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Sound Transit declined to fund changes to the voter-approved Sound Transit 3 plan that would bury the segments in Ballard and West Seattle, and rightfully so. However, they opened the possibility of external funding to make this change. Perhaps the City of Seattle, or some other entity, will cobble together the money. Perhaps it will go to voters as a “transit package.” But those voters should be clear that most of these improvements, whatever their value, are not about transportation.

Some tweaks to station locations, costing in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, might improve ridership a bit. The $100m high bridge over the Ship Canal would improve reliability, and if it can be mated to a 15th Avenue stop it wouldn’t otherwise kneecap ridership. But the big-ticket items are about reducing “impacts”: $700m for a West Seattle tunnel, $300-400m to move the Chinatown Station to 4th, and $350m to go under Salmon Bay.

There is no analysis that suggests that a tunnel to West Seattle or Ballard in the proposed alignments, or a Fourth Avenue stop, will improve transit outcomes for riders. Some of it is about reducing construction impacts, and the rest is the reluctance of property owners to damage their perceived aesthetics. I concede that many people in Seattle don’t like elevated track. I find it adds character to a neighborhood. Many of the world’s most liveable cities have lots of elevated track. Vancouver makes it work beautifully in a similar Northwestern context to ours.

If people think elevated track is ugly, and wish to bury it, they’re welcome to this viewpoint. Likewise, if you are very concerned about the net worth of West Seattle Junction landowners, already receiving a huge boost from the arrival of Link, you are welcome to vote accordingly. But if you’re interested in plans that spend money to improve transit outcomes, keep looking.

113 Replies to “Spend $2 Billion if You Want, but it’s not a Transit Project”

  1. You’re joking. You missed the entire point of a tunnel to Ballard. A tunnel to Ballard does three things: gets rid of a terrible drawbridge idea that is reliability killing for actual transit riders in Ballard and Interbay (I have over a decade of experience as one, and drawbridges suck); allows a station on 15th NW according to sound transit; and protects from the perceived threat to maritime industry from a high fixed bridge.

    Quibble with the port and maritime industry if you want on that last one, but your projection of aesthetic concern to what Ballard is fighting for is totally false.

    1. I specifically endorsed the high bridge and 15th. All the other concerns are about impacts or aesthetics, not ridership outcomes.

      1. It is only $250M more for a tunnel under the Ship Canal as opposed to the high bridge. it’s a no-brainer, tunnel.

        We are spending billions to right a wrong that was done to the city in 1950 when they built the viaduct. Now is not the time to repeat that mistake with another high bridge/structure.

        I say, “do Link right, or don’t do it at all.”

        And your focus on whether or not a landowner will experience increased value with a tunnel is a bit narrowly focused. With tunnels we all win, not just a few landowners.

      2. What’s *actually* on the table for transit riders is a 15th NW station in a tunnel. There is no elevated 15th NW station on the table. If this were full throated request to study an elevated 15th NW station, I’m totally with you. But to argue against the best station for transit riders that is *actually* on the table is a disservice to all of us.

      3. It’s someone revealing the Lazarus doesn’t even try to make the case that the tunnel provides any material improvements for transit riders. It’s just “better” or “right” for some unspecified reason.

      4. Martin, not according to Ross. He has categorically stated over and over that the RA has a station in the SW quadrant of the intersection and approaches it in private right of way along the west side of 15th NW.

        This alignment may indeed be “elevated” enough for vehicles to turn onto and off of 15th NW, but it can never be extended in any direction without tearing down the large new building in the NW quadrant.

        Such a station, since it would be a permanent terminal, could be built relatively inexpensively with a single level and side platforms with direct stairs down to the south side of Market and a shared walkway to the north side and conceivably across 15th NW above the cross-walk. Those potential elements provide good access at the cost if future expansion opportunities.

        Is this really what you want, or are you confident that Ross is wrong and that the alignment will be centered over 15th?

        A station there would absolutely require a mezzanine since it would need to be center platform to clear the large adjacent buildings, thereby making it like Mt. Baker and Northgate. That’s a lot of station across Market Street.

      5. A tunnel to Ballard could allow for a station further west than 15th – not that this will be considered but if it can be considered it could make ridership better and could improve a number of bus transfers.

      6. With tunnels we don’t “all win” though. Actual riders of the system lose out on the views an elevated line would provide and potentially through extra time lost waiting on broken elevators and escalators to get up and down to the platform. Tunneling adds a huge cost primarily for aesthetic benefits for the few at the cost of the aesthetic benefits for the many who will actually use the system we are building. This is 100% true for the West Seattle end and mostly true for the Ballard end (though future expansion/station location concerns make that one more of a real choice.)

      7. @djw,

        “revealing”? Hardly, that is sort of my point.

        You guys can wail all you want about what is best for “transit”, but what you are seeing here is the sausage being made. And at the end of the day what will get made is in fact a sausage.

        Translation: There are multiple stakeholders here. The end result will not be judged 100% on just one metric like “transit”, it will in fact be an amalgamation of various concerns and interests, including the interests of property owners and business owners all up and town the corridor.

        It is how decisions get made in an inclusive city. It has a lot to do with why the original elevated ring-road didn’t get completed, why the Thompson Freeway didn’t get built, and why the elevated viaduct didn’t get replaced with a bigger elevated viaduct on the waterfront.

        And it is why we don’t have elevated transit all-over the city like Chicago. Because we can see what they did, and what we did with the viaduct, and we are smarter than that now.

        So, ya, advocate all you want for a 100% transit scorecard, but it won’t happen.

      8. Sure the Representative Alignment has a station on 15th NW. However, it’s a non-starter everyone who actually lives with drawbridges, but also and especially Fisherman’s Terminal, they have made it clear that the RA won’t ever be built as originally shown, right through their main entrance.

        A Fixed bridge station is only being studied on 14th. Ask to study it on 15th as well, sure. But that’s not a request Martin is making.

      9. Sure there are stakeholders and they’ll do what they’re going to do. But if, as voters, we are asked to approve a package that mostly just adds tunnels, then voters interested in good transit outcomes should know that that’s not what they’re voting for.

      10. @Martin,

        I’m a transit voter, but I am not a single issue voter. Present me with a poor design and an opportunity to vote on it and I am a solid “No”.

        Yes, I care about transit, but I care about this city more. I am not willing to repeat the mistakes of the viaduct, or of the Chicago L.

        But we might not get an opportunity to vote anyhow.

      11. The non-RA opinions are pitting armchair commentators against ST’s engineers. ST has said an elevated 15th alignment and station is feasible and that’s its default plan. The rest is amateur or unofficial opinions saying it isn’t feasible or the drawbacks are unacceptable to the Port, Fisherman’s Terminal, West Seattle residents, and/or apartment buildings on 15th. What matters is whether ST’s engineers confirm this, and what the board thinks are acceptable drawbacks, and any subsequent lawsuits that might challenge ST’s decision. We can’t expect ST to exclude an option simply because an amateur opinionator thinks there’s not enough room or the impacts would be unacceptable to sufficiently-important people.

        West Seattle has always gotten disproportionate deference but it may not this time. A $2 billion add-on would be on top of a $54 billion package, the largest transit tax ever. The rest of Seattle might say, “You know, there’s not that many people in West Seattle, and it has gotten out of building up as much as other parts of Seattle, so I’m not supporting the lowest-priority tunnel in Seattle.”

      12. “ST has said an elevated 15th alignment and station is feasible and that’s its default plan.” Mike, while that statement is true, I believe it misses the point that the only elevated 15th alignment is in the representative plan, and it is a LOW-level bridge which will open too often. The only high-level (fixed) bridge in level 3 alternatives is mated with a 14th Ave station.

        The only reasonable explanation for ST’s engineers to suggest a 14th Ave station is that they think it would be difficult to mate a high bridge with a 15th Ave station. That makes sense, because it is challenging enough to squeeze in piers for the representative alignment in the tight space on 15th Ave between Ballard Way and Leary Way. There is only roadway and modest sidewalks hemmed in between 4-story buildings on either side. Piers for an approach to a high bridge would have to be wider.

        The problem here is not that armchair enthusiasts are second-guessing professional engineers. instead, well-informed citizens are struggling to get the best possible outcome in the midst of poor choices. You seem to be OK with an aerial structure. Then why not support a high-level bridge mated with a 20th Avenue station. It solves so many problems.

        As for other commenters (not Mike), who advocate a tunnel-or-nothing approach, I have this to say: I walk under the aerial structure south of the Sodo station quite frequently. It is nowhere near as unpleasant as the downtown viaduct. It is not valid to equate them. Furthermore, the board is clearly signaling they do not favor spending big bucks on a tunnel. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Doing so is likely to result in either the worst or second-worst alternative.

      13. Martin, not according to Ross. He has categorically stated over and over that the RA has a station in the SW quadrant of the intersection and approaches it in private right of way along the west side of 15th NW.

        That is total bullshit. I never said any such thing. You are in clear violation of this blog’s comment policy, and this isn’t the first time. You have made similar unfounded and unsubstantiated claims about my writing in the past. You are clearly trolling. Holy shit, this is the first time I’ve even made a comment on this post, and you are busy making unfounded claims about me.
        [ot]

        As for the issue at hand, I probably said that ST could run it on the west side of the road. They could also run it on the east side of the road. Obviously the west side of the road is better. As far as extensions go, it makes no difference. 15th is 15th. It is a very wide road, and like any road, you can change it up (e. g. take a lane). It is also obvious that it would be hard to run the trains up to 85th via 14th, since 14th ends at Ballard High School. As to the particulars — what is cheapest, or more plausible, no one knows. You have to study those things at a detail that simply hasn’t happened yet. Or if it has, I haven’t read it. [Can anyone point to a study on possible future extensions?]. There are plenty of people playing arm-chair engineer here, but without a real study, we have no idea what is cheaper or easier.

      14. The alternatives aren’t either-or; ST can mix-and-match, and encouraged people in the input sessions to do so. The point is that any feature is documented in an alternative so it’s been environmentally reviewed. The final EIS will have a preferred alternative, a no-build alternative, and one or more other alternatives and options. ST can assemble parts from any of those for what it actually builds.

        The bridge in the RA is not low, it’s medium. It’s twice as high as the Ballard Bridge and clears all but a few tallest sailboats.Of course an opening bridge can get stuck open, and the West Seattle bridge did so, but when have the Ship Canal bridges gotten stuck even after operating for most of a century?

        My understanding of the RA is it’s not specific about where in the intersection the station would be. That’s to be decided at a later time. The Lynnwood and Shoreline North station positions were decided at a much later point in the process, with three Lynnwood alternatives on different sides df the P&R, and at least two Shoreline alternatives on opposite sides of the freeway, and a late change to counteract higher project costs.

      15. Ross, you did too say that the RA places the station in the southwest quadrant of the intersection when I stated that a center-of-15th alignment would require a mezzanine to distribute passengers. No, that wasn’t in the comments to this post, but you have said it at least three times in different instances.

        [ot]

        And No, you can’t magically wave the guideway into the middle of 15th NW from a station in EITHER southern quadrant of the 15th and Market intersection in order to continue on north to Crown Hill. At least, not without tearing down one or the other of the new buildings in the northeast and northwest quadrants. The RA was shown with an 85th Station in several early planning documents, though it has clearly been deferred at best.

        If the end of track were at 54th, yes, such an “S-curve” could be fit in, but not if it stub-ends at Market. An extension to the east might be accommodated with platforms ending about mid-block between 54th and Market on the west side of 15th, because the trackway wouldn’t have to “S”.

        Though that particular combination of Downtown-Ballard-UW might be a good idea, it hasn’t been shown on any planning document other than musings here on STB.

    2. You can keep saying a drawbridge is “reliability killing” – doesn’t make it true. A 70′ bridge clears almost all recreational craft. A lift span can cycle in 90 seconds for larger craft. At the headways this line will run, there is little or no reason for there to be delays. Certainly not enough to make it worth it to spend hundreds of millions more for a worse transit outcome.

      1. The issue with drawbridges is their operation in a few decades and in harsh conditions: it has to do with whether or not they open and how often, sure, but more so whether or not they close. For $100 million more we get a massive increase in reliability and don’t have to relive the agony of the Ballard Bridge being stuck.

        So obviously a drawbridge sucks as everyone in Ballard knows. Then the issue becomes getting a station where riders are. Sure the Representative Alignment is on 15th NW. However, it’s a non-starter for everyone who actually lives with drawbridges, but also and especially Fisherman’s Terminal, they have made it clear that the RA won’t ever be built as originally shown.

        A Fixed bridge station is only being studied on 14th. Ask to study it on 15th as well, sure. But that’s not what Martin did.

      2. The drawbridge would be built as two independent lift spans. If one fails, single track operations continue on the other. At the headways this line runs, passengers wouldn’t know the difference.

        Saying “drawbridges suck as everyone in Ballard knows” is like saying “cars suck, as everyone who drives a Model T knows”

      3. independent draw bridges are a mixed bag – while reducing the system impact of failures (and long-duration maintenance), they can increase the chance of a failure

        i’m not esp fond of car analogies, but as with a modern car, i expect the initial reliability to be excellent. what indication do we have that it will age and wear more gracefully?

      4. I think one concern is how fast a light rail train can cross a drawbridge. Many people have taken the painfully slow Max drawbridge crossing in Portland and don’t want to have that here. It’s also a concern that may araise after 10 or 20 or 30 years.

        Some education and examples from elsewhere about how to avoid this is needed before there is comfort about recommending it.

      5. The Steel Bridge is old as hell and rickety which is why it has the 10mph speed limit to avoid shaking it apart.

        I’ve seen nothing to suggest that a new lift bridge would be limited speed-wise by anything other than the fact you’ve got the Dravus and Market stations so close to it.

    3. We really need a post about the drawbridge. People hear drawbridge, and they think “Ballard” or “Fremont’, not “520”. I’m sure there are generations of riders — folks who traveled the 520 bridge every day — who didn’t even know that it opened. This bridge will be higher. As high as the 520 bridge is now. There are three important parts to the proposed drawbridge:

      1) It will be 70 feet high. At this height, very few boats cause it to open.

      2) It will never open during rush hour.

      3) Headways will never be better than six minutes, and will likely be a lot more than that outside of rush hour.

      4) Bridge operators can delay an opening.

      5) There will be no traffic with a train. A ten second delay is just a ten second delay. It doesn’t cause traffic buildups the way that a similar delay on an automobile bridge does.

      It is quite likely that the vast majority of riders will never notice it opening, let alone experience a delay. Other delays (caused by the extremely long line to Tacoma) will be a lot more common.

      Meanwhile, it is quite possible that an underground station — or even a high bridge station — will have a platform that is farther from the surface than one with a drawbridge. This will make each and every trip worse. If you do the napkin math, it is easy to see how even a very minor change in station placement will make a much bigger difference than whether the bridge opens or not.

      As for reliability, it is important to factor in the cost. It is like buying an extended warranty — sometimes it is worth it, sometimes it isn’t. It is worth noting that lots of cities have drawbridges for their subway system, and continue to use them. If I’m not mistaken, Boston is replacing one of their drawbridges with another drawbridge. They aren’t worried about the fact that it opens, and are focused instead on making it bigger, so that it can handle more trains.

      My guess is that folks are so opposed to a drawbridge because — like so many things around here — we only look at what exists locally. We also tend to focus on driving. I’m just curious, when people say things like “drawbridges suck”, have they actually taken a subway train over a drawbridge? What about that experience sucks? Is it really the bridges that are the least reliable parts of the Boston and New York subway systems?

      1. “The new 520 has a drawbridge?”

        No, it doesn’t need one. The east navigational channel has a 70′ clearance. This bridge would also have 70′ clearance so that should give a better indication to how often this thing will need to open (very, very rarely.)

      2. Exactly. Otherwise the fixed bridge advocates will have only themselves to blame when the Ballard station ends up on 14th. Seattle Subway and others need to drop their opposition to the movable bridge.

  2. I knew West Seattle would raise a huge stink about elevated trains through the junction. Everyone should have foreseen this. I just can’t imagine this process going any other way.

    On the other hand, an elevated train on 15th in Ballard would fit perfectly into the character of the area. It’s more than wide enough and for a pedestrian it already feels more like a highway than a neighborhood street. I hope common sense will win in the end but this is ST, after all. I’m not keeping my hopes too high.

    1. I agree completely. I mentioned several times that a lot of folks in West Seattle weren’t going to like the elevated option. It is kind of like the SR 99 tunnel replacing the viaduct. People make optimistic assumptions about how it works, and will soon be very disappointed when they learn the details. I also agree with you about Ballard. 15th is pretty ugly, so you don’t lose anything by building an elevated line there.

  3. Martin does a disservice to the discourse here by again insisting in false equivalence between Ballard and West Seattle. We need to stop talking about these as a single line, and most importantly recognize that there are two entirely different debates being had here.

    Yes, West Seattle’s request for a tunnel seems to be largely about aesthetic concerns. I’m not even going to weigh in on that.

    I will say that that concerns in Ballard have more to do with station placement, reliability, and track orientation (relative to Port facilities). If Sound Transit had an option that could perform on all three of those areas AND Was elevated, i doubt you’d be hearing the push for tunnel. The Ballard community has been banging this drum since the day the representative alignment was released. Just take a look at the piece your own blog posted about Port involvement in Ballard for proof of the high bridge’s challenges.

    Mostly, please stop talking about these two debates as if they were on the same merits or about the same issues.

    1. I agree with Martin bringing this topic up for discussion, and it’s important we have these discussions as a city since we’ll all be the ones paying for this.

      The big key here is the politics of getting these lines funded and built. If one neighborhood like Ballard, Downtown, or West Seattle get what they want to reduce “impacts” and not improve actual transportation, then those living in the others will go nuts because they’re not getting it too. Such a split in our city would be enough to delay the project for years, if not indefinitely.

      We have to measure these elements as part of transit outcomes and not necessarily aesthetics. Voting to spend another $2 BILLION of our tax payer dollars to fund a tunnel for aesthetic purposes rather than functional purposes should give us pause and think about what we’re really doing here and why. For example, we’re already struggling maintaining existing infrastructure and funding our key $930M transportation levy, which (IIRC) now no longer repaves Market Street in Ballard. We’ve already lost a ton of measurable transit improvements in the Levy reset.

      1. The DT Bellevue tunnel was not only built purely for aesthetic purposes, it’s actually worse than what ST wanted to build. Bellevue got what they wanted and ST bent over backwards for them. The entire East Link process was a joke. West Seattle will be much of the same.

      2. Fine debate this, Mike, but debate the arguments independently. You want to talk about the entire transit and levy system holistically, but that’s not what’s on the table. Your conception of the politics here is childish at best.

        In the real world we’ve already moved beyond the, “we all float or we sink.” That’s why ST evaluates work in specific segments, as opposed to entire lines.

        Again, there are measurable impacts to the Ballard segment, and the port itself is calling these out. There’s no possible way to place a high bridge and a station on 15th, which seems to be the dream Martin is hanging his hat on.

        If West Seattle has these impacts, then bring them to the debate.

      3. There’s sense debating them dependently because they’re ultimately tied together in how the Seattle Subarea votes, funds, and taxes ourselves for these non-Sound Transit proposed components. ST has made it clear to us anything beyond their representative elevated alignment chosen by voters in ST3, which is what they’re currently evaluating, our subarea has to fund any other improvements beyond what Sound Transit proposed. That number is now $2 billion for the whole suite of improvements desired by parts of our community.

        Now, if one of the city’s major neighborhoods gets a near-billion-dollar tunnel but the other doesn’t, no matter the “impacts”, I can guarantee there will be significant political implications, including campaigns for no votes and obstructionism of their new elevated alignment; in turn hurting the entire system. West Seattle, in particular, is a difficult area to work with as history has demonstrated time and time again. This isn’t new either; we’ve already seen this with Link deployment regionally, particularly for East Link which was delayed for two years thanks in part to Bellevue’s obstructionism.

        Then you still have people like me, in the Seattle subarea but outside the reach of Link, who need to be convinced that taxing ourselves a bunch to make people in the Port of Seattle, West Seattle, and Ballard happy with a tunnel is worth it (while the streets fall apart). As Port of Seattle is one of the biggest proponents of the $3.5-4+ billion Alaskan Way Tunnel due to “their concerns”, I’m not too interested in hearing about “their concerns” right now unless they’re ready to cough up some serious money.

        I question your technical knowledge and how you reached the conclusion that no high level bridge & 15th Station is possible in Ballard.

      4. The Downtown Bellevue Link tunnel segment runs through a few blocks with many buildings of at least 20 floors.

        When Ballard or West Seattle allow many 20+ floor buildings it’s a valid comparison. But keeping quaint streets with single-story retail aesthetically protected by a light rail tunnel is more comparable to Downtown Centalia or Olympia rather than Downtown Bellevue.

      5. Al, the train will enter the downtown Bellevue tunnel on 112th Ave and exit again on 112th Ave. Please explain why the train couldn’t continue straight down 112th instead of veering into a tunnel?

        If the tunnel went from Bellevue Way to 112th it would have served a purpose. This tunnel is a waste of time and money. Thanks to the tight curves, it’ll be a waste of time for many years to come.

      6. Oh I’d agree that the Downtown Bellevue is less than optimal.

        The point I’m merely making is that when your station area has existing 20 or 30 story buildings, asking for tunnels is fair. It’s not fair when it’s just a few blocks of 65 or 85 foot apartments or condos surrounded by single-story retail with free on-site parking.

        I’d sum it up with the following slogan:

        No 20-floor towers; no tunnel.

      7. The process that caused the Bellevue tunnel was completely illogical. ST preferred a surface segment on 110th with a station closer to the bus bays. Kevin Wallace preferred a “Vision Line” on 114th. The city council finally asked ST to put it in a tunnel on 106th, and gave ST half the funding for it, and asked ST to economize elsewhere in East Link for the rest. (This led so some surface segments in Bel-Red and Overlake, although ST promises the only level crossings are low-volume.) The design ST came up with was an idiotic station east of 110th rather than a sensible underground station next to the bus bays. This was a result of the conflicting mandates to put it underground but keep the station cost minimal. Fortunately, the hillside allows Link to transition from underground to elevated to cross the freeway while remaining flat. Unfortunately, the station is an excessively long distance and elevation from the bus bays, and we just have to hope ST will somehow mitigate that with escalators and a flat walkway. There never was a full 112th alternative in the debate that I’m aware of. That would have put it even further from the bus bays and a longer hill to walk up. So the tunnel was wasteful and didn’t even fulfill the benefit a tunnel might have, but given that the tunnel was a political necessity, It’s better to have the station where it is than on 112th.

        Also, the difference between Bellevue on the one hand and Ballard and West Seattle on the other, is that Bellevue is a city government, the alignment is at City Hall, and it’s in the second-largest urban center in the region.So the issue is more akin to the DSTT than to the Ballard and West Seattle alignments.

    2. It makes sense to talk about them together because politically they’re a package deal. There’s no way in hell the city finds extra dollars for a tunnel in North Seattle but not in South Seattle. The political resentment over the Rainier Valley not getting a tunnel while points north did isn’t going to repeat.

    3. There are differences, but there are also a lot of similarities. Specifically:

      1) Every alternative proposal would cost *more* than the original proposal.

      2) Transit would be marginally improved at best, and more likely would be worse or a lot worse. For example, an underground station would be more reliable, but it is quite possible that it would be the same. Eventually a bridge — just like tracks — needs to be replaced. It might break because it opens a few times a month, it might not. On the other hand, a station at 15th deep underground is likely to be worse for riders than a station above ground. A station at 14th would be much worse.

      That really is the key here. There are particulars to each proposal, but no one is actually suggesting spending extra money to make transit better. They are simply addressing other concerns (in the interest of businesses or the port). Those are valid concerns, but don’t call *extra* money spend addressing those concerns a transit project. That would be like capping I-5 (i. e. expanding freeway park) and calling it a transportation project.

      If folks want to actually address both concerns, then it is a different matter. Building a station at 20th or Leary, for example, would make things better for transit users *and* address those concerns. But so far no in power has actually suggested doing that, as is instead suggesting changes that can’t be called transit improvements.

  4. Did the board do something this week? Last I heard ST still had a few alternatives in its feedback rounds and hadn’t said definitively how much it would fund or which it would prefer. Yet the article says “ST declined to fund changes”. When did it do that, and is there more news coming?

    1. I noticed that “declined” as well. Was it an awkward construction ot DID the board give some clear signal that it’s favoring the RA in its entirety?

  5. This is equivalent to highway promoters saying “put the road wherever, so long as maximum capacity is met”. And you know what…that is what happened to I-5 downtown

    It is amazing how we fall into the same historical traps, but we convince ourselves to look the other way because it is transit.

    It is about a holistic approach to urban planning, and that is completely missed in this post.

    I would argue that a tunneled option would provide high transit ridership in the future, because you are not limiting density. You could build 1000+ units along the elevated Northgate line, but that will forever be infrastructure. Infrastructure that developers will not want to build right on top of, lost potential and therefor lost ridership density.

      1. I’m pro-upzones, but point of order. We should put transit where we upzone, or upzone where there’s transit. Right now Ballard is looking at upzoning Crown Hill, which SHOCK isn’t getting any additional transit service and, if you believe Sound Transit’s own word, isn’t getting any for the foreseeable future.

        The Seattle classic model: Upzone and hope the future pols have the courage to get transit there is a proven loser.

      2. The upzone is because there’s a housing shortage, regardless of how transit changes or doesn’t change. The most critical issue for Link is to get a station at Market Street whch has the largest number of housing and businesses in the station area, to eliminate the minimum half-hour overhead to get into or out of Ballard on transit. Crown Hill is a secondary issue because the city has shown no indication of ever upzoning it to the level of central Ballard. That’s a general failure all across the city, of both land-use and transit policies.

    1. Why would developers not want to build on top of rail infrastructure? It’s very common in other cities. It not like the monorail has hindered the development of Belltown.

      Some of the anti-elevated arguments suggests that people have never lived in a city larger than Seattle. Outside of CBDs, elevated lines are very, very common in all major cities.

      1. He means building where the structure between 1st and the freeway is now. Nobody can build over it because it rises to the third story height. Grant that the land slopes down as the track rises, it’s still a lot of hollow building below what could be occupied.

      2. If you take a look at the proposed alignments in West Seattle, you are eliminating development potential.

        Not only that, you are degrading the urban landscape, which means less money will be spent to densify it.

        I am not familiar with one urban elevated rail line built in the last decade. A decade that has seen a resurgence of urban ideals.

      3. All of those examples, with the exception of the skytrain, are not getting built in the same urban setting as Ballard and West Seattle.

        West Seattle and Ballard have the capacity to be built out at a South Lake Union / Capital Hill density. These lines limit that potential. It is a return on investment over 100 years, not the short term.

        Vancouver is building tall around their stations, but they are building luxury to above market rate units to make the return on construction cost pencil.

      4. Martin,

        In your own photo you can see the dead space and lack of urban connectivity. You need to see the bigger picture beyond just transit efficiency. It is the same issue with highway supporters; too hyper focused on their one goal and missing the bigger picture.

      5. By dead space, do you mean the park, or the parking lot under the tracks? Our tracks would be over the roadway, so the parking issue seems irrelevant.

      6. “West Seattle and Ballard have the capacity to be built out at a South Lake Union / Capital Hill density.”

        Let me know when a city councilmember even hits at possibly maybe supporting 40-story buildings in Ballard or West Seattle. If they’re willing to do that they should have done ten years ago so we wouldn’t be having this debate.

        Also, West Seattle has only two bridges and one future Link line to access the rest of the region, except via the south end which is out-of-direction for the bulk of the population. So it may not be the best place for 40-story buildings and an SLU-upon-Duwamish. But it should have 15-story midrise buildings and maybe a couple 20 story buildings.

      7. “Also, West Seattle has only two bridges and one future Link line to access the rest of the region, except via the south end…”

        …. just like San Francisco!

      8. The Bay Bridge is eight lanes each direction and an Interstate. The Golden Gate bridge goes to a secondary population center. BART is higher-capacity than Link, and the south end has two freeways.

      9. Not only that, you are degrading the urban landscape, which means less money will be spent to densify it.

        Right, that explains why Vancouver (which has so much elevated rail) lacks any density. Oh wait…

      10. DC (technically NoVA) recently opened an urban elevated in Tyson’s Corner. Ironically (considering this discussion) it will help make Tyson’s far denser than it is today, and will allow the neighborhood to host the region’s only skyscrapers. Of course, people still think a tunnel would have been better.. and perhaps they are right.. but it undoubtedly would have made the Silver Line far more expensive.

        Coincidentally, VDOT also opened a 70-foot drawbridge a few years ago as well. No one seems to be worried that Interstate 95–probably the single most important corridor in the country–and the Beltway could become impassible if the Woodrow Wilson gets stuck open over the Potomac.

  6. Can we talk add the more costly mined tunnel alternative for ID/C into the “not a transit project” category too? It creates awful transfers at the single most important intermodal hub in the region.

    Having an elevator-only transfer is really, really horrible for rider experience and occasionally evacuating the platforms will be a nightmare. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to spend the extra hundreds of millions to make transfers harder.

    1. Great! I just want to call special attention to it — because it’s spending lots of money to make it significantly worse for riders in ways the other costly options don’t.

  7. Martin, before the argument about subway versus elevated in Ballard goes any farther, I’d like to see some section drawings and read some geology. As a transit driver, this isn’t about either thrift or aesthetics, but a hundred percent about reliability. A blizzard can block an elevated structure, but never a tunnel. ‘Quake? Lot of variables.

    By same token, though, if the dirt, rocks, and water approaching Ballard from the south make a subway a practical impossibility, places with worse weather elevate worse-threatened stretches of track. I used to live in Chicago. And a people-mover ride just like the one at Oakland Airport will provide an entry to Ballard that will totally capture the six year old vote which settles its acceptability.

    But on your other point about whole nature of the project, for the first time in five years I’m sorry to be gone from the Ballard I left, most of which I hate worse every time I visit it. Because my forced change of residence leaves me deprived of the ability to cancel your vote on relationships between two of the line’s most important service areas. Third being Downtown Seattle.

    Far as I’m concerned, fact you and West Seattle are on same major line puts you both in the same transit subarea. Which, whether or not I live to see it, will inevitably join same region that I’ll also live in. Giving me the right and duty to tell you and your West Seattle neighbors to start meeting on a regular basis to see how much you can stay out of a fight that’ll leave you both with a lot of other subareas hating you both.

    Piece of real estate history is on your side vis a vis the elevated life. In my old Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, buildings that were old sixty years ago charge very high rent to live with living room views of the ‘El like the Blues Brothers had in that flop-house hotel before Cary Fisher blew it up with a rocket. I’m sensing that not too deep, what transit’s main West Seattle opposition fears most is not the visible presence of transit, but the fact that their neighborhood is going to undergo self-same changes as Ballard.

    Face it. The two of you subareas are already the same neighborhood. Form a united Association and you’ll all enjoy the work of getting it a transit system. And all your kids will love the same train ride.

    Mark Dublin

  8. I totally agree that a 14th Ave station (which is NOT in Ballard) would kneecap ridership. “If it can be mated with a 15th Avenue stop” is a big if. If it can be done, it would be better than any of the remaining alternatives. That may be the best outcome possible at this point in the process. However, I contend that a 20th Avenue stop would have even higher ridership and would easily connect to 3 times as many bus routes. It could be done with a similar high bridge from 21st Ave to 20th Ave, with no apparent conflict with port operations at Fisherman’s Terminal. I have posted comments with more details on 3 prior blog posts.

    1. I would even argue 15th Ave is not Ballard, it’s more like the highway you turn off if to get to Ballard. At least 15th has the advantage of being able to expand north, but wait a minute if it has to be a tunnel, an actual Ballard station could jist as easily facilitate a north extension (though it’s a longer tunnel so more expensive).

    2. I agree, Dale. A station at 20th should be considered more seriously, because unlike any of the other options (underground at 15th or any station at 14th) it is actually better than the original proposal. Not just a little bit better, but a lot better. Furthermore, a station at Dravus and 20th is better than a station at 17th and Thorndyke.

    3. It seems that there should be an alternative that has a bridge over the Ship Canal but dives to a subway in Ballard. If the crossing is at 14th, and the line is curved to run east-west at Market, there at least about 3000 feet to change elevation. A portal south of 14th/Market and a turn to/from the west would allow tracks to continue to drop enough to run underneath 15th to a platform between 15th and 17th.

      A cheaper variation would be to bring the tracks to grade in the median of Market Street, like what we have on MLK. That would offer the savings that could even include a second station between 22nd and 24th on Market (in addition to a station near 15th and Market).

      It may seem to destroy chances of a line further north — but it doesn’t. That’s because the loads through SLU and Downtown will be so heavy that a second line is going to be needed (MLK constrains a single line to no better than six minutes). That second line could skip Ballard and run further north (and a third line could connect Ballard to UW using Ballard station platforms) or it could curve east.

  9. There are plenty of us West Seattle SFH homeowners who want the elevated option built ASAP and have no interest in paying the cost of a pointless tunnel. However, the “West Seattle Elevated” is far inferior to the ST3 representative alignment, it would be insane to bulldoze extra blocks of houses when there is already right of way on Fauntleroy->Alaska to add an elevated line. The “turning south” issue can be addressed in ST4 or ST5 (let’s be honest, there are a dozen light rail lines that make more sense than snaking a line south through the residential parts of West Seattle).

    Some of the complaints about an elevated line are simply ridiculous. The Avalon area has an expressway and several loud arterial streets running through it. It has Nucor Steel making noise 24/7. A light rail station with pedestrian/bus transfer improvements and traffic calming is exactly what this area needs. And there is plenty of room to build an elevated station, the only SF houses that need to go are where the line comes up Genesee between Avalon and 35th.

    The fastest way to kill the tunnel is for Herbold to draw up a LID and show people what their tax bill will be. And to proceed with the lower-impact ST3 representative plan.

    1. You make a great point about light rail taking more time for a tunnel. It would push back the West Seattle Link opening at least 3 if not 5 years. That would mean 2035 rather than 2030. It would also create a construction zone of 8-10 years in West Seattle at the end Station rather than five.

      These are harsh realities about rail construction that should give some West Seattle tunnel proponents do pause.

      1. You’re mistaking the tunnel proponents as acting in good faith. These people are promoting the tunnel because they KNOW it’s impossible to do, and they have already been gearing up the “tunnel or NOTHING” arguments for its eventual rejection.

        These people don’t want light rail to West Seattle — period. They are using all this tunnel rigmarole specifically because they know it’s the best way to cancel the project without looking like they’re anti-transit. It is concern-trolling at its highest form — something that neighborhood NIMBY groups have become exceptionally skilled at.

      2. Do you know all the tunnel proponents? There must be some who really do want a tunnel, and are either willing to pay for it or want to fanagle somebody else into paying for it (because West Seattle is so important) or don’t think about costs. I can’t believe they’re all using the tunnel argument as a way to get Link cancelled. That sounds like the theories above that ST won’t go through Fisherman’s Terminal because the fishermen won’t allow it, or won’t build an elevated 15th station because it’s impossible and would also prevent Link from expanding northward.

        We know there are apparent tunnel advocates because they’ve commented in the stakeholder sessions. We know there are West Seattlites who are satisfied with the representative alignment because one of them commented above. We don’t know that there’s a conspiracy advocating for one thing when they really want another (tunnel vs cancellation). If you have more evidence of this please say so.

      3. Based on West Seattle Blog comments, the majority of people want light rail and are fine with the elevated option, even after seeing conceptual diagrams and route info. Opposition is the usual stuff…aesthetics, displacement, or the vague “neighborhood character” phrase that is used to oppose any type of change. A few related to “fairness” (Capitol Hill got a tunnel, why not us?).

        More recently I’ve seen a new phrase gain traction, generally something like “it’s going to last 100 years so we need to do it RIGHT”. That is basically the “tunnel or nothing” argument rephrased. That is the group that is likely to mount challenges to the EIS and try to delay the project.

        I’m not really worried about it. Sound Transit is playing the politics correctly–studying the tunnel to satisfy stakeholders but that’s about it. As far as I can tell they haven’t even bothered to do soil sampling where the tunnel would go despite having done a ton of it around the West Seattle Bridge and on Genesee.

  10. The cost to bury the line to the Alaska Junction is but part of the upcharge in bringing light rail to West Seattle. It means ST will have to tunnel to Westwood and White Center. I’d like to have that figure on the table.

    If the Port (which is to say, county taxpayers) is willing to fund tunneling under the Ship Canal, then fine. But will they then pay the extra costs to continue the tunnel to Greenwood or Fremont/Wallingford/U-District?

    Today’s tunnels force more tunnels in the future.

    And what about all the foregone tourism that a high bridge over the Ship Canal would have brought? Has the Chamber of Commerce put a figure on that, complete with all its multipliers?

    Maybe the happy medium in West Seattle is to turn the line south from the Triangle, which is the heart of West Seattle’s density, and serve additional nodes to the south, instead of a station on the far west end of West Seattle’s density, which is arguably its own wasted money, just to serve a historically powerful neighborhood that really isn’t that dense and is unlikely to accept more density.

    Letting the electeds group choose two options, with one using just ST money, means the electeds groups will choose the worst no-extra-investment option, just like tunnel proponents are already arguing against the weakest alternative to what they want. The Board needs to be ready to reject this strategy.

  11. One thing that the planning for Ballard has to factor in: the eventual tunnel to the University District and points east. However long it’ll take for that to happen, there are measures and adjustments that can be worked into the project now that the railbuilders of the future will be very grateful for.

    Mark Dublin

  12. Additional money in a citywide vote would not be constrained by ST3 consistency.

    So, let’s consider what we could do with $2B in funds for real transit improvements inside Seattle!

    – an automated tunnel incline from 5th/Madison to Boren/Madison?

    – a reworked and expanded streetcar system (two cars please) with extensions through Belltown, Pike-Pine Corridor to the CD, Fremont and the Rainier Valley?

    – surface or aerial inclines (funiculars or gondolas) for First Hill, North Capitol Hill, Queen Anne Hill, High Point, U-Village Area and/or Admiral or Alki?

    – substantial increases in Metro service along with lots more Link station elevators and escalators?

    If voters mobilize more money, many voters inside Seattle will view spending money for only West Seattle and Ballard with some derision, so approval isn’t a sure thing. It’s not serving an unserved area with rail; it’s giving areas the same service but in a more expensive way. Getting a Citywide yes won’t be easy unless the package expands to benefit other areas of Seattle.

  13. Would West Seattle and Ballard be willing to sell off the West Seattle and Interbay Golf Courses to raise money as well as create TODs (of at least 10-20 stories) there to make the tunnel expense a more reasonable public investment?

    If you want a tunnel, show Seattle the density to justify it!

    1. I will agree that urban golf course are the worst use of space, but if anything, they should be turned into proper parks that can be used by everyone.

      Selling off precious open space is a terrible idea.

      1. I’m not usually a fan of selling off park land, but I’m also not a fan of putting billion-dollar light rail stations in a place where half the walkshed is a golf course (or even a park that is usable by all). Given that Sound Transit seems hellbent on putting Link stations right next to three of Seattle’s four municipal golf courses, some decisions have to be made. Is a big piece of open space really something that we should be putting next to this expensive transportation infrastructure, or might it be better to build some homes and/or businesses at least within a ten-minute walkshed of the stations and use the money from selling the land to acquire and improve parkland a bit farther out from Link?

    2. It’s not just an either-or. We could recycle part of the lot for TOD and build a quality park on the other part. The size of the golf course was driven by the needs of golf, not by the optimal size of a non-golf park. And it would depend on the kind of park. A monoculture lawn is like a void in the ecosystem and habitat. If we replace the park with a lawn with concrete paths through it like in Northgate or SLU, we won’t have gotten much. But if we turn it into a natural place with native shrubs and trees, then it could provide a natural habitat for the critters around us and clean the air for us. If we build it like Cal Anderson Park with a small lawn, ballfield, tennis courts, kid’s play area, and some counterpart to the reflecting pond, then it would attract more humans, and there would even be space left over for a natural habitat. Also, West Seattle already has more old-growth parks than the rest of the city, so turning the entire golf course into a park may be excessive.

    3. A land swap seems like the best way to convert Link adjacent golf courses into TOD. For example, someone suggested moving South Seattle college to the golf course and converting the old campus into public space, which seemed like a solid idea.

  14. I agree that aesthetics are generally overvalued, but do you really mean that “transit outcomes for riders” are the only consideration for transit projects? I read this to say that externalities for highways are fair game (with which I fully agree) but apparently not for transit. Is that really what you mean?

    1. I mean that pro-transit voters who might be asked to fund this should be under no illusions as to what they are funding.

      When designing new projects, we need stakeholder consensus to get approval for projects that will improve transit outcomes. In this case, the good outcomes are largely approved so that is not a consideration.

      1. Yes — this. It is a pretty simple concept, really. It would be disingenuous to call the expansion of Freeway Park a transportation project, yet that is exactly the type of talk behind this.

    2. ST3 funds 1% on art, nearly $1B of education funding, likely hundreds of millions of free land for TOD, and currently South King cities are agitating to spend millions to rehabilitate a superfund site. I mean, Lynnwood Link is planting like 14,000 trees as mitigation for construction.

      The point is, ST funds much more than just “transportation.” I think as long as this fact is transparent and the public, taxpayers, and politicians understand that the $2B provides minimal transit improvement, I don’t see a problem.

      STB can certainly argue that $2B is a silly investment, but pointing out that this isn’t a transit improvement is true but not a sufficient counterargument.

      1. STB can certainly argue that $2B is a silly investment, but pointing out that this isn’t a transit improvement is true but not a sufficient counterargument.

        I mean, that’s the title of the post. Vote for it if you want, but it’s not a transit project.

      2. What’s different about the other stuff is that, for transit advocates, it’s a compromise to get enough votes to get the good transit. The status quo here is that we have the good transit; a measure that helps other stakeholders is about that, not about getting transit.

      3. Status quo is good for WS, but I’m not sure that’s true for Ballard or ID. The Port strongly objects to the representative alignment, plus the RA includes a drawbridge, which may or may not be a transit problem. So for Ballard I think spending money on non-transit things may still be necessary to obtain a good transit outcome. And for the ID, moving the station from 5th to 4th impacts the transfer environment, which is relevant for transit.

        I guess i’m arguing that while the junction tunnel is a mitigation with no transit benefits, the rest of the debates seem like typical, albeit significant, give-and-take around any major infrastructure project.

      4. There is also another big difference. In the case of 1% for art, for example, it is just the cost of doing business. The same is true for following modern labor standards. I’m sure it would be cheaper if we just let a few thousand immigrants build the rails and pay them next to nothing like we did in the past. But neither is legally possible, and ST knew that when they made the estimates.

        The point being that we don’t have to spend extra money to build what voters actually approved. Just put the stations where we planned on putting them, and call it a day. Any extra money (on any of the proposals being considered) would not improve transit. Yet it is easy for someone to assume otherwise. People generally don’t read the details of a project. If this is deceptively marketed as a “transit improvement” then a lot of people will just vote for it, thinking this will improve public transportation. Martin’s point is that marketing it as such would be a lie.

  15. I’m actually fine with an underground West Seattle line just because most of West Seattle is on a hill and it’s entirely possible an elevated route past Delridge and Avalon would actually change elevation less to enter a tunnel to the Junction than to stay elevated. Obviously it would be significantly more expensive though, and that being the current constraint would be more important.

    What I don’t like is the NIMBYs in Des Moines and the South 200s that pushed Link into a weird winding alignment because they don’t like elevated track in the middle of 99 like would actually make sense.

  16. Would the 2 billion actually be another ST ballot vote, or could Seattle say, raise it through a head tax? (The idea of Big Tech taking on West Seattle and Ballard residents along with the Port has a Godzilla v. Mothra feel)

    1. It would not be an ST vote. It would be some other tax proposed by the city, or a local-improvement district in a neighborhood, or third-party funding from the port or businesses or philanthropists. An ST vote would require an equal tax burden across all subareas, so North King’s wishlist would have to be balanced against the other subareas. And it would be a major political controversy. “The largest transit tax in history and now you’re asking for more?” Plus, ST has maxed out the ST1/2/3 tax streams allowed by the state for 25 years, except a couple small streams it really doesn’t want to use because they’re so unpopular (head tax, maybe more MVET). With a lot of people saying the tax is already too high, and some legislators saying ST didn’t tell the legislature the full scope of its plans, and proposing bills to let counties opt out of ST’s taxes, and Eyman’s initiative to gut MVET to $30, the last thing ST wants to do is ask for another tax increase so close to 2016. It already stretched the phase scope from 15 years to 25 years because the overwhelming feedback was more, and even with 25 years of tax revenue it still couldn’t fit tunnels for Ballard and West Seattle — otherwise the budget would have been scaled to afford them in the first place.

      1. I can’t see ST asking for another tax issue, unless similar issues crop up in other subareas.

        I suppose Seattle could fund this under another Move Seattle type levy, where neighborhoods outside of WS and Ballard got other capital improvements unrelated to ST3. For example, downtown could get a fully funded CCC and Madison BRT, SE Seattle could get RR+ upgrades for the 7 and an accelerated Graham street station, and so forth.

        There are enough capital needs in the city it should be easy to put together a package large enough. Now, will people vote for it…?

      2. I haven’t heard of any other subarea asking for options more expensive than the RA’s budget. Snohomish’s bug push was for the Paine Field detour, and it got it into the RA.

  17. Considering the ridership projections and the headways for west seattle, ST should just do a deep bore single track tunnel from sodo to the junction with a stop at delridge way near the bridge. A 4 car trainset would run to the junction, then reverse back down the same line to sodo. Let future ST proposals foot the bill for the second tunnel to extend the line south to white center and beyond.

    This same concept could be applied across the ship canal to ballard as well..

    1. I have previously advocated for a high (fixed) bridge to get to 20th between Market and Leary. After walking all possible alignments both north and south of the Ship Canal on Monday, I am more sympathetic (not sold, just sympathetic) to a tunnel instead. 20th south of Leary has a beautiful canopy of trees overhanging the street. That stretch also has many of the attractive historic buildings that make the neighborhood so enjoyable. If they were modern glass-cladded office buildings, a high bridge might enhance the neighborhood, but not so with 2-3 story brick and stone edifices. I’m just saying that it is a valid detrimental impact.

      Incidentally, south of the Ship Canal, 22th Ave is better than 21st Ave (which I had suggested earlier). It completely avoids interference with port operations, and it makes the canal crossing simpler.

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