On Tuesday night, Sound Transit put on an open house in West Seattle that was well attended (a little crowded, at that) and seemed to generate good ideas. It had all the standard fare: a looping video of the project alignment; some rollplots with maps that vaguely showed the alignment over some aerial imagery; boards with basic information about the project; a venue with ample parking and a decent bus connection; and an audience of older people who were able to make the 6:00 pm start time by not working downtown. This post isn’t about that meeting, however.
This is the 21st century, and it seems like Sound Transit has finally updated the public comment process to suit it. The online scoping open house (which is open until March 5) features a neat comment system that allows you to place notes over an interactive map of the representative project alignment and vote on the comments of others. The comments can be sorted by the number of “likes”, providing a rough way of gauging the popularity of particular ideas, which makes the lives of us bloggers a bit easier. It seems to be a hit too, with over 600 comments generated in the first week of going online. While some of the comments were off-topic, off-kilter, or repetitive, a lot of the more popular comments offered good ideas, including some that transit advocates overlooked while pushing their own agendas.
In the Ballard area, the most popular comments suggested specific designs for the 15th & Market station; one asked for an underground station with an above-ground plaza, while another suggested that the station be shifted west to serve the historic urban center of the neighborhood and provide an easy transfer to Route 40 on Leary Avenue. Others asked for extensions further into Ballard or Crown Hill, a non-movable crossing of the Ship Canal, or at least a bike and pedestrian connection on the movable bridge. Moving further down the line, another popular comment echoed this blog’s endorsement of a stacked station at Aurora & Republican in South Lake Union. Two popular comments called for the 5th Avenue tunnel to dip under I-5 and serve First Hill, also suggested on the blog.
At the mother-of-all-transfers proposed for International District/Chinatown station, a popular comment asked for good connections between the two tunnels that would not require going above-ground, along with an underground passageway to King Street Station. As it turns out, a grand concourse linking King Street to International District station was proposed back in the 1990s and was determined to be feasible (albeit expensive) by a city study, so it can be done. Further south, the mother-of-all-crossings at Royal Brougham Way (next to today’s Stadium station) received a few queries asking why it should be at-grade crossing rather separated, and why it didn’t include appropriate track crossovers that would allow for alternate service patterns like West Seattle-to-Ballard (the original Green Line) or Eastside-to-Ballard.
Comments for the West Seattle segment were less an organized campaign around a few ideas, but rather a mob of suggestions, none of which has yet risen above the rest. Most comments, both in person and onlin, agreed that an underground station would be needed at Alaska Junction to avoid “an industrial look” or the alleged crime and visual pollution that are caused by elevated tracks. A few people pointed out that the tail tracks on Southwest Alaska Street would point west, complicating future attempts to extend light rail service to the non-Junction areas of West Seattle, a problem to which some suggested building a forced transfer to a north-south California Avenue line from Admiral to Morgan (and beyond).
Beyond the comments, the representative alignment presented by Sound Transit at the open house (and in Sunday’s video) now features elevation information and a more detailed route beyond the chosen corridors. Sound Transit stresses that the following is all a preliminary representation of the alignment and is in no way final; and as seasoned readers have learned, no light rail alignment here is final until the tracks are laid.
The Ballard segment would begin 50 feet above 15th Avenue Northwest just south of Northwest Market Street, approximately where the Safeway parking lot and gas station sits today. This is the least-developed parcel at this intersection, making it is the only suitable place for this station, unless an Old Ballard alignment subway alignment is ultimately chosen. From there, it stays relatively level and passes 70 feet over the Ship Canal on a movable bridge that would open for boats taller than the sailboats and pleasure craft that interrupt traffic on the 44 foot Ballard Bridge today. The lone Interbay station at West Dravus Street would be 55 feet above street level, on the west side of the compact interchange; the site today has a few nearby apartments that help shield the “industrial” feeling of the area. Just north of the Magnolia Bridge, the tracks would cross over 15th Avenue West and cut across on an embankment just below the Queen Anne Greenbelt, providing a smoother turn before reaching the Smith Cove/Expedia/Cruise Ship Terminal station 50 feet above West Prospect Street.
The Downtown tunnel would begin at a portal near 4th Avenue West and Republican Street, just above Elliott Avenue West. Republican would have two stations approximately 90 feet below street level: at Queen Anne Avenue North near KeyArena, and the all-important Aurora Avenue stop next to the SR 99 Tunnel’s north portal. Here, riders from Aurora Avenue buses like the E Line could be funneled onto Link; additional entrances at the Gates Foundation campus to the west and at Mercer Street to the north could also create an ad-hoc pedestrian underpass. The next station, at Westlake Avenue between Denny Way and John Street, would be a bit shallower at 70 feet and be roughly equidistant to Amazon’s old and new campuses. The tunnel would transition onto 6th Avenue and cross 30 feet under the current Westlake station (itself 60 feet under street level). The proposed Midtown station at 5th Avenue and Madison Street would be among the deepest in the system, at 110 feet barely deeper than University of Washington station and almost twice as deep as the bus tunnel’s stations. At International District/Chinatown station, the new tunnel’s platforms would only be 45 feet below street level, slightly lower than the bus tunnel station.
The SODO segment of the “Red Line” (Everett to West Seattle) would replace the current busway, running west of the current tracks (which would carry the “Green Line” from Ballard to Tacoma). Stadium station would be moved entirely, serving only as a surface station for the Red Line, while the downtown tunnel continues past Royal Brougham Way. The existing SODO station would be retained for Green Line riders, while a parallel elevated station would be built for the Red Line, forcing West Seattle-to-MLK/Airport riders to climb 30 feet above street level. While the Green Line continues into Beacon Hill and through the Rainier Valley, the Red Line would head down the busway corridor, with a spur track leading to the current operations & maintenance facility towards West Seattle. From 2030 to 2035, trains from West Seattle would be forced to terminate at SODO, turning West Seattle-to-Eastside commutes into a three-train affair and potentially disconnecting West Seattle from the rest of the regional transit system; one solution would be to siphon off some trips bound for the Rainier Valley and only run SODO turnback trains every other trip.
The West Seattle segment begins with a long non-stop segment over the Duwamish River, rising 140 feet (roughly the same height as the West Seattle Bridge). Trains would make their away around Pigeon Point and stop at Delridge Way Southwest and Southwest Andover Street, about 50 feet above street level and with a great view of the last steel mill in Seattle, which supplies many downtown projects. From there, trains would cut across part of the West Seattle Golf Course on a high viaduct, topping out at 160 feet above golf tees and caddy bags, and stop near Southwest Avalon Way and 35th Avenue Southwest. The tracks would move into the median of Fauntleroy Way and run up to Alaska Junction — or rather, 41st Avenue Southwest just downhill of the actual junction. The line’s tail tracks, however, will run all the way to California Avenue, which could leave parked light rail trains perched above the junction like a giant billboard.
The representative alignment is a rough draft that will be pushed and pulled by various special interest groups over the coming year. The current schedule has two more open houses and a few neighborhood forums, along with regular meetings for the stakeholder group and group of elected officials, before a preferred alignment is chosen in April 2019, after the latter two groups give their recommendations. Buckle yourselves in — or grab onto hanging strap — because it is going to be a long and hard-fought fight to see which of the above ideas make it into the final alignment. Choose your hill to die on — or build a station on — and pester anyone with a connection to the advisory groups or anyone with a name tag at the open houses.