to go south from Gates to Amazon, the swing sharply back northeast to somewhere near Mercer under Bellevue maybe then curve south to CHS, presumably a bit shallower than the existing Central Link profile then swing southwest to Eighth and Madison. The alignment between CHS and 8th and Madison would certainly be gentle curves, but getting from Amazon to a north-south heading at CHS would require an enormous S-curve. I’ll stipulate that you could move the Amazon station a couple of blocks east and build it on an east-west heading, making the S-curve less severe than it would be for a north-south heading. But remember that GFS will be around Sixth North which is only four blocks from Westlake. Putting Denny Way on an east-west heading means the you’d be making a 90 degree turn into the station, much like the sharp curve at Westlake in the DSTT.

        Sure, the curves in the S between Denny Way and CHS wouldn’t be as sharp as the one at Third and Pine in the DSTT, but that was built on the cheap for buses and 1980’s era Siemens LRV’s, not Link-class cars.

        Jumping from tunnel to aerial and then diving back into tunnel between Denny Way station and Lower Queen Anne station (you said make the Gates Foundation Station aerial) would cause howls of laughter. “Take a ride on the Green Line roller coaster, folks! You won’t be disappointed!”

        Whether Denny Way is on a north-south or east-west heading, it makes a great deal of sense to “stack” the tunnels between there and GFS and stack GFS itself in order to allow a flying junction to a future West Lake Union/Fremont/Greenwood/Aurora Shoreline line to take some of the enormous pressure Central Link is going to suffer when it gets to Lynnwood.

        Such a line should have a station under Dexter about Galer or so in order to serve that enormously dense area between Westlake and Dexter. Mercer and Denny will always be major barriers to high frequency transit to and from West Lake Union.

      5. I guess that I didn’t make it clear enough that this alignment would be instead of stations at Westlake/Pine and Westlake/Denny. Instead, there would be stations at Westlake/Republican or Westlake/Harrison, maybe one between Fairview and Eastlake on either Republican or Harrison , in Capitol Hill west of the mezzanine dropping to a center platform (which would count as the “Denny” station in ST3 documents), and Boren/University (which would count as the “Westlake” station in ST3 documents) before going back to Madison/5th (Midtown) station.

        My bigger point is that the alignment in ST3 is conceptual and there was not even a study done for this alignment alternative in the corridor analyses that led up to ST3. I think the public deserves some further study on this specific alignment — unlike the others which at least had some professional analyses and community participation as they were developed.

  10. One other big issue with a combined environmental process is that environmental documents have a shelf life. I can’t see the Issaquah line environmental documentation being valid years later in 2033 when final design is underway, for example. A supplemental environmental effort will be required if this document is too stale as it would spend many years on a shelf.

    1. But an amendment is less expensive and time-consuming than the original report. It only has to consider things that have changed. That could be physical conditions, population patterns, or people’s attitudes. In any case the entire planning process costs a tenth of construction so it’s a drop in the bucket. It would also force Issaquah to articulate twice what it wants, and how it’s performing on its station-area promises, and whether people are actually coming to Issaquah.

    2. I’d argue that in Issaquah’s case, it would be better off if a station location was selected relatively soon (next 5~10 years), because then the city can grow & develop in anticipation of a future LRT station, rather than letting the city build out & then try to fit the station in afterwards.

  11. Apologies if this is ironically off topic, but the picture caption is misleading – Northgate station is going to be on the girders in the background. The concrete pour in the foreground is going to be the Northgate park and ride.

  12. This is a good change. The engineers usually know which alternative is a winner well in advance anyhow. All these additional studies are just CYA on the political side.

    There is always the risk of late discoveries, but that risk exists with the current process too. This change just allows earlier decisions and more thorough study of the eventual build alternative.

  13. It’s alway fun to read what the cheerleaders have to say.

    On one hand I have to agree it’s a waste of time to pretend there’s a real alternatives analysis process going on. What happens in practice at ST is that the board selects its favorite option, and staff finds two sacrificial alternatives that are developed to make the preferred option come out looking superior. Knowing that, I have to agree, why waste the time and money?

    But there’s also a part of me that believes in real planning processes, with real alternatives evaluated and actually debated before a decision is made. And I believe in NEPA, which says decisions should be made knowing the full extent of performance, impacts and costs. Apparently you all think that’s bogus, and I can see why. But in other places it works far better than what you’ve become used to.

    1. Because the EIS is the most persuasive way to document what we lost in the tradeoff. RossB cites ST’s own corridor report that the Ballard-UW project has more ridership and less cost than the Ballard-downtown corridor (although that was before SLU was included). An EIS is like that but carries a lot more weight with lawmakers and professionals, because it must contain all factors unfavorable to ST’s position or somebody can sue ST to get them to include it. By having experts quantify the difference and comparing it, we’re in the best position to convince a future board or city officials or state lawmakers not to repeat the same mistake, to reverse the decision, or to build the alternative in the future. The fact that 130th was an option in the Lynnwood Link EIS wth preliminary evidence showing it to be feasable and potentially worthwhile, was a major step in getting it done, and if the same board hadn’t put it into ST3, the presence of the option would have made it easier to convince a future board because we wouldn’t have to start from scratch.

      1. And Ballard-UW would have criminally over-loaded Central Link. Doesn’t anybody believe the modelers? I’ll be bold here and say that folks in Northeast Seattle will have a very hard time getting on the trains southbound by 2025, even without Everett Link.

        They’ll be filled up by diverting all those buses that squeeze down I-5 from Snohomish County and all the new riders that will hear their co-workers say how wonderful Link is.

    2. NIMBYs will use the process to get their alternatives in, so we should make sure ours get in too or people won’t take ours seriously. If a sufficient number of people request an alternative, then ST must study it. We need to make sure that good alternatives reach that number and bad alternatives don’t.

      But as I said, for alternatives that are more expensive, it may be worthwhile to include them. I’m not sure if it is or not. It depends on how important we think each one is, and what potential benefit would come from documenting it. If they’re not very important then it’s not worth spending ST3 money making ST run in circles. But if they are important and we’ll later want to use them as evidence for something, then we should get them documented now. This is the gap where the Queen Anne tunnel falls, West Seattle BRT and a second train-bus tunnel, Martin’s 8th & Madison station, RossB’s Capitol Hill-to-SLU connector, any station additions or movements, whether to point the Ballard terminus north or east for a future phase, how Ballard-UW would transfer to Ballard-downtown (which ST has still not identified for Ballard-UW to UDistrict Station), transfer facilities at Intl Dist and Westlake (including CENTER PLATFORMS and east-to-south trips!), up escalators, more elevators, entrance locations, or anything else I haven’t thought of.

      1. Mike, the way that should happen is through a system planning assessment, something ST has never done ever in public. Their long range plan simply threw every brainstormed idea from their board into a document and called it a plan. A network analysis would show that a shorter and denser urban system would perform far better than a longer set of routes connecting distant cities. But the board’s unity has always been rooted in agreement to connect Everett, Seattle, Bellevue and Tacoma, so they didn’t do any analyses that would compare the current system plan to alternatives. Once you get to a corridor study and EIS, ST has already made their decision about location and is just trying to get through the formal documentation to make it happen – thus the need for fake alternatives to make the preferred one look best.

      2. Yes and that’s how you become hugely overbudget. By brainstorming and then saying yes to every idea. That is not good management or good planning, which is why we need real oversite for Sound Transit that can fire bad managers and get good ones who know how to streamline and execute these project.

      3. Quasimodal: You’re arguing for a wholesale replacement of ST3. that’s at a far different level than I’m talking about. I’ve repeatedly said that ST should have started in the 1990s with a regional+local system plan with phases and gotten the local transit agencies and cities to cooperate on it, and championed a “maximum urban ridership” paradigm. But now there’s years of accumulated expectations — i.e., Everett and Tacoma — and in any case 2/3 of the constituents live outside Seattle and want something that serves their area — that’s why there’s subarea equity because the other subareas refused to pay for a Seattle-centric network. If you want that you don’t ask Sound Transit in its current structure to build it.

        What we have is the voter-approved projects and their intended goals, and the opportunity is to improve their details or at least document what a better choice would have been — within the constraint of what the project was intended to serve. Which means the major activity centers it’s intended to connect, not every specific street and station in the ballot map. You may consider this endeavor useless but I don’t.

      4. No, I accept that ST3 is reality.

        But I’m a believer in good planning practices, and I do think if we’d followed them we would be developing a very different system than we’ve approved. If you think the Board’s politically-driven plan is optimal (or that it doesn’t matter), then you should be in favor of gutting the planning process.

        ST3 was a generational political victory for local elected officials. But now that they’ve won the day we still have massive transportation problems to address, and I hope we can begin to reintroduce data and best practice analysis techniques back to how we do business. I get offended enough by the alternative fact universe on the right, so I’d like to see a region that thinks of itself as progressive avoid faith-based planning as we move forward.

  14. This is a continuation of the discussion with Al S. I don’t seem able to make it “stick” up there.

    Also, jumping from tunnel to aerial and then diving back into tunnel between Denny Way station and Lower Queen Anne station (you said make the Gates Foundation Station “GFS” aerial) is, frankly, crazy.

    The Green Line is going to be deep, deep, deep, because it has to underrun the existing DSTT at Sixth Avenue or so. There must be some sort of mezzanine above the track level in order to make the connections between what will presumably be a center platform and the two side platforms at Westlake. It’s either that or dip the walkways below the tracks which would require a LOT of up-and-down to transfer.

    All that means that Denny Way will probably be pretty deep, though certainly it can be somewhat shallower than “Westlake II”. But it has to be flat, and there isn’t that much distance between the north wall of Westlake II and the south wall of Denny Way for an elevation change. And finally, it makes a great deal of sense to “stack” the tunnels through the curve to GFS and the station itself “stacked” to allow a flying junction to a future West Lake Union/Fremont/Greenwood/Aurora Shoreline line to take some of the enormous pressure Central Link is going to suffer when it gets to Lynnwood.

    Such a line should have a station under Dexter about Galer or so in order to serve that enormously dense area between Westlake and Dexter. Mercer and Denny will always be major barriers to high frequency transit to and from West Lake Union.

    1. My alignment is actually very gradual vertical change!

      To demonstrate that, I’ve gone through and estimated some elevations. This alignment has everything in subway in LQA and east of Downtown — but an aerial section between Seattle Center and Melrose/I-5. Here are some elevation details on this handy web site
      (http://elevationmap.net/1562-1598-belmont-ave-seattle-wa-98122-usa?latlngs=(47.615197064365276,-122.32445955276489):

      -6th and Madison is 229 feet — subway track would be about 140 feet
      -I-5 at spring is about 187 feet — subway track would be about 160 feet
      -Boren and University is 300 feet — subway track would be about 200 feet (admittedly deep for a station but a second Union and Boren street entrance would be a more reasonable 263 feet)
      -Belmont and Pine (place for a crossover between U-Link and these new subway tracks) is 287 feet, with bored U-link track at about 170 feet here, so this line would need to cross over that bore at about 210 feet
      -John and Broadway is 337 feet and Denny and Harvard is 300 feet — subway track would be about 240 feet (with the center platform station having escalators to the mezzanine level extended eastward from the current CHS at about 280 feet)
      -Melrose and Harrison (a logical portal location) is 211 feet — track at portal would be 211 feet

      Bonus idea: A new bridge at Harrison over I-5 for light rail with an adjacent pedestrians/bicycle path with an elevator on the west side of I-5. People residing in the high rises on or near Melrose and Bellevue Avenues in North Capitol Hill could walk to SLU jobs and shopping!

      -Yale and Harrison is 111 feet — aerial station track would be 170 feet
      -Westlake and Harrison is 52 feet — aerial station track would be about 120 feet
      -Harrison at 99 is 80 feet — aerial station track would be about 120 feet
      -Harrison walkway corridor between Memorial Station and Artists at play is 113 feet — track at portal would be about 113 feet
      -First and Republican is 141 feet — subway track would be about 80 feet
      -Fourth Ave W and Republican is 82 feet — portal track just west of there would be about 55 feet
      -Elliott Ave and Republican is 22 feet — aerial track would be about 55 feet

      Contrast that to the current ST3 situation at Westlake. Fifth/Pine street level is at 120 feet. The current DSTT appears to be about 70 feet. A second subway track under the existing track would appear to have to dive to about 20 feet. with Fifth and Madison at 190 feet, the track will have to be very, very deep (like 100 feet down) or we will have a roller coaster dropping 100 feet to get under the current tracks at Pine/Fifth.

  15. If each planning phase speeds up doesn’t the money for building have to come faster as well or does that not matter as much because either way there is enough borrowing capacity?

    1. It frees up money that had been budgeted for planning. There could be a construction bottleneck but that can be figured out after we know how many projects succeed in being expedited. There’s a 2024 corner in funding, because that’s when ST1 and 2 spending will finish and free up those tax streams for ST3. That will triple the amount of money available for construction bills. (The corner was 2023 but I’m assuming Lynnwood Link’s 2024 postponement will stick, East Link will be postponed the same, and Federal Way which is scheduled for 2024 won’t be postponed.)

      1. “There’s a 2024 corner in funding, because that’s when ST1 and 2 spending will finish and free up those tax streams for ST3. That will triple the amount of money available for construction bills.”

        This is entirely inaccurate and not how the funding works anyway. One needs to remember that ST projects out their entire finances to 2060 in their 2016 annual financial plan. (Why the 2017 plan has yet to be posted to their site is perplexing.) This plan was produced midyear and thus before the ST3 vote and thus doesn’t factor in the increase in revenues from the new taxes nor the expenses associated with this system expansion. Regardless, capital expenses in total as well as for Link specifically continue beyond 2023.

        Please review this document, specifically the Sources and Uses report that projects out to 2060 in YOE $ based on Sound Move and ST2 only.

        Interesting side note about this financial report is that the agency’s General Fund grows to a whopping some $42 billion by the end year based on the underlying assumptions used.

  16. Yes, limit the number of alternatives prior to environmental documentation (NEPA). It allows you to spend time on this issues that matter, such as transit operations, urban design, and community fit as opposed to just the regulatory impact assessment of each alternative. This is how good transit projects should be planned.

    Also, this blog post seems to assume that the NEPA class of action needs to be an EIS, when in fact there are bus/rail projects all over the country that are EAs including large New Start light rail extensions. There are many BRT projects that are CEs. There is no better way to speed up projects than to clearly define the project definition prior to NEPA.

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