On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a partnering agreement to accelerate Sound Transit 3 project delivery. The   slideshow, the partnering_agreement itself, and Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s thorough writeup are all online.

Most of the agreement is just a commitment to working together and being cooperative, but there are some interesting nuggets. Each agency (ST and SDOT) will have a “designated representative” to serve as a single point of contact, which authority to direct other staff as needed. For ST, this will be Cathal Ridge. SDOT will name their representative by January 15th. There’s a nice review of how Sound Transit’s workflow will be different from previous projects, in an effort to speed things up.

By downselecting to a single alternative prior to the Environmental process, ST hopes for a somewhat shorter EIS period, and can begin a lot of preparatory work (ROW acquisition, permitting, etc) before the process is even done.

There’s also some language to the avoid some of the delay-inducing mission creep that has plagued Lynnwood Link:

In cases where the City or other parties have an interest in changing Project scope beyond that allowed under Sound Transit’s financial plan, the City will collaborate with Sound Transit to identify reductions in scope or risk elsewhere on the Project or provide increased funding through local contributions to finance the requested change.

Finally, the agreement has a schedule for all the steps to get to opening service.  As you can see, the next year is going to be the space to organize for whatever it is you want in the ST3 route through Seattle.

34 Replies to “Seattle Approves ST3 Partnering Agreement”

  1. To quote the naysayers, where’s the beef? This schedule has West Seattle in 2030 and 2035; the ST3 phasing schedule has West Seattle in 2030 and Ballard in 2035, so where’s the benefit of the acceleration?

    1. Where’s the beef. Où est le boeuf? Ѓде мясо? Kie estas la bovaĵo? Wo ist das Fleisch? ¿Dónde está la carne? Dov’è la carne? Var är nötköttet? Ubi es le bove? Do es la carne?

    2. Agreed, the coordation doesn’t get it built faster. Seems like coordination with the city is a good idea though, maybe will help prevent delays?

  2. 2035 will be 18 years from now. Same in other direction was 1999. So: any changes likely?

    Mark Dublin

  3. And followup question: If anybody sees a change they want to see made….what’s an effective and responsible way to try make it happen?


  4. Any talk about speeding up NE 130th or Graham Street Station? Those seem to have the highest chance of being delivered early. They are also the projects that are obviously being held up more by process than anything else. Projects like Ballard and West Seattle are very complicated, with issues that must be studied thoroughly. They are also very expensive, so even if they were “shovel ready”, they couldn’t be built yet, because we simply don’t have the money yet. But the above ground infill stations are both simple and cheap. It is quite likely that building the station at NE 130th as part of Lynnwood Link would actually save us money. It would be nice if the city worked with ST in getting those built as soon as possible.

    1. The excuse for 130th they gave earlier was that the extra 30 seconds to Lynnwood would jeopardize federal funding. We’ll, if Trump is cancelling the federal funding anyway, that argument goes away.

      1. Is the extra 30 seconds? I didn’t think it was anything substantive,but rather that any change as substantial as adding a station can’t be made at this stage in the grant application process, as a procedural matter.

      2. to the asdf2 point: amen and yes; Councilmember and Boardmember Johnson seems to be working on according to the recording posted on STB. SDOT also should reconsider the notion of a cycle track on North 130th Street, if east-west transit service is to connect Bitterlake and Lake City via the NE 130th Street station; the buses will need to reach intending riders at the curbs.

      3. As far as 130th goes, I agree. I think transit should be the priority. Right now there is a bike path to the east (on 125th). I have no problem with that, but if the city really wants to maximize the use of this station, they could reconsider that. For much of the way, the bike path is extremely steep. There really isn’t much on those sections, either, which means that moving bike paths to the residential area could make more sense. I could easily see killing two birds with one stone, by pushing the path to the south, starting at 25th. A protected bike path (not paint, but actual barriers) on the side streets would slow down the drivers, and provide a more shallow way to climb the hill. Even for the flat section (west of 15th) there are alternatives that would make just as much sense. That would free up some space on the arterial for buses, at least in one direction or another.

        My understanding is that the bridge over the freeway is going to have to be redone as part of this project. I think this bridge should be very wide, to enable bus lanes and bike lanes as necessary. That might be overkill, but worth it in the long run.

        In general I wish the city would take a more holistic, long term approach to transit and bike mobility in this town. I feel like they give bikes something, then throw a bone to the buses, and back and forth it goes. In some cases, this is unavoidable (Eastlake is a major bike corridor, and there is only so much room there, even after you remove the parking). But in other cases, like 65th NE, they seem oblivious to the fact that thousands of people will be riding buses or walking to the station there, and are treating it like, say, 75th (which is largely meaning from a transit standpoint). In general I reject the idea that bikes need to travel down the major arterials, when a lot of bike riders (myself included) would rather use the side streets (especially if they are protected). There are unavoidable convergent zones, where bikes and buses have to mix, but in many of them, both will have to slow down, and move at a pace that is close to what pedestrians use. But is crucial that we avoid, as much as possible, buses moving so slowly that a pedestrian could pass several of them, even when they aren’t at a bus stop.

      4. “I wish the city would take a more holistic, long term approach to transit and bike mobility in this town. I feel like they give bikes something, then throw a bone to the buses, and back and forth it goes.”

        That’s why Murray delayed the downtown bike network and One Center City, to integrate the existing mode-specific plan, where a project for one mode ends up being detrimental to another mode (e.g., Broadway bike lane displaces streetcar transit lanes). So that makes it less piecemeal, although it’s still not very long term or transformative. But at the end of a comprehensive plan the same problems come up again: how do you decide on tradeoffs, which inevitably mean one mode’s ROW is detrimental to another mode. I don’t like how transit is being put behind bikes and cars a lot of the time, but bike enthusiasts think likes should get higher priority.

    2. Totally concur on expediting the single station adds, for all the reasons given. At the very least, do the basic design work now so property needs can be established. Then acquire the needed real estate before property values increase even further.

  5. Complicated and expensive projects fraught with political and design challenges are going to take time, and this rosy shifting of the project steps probably won’t make much of a difference to change opening dates. While I understand that it sounds great at an early-stage board meeting, delays are going to happen. In the end, I don’t think it will save any time at all.

    Every major rail tunneling project in the past several years takes a long time. Designing urban rail tunnels also involves microscopic attention to design issues from station entrances to nearby skyscraper structural issues to messy utility challenges underground to surface accessibility. Many of those don’t emerge until well into detailed design. Look at Downtown San Francisco’s Central Subway, Downtown Los Angeles’ Regional Connector and New York’s Second Avenue Subway. Locking in a design too early could easily destroy the overall project budget.

  6. Do we have any plans for how to continue, and also constantly improve service for next 18 years or longer while rail is being built out? Never liked seeing the future used as an excuse for bad service in the present, and even worse, the interim between start and completion.

    Reserved lanes and pre-empted signals for buses, arterials and freeways, region-wide a “given” nobody will “give” for free. But worth some money and effort to get. But over next 18 years, transit needs a major political effort to shift land-use patterns for line-haul service to work at all.

    Martin, next podcast, let’s reopen topic of how to “Desprawl”….which I think we agree is long overdue for even getting started. Though increasing area over which nobody can either walk or drive for the sheer number of cars might, in exactly 18 years, get some political energy from voters presently leaving nose-prints on train windows. And their grandparents’ master too. Goooood vote, boy!

    Serious major advancement inevitable. Nature’s own term-limits are hell on seniority. Only exception could be a terrific positive if the Forks delegation goes transit-friendly. Even temporary bats are great fellow passengers in crush loads. And vote-getter to see State senators hanging upside down from handhold bars to free up seats for the little marmot’s luggage.

    And also: since 16-year-olds can be tried as adults, only fair that they vote too. Right now, if after being tried as an adult they’re found innocent. Couple this with long-overdue relief from student loans that’ll force kids to sell their bodies to science. Exact same amount as their parents’ generation should count as paid off,

    Whichever party goes for these two measures will grab seniority back from Forks, and also show up in aisle mirrors. Though few get caught in doors anyhow. And the Sound Transit Board, will institute luggage pick-up for cute passengers headed home to the Olympic Mountains. And everybody else too, which ST Board should’ve done 18 years ago. Next 18 should be fun.


    1. I would add that there is also no mention about upgrading stations in the existing DSTT as part of the impacts of adding the ST3 extensions. We’ll have lots more people daily using the tunnel stations, and the stations will be about 50 years old at the end of ST3.

      Again, ST is completely silent about this.

      1. Isn’t that the whole point of the 2nd tunnel? The existing tunnel can’t handle the volume of people that will take Link in/out/through downtown once the ST3 lines open, so we are building a 2nd tunnel to handle the capacity. ST isn’t silent about it – it’s the centerpiece of ST3.

        The Westlake & ID stations will be completely redesigned as a part of ST3, that much is clear.

        As for the age of the stations, replacing things like elevators as they age strikes me as ongoing maintenance, no different than replacing lights or repainting walls.

      2. If you haven’t noticed, the escalators are already inadequate to handle three-car today’s loads. Ask most people who get off a Link train during high-volume hours and they will tell you that it’s already not pretty getting on an escalator. Even though we’re losing the buses, our Link trains are going to be longer and more frequent, and riders that today are on surface ST Express, Community Transit and RapidRide C buses (among other routes) are going to be using Link in and out of these stations.

        Finally, even if the Westlake and IDC (and SODO) stations are redesigned, the current plans that I’ve seen are merely additive. In other words, the concepts that I’ve seen just add platforms and paths, but don’t expand the capacity of the stations to carry people on and off of the existing platforms to and from the street. It’s not been presented in part of any discussion that I’ve seen.

        Keep in mind that even if someone is transferring from Ballard, SLU, Rainier Valley or SeaTac and want to go to Pioneer Square or University Street Station, they will still have to use the existing platforms and escalators.

        And let’s not even get into how ST3’s second tunnel will just add riders to the Capitol Hill-Westlake segment, which has already been forecast to be the highest load segment in the system as shown in ST2 studies.

      3. Having waited 20 minutes simply to get into the station after a UW game, yes I’m aware of the limits of our current escalators. Aside from a mega-event like that, I’m not particularly concerned. The numbers of stairs serving the downtown stations seems pretty comparable to much larger systems like CTA and NYC. Having to pause for a minute to queue onto the stair/escalator to leave the platform seems like a pretty standard experience for rush hour commuting in most cities, not something to panic about.

        And I’m in the camp that if the Westlake-UW segment is literally at capacity, then we have a wildly successful transit system. It’s not something to freak out about, not yet.

      4. @AJ — Yeah, sure, I wouldn’t panic either. But don’t think it is kind of crazy to justify the spending of billions of dollars because you are worried about train capacity, then turn around and say the stations themselves are just fine? There is a very strong argument to be made that the stations, and the existing tunnel, is plenty big enough to handle what we can throw at it. Ridership will increase, of course, but so will headways, and so will the number of trains. So just re-use the tunnel, make some connections, and call it a day. On game days (as you said) it might be a bit crowded. But in general, there is really nothing to worry about (and that is a good problem to have, as you said).

        If, on the other hand, we really are going to see ridership spike, to the levels of our neighbors to the north (where individual lines carry over three times our riders), then maybe we should consider the impact on our stations. If West Seattle rail, and Ballard rail turn out to be tremendous, surprising successes, then that means lots and lots of riders transferring at Westlake. Shouldn’t we make sure that Westlake, and I. D., — the key transfer stations that will carry the bulk of riders here — actually have enough space to move people?

      5. AJ, have you ever done years of commuting where you have to let three trains go by before squeezing onto one? I have. It’s not pleasant.

        Have you ever had a train pull into a station, and for some reason they have to take the train out of service or perhaps reverse it, so everyone must get off? And get off onto an already crowded platform? I have. Several times. Again, it’s not pleasant.

        I’m assuming that a fire inspector will assess whether or not the platforms and exits can handle the passenger loads. At least I hope that they are.

      6. @Ross – sorta. The crux of my comment was that ST is indeed considered about long-term capacity in our current tunnel, and that’s why we are building a 2nd tunnel.

        I think Al makes the relevant point – if a fire inspector judges that the stations, as currently built, can handle an entire 4-car train exiting all at once (which I’d imagine is the safety minimum) – then I think the stations are fine. That’s the max use case (a full train load), and presumably even peak-of-peak will be less than that b/c there will always be people not getting off the train.

        Now, should we enhance in the current stations while we bolt on a 2nd station at ID and Westlake? Of course! I guess I just assumed that would happen, sorry if that wasn’t clear. My point was more that University, Pioneer Square, and Cap Hill stations shouldn’t need to be enhanced, they should already be designed for peak volumes, and same for the overall tunnel.

        But if your concern is “a 4-car train coming every 3 minutes isn’t enough for peak volumes,” then I’ll go back to my original point – that’s why we are building a 2nd tunnel, to push more trains through downtown at peak. If ST3 can’t handle transit volumes in 2040, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with ST3 – that simply means the region will need an ST4!

        @Al – no, I have not.

      7. Being able to evacuate a full station in an emergency is not a good indicator of how well the station will work at peak-of-peak because the emergency stairs can’t be used during regular service.

        Anecdotally, I see the queues for the escalators today at Capitol Hill and wonder if they’ll be able to clear the platform when longer and more frequent trains mean there will be (presumably) 2x-3x the number of people trying to exit the station. A single person waiting a minute isn’t so bad, but if trains are only 3 minutes apart, running in both directions, and carrying more people than today it doesn’t seem far fetched that people will still be waiting for the escalator when another full train arrives.

    2. I understand how long-time locals have fought so hard to get and encourage rail transit that the notion of wrapping one’s head around platform and platform access overcrowding (an opposite problem) seems like a superfluous concern. I’m not sure if the issue ever even got analyzed with ST2. I keep mentioning it on this blog because it’s a common problem found in places where old stations are suddenly used by thousands of new riders without design improvements.

      Platforms and platform access are two separate issues. Take. Westlake as an example. The platforms to me appear narrower than at University, Pioneer Square and IDC. This station is projected to have the most ridership of all these stations, especially when rail-to-rail transfers are added between the existing and proposed rail lines that will connect northward.

      On top of that, there is the issue of platform access; there are only two up escalators and no down escalators at Westlake so anyone getting off the train must wait for a tiny elevator or walk up about 40 steps. Because there are no down escalators, people coming down to the platform must always use stairs and that decreases the capacity of people who can use the stairs to exit the platform.

      How the fix the problem? I think we have to leave it up to the designers. At least the cost can be attributed to an ST3 improvement. Some possible design solutions to the platform capacity that I can think of:

      1. Move the existing Westlake platforms slightly further east to allow for rails connecting to the tunnels to and from University Street to each shift inward by about five feet, creating larger boarding areas on either side.
      2. Move the existing Westlake rail tracks to the sides )which would probably mean shifting the platforms a bit further east) and create a new center platform station accessible from the mezzanine by adding sets of stairs and at least three wider escalators. This would also mean that more elevators would be needed from the platform. The mezzanine appears to have more than enough capacity but probably would have to be reconfigured if center platform access is added.
      3. Widen the existing platforms outward if at all possible. It may sound expensive, but it would be easier and probably cheaper than moving tracks.
      4. Move the west sets of escalators and stairs to be under Fourth Avenue, configured similarly to under Fifth Avenue today. That would require underground excavation under Fourth Avenue. That would not make the waiting areas wider, but it would add some room for waiting riders where the west escalators and stairs are today.

      Some possible solutions to the platform access capacity issue:
      1. Add a new station well at Fourth Avenue on both sides (between platform and mezzanine), which could allow for two or three escalators (as opposed to the measly one escalator at Fifth Avenue) (the same as option 4 above).
      2. Convert the existing stairs at Fifth Avenue to escalators (would two more be possible to fit?) and find new locations for stairwells (noting that they could even be added as switchbacks if needed).
      3. Add a new station entrance at Sixth Avenue that would serve both the new second subway platform as well as this one.

      Of course, these are just amateur suggestions. Designers would need to define the magnitude of the problem and come up with solutions.

      I have to step back and just say what’s important now is to put station capacity issues on the table as ST develops the operations plan, which is going on now. Nowhere in ST3 discussions did this ever appear in the things presented to the Board, as far as I can tell. We shouldn’t be ignoring it.

      I want to echo RossB’s point about spending a multi-billion-dollar subway in Seattle yet not planning for fix how this major addition will affect existing platforms. At best, it’s naive and stupid; at worst, it’s arrogance. It’s important for STB to be a rider’s advocate about these kinds of problems and question what ST is doing as future riders.

      I only have to point to the Capitol Hill (noted by David) and UW Station escalator problems (noted dby AJ) to illustrate that the recent approach ignored fully analying the capacity problems. It is a harbinger of a much bigger problem in the future unless it’s addressed now.

  7. It still looks like a separate transit dedicated movable bridge to Ballard will likely be built and completed around the same year the Ballard Bridge will need to be replaced.

    Sounds like some outstanding coordination going on between ST and the City. Two bridges are cheaper to build and maintain than one?

    Bite the bullet and toll all the ship canal crossings and use the money to build a SDOT/ST rail/road tunnel under the ship canal. Tear down the Ballard bridge and sell the land at the current north and south bridge approaches to developers and use the revenue from the land sale and savings from not building a second bridge crossing towards an east-west line betweem Ballard to UW.

    1. Once ST actually looks at the challenges, costs and ongoing maintenance required to build a moveable bridge, they’ll build a tunnel. If they’re smart, they’ll coordinate with SDOT and the new Ballard Bridge to make one mega-project.

      “Bite the bullet and toll all the ship canal crossings and use the money to build a SDOT/ST rail/road tunnel under the ship canal.”

      Two things will happen before the ship canal crossings are tolled: (1) boat traffic is tolled to pay for the bridges that only exist to accommodate boat traffic or (2) fill in the Ship Canal.

  8. Picking a preferred alternative before environmental is common sense and pretty much standard transit practice around the country outside of California. No idea why it’s taken so long for ST to do this.

    The best way to speed up projects is to accelerate the level of engineering design that occurs parallel to environmental. ST needs to push the level of design conducted during environmental so that NEPA is not the schedule killer. More PE, less Final Design.

    ST also needs to consider the return on investment of pursuing Federal dollars for some of these projects in the first place. This is especially true if you view projects from a cash flow perspective rather than funding perspective.

  9. Excellent point about upgrades on DSTT stations. More complicated problem than most people know: space they had to be fitted into was very tight, if even within regs at all. Prototype was Pittsburgh in the 1980’s. Light rail and streetcar tunnel. On the surface, shared right of way with diesel buses.

    But stations looked pretty much like ours. Not surprising. Our engineers and architects came right off that project. Will take same root-canal skill, but given projected passenger loads….these really are streetcar tunnels. First order of business- two direction escalators.

    Also bet there are plans on the boards for center platforms. Maybe one station at a time. Remember, equipment and techniques now are over thirty years advanced over original construction. But most important point is that we’re now going to have to focus permanently on the future.

    Whose technologies are definitely on our side. Provided we don’t lose sight of the knowledge and hard-earned experience designed and built into them. And never tell ourselves there’s such a thing as artificial intelligence, or that we’d dare touch it if it did exist.

    Because while a professional engineer will tell you your choices and what they’ll cost…..they’ll never tell you what you SHOULD do. Signature of true intelligence. If you don’t want to suddenly be converted to machine lubricant, you never want a machine to decide priorities,.


  10. Misspoke myself unforgivably about “streetcar tunnels”. The grades and curves were definitely engineered for state-of- the-art light rail. Which was really whole reason that even though it would be 19 years ’til we got any trains at all, we needed a subway.

    We couldn’t have even got started on our regional system without deliberately designing it for the trains it was going to handle for the future we’re still only started getting into. But with an uncommon complication. We had to be able to run free-steered buses.


    Essen, Germany gave bus-tires two platforms to run on, with streetcar rails in between, so both modes could run same track. But a roller mechanism on steering axle was constantly in contact with a vertical panel running along beside the track. One more thing to dent itself and others.

    We really did not know whether we could operate buses in the rail tunnel we needed, let alone freely-steered. A couple of great experiments. For a week, we took a dozen or so center-axle-powered MAN “artics” down to Seattle International Raceway every day. To imitate Tunnel handling, the “steered” MAN trailer axles had to be “fixed” so as not to steer.

    Making them handle like present Tunnel fleet, which is powered by the rear axle. We laid out a mile and a third of orange cones correctly curved. And had racing-track signals in the bed of a pickup truck. Which we’d have done better to use for 27 years and counting in the DSTT.

    Engineers did a terrific job.Operating speed limited by station spacing and primitive overhead. But pretty sure I could’ve gone through at fifty without even worry about a scrape. Even without trolley- poles…Don’t Ever Try This At Home now.

    However, streetcar description appropriate for stations, hundred percent to do with buses, which were a hundred percent planned to be temporary. Center passing lane and all. No way we’d plan to leave a whole empty lane in our track way when buses were gone.

    And another really pertinent fact. From the beginning, we were worried how to handle transition from buses to trains. In those days, nobody had either a low-platform train or bus that would go faster than 40 mph. Meaning that we’d need same wheelchair lift as for the streets- on trains and buses alike.

    Raising platforms- level boarding absolutely necessary for future crowds- would’ve cost a fortune in elevator and escalator replacement. Were told that every vertical conveyance is a one-off job, precisely fitted to its location. Every single one of each mode would’ve had to be replaced.

    But best to keep in mind, for both ill and good, was that vehicle development saved us. When fast low-floored buses and trains both suddenly came on line. So I keep stressing one forever-valuable lesson from the past: Know what you need and keep your eyes open for it.

    While getting hands-on into promising developments soon as they’re hatched. Honest. The tech part will only get easier. But much harder, and and now absolutely mandatory, job will be to drag political decision-makers down to the shop and issue them coveralls and work-gloves.

    Removing both excuses and a huge budget for sandwich signs in front of elevators replaced for time being with giant red and yellow buses. And also recognizing the fragrance of a Breda-By-Any-Other-Name.


    1. Brad, I think that whether or not mezzanines have a point or not depends on both their intended purpose and their actual use One reason could be that in a very deep station, alternative would be a very long, steep escalator ride- recall one at Dupont Circe in Washington DC that looked like the chute to Dante’s Inferno, except better air-conditioned.

      With evacuation by stair-case impossible. Another intended use could be for safely “staging” boardings for very heavy passenger loads. Station personnel might be positioned at escalator-heads, releasing passengers in groups. That way platforms would not get dangerously overloaded. Not bad place for fare inspection, either. Maybe coffee and news-stands in some of the larger ones.

      Next time you’re in the Tunnel, imagine you’re waiting to board in a shoulder to shoulder crowd of hundreds- or more. And see what you come up with. If I could sum it up, I think what looks unused now has really been waiting since 1990 for the ridership of 2030.


  11. That is still a stupidly long time for building a few miles of train. It shouldn’t take us 8 years to plan nor 10 to build. We should be ashamed that our process is so inefficient and drawout.

    1. This is not China where they can just, um, railroad it through, pay the workers $5 per hour, and ignore safety regulations. This involves tunnels and potential tunnels, not just laying tracks on the surface or in the air in a flat space with wide right of ways, and a big chunk of the time is because the money comes in a little bit at a time each year rather rather than all up front, and North King and the rest of the district is trying to do many projects at once. The people who know more about the details say it’s quite a lot to pack into the timeframe. In Canada it would be faster, and in China much faster, but this is under US regulations and politics.

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