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.