Troubled bridge over waters. Credit: King County

Letters from businesses, government agencies, and community groups show a citywide desire for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions to be almost entirely tunnels.

Troublingly for Sound Transit, businesses on the Duwamish Waterway made conflicting demands about where to build the bridge that will cross the river mouth, which means a costly legal fight to acquire right of way is likely.

The letters indicate that the ST3 project could be headed towards a higher cost than planned.

That cost could come from several scenarios that would drive expensive litigation and mitigation. The first is a contentious Duwamish crossing, with legal and condemnation battles fought against the Port, maritime businesses, and industrial concerns. The second is a similar fight over land and right of way with neighborhood groups and residents, if their tunneling preferences are ignored.

On the third hand, if the agency does follow public opinion and put trains underground, engineering costs could spike dramatically. In that scenario, Sound Transit would need to either find new sources of revenue (such as the City of Seattle or the Port), find significant cost savings (as occurred with U-Link), or some combination of both. 

Follow these links for letters from stakeholders in businesses, government, and community groups. View a table here of various interests’ positions on specific elements of proposed alignments.

West Seattle

Broad consensus among neighborhood groups has formed in support of tunneling to the Junction. Of the ten stakeholder letters that mentioned the choice between tunnels and elevated track, eight were in favor of the tunnels.

The groups opposed, Seattle Subway and the Seattle Transit Advisory Board, cited higher costs for service that wouldn’t be any better than an elevated train.

However, those groups stand apart from their usual allies. The bulk of pro-transit activist groups, including Transportation Choices Coalition, the Transit Riders Union, Futurewise, Sierra Club, and Cascade Bicycle Club, co-signed a letter in favor of endorsing further study of tunneling as the Transit Access Stakeholders coalition.

West Seattle groups, including the neighborhood Chamber of Commerce, unanimously supported a tunnel. So did Lisa Herbold, West Seattle’s member of the Seattle City Council. West Seattle tunneling also seems to have a supporter in King County Executive Dow Constantine, though Constantine did not submit a letter. However, King County Metro, in letters signed by agency head Rob Gannon and service planner Bill Bryant, endorsed tunneling in West Seattle.

Some West Seattle groups also proposed bringing back the so-called Purple Line or Pigeon Ridge alignment, which would cross the Duwamish at the southern tip of Harbor Island and tunnel through Pigeon Ridge. It would require less housing demolition than other options still on the table.

Duwamish Crossing

The Duwamish Waterway crossing promises to be the most fraught part of the system. Any of the alignments will require buying or condemning some long-established industrial business.

However, the preponderance of letters that mentioned the Duwamish Waterway crossing—13 out of 15—opposed building the new bridge north of the existing West Seattle Bridge.

Notably, the Port of Seattle and Longshoremen’s Union (ILWU Local 19) both expressed opposition to a south crossing close to the West Seattle Bridge, instead endorsing the Purple Line/Pigeon Ridge alignment at the south end of Harbor Island.

“Spokane Street Corridor alignments could pose significant economic, environmental and  operational impacts not only to Port and NWSA facilities, but to maritime industrial businesses  that must have waterfront access to survive. Proposed alignments must ensure those facilities remain fully operational during and after construction, while ensuring access for trucks and rail  serving those facilities,” Port executives wrote.

The south Harbor Island alignment has broad support from maritime business, but Nucor Steel and its General Recycling of Washington subsidiary both oppose the alignment. Nucor has the resources to make life difficult for local government: it’s the largest steel producer based in the United States, with more than $20 billion in 2017 revenue.

Chinatown-International District

Chinatown-International District (CID) is in the unenviable position of having no good options. Link construction will be long and painful, and is just the latest in decades’ worth of megaprojects to disturb neighborhood residents and businesses.

Neighborhood leaders, including the neighborhood public development association (SCIDPDA), and Uwajimaya’s founders and owners, the Moriguchi family, prefer an alignment on 4th Avenue South, instead of 5th Avenue South.

The Historic South Downtown coalition, which is made up of Pioneer Square and CID community groups, also prefers the 4th Avenue choice. The Downtown Seattle Association didn’t back any specific alignment, but expressed support for neighborhood groups.

Those groups cited previous community outreach by SDOT in which the agency said that the 4th Avenue South viaduct needed to be replaced.

However, the letters showed profound ambivalence about all options.

“SCIDpda does not believe that any of the alternatives being discussed at this time are ideal,” the PDA’s leaders wrote.

Salmon Bay & Ballard

Everyone wants a tunnel under the Lake Washington Ship Canal at Salmon Bay. All of the 19 letters that mentioned the Ship Canal crossing endorsed the underwater tunnel. That list includes King County Metro, the Port, Ballard neighborhood groups, maritime and industrial businesses.

Even U.S. Representatives Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA) and Don Young (R-AK) got on board with a tunnel—they fear adverse affects to shipping and transportation for their constituents if the Ship Canal is obstructed. Perhaps, when the time comes, they can help advance that choice by convincing their Republican colleagues in Congress to support expanded federal funding for the project.

Some groups offered lukewarm support for a high bridge if tunnel funding couldn’t be found. The Port stipulated that, in order for it to OK a bridge, it would need to be the height of the Aurora Bridge. But a bridge seems like that’s a more distant possibility than ever—Sound Transit would have a huge backlash on its hands if it did go for a bridge of any kind, let alone a movable one.

Neighborhood groups also lobbied for the tunnel to continue north to a station somewhere near the downtown Ballard urban village, perhaps as far west as 20th Avenue Northwest.

111 Replies to “Broad Support for West Seattle and Salmon Bay Light Rail Tunnels”

  1. If Nucor doesn’t want to be a good neighbor anymore, I think the local community could make it equally unpleasant for them. From what I understand, the plant has gone out of its way to ensure good ties with nearby residents in the past, because they understand that they’re operating one of the state’s most polluting plants in the middle of a fast-growing and increasingly wealthy neighborhood, and should act accordingly. A lot of people moving in around here don’t have the old connection to the steel mill as “just how things are,” and it wouldn’t take a lot of convincing to have folks start imaging that plot as a nice mixed-use development and a park with some freshly planted firs. Nucor probably knows better than poking the bear of righteous environmentalist Seattle NIMBYism, even with their $20B stick. Regardless, would rather be spending the money on actual transit instead of litigation.

    1. Litigation should be the least of our worries, if we chose to find out how very close Nucor is to the Trump administration and its branding/fundraising apparatus–at a time when we’d also be seeking billions of dollars in federal support for rail expansion.

      The Seattle process has an impressive record of delay and has stopped important things from happening, but it isn’t good at getting things done. So it isn’t the right tool for this job.

      1. Ha, that is definitely true about the Seattle process.

        Once Link gets to Northgate, Link goes everywhere I need. If the NIMBYs in West Seattle and Ballard want to drag this out an extra 10 years, go ahead. They are the ones that won’t get service until later. Pay the people who have their views blocked – they are likely suing due to perceived loss of property value.

  2. Would a single track tunnel from delridge to the junction be significantly cheaper than dual track? Done right the headway diffenece between a single and dual could be minimal.

    1. What about a single bore tunnel with two tracks, similar to what BART is doing in San Jose?

    2. Or even just single tracking between Avalon and the Junction, as Delridge to Avalon would still be a viaduct, correct?

      It would permanently cap headways, but given the design of the rest of the system it shouldn’t inhibit the ability to add more service elsewhere in the system. Anything that would cap headways in either of the downtown tunnels would be a terrible idea, but I don’t think this would do that.

    3. OMG, let’s not start monorailing the project to death. There are better options to a single track, like stacking the tracks (which actually ought to happen around Delridge Station so a future line could branch south from there instead of cutting through a swath of affordable housing between the Junction and Westwood). Stacking can be done above- or below-grade.

      There is, of course, also the option of jettisoning Junction Station, as that is basically a West Seattle “Shopping Shuttle” when it comes to ridership (using Lisa Herbold’s derisive description of the higher-ridership Central City Connector, which she suggested having its funding shifted to West Seattle Link). Connecting buses from Avalon or 41st Station may be all we can afford. And no, Lisa, the federal money from the CCC can’t just be shifted to West Seattle Link. Nice try, but you know better.

      Same forum, Herbold acted as if she was responsible for getting support for affordable housing despite her role as the largest whittler-down of HALA on the council. Nice try, but I hope nobody bought the act.

      1. “OMG, let’s not start monorailing the project to death.” Too late.

        This is going to take way longer and cost way more than it should.

      2. I would point out that for the cost of the tunnel option to the Junction, several elevated stations could probably be built down Delridge. And probably with better bus transfers built in than the current single Delridge station. Not the first time a neighborhood was cut out of having a station because of technical/cost considerations (e.g., First Hill. TWICE! And Montlake.) Big Disadvantage: this would probably introduce a whole other layer of Seattle process and further delay the delivery:(

      3. The Junction is an urban village. Delridge is not. You can’t take Link to shop in or work in businesses in Delridge because there are no businesses. You can’t take Link to dense apartments and condos in Delridge because there are few apartments there; it’s mostly blocks and blocks of single-family houses. And they don’t want to change that, no suree, no way.

    4. The cost grows considerably when subway stations are added to tunnels. Bellevue significantly reduced the costs of the Downtown station but having the station at the portal next to City Hall on 6th St rather than in a subway station on 110th Avenue, for example.

      In this context, generally asking for “tunnels” without specifying or suggesting that the stations can be at grade or maybe even aerial leads to limited and outrageously expensive thinking. This inability to distinguish between track tunnels and subway stations shows just how these responses are grandstanding and not thinking about what’s best for the taxpayers or riders.

      I think that it’s time to even consider if some of these end stations could be at grade. I’m sure that minor streets like 14th Ave NW or SW Oregon St could be examined for at-grade options for a few blocks. Even taking a row of houses could be much cheaper than this mega-expensive, two-grade-change subway station desire — that will require taking blocks for ten-year subway station holes anyway.

  3. What are the revenue projections for the North King subarea? The 2016 bond sales increased all subareas’ projected revenues, by billions of dollars. The ST3 tax increases were extended from 2036 to 2048, and the ST2 tax increase rollback was delayed by those same 12 years. All that additional tax revenue means the subareas’ bonding capacities increased tremendously as well. Tunneling isn’t that much more expensive . . ..

    1. Renton Steve,

      It isn’t the tunneling itself that’s so expensive; it’s the stations they serve which of course have to be underground as well. Subway stations are roughly three times as expensive as elevated ones, even palaces like TIB, Northgate, Angle Lake and Mt. Baker.

      1. Why doesn’t Sound Transit look at single bore tunnel options with stations in the tunnel.

        Similar to BART’s new method.

      2. You mean an over-under tunnel like Bertha? That’s a lot more dirt to remove from the bore between stations. But that might work; the stations would be like the Central Park West line in New York City — skinny little things with pretty small platforms.

      3. A single bore would require a much larger diameter, a cutting-head with higher surface-area, more friction and heat, and much more torque on the outer edge. Bertha was a mess. Let’s not repeat her.

        BTW, Do we know the costs of utility relocations for the various tunnel alignments?

      4. Barcelona used this technique to great success on their Metro line, the longest in Europe. A single bore subway tunnel with stacked tracks and inline station platforms is 18 ft less in diameter than Bertha’s.

      5. I found a pretty simplistic article on the BART project on the SJM. It looks like the tunnel would indeed by almost Bertha sized, but not quite: 45 feet in diameter. It would not be “over/under” but rather side-by-side with a wall down the middle between the tracks.

        Are they really planning to have downtown stations entirely within that 45 foot tube?

      6. No, just the platforms, which avoid large excavations in the street. The vertical conveyances, fare collection mezzanines, and ancillary functions can be built off the street.

      7. Thanks, Oran. This sounds like it could be a real game-changer for “frequent station” subways like a Metro 8. It’s probably not a “win” with infrequent station spacing like Link north of downtown, because a 45′ tunnel requires that 230% as much material has to be removed as do two 21′ foot ones (pi is a constant and radius is squared so it’s 2*10.5*10.5 versus 22.5*22.5). So for long tunnels two bores is better, but for frequent stations the over/under model is better.

        The “Mezzanine” can be a single mined box tunnel 8×10 just above the big tube to allow people to access either side of the street from either platform. That might require moving some utilities if the platforms are to be shallow, but since it would only be 10 feet along the axis of the tunnel the specific location of the cross-over at any given station could be chosen to minimize the utility movement.

        So you might end up with pretty shallow stations without having to open the street very often at all.

        Thank you for clarifying this.

      8. Oran, I’m getting more excited by this the more I think of it. I was concerned that 45 feet would be large enough for a side-by-side tunnel, but not an over-under-one. But I calculated that it would need about 21.5 feet per half including the second level supports, trackway, car height and pantograph clearance. Each side of the tunnel requires 4.4 feet for the trackway because the cars are 8.7 feet in width (call it 8.8 for clearance).

        When I did the pythagorean theorem on SQRT ((21.5*21.5)+(4.4*4.4)) I got 21.95 for the required radius (hypotenuse). Which works!

        So, THIS is the way to do the Green Line tunnel It solves all the tough problems at IDS, makes Midtown easier, allows better connections between the two tunnels at Westlake and makes a possible diversions we have discussed here on the Blog either to Dexter/Aurora or the First Hill south of Midtown.

        It does it all!

        An over-under tunnel is going to have platforms on both sides of the trackway; it will need them for the lower level which is constrained by the upcurving sides of the tunnel But fortunately, because the cosine of 3pi/2 is 0, not terribly. The trackway and its support would be at least four feet thick, the platform would be about six feet above the outer tunnel bottom at the the platforms on either side would be about 11 feed wide. The upper level could be wider, but traffic flows would dictate a false wall at the same distance. Two eleven foot wide platforms should be adequate, though barely at Midtown.

        From south to north…


        At IDS the tube could be drilled under Fifth Avenue South without disturbing the street while a modest mezzanine at the upper platform level can be mined underneath the existing station after the tube is drilled. The west-side platforms would be for transferring and the east side ones for access to the International District, with a smallish “cross” mezzanine under King Street at the upper platform level.


        Fifth Avenue looks to be about 35-38 feet wide with wide eight to ten foot sidewalks. It seems that a pair of reasonable mezzanines could be built like “crosses” in the footprint of Madison and Marion Streets. That would of course require opening them up to dig the upper levels at a minimum. The lower levels might be mined through the tubes.

        Connect the Marion Street one under I-5 (the station is going to be deep and you solve some of the problems of not going through First Hill. Connect the Madison end to an opening on Fourth Avenue and you serve a larger walkshed. But the tunnel AND platforms can fit within the existing footprint of the street and its sidewalks between the east-west streets. Wow! That’s a huge win.

        There may be some sort of diagonal stabilizers under Columbia Center that it would be necessary to avoid, but that’s true for side-by-side individual bores which are just as wide in total as well.


        At Westlake, if the Green Line station “straddles” the Red-Blue trackway as is usually shown, the west-side platforms would allow everyone regularly using the transfer there to have one of their daily trips be a direct single-level change between the upper Green Line platform and either of the Red-Blue platforms. The reverse trip would require an additional level, but no one would have to go up, over and down, which is quite irritating to the “efficiency” part of the human brain.

        The east-side platforms could be connected to the Convention Center via an underground walkway fairly easily.

        Denny/Amazon and Gates Foundation

        The dual platforms would allow both sides of Westlake Avenue to be served with relatively small mezzanines perhaps under the plazas between Westlake and Ninth and in front of Whole Foods.

        The location of the Gates Foundation station hasn’t been decided, but wherever it is placed, the over-under tunnel between it and Denny/Amazon allows for an easy diversion for an Aurora Line.

        I hope that Sound Transit considers adopting this technology for the downtown tunnel; the stations are close enough together that the extra material removed is worth it for the easier to build stations.

        It’s probably not right for a tunnel under the Ship Canal or through West Seattle. The stations are wider-spaced there so traditional methods can work more efficiently. But the new downtown tunnel and any future Metro 8 should definitely consider this new technology.

      9. Nice job thinking about the possibilities of a single bore. I’ve been meaning to do a post introducing the concept and I agree this is more suited for the downtown tunnel than the ends.

      10. The challenge in building subways is more about the stations than the platforms, as many have noted. Changing bores doesn’t really solve any subway station challenges.

        A single bore tunnel would not accommodate center platforms. The bore would have to widen a block from the platforms to have center platforms.

        Underground, there are tons of pipes containing all sorts of utilities. Don’t forget that much of the ground in parts of Downtown were regraded by slurring ground off of steep hills in an era of no environmental control.

        There is also a ton of high-rise buildings on the route, and the bigger the bore, the more likelihood that one may get destabilized.

        A single bore requires tons of earth removal expotentially higher than double bores. Then there is the issue of earth removal around stations, so the deeper the bore, the more that has to be removed.

        I will say that the reality of Link coming is setting in — both good and bad. I trust the engineers who examine how to build things. The question we need to determine now is a financial one, as well as a station (from entrances to platforms) location one.

        I’d love to inspire your creativity towards the stations — because that ultimately is where Seattleites will notice good and bad design!

      11. Al S.,
        see the Barcelona example. Center platforms are not a requirement. The single platforms fit inside the bore. Most of the disruptive cut-and-cover excavation or separate mining of the station box is eliminated with this method. As proposed by ST, the second tunnel is already going to be deep, so the soil should be more stable.

      12. I neglected to note that at IDS interlink transfers would be very similar to those at Westlake. A round trip would require a single level change in one direction and two levels in the other. However, since the platforms are parallel rather than crossing, one direction or the other would require a longer horizontal walk.

        Oran mentioned the more compact soils in the shoulder of First Hill. That is very germane. Also, since the Midtown Station will be pretty deep, there should be few problems with other tunnels and pipes at the bore depth. The transition levels above? Absolutely.

    2. “The 2016 bond sales increased all subareas’ projected revenues, by billions of dollars. The ST3 tax increases were extended from 2036 to 2048, and the ST2 tax increase rollback was delayed by those same 12 years.”

      Bond sales don’t increase revenues. Bond proceeds aren’t revenue, and anyway the bonding was always in the plan. The tax increases were not extended from 2036 because they were never supposed to end in 2036. None of this comment makes any sense.

      1. Dan Ryan —
        The 2016 bond sales increased the five subareas revenues compared to the revenues projected by Sound Transit for the ST3 ballot measure. Remember that $54B estimate? It was based in large part on at $36B tax revenue projection (2017-2041) that assumed the new taxes would be imposed until 2036 and the ST2 tax increases would be rolled back in part that same year. The 2016 bonds contained pledges to the bondholders that the ST3 tax increases would not be reduced before 2048, and that the ST2 tax rollbacks would not occur before 2048. Couple those additional tax revenues with the additional bonding capacity the extended maximum-rate taxing will provide, and all five subareas’ projected revenues now are billions above what the ST3 ballot measure indicated. You knew this, right?

      2. You’re repeating yourself, and you’re still wrong. At the time of the ballot measure, the projection was defeasement of bonds by 2046, not 2036. And defeasement isn’t paying off, it’s just setting aside funds for future payoffs. The last actual payoff is 30 years after the last bond is issued which would be in the mid-2060s.

        Again. Bond sales aren’t revenue. The original financial plan assumed a lot of bonding and nothing about the 2016 bond sales changed that. There’s not a gusher of extra money. There’s some extra because tax revenues have so far run ahead of schedule, putting the current projections a bit higher than the 2016 plan, but costs are running ahead too, so the net impact is nothing material to ST’s ability to build expensive add-ons.

      3. We don’t know what future costs will be. Let’s stop assuming any increase in tax revenue since 2016 has solved all our problems and makes it easy to choose the most-expensive options. It’s likely that rising real-estate costs will swallow the entirety of the extra revenue, and we still don’t know what inflation will be in the future, or construction costs or the economy or further engineering results, so they could be larger than expected. Plus all the potential lawsuits discussed in this article. So let’s not turn a situation of revenue coming in better than expected into a large new albatross if things get worse later.

      4. Mike Orr —

        You’re correct — tax revenues have come in about 10% higher over the past two years, compared to the ballot measure’s estimates. I’m asking about the revenues projections for the North King subarea though. Here — look at Sound Transit’s voter-approved financial policies:

        See where annually-updated revenues projections for the five subareas are to be determined? Tax revenue projections, debt capacity projections, fare revenue projections, grant projections . . . all those will have increased substantially over the figures shown in the ballot measure. The primary reason those projections will have increased has to do with how long the ST3 tax hikes and the ST2 tax hikes will remain in place now that the board has pledged they will remain constant through 2048 (to satisfy bondholders).

        What are the current revenues projections for the North King subarea, taking into account how much taxing has to occur because of the bond sale covenants, how much debt capacity for that subarea the taxing commitments can create, how much grant revenue can be expected, etc? Once those projected estimates are produced — as Sound Transit’s own financial policies require — we can see how much the board will have to “play with” for N. King Subarea projects!

        You know about subarea budgeting, right Mike?

      5. Mike, the one very best thing you can say about tunneling is that it has no real estate costs, except at some stations. The cost of tunneling is unlikely to rise faster than inflation, because it’s a tech thing; it gets cheaper in constant dollar terms over time to complete a constant and comparable unit of work.

        So, to some degree, switching to tunnels helps for future-proofing cost estimates, assuming that full and reasonable engineering estimates are made, not swags.

      6. Mike Orr —

        Do you think that the $54B revenues estimate in the ST3 ballot measure was a limit on the revenues the board could spend on the third round of capital projects and services described in the system plan voters approved in 2016? That ballot measure didn’t contain any revenues limits, or any project spending limits. What it did contain are the subarea budgeting requirements et out in the document I linked to above.

      7. I know how subarea equity works in general. I don’t have the numbers and I don’t think they’re very relevant. ST has gotten more than expected 2017-2019 but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily get more than expected 2020-2041. You seem to be spending both the past extra and the future extra, when the past extra is 1/6th of it. ST has gotten some extra amount, and some fraction of that belongs to North King under subarea equity. I don’t know how much that is but I assume it’s not enough to cover a tunnel or the 4th Avenue ID alternative. It might cover part of one of those. In that case I don’t see how it’s enough to base a major decision on. What we really need is committed third-party funding now, then we could just go ahead with the most expensive options.

        No, there’s no hard cap on how high ST3 can go. Just a debt/asset ratio that limits annual spending, one imposed by the state, and a stricter one self-imposed by the ST board. But that just means that adding costs would delay opening, not that they can’t be done at all. But there’s also the scope of what voters approved. Voters approved a budget scaled for elevated in West Seattle and Ballard. If the base cost comes in less than estimated, then ST can certainly spend the difference on a tunnel or any other ameneties or projects. And it can raise the budget for unexpected costs, such as riskier-than-expected water crossings or higher-than-expected real-estate costs. But it’s another thing to raise the budget for features that weren’t in the representative alignment. ST can go higher, and it does go higher a little bit for some things, but there’s a limit it’s willing to go, and the higher it goes the more vulnerable it is to lawsuits that it’s exceeding the scope of what voters approved.

      8. Dan Ryan:

        ” At the time of the ballot measure, the projection was defeasement of bonds by 2046, not 2036. And defeasement isn’t paying off, it’s just setting aside funds for future payoffs. The last actual payoff is 30 years after the last bond is issued which would be in the mid-2060s.”

        I agree with all that. None of it is contrary to anything I posted.

        “There’s not a gusher of extra money. There’s some extra because tax revenues have so far run ahead of schedule, putting the current projections a bit higher than the 2016 plan, but costs are running ahead too, so the net impact is nothing material to ST’s ability to build expensive add-ons.”

        This is where you are wrong. The estimated revenues for each subarea shown in the ST3 ballot measure are lower than what they will be. That is because those subarea revenues estimates (which in the aggregate totaled $54 billion) were made up mostly of the $36 billion tax revenue estimate that Sound Transit expected during its anticipated construction period (2017-2041). That $36 billion was estimated based on anticipated ST3 tax hikes at the maximum levels through 2036 (and ending then), and the ST2 tax hikes being partially rolled back that same year. Because the board extended the ST3 taxing at the maximum rates — and deferred the ST2 tax hike rollbacks — until 2048 (per the 2016 bond contracts) there are billions of dollars of projected revenues available to each subarea beyond the estimates shown in the ST3 ballot measure.

        Let’s do it this way, Dan — post a link to the most recent subarea Financial Plan you can find. Here is what that document needs to contain — it’s spelled out in the financial policies for Sound Transit that voters approved in 2016: See where it says annually-updated tax revenue projections, debt capacity projections, grant revenue projections, etc. are to be produced by Sound Transit — for each subarea? That will show how much revenue the board has to “play with” for North King subarea projects.

      9. Mike Orr —

        “I don’t have the numbers and I don’t think they’re very relevant. ST has gotten more than expected 2017-2019 but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily get more than expected 2020-2041.”

        The subarea budgets are extremely relevant. They are Sound Transit’s self-imposed and voter approved limits on where the revenues it will be obtaining must be spent on projects and services in this third system plan.

        Incidentally, the time period you used there “2020-2041” is nothing but the remainder of what Sound Transit thought might be the construction period for new projects referenced in the 2016 system plan. 2041 is a date with absolutely no relevance to any financing policy, which is how you are using it (as an end date for measuring revenues). For example, unlike what the 2016 ballot measure suggested, we now know the ST2 and ST3 tax hikes all will remain at the maximum levels until 2048.

        Your position — that Sound Transit’s financial policies and subarea budgeting are not relevant — is way beyond the fringe.

      10. Mike Orr —

        “But it’s another thing to raise the budget for features that weren’t in the representative alignment. ST can go higher, and it does go higher a little bit for some things, but there’s a limit it’s willing to go, and the higher it goes the more vulnerable it is to lawsuits that it’s exceeding the scope of what voters approved.”

        I’ll ask you to re-read the agency’s financial policies — they spell out why exceeding the scope that way already has been approved, and why nobody would sue if the board does it (AS IT SHOULD). The voters specifically approved the board expanding projects and even adding new projects if the 5% increase standard is met, as it has been. Here is the language from the voter-approved Sound Transit financial policies (link above):

        “For those cases in which a subarea’s actual and projected revenue to be collected until the system plan is completed will exceed its actual and projected expenditures by five percent or greater,. . . then Sound Transit may use such surplus funds to complete, extend or enhance the system plan to provide transportation benefits for the subarea’s residents or businesses as determined by the Board.”

      11. If you want to know how much extra money North King has, ask Sound Transit. Subarea equity only affects the percentage of total revenue North King gets. If North King has extra money in its savings account, then yes it will have to spend it. I don’t think there will be a lack of things to spend it on.

        I’m using 2041 as the original nominal date when ST3’s overall projects were assumed to end, meaning when the expense bills stop coming in. North King may be a bit earlier because its last project ends earlier, but I’m assuming 2041 in case ST has scheduled North King’s expenses out until then. The extension you’re taking about may be something additional that could give North King spending power longer, but I don’t know how much that is or how it relates to North King’s projects, so I’m not basing any plans on it until clearer information on it comes out.

      12. Without getting too far in the weeds on this whole “increased revenue” claim, Dan is indeed correct in that bond proceeds are not reported as revenues. Rather, funds received from bond issuances are recorded as a balance sheet transaction (except for the expenses involved with the issuance, insurance, underwriting, legal, etc.).

        With that said, Dan’s statement as follows is not factually correct either, at least on its face based on the way it’s worded:

        “At the time of the ballot measure, the projection was defeasement of bonds by 2046, not 2036. And defeasement isn’t paying off, it’s just setting aside funds for future payoffs.”

        I don’t know of any defeasement program that was proposed at the time the ST3 financial plan was unveiled, so frankly I don’t know what this assertion is referencing. Perhaps the term defeasement is being used in error here and normal bond extinguishment is really what was meant.

        Additionally, defeasance of debt can be either legal or in-substance. A legal defeasance occurs when debt is legally satisfied on the basis of certain provisions in the debt instrument, even though the debt is not actually paid. An in-substance defeasance occurs when debt is considered defeased for accounting and financial reporting purposes, even though a legal defeasance has not occurred. When the debt is defeased, it is no longer reported as a liability on the balance sheet. Debt is considered defeased in-substance, for accounting and financial reporting purposes, if the governmental agency irrevocably places cash or other assets in a trust with an escrow agent to be used solely for satisfying scheduled payments of both interest and principal of the defeased debt, and when the possibility that the debtor will be required to make future payments on that debt is considered remote. The trust that is created should be restricted to monetary assets that are essentially risk-free as to the amount, timing and collection of interest and principal. Most often this is accomplished through the purchase of Treasury securities.

        Most likely, Sound Transit will begin using an advanced refunding strategy to manage its long-term debt load at some point in the future, but that’s a whole other discussion.

    3. Brent,

      It would not be the size of Bertha. We should not just nix proven engineering examples based on arm chair decision making.

      1. Apparently it’s not, 58 feet for the car tunnel versus 45′ for the train is 66% larger. But the single tunnel removes 129% more material that twin bores. I’m amazed, though, that they can get usable station platforms in twelve feet on each side.

  4. Maybe the State of Washington could contribute money for once? This is afterall the economic engine of the state.

    1. Yes it is, but the non-economic engines of the State think that they are “paying for lazy Welfare Queens in King County”, so are unlikely to agree.

  5. With Amazon moving jobs to Bellevue, is it time to have Godzilla (Amazon) v. Mothra (W. Seattle) and bring up the head tax for transit tunnels?

  6. “the bulk of pro-transit activist groups, including Transportation Choices Coalition, the Transit Riders Union, Futurewise, Sierra Club, and Cascade Bicycle Club”

    I don’t think 4 of those are pro-transit activist groups. The TRU supports transit labor, not transit riders. The Sierra Club supports generic progressive positions and has a long history of supporting pro-suburban policy. Cascade is great but they are a bike outfit – their job is to advocate for bikes, including during the inevitable bike vs. bus debates over scare ROW.

    I think the fiasco over the Initiative 1631 demonstrated that most activist groups are interested in supporting themselves and the progressive-industrial complex here in Washington, not the hard trade-offs of good transportation investments.

  7. Whoooo-eee! There goes West Seattle Link. Can’t go north of Spokane Street. Can’t go south of but adjacent to Spokane Street. Can’t go across the tip of the island.

    Looks like the C-Line will be headed up to Columbia Street for a loooooooooonnnnnnnnnng time.

    Actually, there IS an alignment which works quite well, but it’s not cheap. Continue south along the old UP tracks to Diagonal Street. Follow Diagonal high in the air from Fifth South over Fourth Avenue, over BNSF, over First South and Argo, continue on Diagonal to the Duwamish Waterway, curve to cross on a high bridge over the channel and the tip of Kellogg Island (you’re already 80′ in the air so it’s not that much more grade) and slam directly into Pigeon Ridge. Head northwest to portal in the Genessee Street right-of-way just above Delridge. Have the station in the air there but only a single level high, no mezzanine. Continue across on relatively low structure on the south edge of the golf course then back into the hill below Avalon Way.

    It works and absolutely minimizes the impact to Youngstown, though some golf balls may be bouncing off the structure and occasionally a train.

    Twentieth in Ballard has lots of problems with the sewer tunnel.

    1. I guess this is similar to The Purple Line. I was thrown off by the statement that the Purple Line “crosses the tip of Harbor Island”. It does not, and it would be shorter than following Diagonal all the way to the water. However, the Purple Line as shown in the Level 1 Alternatives would take out part of Ash Grove Cement. Maybe it would be high enough if it were over the south edge of the property that it wouldn’t disrupt things too much.

      And of course, there’s ALL THAT CEMENT to be sold. Yippieeee!

  8. Not to put too fine a point on it, but neither Don Young nor Cathy McMorris Rogers is one of the sharper knives in the Congressional drawer. Yo, Don! Exactly what is being shipped to your “constituents” from Salmon Bay? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Yo, Kathy, are apples-to-the-orient loading in Salmon Bay these days? Wow, must be hard to get those 1000 box container ships through the Ballard Locks!

    1. Sounds like Young and McMorris Rogers are very reflective of their constituencies:), since they keep re-electing them.

    2. I can’t stand either of them – and McMorris-Rogers is almost as trumpy as they come – but I’m assuming that Young has heard from the Port and the Alaskan fishing/crabbing fleet, much of which is based in Salmon Bay along with the ancillary support (repair, provisioning, etc.) the fleet requires. At least some of the Alaskan ferries are also often seen in the area off-season, again likely to have maintenance done. Fisherman’s Terminal is certainly in the way of at least some of the ST alternatives.

      Although the commercial apple industry isn’t really located in McMorris-Rogers’ district, I can’t for the life of me recall any wheat or lentils being shipped through Ballard so that point certainly still stands!

      1. Scott, does the “pier” just to the west of the south end of the Ballard Bridge, which would indeed be disrupted by the Representative Alignment, even have any craft in it? It looks completely deserted most of the time.

        And it’s bays are WAY too small for crabbers.

        I think this is the Port being bureaucrats.

      2. Tom, immediately to the west of the south end of the Ballard Bridge are some small drydocking facilities that handle smaller commercial fishing boats; I don’t know if they can handle the crabbers. The NW Dock, which is to the north of the marina and runs east-west, generally is where a lot of the crabbers tie up. It can probably hold 30 ships +/-, stern-in, and some more along the finger piers. You also sometimes see them occasionally tied up along 20th along with commercial fishing boats. I don’t know anybody in the industry any more, but I’d be surprised if they don’t still do that. (You can actually see several of them – and some fishing vessels – here from last year: ).

        You have to remember that depending on the seasons they are fishing, the ships are in Alaska for most of the year but many are still homeported here and there are quite a few commercial marine-related businesses at and near the Terminal.

        While none of that may be immediately affected IF the representative alignment is chosen, it’s pretty difficult to state with certainty that none of the terminal’s operations will be affected particularly as no actual alignment has actually been selected. Obviously the Port will try to nudge things in their chosen direction, and Young would certainly have heard from them as the senior ranking member of the House committees on Natural Resources and on Transportation and Infrastructure along with his interests as the representative from Alaska.

        I don’t trust the Port as far as I can throw them for many reasons, but I do understand why Young is involved with them. McMorris-Rodgers just seems to be nosing in.

      3. Scott, Thanks for the detailed reply. It would seem that ST would be well-served by investigating placement of the”Representative Alignment” drawbridge to the east of the Ballard Bridge. However, I think that the City has first dibs on it for a second auto span.

  9. If the West Seattle stations are to be tunneled, I’m coming to the conclusion that turning them south to extend to Westwood is probably pointless. We don’t have the money to tunnel to the junction. And we certainly don’t have the money to tunnel from the Junction to Westwood.

    Build track junctions at Delridge now and plan for an extension from Delridge to White Center to Burien. West Seattle Link can’t become a milk run, especially underground.

  10. Getting light rail to Ballard and West Seattle is a priority that should happen sooner than planned. I am not so certain that it needs to go through Ballard and through West Seattle. We assume transfers are not a good thing. Waiting much more than 2-3 minutes is not good. But short bus/vans trips taking passengers from their block to a station or terminal with say 2 1/2 minute frequency to down town could be better, faster, and serve more people.

    Any route through West Seattle privileges those living within 2-3 blocks of a station. Vans or buses to a terminal give far more people the privilege – and can be expanded as needed. Those buses and vans also need to be privileged as needed with mini-transit lanes and traffic signals.

    And while most people think it is too early to talk ‘autonomous’ autos, autonomous vans and buses will revolutionize public transit. Combined with more exclusive transit lanes transit can be far more flexibly combined with light rail, bikes, walking etc.

  11. This statement is very false: “However, those groups stand apart from their usual allies. The bulk of pro-transit activist groups, including Transportation Choices Coalition, the Transit Riders Union, Futurewise, Sierra Club, and Cascade Bicycle Club, co-signed a letter in favor of tunneling as the Transit Access Stakeholders coalition.”

    Their letter states the following:

    West Seattle Elevated and West Seattle Tunnel Level III options — Preferred for study
    Delridge station at 25th Ave. SW — Preferred for study
    Alaska Junction Station at 41st or 42nd — Preferred for study
    Any North-South alignment is preferred to the representative project’s East-West alignment.
    Impacts to potential bus/light rail integration must be studied at each station location.
    For any Delridge station options studied — study impacts to bus transfer environment and
    displacement (see further comments regarding displacement below).

    You need to make a correction on this as it deeply mischaracterizes their more nuanced position.

  12. The unenviable position of having no good options? Doesn’t it have the very enviable position of having the best long-term rider experience option also be the cheapest? That never happens. I’d go so far as to call that a “good option.” That doesn’t mean it’s going to be not much work, or that everyone is happy, or that people won’t be negatively affected in the short term. It does mean that it’s the best option for both riders in the far future and Sound Transit in the near future, so I think this is time for Sound Transit to take the lead here. It’s good to listen to people worried about impacts, but so far everyone is only thinking about the medium term construction impacts, and I think ST should say “you gotta do better than that.” Be open to hearing alternatives or ways to mitigate the impacts, but whatever happens doing what’s best for future riders (which also happens to be the cheapest) is non-negotiable.

    And there’s a similar situation in West Seattle where the elevated line is cheapest, and the base rider experience assumptions are the same, but the tiebreaker in favor of elevated will be that tunneling will require deep stations with escalators and elevators and one or more mezzanines. And given ST’s track record of elevators and escalators, I can’t expect rider experience to be anything but worse with a tunnel in WS. So ST has to cases right here where the cheapest option is the best for future riders, and I very much hope that they don’t screw it all up by caving to the loudest voices.

    1. I think the point of the piece is that the “good option” you describe could face a lot of litigation or slow-walking by impacted communities (not unlike East Link).

      Yes, ST needs to lead, but so do nearly all elected officials at the city and county level. They have been collectively hoping for a tunnel-ex-machina so they can avoid the headache.

      1. Particularly for WS, is it a problem if it takes longer to open? Running 12-minute stub service for a few years is a minor (if any) improvement over existing bus service. If it takes a few years longer to build West Seattle right, that doesn’t seem objectionable.

        Similar for Ballard – if the Salmon Bay section get delayed, the core tunnel can still be built on time, with the Interbay to Ballard section opening up a few years later if needed.

        As long as the 2nd downtown tunnel isn’t delayed by these disagreements, I don’t see this as problematic. I’d rather build it best than build it on time.

      2. AJ is right. Transferring from the D and the various peak expresses at Expedia for a few years isn’t the end of the world. At least it gets the D riders out of the LQA deviation.

      3. West Seattle can be delayed. The stub alone won’t be very useful and won’t be enough to delete the C. It was scheduled early to give a politically-important area the first opening. and because it’s not dependent on DSTT2. Ballard is dependent on DSTT2 because a stub to Smith Cove is just ridiculous: everybody would have to transfer to the D and ride through its most-congested segment, when the D is coming from from the Ballard Link station anyway.

        If the West Seattle tunnels cause delays because of costs, and the schedule isn’t changed, then everything would be pushed back, because the bulk of DSTT2 can’t start until the incoming revenue is no longer needed for West Seattle.

      4. ” because the bulk of DSTT2 can’t start until the incoming revenue is no longer needed for West Seattle.” – my understanding is they would be built concurrently, the DSTT2 would just take much longer b/c it’s much, much more difficult. I didn’t think the DSTT2 was delayed for financial reasons,

    2. You’re assuming an ST visionary that doesn’t exist. The ST board consists of politicians who by and large are similar to the politicians asking for these tunnels. Almost every Link segment has had the community asking for the most expensive option, so West Seattle, Ballard, and ID aren’t new. ST defers first to the cities, who supposedly represent their residents’ interests, and second to the stakeholders, who supposedly represent any remaining interests that are important. Riders are considered one of the stakeholders. Inasmuch as STB and Seattle Subway’s letters and their members’ feedback represent riders’ interests, we were overwhelmingly steamrollered by the opposition, the ones ST defers to. There is no ST visionary who would stand up to those politicians and stakeholders and argue for a reversal in course. If there were, Link would have been more like Vancouver’s and Europe’s networks in the first place.

      Instead, the opposition to tunnels and 4th Avenue ID is likely to come from a different place. The majority of the ST board is suburban, and they’re not getting the tunnels West Seattle and Ballard are demanding. The Everett rep is vocally concerned that all these additions in Seattle could weaken ST’s overall financial position and cause delays in Everett’s opening. So ST will most likely do what it stated earlier: have two preferred alternatives, one low-budget and similar to the representative alignment, and one with all the tunnels and contingent on third-party funding.

      ID seems clear: the 5th Avenue shallow option is the status quo and the cheapest and the best for riders. The Duwamish Crossing, if there’s no option that avoids both litigation and tunnels, then maybe the representative alignment was flawed and unrealistic. That would reflect badly on the board that put it into the ballot measure.

    3. That sounds reasonable, actually. It is obvious that West Seattle, now having cut in line, finds that it really doesn’t want light rail that bad. Fair enough. Put them at the back of the line, with other low-bang-for-the-buck projects, like Issaquah Link. Build a line from downtown to Ballard either via the bridge (cheap) or a tunnel to 20th (more riders). Then build West Seattle rail (maybe).

      Call their bluff. The whole thing at this point is a giant bait and switch. The only reason that West Seattle Link was even considered is because Sound Transit said it would be relatively cheap, by going elevated. See if they still want it, if it means being built after everything else .Better yet, how about we make West Seattle Link “provisional”. (This provisional line would require identification of additional funding not currently included in the ST3 System Plan in order to be built)

  13. I’m struggling with whether or not this is hypocrisy, but as a person who lives in Ballard, I am strongly in favor of the Salmon Bay tunnel, and strongly opposed to West Seattle’s tunnel proposals. I feel like we’re being done a disservice by having the two issues conflated with each other, and I wish we could discuss them as independent projects rather than as a couplet.

    West Seattle wants a tunnel for aesthetics and because it will displace a certain amount of housing. Ballard wants a tunnel because it innately intertwines ship mobility with transit mobility. Sitting behind the Ballard Bridge on an idle D line sucks today, but 5 minutes added to a 40 minute bus ride is not a big deal. 5 minutes added to what would otherwise be a 15 minute ride is much more significant, however – that’s adding 33% onto the point-to-point time.

    My argument here is purely functional. The moment the tracks get across Salmon Bay, I couldn’t care less whether they are elevated or below ground, and I haven’t heard anyone else in Ballard making arguments to the contrary, yet we still get clumped in with the NIMBY contingent from West Seattle.

    Am I wrong for thinking these are completely independent decisions that should be viewed in isolation? Not all tunnels are equal…

    1. Good point. And speaking of functionality, if you’re building a tunnel to go under the maritime industry stuff, no reason not to have the station be at 17TH Ave. or even 24TH Ave rather than 14th/15th. Walkable town centers make for better ridership than Safeways built above parking garages at the corner of car-optimized intersections!

      (Well, I suppose the additional tunnel length isn’t exactly “free,” but my understanding the bulk of the cost is building the station, which doesn’t matter so much where the station is.

    2. Not hypocritical IMO – you make great points about the differences, and it is frustrating to seem them lumped together. I’m somewhat confused as to why Metro would endorse the WS tunnel when it could only suck up more of the region’s limited transportation dollars and provides no additional benefits to riders or ridership.

    3. They are different situations; they’re just being argued simultaneously because ST wants to get “the Seattle decision” over and done with all at once. Only the very ignorant equate the two, although there is political pressure that ST shouldn’t spend less in one quarter of the city than it does in the others. But the transit argument for Ballard is clearly better. Ballard has a larger urban village — more people and jobs within a 20-minute walk circle of the station. Ballard-Fremont is Seattle’s forth or fifth largest urban concentration, after Center City, the U-District, Northgate, and maybe Lake City. West Seattle has significant growth in the Triangle but it very strongly resists any larger upzones. There are single’family houses one block from California Avenue, in both the central part and north in the Admiral District, and they won’t hear about upzoning on Delridge or 35th, anywhere except the Avalon area which was already scheduled for growth.

      Ballard Link is about putting Seattle’s forth- or fifth-largest urban village on the regional transit network, to eliminate the half-hour overhead every time you go into or out of the neighborhood. Seattle and the region need more housing and more mixed-use, transit-rich areas people can live and work in, and we can’t afford to write off northwest Seattle. West Seattle strongly resists being that kind of urban area, so even if you put the transit in they won’t agree to the upzones to make it really carry its quarter weight for the city, so that makes high-capacity transit less worthwhile there. The population is too spread out and low; fewer people live within a mile of each of its stations than Ballard’s one station. Link will serve the Junction urban village, and that’s something. But most West Seattlites will have to transfer from a bus to Link, and a multibranch BRT system could serve them better at lower cost. Link will overlap with the fastest part of their route rather than the slowest part, so it’s like putting Link where it’s least needed rather than most needed.

      The argument against the tunnels aren’t that they’re bad but that they’re expensive, and we already agreed that elevated was enough when we voted for ST3. Now the neighborhoods are saying, “We agreed to elevated but now we’re going to try to get tunnels anyway.” I think that the Port’s and Fisherman’s Terminal and the 15th apartments’ arguments are mostly spurious: they’re trying to give themselves more weight than they deserve, and not thinking enough about how they could work around an elevated option. But a Ballard tunnel does raise one possibility of a significantly better station location: 20th Avenue. That would be right in the heart of the urban village and it would be a transit best practice that would maximize Link’s ridership and usefulness. There are no comparable options like that in West Seattle.

      1. Multibranch BRT for West Seattle is pretty much the status quo unless there is much more right of way than there is now. Such a transit status quo will not suffice with the growth that the peninsula is experiencing. I believe we have quite a few tech professionals who live here that would not only benefit from light rail in getting to gigs in SLU, but with Amazon moving its operations department to Bellevue, I’m sure that some out here that may actually work in that unit would appreciate the easy of connection from West Seattle link to Eastside link that would not be possible with the likely status quo of BRT with increasing population and car traffic to go along with that.

        While there is resistance to upzoning in the peninsula, just as there is in neighborhoods in North Seattle and the Eastside, we are getting more development of apartments not just on Avalon, but projects on 35th and California as well; Such density over the next 13-15 years will make for a potentially sound ROI for West Seattle link.

        I do fault Sound Transit reps in their link meetings with West Seattlites for not giving them a serious reality check on the cost of a tunnel where they should have told them that if they really want it, they may not be able to get it without “third party funding” that they will have to bear the brunt of. The Port of Seattle cavalry isn’t going to come to their rescue. I think they’ve enabled their demands for a pie in the sky tunnel by not leveling with them about what it will take to get it.

      2. 35th? I’ll have to go down 35th and see what has changed since I last went down it a few years ago. Any particular locations to look out for?

      3. 9030 35th , 7617 35th—in the permitting stage and 9037 35th–just 26 micros. Not as ambitious as Ballard, but a slow growth that we will be seeing over the next 10-15, I suspect.

    4. Not hypocritical, but you are worried about the wrong thing. I don’t know how many times I have to keep writing this: If we build a transit bridge, a train will rarely, if ever, be delayed by a boat. The bridge will be very high. The openings will be timed (as they are today). The trains don’t run that often, and will never experience a backup. You will never, in a million years, be delayed five minutes because of a boat. Ten seconds? Sure, but that could happen because someone kept the door open. You are far more likely to experience a delay caused by a mechanical problem, the type of which happens every day in New York City, and happens occasionally even with our extremely young system.

      There is one, very solid argument for building underground to Ballard. You get more riders, and those riders save more time. That’s it. From a user standpoint, the bridge is fine.

      The stop is not. The heart of Ballard is to the west (roughly 20th to Leary). That is where most of the people live; it is where most of the people work, and where most of the people play. Moving the station there will get you a lot of riders. Riders who would endure a stop at 15th would save a lot of time. That is, after all, the whole point of spending billions. To save riders time.

      A West Seattle tunnel won’t do anything for the riders or ridership. Not a thing.

      That is the difference, but it only occurs if the tunnel in Ballard goes to a better station. There really are only two decent choices. Built it like we proposed, or build it better. The only proposal on the book for anything that is better is an underground station to 20th NW.

      1. I’ve seen this argument a few times, and 20th is definitely more central to the Ballard walkshed. There are two things about that alignment that strike me as problematic, though.

        The first is that it’s not well positioned for any future expansion (20th street runs into a park 12 blocks North of Market). I know that we’re not supposed to be worrying about future expansion at this point, but it seems dumb to shoot ourselves in the foot now if we don’t have to.

        The second is that 20th is a terrible spot to try to transfer to – buses don’t run there, and we can’t just shift the buses to run on 20th (see above about park). 15th & Market is a much better fit for that purpose. The transfer situation is important to consider, I think, because of all of the continued zoning changes. Specifically, Ballard “proper” is mostly saturated at this point, but the 15th corridor running North of market is getting significant upzoning and growth. Additionally, the area around 15th and 85th is getting one of the biggest upzones in the city, iirc, and so connecting those two hotspots with a short transfer running down 15th would seem to make sense.

        I guess I just don’t understand how 20th ends up with more folks riding than 15th – are the ridership estimates taking into account the current population density and not accounting for where the ongoing growth is going to be?

      2. Tunnels don’t necessarily have to follow the street grid. Just look at Northgate to UW. So, expansion north isn’t that much more difficult. More expensive? Yes, because it’s tunneling.

        Somewhat further west than 15th actually picks up an additional bus route (40) in terms of transfers, and once Link gets built there will be no reason for the D to cross the Ballard Bridge so it likely goes into Ballard too. It depends on where they put the station entrances but it has the potential to be really good.

      3. Ross, you are WAY over-confident about the reliability of a 70 foot bridge. I think you’re overall right: delay won’t happen often. But “[t]he trains don’t run that often, and will never experience a backup” is frankly ludicrous. They may be delayed only a couple of times a day, but they will be delayed at least once most days. “High speed lifts” aren’t really that “high speed”. The Coast Guard is not going to allow large vessels to be delayed for a train except at the rush hours.

        In any case, remember that the other end of The Green Line travels through the Rainier Valley where trains are subject to random delays from emergency vehicles and “the bad genie” in the signal timing system. Or, yes, because someone hold the door for twenty seconds and the train departs a station behind the cycle.

        Yes, it makes sense to push back against “mindless tunnelism”, but don’t promise the Moon.

      4. The Coast Guard is not going to allow large vessels to be delayed for a train except at the rush hours.

        I think you are confused about the term “delay”. I’m not talking hours, I’m talking minutes. Delays of this nature happen all the time in the summer. Otherwise the bridge would be up again, down again every few seconds. The operator allows the boats to bunch, and then lets several through. If you are a boat and get there right after the bridge went down, you are going to have to wait a while.

        This same sort of thinking will apply to the train. No one knows how the trains will timed, or exactly how big the gaps will be. But the absolute worst possible scenario is a gap of 3 minutes. But that is rush hour, when the boats are allowed to open, and it assumes the trains are timed in a bad way. If the trains were timed right, then the gaps would be six minutes, at their smallest. From a safety standpoint, this would make a lot of sense. That way the operator could see both trains going by, and then open the bridge. You certainly don’t want a train headed towards an open drawbridge. But even if the trains were just going all willy-nilly, there will be large gaps, especially outside of rush hour (which is the only time a bridge can open). In those gaps a waiting boat of the type needing a lift should have no problem crossing in time.

      5. @Eric I guess I just don’t understand how 20th ends up with more folks riding than 15th – are the ridership estimates taking into account the current population density and not accounting for where the ongoing growth is going to be?

        The ridership numbers are accounting for both. The population is higher to the west, *current* population *growth* is higher to the west, and all future estimates are for higher growth in the west. To be clear, there is some growth to the east, it is just smaller (e. g. townhouses instead of apartments). Employment is also higher to the west. Modern industry (including brewing), which dominates employment to the east, is not labor intensive. In contrast, office work (which is mostly to the west) and medical work (which is almost entirely to the west) is far more labor intensive. Medical offices also involve lots of visits. Similarly, the cultural and historical center of the area is to the west, which is why those places get more visitors.

        Sorry, but these things matter. You just aren’t going to turn a place like West Woodland into anything resembling the heart of Ballard in terms of population, employment, or cultural attractiveness.

      6. Just for comparison, the existing BNSF Salmon Bay Bridge is 43 feet above mean high tide. It has to open for the tallest of sailboats but really doesn’t open too often.

        The Lady Washington tall ship is 89 feet, so even that wouldn’t require that high a bridge lift of a 70 foot bridge.

        There just aren’t that many craft around any more that would be small enough to fit in the locks, need to go to Lake Union, and be tall enough to require a complete lift of a 70 foot bridge.

      7. The second is that 20th is a terrible spot to try to transfer to – buses don’t run there, and we can’t just shift the buses to run on 20th (see above about park). 15th & Market is a much better fit for that purpose.

        You are making the same mistake with the bus network as you are any future rail expansion. As Glenn said, a deep bore tunnel can be expanded independent of the street grid. In general, it is a good idea to do so. To quote the last line of this excellent blog post:

        It is wrong to plan subways as if they were buses when they are capable of following alignments that buses cannot.

        As for buses, it is important to remember that once Ballard Link gets here, there is no reason for buses to go across the Ballard Bridge. If the train station is at 15th and Market, a bus traveling on 15th will likely turn west on Market anyway, and head towards the heart of Ballard (where all the people/jobs/activities are). So the station moving there doesn’t alter that route one bit. It does mean those riders have to wait one more stop, but riders on the 40 will have a faster ride. For reasons that get complicated, it actually makes for a better network ( (Quick Summary — a station at 15th and Market forces the 40 to detour, creating a coverage gap; a station at 20th and Market does not). This is not at all intuitive, and it is important. A stop at 20th and Market would be *better* for the bus network than a stop at 15th and Market.

        It really comes down to this. From a *transit* standpoint, there are two reasonable options in Ballard:

        1) What we voted for, which is flawed but relatively cheap.
        2) An underground station at 20th, which is more expensive, but better in every other respect.

      8. @RossB – I might be making *A* mistake, but I’m not making *THAT* mistake specifically. The premise I was working off of was that any future connections from the Ballard station would very quickly stop being underground, which is why I was concerned with street alignment. Doesn’t make much sense to me to keep it underground at that point, as the cost wouldn’t justify the minimal displacement. In fact, that was sort of the whole crux of my argument – that unlike West Seattle, Ballard’s desire for a tunnel is driven by something other than aesthetics and displacement.

        Assuming a tunnel does get built (to 14th, 15th, or 20th), and assuming some future expansion, do you think an extension North or an East-West link would actually be built underground instead of elevated or at grade?

      9. Ross, and I said “large vessels”. Bunched recreational sailboats need not apply.

        Now I really don’t know how many ships large enough to force a lift of a 70 foot clearance bridge transit the Ship Canal on an average day. Glenn seems to think it’s essentially zero, and it’s not at all unreasonable to embargo them from the Ship Canal completely from 6 to 9 AM and 4 to 7 PM. However, it is difficult for them to stop and then to regain way; they accelerate and decelerate very slowly. So the bridge tender is going to hold the train for one during any other time period. And they can take five to ten minutes to transit by the time the lift and lowering are included.

        Is this a catastrophe? Of course not; the randomness in the Rainier Valley will on average mess things up more. Just don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

        And there will be reason for buses to cross the Ballard Bridge. You would have someone riding from 15th NW and Seattle Pacific to take three vehicles, one of which (the train) goes just one station? No. There should be a direct connection between Nickerson and downtown Ballard. Where it goes north and south of there is up for discussion.

        Ditto something from Central Magnolia to Ballard. Folks aren’t going to want to change at Dravus for a single station hop. Ballard is very likely the shopping and entertainment draw for how ever much of Magnolia is under 50 years of age. (Probably not a lot….)

      10. On Magnolia to Ballard, I should have said “change at Dravus for a single station hop to a 15th Avenue Station” They might be happy to do so for a tunnel station at 20th since they’re likely not to need to walk much. Well, except for folks who want to shop at the Market Street Safeway.

  14. About the Duwamish bridge crossing thing: Wouldn’t the most obvious thing to do be to take a lane on the current West Seattle Bridge??? Reinforcing it if needed to carry the additional load? Seeing as we figured out how to build the world’s first light rail line on a floating bridge, and we already have dedicated transit lanes, this should be peanuts. Am I missing anything?

    1. Taking two lanes would reduce its car capacity. It’s easier to get light rail and tunnels approved than it is to convert two lanes to transit lanes. That’s been shown repeatedly on the West Seattle Bridge, Aurora, 15th Ave W, Eastlake, Roosevelt, 45th, 23rd, Rainier, etc. I don’t know how the cost of retrofitting the West Seattle Bridge would have compared; maybe ST has other reasons why it hasn’t considered adding Link to the bridge (without taking lanes). But two lanes on the bridge would allow traffic-free BRT, and that could serve West Seattle just as well. (Since West Seattle is not about to overflow the potential bus capacity of two transit lanes.)

      1. P.S. Would BRT serve West Seattle “just as well?” Maybe if we still had the viaduct and you also took two lanes from that. But even for the bridge crossing, busses are limited to 45 mph, and that’s not even accounting for the on/off ramps and surface street traffic signals. I seriously doubt a BRT would be just as “rapid” as Link. Also, if you go elevated across the bridge, Link can do it using the existing one bus lane–or potentially just the median space.

      2. You have to add transfer time at SODO (until 2045 or whenever the new tunnel is finished) and then transfer again at The Junction. With BRT you could operate to a wider variety of destinations in West Seattle and go straight through those transfer points.

      3. This is an ideal BRT suggestion, not just taking the one ST studied. So it would have full transit/BAT lanes to ensure the buses run full speed, and enough buses that there’s no overcrowding and every branch is 10-15 minute frequent. There’s disagreement on how much transit lanes you’d need. I’d convert two lanes across the entire bridge. Some say a queue jump at the eastbound entrance would be sufficient. The premise is that this frequency plus a few extra runs peak hours would be sufficient, and that it would fit into two bridge lanes.

        Compared to ST’s plan:
        – For those going downtown, it’s better because eliminating the transfer overhead makes up for the bus’s lower speed.
        – For those transferring to another train or bus downtown, it’s better because it’s a 2-seat ride instead of a 3-seat ride.
        – For those going to the rest of the Link line (UW, Lynnwood, Everett), it’s worse because you’ve merely moved the transfer point and they’ll travel further on the bus and less on Link.

        So the impact on riders depends on how many people are going to the rest of the Link line vs going downtown or transferring downtown anyway.

      1. Not buying it. To build a new bridge with navigational clearance for the Port, you also have to get from near sea level in SODO up to the current WS bridge height, no?

        About taking car lanes: this may well be the deciding factor, especially politically and with WSDOT being involved. But it is only one *additional* lane as a land on the eastbound span is already a bus lane, and the far right lanes on either side are basically exit only lanes not thru traffic lanes–you actually drive through on the inner two lanes in each direction. Plus it’s only one lane, period, if you go elevated over the bridge. There’s also the “median” shoulder space and barrier between the two bridge spans which you could imagine putting in el train support columns and shifting the lanes a few feet.

        Pick your poison, I guess: litigation from the Port and businesses and building a new bridge, or dealing with WSDOT.

      2. The high bridge was built when the low bridge got stuck open and West Seattle demanded the high bridge or it would secede from the city. I don’t see the state caring whether West Seattle secedes; it would probably favor it given its preference for suburbs.

  15. As long as money is no object, how about we add the Ballard to UW line as well? It is a small extension, and a tunnel, to boot.

    Seriously, though, why not push for a First Hill station? The official word, from the very beginning, was that it was too expensive. Apparently that doesn’t matter anymore. We can spend whatever we want. So let’s do it.

    Then how about we fully fund the RapidRide+ proposals ( While we are at it, let’s fully fund the Move Seattle project, and add a dozen similar projects as well. I’m sure the bike community will be thrilled to know that we can fully fund the Bike Master Plan, too (why just the other day it seems that the city was saying they couldn’t afford half of it). Oh, and move the Mount Baker Station, and UW Station while you are at it.

    Leadership in this town has gone off the rails (no pun intended). We have people on the one hand saying we can’t spend millions making the buses faster or the bike routes safer, but we can spend billions making cosmetic changes to a dubious rail project.

    1. “gone off the rails ” is really an underutilized pun by this blog. Many a missed opportunity.

      Ross is right – slow rolling RR+ improvements and supporting $700M Link overruns is penny wise, pound foolish.

      1. Agreed. Though I doubt we are just talking about an additional $700M (YOE$). Sound Move was more than double its estimate even with a scaled down line. ST2 projects are already some $1.5B over their 2008 cost estimates.

  16. If there needs to be more money raised for the West Seattle Ballard light rail line have King County and Seattle split the amount that needs to be raised by getting bonds

    1. That won’t have my vote, that’s for sure. I could barely stomach ST 3 with the WS and Issaquah cost relative to benefit. The aforementioned priorities (bike, ped, and bus investments) deliver immensely more benefit for the dollar and there just isn’t that much money available.

    2. That’s a recipe for them being built elevated because King County will never go for that, the suburbs would be in open revolt.

    3. Why should King County taxpayers pay for Link in West Seattle when no other Link segment is getting county funding?

  17. Ok. But what does it mean?

    It’s broad support in the total absense of discussions of funding sources, tradeoffs, schedule impacts, and opportunity costs.

    1. It’s broad support assuming someone else will pay for it or it will fall all on North King evenly. Re tradeoffs and opportunity costs, they’re prioritizing this higher than other things; e.g., house demolitions over train passengers. That may seem contradictory when they demanded Link heavily presumably to ride it, but remember that the people who demanded Link heavily aren’t necessarily the same people who are demanding the tunnels. Like school funding, where one group turns out to vote for small class sizes and then another group turns out to vote against the taxes that would have funded those small class sizes. Re schedule impacts, you’re right, because we don’t know how much longer it would take to build the tunnels. Although we do konw that tunnel projects generally take ten years. So on average it might delay the openings by five years.

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