Seattle and King County elected officials have asked Sound Transit to remove a moved bridge in Ballard from future Link plans. They also urged Sound Transit to ditch the elevated “Orange Line” alignment in West Seattle, which would require large numbers of homes to be demolished.
In other areas, the officials mostly declined to endorse other specific choices in the planning effort. Instead, at the final Elected Leadership Group (ELG) meeting for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions, elected officials preferred a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of nearly all the alignments currently under consideration. Comments by business and community groups from Ballard, West Seattle, and Chinatown-International District (ID) generally advocated for the same process.
Sound Transit asked elected officials to endorse specific alignments in the hope of speeding the EIS process and picking a preferred alignment early. Agency CEO Peter Rogoff and project director Cathal Ridge both emphasized in prepared remarks that selecting a preferred alignment would not actually lock the agency into building the chosen project.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan rejected the idea that selecting a preferred alignment, particularly in the ID, would result in a speedier timeline than studying multiple options.
In impassioned remarks focused on the controversial ID station, Durkan again cited a history of institutional racism as reason for deeper study of the proposed ID alignments.
The Mayor also suggested that limiting areas of study would in fact increase risk of a delayed project, arguing that limiting study to one or two options would make a supplemental EIS or litigation more likely.
“We know that this whole system will probably have a greater impact on this community than anywhere else in the system,” Durkan said. “And so for us to move these things forward, it’s the right thing to do. I also think it’s the smart thing to do, because it will not slow us down. The worst thing that could happen to us is if we ended up going through an EIS and then had to do a supplemental EIS because we hadn’t considered things, or there’s too much resistance.”
Most of the audience for the meeting, which was rich with transportation civil servants, neighborhood activists, and transit advocates, applauded Durkan’s remarks. So did the elected officials—a group that included most of the Seattle City Council, and King and Snohomish County Executives Dow Constantine and Dave Somers. Somers suggested he spoke for the group when he offered his “violent agreement” with the mayor’s comments.
Earlier in the meeting, Durkan said that cost projections were too preliminary to serve as a basis for selecting one alignment over another. The Mayor said that the City was willing to find a way to pay for extras, perhaps by contributing property assets.
“There’s nothing at this stage of the game that requires us to be studying what requires more funding,” Durkan said. “I think what we’ve learned from staff is we don’t have enough technical information at this point to really know the cost available for anything. …The question of funding is something that is coming down the road. The City of Seattle understands, obviously, that if there’s additional funding required for an alignment, that we’re going to have to be a very active partner.”
Perhaps because of Seattle officials’ increasing public willingness to kick in more resources, Somers expressed support for a fixed link across Salmon Bay. A tunnel or fixed bridge would likely cost more than a movable bridge, but would allow for much faster and more reliable service on the Ballard line.
It’s welcome news for future Ballard riders. Somers and other Snohomish County officials on the Sound Transit Board have frequently said that Seattle needs to pay for enhancements to the Link system in city limits. The change in tone suggested that King and Snohomish officials are much more closely aligned (as it were) on the expense of the future system.
Meanwhile, Constantine—a West Seattle resident—again urged Sound Transit to end consideration of the elevated Orange alignment in West Seattle, and continued to support tunneling to the Junction. Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who also lives in and represents West Seattle, asked Sound Transit staff to reconsider the Purple alignment.
The alignment would move the bridge over the Duwamish farther south than the options presently under consideration, and tunnel through Pigeon Ridge rather than running elevated track around it. The Purple alignment was eliminated at the end of Level 2 because Sound Transit estimated the tunnel through Pigeon Ridge would be cost prohibitive.
As Rogoff said, the electeds’ suggestions are not by any means binding. The Sound Transit Board will choose which alignments to study in the EIS process at the next full Board meeting, on May 23.
It also seems very likely, as Durkan suggested, that third party financing is coming from the City of Seattle.
There’s an old saying: if your choices are fast, good, and cheap, you have to pick two. If the electeds follow through on their bold talk, Sound Transit will be able to build a Link system that can leave cheap behind.