The Advisory Group listens as Sound Transit presents comments received during early scoping for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension. Credit: Lizz Giordano

Residents are thinking big, and some of the proposals Sound Transit received during the early scoping period for the West Seattle Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) could strain the ST3 budget.

ST presented the comments during a meeting of the WSBLE Stakeholder Advisory Group Wednesday night.

West Seattle residents are pushing hard for a tunnel — rather than an elevated track — as the alignment enters the West Seattle Junction, with some residents offering to eliminate the station proposed at 35th/Avalon to pay for the underground alignment.

“Don’t forget that you are building this for not only a generation but for centuries. An eyesore now will be an eyesore forever and tunneling is a much better option,” one commenter wrote.

Ballard overwhelmingly rejected the idea of a movable bridge over Salmon Bay, which residents pointed out could cause delays and impact reliability of the Link system.

“The fact that a bridge of any kind is being considered is ridiculous. The fact that it’s a *drawbridge* for a *rail system* being considered leaves me dumbstruck. This is a rail system in a booming metropolitan area that needs speed and reliability in its infrastructure. Even considering such a thoughtless, half-baked idea of a drawbridge terrifies me about the management at Sound Transit, even as a fervent supporter of Sound Transit,” one comment read. “If it’s not underground, don’t bother spending the money.”

Meanwhile, residents of First Hill want to see the Midtown station located east of I-5 rather than closer to existing stations.

One commenter argued that “Midtown station will be best located near the base of First Hill. A new downtown station at 5th & Madison does not add much new service area. An underground station at 8th & Madison could serve Virginia Mason, Harborview, the Convention Center, and high-density residential neighborhoods without adding much length to the line.”

Comments also stressed the importance of good bus connections at stations and encouraged ST to orient stations in order to facilitate future extensions of the Link system. Other commenters expressed the need to preserve industrial land and consider freight mobility during light rail expansion.

STB reached out to all the Sound Transit board members who also sit on the WSBLE Elected Leadership group if they were supportive of these constituent requests. ST Chair Dave Somers declined to comment at “this early stage in project development.” Mayor Jenny Durkan’s and Seattle Councilmember Rob Johnson’s offices didn’t respond to a request for comment.

King County Executive Dow Constantine: “I believe that it is worth looking at a tunnel under Salmon Bay to ensure better reliability for the system. This would undoubtedly entail additional cost. At this point, a tunnel option in Ballard should move on for further study.

I support a tunnel in West Seattle moving on for further study. I believe it offers better bus/rail integration, TOD potential, and urban design. I also believe the representative alignment does not adequately anticipate future extension of light rail south to White Center and Burien. I do not support elimination of the Avalon station as a way to pay for the tunnel. At this point it is premature to eliminate any stations without further study and refinement of costs. The Avalon station allows for a larger walkshed for transit in West Seattle and would be a critical transfer point for buses using the important bus corridor on 35th to serve High Point, Gatewood, and Arbor Heights.

I am skeptical about the idea of the Midtown station being located on First Hill. This would require tunneling under I-5 twice and I do not believe that due to the steep hill there that a First Hill station could be located far enough up the hill to make the added expense worthwhile. It would also mean the loss of the Midtown station near the downtown library. The City of Seattle and Metro are also investing in the Madison Rapid Ride line which will provide a frequent and reliable transit corridor that will link the Midtown station to First Hill with an easy transfer.”

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott: The volume and quality of feedback for the early scoping period has been very impressive. I have not been able to consume all the 2,800+ comments Sound Transit received yet; however, based on the conversations I have had with constituents, I know community members and stakeholders raised lots of smart questions and in many cases provided creative solutions.

Honestly, it is too early in the process for me to say what I will definitely support. I need to learn more about the options and their implications for the overall project, including engineering feasibility and budget impacts. I also need to better understand how various options will impact communities and effect ridership and user experience. That’s what this process is about.

I have already stated publicly that I prefer a tunnel for West Seattle, but a number of conversations need to be had about how to pay for it and I’m not sure there is a 1:1 tradeoff in this situation. At this point, I do not believe giving up a station in West Seattle is the best option.”

During the WSBLE Advisory Group Meeting, ST presented several alternatives concepts for the alignments based on the 2,800 comments the agency received. ST anticipates a full report of the early scoping comments will be released in early April. Neighborhood forums are anticipated to begin in late April and run through early May.

Reliability, travel times, transit capacity, ridership potential, better service to historically underserved populations, and consistency with the agency’s long-range plan were among the criteria ST instructed the advisory group to consider. ST says the preferred alternative representative project, identified in the ST3 plan, will be the baseline the other options will be measured against. The ideas will go through three levels of evaluation to whittle down and refine the broad range of initial alternatives.

To speed up the timeline for the Link extension, ST is using a new process they say will streamline project development. To meet the agency’s goal of having a preferred alternative chosen by mid-2019, ST convened two new advisory groups to facilitate public engagement. The stakeholder advisory group will recommend a preferred alternative to the elected leadership group, who will then make its own recommendation to the full ST board. The full ST board will make the final decision on the West Seattle and Ballard alignments.

107 Replies to “Residents Think Big During Early Scoping”

  1. While in general I’m supportive of the idea of tunneling rail where it makes sense to do so, I’m not convinced removing a station is a worthwhile trade-off. I’m especially skeptical that ST will be able to produce the money to pay for these in an era where getting federal funding is questionable.

    Certainly we can consider the tunneling options, but we need to be aware of what the cost is going to be and what we will have to give up to get there.

    1. I agree. If the biggest objection to going elevated is that it’s going to be an “eyesore”, spending all that extra money on tunneling, and eliminating a station is downright ridiculous.

      First Hill, what I’m not sure people realize is that, if the station were located east of I-5, it would have to be very, very deep. Which means getting in an out of the station would take a *long* time, be it standing on escalators or waiting in line for elevators. It is not at all inconceivable that the overhead of getting out of a First Hill station during peak hours would equal or exceed the time it would take to just wait for and ride the G-line from 5th and Madison.

      1. It takes 20 seconds for the MAX Washington Park station elevators to travel from ground to platform. The ground level has a “Spanish solution” arrangement where the exit is on one side and entrance on the other. It’s 260 feet down there.

        It all depends on how fast you want to make the elevators, which makes them more expensive.

      2. There were probably just as many comments asking for a First Hill station entrance as there was asking to take the tracks under I-5. I thought that blurring these two very different options (in terms of cost) was wrong and even deceptive in the comment summaries. The comments were full of ways (and dozens of them were ‘liked’) to do this — moving sidewalks, escalators, funiculars, diagonal elevators — and none of these suggestions made the summary comments.

        Similarly, Dow’s comments not even discussing a suggested “faux” station entrance on First Hill (as submitted by one commenter that was not me) and instead thinking that Madison BRT with its steep slope boarding areas around the initial station site was dismissive. There is a valid need to serve First Hill before many of these other areas merely on the basis of activity density. For example, the number of riders that would use a First Hill Station entrance at a place like Boren and Madison would be significantly more than would use an Avalon Station.

      3. Beacon Hill seems to do pretty good as an elevator only deep station, and plus ST now has much more experience with the peak demands of the light rail system. I’d rather wait a minute or two for an elevator than have to transfer or walk up that hill. Finally, if it’s that deep a ped tunnel to 5th Ave. is quite doable in principle. Adds to the cost, of course, but with such a long time line and huge uncertainties both for future costs and funding, isn’t it a bit early to start counting pennies?

      4. A diagonal tunnel with both pairs of escalators intermittently plus stairs alongside is far less expensive than digging a seventy-five foot deeper station at Boren and Madison. Remember that the transfer options at both Westlake and IDS are going to suck!.

        There’s a trade-off implicit in a First Hill deviation: Green Line riders wanting to access the financial district will have to transfer at one of those stations or be the ones riding the G Line. I expect there will be more of them than those bound for First Hill.

        Grant, such a tunnel is impossible for wheel chairs to use.

        So far as Beacon Hill and Washington Park stations surviving on elevators only, this is a CBD station! we’re talking about. You can’t compare potential passenger volumes in any way.

        Also, grant that the southern under-crossing of I-5 is likely to be a non-event, with more than 100 feet of overburden above the tunnel, which would cross around Yesler. The northern crossing would present more of the problems that the existing tunnel did, but even that crossing would be relatively deeper under the freeway because Westlake’s new platforms will have to be at least one story deeper than the existing station and perhaps two to accommodate a mezzanine. The freeway is also a little higher at Seneca than it is at Pike where the existing tunnel under-crosses it.

        So the objection about two crossings of I-5 is less important than it might initially appear.

      5. The problem is not elevator speed, but capacity. A station in downtown/First Hill would need much more elevator space than Beacon Hill.

        If each elevator can carry 10 people, and one elevator arrives per minute, that’s 6 minutes to move 60 people – not much better than a frequent articulated bus. And, unlike the bus, which only needs to fit those headed to First Hill, elevators at a First Hill station would have to cram in every single person exiting the station, including those walking back down the hill to downtown.

      6. Re elevator capacity, it’s a similar issue as UW Station. How many elevators would you need if it were only elevators?

      7. >> Remember that the transfer options at both Westlake and IDS are going to suck!.

        Making them better should be the highest priority then. Never mind the extra tunnels. Never mind the First Hill station. It is crazy to think we are building these billion dollar tunnels (and studying the building of two more expensive tunnels) when we can’t even make key transfers within our system work properly. Capitol Hill/UW/Northgate to South Lake Union/Lower Queen Anne/Ballard and it is going to suck? That is by far the most important transfer in our system, and will dwarf many other trips (like West Seattle to … anywhere). Not that West Seattle would come out ahead — screw up that transfer, and they are screwed as well.

      8. Ross, Westlake doesn’t HAVE to suck, but for it not do so, ST will have to be flexible about the mezzanine at “New Westlake”.

        From the drawings, it looks like the plan is to have the Green Line platforms under Seventh Avenue. If ST is willing to allow a direct connection between the Green Line mezzanine(s) and the DSTT platforms, a “half-mezzanine can be constructed to the north of the DSTT tunnel and one to the south.

        The Green Line platform would straddle Pune Street below the pair of mezzanines. It wouldn’t have to be equally long on noth sides of Pine as long as enough platform protruded beyond Pine to land escalators and stairs from the mezzanine.

        This would mean that a transfer from either direction to either direction in the new tunnel would require inly a block walk and one change of level.

        But I doubt that ST will go for the bifurcated mezzanine and force people to make two level changes.

      9. Re elevator capacity, it’s a similar issue as UW Station. How many elevators would you need if it were only elevators?

        This depends on their speed and capacity. What’s at the Washington Park MAX station seems like it is about twice the size and definitely quite a bit faster in its ascent speed than what is at the UW station. Physically, you could put about 20 people in those and probably have a bit of space to spare but I don’t know if that would set off the weight alarm or not.

        It’s probably not possible to do the 800 feet per minute ascent in a glass elevator like what is at UW though. It would probably induce vertigo or some other motion sickness.

        Sure, it’s a CBD station. You might not be able to get everything you need out of elevators. However, you shouldn’t judge what is available to solve this need based on what has been done at the UW station, as there are higher capacity and higher speed elevators on the market.

    2. Right, we should study the tunnel alternatives and find out their real cost and benefit rather than dismissing any alternative prematurely. Otherwise we may find out we could have afforded it but it’s too late.

      But let’s remember ST’s request: limit the alternatives to three: no-build (required), ST’ s preferred (whatever it will be), and one other (not multiple). It looks like the majority demand will be tunnels, so it will probably be a significantly more expensive alternative in both cases.

      At that point there are two options: maximum tunnel or mod we ate tunnel. Maximum tunnel would be all the way to Ballard, and from SODO to Alaska Junction. Moderate tunnel eoukx be something less than that. But what less? If you leave out the Ship Canal tunnel then people will say we didn’t compare it to the best alternative. But if you include it and the alternative is way too expensive, then it won’t be chosen and you’ll have missed the chance to study a more viable alternative. Or you can study both, but then you get back to four studies, which is more expensive and time-consuming than three studies.

      1. Mike,

        I don’t think anybody cares if the train runs on the surface through Interbay, as long as it’s not in the middle of 15th West and limited to the speed of the cars on the roadway. Put it alongside the rail yard from Armory Way north and it sets you up for a perfect 17th Avenue entry to Ballard.

        I see from the detailed proposal that the ST planners have agreed that running “behind” the Magnolia Bridge interchange at the base of southwest Queen Anne Hill is better than bridging above the on-ramp. Yay! That makes a lot of sense.

        Now if they’ll take the obvious second step and stay at the base of the hill along Elliott to Mercer Way and have the portal there the whole thing will present a far better rider experience than running on stilts down the middle of Elliott. Removing a few marginal businesses shoehorned in there is a better solution than the traffic mess that an elevated railway down Elliott will be.

        It makes the station at Expedia much easier as well. Right now the “plan” is to have an elevated station in the middle of Elliott which will presumably be accessed by an elevated walkway extending the existing one that crosses the railroad tracks.

        Well, ooopsie, that means either that you’ll a have situation like at the Rainier Station on East Link where people have to cross the tracks to enter the station or the station will have to be higher to accommodate a mezzanine above traffic.

        With a station at the base of the hill, yes, people do have to walk a bit farther (about five lanes of traffic equivalent) but the tracks can be at ground level by that point allowing the elevated crossing to serve as the “mezzanine” to get people across the southbound track, sort of like 84th Avenue in Portland.

      2. Continuing a tunnel is often cheaper than surfacing and then going back underground within two miles. If we decide to do the Ship Canal tunnel, then an Interbay tunnel may be just as cost-effective as aboveground (see Maple Leaf area), except for the underground stations.

      3. Right, we should study the tunnel alternatives and find out their real cost and benefit rather than dismissing any alternative prematurely. Otherwise we may find out we could have afforded it but it’s too late.

        Since what we actually voted on is apparently meaningless, why not study other options as well. How about we study Ballard to UW rail, and see what the cost benefit is compared to West Seattle rail.

        The whole thing is nuts. Folks knew that West Seattle was a dubious project, but suddenly costs became much cheaper than expected. That is because it is elevated! If folks didn’t want that option, they should have said something then, especially since there are much more cost effective projects (for both West Seattle as well as other parts of the city) instead of this sudden bait and switch.

    3. “removing a station is a worthwhile trade-off”

      Remember this isn’t like removing 130th. It would seem like the purpose of including all three stations is to make up for just how darn short the line is. For years prior to ST3, the general idea of the WS line was a line to Westwood Village.

      I’d say cut Avalon, make it elevated, and put the savings into the down payment for a real West Seattle line that actually goes somewhere.

      1. While there is some density at Avalon, it doesn’t seem much more dense than lots of other areas in Seattle. As was suggested in many comments, a station at Alaska and Fauntleroy with good pedestrian connections could be a good single-station compromise. Could the savings fund a tunnel section?

      2. >> While there is some density at Avalon, it doesn’t seem much more dense than lots of other areas in Seattle.

        Right, but you can say that about the other West Seattle stops as well. There is really nothing special at all about any of the stops. They are simply bus intercepts. If you remove them, it makes the ride for those bus riders — already worse because of the transfer — even worse.

      3. Ross, you’re basically right about West Seattle being “bus intercepts”, but there is at least the possibility that the oval from 35th and Avalon to 44th and Alaska becomes a real urban center. If that happens the bus intercept is best made at 35th so they reach the train rapidly. They can then go into the urban center.r.

    4. 130th was never removed because it was never in ST’s build plan in the first place. It was originally an extra station in the Aurora alternative that was then added as an option to the I-5 alignment, and later put into ST3.

      The reason for the three stations is the steep hills that isolate the north-south corridors from each other. Delridge, 35th, and California are separate transit markets, like Aurora, Dexter, and Westlake on Queen Anne. 35th happens to be one of the highest-ridership and lowest-income corridors. All of these stations are more productive than anything south of them, although Westwood Village will be a hub urban village like Mt Baker when it’s fully built out.

    5. Removing Avalon station would obviously be a huge mistake and would sink ridership projections. Just eyeballing the area, the Avalon walkshed contains a roughly equal amount of dense multifamily housing as the Junction walkshed. I can’t imagine a way that option would survive any honest alternatives analysis.

    6. The issue is not the Avalon walkshed; it’s how much travel time would be added if a bus from 35th has to detour to Delridge or the Junction because Avalon Station is deleted. Think of trips from High Point to downtown.

  2. “An eyesore now will be an eyesore forever”

    Ahem, a train is not like a freeway exit with tons on unusable dead space. It may not be the most beautiful thing on the world, but let’s not put it in the same category as a rusted abandoned factory with graffiti on it.

  3. They should go high end in its entirety for WS and Ballard. It can be done, they just need double the car tab fees, property taxes and the cost of Starbuck’s syrups.

  4. I’m not so convinced that a Ballard drawbridge is the worst thing in the world. As long as…
    1) There will be no openings during peak times (this was promised)
    2) Openings will be coordinated with train operations to not block trains (I think promised?)

    …then I don’t really see a big problem. If the inbound and outbound train cross the bridge at the same time during 10-minute off-peak operation, then that leaves 9 minutes for bridge openings for ships, and a 7 or 8 minute train layover at the station.

    The only really big problem I see is if Ballard Link in the future becomes a major trunk line that will have trains from multiple lines every 5 minutes or less during the day, which I don’t see happening. I think any future north/south line crossing the ship canal would be on Aurora Ave following the E-line. Even if Ballard were extended north or east, it probably wouldn’t trunk with another line downtown.

    STB concepts of the Aurora line show it converging with Ballard Link near Seattle Center, which is already planned to be underground and fully grade-separated, so we nicely have a full tunnel where future growth is likely, and a drawbridge on a segment that is unlikely to ever need super frequent service.

    Just as long as Sound Transit will have the ability to make ships wait 10-15 minutes to cross, things should be alright, right?

    1. You are correct, the opposition to a high drawbridge is pretty absurd. Almost as absurd as the insistence on tunneling West Seattle because of an elevated line being an “eyesore”.

      1. It’s not just about the drawbridge’s suspect reliability, but with tunneling you get improved station location (further west) that better serves Ballard and are able to preserve the area for greater densification, TOD, and general mobility with an underground station.

      2. I’d be willing to huff it or take a bus from 15th and Market to the heart of Ballard, but my wife would not, she’d tell me call Uber. To maximize ridership, Ballard station should really be *in* Ballard and designed to be extended further north and handle 5 minute or better frequency. This is not something frivolous like aesthetics. Every ten minutes is actually not that great for a metro system, and going driverless would make higher frequencies more easily doable (SoDo is the only point where it’s at grade, right?). Acknowledging the cost as a major trade off (and quite possibly a no-go), to dismiss this option a priori seems a bit short sighted.

      3. HuskyTBone is correct. 15th NW and Market is a terrible location for a station. Unless it’s elevated above the intersection with a mezzanine (making it higher) and stairs/escalators to all four corners of the intersection, it will be essentially cut off from the quadrant opposite its location by the five minutes it will take to access the station across two huge high volume streets, and pretty isolated from the two adjacent ones.

        A subway station at 17th, with entrances both north and south of Market would be accessible by folks on the east side of 15th with a single crossing and by folks throughout “Old Ballard” with no crossing of 15th.

        This line will go north eventually, probably to Lake City and perhaps beyond, via Northgate. Or, if Lake City is served by a line from Gates Foundation north through Fremont, the U District and U-Village, the Ballard line will go on north through Shoreline.

        The “main line” through Northeast Seattle is going to be overwhelmed by riders from Snohomish and northern King counties within a few years of its opening. If Lake City and the Aurora corridor are ever to meet their potential as major Urban Centers they will need Link connections.

      4. It’s not just about the drawbridge’s suspect reliability, but with tunneling you get improved station location (further west) that better serves Ballard and are able to preserve the area for greater densification, TOD, and general mobility with an underground station.

        Maybe, but you also have much cheaper expansion. There really are two realistic scenarios here:

        1) The Ballard line never goes any farther. In this case, 15th is fine, as it means folks who transfer (from a bus traveling on 15th) have a shorter walk.

        2) This is extended to 85th (with a stop at 65th).

        The latter is far more likely if this is elevated. It is extremely expensive to tunnel, and going farther north only gets you so much. Ballard to UW is obviously more important, as is some sort of Metro 8 subway. It is quite likely that this is it for this line, if not all tunneling in Seattle. We are already spending way more than any city this size for transit. There are plenty of cities that have seen their transit system stall. Even the wealthy, growing, much bigger Bay Area hasn’t seen a major increase in tunneling the last twenty years. They put their money into BART, with its handful of stops in San Fransisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Despite the obvious need to add more there, it hasn’t happened, because like most big cities, they have more important things to worry about than transit, and can only afford to raise taxes so much.

    2. They can express their opinions, but they’ll need to come up with a better reason for a tunnel than the don’t like the look of light rail. Their aesthetic sense competes with the basic mobility needs of other residents and future residents, and with keeping the tax down to the minimum necessary for effective transit.

    3. I agree – Perhaps when people think drawbridge, low bridges like the Freemont Bridge come to mind. These open frequently and cause a lot of disruption during peak travel times. Maybe they need a conceptual picture to help with understanding this type of bridge wouldn’t open very frequently and probably wouldn’t cause much in the way of delays.

      1. ST would really help frame the discussion if they could make a simple table showing the number of average weekday and weekend openings for both Ballard and West Seattle — and how many of those openings would happen if each bridge was higher (say in increments of 10 feet). Without these basic data points, the public has only their opinions and fears to debate.

      2. The issue has never been the frequency of openings — although you’re right this won’t be a low bridge.

        The issue isn’t what happens when the bridge opens, it’s what happens when it gets STUCK OPEN. Murphy’s Law. We’ve seen this story before ( and we’ll be there in 100 years ourselves.

        Sound Transit needs to think 4th dimensionally.

      3. BallardReader: That has to be weighed against what other transit improvements we’re foregoing by building an expensive tunnel. The line doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it exists in a transit network and people taking trips both on the line and not on it.

    4. Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill are tunneled. Ballard and West Seattle will be tunneled. Full stop.

      1. Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill tunnels were in the ST 1 & 2 budgets. The ST3 budget was scaled for the representative alignment. If you really wanted a tunnel, the time to argue for it was before the ballot measure was written and the cost ceilings were set.

      2. “Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill tunnels were in the ST 1 & 2 budgets.”

        Nope. Both were Sound Move (ST1) elements.

    5. >> 1) There will be no openings during peak times (this was promised)

      Yes, that is the way that all our drawbridges work. None of them open during rush hour.

      2) Openings will be coordinated with train operations to not block trains (I think promised?)

      This is up in the air, but highly likely. Bridge operators routinely ask ships to wait. During busy periods (summer weekends) they let them bunch up, so that the bridge opens less often. This would operate as to minimize the time that a train waits. Keep in mind, the bridge would be higher than a normal drawbridge, so there would be fewer openings. Also keep in mind that the worse part of the opening is not the time spent waiting for a bridge to open, but the time spent waiting for traffic to dissipate. In this case, since the bridge won’t open during peak times, and since the bridge opening will be rare and timed, it is quite likely that not a single train will be delayed, ever. If it is delayed, it will be rare — far less common than other delays in our system.

      1. >Yes, that is the way that all our drawbridges work. None of them open during rush hour.

        The West Seattle low bridge opens for coast guard traffic anytime that traffic presents itself, including rush hour. The feds have priority regardless of time of day.

      2. Seattle has a special agreement with the Coast Guard for the Ship Canal bridges. It may not have one for the low-level West Seattle bridge because the high-level bridge is the main one. The low-level bridge is just for Harbor Island, bikes, peds, those who don’t like freeways, and in case the high-level bridge is ever closed or blocked.

  5. I’m really troubled about the bus-rail and rail-rail transfer criteria listed on page 3. The presentation lists 0.25 miles or 1320 feet! That’s a distance of several blocks! That may be fine for a walk she’d but not a transfer distance!

    I would propose 0.12 miles for bus-rail and 0.08 miles for rail-rail connections.

    I even wonder if the reviewers have ever made transfers like this.

    1. I would also add that they need to consider true walksheds – those based off accessible sidewalks, crossings, and especially elevation changes. I think you’re right that the criteria used for evaluating access to stations shouldn’t be used for assessing transfers. Transfers need to be as easy as possible to rail stations, otherwise it’s a major handicap to a restructured Metro system when light rail expands in Seattle.

      1. I’d agree.

        I’d actually like to see the criteria in an minutes (average walk speed) from a train door, and not a distance. Then, travel delays for crossings, stairs/escalators and other delays can be considered.

        About 5-10 percent of the comments were about station access issues. That includes many specific station area comments. Given this common theme, I thought the summary was horribly negligent about this.

    2. I agree Al. Transfers are essential for our system to work properly. If you look at all of the stops (and there are a lot of them), they represent — even in the most optimistic of projections — a small subset of the city. Each individual line will have a subset of the trips taken via rail. If this is effective, the vast majority of trips will involve a bus or train transfer (or both). Screw that up, and things like tunneling, or even the lack of a First Hill stop will be considered trivial.

  6. Elevated rail works just fine for some of the biggest cities on the planet. Its not really an eyesore when its part of the urban fabric. There’s nothing wrong with it so long as its properly grade separated.

    I am in favor of getting rid of the drawbridge though.

    1. Also, some of the most famous urban landmarks in the world were considered “eyesores” when they first opened.

      Another benefit of elevated rail and a reason to not discount it: its pretty clear where the train runs and you don’t have as much trouble finding the station.

      Subways are perfectly fine too… but being an “eyesore” is a silly reason to eliminate stations to shift money into tunneling.

      1. People are thinking of the “El” in Chicago when they say “eyesore”. The Link supports on the run to TIBS are pretty nice looking.

      2. I actually like the way the ‘L’ looks, especially where it runs directly over the street in the Loop.

      3. I agree completely. It is also is a lot more enjoyable to ride. This is one of the prettiest cities in the world. Shouldn’t folks who ride the trains be able to enjoy the view?

    2. Making it beautiful is merely an artistic challenge: we can rise to the occasion. We can make it better than the existing elevated lines, if somebody can suggest something that doesn’t cost ST more money, such as community-funded art.

      1. It’s not beautiful exactly, but when they built a short section of the MAX red line they had to put the support pillars quite close together. This made the size of the beam section between the pillars fairly low profile so it isn’t quite as dominating as some road and rail bridges are. The shadow cast really isn’t that much larger than a pedestrian bridge.

      2. Glenn, but the hairpin is a single track. That’s what makes the shadow so slender. Those slender pillars certainly would not support two tracks with trains meeting above them.

      3. What makes them slender is the short span between them. The shorter the span, the less structure each has to carry. For an extreme example look at wooden trestles.

        Two single track sections side by side is used on Link in a few places.

      4. I was thinking more of painting the stanchions or putting murals on them or something like that, not changing their design. A community-funded arts movement couldn’t do that.

  7. Will Tunneling to Ballard really be that much more expensive. TBA will already be assembled and Tunneling. Additional cost would just be running the machines for and extra year, spoils disposal. All of that compared to property acquisitions of an every increasing market. At what point does tunneling become the cheaper option.

    1. I suspect going under the Ship Canal means going deeper into different soils that would have to be studied on their own, and possibly dealing with less stability if it’s mud-like like Lake Washington. The experience of the U-Link tunnel may be useful, but if Montlake is so different from Eastlake that a tunnel was low-risk in the former but high-risk in the latter suggests that it could be either one or something else at Ballard.

      1. No need to bore the Ship Canal tunnel. In fact, boring is a poor option because of the depth required; it would make the access grades steeper than what is essential. The right technology is “trench and drop” with pre-fab sections cast somewhere down the Duwamish and supports pile driven to bedrock or at least impervious, non-moving soils. I believe that the large lock is more than ample to pass a section of “BART-tube” tunnel.

      2. Reader, That is one cute little TBM being lowered. Thanks very much for the link!

      3. Another addendum. The draft of vessels in the Ship Canal is limited by the vertical distance between the bottom of the lock and the water level in Salmon Bay. That means that the protective overburden in a trench and drop tunnel can be considerably shallower than what is required in San Francisco Bay. Thus the tunnel can be shallower than it might underpassing a similar waterway without the constrained channel depth.

      4. Isn’t BART in a tube in the water rather than in a trench on the floor? And how would you dig a trench and lower the infrastructure down to it without exposing them to the water which would waterlog them and ruin them and could never be fully dried out?

  8. If its tunnels the people want, tunnels outside the CBD should be cut and cover style construction. It is the same price as elevated track ($200 million/mile) and half the price of bored tunnels ($400million/mile). We will just have to live with inconvenience of construction, but if we can’t sacrifice for the greater good, we are destined to fail as a society.

    The Ballard line should run surface (no at grade crossings, grade separated) through Interbay and dive into a cut and cover tunnel. The Salmon Bay crossing should be a similar construction method, “Trench, Drag, and Drop”, which is how the Transbay Tunnel for the BART was constructed. Dredge a trench and drop precast concrete tunnel sections, and cover with fill. The Trench, Drag and Drop construction method allows for a shallow tunnel underneath Salmon Bay, so there will be small/shallow approaches compared to a 70 – 140 foot tall bridge or deep bored tunnel. Continue the tunnel and cut and cover up 15th to Market. The station at 15th and Market should be constructed to accommodate a future East-West Ballard to UW subway, and have a WYE built into to allow Ballard Spur subway to access SODO Maintenance yard. Time the construction of the Salmon Bay tunnel for low salmon runs and transport the remaining fish around the construction of the tunnel similar to during dam construction. Terminate the Ballard line at 15th and Market with the future provisions for E-W transfer and extension to the North up 15th.

    The West Seattle line should scrap the fixed high bridge (its a HUGE expense). The line should be constructed similar to the proposal above for the Ballard line. Crossing the Duwamish should be over a low fixed bridge over the East channel, and dive into a Trench, Drag, and Drop tunnel beneath the main/large West channel. Then run the line up Fauntleroy Way after the elevated Delridge station. On the Fauntleroy section, either run on surface taking up two lanes (no at grade crossings/grade separated), or cut and cover this entire section as it runs up to 35th/Avalon. From the Avalon station, cut and cover Fantleroy turning towards Alaska for the final Junction Station. Set up the line for future expansion south by softly rounding the 90 deg. corner from Alaska into the parking lot on 4th pointing south and install a turnback track there.

    This proposal gets the tunnel people want, at the price point we can afford. We just have to be willing to accept the temporary impacts of construction for this multi-generational investment.

    1. I did think that the crossing alignment a few blocks south the West Seattle Bridge and entering a tunnel on that hillside was a reasonable alignment to study. Two Link bores are much smaller than a Bertha-sized machine.

      1. I always liked this concept too. It would be nice if it got some real consideration.

    2. We do need to confront people’s knee-jerk dismissal of cut-and-cover tunnels. If it’s less expensive and more useful (by putting platforms closer to surface bus stops) it should be considered. The argument against it is the construction disruption. But while that may have flown before Link opened (Rainier Valley and Roosevlt planning), now neighborhoods are desperate to get Link and a few years’ construction disruption shouldn’t be as much of a barrier. “You do want Link, right? And you don’t want it to cost an arm and a leg? Here’s your cut-and-cover tunnel. They’re very popular in German downtowns.”

      1. Yes. Probably the hardest part about cut-and-cover is maintaining traffic on top. Alaska Street would be very messy. Moving it to Oregon or Genesee seems easier for cut-and-cover as these are minor streets with only a few places west of Fauntleroy requiring direct access (so closing them for two years is a much less of a problem).

      2. I don’t know how feasible it would be with the highway overpasses, but a cut-and-cover extension of the downtown transit tunnel through SoDo would seem to make the transfers go easier. Might even be able to have West Seattle and Rainier Valley Link lines using the same platforms down there with bus transfers no more difficult than 5th and Jackson, which leaves more space for transit oriented development. Having 3-4 stations at different elevations in the same neighborhood is a bit of an overkill! Bonus is you’re not exactly cutting through prime NIMBY territory.

      3. What about the Sequential excavation method Like Bellevue’s Tunnel. If the Tunnel starts near the golf course it would be less then a mile. Pending soil analysis soil conditions could may be similar to that of Bellevue and the Bellevue tunnel is making great progress 4.27 feet per day.

      4. An ally! Thanks Andy. I’ve been advocating for trench drag and drop for a couple of years to complete silence by any of the other posters. Maybe if there are two of us, someone will listen.

        I like your thinking outside the box by using the same technology for the West Seattle crossing, but I don’t think that Harbor Island is wide enough to cross the East Channel on a fixed bridge and then get deep enough to under-cross the West Channel. I think the tunnel would have to go under the East Channel as well, though it could certainly be much shallower at that point.

        Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s only a quarter of a mile (about 1200 feet) between the west bank of the East Channel and the east bank of the West Channel. You have to get from ten feet above MSL to at least 60 feet below in that 1200 feet, and allow for the vertical curves to transition into and out of the grade.

        That would be pretty steep, probably effectively 1 in 15 or 6 and a half percent allowing for the transition curves. Yes, LR trains can make such a grade if the rails are kept dry, but it would be pretty uncomfortable for standees and those seated on longitudinal seats.

        But that just means a little longer tunnel. I like your thinking.

        And B, we’ve had a two month discussion of sharing tracks in the new elevated structure in the busway and a stacked station with shared platforms (at least for fifteen to twenty years) at SoDo station. It’s such a good idea (it makes “in-direction” transfers completely easy) that for ST to have ignored it calls into question their professional expertise.

        Now there might be enough trains in some distant future that having two parallel lines is necessary, but as long as it’s the stub to West Seattle and the surface limited Green line, there is PLENTY of capacity on the new elevated line for both. The only real technical difficulty is working the junction just to the south into the mess of trackage at the Maintenance Facility while maintaining reasonable grades.

        Read back a few weeks and you’ll find several long technical post about it.

      5. I agree with you about the SODO station issue. It was one of the most liked comments on the comment map. For ST to not even discuss it in the summary really disturbs me. It’s low cost, popular and very reasonable!

        Is it that someone at ST hates the idea? We may need to poll the committee members

        It highlights my greatest structural problem of this study: no seasoned, multi-train-line riders have an advocate on the committees.

  9. Would a tunneled West Seattle option speed up the total time by allowing the rail to be built a little straighter? I’m guessing an elevated train will be sloooow, both to go up the hill and then to make the numerous tight turns. A tunneled train could approach at higher speed with the reduced elevation gain, then keep a little straighter.

    What are the extension options for an elevated train there? Would the station be facing south along California, or west along Alaska?

    The impact of the drawbridge needs to be calculated based on a full build-out of the system. It’s not just a single station affected, but probably two entire lines. The Seattle Subway concept would have that drawbridge affecting one line all that way out to Issaquah and another to Woodinville. That’s too much to screw up regularly. If it were forever and always just one station in Ballard, or even a line to Northgate… maybe. But it won’t be.

    1. “What are the extension options for an elevated train there? Would the station be facing south along California, or west along Alaska?”

      The initial representative alignment had it facing west. There was overwhelming feedback that this is wrong: it has to face south to prepare for the Burien extension, which is already studied and I assume has a planning budget in ST3. ST’s new alternatives to the Advisory Board show potential south-facing alignments, so I think we can take it as given that west-facing won’t be considered anymore; we’ll just have to make sure after the next proposals.

      The downtown-Ballard segment could in the future be connected to Bothell (Holman Road/85th), Lynnwood (Aurora/Greenwood?), or Kirkland or Redmond (45th).

      Going to Issaquah is a high-level possibility but not currently in ST’s long-range plan. It may depend on how good the transfer from Isaquah-Kirkland Link to East Link is: if it’s as bad and out-of-the-way as some of the chatter is, that could increase the demand for an Issaquah-Seattle line. But that’s way in the realm of speculation.

      A drawbridge opening four times a day off-peak is a minor issue for Ballard-downtown and on to Tacoma. It’s a bigger issue if the line is extended north and real people are taking from downtown to Bothell and Bitter Lake, but we need more cost/benefit studies before we can rule it out. Keith Kyle’s concern that the bridge may get stuck open is valid, and the old West Seattle bridge did just that, but it’s not the only factor and we shouldn’t base everything on unlikely scenarios.

      1. Issaquah-Seattle direct is forever foreclosed by the combination of the station design at South Bellevue and the wetlands directly to the east. There are simply too many freeway ramps to make the junction anywhere within the I-90 envelope.

    1. Joe, Tillicum is way too low for Ballard or West Seattle. It’s beautiful and has very cool light shows, but it’s no high enough.

      1. Thanks, I sadly think I have to believe you Richard B. Sad really.

        Maybe the New Westminister-Surrey Skybridge run by TransLink might do: – I just want ST3 built out quickly with as many excuses for delay (e.g. reinventing the transit bridge) removed. All the SkyBridge would need is additional bike & pedestrian lanes.

      2. Joe, if those boxes across the river are RV’s and they appear to be, then, yes, this bridge might be high enough. It depends what height vessels will be allowed in Lake Union and Lake Washington. Since NOAA moved, there really haven’t been any large ships for several years as I understand it.

  10. What happened the idea of a high fixed span bridge? Seems like it would be much cheaper than a tunnel with the reliability of a tunnel. Is it not reasonable to build, just as expensive as a tunnel or do people simply don’t like it?

    1. It’s still on the table. ST studied one at 130′. (The moveable bridge alternative is 70′; the Ballard Bridge is 35′.) My feedback was that either a fixed bridge or a tunnel were better than a moveable bridge, but that a moveable bridge is not that big a deal.

      The objections to a 130′ bridge are that any bridge is an eyesore, and a 130′ bridge would have to have longer approaches (compare the Aurora Bridge to the Fremont Bridge, where the Fremont Bridge reaches the surface right at the shore but the Aurora Bridge reaches the surface further out — with implications for a Fremont bus stop or, in Link’s case, the Ballard and Dravus stations being higher than otherwise. A higher bridge would also make it more difficult to put a bike/ped path on it because you’d have to go up higher to get to the bridge, or it would only serve the areas further out (again, it may level out at Dravus but it would be high above Fisherman’s Terminal and south Ballard).

      1. Most of portland’s bridges were considered eyesores before too, now they’re considered views. Maybe a secondary bike/ped draw bridge can be constructed at a lower elevation or something if it matters that much

    2. Henry and everybody else, for me these pretty well say it.

      From here on, I think STB should insist that average “Scoping” program should focus on civil engineering and geology, not aesthetics and ideology. And shift budget decisions accordingly. Won’t make decisions any easier to make. But will definitely narrow the choices in a positive way.

      And in addition to the fortunes every decision could save or lose us, thousands of voters, and their boys who’ll be on the construction teams, and their girls who’ll be supervising them and also heading the worldwide firms will already be online starting their careers on the drive home.

      Where the real savings begin. Because its 100% odds that especially if they’re girls, we’ll doubtless be getting ST Boards, elected or appointed, who’ll trade months of Power Point for a few days in the construction trailers and among the machines. Boring or structuring, whichever.

      Also, since Olympia is not yet in Sound Transit, will somebody please e-mail or Twitter Rob Johnson and tell him that a former CEO of Transportation Choices Coalition who is also on the City Council and the Sound Transit Board does not have the choice of Taking a Powder on discussions like this.

      Once more time, and I won’t use his name as the answer to “Who can help all 200 of us get out of UW Station ’cause a week down here is long enough?” And same in spades for Jenny Durkan. She’s fast losing her credibility re: sending kids from Olympia to Angle Lake Private Prison for not being snitches.

      Except for office tenants of the containment dome overlooking town, nobody in Olympia is genetically capable of forming criminal intent.

      Mark Dublin

  11. Ok, let’s have a dose of reality… If we want to build more tunnels, it’s going to cost a lot more money and time.

    Tunneling costs for sound transit are about $550 million per mile based on U-link.

    Just the tunnel portion of west Seattle would be a little under 2 miles. So around $1.1 billion.

    If we kept the whole ballard route tunneled, it would be about 3.6 miles of extra subway. So, a little under $2 billion.

    So to do both of these tunnels would be around $3.1 billion. The cost of the elevated route is probably about 0.3 * cost of the tunnel, so the added cost would be about $2.17 billion.

    Where are we going to get $2 billion?

    Also, delays would probably be necessary anyway as building tunnels takes much more time than building an elevated route.

    1. No, no, no! Nobody is saying tunnel through Interbay; drop that Red Herring right now. The proposals on the table are bored or trench and drop/cut and cover from somewhere north of Dravus to (eventually), somewhere north of Market. As a matter of fact, at 65th there is a “wide spot in the road on 15th that is sufficient for the tracks to come out of the ground and go elevated in the middle of 15th NW if parking is removed to about 68th. From the curve to Holman where there might be sufficient available ROW to go surface at least as far as 3rd NW where it would probably have to enter tunnel again.

    2. Tunneling looks like a severe cost stretch, but we can see what later more detailed studies say. An Interbay tunnel is not a goal, but it may end up being the simplest option if the Ship Canal is tunneled. The point of the Interbay alignment was to avoid the cost of a Queen Anne tunnel and a station for upper Queen Anne.

      1. Transitioning from elevated to a deep bore tunnel under the canal would be pretty steep. I question whether that is possible.

        We’ll see what the study says I guess.

        The other thing you need to remember is that this line is also limited by the rainier valley allignment, which will only allow a train every 8 minutes at peak. The tunnel may not add any capacity unless rainier valley is also converted into a tunnel, for which there are no plans.

        Finally, a deep bore under the canal will produce another deep station like at husky stadium, which will limit capacity.

        The adcantage of the tunnel is to prevent bunching if the bridge is raised at rush hour. How big of a risk is that? There are pros and cons.

      2. Brendan, Two things:

        1) You don’t need a “deep bore” tunnel under the Ship Canal. A trench and drop tunnel would work just fine and connect to a cut-and-cover tunnel in Ballard. The sediments under the Bay where the original North American version of that technology was used for BART are also deep, yet it was possible to firm them sufficiently to lay a tunnel longer than two miles in them. The Ship Canal is less than 1/3 mile wide.

        2) The line is not limited to the south end frequencies during the peaks. Trains can turn at the Stadium pocket track or, if it is removed to narrow the Green Line right of way during the Red Line construction, by using the loop at the Maintenance Facility, though that would be less efficient. Trains could even go to West Seattle for that matter should it choose to densify in trade for a tunnel. An “overlay” peak only service could take West Seattle riders directly to South Lake Union.

  12. Tunneling to a low-density West Seattle obviously doesn’t make any sense. Tunneling to a high-density West Seattle does. So…let’s put two options on the table: 1) tunnel to West Seattle and increase height limits to 15-20 stories within a 5-minute walk-shed and LR3 zoning to a 10-minute walkshed of the West Seattle stations; 2) follow existing HALA guidelines and keep the elevated preferred option. Let West Seattle decide.

    1. Yes! This is inevitable, so it’s better to make the explicit decision up front.

    2. I would add that West Seattle near the Alaska Junction is basically a single-family neighborhood starting a half-block west of California Street. There really is no compelling reason to go much further west than Fauntleroy. By the way, it’s 1/4 mile from California to Fauntleroy at Alaska Street — an acceptable distance for a bus-rail transfer from what was listed in the Page 3 criteria that I mentioned above.

    3. With action in the state legislature to approve true tax-increment financing, increasing the development capacity could fund the added cost of the tunnel. Will Seattle Subway be advocating this in the next legislative session?

  13. With all the tunneling desired for Link, the city should just have bought Bertha instead of renting.

    1. Problem is, Scott, that when a Tunnel Boring Machine “breaks through” at the end of its dig, the front section with gets “shot-creted” (sprayed concrete) into the bore, and becomes part of the tube.

      True, all the machinery is dismantled and removed. But likely next job will be a permanent exhibit in the Museum of History and Industry. Go online and check out the latest on tunneling. Is it right that Ballard-West Seattle will start in 2033?

      In fifteen years, Bertha will not exactly be the Model T of boring technology, but more like the 1958 Oldsmobile.


    2. TBMs are built individually for each job. At the end of the job only half the parts are reusable; the rest is worn out. And Bertha was a lot larger than any of these tunnels would be.

  14. All of this would be possible in the Ballard and West Seattle lines without the massively expensive wasteful second tunnel in downtown Seattle.

    Im sorry but First Hill can wait there is a ton of investment going on to FH in the form of RRG and the over budget Streetcar. We need to build out right now on link not duplicate what we have.

    Terminate that WS line at Stadium with an easy transfer just like the initial build is planning. Build the Ballard line at grade through LQA and SLU it’ll work better for station access and create transit priority in the neighborhood.

    I’m sorry but the plan is fatally flawed and if people don’t wake up to that the neighborhoods are going to get fucked because its so downtown centric.

    1. The second downtown tunnel is needed for capacity and frequency. You can’t have the riders from that many endpoints (Issaquah, Tacoma, Everett, West Seattle, Ballard, Redmond) all converge into one tunnel. It isn’t that you can do West Seattle and Ballard — like you say — if you skip the new downtown tunnel; it is that you literally can’t do West Seattle and Ballard unless you DO build the second downtown tunnel.

    2. There’s disagreement on whether a third line in the DSTT would reach or exceed the tunnel’s passenger capacity, and even whether ST2 Link will do that. The tunnel can be upgraded from 3-minute maximum to 90-second maximum but it requires capital improvements, and that was considered for ST3 but not included when they decided to build the second tunnel. So the choice is either a single tunnel which might or might not become overcrowded in the next three decades — and is a single point of failure — or a second tunnel which gives plenty of total capacity both now and for adding a future line or two (Aurora? Issaquah? Duwamish?).

      We’re luck that an earlier generation built the DSTT in the 1980s so that it didn’t have to be included in ST1’s budget. That may have made the difference in passing ST1. The same thing can now happen with ST4: the second tunnel will already be there so it would be less expensive to add another line to it. And in case one of the tunnels fails, we can reroute passengers or trains into the other tunnel if the track-switching allows.

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