Credit: Oran Viriyincy

On Wednesday, Sound Transit released the latest design work on the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions. We’ll have more detailed analysis of each segment next week, but here are the major takeaways from the presentation.

More cost concerns

ST staff opened the meeting with a warning about cost control, which is an increasingly common refrain from agency leaders. ST has drawn bad press and scrutiny from the legislature for growing project budgets.

“A note about cost constraints,” Cathal Ridge, ST’s central corridor director, said at the beginning of the meeting. “We’re getting this on some of our other projects, where we’re feeling cost pressures, and I want to head this off—the ST3 plan was back in 2014, and we have seen a lot of recent escalation in construction costs and real estate costs. That has affected the estimates for some of our other projects. That’s a real thing, and I don’t expect it will surprise anyone.”

How those concerns might affect West Seattle and Ballard aren’t clear. Agency staff presented a slide deck with some dollar amounts that indicate an increase in cost (i.e. +$100 million) or cost savings (-$100 million) for the alignment the dollar amount describes.

Ridge said that those figures are provisional, do not represent the final cost of any project. Ridge said that the numbers listed for each alternative alignment only compare the alternative to the representative alignment, which is based on the ST3 plan presented to voters.

In short: the dollar amounts do not represent projections of cost overruns or savings on a line. They only compare West Seattle Station A’s construction costs to West Seattle Station B’s, and are not final projections of the total project cost. Estimates of that figure will become available when Sound Transit settles on a locally preferred alternative.

When presenting updates on station and alignment concepts, ST staff generally pointed out which concepts were the most costly—maybe to prevent stakeholders from falling in love with pricier options.

Chinatown/International District station site controversy

There is opposition to a cut and cover tunnel on 5th Avenue from members of the Chinatown community—and a preference for a 4th Avenue alignment. After Wednesday’s presentation, it seems clear that Sound Transit does not want to build a 4th Avenue alignment.

Sound Transit’s Ron Endlich presented the CID concepts, and tipped ST’s aversion to the 4th Avenue options, in a presentation that emphasized the downsides more than presentations for other segments.

Endlich cited conflicts with the Burlington Northern mainline, “engineering constraints and constructability issues,” the requisite replacement of the 4th Avenue viaduct, and the necessary demolition of the King County Administration Building as obstacles to either or both of the 4th Avenue alignments. (Jon Scholes, CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, joked that knocking down the Honeycomb made a 4th Avenue alignment worthwhile.)

Endlich also said that the 4th Avenue cut and cover option would have a negative impact on people of color and poor people.

“One of the issues we also wanted to comment on was the burden on low income and minority populations,” Endlich said. “We’re showing a poorer rating [on this point] for both of the 4th Avenue alternatives. Primarily because of the traffic displacement issues that we mentioned before, but in addition the option that requires the Jefferson portal along 4th Avenue—there are two social service providers at that site. One is a work release center, and the other is an emergency housing shelter.”

Maiko Winkler-Chin, the head of the Chinatown/International District Public Development Authority—a notable advocate for a 4th Avenue alignment—objected to that point:

“I have to say I’m surprised because now I feel like—I hate to say the word pitted—but you’re kind of pitting the people in work release against the people of this neighborhood [Chinatown.]”

The DSA’s Scholes, Erin Goodman from the Sodo Business Improvement Association, and Bryce Yadon from Futurewise also asked Endlich critical questions about the 4th Avenue presentation.

Development potential vs. serving existing neighborhoods

Stakeholders discussed whether stations should be sited to serve existing dense neighborhoods, or expand them.

The example of Ballard is instructive. Some sites are located close to the existing 20th Avenue NW and Market Street commercial core. Others are oriented around 15th Avenue NW and Market. 20th and Market would have more ridership in the near term, since it’s already at the center of a dense, walkable neighborhood near the limits of its zoning.

On the other hand, 15th and Market could generate more TOD, and accelerate the ongoing process of building up that neighborhood to its maximum capacity—and upzoning the walkshed would be much less controversial. The Ballard Avenue landmark district would limit the extent of possible zoning changes around 20th and Market.

Sound Transit’s history provides examples that support either choice. Torpid development of Rainier Valley TOD parcels is an argument against “if you build it, they will come.” However, the Northgate station seems to have accelerated the densification of the surrounding neighborhood and aided a redesign of Northgate Mall.

Stakeholders are getting closer to the time when they’ll have to make zero sum choices about each of these issues, and make recommendations on siting and alignment to the ST Board. As ST facilitator Diane Adams pointed out, the stakeholder advisory group process is more than halfway done.

27 Replies to “Takeaways from the latest West Seattle & Ballard stakeholder meeting”

  1. There are no Ballard lines planned for 20th. Look at the map again. The choices are one on 17th (which seems to be solely an issue with alignment of the bridge as opposed to a preferred station location), 3 on 15th and 3 on 14th.

    The 20th ave you are referencing is for the station location on Magnolia/Interbay area. The station location in Interbay will dictate where and what kind of crossing Ballard will receive and vice-versa.

    The 17th station location will never happen. The bridge location (and all its support beams) will require the removal and purchase of far to many businesses on both sides. Frankly I’m shocked the report doesn’t reference it as the most expensive option.

  2. A station on 17th has the most ridership, and in an environment where ST is going o spend 300 million on that I-405 & 85th street stop we can’t just ignore the fact that more people will gain a greater benefit for many decades if the station is on 17th, and it needs to be in a tunnel, not a fixed bridge.

    But if the vision and resources ($$$) aren’t there for a 17th tunnel then pick one of the other tunnels. This needs to be built for the future and in every case the study shows a tunnel is the best option for future expansion.

    1. Another problem is that developers and the city have shown no ability to build new developments that people want to be in or linger in. University Way has lots of pedestrians and cozy shops, but Roosevelt south of 50th feels like sterile crap that people want to get away from as quickly as possible. The only exceptions are when developers restore old buildings like the Pike Motorworks. Why they can’t just build a new building that way is unfathomable. There have been arguments to put a Ballard in Bellevue or Kent so that people don’t feel they have to live in Seattle to have a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where they actually see their neighbors walking around. But there has been exactly zero effort into making it happen.

      1. I sometimes wonder how most of this development will be regarded 20 years from now. Will it look as cheap as it does today? Will the ground level be a soulless mix of Chase Bank, Walgreens, Bank of America, Subway, etc? It’s hard to imagine anything else occupying these spaces.

      2. I’m an architect that works on mixed use and I have to agree 100%. I wouldn’t live in the vinyl disposable garbage I work on if you paid me. It doesn’t have a shelf live of 25 years. All I do is pump out the construction documents on this dog sh*t so don’t blame me.

        Why a f-ing designer and/or developer cant model a new development on the successful traits that everyone loves in historic development is beyond me. Most things in our world have improved over time. Buildings and architecture get progressively worse year over year.

      3. A bit of a nitpick: There are a lot of pedestrian friendly, walkable neighborhoods outside of Seattle, such as Edmonds, Everett, Snohomish. Pretty much any historic downtown.

        Mill creek is an example of a newer walkable neighborhood… Though it suffers from the surrounding neighborhoods being extremely auto oriented.

        Newer buildings being built like crap I totally agree with. I think it really has to do with our development standards. We have all kind of rules requiring multi level set backs which add to the cost, and often make the building look ungainly. On the other hand there are no requirements to use high quality materials on the facade.

        I recently moved to Pittsburgh from Seattle, and the comparison is pretty galling. Pretty much no set backs, many buildings built side by side with no space… but they LOOK nice. Of course the housing stock in Pittsburgh is all old as there hasn’t been population growth for decades.

        The prevailing religion seems to be that “low density” = “more livable” whereas aesthetic considerations are in the “eye of the behold,” which is an excuse for making shit.

  3. The recent Level 2 Evaluation Results document makes for interesting reading with a lot of maps and tables, 113 pages in all.

    My takeaways:

    ST is smartly including evaluation of bus-rail and rail-rail transfers, and future LRT extensions, possibly in response to popular demand. I’m encouraged to hear no more talk of combining stations which would significantly reduce the utility of the system.

    We are going to face difficult tradeoffs on every stretch of this line. It’s hard to imagine options that add $700M-$1.2B to West Seattle moving forward. I can imagine other projects (including other transit projects in Seattle) being raided for funds to contribute to a better ST3 Link project, but we won’t come up with that kind of money from seat cushions. That probably means more will be elevated in West Seattle than many would prefer.

    The entire 4th Ave-5th Ave-King St.-Union Station Area built over former tidelands is begging for a systemic redesign and seismically-sound rebuild that supports its destiny as one of the key transit hubs in the Northwest. In doing so we should avoid all avoidable harm to the neighborhood that gives International District station its name.

    I believe we also ought to consider pushing West Seattle out another 5 years so it’s in sync with Ballard, thus avoiding 5 years of additional rail-rail transfers at SODO on top of whatever bus-rail transfers folks are doing in West Seattle . Although construction costs could rise during this time, they could also fall. We’d definitely raise more money, and properties could be acquired in advance of construction. I’m not sure what the 2030 deliverable really buys us if it’s just a stub line to West Seattle.

    Downtown/SLU is bound to be a wickedly complex design and construction problem, as with SR 99. My chief concern remains the pedestrian linkages between the lines from the rider perspective, which always seem to be considered last in this sort of process even though it’s among the first things you notice when you use the system and it’s too late to fix it.

    As for Ballard, 17th Ave. is closer than 14th Ave. to the heart of the neighborhood where most folks actually want to go today, but it’s hard to imagine a huge bridge landing at an elevated station there being compatible with the historic district that also limits TOD. Maybe 14th or 15th Ave, is a better location overall. The devil is in the details for tunnel vs bridge, but a movable bridge smells like trouble. Avoidable complexity would spread from it and permeate the rest of the system with limitations and occasional unreliability, as if we had built the DSTT to allow occasional cross-traffic that takes at least 5 minutes to pass. I’m fine with a bridge — would even prefer a bridge as a rider, as the view would be incredible. If a tunnel ends up working out better overall, that’s fine, but I suspect that zone will end up being tough for bridge footings let alone a tunnel.

    Future expandability is hard to define in Ballard. A line heading north maybe ought to continue north. But there really ought to be a Ballard-UW line that will probably end up mostly or entirely in a tunnel. That probably ought to be its own east-west line intersecting in Ballard as opposed to an extension of this north-south line. (It should also be built before West Seattle — but that water taxi sailed in ST3.) If there’s a station around 14th/15th Ave. the next one west could be closer to 24th and maybe that’s all good in the end.

    1. “I believe we also ought to consider pushing West Seattle out another 5 years so it’s in sync with Ballard, thus avoiding 5 years of additional rail-rail transfers at SODO on top of whatever bus-rail transfers folks are doing in West Seattle”

      The temporary stub line is absolutely silly. Who will ride it when it won’t be much faster than the C, taking into account a possible 10-minute transfer wait. Metro won’t be able to restructure the C so it will be running in parallel.

      1. I tend to agree, Mike. I’m also concerned that when Link goes all the way to Tacoma that there won’t be any room on the trains for adding West Seattle riders to board once they get to SODO Station.

        The 2030 West Seattle opening makes sense only as a political promise more than it does as an operational reality for riders.

        Finally, I have serious doubts that the tunnel can open in 2035. The tunnel is a complex engineering project set underneath a major American city. The Central light rail tunnel in San Francisco is a very similar construction challenge (actually fewer stations and a shorter distance and no 90 degree turn) and it’s now projected to take 11 years to build (opening in 2021). The FTA approved it for Preliminary Engineering in 2002, or 8 years before that. That’s 19 years in total — and 19 years from now is 2037 even though the ST project is not that far along. I don’t see the tunnel opening until 2040 at the earliest — and a supplemental funding tax hike will likely have to be approved by the voters due to the inadequate ST3 cost contingencies.

      2. On the contrary, building the stub line gives an opportunity to really put the pressure on ST to make transfers at SODO and Stadium stations rock solid. It’s easier for Sound Transit to cheap out on us when the line already goes downtown. But when you’re looking at a line where 99% need to transfer to get where they’re going, then there is a chance to build a line that is superbly suited for transfers.

        And if transfers are good, all of a sudden the stub line isn’t so useless. Imagine the concept talked about on this blog with same platform transfers in both directions between the green and red lines.

        The rail-to-rail same platform transfers on lines with 6 minute headways seems to me to be just fine (especially if it’s a timed 3 minute transfer).

        Also keep in mind that the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be long gone, so the C line will not be very competitive with Link. In fact, at that point it may make more sense to make the C line an express directly to SLU via the deep bore tunnel.

    2. “If there’s a station around 14th/15th Ave. the next one west could be closer to 24th and maybe that’s all good in the end.”

      I like this adea. If a Ballard to UW line started with a station at 24th that would work for me, but there aren’t any guarantees, and i’ve a hunch the ballard to UW line will end up going from the UW to ballard to downtown.

      In other words if west Ballard doesn’t get a station now I think it will be in the same situation First Hill is in — namely that it will never get a station.

    3. Fourteenth has that great median all the way from 45th to 65th, which provides a lot of space to stage construction materials and dig portals.  If there is ever a Ballard-UW line, it provides space for the connection.  The area around 14th all the way from the waterfront to Ballard HS is perfect for high density development.

      On the other hand, Seventeenth puts the station right next to the hospital, certain to be the largest employer in Ballard forever.

      Fifteenth is everything a transit street should NOT be.  It’s a wide high-speed car sewer. 

      So the choice MUST be Fourteenth with an independent bridge or Seventeenth with a tunnel.  If value engineering is required to free funds for a tunnel, run at grade from Armory to the bridgehead alongside BNSF and at the base of the hill from the Magnolia Bridge ramps to the SLU tunnel portal.

      If value engineering is required even for a mid-level bridge to Fourteenth, the same strategies would be available, though the need to cross Fifteenth would reduce the savings somewhat.

      Do NOT run the line along Fifteenth, at least, not south of 65th.

      1. Addendum: For Fourteenth I could see a bridge whose north approach clears Ballard and Leary Way, then descends to grade up to 53rd/54th where it would descend a half level to a station under a somewhat raised Market Street. It would then return to grade at 56th/57th and run up to an at grade station at BHS. The tracks would not be in the center of the median, but rather to the west edge. The station would have side-platforms because no mezzanine would be possible or helpful.

        If Ballard-UW is built it most assuredly would be in a tunnel through Old Ballard, and a bored tunnel means less street disruption and is more watertight. Thus under passing the half-story Green Line trench would not be a problem. The platform for the new line could be between Fourteenth and the west side of Fifteenth with a shallow mezzanine dug when Market would be raised. This would allow direct platform-to-platform transfers, pulling West Ballard into the north-south system without the necessity for a Ship Canal tunnel.

        Non-revenue runs to B-UW would be accommodated by an adjacent steeper track to the east of the north-south line which would swing east to join the subway line.

        Fourteenth would have to be right-in, right-out because Market would be elevated at the intersection.

  4. I wonder what the cost for those last two Stations on the Ballard line will be. With the cut crossing and all it won’t be cheap . And I’m guessing those last two stations fall within the last 1-2 miles. I’m also guessing that combined they’ll be lucky to generate 10,000 daily boardings.

    hmmmm…..2 to 3 times the cost of the CCC with a lot less boardings?

    The price we pay to get Dorkin’s cousins and in-laws to work.

    1. If you want to serve an urban village, you have to serve an urban village. UW Station is in a similar predicament, because it just barely crosses the Ship Canal and there’s a gap between it and 45th where the people are. But at least it crosses the Ship Canal. You’re talking about cutting off the entire northwest Seattle from Link. That’s certainly more than 10,000 riders. 10,000 will be about the population of 15th alone when it’s built up.

  5. One thing I like about 15th/Market is that it offers the potential for entrances on each side of the intersection, allowing people to access it from all directions, without needing to cross the busy street. Walking to 15th from 17th really isn’t a big deal, provided you don’t have to actually cross 15th. What I’m afraid of is that ST will cut corners and put an entrance on just one side.

    This is an example of a project where redeploying the streetcar money could make a big difference.

    1. “One thing I like about 15th/Market is that it offers the potential for entrances on each side of the intersection, allowing people to access it from all directions.”

      You’re so optimistic. Roosevelt didn’t get that, and it looks like 145th won’t either. Capitol Hill only got it because of the college and a lot of feedback requests.

      1. Market’s just a bit wider/more heavily trafficked than Broadway or NE 12th. Frankly, the expense of a tunnel and entrance structure simply to avoid crossing two lanes of traffic on a street with signalized intersections seemed a bit silly at Broadway, but that being said more entrances/exits from grade-separated stations are nearly always a good thing. I’d agree that 15th/Market is unlikely to get that based on ST’s history, although in that case it makes sense to do so. If the station can actually be located under (or over) the right of way this becomes more likely. As asdf2 points out, with the width and traffic on 15th there would actually be a decent time savings to exit the station on the side of 15th you want, and would also be good for more directly accessing crossing bus service on Market.

    2. Its pretty clear that they will build the Ballard station on the Safeway site and avoid streets. They will not deal with construction mitigation for 15th Ave traffic, that is also clear, judging by all the other recent Sound Transit stations.

      The logic is to build them under the major street and crossing under major intersections to allow pedestrians to access the station from all four corners but that is not how they do it for fear of mitigating traffic and desire for construction staging.

  6. We build all this the way the planet Earth says. It was here before anybody had a community association, so it’s got seniority. “Stakes” show where to build after a lot of surveying, but not how what. With a lot of “strings” attached.

    Since “budget” is another word for “guess”, safest is to plan so we don’t demoralize over a slow-down, but are constantly ready to get moving in the right direction, horizontal and vertical, when “coast is clear” again. And keep our plans flexible enough to change course without running aground. Or a-mud. Or a- building to run into, or drain-pipe a-ripped loose.

    Meantime, let’s have every meeting chaired by somebody with a “hard-hat” in dirty clothes. From job they’e working on now.

    Mark Dublin

  7. I’m not going to let go of this, because with all the underground variables in this region, in addition to above-ground terrain, that’s what the project has to know before it even orders the TBM.

    I seem to remember that in the early days of the Lynnwood line via UW and Northgate, the whole bore had to be re-routed because of something it found under Portage Bay. I also remember that underground river one of our “Mighty Moles” got it’s little nose wet in at Century Square.

    I also really think that a lot of stake-holders will attend a lot more meetings named for them if they’ve also held a jack-hammer or the throttle of a “Cat”erpillar tractor. Or the title of crew foreman on something round underground.

    Would make community meetings at every level a lot more interesting, a lot more useful, and a lot shorter.


  8. We need to push hard for 4th Avenue. It makes so much sense from a passenger transfer and entry perspective, minimizing construction impacts, utilizing Union Station, doubling up on the rebuild of the 4th Ave viaducts, location between King Street Station and current ID station.

    You can tell ST is throwing up roadblocks when they say it impacts people of color and low income groups because it might impact one building, why aren’t they concerned about the neighborhood-wide International District impacts?

    1. I’m not sure I understand. The existing Link station is on 5th, so putting the new one on 5th would place it closer to the existing one. I’m sure there’ll always be a lot more people doing Link transfers than will ever ride Sounder, so it makes more sense to give Link transfers more priority and a shorter walk. The walk to Sounder would be a block on a car-free plaza so it wouldn’t even be far, but trying to shorten that distance in a way that would increase the distance of the obviously more popular Link transfer doesn’t make sense.

      If they put the new station on 5th, they could even put in a platform-level transfer.

    1. It will be hard to resist the Surface/E3 option (save 400m) because it means ST can instead get a fixed bridge to Ballard (100m-200m)! It wasn’t clear to me what the drawback to Surface/E3 is – I understand it is simply the loss of a busway, which is unfortunate, but might be worth it. The West Seattle options are all so expensive they might not be in the running unless an outside source of funding can be found – what would that source of funding be? Likewise tunnels to Ballard, although not so expensive, are still too costly. So, if I am forced to pick, Surface/E3 for a fixed Ballard bridge (15th/Fixed Bridge/15th).

      1. If West Seattle insists on a tunnel let the city create a Local Improvement District that only West Seattle residents pay into, and get it done.

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