Representative project alignments for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions (courtesy of Sound Transit)

Last month, Sound Transit announced an ambitious plan to wrap up alternatives analysis in 18 months for the Ballard-to-West Seattle ST3 plan. They’re not promising that this will actually bring delivery forward from 2030 for West Seattle and 2035 for Ballard, but it should reduce risk of further slippage.

We have a pretty good idea of where this line will go, as indicated by the “representative alignment” at right. However, there are three interesting questions that will affect how much this project costs and how many people it serves. Remember also that money is time; a more expensive project increases risk of not having enough money in time, and slipping out opening day by a few years.

The ship canal crossing. In a guest post last month, Seattle Subway covered a lot of the issues. A relatively inexpensive bridge would include a drawbridge that would open fairly frequently. More height means fewer openings and more costs. This is a fairly clear tradeoff of budget and schedule risk for escalating train reliability.

Or, with more cost and technical risk, Sound Transit could tunnel under the crossing. Given the depths involved, this would mean running deep underground through a lot of Ballard. This limits the number of potential stations but also avoids various mitigation headaches.

Similarly, a relatively low crossing could replace the current Ballard Bridge, with adequate space for cars, pedestrians, bikes, and transit. SDOT loves this idea because it would take paying for it off their plate.

Midtown Station. The default is for this station is 5th & Madison, which is well within the walkshed of today’s stations. Pushing the station further up Madison would bring dense neighborhoods and massive ridership generators into the system. Besides a pile of apartments, adding the hospitals and even Seattle University to the high-capacity transit network would right a historic wrong.

On the other hand, the downtown tunnel would have to be a few hundred meters longer, and the station would have to be deeper. Both would increase cost and risk. Moreover, it would require two undercrossings of I-5 instead of zero. Sound Transit performed this technically complicated operation once to build University Link, and has little interest in doing so again. Lastly, the known coalition in favor currently consists of the First Hill Improvement Association, a certain high-level transportation official, and me. That’s not enough.

Alaska Junction. From well before the ST3 vote, the segment to West Seattle has always been advertised as an elevated segment. For fans of Chicago, Tokyo, or the Seattle Monorail Project, segments of elevated track are a delightful part of an urban scene and often a welcome respite from the rain.

However, it’s worth observing that this region has never built elevated track through heavily populated areas. Sound Transit has always opted for an underground, retained cut, or surface alignment after receiving community input. Opposition even forced the monorail off Second Avenue, onto the current track on Fifth, before it died. Undoubtedly, some people will look at mockups like this West Seattle Blog photo and be horrified. Or they will ask — simplistically — why others are getting a tunnel and they are not.

That said, burying that track is essentially a beautification project, while the other modifications would be material improvements to the efficiency or usefulness of the train. So it’s a little harder to justify spending more money and possibly delaying delivery.


There is a very real tension between getting everything cheaply, and as soon as possible, and having light rail do everything we would like it to do. The coming process will be a strong indication of what people really care about most.

133 Replies to “Issues to Watch in the Seattle ST3 Alignment”

  1. “SDOT loves this idea because it would take paying for it off their plate.”

    I’m pretty sure that what SDOT was proposing was to cost share a rail+car replacement for the Ballard bridge, not that ST would pay for the whole thing.

    1. Regardless of who pays for it, if SDOT and Sound Transit can create a reliable operations plan with the Coast Guard and utilize a bridge for bike, pedestrian and bus access (no cars please), that would be better than a single use tunnel by almost any metric. I think it is a good idea to keep the tunnel option on the table, but to me that is an expensive, last resort type of back up plan if the Coast Guard absolutely refused to support ST and SDOT or some fatal flaw is revealed.

      Current Ballard bridge openings average 4 minutes in length and the biggest impacted hour of the day (6 to 7 pm) has an average of 2 openings per hour during peak season. Even with a 35′ tall bridge, as long as bridge openings are only allowed between trains, light rail riders would rarely be impacted. If you make this bridge a little taller than the existing Ballard bridge, you can further reduce the openings.

      I can’t remember if/when these trains would ever make it to 3 minute headways, but the guest post’s assertion that trains will be running at 90 second headways some day seems far fetched. I thought we fundamentally needed the second tunnel downtown because Sound Transit won’t run trains under 2 or 3 minute headways. Some more analysis of when we might expect to get to sub 4 minute headways off peak is needed.

      Obviously this needs more study, but I think it is a mistake to draw a line in the sand that we need to spend hundreds of millions on a tunnel to the potential detriment of folks trying to access these trains while jeopardizing other important aspects of ST3.

      1. if SDOT and Sound Transit can create a reliable operations plan with the Coast Guard and utilize a bridge for bike, pedestrian and bus access (no cars please),

        My understanding is that the joint SDOT/ST scenario would be a new bridge that would completely replace the Ballard Bridge, so cars would necessarily be involved.

        SDOT’s last analysis of the Ballard Bridge (a 2014 sidewalk widening study) estimated the concrete portions would need replacement by around 2030, the steel portions (including the drawspan) by around 2040. The timelines for bridge replacement and ST3 bridge building mesh well together.

      2. I recall reading somewhere that in order to make the train bridge high enough to keep openings to a minimum, it would have to steep enough to be non-compliant with ADA (*). And, under the law, if a wheelchair user can’t navigate the sidewalk, than nobody else can do so either. Therefore, any train bridge cannot have a sidewalk, and we’re stuck with the existing Ballard bridge for the foreseeable future.

        (*) Of course, even as wheelchairs become increasingly motorized, the law has to still assume that wheelchairs are arm-powered like they were in the 1950’s.

      3. “if SDOT and Sound Transit can create a reliable operations plan with the Coast Guard”

        Why do you think a new bridge would make the Coast Guard willing to order it to open less often? Presumably the city has already negotiated the best deal it’s going to get, unless you think the city needs a better negotiator. The number of bridge openings depend on how high the bridge is, and it it replaces the current bridge it sounds like it can’t be higher than it is now, so it will open the same. Maybe a new bridge technology could open and close faster, but we’d have to confirm that.

        “I can’t remember if/when these trains would ever make it to 3 minute headways, but the guest post’s assertion that trains will be running at 90 second headways some day seems far fetched.”

        No frequency has been announced for Ballard. Current Link is 6 minutes peak, 10 minutes off peak, 15 minutes after 10pm. When ST2 starts each line will be that (although it’s unclear whether the 6 minutes will revert to 7 or 8 as it was before U-Link), so the maximum frequency will be 3 minutes between Lynnwood and Intl Dist. ST3 will apparently be the same. Going beyond 3 minutes would require capital improvements in the DSTT, which would bring it up to 90 seconds. There was a candidate project for ST3 to do those capital improvements but it wasn’t selected, because the second tunnel freed up some capacity.

        Ballard most likely will have the same frequency Rainier Valley does now. They’ll be on the same line, and MLK can’t go above 6 minutes without messing up the intersections and signal priority. That capacity is probably enough for SLU and Ballard (crossing your fingers), since there won’t be through riders going to SeaTac, 522 BRT, and Lynnwood P&R. But it could go up to 6 minutes full-time, or maybe there will be extra trains for Ballard-Stadium.

        The ultimate issue of one downtown tunnel vs two is this: with one tunnel there may or may not be a capacity crunch, and we shouldn’t design a system that could melt down so easily. Also, it’s a single point of failure. Two tunnels gives plenty of capacity and leaves space for another line later. With the DSTT we prepaid the cost of the tunnel. That made ST1 cheaper and may have helped its passage. Now again we’re prepaying a tunnel for a possible future line (maybe Aurora-Georgetown), and that will make it easier to get the line approved when the time comes.

        The biggest thing we’ll have to watch is the transfer between the two tunnels. If the Blue/Red and Green lines can be a practical alternative to a Metro 8 line for SLU-Capitol Hill trips as some have suggested, they will have to have a good transfer at Westlake — not like from Link to the SLU streetcar.

      4. The ADA concerns make sense but we’re only stuck with the existing Ballard Bridge for another 20 years or so; SDOT is going to be forced to replace it soon no matter what.

        The question that raises is, how high of a new Ballard Bridge can we build and still have it be ADA compliant for pedestrians? Higher than the current bridge for certain, as it has long flat approaches on both sides that could be rebuilt as a gradual ADAmax grade.

        ADA specification is a 4.8% grade, and the current ballard bridge movable section is about 1011 feet south from the Ballard Way sidewalk. Assuming a steady 4.8% grade the whole way, that means the drawspan could be around 49 feet higher than Ballard Way, which is, I dunno, maybe 10 feet higher than the water in Salmon Bay? Round it to a nice clean 60′, subtract 5′ for the thickness of the movable section based on eyeballing the new modern South Park bridge.

        Give myself a 5′ margin of error for all those fudge factors, and we’d be looking at a boat clearance of around 50′ feet for a new ADA-compliant ballard bridge. That’s 6′ better than the existing bridge, and would be the highest movable bridge on the entire ship canal, by a 4′ margin. (Fremont is the lowest at 30′)

        What would a 50′ height mean for the frequency of openings or train delays? I don’t know. I’d love to see numbers on that.

        I really think it would be foolish for two separate public agencies to pay two separate construction contracts on two independent side-by-side bridges within a decade of each other. I think it’d be in the taxpayers’ best interest if they (ST & SDOT) could cooperate as much as possible.

      5. You can go higher then 4.8% you have to apply for a waiver from the feds for “maximum extent feasible”. When I was work on ada ramps in Bellevue they had a depart with a specific form that did that kind of work. So I imagine that it is pretty common.

      6. Why must a partnership with SDOT on the Ballard crossing result in a bridge? Might the cost of both agencies paying the full price of a 40’-50’ bridge possibly result in them both getting a shared tunnel? Then neither trains nor vehicles would need to wait for bridge crossings. This would of course include busses, should they not be completely replaced by light rail on that segment. And the boats wouldn’t need to wait either. Everybody wins.

      7. Bridge height and steep approaches aren’t just technical ADA problems, for reasons that should be obvious to any urbanist. The needs of people walking and biking, and local transit routes, aren’t very compatible with the needs of through-traffic and regional transit routes. Great pedestrian cities are full of short bridges with flat approaches.

        About the only reason I could see for replacing the Ballard Bridge with a single, higher bridge would be to avoid gentrification of areas near the water on either side. That is, avoid gentrification of these areas by making them inconvenient to access except by private cars and trucks. If that’s not the primary concern, what Fremont has is better: a high bridge that never opens and a low bridge that provides local access to areas near the bridge. Don’t try to do it all with one bridge — there’s no compromise that really works for everyone.

      8. It’s not about the Coast Guard “supporting” ST or SDOT. That’s not how this works. As a federal law enforcement agency, they are upholding the many federal laws that give priority to maritime traffic where bridges block the path of waterways. If you don’t want to deal with the Coasties then build a tunnel.

    2. I’m a huge pedestrian advocate but it’s crazy to me to design a new transit bridge around the few pedestrians who walk from Ballard to where? Fishermans Market? The south side of the canal has (almost) no destinations and is a nightmare for pedestrians anyway. Biking, yes a better crossing would be ideal but just fix the missing link and the Fremont bridge bike crossing.

      1. It’s not about walking, it is about biking. Even when the missing link is fixed, going via the Ballard Bridge saves a lot of time. Here is an example: Imagine you are trying to bike from Ballard to Belltown. If you go via Ballard, you save about a mile, and over ten minutes over using Fremont (according to Google: Ten minutes is a huge amount of time. It gets worse for places like Interbay or anywhere in Magnolia. It is very important that make the Ballard bridge safe for bike crossing.

        Which isn’t to say that it needs to be part of the new light rail project. But we should certainly look at it, because fixing the existing Ballard Bridge (to make it safer for bikes) is very expensive.

  2. Midtown Station should be at Madison & Boren period.

    Alaska Junction Station should be underground. With the geography, it’s easy imagine an elevated station at Delridge, an at-grade station at Avalon and then pop into a tunnel the short distance to Alaska & California.

    Ship Canal, that is a beast of a question. ST could build a higher bridge that would have less frequent openings due to height. The high bridge could accommodate pedestrians and bikes, a la Portland’s new Tillikum Crossing. If Portland can do it, we can do it. However the Ballard Bridge needs to be replaced (soon), and two bridges seem redundant. Tunnel obviously the best choice for transit, but the Ballard Station would be super deep underground. Ring a bell anyone? Ahem *Hustky Stadium Station* if it can be done there in more or less a residential desert, it can be done to the benefit of one of Seattle’s most urban neighborhoods.

    1. Maybe a super deep Ballard station would be good though. That way, escalators could take you all the way to Ballard Ave or at least Leary and an elevator à la Beacon Hill straight up to 15th and Market. Most of the old Soviet systems have entrances fairly far from their platforms for this reason, but the escalators are still screaming along after all these years.

      It’s totally doable, it would just cost more, and I don’t think I would trust anybody at ST to do it right.

      1. Alright, after some calculations it would certainly be unorthodox, but still not impossible. If we assumed a depth of 100 meters, which is the depth of the deepest subway station in the world currently, we’d need an escalator slope of about 10° (compare that with the ~30° slope of most escalators) to get to around Leary. Does anybody know what the depth of a tunneled Ballard station would need to be?

        That would be a weird escalator, more like a moving walkway at that point, but still doable.

      2. Both Market Street and 15th Ave. are huge pedestrian barriers. Whether the Ballard station is elevated or underground, if it ends up at 15th/Market, functionally it sure would be nice to have an entrance on all four corners.

        I will wait for the engineering analysis before making a call on the Ship Canal crossing for Ballard Link. An elevated Ballard station could still have a great vertical transfer to a future Ballard-UW line that is tunneled and continues west towards the vicinity of 24th Ave. As a rider, I would prefer an elevated station due to the view being awesome 100% of the time and the train performing reliably pretty close to 100% of the time, as long as the bridge is sufficiently high. We are going to need another bridge to make the bike/ped connection safe and accessible; it sure would be nice to solve that problem at the same time, if it works out.

      3. Both Market Street and 15th Ave. are huge pedestrian barriers. Whether the Ballard station is elevated or underground, if it ends up at 15th/Market, functionally it sure would be nice to have an entrance on all four corners.

        Yes, I agree completely. That is the type of thing that Al mentioned below: The details of the station themselves (e. g. entrances) matter as much as how the train gets there.

      4. Another advantage to a deep station would be the possibility of a future UW-Ballard line using a shallower level of this station. Since it doesn’t cross the Ship Canal, it could be shallower.

  3. Given the depths involved, this would mean running deep underground through a lot of Ballard.

    No, it doesn’t. Just because TBM’s have given Sound Transit such delightful service does not mean that every tunnel to be dug requires a pair. The ST board has already weaned itself from TBM’s in the Bellevue tunnel and could do so with a Ship Canal crossing.

    The right technology for Bellevue is a “trench, drag and drop” tunnel made of pre-fabricated sections floated into place. Since there’s no large section of waterfront in Salmon Bay to construct the segments, they’d probably have to be cast somewhere along the Duwamish Waterway. The large lock is 80′ by 825′ so the practical maximum size of a segment would be perhaps 75′ x 600′. For ease of placement, perhaps 75′ x 400′ might be the best.

    Please, ST, investigate this type of tunnel. It would save money and allow a shallower crossing. There must be some overburden to prevent damage from a vessel sinking upon it, but it doesn’t have to be deep enough that the soil is fully consolidated.

    The Midtown Station problem is solved by a diagonal tunnel with looooooonnng, not terribly steep escalators from the Mezzanine to a staging Mezzanine about Eighth Avenue and another at Boren. Such a tunnel would be a bit disruptive to dig, but it doesn’t have to be very big, and it doesn’t HAVE to be right on Madison. The Mezzanine will be longer than one block.

    I agree with most of your section on the West Seattle extension except for one point. It’s very difficult to build a decent elevated alignment that allows for the extension to Burien without nuking a half block of development right at California and Alaska. A tunnel allows a curve before the station the sets up a southward extension.

    1. I forgot to add an emphatic, “Seventy-five feet is plenty wide enough to accommodate separate trackways and a middle access compartment.”

    2. Richard, I think you’re closest to the point I’d like to get into this discussion early as possible. 2035 is eighteen years from now. Same time-span back was 1999. We’re not going to be working with our grandchildrens’ grandfathers equipment.

      But WITH two decades of the history, politics, economy, and results of plate tectonics that our grandchildren will share with us, and given the performance of which we’re capable, thank instead of blame us for.

      Right now, these pages need some postings on the geology of our service area, including the water we’ll have to cross, bridge, or dig through. I mean under. Also, how we deal with the moving machinery of the world.

      Meaning we need also need a lot of thinking about how we can work as flexibly as possible, being ready for changed or unexpected conditions on all fronts, with view of turning ill into good. Development of LINK starting well before Forward Thrust carries a lot of valuable lessons.

      First step here: For anything elevated, excavated or bored, add a section view to every plan view. For familiarity, think of colored dots as festive balloons. Which under certain soil conditions, could be good shape for a subway station. Or anything that floats.

      Also, as soon and often as possible, in addition to not yelling at them when they demand another train ride, have your kids have their kids walk along a streetcar line, so like Swedes and Norwegians they can learn to sense approaching trains by vibration and bell-rings.

      You’ve already got enough flickrs (sort of a wdpckr) of Oslo City Hall Plaza to see how valuable this will be on our own Waterfront. With plenty of room for pedicabs, golf-cars, and small battery powered buses, most likely painted green.

      Mark Dublin

    3. I think the deep Ballard station would be required by the depth of Salmon Bay and the maximum allowable grade of the trains, not by the technology used to dig the tunnel (TBM’s unlikely given the short length)

      1. You can think that, but you’d be wrong. Others have posted here that the channel through Salmon Bay is dredged to 35 feet. You’d need about ten feed of overburden and a tunnel cross section of roughly twenty five feet from railhead to the top of the box. That’s sixty feet below the water at railhead. Assume that the entire crossing is flat, and indeed, the channel is much closer to the north bank than the south so any inclination wouldn’t help on the Ballard side, and you need to gain about thirty feet between Forty-fifth and say Fifty-third streets. That’s eight blocks of three hundred feet each, or 2400 feet, very nearly half a mile. Thirty feet in 2400 is one and one-quarter percent!

        You are thinking way too much about Montlake. But HSS is half the distance from the Cut that Market Street is from Salmon Bay, and the sides of the cur must be at least 45 feet high. The problem is close to an order of magnitude greater at HSS than at Market.

        Also, digging a tunnel allows the tunnel to include a service connection to a future Ballard-UW-Kirkland-Redmond line, should it come to fruition. Connecting to the bored tubes under the UW Campus as d.p. advocated would require breaking into both tubes, the northbound one on both sides, in order to construct a cross-over and junction, unless one already exists. Since ST is almost fanatic about not building anything that has not officially been deemed at least “planned”, it’s very unlikely that such a cross-over exists or has been planned for.

      2. As noted before, one way to deal with access to an extremely deep station is to move entrances some distance from the station, with passages sloping downward.

        These can be fitted with moving walkways, elevators that look like small electric railroads like in he US Capitol, and even electric carts, like at Sea-Tac Airport now.

        Man! Got it! Can anybody deny it’s worth the cost to do same thing with UW and Capitol Hill Stations?

        We’ve got serious death-traps down there, and the officials who approved them are probably already costing the taxpayers millions in PTSD treatments for justified guilt.

        This one is worth sacrificing something else expensive for. Or let the UW Athletic Department at least pay for its station. A lot of alumni are probably too far out of shape to get out of there in the dark when the elevators fail.

        Either from Act of God (like the law says, though He’s probably Real Tempted.) Or same reason the one at the Sea-Tac Station bridge always does.

        Capitol Hill Station, fair compensation for the LINK station we should have had but probably legitimately couldn’t. Entrance where Route 43 crosses Pine Street?


    4. “The Midtown Station problem is solved by a diagonal tunnel with looooooonnng, not terribly steep escalators from the Mezzanine to a staging Mezzanine about Eighth Avenue and another at Boren.”

      Do you mean a pedestrian tunnel from 5th to 8th and Boren? That has been suggested, and it would greatly reduce the risk. It would require only one undercrossing of I-5 instead of two, it would be much smaller so presumably cheaper to dig, and if it later proved to be infeasible or too expensive we could drop it without jeapordizing the entire Link line. Either long escalators or moving walkways could be investigated depending on the desired angle.

      But — this would overlap with Madison RapidRide. If RR G achieves its travel-time target of 5 minutes from 1st Avenue to Broadway; isn’t that the same or faster than an escalator underground? I’ve been on the Woodley Park escalator in DC, which takes five minutes, and other escalators in London and Moscow which are almost as long (although 2-3 times faster, but that’s against US regulations somebody said). Is five minutes on an escalator really better than five minutes on a bus in transit lanes, enough to justify a tunnel?

      1. Of course it it is. You can get on the escalator within a few seconds of achieving the Mezzanine level. To transfer to the bus you have to attain the street level, (probably) walk around the corner and wait an average of 2.5 minutes. By that time you’d be past the Eighth Avenue “station” (the flat spot between two escalators with its own entrances.

        And, if you dig the tunnel under Marion you’re a short block from Swedish and right next to Cabrini. It’s just a much nicer experience for a pedestrian.

      2. Also, that’s a HUGE “if”. Five minutes from 1st and Spring to Broadway!!!! Maybe at 9:00 PM.


        Would stop doing this- it really is getting old- if I hadn’t just this minute thought of a Madison BRT bus headed for Colman Dock.

        The Humane Society will probably have me sent to the glue factory, but the horses will probably balloon ridership with future voters, telling their parents that they’ll hold their breath ’til they turn purple if they don’t turn off Dori Monson.

        Fact is, though that Andrew Hallidie invented the San Francisco cable cars because he hated watching horses get shot after breaking bones being picturesque.

        Good image to put in UW donors’ minds in reference to their members trying to get out of UW station with present escalator/elevator situation. True, firearms free zone, but who’ll be able to read signs in the dark?

        Besides, who says the new ramps can’t have either cable cars or…naw, Facilities Maintenance will say it’s low on glue, and the guys’ dogs are hungry.


      4. A station at Boren is going to have to be incredibly deep. It wouldn’t make sense to build all the escalators required to get up to the surface, like DCMetro did at Woodley Park that takes so long. The connection would have to use elevators.

        Which leads back to the point that while a diagonal elevator may take longer than a vertical elevator would, but not by much. That’s why — with the right design — the platform at Fifth and Madison won’t take much longer to reach than at platform at Boren and Madison if a diagonal elevator system was available. I wouldn’t be averse to a two funicular concept either, as that is just another cable-pulled vehicle like a diagonal elevator and could carry more people.

        As far as Madison RapidRide goes, no matter what vehicle gets procured, riders are still going to be moving with the vehicle floors at a slope. That’s reallly awkward for wheelchairs and strollers. Given the slopes required for riders, I view the RapidRide as the less optimum technology for the Madison corridor in the first place.

      5. Al, thank you. Excellent point about the slopes. From Fifth Avenue on it’s not as bad as west of there, but there’s still a significant slope for someone in a wheelchair. I like the idea of sloped elevators or a funicular. They can move much more quickly than an escalator.

        However, they also have limited capacity so there would have to be a wider tunnel to accommodate four cars.

    5. The long throws on the Midtown Station are a great idea! That’s similar to how Paris has their big Les Halles complex, where though it’s not as deep, once you get down into it, you feel like you’re headed there. If I could get “into the station” at Boren and Madison, and then take an escalator or powered sidewalk the rest of the way down to 5th, sure it’s a longish ride, but I feel like i’m in the station.

  4. These are the right places to focus on trade offs. Another big question will be how to design the connection to WS and place the new tunnel portal, as the current proposal will occupy the 5th Ave busway and displace (potentially) buses from approaching downtown using that route from the south.

    And perhaps another will be subway station placement and entrances in the new tunnel. While ST has a good record tunneling, none of their current subway stations has been sited in a built environment as dense as downtown and SLU. Will the city allow them to place cut and cover stations in public right of way? Will they be able to bring station entrances up through existing structures? Lots of money hanging on the answers.

    It’s important to be clear eyed about reality: trade offs that add big bucks are not paid for. ST3 finances are heavily leveraged to max out scope regionally, which makes the trade offs essentially a zero-sum game: if they add cost in one place, they need to reduce cost somewhere else. Who will be the first to volunteer to accept less?

    1. “ST3 finances are heavily leveraged to max out scope regionally,”

      North King’s desires are one of the reasons ST3 is so large. A full rail buildout of a second tunnel, Ballard, and West Seattle couldn’t fit into the 15-year plan. Ballard was the one that would be shortchanged with merely a streetcar or something dinky like that, because West Seattle is a higher political priority. The other budget-buster was Everett and the Paine Field detour, which Snoho said was absolutely essential for Snohomish County jobs and its far highest priority. The other subareas came along for the ride (Tacoma 19th Ave, South King unspecified Sounder improvements, Issaquah-South Kirkland line are the ones I think the extra 10 years are funding).

      “if they add cost in one place, they need to reduce cost somewhere else.”

      More specifically, if they add cost in Ballard, they have to reduce cost somewhere in North King. Some would say West Seattle BRT would be a good place to start, but that’s not feasible politically, so what else instead? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: we don’t know what the costs are yet or whether a reduction would be necessary. That’s what the studies in the next 18 months will give more of an indication of. We also can’t decide Ballard in isolation; it partly depends on how the options in West Seattle play out. If, for instance, they push for a gold-plated West Seattle line (which they’ll probably do because West Seattle activists tend to think in isolation — that’s how we got here in the first place), we’ll need to push back hard and say we need a little of that for Ballard.

      1. West Seattle BRT would be fine (at least by me) as long as it has real right of way, e.g., its own bridge or tunnel from the peninsula to mainland Seattle, not more or less a duplication of Rapid Ride, that gets stretches of right of way road, but drives primarily with the car and truck traffic, which would be an unacceptable long term solution for a neighborhood rapidly growing in population and car traffic.

        Apparently ST wasn’t interested in anything like a stand alone bridge or tunnel for real BRT for West Seattle?

    2. “trade offs essentially a zero-sum game: if they add cost in one place, they need to reduce cost somewhere else” – or, projects get delayed. Costs need to fit within ST3’s cash flows, not some fixed overall budget. If the region decides to gold-plate everything, then that simply means it will take longer to deliver all the projects.

      IMO, if the region decides both Ballard & WS merit tunnels, one option is to break Ballard into two sections. Open a the downtown tunnel to Smith Cove first, and then build the Interbay to Ballard section a few years later.

  5. The Midtown station must move East. Harborview is the highest level trauma hospital for 5 states. Harborview also serves as the Disaster Medical Control Center for Seattle/King County. It must be served by our light rail system which has been designed to be resilient to severe natural disasters. If I-5 crumbed on to 5&6th avenue during the dreaded earthquake, we need a reliable way to access the critical safety resources available on first hill.

    Ridership as well will be greatly improved by moving East, closer to the dense residential and employment center that is First Hill.

    1. Nobody is going to take trauma victims to the hospital on light rail trains. It’s just not going to happen unless they fall ill or are injured on the train or at a station. And if at a station they’ll likely still go in an ambulance.

      1. Richard, considering chance of an earthquake, which our responders consider their first disaster preoccupation, might be a good idea to design our tunnel precisely to carry casualties and emergency equipment.

        Even getting a fleet of gondola (not the cable type) and flatcars. And designing vertical shafts with cranes to lift the equipment, and casualties, to the surface.

        To get past the tons of rubble blocking every single ambulance route in the city. With a lot of conditions in the calculation, formula is the opposite of flying, where altitude is safety.

        Have read that the destructive force of an earthquake rolls the ground near the surface, leaving deeper levels still workable.

        Have also read that subways in other ‘quake-prone places in the world are fitted with shock absorbers to help them cope. So all is surmountable.

        Breadbaker, something else to think about. Considering the massive (literally) structures already in place under the Seattle CBD, might be best to route the subway in the Boren direction, and build cross-passages as long as necessary from Downtown.

        Under Fifth Avenue, I think there are already underground shopping malls a block or two each way from the street. Since distance probably too long to walk for many, airport-style moving walkways probably best. Or miniature railways, more or less horizontal elevators.

        Might not be the only place where we can give ourselves some choices about station entrances by thinking horizontally. To meet elevator shafts up to hospitals and other surface destinations.


    2. The Midtown station placed anywhere east of I-5 misses hundreds of thousands of potential commuters for the value of what exactly? Put aside the cost, the number of people who would be served by it will be cut by easily 80%. I walk up First Hill on my way to a relative’s house all times of day, and compared to the number of pedestrians west of I-5 it’s like a ghost town. Let those people take the First Hill streetcar to Chinatown.

      1. No, you have it backwards. You actually increase ridership substantially by putting it in a different neighborhood. If you are on a train that goes through the old tunnel, then you make a transfer. But not if it is at 5th and Madison. That is so close to the other stations, that it just isn’t worth it.

        Keep in mind that most riders are likely to be going through the old tunnel. That makes sense, just because it has more stops. So that means that a stop on Madison is somewhat dependent on transfers.

        As for First Hill being not worth it, I disagree. No one is saying that it is as large as downtown, but there is substantial employment there, with the hospitals and an increasing amount of offices. There is also an increasing amount of residential housing as well.

        As for the streetcar, it is irrelevant, since it is so slow and convoluted, it doesn’t make sense to take it. Buses, especially the Madison BRT, will be important. But for those close to a subway stop up the hill, it would make more sense to transfer to the other train, rather than the bus. Imagine they add a stop at Boren and Madison, and you are headed to one of the hospitals. You can transfer in one of the rail stations and be there fairly quickly. Or you can ride the train to Seneca, walk a couple blocks, and then take the bus.

      2. “Keep in mind that most riders are likely to be going through the old tunnel. That makes sense, just because it has more stops.”

        The old tunnel will have a lot more riders not because it has two more stations in the DSTT, but because that’s where the riders from UW, Bellevue, Redmond, and Snohomish County will be. Neither Ballard, West Seattle, or Beacon/Rainier is as large as those. (For South King County and Pierce, the distance and travel time will have an intrinsic dampening effect on ridership.)

      3. I agree, Mike, but I think you missed my point. For the most part, ST could route folks anywhere. But the old tunnel is better than the new tunnel, because it has more stops. Given the choice, it makes sense to send the largest group of people to the best tunnel. Therefore, ST is going to route the folks from Capitol Hill, UW, and places north to the new tunnel.

        Regardless of their thinking, though, we are in agreement in terms of ridership in the respective tunnels; the old tunnel will have a lot more.

    3. 5th and Madison is half a mile from IDS and 0.4 miles from Westlake station via 5th Avenue. It’s the densest part of downtown and even more skyscrapers are being planned there now that are significantly denser than anything exiting or planned on First Hill. Most of the area around Midtown Station is offices, which is a much higher density of use per square foot than residential towers. It’s the location of the Central Library and Madison RapidRide will soon be built to traverse up and down Madison. Forcing tons of additional folks (who really want to go to the “Midtown” area of 5th/Madison) to transfer in and out of Central Link at Westlake or IDS would likely require long dwell times which would introduce operational headaches. For all the benefits of serving First Hill, I don’t believe it will come close to penciling out in the end. Let’s go ahead and study it, because intuition isn’t enough, but basically, I think it ain’t gonna happen. 5th/Madison seems like a great station location to me.

      The diagonal escalator idea is definitely worth pursuing. Station access and walking times to/from the platform, elevator capacity, rail-rail transfers and rail-bus transfers (I’m looking at you, UW and Mount Baker) are all vitally important and will require constant vigilance on our part, as ST’s prior efforts on those are consistently sub-par.

      1. YES! The transfer at Westlake is going to be terrible! Up to the Mezzanine level, through a tunnel and then down to the platform, both directions. And it’s not clear how long the tunnel between the two stations will be. The “example” shows the station under Seventh Avenue. Now that’s great for access to the Convention Center; folks will be able to walk underground avoiding traffic lights from Westlake most of the way. But for daily line-to-line transfers, it will be quite a hike. It won’t be like the three crossing stations on the Washington DC Metro which are quite efficient.

        The transfer at IDS will probably be slightly less terrible, if there is an underground connection. If everyone has to go up to the surface to transfer, cross Fifth Avenue and then descend, it will be a mess.

        Folks from West Seattle headed to Midtown will certainly transfer at SoDo, especially if the transfer is done well there.

      2. 5th and Madison is definitely a good spot for a station. The original downtown bus tunnel (now called the transit tunnel) almost had a stop at Madison. They basically ran out of money, and didn’t put one there.

        The problem with the stop *on the new line* is that it doesn’t add any value. The same can be said for Westlake, I.D. and SoDo, but those are all required because they are all transfer points. But a stop at Madison is simply too close to the other stops. It is the worst of both worlds, really. Not worth a transfer if you are on the other line, but not as good as the two stops on the other line.

        A stop on First Hill is different. If this was the only line through downtown, then of course you wouldn’t put the stop up there. But it isn’t, and spending billions for a second tunnel without having one new stop is really a waste.

        he transfer at Westlake is going to be terrible! Up to the Mezzanine level, through a tunnel and then down to the platform, both directions. And it’s not clear how long the tunnel between the two stations will be.

        Well, now, that is the big issue then, isn’t it. I am really starting to think that Al (and other commenters) are right. We are worrying about the big, expensive stuff (tunnels under the canal, tunnels under the freeway, tunnels in West Seattle, etc.) and not the station details, which are way more important. Westlake will be the most important transfer point in the entire system. It connects the north end (Capitol Hill/UW/Roosevelt, etc.) to South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. That right there makes for a lot of transfers, but there will also be same direction transfers, even if the station is at 5th and Madison. If I’m standing at 3rd and James, and want to get to South Lake Union (or Uptown) then I will enter the station right there. I don’t want to have walk all the way up to 5th and Madison. If the transfer at Westlake is terrible, then Link is irrelevant to me. I will take a bus, which means we are no better off than we are now.

        We better get that transfer right, or we will have spent a bundle on a very weak subway system.

      3. Thanks RossB. I guess I look at a rail systems differently. I vision how someone will actually use the system in the future, rather than look at its neighborhood intrusion or political success story. I am much more concerned about how it will WORK for a user than how it will LOOK to a resident. I also think about how the trains will operate, having spent way too many hours of my life waiting for trains because of operational problems that originated partly from bad design.

        I have spent 22 years living in other metro areas where my daily travels included using two lines. We don’t fully have that in Seattle yet. Because there isn’t a clear local experience yet available, it’s very important to pay attention to those of us that have visited and in particular lived in situations where using rail is part of daily travel.

        I get particularly concerned when ST management and board are peppered with people that never really lived for years with other rail systems so they don’t have that fundamental perspective. They may be talented, but they can’t understand the nuances. It’s too bad that there isn’t a way to add more people in this category on the board. Hiring national firms to do studies helps a bit, but a private firm is not going to push issues too hard (if at all) because they don’t want to hurt their reputation within an agency.

        I’m grateful for this blog for giving voice to these things. ST has citizen review panels and peer review panels from other cities, but they don’t have a panel of riders who have regularly commuted on rail in other cities and now live here reviewing things and being heard. I appreciate it when the blog has open forums featuring other cities — and want to see the comments about what was done well or badly when it comes to these cities.

        I hope that more posters are inspired to discuss the bad and good experiences while using transit in other cities. Because we are moving into early design of a major system expansion, I think that it’s important to show examples of how bad station design leaves a legacy for decades and point out mistakes that ST may be making. It’s also important to educate those that don’t have this perspective on what we see as important.

      4. “Station access and walking times to/from the platform, elevator capacity, rail-rail transfers and rail-bus transfers (I’m looking at you, UW and Mount Baker) are all vitally important and will require constant vigilance on our part, as ST’s prior efforts on those are consistently sub-par.”

        I think this should be gospel for transit advocates. The whole gamble of investing heavily in light rail requires us to make stations extremely useful and accessible, but so far access has been an after thought.

        These future stations will all present major challenges to good bus transfers which will be essential if we want to really transform our transit network. In general, I think we need more focus on ideas for how to expand the walking, biking and transit sheds of light rail stations rather than pursuing diminishing returns trying to make a perfect train.

  6. A couple thoughts on what will be driving opinions on the West Seattle alignment. Aesthetics, scale, and neighborhood character are beloved words here. Neighborhood groups are pushing back against HALA expansion of urban villages, including rezoning SFR to LR right around the initially proposed station around Avalon. That leads me to believe a concrete viaduct of any kind will not be welcomed warmly.

    SDOT had an uphill battle to convince people to accept years of construction on Fauntleroy Way, starting soon ( With this as a proposed route for Link, that means more, probably uncoordinated construction and additional years of closed streets and parking for the businesses.

    The Delridge alignment cuts across some rare LR land that’s already being built out, so demolishing newly built townhomes will be expensive and wasteful. I live in the area and don’t care how they route the train – I just want it built grade separated, but I imagine many people will be fighting against elevated rail here and elsewhere along the route, especially the Junction and even the small, and currently mostly SFH neighborhood around Avalon.

    Hopefully these issues are minor and everything shakes out fine. I do think we’ll need people to advocate strongly for stations with the best walksheds and have to continue making the case that rail is worth the short term pains of construction and change.

    1. >> That leads me to believe a concrete viaduct of any kind will not be welcomed warmly [in West Seattle]

      Then why in heavens name did they push for it? This just seems like buyer’s regret. The leaders were quite clear — if you wanted rail, then the only way to afford it was to run elevated. There were bus based alternatives (ones I championed) that would have been far less disruptive (and more effective, in my opinion) but those were rejected. It was clear every step of the way that West Seattle leaders (including Dow Constantine himself) wanted rail, no matter the cost (to fellow citizens or the community). Now that it’s finally going to happen, they are whining that it isn’t going to be pretty, and want us all to spend extra money on what already is going to be the least cost effective rail project in the city. It would be horribly unfair to spend extra money on West Seattle rail while there are lots of projects in other parts of town that are obviously a better value.

      Oh,and before folks start accusing me of being a West Seattle hater, I can tell you that I personally like West Seattle. My brother and sister live there. My mom died there. But if she were alive to today, she would say that digging a tunnel at this point is just not a good value. We have bigger, more important things to build instead.

    2. I used to be on #TeamTunnel to the West Seattle Junction, but after reviewing the detailed alignments in the linked West Seattle Blog post, I favor the elevated plan for constructability reasons.

      ST believes that Alaska Street is wide enough to build elevated rail with a station on a block that already has 5-story buildings on each side. Based on ST’s actions elsewhere, they will not excavate and build a station box in a similarly-sized right of way, but instead condemn and adjacent block and build the station there. There is no available space to build this station box in the heart of the West Seattle Junction (the NW & NE corners of the Alaska/California intersection have recently landmarked historic buildings, and the SE corner has a newly construction 6-story apartment).

      So, counter-intuitively, the elevation alignment will have less impact on the neighborhood than a subway. Furthermore, ST proposed to stick the rails way up in the air, 50-70 feet along most of the alignment, so deep shadows like in Chicago are unlikely.

  7. The West Seattle conversation around the tunnel vs elevated to the Junction seems to ignore completely the connection issues. I’m not sure the Junction is the correct temporary terminus for LR at all.
    Where will all the busses go to load and unload the LR traffic?
    Will the RR C line still operate?
    Cars will not magically disappear once LR begins service, where will all the kiss and ride drop-offs be? What impact will there be on necessary peninsula traffic?
    There are over 100,000 people in WS.
    Larger population than Aberdeen, Shelton, Wenatchee, and WallaWalla combined.
    And they all do not leave in the morning.
    Some things I think should be discussed in planning stages.
    So far, I’ve seen not much about this.

    1. I can answer some of your questions, but not all.

      Junction was chosen as the terminus because studies predicted the highest ridership there, by far. And this terminus is only “temporary” if there is an ST4 vote, which Olympia is unlikely to allow in my lifetime without a massive shift in statewide political power.

      Bus / rail transfers will likely happen at existing or new curbside stops near the stations. Space is at a premium so there will not likely be any new off-street transit centers, and no buses will terminate at the stations. More detailed information doesn’t exist yet because exact potential station locations haven’t yet been developed. All we know is one “near” alaska / 41st, one “near” avalon / genessee, and one “near” delridge / andover. They’re not going to want to knock down any large buildings for these, so the stations are likely to end up at least a couple blocks away from these locations.

      RR-C will still operate and cross the West Seattle Bridge, as will the 120, 21, etc. I personally think it’s a bad idea and a waste of money to keep shoving buses through the congested, single-lane 1959 viaduct onramp when there will be a parallel grade-separated-rail option, but the plan is to keep it operating.

      Kiss-and-ride space will probably curbside drop offs on side streets. That will likely be up to SDOT. If street parking is at a premium in popular drop-off areas, 3-minute “white zones” will probably be added. But without exact station locations who can know. Kiss-and-ride traffic to the rainier valley stations has been light with most riders walking or busing, and the only one with a formal kiss-and-ride zone built by Sound Transit(mt baker) sees it used extremely rarely.

      You haven’t seen much about this yet because the planning stages for these specific routings only began 3 weeks ago, and will be continuing for a year and a half. Previous planning phases have only meant to identify general corridors, general service type, and general station areas. This next phase is where we figure out all the hard specifics.

      1. >> RR-C will still operate and cross the West Seattle Bridge, as will the 120, 21, etc.

        Wow, I really doubt it. One of the few arguments for West Seattle rail instead of congestion free bus service is that you save money by truncating buses. Yes, it is worse for the (vast majority of) riders who have to transfer just to get downtown, but better for the system overall. You move those buses somewhere else. Spend billions to save millions.

        But now you are saying we won’t even save millions. The buses will still keep going, over the freeway, and through downtown. This would kill ridership. Only a handful of people live close to the stations. At best you are talking Rainier Valley ridership, which means about 2,000 a station, or only 6,000 total. And that is being generous — the Junction station is fine, but the other two stations will be next to the freeway, where very few people live. There just aren’t that many walk-up riders on the West Seattle line. If you don’t truncate the train there, ridership will be extremely low, especially outside rush hour (when buses run pretty fast). That would likely create a downward spiral (low ridership, bad headways) and next thing you know, you’ve spent billions on a subway line with fewer people than nearby buses.

        Sorry, I don’t see it. If Metro can truncate buses in the north end, and force people to transfer to Link at Husky Stadium (one of the worst for making transfers) then they can truncate buses in West Seattle (or just send them elsewhere).

      2. Cool your jets, I was wrong.

        I wrongly assumed that because the Rapidride H (nee 120) was not going to be truncated in Metro’s long term plan, then neither were the other WSB routes. This is what I get for fixating on “my” route.

        Upon reviewal, I see that, actually RR-H and a highly modified route 116 are in fact the ONLY station-serving frequent all-day buses that’s will continue to cross the West Seattle Bridge.
        And the RR-H will be moved from the hellish viaduct/WSB cloverleaf onto the 1st Ave S ramps, which are slightly less hellish. It will still be way faster during rush hour to make a transfer at the Delridge station than to navigate 1st & 4th. But RR-H won’t go all the way into downtown, it will end at IDS.

        RR-C and the 21, along with a number of less frequent routes, will be modified to serve both northern and southern west seattle, with the stations at their midpoints.

      3. Right, that makes more sense. But still, keep in mind that nothing is written in stone. As the website for the long range plan makes very clear:

        This map is not a service change proposal, but a long range vision developed for the purpose of generating representative costs and benefits. Final decisions on project elements or alignments will require additional outreach, analysis, engineering and appropriate council or board approval. Elements on this map should not be construed as a commitment that all representative features will be included in the final projects.

        Running the 120 towards downtown sounds reasonable. What it does when down there is anyone’s guess. It could just go through downtown on First, or maybe up to First Hill. It seems silly to just stop in the I. D., but at least it is better than stopping at SoDo. It also wouldn’t shock me if Metro does make a more substantial change, and simply sends the bus to Alki, making everyone who is headed downtown transfer. That saves money when you need it most (during rush hour) but it hurts people the most when it is relatively cheap to run a bus (when traffic is light). If the bus does go through downtown (on First, for example) then it will hammer ridership, even if it is marginally faster to transfer (and I’m not convinced it will be). Ridership isn’t always about rush hour, but about all day travel.

      4. What I personally advocated for in the past was combing the 120 with 21. Up delridge, hit the link station, buzz over to Avalon station mostly empty, run back down 35th. But the future plans for the 21 make that suggestion irrelevant. An Alki routing still makes sense, though (or into some other underserved northern neighborhood; there are plenty).

        One nice thing about the current plan with IDS terminus instead of delridge station, is that it would be one connection to 3 Link lines; no need to transfer.

      5. RapidRide C will continue going downtown in the 5-year interim between when the SODO stub opens and when DSTT2 is finished. After that it will turn into a north-south Alki-Burien line. For those who don’t want to transfer to Link there will be a Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU Express and a Delridge RapidRide. I’m less concerned about whether they’ll go specifically to 3rd Avenue, First Hill, or SLU; we can figure that out later when the concrete proposals come out.

    2. “I’m not sure the Junction is the correct temporary terminus for LR at all.”

      Link must go to the Junction, whether now or in a later phase, because that’s the center of the urban village and pedestrian trips. You don’t want a station three blocks away like Columbia City station; that just depresses ridership and makes Link less useful. Link will probably have a stub beyond the Junction for the future Burien extension. As for terminating short of the Junction, only if it’s temporary. But the current timeline is so drawn out and ST4 is so uncertain that I can’t see not going to the Junction in this phase, because that’s where the bulk of riders and transfers are.

  8. It seems to me that running at-grade in Interbay might be a viable option. Specifically alongside the existing BNSF right of way. Of course it would only make sense if most of the existing overpasses could be used as-is. Station placement could still be pretty ideal.

    1. Yes. And having the Dravus Station next to the rail yard puts it closer to East Magnolia. Given that no views are impacted there, and the grade is much easier than that of West Queen Anne, high rise development there is much more likely than on West Queen Anne.

      And finally, it makes a tunnel under 17th possible. Having a station between 54th and 56th under 17th Avenue seems the ideal location for a Central Ballard Station.

      1. I feel like it might be a 6 of one / half a dozen of the other situation, but there’s already a good deal of multifamily construction on the lower portion of west queen anne hill, near the future Dravus station. Bird in the hand vs bush, etc.

      2. Because there is “already a good deal of multi-family construction…” there won’t be high rise construction on the “lower portion of West Queen Anne hill”. There can be on East Magnolia.

    2. That’s one of the options ST is considering: at grade in the expressway or the western railroad ROW. Either one would be immune to level crossings. That’s why ST chose the Interbay alternative, because it had those inexpensive possibilities.

      1. They’ll never get two protected lanes on 15th West. If it’s to be at-grade it’ll have to be next to the railyard.

  9. Sound Transit might go the cheap route on the Ship Canal crossing (especially since West Seattle gets light rail)? Who would have thunk it? /s

    If only someone warned us, maybe we could have chosen a different route.
    (cough, Ballard to UW, cough)

  10. The fourth item — arguably as important as any of the top three — is that the Ballard station be designed for an east-west line as well. It doesn’t have to be a Wye. It is unlikely that trains carrying people will make the turn from Wallingford to Interbay — it is far more likely that the train line extend to 24th Ave. NW, which would be a better station than most of the stations in our system (built or planned). Even if the train just goes from the UW to Ballard, a Wye is not essential on either end. If Ballard to UW was the only line to Ballard, then a Wye at the UW would have provided substantial added benefit (trains could have kept going from Ballard to downtown) but with (eventually) two different ways to get downtown, it would be nice to have, but not essential. If we did add a Wye, then adding it at the U-District would provide more value (the stops on either end of that station are higher ridership than those on either end of Ballard).

    So a Wye isn’t necessary, but you will need a non-service connection somewhere, and it may be that accommodating that with the new station is cheaper than at the U-District station. More than anything, the station should be designed from the very beginning to accommodate an east-west line. I don’t think much work was done on the U-District station in that regard. Failing to think about the future just means you spend a lot more money retrofitting things later on.

    1. Failing to think about the future just means you spend a lot more money retrofitting things later on.”

      EXACTLY! Very well said. This motto should be on the wall of every Sound Transit meeting room.

      Thank you for stating it so succinctly.

    2. Yes! The 45th line is in ST’s long-range plan, so it should be planning a transfer station stub for it. As it didn’t do in U-District. Or at least ST won’t tell us what stub features it included, which probably means it didn’t include any. I don’t know whether a wye or some other alternative is technically better, but in any case ST needs to start showing in station designs how a future cross line or branch would be accommodated. ST did this for the Burien-Renton line: it showed two alternatives, one joining the existing track just before TIB station and then diverging afterward, the other with a second TIB station. It needs to do this for U-District and Ballard!!

      And, ahem, for the ST4 Bothell line (which ST’s LRP says will terminate at Northgate, although it could go through to Ballard, or terminate at 145tth or Roosevelt).

  11. Lack, you should be ashamed of yourself for the fearmongering on the West Seattle website. A junction station wouldn’t have to be 100 feet deep, and you know it. The overburden of a station shell is perhaps five feet, a reasonable Mezzanine eleven floor to ceiling, the floor three feet to allow for cables and A/C, and the platform cavern twenty five with a five foot foundation. That’s forty-nine feet, almost exactly half your alarmist figure.

    Would there be disruption around the Junction? Of course, but a tunnel doesn’t have to be under California; it can be under Forty-Second SW, and the Avalon District station could be at 35th and Fauntleroy, bracketing the “East Junction” district slated for high rise re-development.

    The line will have to cross the Delridge Valley on an elevated structure. There are no views to be protected at north and northeast Pigeon Point which are not already disrupted by the freeway bridge. There’s no value in a tunnel here. The ideal place for a station is around Dakota right on Delridge, but that then means that a curve off of Delridge has to be made at Gennessee, but that’s difficult to do without taking the southeast corner of the block on the northwest corner of the intersection. The benefit of a station on Delridge at this location is that buses to and from the south can pick-up and drop-off then turn at Yancey. A one-block bus only street could connect the two disconnected pieces of the street. From there buses could turn left at Avalon for a straight shot at Admiral and Harbor Way. Buses would not have to endure the poor intersections underneath the West Seattle Freeway at Delridge. There’s already a bus lane on Avalon down the hill to Spokane.

    1. I don’t remember exactly what you’re talking about because the west seattle blog ST3 discussion was a long time ago, but I think the comment you’re referring to was in response to a commenter who wanted the tracks to punch underground *at Delridge* with no elevated anything anywhere near the golf course. More commenters wanted tunneled from below the Duwamish, putting the tracks even lower.

      If you’re underground at delridge, let alone the Duwamish, then you’re going to be extremely deep at the top of the hill, period.

      The only reasonable undergrounding the Junction could get is maybe a shallow cut & cover starting somewhere west of Avalon, nothing like the “underground it all!” talk that I was hearing.

      1. OK, I apologize. I agree completely that it must be elevated through Delridge for exactly the reason you’ve stated. If it goes west on Genessee it’s next to a park and only impacting the north side of three blocks. Grant, it is an impact.

        However, I think that it should go into the hillside just below Avalon and Genesee, have a station at 35th and Fauntleroy then continue west under Dakota, curving south to a station just south of Alaska under 42nd. Those two station bracket the area of West Seattle targeted for dense growth.

      2. Not Dakota. Oregon. Apologies. It has to be deep enough, though to make the curve to 42nd SW without taking out too many homes.

    2. If somebody wants to golf without an ugly train ruining the experience, there’s Jefferson Park.

    3. I’m not sure how extensive and out-of-the-box the initial studies were. I would be open to some independent thinking to the alignment.

      A few examples:

      – I’ve toyed with how to negotiate the widely variable terrain and obstacles between the Alaska Junction area and SODO station, wondering if the bridge should be a few blocks south of the West Seattle Bridge or where the best southward jog would occur.

      – I’ve also toyed with the idea about the cost and ridership differences of two underground stations in West Seattle rather than three surface ones. One underground station could be between Delridge and 28th, and a second one could be under Fauntleroy between Oregon and Alaska, splitting the differences between the three proposed station locations.

      – I’ve also toyed with the idea of how stations could be surface or aerial, while the tracks in between could be underground. I’m not sure of the best way to do that though. The advantage of doing that is that it’s very expensive to build an underground station, while underground tracks are easier. We just went through that discussion in Bellevue.

      As far as the golf course goes, holes can be shortened, and surface lines and stations can be built on the ground, with natural lids put on top (like I-90 in Mercer Island or between 23rd and MLK) , adding topsoil and grass on top of and nearby to protect the golf course experience. It’s much cheaper to add dirt through re-landscaping than it is to dig through rocks!

  12. I’m not too bright about the engineering side of things, but instead of drilling a tunnel, would a “Transbay Tube” (BART) type of tunnel be possible under Salmon Bay?

  13. All three of these items sound expensive and risky. I’m not sure where the money is supposed to come from. But if we have to choose, the second option is clearly better than the other two.

    A) A relatively inexpensive bridge would include a drawbridge that would open fairly frequently. Neither Seattle Subway, nor anyone else has ever produced data to support that claim, despite repeating it several times. It reminds me of the rumor about the vent shafts in Montlake, that many people thought limited the headways of the trains. Thankfully, Martin actually asked a ST rep about it, and she put the silly rumor to bed. ( The fact is, we have very few facts about this proposed bridge, the operations of the trains, or how often a delay could occur. But here is what we know:

    1) It will be higher than our tallest draw bridge. This means it won’t open that often.

    2) Like all our bridges, it will never open during rush hour.

    3) Bridge operators (all of them) have the power to delay a boat. They can’t tell them to come back hours later (unless it is rush hour) but they can tell them to wait five minutes. It happens all the time.

    4) There will be a gap between when the trains cross. If the trains are perfectly synchronized (i. e. meet over the ship canal at the same time) then the gap is exactly the headways on both trains. If they are completely out of sync, then the gap will be exactly half of that. If the trains are somewhere in between, then the gap will vary, from less than half, to more than half.

    5) A bridge opening averages about four minutes, from stopping traffic to letting traffic resume at the end of an opening. (

    6) Unlike traffic delays, the only delay will occur if it takes longer for a bridge to open and close than the allocated gap.

    We can also make educated guesses about the system, such as:

    7) The train will operate at most every six minutes. outside of rush hour. Personally I think this is optimistic. Right now, the train connects the most important parts of our system (UW, Capitol Hill and downtown) but only runs every ten minutes.

    So, with that in mind, let’s run through some scenarios: Worse case scenario, the train runs every 6 minutes, the trains meet every 3 minutes over the canal, and it takes a 4 minutes for the bridge to open. That would mean a 1 minute delay.

    A more realistic scenario is this: The train runs every 10 minutes. The gap over the canal varies between 4 and 6 minutes. The operator waits until the 6 minute gap, and a train never gets delayed.

    You really have to be a pessimist to assume this will be a problem. You have to assume that the trains are out of sync, there are lots of really big boats, and we happen to be running trains every six minutes at 7:00 PM.

    Now there are other advantages and disadvantages to a drawbridge. First, like a high bridge, it is more enjoyable for the rider. Aside from just being a better experience, this also leads to higher ridership, which in turn leads to better farebox recovery. But it is more likely to break down, and thus will likely require more money to maintain. As Richard pointed out previously, it is probably easier to connect a tunnel (in Ballard) to another tunnel (heading east-west). But as I said up above, that really is the key point. If it is much cheaper and easier in the long run to have a tunnel so that you can build the Ballard to UW subway, then so be it. But if that can be achieved via an above ground station, then above ground (whether high bridge or drawbridge) seems like the way to go. I seriously doubt that avoiding a delay of this nature will ever be worth the money, nor do I think the cost of maintaining a bridge is substantial compared to actually digging a tunnel (or having an extraordinarily long subway line, for that matter). I would much rather take the money that would go into a tunnel, and put it into extending the line to 65th and 85th. Or building the next item:

    B) Pushing the station up Madison changes the nature of our system. Suddenly the second downtown tunnel adds substantial value, as opposed to simply being built because we failed to provide sufficient headways from the beginning. As Martin pointed out, a station at 5th and Madison is fine, but it is so close to the other stations, that it might as well be the other stations. This means that no one would transfer to get to that station. They would never wait for the train that serves that station. But put that station on the other side of the freeway, and lots of people transfer. You’ve suddenly added the most popular new station in all of West Seattle Link (which goes from Westlake to West Seattle). If we can find money, that is what we should pay for.

    C) Spending extra money to bury the West Seattle line sounds nice, but that is not what we agreed to. The West Seattle leadership made it clear — they wanted rail. Even when told that rail would cost more — they still wanted rail. Even when told it would be elevated — they wanted rail. If you aren’t happy that this will be ugly, then fire your leadership (Dow Constantine would be a good candidate). As it is, West Seattle rail is by far the least productive project per dollar spent in Seattle. Even measured by ridership per dollar, it is bad, but it is far worse when you throw in the time saved (for each rider) per dollar. Spending even more on a tunnel just makes it horribly unfair. There are thousands of people in the city, waiting for substantial transit improvements that live in far more densely populated areas. It just seems wrong to gold plate a system that arguably should never have been built, while they sit wondering if anything can be done to improve transit in their neighborhood.

    One of those neighborhoods is of course, First Hill. Yes, they will get Madison BRT, and that will definitely be an improvement. But a station on First Hill would be much better, and complement the bus service quite nicely.

    1. Here’s a summary of the bridge alternatives to make sure we’re all talking about the same thing:
      – 35′ bridge: same as the current Ballard Bridge.
      – 70′ bridge: ST’s default choice, would only open for the few tallest sailboats.
      – 130′ bridge: would never open, like the Aurora Bridge. Would preclude a ped/bike sidewalk serving shoreline areas because of the height to go up/down.
      A 130′ bridge is probably out because I haven’t heard squeak for it since last year. Seattle may be able to convince ST on a 35′ bridge. I think 70′ is fine. Seattle Subway says tunnel or bust.

      The ST3 vote was essentially cost ceiling. So the question is what will fit within it. We can suggest things and let ST figure that out. We shouldn’t preclude something just because we think it’s too expensive because maybe it wouldn’t be: it all depends on how the total North King options and more detailed cost estimates come out. If it’s too expensive, ST will just say no. But we need to get ST to distinguish between “can’t afford it” and “don’t want to do it”, because we should know clearly why we’re not getting something.

      “The train will operate at most every six minutes. outside of rush hour. Personally I think this is optimistic. Right now, the train connects the most important parts of our system (UW, Capitol Hill and downtown) but only runs every ten minutes.”

      Ross, Ross, in twenty years the population will be higher and ridership higher (unless there’s a tech crash, major earthquake, or WWIII, and people leave the region). So 10-minutes off-peak is OK now but may not be in a couple decades. There’s also my hope that driving SOVs will become less popular as time goes on. A bigger issue is that if we need 6-minutes off-peak, then we would probably need more peak, and that would strain MLK. Unless people spread out their work schedules more by then, which is a possibility.

      “Spending extra money to bury the West Seattle line sounds nice, but that is not what we agreed to. The West Seattle leadership made it clear — they wanted rail. Even when told that rail would cost more — they still wanted rail. Even when told it would be elevated — they wanted rail.”

      Burying West Seattle would hit the cost ceiling I mentioned above. If West Seattle voted for an elevated budget while hoping they’d later convince ST for a tunnel, that was foolish. If West Seattle would rather have no train than an elevated train, there’s still time to tell their politicians and ST to dust off that bus alternative. But the opportunity window for that will close soon. After that, you’ll just have to see whether we can afford to be unobtrusive around the golf course.

    2. Per the city’s website, the current ballard bridge is 44′ clearance, not 35′. But the underside of the movable leaves is arched, having low-hanging trusses near the pivot points, so the 44′ is only in the center where the leaves meet; 35′ may be a measurement to the lowest point. A modern replacement would not have such low hanging trusswork and would be a more consistent high clearance all the way across.

    3. When they rebuilt the BN bridge over the Willamette in 1989, it was converted from a swing span to a vertical lift span. Supposedly the vertical lift spans are the fastest of moving bridge types. It means replacing the cables every so often as required by law.

      So, it might be worth looking at what different bridge types get you.

      The BNSF bridge has 200 foot clearance when fully lifted, and while it seems like it takes forever when you are on a train waiting for it, I don’t think it takes a full 4 minutes.

  14. The way that stations are designed will affect all of these things. How our new stations have pedestrian tentacles (walkways) as well as elevators and escalators and moving sidewalks affect how users use the station and how much attractiveness to the stations are for surrounding property owners.

    – Midtown Station can be linked all the way from Fifth to Boren by underground escalators and a diagonal elevator (like Hudson Yards has). If riders are in elevators anyway, why not just make them diagonal?

    – Any Ballard Station site can be wonderful or terrible depending on where the entrances are and how riders will change levels to get to trains.

    – Any West Seattle Station can be linked a few blocks to California with tunnels or a walkway.

    The principals of station design are very important in easing a more expensive set of track bores and be better for the rider experience. These details are what matters more to me as a rider!

    At this point, I think some street-to-platform walking travel time design standards or at least measures are needed. If people have to cross streets, they have to wait up to a minute, and that’s a disincentive, especially in inclimate weather. If people have to walk down steps or use an elevator, that adds time too. Creating measures now will help ST and communities to define the best station layouts as cost trade-offs are made. Each design option should report walk times to key destinations and the size of walk sheds from the platform to the neighborhood as alternatives develop.

    Finally, on a related matter, the six transfer points at SODO, IDC, Westlake, Wilburton, East Main and Tacoma Dome (or wherever transfer points end up) deserve special attention for connectivity as thousands of riders each day will be making these rail-rail transfers.

    1. To put it in broad terms, design is always about form, function and cost. We have great visualizations in our mind for form and a pretty good understanding of how to cost (ignoring ST’s systemic lowncobtingencies). Now is the time we need to give input on function or the debates will focus mostly on form and cost — and that’s a disservice to the daily riders!

    2. I agree. Seemingly small things matter a lot. Mount Baker Station is a great example of this. On paper, it looks great. Seriously, look at the wonderful transit map Oran wrote ( and it seems like it should be a very popular station. It is a major confluence of a lot of frequent bus routes. Look up those bus routes, and they are all very popular — the 48, 8, and 7 are all top bus routes ( Population density is not really high there, but not much lower than most of our stops. But if you look at the numbers, the station just doesn’t get that many riders. What gives?

      The station is terrible. Or, as Martin put so well, awful: Sound Transit had the right idea in general, but then fumbled the ball when it came to the details. Details matter, and we shouldn’t make the same type of mistake with these other projects. It is probably more important to get those sorts of details right, than it is to worry too much about tunnels or even directly serving First Hill.

      1. I agree that Mt Baker Station is a classic example of thoughtlessness to functional connectivity.

        For example, had the Mt Baker Station platforms been 10 feet higher and a mezzanine added, along with a mezzanine pedestrian crossing for Rainier as well as an included mezzanine entry for adjacent buildings (maybe with restaurants), we would be so much more happy to transfer there. But they didn’t. Why? Is it because no one important convinced ST to define functional requirements or measures in the first place?

        Let’s push ST to define these functional things now and not wait for the open houses to force the issue!

      2. The Mt. Baker ped bridge is not terrible. Yes, it would be better if it just connected to the platform level instead of forcing you to go up, down, and up again, but it’s a whole lot better than being forced to cross MLK and Ranier by waiting for the stoplights.

        The Accessible Mt. Baker project proposes to mess the whole thing up by getting rid of the bridge and forcing everybody to wait for the lights (albeit, with a bunch of extra trees). This is nuts. I once asked someone from the city why we are planning on getting rid of a perfectly good bridge. The answer: it’s not ADA compliant because it’s too steep, and building a new bridge that is ADA compliant would take up too much space for the approaches and be too expensive. The whole thing just makes me cringe.

    3. Finally, on a related matter, the six transfer points at SODO, IDC, Westlake, Wilburton, East Main and Tacoma Dome (or wherever transfer points end up) deserve special attention for connectivity as thousands of riders each day will be making these rail-rail transfers.”

      Put that on the wall next to Ross’s statement about planning for the future, ST.

      1. If only ST had done this for U-District station, then I’d have more faith that it will happen.

    4. The diagonal elevators are a great idea, Al;, if there are enough of them that one is available quickly. They run considerably faster than escalators do. That makes them much quicker than going upstairs for a chancy bus ride.

    5. This:–Mid-Levels_escalator_and_walkway_system

      This fantastic escalator system in Hong Kong climbs up a steep hill and carries like 85,000 people a day. Escalators do have issues with accessibility, but adding more pedestrian hill climb assists downtown of some kind would be a boon and underground station construction is a great time to build them.

      If Midtown Station is sited at 5th/Madison, I would put a station entrance at 7th Ave. just east of I-5 to provide friendlier pedestrian access to First Hill (avoiding the ugly and unpleasant I-5 undercrossing.) Diagonal elevators would work great!

      1. Actually, it’s not an undercrossing at Madison…. it’s an overcrossing, but the point remains — opportunities to extend the “reach” of a station by extending its entrances over pedestrian barriers like busy streets and highways should not be passed up.

      2. Wow that’s quite a system!

        It’s 2,600 feet long. I think that we would only need 1,800 feet to get from Fifth to Boren.

        I’m not sure if the ADA requirements in the US would mean that a diagonal elevator has to be added.

        Another option would be to have a signature tower rise up from the station at Fifth and Madison, with an attached skywalk over I-5 using Spring, Madison or Marion. The elevators could stop at the platform, ground level and skywalk level (with a moving sidewalk at the Skywalk, like the ones in SeaTac Terminal A). Once it reaches Eighth, an escalator system could do the rest.

      3. In fact such a system would be a great way to extend the station’s “reach” down to the ferry docks and the water front.

        But can the escalators be kept running reliably enough? And would they be fast enough? I understand the Feds limit escalator speed to much slower than what they have in Asia and Europe. It could get frustrating real quick waiting behind a group of people standing on both sides while you’re traveling at mall speeds.

        Could a gondola system be feasible? I’m thinking three stations, a straight shot: Madison and Alaskan Way, Madison and 5th, Madison and Boren. Seems like the kind of thing tourists would ride just to ride, but would it be an actual useful extension of the transit system?


      Thanks for mentioning this, Joe. Problem is, while I didn’t notice if it had a draw-span or pivot when I saw it, I’m not sure if there’s ever any water traffic that needs it.

      For our If we don’t want a moving bridge, I think our’s would have to be higher, and start its climb much further back from the water. Impressive thing, though.


  15. What’s going on with the Center City Connector? Is the council blocking it or will construction start soon?

  16. As for West Seattle, a couple of ideas that have little to do with engineering, but a lot to do with living here and looking at the proposed sites.

    The major costs for undergrounding result from building stations underground. Getting a TBM to bore just the tunnels is relatively cheap. That set me to thinking…could we figure out a way to get the stations out in the open?

    Imagine that the 35th and Avalon station is built on the north end of the West Seattle stadium lot, which is pretty far below the surface of 35th. An elevator would connect up to street level. Then the tunnel would be bored from there to the Junction in a southwesterly direction.

    How about if the train tunnel ended at around 42nd and Edmonds, with trains emerging from that tunnel pointed south and the station built onto the surface on a regraded lot just to the east of California and just south of Edmonds?

    I wonder if you’d have to remove that block of Edmonds St between 42nd and California to accomplish this.

    Don’t ask me how you continue such a line farther south. Maybe you just end up with a really good transfer situation to a streetcar that goes up and down California.

    1. Berkeley taxed themselves 50 years ago to put aerial planned BART underground. Of course now that would never happen anywhere in the US, instead NIMBYs would just hold the project hostage for years and extract further concessions driving up the costs like we are already seeing with ST2.

  17. A relatively inexpensive bridge would include a drawbridge that would open fairly frequently. More height means fewer openings and more costs. This is a fairly clear tradeoff of budget and schedule risk for escalating train reliability.

    This is simply not true. The high bridge was more expensive than a draw bridge early on because early on the line was at grade through Interbay. The additional cost was due to having to go elevated earlier in order to get to the height necessary for a high crossing. Now that the line is elevated anyway, the higher cost of a taller bridge and approach are offset by the simple span being cheaper than a drawbridge.

    Broadly speaking costs are a wash. The only issue is that some stakeowners (read: rich folks w/views) are very opposed to a high bridge.

    1. The great irony about the viewshed opposition mentality is that a signature high bridge could be a game-changer for real estate attractiveness. There are a few bridges in the world that are beautiful enough to make nearby view real estate more desirable.

      1. The problem is that a railroad is heavy. Only a few of those “worlds most beautiful bridges” carry tracks, and they’re really old. They’re considered beautiful because they have classic architecture. If you built something like the Brooklyn Bridge across Salmon Bay today people would be horrified at how heavy it looks.

        But those beautiful soaring arches seemingly suspended by nothing won’t hold up a pair of loaded four hundred foot LR trains. A high bridge would look exactly like the West Seattle freeway bridge. Now it’s certainly not ugly, but nor is it something that make a point of visiting.

  18. “That said, burying that track is essentially a beautification project, while the other modifications would be material improvements to the efficiency or usefulness of the train. So it’s a little harder to justify spending more money and possibly delaying delivery.”

    Martin, sorry it took me 82 comments to get to this. On any given segment, it certainly is a matter of balancing one approach against another. To me, term “light rail” itself, and its chief advantage, means a system that can get away with a variety of adaptations on the same line.

    But in country this prone to earthquakes, neither should a necessary subway be passed over for cost reasons. Twenty seconds of tremor, and balance sheet will start measuring cost and benefit. And the red won’t be ink.


  19. Seems like an alignment following the Nucor yard tracks at grade toward Salty’s, then over-passing Harbor Ave and backtracking up the Fairmont Ave at grade, jogging under Hiawatha playfield before extending south in a cut and cover along 44th, California, or 42nd could be more cost effective. You’d lose the Avalon station, but gain an Admiral/WSHS station, and end with a south facing stub for a logical ST4 Southward extension.

    1. Wow, that’s a very interesting proposition: Light Rail as reserved ROW streetcar. Like the Boston Riverside Line or Pittsburg’s Westside line. That might be exactly the right level of technology for West Seattle. However, you would get Holy Hell from people who love that verdant valley and it’s quite out of the way from California and Alaska to anywhere else. .

  20. Do underground stations need to have a mezzanine? Yes they are nice but not if they drive costs up which they do as they require going deeper.

    1. I’m not a tunnel engineer, but I think that reach tunnel station has to be designed on its own merits. Sometimes, the bores are deep to keep the tunnel boring machines from hitting building foundations so that becomes the controlling factor on tunnel depth. Sometimes, the geology requires that it be at a specific elevation. Many times, new stations are dug from above, so that the hole for a mezzanine already exists.

      A mezzanine can also be more useful if there is a connection to an underground network of pedestrian tunnels. While some of the DSTT tunnels take advantage of this, they could be much more extensive. I will use the one in Westlake Station to go the few blocks between Macy’s and Nordstrom because it’s protected from the weather, for example. Cities with harsher weather like Montreal rely extensively on the combination pedestrian-rail mezzanine system to get around their central area. Without connecting pedestrian tunnels, the advantage of mezzanines can be limited.

      That said, I would agree that if a station has a center platform, and especially if it’s attached to an existing station mezzanine or boarding platform (like Westlake), a second mezzanine is not really needed unless the station exits are literally in the middle of a street.

  21. I think trying to relitigate all of these alignment decisions that were made during the st3 campaign is foolish.

    A lot of compromises were made to get a system that was pretty decent and fit within the bidget and timeline. If you say those compromises aren’t acceptable, then something else has to give.

    Of course the favorite targets for things to give up are always cutting light rail to whatever neighborhood you don’t personally live in… the usual chorus for abandoning west seattle or snohomish county. Never mind that those people pay taxes and voted for st3.

    The major victory of the st3 campaign was getting grade separation to ballard. If costs rise elsewhere, that’s the first thing on the chopping block

    1. The argument against West Seattle Link is based on objective land use, density, and transit use criteria. There aren’t a lot of people in West Seattle, most of them drive even when there’s a bus, and they’re highly resistant to upzoning even in places like the Admiral District. There’s no extraordinarily large urban village to go along with the extraordinary cost of crossing the Duwamish and eastern cliffs. It all seems to be an entitlement mentality: we’re affluent middle class so we deserve a subway. RossB has outlined a way that multi-line BRT could adequately serve the population and even preserve the one-seat rides to downtown that Link will break, but the government and West Seattle activists won’t consider it. So we’re possibly breaking the bank to give West Seattle an extraordinarily costly solution that’s not commensurate with its population and level of urbanism, and putting Ballard at the tail end of priorities when it should be at the head end.

      1. It’s a good argument, but it’s also an argument that came & past. Short of a major recessions or a completely new ST Board, the region has already made it’s decision on BRT vs LRT.

      2. Bullshit.

        There will be MORE ridership from the 3 west seattle stations than the single balard station.

        Most of the ballard ridership will come from the south lake union and seattle center station, not the actual ballard station which isn’t even that well sited.

        Also, ballard is not THAT urbanized. It only has a population of 15,000. West seattle also has a lot of apartments along the light rail line, and population density is not that much lower.

        Ballard is NOT comparable to capitol hill in terms of density (less than half the density, and not located near the station site), and it will not be an especially high ridership station.

        Finally, the west seattle extension is much cheaper to build and can be done faster.

        They are both worth doing, but ballard station is incredibly overhyped.

      3. Ballard-Fremont merges into a single urban village almost a mile wide and deep. That’s what’s missing in West Seattle

        “the west seattle extension is much cheaper to build and can be done faster”

        You must be kidding. The only way it can look like that is because the downtown tunnel is part of the Ballard project.

        “They are both worth doing, but ballard station is incredibly overhyped”

        It’s not one Ballard Station but northwest Seattle, a significantly multifamily, mixed-use, high-ridership, highly-supporting-transit area. The Link routing won’t serve Fremont directly but RapidRide 40 will, and will probably bring some people from the Leary Way/36th area.

      4. I really doubt people will bus from fremont to ballard to take the light rail. It will still be faster to bus directly downtown. The commute from fremont to downtown is pretty good as is…

        In any case, just look at sound transit’s projections. They are saying ~57k riders from the 5 stations from SLU to Ballard. They say ~37k riders for 3 new stations on in West Seattle.

        That means on average the ridership per station will be HIGHER for the west seattle route.

        Now, the riders PER DOLLAR on the Ballard route is a little higher. However, most of those riders will be at the major employment and event centers: SLU, Seattle Center, and to a less expedia.

        If you could break out the cost per rider of the ballard station explicitly, it would probably be one of the worst performers on the line.

        You might FEEL like ballard is full of cool hipsters who will all ride light rail way more than those lame people in west Seattle, but that is not supported by sound transit’s study.

    2. The major problem with this logic is that these alternatives were not prepared with adequate study of constructability and how it relates to cost, and adequate community input.

      In fact, the SLU alignment submitted in ST3 was never studied! It has as much legitimacy as the Trump wall project — a political promise that was not studied logically first.

      Seeing how badly the region’s projects are under-budgeted and lacking 30% contingencies, I suspect that without a substantial influx of Federal money, we will spend most of the next 20 years cutting costs by dropping major project elements.

      1. SDOT just sent their letter in with the SLU alignment without any transit community input. STB either could not/would not get Kubly to explain his reasoning for the alignment. (Will Amazon be here in 18 years? What about Expedia?)

        Although Interbay to Westlake (sort of like the ST3 alignment without going to SLU and a second tunnel) was at least discussed by ST at open houses (as was Ballard to UW, which won the ST poll for Ballard).

  22. There is a lot of misinformation about West Seattle in this post and comments. Martin states that a tunnel in West Seattle is simply a beautification project. Others display their north end bias by not recognizing the rapid growth at the Junction and at the other three urban villages in West Seattle.

    A short tunnel in West Seattle would leave light rail elevated at the Delridge Station and elevated on Genesee with a tunnel in the side of the hill allowing for a much better station location where the Taco Time and Starbucks are now. TOD could be built there over the station and this location allows for much better bus transfers off of the busy 35th Av SW corridor. A tunnel station at the Junction once again allows for much better TOD and solves the problem of where to put the tail track. An elevated station is likely two blocks away from the Junction with a poorer walkshed and less area for bus/rail integration. If the WS alignment is in a tunnel at the Junction you can build a station box along 42nd with one entrance at the north end on Alaska and the other on the south end at Edmonds. This would dramatically increase the walkshed and also allow the tail track to be underground facing in the right direction for an eventual extension south towards Morgan Junction, Westwood Village, White Center and Burien. California Avenue heading south from the Junction would be a very narrow fit for elevated tracks.

    There are plenty of good policy reasons for a short tunnel in West Seattle. Better TOD, better, bus/rail integration, better connections to future extensions. The cost delta may turn out to be less than anticipated due to less property takes. Now a tunnel in Ballard to avoid infrequent off-peak openings…that seems worth questioning.

    1. I agree – I think a short tunnel pencils out well given the geography. It’ll be comparable to the Bellevue tunnel in cost & complexity.

      But what about further extensions, RBC? I think that’s where a WS tunnel becomes more questionable financially. IMO, a tunnel in WS effectively means that a WS-Burien extension goes to the end of the line for ST4 projects, given the high cost (several miles of tunnel) for what will likely still be a relatively low density area, once you get south of the Junction.

    2. The West Seattle urban villages are still not the size of Ballard-Fremont, the U-District, or Lake City. There’s immense resistance to making them larger.

      I’m reserving judgment on alignment options until we get concrete cost estimates from ST. If a short or a long tunnel is affordable, great. If not, it’s above the ST3 ceiling we agreed to, so too bad. The same goes for Ballard.

      1. I don’t think that a future extension needs to stay in a tunnel..I would leave it in a tunnel on constrained California Ave until the Morgan Junction and then elevate it on Morgan and 35th to Ambaum.

        And West Seattle is where the growth is now happening. The last several years have seen more units built in West Seattle than Ballard. Remember we are building the system for the future, not the present.

  23. West Seattle’s growth may not be as great as that of some North Seattle neighborhoods, but we are growing enough to seriously swamp our ability to get off the peninsula in a timely fashion as well as adding on to more I-5 traffic. That being said, I’m not hardcore for a tunnel. If its no trains vs. an elevated segment on Alaska, I’m fine with the elevated. On the other hand, grocery shoppers trying to get into the QFC or Safeway in Alaska Junction might have some issues with an elevated track bridge hindering their ability to drive into the supermarkets. Hopefully it won’t knock out Easy Street Records. Overall, a small price for progress.

    1. I don’t think anyone (other than Ross) thinks West Seattle doesn’t merit rail at some point in ST3. The tricky question is will WS merit LRT extensions beyond the ST3 plan, which could dictate how the ST3 alignment is built.

  24. Putting light rail on a moveable bridge which opens more than, say, twice a year is a REALLY BAD IDEA. It’s massively schedule-disrupting.

    Look, you’re already tunneling through downtown. Extend the tunnel through Interbay and Ballard. Extending the tunnel you’re already boring is not particularly expensive. Result: three more stations are underground instead of on the surface. This is expensive, but it’s worth it to avoid 50 years of schedule disruption from bridge openings.

    1. Oh — and it looks to me like they’re going to have to go underground to Smith’s Cove anyway; too much property disruption to do anything else.

      1. I don’t believe that is true – every document I’ve seen from ST shows a portal on the west side of QA Hill, with the Interbay section either elevated or at-grade. Given the steep grade on that part of QA hill, a portal should be pretty straightforward, and 15th Ave is plenty wide enough to host an elevated station at Smith cove.

  25. A lot of this (new lines crossing waterways) was discussed here last month.

    the biggest thing I note is that when tunnels are suggested/mentioned they tend to be assumed to be “bored tunnels”. as several folks noted above, there is a better way to go when given the situation of crossing like the ship canal adjacent to the Ballard Bridge (or even the Duwamish crossing for that matter).

    Both the Duwamish and Ship Canal should be crossed with “Immersed Tube” (aka “Sunken Tube”) tunnels. Their construction cost would be comparable to a “high bridge”; and depending on the alignment/grade of the rail bed prior to the approaches, going down into a (relatively shallow) immersed tube tunnel might very well result in less elevation change (resulting in shorter approaches) than climbing to the height of a “high bridge”. And once you’re already designing/building the tunnel segments, you could absolutely incorporate lanes for bus transit as well.

    Other advantages of an immersed tube include:
    –considerably more cost effective than alternative options – i.e. a bored tunnel or a bridge.
    –Their speed of construction
    –Minimal disruption to the river/channel, esp. since crossing a shipping routes
    –Resistance to seismic activity
    –Safety of construction (built in a dry dock instead of underwater)
    –Flexibility of profile


    Moreover, the relatively shallow tunnel, and the relatively narrow navigation channel would allow for the constructing of shafts to daylight/surface to facilitate (“make cheaper”) ventilation, and provide for safety (evac routes, etc.). A ventilation shaft from under water?
    for the Brooklyn/Battery tunnel, a crossing multiple times deeper, and ten times longer than a Ballard Ship-Canal crossing….

    So yeah, definitely go under –NOT OVER– the ship canal and allow transit (and perhaps everyone else too?) to keep moving.

  26. The monorail reference isn’t entirely right. The Seattle Popular Monorail Authority had already decided to replace the Fifth Avenue old-monorail tracks before going to voters for the tax measure in 2002. From there, it would jog over to Second after Westlake Station.

    Martin is correct to imply that elevated tracks caused a political firestorm — as many in the architectural community denounced putting tracks over Second.

    It almost happened anyway, but two more factors made the route even more precarious. The Seattle Fire Department required escape catwalks alongside the monorails, which greatly increased the girth; and the SPMA and city refused to eliminate the (at the time mainly symbolic) 4-foot-wide Second Avenue bike lane, a blunder that forced the monorail to be engineered right next to towers. It couldn’t run down the middle of Second, due to conflicts with a huge wastewater pipe beneath.

    One company did bid for all this, but it was $175m above estimate, and then the ill-fated 50 year, $11b finance plan alienated Mayor Nickels and whatever elected-official support remained.

Comments are closed.