“Virginia Mason Hospital and Pavilions” By Visitor7 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
It appears we’re not going to get a formal study of building the Midtown Station on 8th Avenue, much less further up First Hill. However, a little searching can give us an idea of costs and benefits. Call it the discount version of the study Sound Transit will refuse to give us.


Back in 2010, Sound Transit spent $27m to tunnel under I-5. Two undercrossings thus price out to $62m in 2018 dollars.

Oran’s mapping software estimates an 8th & Madison alignment as adding roughly 0.09 miles, or 475 feet, to the length of the tunnel. Taking the experience of the Beacon Hill Project, a TBM can cover 50 feet per day, so that’s 10 more days of boring operations. This source suggests TBMs cost about 5m Euro per month, so that comes out to roughly $2m in additional expenditure.

Lastly, an 8th Avenue station would be deeper than at 5th, and therefore more expensive. Back in 2005, the entire Beacon Hill project (both station and tunnel) cost $305m, which is $413m today. Roosevelt Station cost $151m in 2018 dollars, and can be considered a floor for what the 5th Avenue choice would cost. Thus we can place a ceiling on the station cost differential of $252m, and estimate the total cost of moving the station from 5th to 8th at no more than $316m.


Ridership predictions are difficult, even with a professional model. They become harder when it’s not clear what to measure: is it enough to compare boardings at each location? What if those riders are cannibalized from the existing Link stations? If they’re taken from the bus network, how do we measure the improvement in quality of life for those riders even if they don’t take a car off the road?

Rather than try to answer any of these questions, I’ll use two considerations. First, walkshed:


Oran’s map tells us a lot. Even though the downtown core is denser than First Hill, many of those buildings are within the 1/4 mile golden radius for transit, and all of them are within the less-optimal 1/2 mile. Building another station to shave a block or two off that walk will do little to change outcomes. A mere 3-block move makes the 1/4 mile walkshed almost mutually exclusive.

Second, existing transit demand. Consider the 2016 Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) Survey produced by Commute Seattle. The SOV share is a good measure of how well current transit options are getting people out of their cars:

ST3 will serve the top two of these. The geography makes it hard to gather Uptown, South Lake Union, and Belltown into a single line, though most of Belltown will be able to walk to a station. These results show us that First Hill is both large and inadequately served by current transit. A 5th and Madison station doesn’t do much to bring the big First Hill employers inside even the half-mile walkshed of Link. Instead, it will exclusively serve a Commercial Core that is at the point of diminishing returns in discouraging SOV commutes. And not only that: the Seattle neighborhoods that generate the most cars going to First Hill will be in the Link system.

A Green Line station on First Hill would provide a one seat Link ride to SLU, Southeast Seattle, and Ballard, 3 of the six top car-generating neighborhoods. Two of the remaining three would be a Link transfer away. A 5th Avenue Station forces a transfer to BRT, which is not nearly as likely to bring these numbers down.

Relatedly, First Hill disproportionately employs people from South King and Pierce County:

A First Hill Station would directly connect with the SR99/I-5 corridor via Link and would be one subway stop away from the Sounder terminus. Sounder is already the mode for 25% of Center City workers coming from the southern suburbs. For them, a 5th Avenue stop would be either two transfers or a circuitous ride on the streetcar to cover the last mile to First Hill.


Perhaps we can’t afford project scope increases in the low hundreds millions of dollars because of shenanigans in both Congress and the Washington Legislature. If so, Sound Transit has been wasting a lot of time exploring options that will never see the light of day.

If not, the evidence we have suggests there is no higher cost-benefit ratio before us than to bring the major employment centers on First Hill into the Link system, which would (almost incidentally!) also connect one of the densest residential neighborhoods in the state. To not investigate further would be negligent.

52 Replies to “A Cheap ST3 First Hill Study”

  1. Nice analysis. I’m wondering about land acquisition and other construction-related disruptions? Is 5th Avenue going to be closed for 5 years while the station is constructed? Would there be a lesser impact to build the station on 8th?

  2. Great editorial. Every ST board member should read this. It will be a huge wasted opportunity not to serve this area.

  3. Well thought out, Martin. The trip pairs between 8th and S.Lake Union employment should be far better than having a station on 5th, just a couple of block walk from the 3rd Ave Stations.
    The walkshed maps make the best argument for this. I’m not sure what the transfer rate would be for the 8th station riders, doing it at Westlake going to the U, or IDS going south, but getting them into the system is the most important step.
    Good Job.

  4. If the mayor, city council, and SDOT push for this then ST will follow. If the city continues to demonstrably not care, then ST won’t budget an inch.

    1. You will probably need at least a majority (if not unanimous) of the city council. (One or two members won’t do it— Mike O’Brien was a big Ballard to UW guy, but that went nowhere). Remember, SDOT has an interim director, I doubt he is in a position to push this. Anyone know what the Mayor thinks?

  5. I’m having second thoughts about pushing hard for First Hill. Here’s my primary concern: an 8th Ave station is not an adequate First Hill station, and is also not far enough from the 5th Ave alignment to justify two I-5 crossings when the incremental resistance to moving it farther east is relatively small. And while it does a good job connecting to some of the hospitals (including Harborview), it is way too far from anything with major development potential and Seattle University. Thirdly, it is very far from the original First Hill station in Sound Move (at Madison and Boylston).

    But here is the biggest issue: not only is the station inadequate, but if this push is successful and 8th & Madison gets built, we’re stuck with it. In future years, we’re going to wonder why we built the transit hub for First Hill so far on the edge. Seattle U students are going to wish that something was done to avoid the “last 3/4 mile” problem that they and so many others have. There will be articles on STB on how bad the location is. The bus integration with Madison BRT could be excellent, but I think the expectation based on ST’s record is two mezzanines with only down escalators working and 1 out of 2 elevators out of service.

    And the worst part is that then, First Hill is done whether you like it or not. It’s already hard enough for us to get ST to even think about First Hill because of the most obviously inadequate FHSC. Could imagine the uphill battle it will be to get ST to build further into First Hill after there is already technically a light rail station in First Hill? Having been under extreme pressure to add a very risky 8th Ave station and going along with it, I guarantee you during the whole construction stage they will most look forward to never thinking about First Hill again. FH will be done for at least 50 years. The only foreseeable ways forward would be the Seattle Subway pink line in coordination with light rail on 520, or a U-district to Rainier Valley line that bends west toward FH, both which are not even close to being on the long range plan.

    In conclusion, I would advise against declaring “Deal” on a First Hill station unless you’re happy with what you’ve got. Are you happy with 8th/Madison?

    1. I’d agree with your concerns about the 8th/Madison proposal – if the FH deviation catches on, the station should be at Boren/Madison to better serve the hospitals and Seattle University. 8th/Madison is too small a deviation to justify the costs of weaving around I-5, and as you suggested the FH neighborhood can do (and deserves) better. I think the Madison line concept has potential as a long term replacement for improved bus or streetcar service.

    2. I actually think the best location for a First Hill station would probably be 8th and Marion (based on what I was told at the open house I attended, they probably wouldn’t do 8th and Madison, but would need to move the station about a block further south for engineering reasons about the degree of curving. For the same reasons, a station further up the hill with even sharper curves would probably not be feasible while still connecting at Westlake and ID station).

      This 8th Ave location would still provide great access to the major office buildings in the center of downtown, including the Columbia Tower, the new F5 building they just finished, and the future Rainier Square Tower, among others. At the same time, it provides much better access to the major regional hospitals and dense residential development on First Hill, and this access is ***actually qualitatively superior in an asymmetric way*** because the people that need to get to these locations are proportionately less able-bodied than those who work in downtown office towers. (I am thinking here about the thousands of elderly folks in assisted living etc. on First Hill, plus all the people with medical problems that make going a few extra blocks up/down a grade seem like an insurmountable hurdle).

      Just for fun, I did a little experiment walking around the area yesterday. For me, an able-bodied person who walks fairly briskly, walking up the moderate grade hill from 5th and Madison, over the freeway, and over to 8th and Marion, took about 5 minutes. So, instead of 7 to 10 minutes to Harborview’s main entrance from 8th/Marion, with 1 street on a hill (8th to 9th), it would take 12 to 15 minutes, with 2 street hills to climb. Doable for me, but definitely more of a trek. Likewise, instead of 6-9 minutes from 8th/Marion over to Virginia Mason’s Seneca entrance, with 1 climb, it would be 11-14 minutes with 2 noticeable climbs. Instead of 5-7 minutes up to Swedish’s 1101 Madison Building (just past Boren), it would take 10-13 minutes from 5th/Madison and most people would definitely feel out of breath. A 5-10 minute wait to transfer to Madison BRT would generally not make sense for any of these destinations from 5th/Madison, unless you were significantly impaired in mobility, and even then it wouldn’t be great for Harborview. I don’t think anyone going to First Hill would transfer from the 3rd Ave line to use this station either. From University St. station up to Virginia Mason or from Pioneer Sq. station up to Harborview would take about the same time as walking from 5th/Madison, and Madison BRT would again offer no advantage unless you were going to Swedish, and then it depends on frequency.

      I also wanted to address the idea that “it is way too far from anything with major development potential.” There is major development on the way for First Hill in general, and specifically all along 8th Ave. There will be 2, 32-story towers with 548 apartments at 8th and Spring; a 17-story, 304 unit building at 9th and Madison; a 30-story, 287 unit tower at 8th and Columbia, with a 156 unit building just behind it; a 21-story, 76-unit assisted living facility on the other side of 8th and Columbia; two 33-story towers with 440 units, 2 blocks away at Terry and Columbia; a 24-story, 117 unit assisted living facility across the street; and a 27-story, 226 unit building at the corner of 8th and Cherry. All of this planned or in-progress development is within 3 short blocks of 8th and Marion, mostly on the level, and is on top of all the existing buildings in the area, which I believe is the most dense residential neighborhood north of San Francisco.

      Finally, the argument that First Hill can get something better in some hypothetical ST4 if it forgoes a station now seems highly dubious to me. I think “FH will be done for at least 50 years” either with or without this station and that the whole region will be better off with this station, so we should fight for it now.

  6. The alignment is a three dimensional challenge. To that end, longer tunneling could provide more room for an elevation change.

    A second issue is the crossing of the existing DSTT. It’s not going to be easy or cheap. It’s going to be much deeper than the current Westlake platforms to get underneath them.

    A third issue is the Westlake Station layout for transfers. A perpendicular new platform is proposed and seems logical —but solving the first two problems could result in a parallel platform on one side or the other. Maybe cross the tracks further east and return to the Westlake area?

    A more radical concept would be to study different operational configurations. That would include moving the transfer point to Capitol Hill, moving the existing Westlake platforms (deeper? More northerly?), splitting the current line so that U-Link trains use the new Downtown tunnel and Ballard trains use the old one, or even an underground version of Chicago’s loop.

    There are also more radical grade solutions — like building portals and having aerial sections north and/or south of First Hill.

    Stepping back to a systems planning world, the real issue is whether a north-south line or east-west underground funicular line would serve First Hill. Related to this is the diagonal entrance solution with escalators and a diagonal elevator headed up First Hill.

    So why mention all of these wild variations? Because a critical step in the alternatives planning process got skipped in the rush to put ST3 on the ballot. ST3 alignments and stations are not based on prior good rail systems planning. ST won’t even go public with individual station boarding forecasts to this very day! The final alignment was never a study alternative! It was a bunch of guys behind closed doors who drew their fantasy lines with a little bit of early study and thusvwe are getting ready to spend 20 years of questioning the logic of non-sensual details about ST3.

    Martin is right to push on this. Still, we should never be at this stage of alternatives development at this point in the first place. It’s embarassing to allow this amount of money to be spend on a subway based on such weak planning-level analysis by people who didn’t live with rail in subways in 2014-2015 when stiudies were done. It almost feels like we are reliving the Cincinnati subway debacle of 100 years ago.

    1. I have said the same thing, but only if Madison BRT is as advertised.

      If Madison BRT is watered down, and no ST3 station, then first hill should secede.

      I also think Seattle Subway may have hit on something where the likely future driver of a true first hill line is their ‘pink line’ that hooks into a 520 crossing – and this will be true whether there is a station at 5th, 8th, or Boren.

      But again. for want of a study we’re shooting on the dark.

      1. The proposed Pink Line seems weird to me. Maybe it’s because before they were focusing on the Sand Point crossing, and 520-UW is being pushed as the new main corridor for buses. I suppose exiting 520 to Madison Park makes more sense geographically than exciting to Laurelhurst.

        It also does duplicate Madison BRT. I think it may be a good idea to take advantage of being able to weave a tunnel underground disconnected from the road network, and make a swing around Madrona and the CD. I’m thinking Madison & 12th, 23rd & Cherry, 34th & Union, 23rd & Madison, 42nd & Madison, then 520.

      2. Yeah. I’m guessing that was a major factor influencing Seattle Subway to move the second light rail crossing of Lake Washington to SR520. The Sand Point crossing is an interesting idea, but it would be a shame to never utilize the enhancements on SR520. It does leave eastside to north Seattle riders with a circuitous light rail ride, but it’s still better than being in stopped traffic on a bus.

      3. Madison & 12th, 23rd & Cherry, 34th & Union, 23rd & Madison, 42nd & Madison, then 520.”

        You’re kidding, right? Cherry and 23rd then Union and 34th then BACK TO 23rd at Madison and BACK PAST 34th to 42nd and Madison?

        The World’s Crookedest Subway. Seattle’s very own Lombard Street, but without the views.

    1. Oh goodness this is amazing. I remember that proposal but it was clearly taken for granted. This answers all the complaints and fills in all the holes. It’s also four lines, which better corresponds to two tunnels than ST3’s three lines. This also predates the plan to split the spine, but a reconfigured DSTT could accommodate this with a split spine (Tacoma – SLU via DSTT, WS – Everett via DSTT, Bellevue – Ballard via new tunnel, FH – Ballard via new tunnel)

      1. You cannot “reconfigure” the DSTT.

        There is no way ever under any plausible engineering scenario to build a junction between University Street and Westlake. The northbound line would have to dive much too quickly to under-run the existing trackage at the curve and squeeze between it and the buildings on Third Avenue in the process.

        Had it been allowed for when the connection to the cut-and-cover portion of the tunnel at Ninth Avenue been built it might have been possible to use the excavation for Convention Place as a means of connecting into SLU, but that option is dead with the construction of the Convention Center expansion.

        The only way to have southend-SLU service is via the new tunnel, and it is not possible in any reasonably costed way to connect East Link to the new tunnel.

    2. This is a good example of how to serve more downtown-adjacent neighborhoods while still having a common segment downtown. The common segment is a but shorter than I’d like but it’s better than the Intl Dist – 8th – Westlake concept.

    3. I think Frank’s proposal for the original Second Avenue alignment that ST has abandoned because of the lack of tunneling clearances around Yesler. Notice that his dashed lines are west of the DSTT.

      Now, there’s no reason that it couldn’t be modified for the Fifth/Sixth Avenue alignment, and there’s a lot to be said for stacking the tubes if that alignment is chosen. It would keep the footprint of the system and stations narrower than side-by-side and allow the connection to First Hill just south of the Madison station.

      However, the stations on First Hill would be even deeper in this model, raising their prices, reducing their accessibility, and limiting their number.

  7. The transfer at Westlake or ID better be impeccable. You are suggesting removing the only truly CBD stop from the Green Line.

    Also, you do your cost comparisons take into account inflation only or do they account for the insane construction climate that we are experiencing (which does seems to be cooling down price wise in the past 6 months)?

    The tunnel crossing in particular was done in a time when construction was in a lull, hence why U-Link came in almost $200 million under budget. Compare to Lynnwood Link, which is already $500 million over budget before the golden shovels have broke ground. So I’m highly suspect of your numbers showing “only” $316 million difference.

    Not to mention, the previous tunnel crossing was perpendicular to an elevated section, which is “easier”. Your proposed 8th/Madison tunnel crosses the partially elevated, partially on structural fill, portion of I-5 @ James at a very skewed angle. The tunnel would then cross, again at a skewed, albeit closer to perpendicular angle, to a very complex portion of elevated I-5, express lanes and the 8th Ave bridge. I would assume the tunnel would be very deep by this point, so this may not be an issue here. Regardless, I think you’re looking at minimum $150 million for both crossings ($100 south; $50 north).

    For the stations, I don’t really have a grasp on costs, because it’s unclear what to compare an 8th/Madison station to. It will likely need to be very deep to pass under I-5 to the north and eventually Westlake Station. Beacon Hill is probably the best comparison depth-wise, but Beacon Hill Station was not built adjacent to existing large buildings, it had a pretty large buffer around it. So taking all that into account, I would think an 8th/Madison station would be a minimum of $413 million and likely closer to $500 million. Compared to a 5th/Madison station, that could be a shallower, more NYC subway-esque style station. Going north, the train would dive down and use the natural up slope to the north to dive under Westlake, which I would put closer to $100 million.

    So my back of the napkin, conceptual estimate pegs an 8th/Madison station at MINIMUM $500 million more. That’s before taking into account any geological constraints that were considered when cancelling the First Hill Station the first time around.

    And all this to avoid an extra three block walk for First Hill-ites. You’d be better pushing for accommodating future expandability for the 2015 STB exhibit that Barman posted above. It’s clear that brand new tunnel is going to be under capacity due to the unfortunate Rainier Valley section.

    1. We can at least hope that turnback trains will be run through the new Tunnel at least as far as IDS or more likely SoDo and the MF in order to provide the frequency needed for SLU/Lower Queen Anne development.

  8. Martin’s cost estimate shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and certainly shouldn’t be taken as a ceiling on the estimated cost. In fact, it doesn’t even make a very good floor.

    For one thing, estimating the cost of tunneling on under I-5 based on how fast a TBM can dig and the additional required distance is out-of-bed with even ST’s experience with the U-Link I-5 crossing. These crossings are risky, they take lots of additional engineering study, they take additional surface position monitoring systems that go way beyond what is normally required, and the TBM’s slow to a crawl during the crossing. It just isn’t as easy as Martin’s portrayal of a TBM cruising under I-5 at full speed — that is pure fantasy.

    There simply is no way this will be as cheap as Martin claims, and the benefits are nebulous. And the impact on ridership demand on the existing DSTT isn’t even discussed.

    But hey, say the cost of moving the station to FH is on the order of $500m. What would you rather have? An undercrossing of the Ship Canal on Ballard Link? Or a FH station that doesn’t bring much overall system level benefit?

    I think the answer is clear, FH should be off the table.

    1. I think the argument is that this isn’t a zero sum game. The main point is there hasn’t been a study, and therefore there aren’t any facts on which to base a conclusion.

      Martin’s post (guess) highlights this well. Other people are already posting their guesses too. The main thing I take away is that no one knows anything for sure, but that because of all the reasons Martin gives for First Hill being a potentially good place for a station, it ought to at least be studied!

    2. There appear to be a number of other things missing from Martin’s “methodology”. Clearly the numbers do not include planning, final design and environmental costs, add another 35-40% for those. It doesn’t appear they include the cost of right of way, either. In this case two I-5 crossings require a right-of-way agreement with WSDOT, which typically requires fair market value as calculated by state appraisers. Subsurface easements the length of the addition tunnel linear footage would be needed. And property at the surface for construction will need to be bought, since ST just gave away its most valuable parcel on FH for housing. Most concerning, however, is any critical thinking about the station costs. ST estimated in the early aughts the cost of FH station well over $350 million in de-inflated dollars back then. This was due primarily to depth, soil conditions, and delivery method (ground freezing over 200 feet below the surface). The commentary is uncharacteristically cavalier.

      The other big scope item under consideration for the corridor is a fixed span or tunnel to Ballard. A sober look at FH costs takes those options well out of reach unless someone can bring some serious, undiscovered money to the table.

      1. The argument seems to be “we don’t know enough about FH, so we need to study it more.” That is not really true. We know A LOT about FH. ST did a massive EIS and a ton of design and geotech work. We know the costs, benefits and risks of serving the area by subway. And the region decided a decade ago not to go there, planning streetcar, BRT and connex from CH instead.

        What has really changed? Nothing. The jobs and residential are about what PSRC predicted. I-5 is still there. The ground is the same. What’s different are that materials, land and labor are a lot more expensive, and the street car didn’t work out as planned. The latter can be fixed at a much lower price point.

      2. You really think that a tunnel is going to be built in Ballard? I suspect Ballard is getting a drawbridge. More likely, we see a tunnel to the junction.

      3. Another Engineer, you say a few arguable things, but this is a whopper:

        “And the region decided a decade ago not to go there, planning streetcar, BRT and connex from CH instead.”

        FH got the short end of the stick back in ST1 planning, it’s true… but pretending “the region” is a static thing and that nothing has changed is mind boggling nonsense.

      4. Also: you can’t serve the existing transit tunnel and UW and the busiest part of First Hill with the same line. Any added First Hill station on the existing Link line would wind up at Volunteer Park or similar not extremely useful location.

        Going straight up from the existing line and winding up at Volunteer Park and the location Martin proposes here are two fairly different prospects. Volunteer Park is mostly single family. The area of this station is likely to become part of core downtown Seattle by the time this station opens.

        Compare Google Satellite View Time Lapse from 1984 to 1990 in the area around Portland’s Lloyd Center. Adding this station would likely do something similar.

      5. Clearly the numbers do not include planning, final design and environmental costs, add another 35-40% for those.

        Good point. Because any other alternative wouldn’t already require planning, final design and environmental costs.

        Try again.

      6. If the discussion of serving First Hill is on the table, it’s clear that “First Hill” is more than just the Madison corridor, though of course that’s the heart of it. If First Hill is to become “a part of downtown Seattle” over the next couple of decades, growth will spread south to Jefferson or even Yesler and east to Fourteenth Avenue. The way to serve that large an area is not with a single station even at Boren and Madison but by a shallower and less geologically risky line running roughly north-south parallel to Broadway or northwest-southeast along Boren and continuing through the north end of the Rainier Valley which has enormous potential for valuable high-rise development that doesn’t offend anyone.

        IOW, the “Metro 8” moved west where it ought to be. But that’s of course a discussion we’ve had and will continue to have.

        Right now we need to ensure that which ever station location is chosen has abundant access paths both vertically and horizontally to the surrounding areas of the hill in which it will be built. ST’s track record [yes, a pun] on station design and execution has not bee encouraging.

    3. I didn’t do what you said at all. You’re concern-trolling about going under I-5, but we know how much it costs — there is historical data that I incorporated into the estimate. You’re pretending I didn’t.

      You say benefits are “questionable.” Most knowledgeable people here think they are obvious. So let’s study it.

      I would rather have this station than any outcome for Ballard or west seattle. FH is simply more important for the region.

  9. Martin, I think that the most important thing you’re doing here is to keep reminding Sound Transit how many future votes it’s going to wish it had gotten. If its supporters don’t get some straight answers right now. Wall of church-state separation means public agencies can’t have Vows of Silence.

    And bad habits often have twins more evil than they are. Like withholding the technical information that voters need to make an intelligent decision. Leading with what’s physically possible and what isn’t. And I’m not talking about walk-sheds or ridership estimates.

    I think Sound Transit has known from first core-drill sample ahead of the Mighty Mole that first pile-driving impact anywhere near Madison and Eighth will re-unite First Hill with Downtown Seattle.
    Would you want to be the spokesperson to tell First Hill it isn’t going to get its promised station this time either? For same reason as last time?

    So let’s help them out: Through the CBD, Fifth Avenue really needs a busway between Westlake and Jackson. Up to politicians and their voters. I’d rather deal with cave-ins too, but life’s not fair. Very short headways, maybe one stop, at Madison. If whole ride is five minutes, might give same access to LINK as a tunnel station on Fifth.

    But main point: Make First Hill all the way to Broadway to be part of Downtown Seattle- which it’s already on its way to being anyway. And put the Madison Street station at Boren where it’ll really fit much better than at Eighth. Go look, and note surrounding medical buildings. Incidentally, does Boren have short headway trolleybus service to Convention Center yet, or just need it?

    But as a tunnel driver, those beautiful green curves pick my option: Power pedal- well, controller handle- down between Seattle’s most important inaccessible place and the whole rest of the region. Probably easiest ground to bore in the whole system – would also be good to have an engineer tell us in public that I’m wrong. At least Sound Transit will finally have to have one publicly tell us something.

    Mark Dublin

  10. Just out of curiosity, how much extra money will it cost to improve the entire West Seattle to Ballard line? In the last few months I have heard of at least 5 proposed upgrades or improvements: West Seattle tunnel, better SODO stations, Fist Hill tunnel reroute, SLU station with expansion to HWY 99 already built in, and fixed bridge over the ship canal in Ballard. I don’t think we should settle. They are all important. I also don’t believe even half of these changes will happen. Believe me, I want to be wrong.

    1. $400 million for a Ballard tunnel. Fixed bridge over the ship canal does not cost extra.

      1. Jimmy and mdn, thanks for bringing Seattle’s final working-class neighborhood into the discussion. Boren and Madison alignment will provide Ballard a single-seat ride to three major hospitals. And same for passengers all over the region.

        No I-5 undercrossings. Minimal trouble with utilities and foundations. Should be fastest-built fastest track in the region. (Putting forth some extra effort to tick off some guy with a clip-board and a hard-hat bad enough he’ll tell me where I’m wrong. Anybody who knows one, text him to weigh in.)

        And most of all, the region’s most Rapid ride in and out of a growing part of the city. Could turn out to be LINK’s fastest way in and out from any direction. C’mon, kids. Can’t believe nobody ever saw one of those movies where some Armed Forces officer smacks a hysterical recruit for their own good. In addition to nurses, nuns do that too, don’t they?

        Put it on Twitter with a #Rosanne Barr in front of it and I’ll be hiding out in the basement of a pizza parlor rest of my life. It’s a third of the alternatives. Only reason CDC doesn’t recognize that passive aggression is main cause of murder in Seattle is that target doesn’t know their throat’s been cut ’til they shake their head and it falls off!

        Good you’re back, mic! This one’s yours.


      2. If there is no extra cost for the fixed bridge, then what is the problem? Is it political or a neighborhood caused issue? ST would not make a call like that if there was no price difference unless there was another issue. Either way there are still at least 3 other cost improvements to add to the list. But thank you for your information.

      3. I doubt the cost difference is zero. A higher bridge needs larger and stronger stanchions to hold it up. I think they just meant that a fixed bridge is within the anticipated budget. As for other reasons against it, these are the ones I’ve heard: a 130′ bridge would have to start elevating twice as far out, which means Dravus Station would have to be higher, the bridge would loom over a larger land area, it may have aesthetic or functional impacts on Fisherman’s Terminal, the Ballard station would have to be elevated (no underground stations), and it would be more problematic to have a ped/bike lane on the bridge because people would have to climb more or start from further out.

    2. Reading the fine print, ST allocated only 10 percent to contingencies for this project. The FTA recommends 30 percent at this point. Thus, we’re already in way over our heads a few billion dollars!

      The ugly reality is that ST3 is a political document, and not a fiscally responsible one. It was like going on a shopping spree by elected officials and running through the store to rough out the costs while keeping different sets of kids happy. That would be fine if the ST board insisted on 30 percent. But they didn’t so they could please all the kiddies on their board who want to build a real-life toy train system!

      So how to make it affordable?

      1. Propose a realistic service plan that doesn’t involve running trains from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond every six minutes — sure to be empty the last few stations while being overcrowded inside the core of Seattle. We think the capitol cost is high; the operations cost is going to go through the roof! ST is barely getting a 40 percent farebox recovery ration on Link today — with their most productive segments open. Northgate Link can probably match that, and perhaps East Link won’t make it dip too far — but I just don’t see the extensions in ST3 doing anything but draining the farebox recovery ratio — so operational cuts are going to happen beyond the grand 2016 promise.

      2. Tell cities to collect development fees and station access concessions for the TODs that the market stimulates by building stations to fund the stations. As I’ve thought through this more and more, a good part of station costs should be borne by cities and not ST. It’s creating a huge financial windfall for high-rise developers that don’t have to pay extra for it! There still is a mindset that ST is an intruder to many of these places and the affected city should make ST pay for everything and then some. Then, the cities would be in a position to bargain ST access for project approvals. Why we’re not writing something like this as a contingency to every building that we’ve permitted along these alignments since 2016 is an indication of this lack of foresight. Examples: It took years to get the BART West Dublin/Pleasanton Station funded partly by private investment but they did it! It took years for the BART DMU to open in eastern Contra Costa County, but it happened thanks in part to development fees collected there. The fact that the WSCC agreement doesn’t require them to compensate the public for the loss of Convention Plan by funding more station escalators at an expanded Westlake station should be a basic negotiating point; but everyone is willing to play along with the deal as long as lip service to bicycle interests are paid.

      3. Consider that there are alternatives to building a tunnel in South Lake Union that will save billions. The tunneling challenges between Seattle Center and wherever the line goes on First Hill are physically great (narrow streets, curves, building foundations, extreme elevation changes) and very expensive, and structural alignments would save money by a factor of two or three. So an office worker on the second or third floor has a train 40 feet outside their window every few minutes rather than another glass monolith at 120 feet; they can live it it.

      4. Make ST do a regional needs assessment and then a comprehensive operations plan incorporating all these promised segments, and use some quantifiable measures to see how well it’s doing. It’s unfair to add or drop or relocate stations based on whims and aesthetic concerns, quantitative analysis is needed to inform decisions. That’s why dropping First Hill now — without more study — is so horrifically unfair!

      1. “Make ST do a regional needs assessment and then a comprehensive operations plan incorporating all these promised segments” – not to be confused with the entire public exercise ST went through to create the ST3 plan? Or the official ST long term plan, which the ST3 plan is based off of? Because if those aren’t statements of regional needs, I don’t know what is.

        Or do you want ST to simply repeat the [necessarily political] process that created the ST3 package, but this time with the alignments you favor?

      2. No AJ.

        ST only studied alignments for ST3 that were identified in ST2 as suitable for study. There was no systems needs analysis during ST3 development nor after ST3 adoption, or First Hill would have scored well — and Lake City, White Center and Belltown would also have. Perhaps you confuse politics with a missing quantitative analysis.

      3. Nope – take a look at the current Long Range plan. The 2008 ballot measure was certainly the starting point, but the LRP was refreshed in 2014. The 2014 LRP was the starting point for the ST3 ballot measure.


        “In developing a comprehensive transportation plan, planners look at the main travel corridors or routes that people use to go from one point in the region to another. For example, Interstate
        405 is a major north-south travel corridor in the region. The long-range plan expands on existing travel corridors and creates new high-capacity transportation corridors linking our
        economic centers and communities. Corridors included in the Long-Range Plan were screened using the following questions: (1) does the corridor meet the statutory definition of HCT or necessary supporting facility or service, (2) to what extent does the corridor provide public transportation services to regional growth centers and help facilitate an integrated system of transit services, (3) to what extent is the corridor consistent with earlier decisions or actions made as part of Sound Move or ST2 and does it avoid duplication of Sound Transit service, and (4) is the corridor within the Sound Transit district or represent a reasonable next step for extending HCT service or connecting to the regional HCT system”

        So the ST2 package was merely one of 4 key considerations. Check out page 12 for a good summary of the changes made in 2014.

        From what I understand, several major projects made it into the ST3 package that were never envisioned in ST2, such as 522 BRT and the Paine diversion. As you can see, the Madison corridor was identified as a potential HCT corridor in the LRP, and the ST3 package addresses this corridor through partial funding of Madison BRT.

      4. Where’s the data, AJ? ST didn’t present any as far as I can find. There was never a study of travel times and distances from different points, or even data presenting the percentage of workers from different places as Martin has presented above. They may have the altruistic policy statements, but the discussion lacks data!

  11. A few days ago, I noted that although there is a mention of “Midtown” in ST3, I cannot find any official designation of “Midtown” by ST or the City of Seattle or any other local agency. Has anyone else found one beyond that development at 23rd and Union or the Midtown post office for zip code 98101 (which doesn’t encompass Madison Street)?

    1. ST made up the name apparently, because there’s no other universal term for the area between Westlake and Intl Dist except the Financial District and Government District. I’ve always thought that Westlake station itself and Pike-Pine are midtown, so I call the Madison-James area lower downtown and Belltown upper downtown. But ST didn’t want to go with “Madison Station” for some reason. But it’s just a planning name. The final name hasn’t been decided.

  12. How can Eighth and Madison add only 475 feet to the length of the tunnel? It’s two blocks from Sixth to Eighth which in itself is 640 feet so to go from Sixth to Eighth and back again requires a total lateral diversion of 1,280 feet. The deviation between Fifth and Sixth is a wash because both routes have to make it.

    Pythagoras says that we won’t go the same distance diagonally as we would around two sides of a rectangle, but less than half? That seems too little.

    Also, you simply cannot build Beacon Hill Station at Eighth and Madison and call it “good enough”. Mike, Ross, and your other supporters are right in saying that many of the users of a Fifth Street location would still use the Green Line to access the Financial District if the station gives them proper access. But if the station is just served by elevators (e.g. “Beacon Hill”) it won’t give them proper access. So the expected ridership of the new station will be significantly crippled during the peak hours.

    Yes, serving First Hill will be great for all-day and weekend transit usage. Few people go to Fifth and Madison for anything except the Library at those times, but they do travel to and from First Hill. But the region is not spending $54 billion (YOE) to give people rides to spread out destinations during the middle of the day and on weekends. Buses, as Ross will harangue you to exhaustion, are much better at that.

    The region is spending that kind of cash in order to make the peak hour commutes to work of at least a sizable minority of residents “sufferable” (if that’s a word; Google doesn’t think so, though it allows “insufferable”. Go figure). The “little people” who work at jobs whose compensation is not “revenue linked” in the Financial and Governmental district of downtown Seattle and live in Ballard and the Rainier Valley are not going to be pleased with the prospect of debouching onto crowded platforms, waiting in line for an inevitably-too-small bank of elevators, riding to the surface and then walking down to the District. They’ll appreciate walking up even less in the afternoon.

    ST will say to the RV riders, “You can transfer at SoDo to a Red Line train or at IDS to either Red or Blue Line trains” to which the RV riders will probably acquiesce even though neither transfer will be convenient or quick. Ditto the Ballardites at Westlake. So they’ll be crowding onto Red and Blue Line trains that are expected to be full. Sure, a significant percentage of southbound Red and Blue riders will make the opposite transfer to the Green Line to ride over to SLU so there will be some room for riders headed to the District.

    However, this entire scenario could be avoided by building the necessary underground passageways to make an Eighth and Madison station serve the District as well as one at Fifth. In fact, possibly better. The additional sixty-five feet that Eighth is above Fifth means that a horizontal passageway at the first mezzanine level of an Eighth and Madison station could pass under the Cherry Street ramp by a few feet and debouch onto Fifth with only short escalators, if any.

    A station at Boren could also be served in the same way, though the length of the passageway would require moving sidewalks.

    Just yesterday I rode the CTA Blue Line into O’Hare after having dropped off a rental car at an off-airport Enterprise location, saving over $200 on the rental. Do it if you go to Chicago and need a car. We went to bird-watch the Warbler migration at Magee Marsh near Toledo and visited family in Cambridge Ohio, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis and Chippewa Falls, so we needed a car.

    Anyway, the CTA station at O’Hare is right in the middle of the three domestic terminals and includes passageways with moving sidewalks to all of them. Sure, these were just cut-and-cover one level deep tunnels dug when the airport was expanded, but surely Seattle can spend another $100 million to make Midtown work.

    Especially since “Madison BRT” is RapidRiding quickly down to being “POBS-Plus” as noted in the News Roundup.

    And if Fifth Avenue is chosen, then do the opposite to serve the Madison (or better, Marion because it’s quiet and more pedestrian-friendly) corridor as I’ve outlined several times in recent posts.

    1. “So they’ll be crowding onto Red and Blue Line trains that are expected to be full.”

      That’s the key fact where serving First Hill breaks down. The system needs to be designed for peak usage, not all-day coverage. And at peak, we need Both tunnels going through the downtown core to have adequate capacity. As big as First Hill is, it’s still secondary to downtown.

      Speaking of the Blue Line, look at the Chicago core. The downtown Core is already served by the Loop (Pink/Green/Orange/Brown) and the Red Line. So does that mean the Blue line should have tried to serve the West Loop, forcing most downtown bound riders to transfer at a Loop station (Clark/Lake?). No, that would be dumb. Instead, the Blue Line “duplicates” the walksheds already served by the Red/Pink/Green/Orange/Brown/Purple lines because that’s where most people on the Blue line want to.

      There’s a difference between serving walksheds and serving riders.

  13. How about elevated over I-5 and then tunneling at the parking lot just south of PolyClinic. Then you’d only have on pricey tunneling under I-5, albeit an elevated (probably fairly high) guideway above the freeway.

  14. What seems to be missing from the argument in favor of a First Hill Station is the likely destinations of the Ballard and West Seattle riders on the Green Line. Certainly some of them will want to go to First Hill, but more of them will be destined to the CBD.

    By moving Midtown out of the CBD, you are funneling most of those downtown workers to Westlake, as Chinatown/ID is only convenient to Pioneer Square.

    Meanwhile, the streetcar isn’t time efficient, but it’s comfortable and a block from Chinatown/ID, and gets all the way up the Hill for Swedish, Harborview, and SeattleU. And less comfortable are the Metro 3/4 which stop 5 minutes from Chinatown/ID and Metro 12 which climbs the uncomfortably steep hill that is Madison between 1st and Broadway.

  15. Glad to see an objective piece vis-à-vis a transit agency, as each has its own agenda and interests that it vigorously protects. They are also accustomed to minimal oversight by boards whose members have other, primary jobs to attend to. It is therefore up to us, the riders, to give them the perspective that their planners and leaders tend not to have. Some articles that I read recently from the May 17th Urbanist is such an example, advocating for expandability, accessibility, and reliability, though they need to add First Hill to their list! An excellent two-parter by David Cole, on May 2 and 24 in the Stranger, advocates for open gangways to maximize the capacity of the trains and upgrading the “at grade” sections of Link to elevated. He writes: “American transit agencies are notoriously hidebound and parochial, often ignoring proven best practices in other countries and insisting on reinventing the wheel with each modest innovation.” We should expect better!

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