52 Replies to “Podcast #92: Take the Link to Capitol Hill”

  1. /Good podcast. I wouldn’t necessarily say that “the Everett stuff is so straightforward.” Yes, it’s just elevated and mostly highway-adjacent, but it’s 16 miles + an O&M yard + adds the complexity of serving even a small airport. You have to work with at least 3 cities and a county government for substantial unincorporated areas. It will be longer than the combined ULink/Northgate/Lynnwood extensions.

    1. Magnitude is enormous, but its technically and politically straightforward. Broad consensus around station locations (Everett already have the exact station location in their urban center plans) and an elevated track, and no major water or freeway barriers to go around. I agree there will be some interesting decisions to be made in the Paine industrial area, but an industrial area is always going to be easier to navigate when it comes to construction mitigation, etc. It’s also a logical place for an OMF, like SoD, unlike East and South OMF which can intrude on TOD opportunities.

    2. I’d agree, and also add that 128th St SW and Airport Road segments aren’t along freeways, will require right-of-way and will affect lots of adjacent homes and commercial parcels. That’s going to be a challenge.

      1. If those sections are going to be elevated, just put the supports in the two-way left turn lane. It’ll keep people for driving in it for half a block.

  2. So, if you don’t want to revote ST3 (and I 976 looming out there), are folks prepared to have Ballard to Downtown and West Seattle open in 2045? Or would they vote to have Ballard to UW (which always was the faster project; most popular Ballard line in a ST poll) and West Seattle BRT open in, say, 2035 for a cheaper price? Remember, if you read the followup questions/response, even if the revote loses, the current ST3 still will be on “schedule.”

    1. How did you solved the capacity issues that necessitated the 2nd tunnel? Do you want to dump Ballard UW riders onto already full trains at U District, or screw over Snohomish and take half their headway?

      1. As noted in an STB post (IIRC written by Martin) in the runup of ST3, you can run trains at frequent intervals– IIRC, 1..5-3 minute headways if needed (and this was noted before the idea of the second tunnel was ever considered). I believe other posters have addressed the lack of maintenance sites as well on the Ballard to UW line. Hell, Seattle Subway is the one who first thought of the Ballard Spur. There have been other posters on the blog who have questioned whether the Ballard hordes would “overwhelm” the system– but as noted above, you can run more trains. So what year do you think the first train carrying passengers from Ballard will run under the current alignment (and if I976 is found constitutional)?

      2. If you think a 2nd tunnel is unnecessary, then sure, don’t bother to build it. I can’t convince you the tunnel needs to be built first if you don’t think it needs to be built at all.

      3. Increasing DSTT1 headways beyond 3 minutes requires capital improvements to it. There was an ST3 candidate project for that but it was deselected when the second tunnel was chosen. If ST decides not to do the second tunnel, I suppose it could redirect the money to those improvements. It would probably require shutting down the tunnel again for some period of time.

        And it would leave us with a single point of failure. If there are two tunnels and one tunnel breaks, you can still use the other tunnel and get partial relief. If there’s only one tunnel and it breaks, then the only workaround is surface buses.

        And one tunnel would leave us with a capacity ceiling that we may or may not reach, and no ability to add more trains or lines. With two tunnels there’s plenty of capacity and room for an additional line or two. It will be much easier to get those lines approved if the tunnel is already built than if we have to add the cost of a tunnel to its budget. We were lucky the DSTT was built in the 1980s when costs were lower and the anti-tax movement didn’t exist. If ST1 had reaquired the cost of a downtown tunnel, it might never have gotten off the ground or approved because people would have said “It costs too much” and “We can’t afford it.” Now we have a chance to prebuild a tunnel for future lines. Will we be as smart as they were in the 80s?

      4. AJ, you cannot have a “Ballard Spur”. It would require breaking into both tubes underneath the University of Washington campus. The U is not going to agree to a large, deep excavation north of The Quad, so it quite simply can’t be done.

        If you break the compression rings without removing the over-burden, especially for the couple of hundred feet necessary for an at-speed turnout, the existing tubes will collapse!!!!!!!!!

        So, Snohomish doesn’t have to worry about their headways, but overcrowding is certainly likely if a lot of Green Lakers use the line as a bus intercept as well as the Ballardites.

      5. How do you solve the capacity issues that necessitated the 2nd tunnel?

        Reminds me of this classic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-VRyQprlu8

        Just like Maria from the musical, this is not a problem that needs to be solved. This is merely a theoretical problem that some on this blog came up with. Sound Transit never said it was a real issue.

        A spur would be ideal (https://www.flickr.com/photos/67869267@N07/9152772373/in/photostream/). During rush hour, trains would run every 3 minutes from Northgate, and the Ballard train would just end at the UW. The rest of the day, the Ballard train would keep going.

        If that is too expensive or otherwise impractical, so be it. The Ballard train would simply end at the UW. When the main line is running every 2-3 minutes, it won’t matter when the Ballard train runs. When the main line runs every 6 minutes, then the Ballard line could be timed (which would be relatively easy, given it would be grade separated with relatively few stations).

        Crowding wouldn’t be a big issue. The UW is a major destination. Some of the trips that are much faster (e. g. Fremont to Capitol Hill) are not peak based, while others (e. g. Northgate to Fremont) don’t contribute to crowding in the core. Some of the trips to downtown that could be done by train are probably just as fast by bus (e. g. Aurora corridor). Even to Ballard a *rush hour* bus (15 or 18) would often be faster, because they avoid Queen Anne as well as the bridge opening. It would only be outside of rush hour, when frequency on the buses slow down (and the trains are still running every five minutes) that the train is clearly the better option for those trips.

        It should not be thought of as a suburban branch, but rather, an intersecting line, with the UW as the anchor point, and good all-day destinations in three directions (four if they could afford to extend it to Children’s hospital).

      6. “How do you solve the capacity issues that necessitated the 2nd tunnel?” “This is merely a theoretical problem that some on this blog came up with.”

        It originated from a PSRC report that downtown Seattle’s total north-south transit capacity would be insufficient by the 2030s or whenever it was. That’s total circulation including in-city buses, express buses, Link to other places, and Link/bus trips within downtown. Since then Seattle has done some things like splitting the C and D and planning more RapidRide lines, but it needed a big solution.

        “Sound Transit never said it was a real issue.”

        If ST didn’t think it was a real issue then why on earth did it decide to build a second tunnel?

        This issue of Westlake-Intl Dist circulation is different from the UDistrict-Westlake overcrowding that some have raised. That’s the one ST hasn’t acknolwledged. Although some ST staff have been concerned about the possibility that ST2 demand might overflow capacity by 2040. That’s might, not will. There are diverse opinions on this, some people predicting it will never be a problem because this ain’t NYC, and others predicting overcrowding and pass-ups. ST officially considers this not a problem, although as I said there’s some concern among some staff. But ST says it would be a problem it Ballard-UW Link replaced Ballard-downtown Link and all the downtown-bound riders transferred at U-District to the north-south lines.

      7. Ross, you cannot!!!!! have a connection between Ballard-UW and The Spine — not even a non-revenue single-track connection — without digging a pit around the existing tunnels before you break into the tubes. You must have a “station box” around the junction at least temporarily because the compression rings in the tube to be entered are what keeps it from collapsing. ST did not include a bellmouth for the connection when it dug the bores.

        A single bellmouth assumes that using the cross-over south of the HSS platform and out-of-direction running through the station and up to the junction would be acceptable for outbound deployment moves. That in turn means no service moves can occur any time other than at night. Otherwise there has to be a facing-point cross-over included between the existing tracks necessitating breaking into both tubes.

        A full bi-directional revenue junction would require that both tubes be severed and a “burrowing junction” for the north-to-west connection.

        Now maybe ST can get UW to agree to host a 100 to 300 foot long trench about 25 feet wide east of the new Law building, but I would doubt it. It would play hell with the trees. So “the rest of the time” Ballard-UW trains will not “keep going” if, by “going” you mean “to Downtown”. Used as a bus intercept, Ballard-UW would always be a three-seat ride with a transfer of currently undefined but likely significant difficulty at UDS. ST didn’t even include demising walls at the Mezzanine level, so who knows if the station box can be severed for a direct connection? The upper walls may be bearing throughout because it’s a long way down to track level. That would mean going to the surface and then back down to track level — which most likely will have to be even deeper on the cross-tunnel.

        If you can convince Wallingford, Upper Fremont and “West Woodland”to have three block circles of six- to ten-story apartments and/or condos surrounding 45th and Wallingford, 46th and Fremont and 50th and Eighth NW or better route Ballard-UW through Fremont with equivalent stations at 40th and Wallingford, 36th and Woodland Park, 35th and Fremont, and 8th NW and Leary, then yes, it would be a good line. Trips between those clusters or the existing one in Ballard and other points on The Spine would be two-seat only, but folks aren’t happily going to get on the 5 at 72nd, change to B-UW at 46th then make the climb-descend at UDS to get a Spine Train unless you force them to do so by truncating the 5 in Lower Fremont.

        The south line serves the cluster around Lower Fremont and has more opportunity for TOD with four stations, but is a poorer bus intercept because of the greater traffic closer to Lake Union and the double-back to 45th.

        Most importantly, it will not be funded by the Sound Transit Board, nor will a “Metro 8” inner ring, so you need to conjure up a Legislature much more sympathetic to Seattle’s urban transportation needs. Good luck with that.

      8. The forecasting done for Lynnwood Link showed more riders between Capitol Hill and Westlake than between Westlake and University Street. Granted that it’s from 2012, but it’s diagrammed in this report and was published before ST3 was developed:


        The PM peak volumes north of Westlake are significantly higher than south of Westlake. The ugly truth is that the ST3 plan ignored the most crowded segment!

        We also have post-ST3 forecasts. The diagrams from the STB blog post a few months ago show the same thing — more PM peak riders northbound from Westlake than from both Downtown lines northbound when added together!


        In terms of number of riders per train, it’s the SODO to Beacon Hill segment that has the worst forecasted overcrowding problem.

        Bluntly put, ST3 was not designed to mitigate the most overcrowded segments. If it did, we would be building the Ballard Line to connect at Northgate and building the Georgetown Bypass (or rebuilding MLK for more trains) before we build a second Downtown tunnel south of Westlake.

        It’s what these data say!

      9. Ross, you cannot!!!!! have a connection between Ballard-UW and The Spine — not even a non-revenue single-track connection — without digging a pit around the existing tunnels before you break into the tubes.

        Oh geez, I just don’t know who to trust. Technical experts, who for all of their faults are actually pretty good at building things like light rail tunnels, or some random dude on the Internet with a cute moniker.

        Look, Sound Transit looked at a line from the UW to Ballard. At no point did they say “Oh shucks, the UW won’t let us connect to it. It simply can’t be done. And without that, we have no way of getting the trains there”. Because of course, that is ridiculous.

        Used as a bus intercept, Ballard-UW would always be a three-seat ride with a transfer of currently undefined but likely significant difficulty at UDS.

        Not if you are going to the UW! Holy cow man, how many times must we go over this. How many times must you drag out that straw man, and kick its ass?

        Not everyone is going to downtown Seattle! If you are on Phinney Ridge, or Greenwood, or Crown Hill, or anywhere along Aurora on the state’s most popular bus route and you want to get to the UW, this would dramatically reduce the time it takes to get there. It isn’t about the three seat ride to downtown (that no one along there would take) it is the *two* seat ride to the UW. For that matter, it is the two seat ride to Ballard and Fremont from Roosevelt, Northgate, and yes, even Lynnwood. The three seat rides will occur if someone is trying to get from Kenmore to Ballard, and that is because … wait for it … it is much faster! Oh, and in that case the two seat option would involve first going to the UW, and then taking the freaking train! Either way you’ve added value because you’ve run a very fast train across a very slow corridor, in a very populous area.

        The point is, it really doesn’t matter if the train can keep going from Ballard to downtown. A direct, no-transfer connection between Ballard and downtown (via the UW) is a “nice to have”. Of course you want it, and it is quite likely worth the money, but if push comes to shove, you can live without it, because the main value you’ve added is not dependent on it. The main line runs through the UW. It runs frequently (and connecting to another line would make it run more frequently). Therefore, the transfer penalty would be minimal, especially since the transfer could easily be timed.

        This isn’t a radical concept. This isn’t something new or unproven. This is the way that all major transit systems work. It is not just about the biggest destination (downtown Seattle) it is about secondary destinations, like the UW and even tertiary destinations, like Fremont and Ballard. This is how you gain modal share. This is how you build a transit system worthy of the money we are spending.

      10. If ST didn’t think it was a real issue then why on earth did it decide to build a second tunnel?

        Simple. The most popular, most congested part of our system is between the UW and south downtown. If you run the Ballard-Interbay line into the main line at Westlake, then the UW to downtown Line has to be reduced. Instead of 2-3 minutes, it runs 4-6. Thus the desire for a second tunnel. Still probably overkill, but a reasonable concern.

        If, on the other hand, you run the Ballard line to the UW, then the train from the UW to downtown still runs every 2-3 minutes. It really doesn’t matter what happens upstream. Everett to UW can function just fine running every 6 minutes, even if most of the riders continue to the UW.

        Even if it did — even if huge numbers of riders came down from the north — you would simply run the trains like they are planning on doing. Run them every 2-3 minutes from Northgate, Lynnwood, Everett or Marysville. It doesn’t matter, because there won’t be that many riders coming in from the west, headed to downtown. Not when the bridge is down, and you run express buses from Ballard right to downtown (bypassing Lower Queen Anne). Not when the E runs frequently right to downtown. Oh, there might be a little bit of a bump there, but that would be more than made up for the North End riders getting off at the UW, since it is a major destination.

        When it comes to capacity, there are bigger things to worry about. The Ballard to UW line is small, and only contains a handful of stations. If you are honestly worried about Ballard/Fremont/Wallingford to downtown rush hour riders overwhelming the system, then why on earth are we encouraging TOD? Why build a new Wallingford (or gasp, Fremont) in Mountlake Terrace, since unlike Fremont, all those riders will obviously use Link to get downtown? Why make it easy for riders in Aurora Village to transfer to Link at 185th and save a few minutes — shouldn’t we force them to transfer to the E instead? Shouldn’t we reduce the size of those park and ride lots, since they are clearly designed to increase ridership during peak time? Why send all those SR 522 riders to Link — shouldn’t we send them to downtown instead (at least during rush hour)?

        Of course not. The point is, 4 car trains, running every 90 seconds, can carry a lot of people — way more than the small rush-hour addition caused by a Ballard to UW line.

    2. I was one of the earliest and strongest champions for Ballard Link and a 45th line, and the Monorail before that. I worked in Ballard 1999-2003 and lived near 15th & 65th in 2003, and I’d lived in the U-District for two decades before that, so I had much experience with the 44 (43), 15th Ave NW, and Real Ballard. I saw that Ballard-Fremont was the largest urban village without Link. That the overhead of getting into and out of Ballard was half an hour because there was no subway. The overhead hinders people’s willingness to live in or go to Ballard. San Francisco, Vancouver and Chicago have long walkable mixed-use streets with pedestrians going everywhere 24 hours. Seattle has a few — small — islands like that, and can’t afford not to maximize these precious resources. People are clamoring for housing in walkable, mixed-use areas, but they also need to be convenient to get in and out of.

      But as I see Ballard and West Seattle Link play out, they won’t fully fulfill the vision or meet the need. 15th is already borderline, and 14th is so marginal and far that I wonder if it would have any substantial benefit at all. Sure, it will be great for the new development on 15th and 14th, but developers have consistently failed to create truly pedestrian-friendly areas and move the centers of neighborhoods to them. West Seattle has done wonderful with California Avenue’s growth and the Triangle, but it’s still not as much of an urban village as the others and most people won’t be able to walk to Link. For both of those reasons multi-line BRT would be more effective and sufficient than Link.

      So I’m ambivalient about ST3. ST1 and 2 were absolutely necessary: we desperately need a trunk corridor between Lynnwood, Redmond, and SeaTac or Highline CC. (And we really should have the left half of the X to complete Ballard and West Seattle, and serve Kent and Renton better, and maybe Highline CC not so much.) But Ballard with 14th, and West Seattle with a line that doesn’t serve most of Delridge or 35th, only partly address the issue and maybe don’t do enough to be worthwhile, and Everettites and Tacomaites can take express buses to Lynnwood and Federal Way. Issaquah-South Kirkland is so useless it’s not worth mentioning. So what’s so urgent about ST3? If it gets cancelled, well, how bad is that?

      The biggest losses if ST3 is cancelled are SLU and DSTT2, and the Stride lines.
      Ballard and West Seattle, well, I’m not so sure, if the worst alignments go through.

      Issaquah Link isn’t totally useless: the biggest ridership will be between Bellevue TC and Belleve College (and up to Wilberton or Spring District or wherever it diverges). But Bellevue-BC-Issaquah is just not congested enough or dense enough to need light rail; it could have a BRT bus with lane priority somewhere.

      Ballard-UW would give more benefit for lower cost and leverage cross trip opportunities (e.g., east-north), but the political powers and community activists were not interested in it. The impetus for Ballard-downtown was McGinn’s whim: it was the only corridor he was willing to champion and get ST to accelerate studying. (He was also thinking about a Westlake streetcar extension that ST could study at the same time, which would cost the city less than doing a separate study.) There was no talk then of UDstrict-Westlake being overcrowded; that came later. The argument was that more people go downtown than anywhere else, they want a one-seat ride to downtown, and most of the transfers to other parts of the region are downtown. By the time ST started making noises about overcrowding in the UDistrict-Westlake corridor if the Ballard line was east-west, it was already clear that Ballard-downtown-West Seattle would be in ST3. The only question was whether Ballard-UW would be in it too. That turned out to be no, both because of ST3’s budget limit and because the powers that be don’t see it as important at all.

      Even if the politicians suddenly changed their minds, switching to Ballard-UW would require a revote, politically if not legally. And U-District Station is almost finished and doesn’t have a transfer interface or predesign for a cross track or junction.

      1. I can pretty much agree with what you say about ST3, Mike. I never felt that half of the ST3 budget had much utility as designed, and some strategic value-balanced rethinking beyond the “Link or bust” mentality could save billions. Light rail is woefully slow for stations spaced 2-4 miles from each other. Most of the ST3 benefits could be gained by spending about half of the program. I’ve also felt that ST3 is woefully under-budgeted (political Pollyanna optimism) and 976 rulings and political fallout / economic downturns will make that even worse.

        I view the South Lake Union segment as most critical. The number of 20+ story buildings is staggering along that corridor. The element that makes this a challenge is tying tracks into the Link system — and ways exist to do that with non-revenue track until later.

        After that, here’s the remainder of my “Partial ST3” program:

        Pierce County: Self-propelled EMU between South Federal Way and DuPont. Single tracking with bypass tracks (along I-5 north of Tacoma Mall or Downtown Tacoma) and all-day service (as opposed to peak-only Sounder service rented on non-ST track). These trains can go faster than light rail so it would more than compensate for the transfer penalty.

        South King: Get Link to South Federal Way, and have new STRide 4/5 lines from Bellevue use 167 to stop in Kent Sounder and KDM Station (STRide 4) or Auburn Sounder Station and South Federal Way via SR 16 (STRide 5).

        East King: Drop South Kirkland Station, and build another self-propelled, separate, single-track with bypasses line from Issaquah or Eastgate to Link (hopefully to South Bellevue but East Main would work). Self-propelled EMU operates faster than light rail.

        Snohomish: End Link at Mariner Way, and study a U-shaped line service from Everett to Mariner to Paine Field and Seaway. Self-propelled EMU may also be affordable here and it operates faster than light rail. If not, another STRide line could be branded.

        North King: I’m not sure how much funding would be left after the SLU segment and a track connection (say a single track non-revenue single bore between Westlake and SODO as a precursor to the second Downtown tunnel). Phasing in the missing major steps would have to be carefully analyzed and debated). However, I’d expect that all options would use double-track light-rail technology as this is where it’s definitely warranted.

        A final benefit of self-propelled lines is that they can be electrified and double-tracked as funding becomes available — although self-propelled technologies are advancing so well that overhead catenaries may easily become a useless relic.

      2. Al, you are all in on North WES, aren’t you. Diesel DMU’s are indeed quick, though they accelerate away from stations rather sluggishly. The big problem, though, is that they are are very low capacity vehicles. Take a ride on SMART from Santa Rosa airport to San Rafael. It’s great! The ride is smooth and quick; the views are beautiful. But a two-car train seats fewer people than can fit in a single Link car. Standees are not accommodated with handholds or really even welcome.

        Also, being relatively heavy for their power, they don’t climb hills well, and there is a nasty one just south of Everett downtown and a pretty bad one south of South Federal Way through Milton.

        Not saying it’s impossible but pointing out possible pitfalls.

      3. I am fairly certain that in 2035 that UW will be in its current location and that Ballard will be a popular residential neighborhood. I am not as sure that in 2045 or 2050 Amazon and related tech industries will be in SLU (or at least I would not want to spend more money to bet on that).

      4. I agree with all of your points Mike. ST3 was severely flawed, with only a handful of decent projects. The rail projects appear to be getting worse, while the bus projects appear to be getting better. Overall though, it was not a great package, but we can’t expect those in charge to suddenly build something better (for legal and/or political reasons).

      5. “South King: Get Link to South Federal Way, and have new STRide 4/5 lines from Bellevue use 167 to stop in Kent Sounder and KDM Station (STRide 4) or Auburn Sounder Station and South Federal Way via SR 16 (STRide 5).”

        A few Pierce residents in the run-up to ST3 asked for ST Express between Tacoma Dome to Bellevue. Because Pierce residents want access to those high-paying jobs. ST declined to acknowedge this corridor as worth serving. Your EMU idea from Dupont to South Federal Way if I understand it, would allow a transfer to Stride to Bellevue.

        So the EMU would require a new track from South Federal Way to Tacoma Dome and then join the Sounder track to Lakewood? Is there any place east of Tacoma Dome to join the Sounder track? Although that part would be BNSF-owned and subject to timeslot leases and capacity constraints.

      6. I am fairly certain that in 2035 that UW will be in its current location and that Ballard will be a popular residential neighborhood. I am not as sure that in 2045 or 2050 Amazon and related tech industries will be in SLU (or at least I would not want to spend more money to bet on that).

        Oh, I think there will be people and offices in South Lake Union. I don’t think that is the biggest weakness with the Ballard line. Keep in mind, the Ballard line is by far the best light rail value in ST3 — but it has big flaws as well. A big stretch of the line has no stations. The Smith Cove station is walled in, with no access east or west. The South Lake Union stations are overrated. There is a station meant as an intercept for the E (oddly called “South Lake Union”). It is isn’t clear how they will pull off the transfer, and even if they do a wonderful job (for the first time) you won’t have a lot of people transferring there. If you are headed downtown, then you stay on the bus. You could transfer to get to Lower Queen Anne, but not to Ballard. You could transfer to get to the south end or the airport, but that is just not a lot of riders. While being close to Aurora might add a few transfer riders, it will likely hamper its walk-up ridership. The station by Denny is overrated. It is very close to Westlake, which cuts down on potential ridership, making it highly dependent on the rest of the line. For example, there will be very few riders taking a train from Capitol Hill, then transferring to that station, even though both are very high density areas (for Seattle) — riders will just take the 8. Even some of the potential riders from farther away (e. g. Northgate) will skip the transfer, and just walk to destinations relatively close to the station (e. g. Amazon headquarters). If it isn’t worth a transfer, that greatly limits the additional ridership. This is a general weakness for the line, as the other downtown stations (Westlake, Midtown, etc.) are also not worth a transfer. (Things would be different if they added a First Hill Station). Denny will get riders, but it will be highly dependent on one seat riders. It will be like a downtown station before Link got to the UW. Good, but not great.

        If they screw up Ballard, then the only really good station will be Lower Queen Anne (making the Ballard Line a multi-billion dollar replacement for the monorail). OK, it will be better than that. Interbay should be mediocre (as a Magnolia bus intercept) and Denny will be mediocre (as mentioned), but in general you are looking at a lot of middling stations — not because there aren’t potential riders in the area, just because the geography doesn’t work very well.

        In contrast, a Ballard to UW line works really well because the geography works well. It runs perpendicular to the main line, and train to train transfers make sense, even short ones (like Roosevelt to Wallingford). The Aurora intercept also makes sense. Riders from the Aurora and Phinney Ridge corridors would make a transfer, and be in Ballard or the UW in five minutes (give or take). At the same time, that station could still serve Fremont.

        If you view the purpose of a mass transit system as purely a means to get people to downtown, then Ballard Link is OK. If you view it as a way to provide trips for the core of the city, Ballard to UW rail is a much better value. The thing is, systems based on the latter tend to have much higher ridership, and result in a much higher transit mode for the city simply because people can get around without having to buy a car.

      7. @Mike Orr
        “So I’m ambivalient about ST3.”

        @Al S.
        “I never felt that half of the ST3 budget had much utility as designed,”

        “ST3 was severely flawed, with only a handful of decent projects.”

        I ask the following question with all sincerity as I respect your feedback on this blog as frequent commenters and actually enjoy reading your individual perspectives on the various issues (mostly transit-related ones obviously but the tangential subject matters as well) that this blog typically covers. I haven’t always agreed with your positions from time to time, and have occasionally posted comments to that effect, but that’s the nature of a blog’s comment section, i.e., differing opinions and perspectives come with the territory. I view that as a good thing as such disagreements challenge our own ideas, preconceptions and even biases. Now my question….

        What was your position on ST3 back in 2016 and has your position changed since then? Please elaborate if you can.

        For the purpose of full disclosure here, let me state that I voted for Sound Move and ST2 in 1996 and 2008 but voted against ST3 in 2016 (essentially based on the same rationale RossB has asserted above).


      8. I’ve voted for all transit measures because a partial step is better than no step, and I’m afraid that if we vote no we won’t have another chance for thirty years like happened with Forward Thrust.

        My position on ST3 in 21014-1016, which I said repeatedly here, was that ST2 Link is critical to get a robust trunk through the highest-demand areas. I didn’t think Everett or Tacoma were necessary but I was willing to go along with them for the sake of regional consensus. I preferred Ballard-UW Link ever since DP first pointed out that an underground line could zigzag to both Fremont and Wallinford and still have good travel time. I preferred the Ballard-UW project for the same reasons RossB said above. A cross line generates more ridership and trip combinations than a parallel line, especially if it’s eventually extended east to Children’s or Kirkland so that people can go west-north and west-south and west-west as well as east-north and east-south. 15th in Ballard I was always ambivalent about, but I knew the sixlane expressway would be hard to argue against because of the presumption it would have the lowest capital cost. I favored the Queen Anne-Fremont-Real Balalrd tunnel option. I was always meh on West Seattle Link and liked RossB’s idea of open BRT fanning out to California, 35th, Delridge, and 16th. I missed the SLU problem too, and when the city recommended rerouting Balallard Link through SLU in early 2016, I thought, “That’s right.” I supported Stride because I’ve dealt with 405 and 522 bus service for a long time. So my overall assessment was, “ST1 and 2 are essential, ST3 not so much, but I’ll support it if the politicians and public are willing to pass it, and I’ll help it along and oppose the nimbys like Save Our Trails and the Upper Queen Anne anti-densityites.

        Now, after going through the Alternatives Analyses, and the new 14th alternative emerging and getting top political support, and the unwillingness to stand up to the port for the excellent 20th Ave alternative, and continuing misgivings about people’s willingness to transfer from California and 35th to Link, and the continuing non-necessity of Tacoma, Everett, Paine Field, and Issaquah, makes me wonder sometimes if we should just let it die or push it over the cliff.

        But at the same time, some frequent grade-separated transit is better than none. And even if I don’t think Everett and Tacoma are a great value, I’ll be glad to ride them when I go there occasionally, and if I get priced out of Seattle and have to move there I’d be glad if they were built. Because the 512 and 594 are less frequent and get stuck in traffic. Although if I could transfer in Lynnwood or Federal Way, that would be something great too.

      9. @Tlsgwm — I opposed ST3 (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2016/10/26/why-im-voting-no-on-st3/). As I wrote on that post, I didn’t come to that decision lightly. But the projects were so flawed that I felt like a do-over was necessary. That would likely result in a smaller package, but that would likely mean a better system. You don’t always get what you pay for. If all you do is drive to the grocery store, then a Honda Fit is a better car than a Jeep Wrangler, even though it is cheaper. Compared to ST3, a Jeep Wrangler is an engineering masterpiece.

        This is what I would rather have built in Seattle for ST3: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/08/28/seattle-projects-for-st3/. For the East Side, I would have built BRISK (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2015/05/06/brisk-making-it-fast-frequent-and-reliable-alt-2/). For the north and south, I would have added additional bus service (similar to Brisk) since Lynnwood and Federal Way are good termini (and going farther gets you very little). Oh, and improve South Sounder.

        Has my opinion changed? A little bit, but events mostly just hardened. It is kind of like my opinion on Trump — unlike some of my friends, I didn’t think he would get us in a war, but I thought he would manage to be a really bad president anyway. In general, my arguments against ST3 have gotten stronger. The financial risks were always an issue, even though I didn’t even mention it in my (very long) editorial. This is the main reason projects like West Seattle were supposed to take so long. It isn’t the process, it is how fast the money can come in, and how much you are going to spend. Now financial problems are likely to cause further delays.

        West Seattle is having buyer’s remorse, just as I expected. I didn’t think they could possibly make the Ballard proposal worse, but they have. Either they spend a bunch of money for a station that is no better, or put the station in a worse location (or both). Even little things — like moving the Dravus Station away from Dravus — seem inevitable. The projects that look better than ever, interestingly enough, are the ones that I supported from the get go (e. g. I-405 BRT).

        I hope that answers your questions.

      10. I voted no on ST3. My reasons were:

        – As a SE Seattle resident, it’s operation would deteriorate my ST2 Link service. Trains would be more crowded at Columbia City station and a transfer would be required to get to Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square (and ST did not and still does not pursue cross-platform transferring). The new places that it went were places that I almost never visit — mostly residential areas with small commercial districts. The only exceptions are South Lake Union and Seattle Center.

        – I felt like the corridors were defined in ST2 studies and that ST2 gave those corridors only studies because ST knew then that they weren’t great projects. I felt like a new systems assessment with load balancing and overcrowding technical analyses were needed first. Expecting Seattle-to-Renton trips to go through TIBS is the height of bad logic, especially when others thought that Renton was some sort of car-happy blue-collar suburb when it had such a recent, highly foreign-born population that worked in Downtown Seattle.

        – I was disgusted that the pre-ST3 studies mostly focused on light rail or bus and almost no other technologies. The ERC option was fatally flawed, like omitting a station at Factoria and limiting service to 20 minutes due to single tracking yet building at the cost of light rail. Outer suburban areas would be much more cheaply served by faster DMU or self-propelled trains considering their wider station spacing and no need for costly six- minute service. The speed issue and empty train issue were not raised by any of the suburban leader supporters, showing their stupidity about transit.

        – I had earlier read the Lynnwood Link ridership report that said that the most crowded segment would be between Capitol Hill and Westlake — and not only was this summarily ignored and unaddressed, but I saw how the ST3 line from SLU would make it worse because of more riders transferring to this line segment.

        – I thought ignoring Harborview demonstrated a class-privileged arrogance about rail, with white-collar professionals getting stations while the poor (and the valiant thousands of health care workers who serve them) get conveniently ignored. I also felt that the CD and Belltown were summarily ignored for the same reason. I felt like a Title VI activist would win a ruling like the LAMTA ruling a few decades ago as it favored wealthy areas and ignored poorer ones.

        – I was disgusted that the original Downtown stations were not budgeted to handle the heavier demands to be placed on them.

        – I thought that the vehicle fees would be too high and that the extra cost average sold to the public was a lie.

        – I felt like the subway project costs and contingencies were off by a factor of 2. I had seen what costs in California were for new subways there.

        I am a big fan of ST2, but I viewed ST3 as very misguided politics based on the white-privileged “I deserve light rail” mentality rather than on the practicalities of what light rail is and how it should productively operate.

      11. @Mike Orr, @RossB and @ Al S.

        Thank you for your detailed replies. As an informed group, who (I believe) supports transit growth and improvements in general, that would make the tally one “yes” vote and three “no” votes for ST3. Sss, yes, but still very interesting.

  3. Thanks for stating that we should have cross-operator branding! I didn’t hear a strategy to get there though.

    I’ll suggest again that PSRC do something practical and convene a cross-operator branding workshop as part of the Transportation Operators Committee. It’s the perfect assignment for this existing committee to undertake.

  4. The West Seattle-SODO stub is scheduled for 2030, but it’s predicated on DSTT2/Ballard opening in 2036 or soon after. If DSTT2/Ballard is delayed substantially, wouldn’t that make the value of an early West Seattle stub even more questionable. It’s all about showing an early deliverable for West Seattle. But really, who’s going to take Link to SODO and transfer when the C is still going downtown? And also the 21 and probably the peak expresses.

    1. I would say that the WS Bridge fiasco has scrambled the schedule. It would be criminal negligence to spend a quarter billion dollars shoring up the existing bridge to get just ten years of life. So that means that the existing bridge will be replaced and it makes enormous sense to include the LRT guideway in it. So look for a reserved transit pathway across the Duwamish Waterway by mid-2024 to early 2025. It can be panel track to accommodate buses initially and perhaps people will be pleased enough with the guaranteed reliability that they’ll prefer single-seat bus rides for commuting. Actual LRT service could then be postponed until 2040 or so without community rebellion.

      1. Logically, your right. If you’re going to be replacing the bridge anyway, it is much more cost effective to have the new car bridge and transit bridge use the same structure.

        But, in practice, that’s not the way it will work out, and you greatly underestimate the power of beurocracy. The new West Seattle bridge will be built by the Department of Moving Cars, who’s motivation is getting it finished as quickly as possible, making it cheaper to build light rail, which is Sound Transit (e.g. somebody else’s) problem.

        Drivers won’t accept a West Seattle bridge being delayed while Sound Transit hems and Haws about the alignment, and Sound Transit won’t have money in it’s budget to contribute the marginal cost of a wider bride with train tracks until 2030.

        So, the inevitable result will be two separate bridges being built across the Duwamish a few years apart, a mere 50 feet from each other.

      2. Soft costs vs hard costs. What seem like straightforward hard costs savings are not savings once soft costs are incorporated.

        It will come down to funding. ST is unwilling to coordinate on the Ballard bridge because SDOT has no money to pay for their share of a new bridge. If there is emergency funding coming from WSDOT or SDOT to build a new bridge, I think ST would be happy to play ball. But no budget, no coordination. ST will certainly not pick up the tab for car infrastructure.

        The silly WS Link stub actually provides some flexibility … opening WS Link late so that it can share a structure with a new car bridge is a very easy story to sell to the voters, and can provide political cover for Dow to delay the opening of WS Link to be closer to the opening of the 2nd tunnel.

        Given the scale of the project, I think ST would actually be happy to let WSDOT project manage a new bridge, and ST can just hop in afterwards to lay some rail.

      3. AJ – I’m not so sure ST is unwilling to pay for car infrastructure. See BRT Station at 85th in Kirkland. They are paying to replace an entire freeway interchange.

      4. “See BRT Station at 85th in Kirkland. They are paying to replace an entire freeway interchange.”

        That was written into ST3. It was supposed to facilitate a RapidRide bus transfer to downtown Kirkland. It also looks good politically because it’s an ST/WSDOT multimodal cooperation and ensures car and bus thoroughput through Kirkland’s primary and most symbolically significant freeway exit.

        The ST3 representative alignment in West Seattle is a separate Link bridge, so that’s the presumptive default and ST would have to justify deviating from it. I don’t see ST being categorically adverse to a multimodal bridge. I’m just pessimistic that the governments can effectively coordinate with each other on how to apportion the cost and time it to met the timelines of drivers (right away), Link (2030 would be ideal), and bikes and peds (they can wait indefinitely).

      5. “I’m not so sure ST is unwilling to pay for car infrastructure. See BRT Station at 85th in Kirkland. They are paying to replace an entire freeway interchange.”

        That was my thought process too. The BRT station there was part of the deal included in the ST3 package, as Mike Orr has pointed out, but this has essentially become a $300M (at present) freeway interchange project for which ST is apparently willing to foot the bill.

      6. ST pays for car infrastructure insofar as it is necessary mitigation for transit work. For example, ST rebuilt MLK when central Link was put in, or right now in Tacoma ST is spending millions on new utility infrastructure through the streetcar project. Some of this is municipalities or agencies requiring beyond the bare minimum needed to add transit, but it’s generally good policy to tackle these improvements in one go.

        WSDOT often benefits because ST leverages WSDOT ROW extensively, particularly outside of Seattle. Sometimes this reverses, like down in Lakewood where WSDOT is paying to grade-separating some of the cross-streets and on-ramps onto I5 because ST owns the Sounder track and WSDOT needs to pay to use ST’s air rights.

        One of the benefits of the 405 BRT stations is that while ST pays for the capital costs upfront, WSDOT is on the hook for state of good repair. WSDOT will pay to ensure the pavement, sidewalk, etc. is maintained and eventually any replacement work that is needed. Over time, state of good repair can cost as much as the original project, so ST may end up with a good deal.

        WSDOT is certainly happy that ST is paying for two projects that are in WSDOT’s long range plan. But then, ST is benefiting from the HOT lanes very existence, and other WSDOT projects like the flyover ramp in Renton or the new HOV interchange in Bothell, so seems like a wash to me.

      7. Ballard is perhaps a more clear example. If the Ballard bridge was in the way, ST would need to look at funding a replacement. But since ST can either go under the canal or built it’s own bridge nearby, it doesn’t worry about replacing the car bridge.

        Whereas with East Link, ST needed to use I90 as building it’s own bridge was clearly an inferior option, so ST cut the check to WSDOT to make improvements to the bridge through the East Link project.

        So the same logic would apply in West Seattle. If ST needed to use the WS bridge, then they would pay to use it. Right now, that’s not on the table, but this new news certainly changes things.

      8. So that means that the existing bridge will be replaced and it makes enormous sense to include the LRT guideway in it.

        They will certainly take a look at it (the mayor even mentioned it the other day) but I don’t know if it is practical. There are all sorts of issues. It seems awfully steep (https://goo.gl/maps/zPUPEAw4KNuaLvj17). You don’t want the Delridge station right next to the freeway. What about the Avalon Station, and how exactly will it separate from the freeway itself? I’m not saying you couldn’t squeeze a bit of savings by combining the two projects, but I doubt you would save a lot (without sacrificing much of West Seattle Link).

        Running buses in their own lanes across the freeway would make sense, but you have that now (more or less). The problems occur around SR 99. They could be fixed by making the Spokane Street viaduct bigger, or widening the curved ramp that connects eastbound West Seattle freeway to northbound 99 (https://goo.gl/maps/eipkDkLX58i9rKMY6). That wouldn’t be horribly expensive (a hundred million, give or take, based on previous projects) but it would be outside the scope of the bridge repair (I assume).

        There is some congestion downtown, I assume, but there are also some improvements being made. Even with those improvements, it still isn’t a busway or a bus tunnel. Theoretically they could build the transit tunnel first, and put buses in it (connecting to the SoDo busway). But that would likely cost more in the long run, even though it would give folks (in both Ballard and West Seattle) something of value a lot sooner. If you also rebuilt the Spokane Street Viaduct (for around 100 million, give or take) you would have non-stop, congestion free transit from West Seattle to Lower Queen Anne.

      9. That’s a lot of verbiage to basically alter your earlier blanket assertion. In other words, SOMETIMES Sound Transit IS willing to pay for car infrastructure. At times it obviously does make fiscal and prudent sense, though I wouldn’t put the 85th interchange rebuild into that category.

      10. WSDOT included BRT lanes and stations in its 405 master plan because it’s semi-enlightened now. The cost of these features are shared between WSDOT and ST in the sense that ST mostly pays for things it exclusively benefits from, and WSDOT pays for things that can arguably be called part of the overall highway. Car infrastucture always gets deference and subsidies, because supposedly everybody benefits from car access while transit benefits only transit riders. (Universal car access is seen as a lifeline for essential trips, freight deliveries, and driving the wife to the hospital when she’s having a baby). Also, WSDOT is mostly funded by the gas tax, and the gas tax can only be spent on highway purposes, not on rail, and only ambivalently on bus lanes. And most legislators are pro car supremacy.

      11. Ross, today’s (4/17) article about the replacement bridge says it may not have to be as tall as the current structure. The Port has abandoned the plan for docks farther up the Waterway which is why the existing bridge is as tall as it is.

        So that makes hosting an LRT trackway cheaper — it doesn’t have to separate from the main structure on either side so soon, because the grade can be less steep. So far as the connections on either side, they would simply deviate a bit less than the curvy paths currently planned. The preferred option of a south structure zigs south east of Pigeon Point, presumably to give more room for the parallel structure’s construction. The cranes and all that.

        If they share that’s not a problem.

      12. Ross, today’s (4/17) article about the replacement bridge says it may not have to be as tall as the current structure.

        Yes, I noticed that. I am happily corrected. That is great news, really. As much as I respect radicalism (especially environmental radicalism paired with fiscal responsibility) I feel like the bridge must be replaced. A lower bridge will likely be cheaper.

        But all my other points remain. The savings from piggy-backing on the other bridge are likely to be minor, unless they completely abandon most of the stops, which would render the project an even worse value (even if they saved a few bucks). By all means, they should look for savings where they can find them, but my guess is they won’t find much.

  5. Pesky personal prejudice: The more stressed the conditions, the more important to concentrate on passenger needs right now. For starters. Beats all hollow a generation’s discussion of meetings and podcasts whose subject is what we can’t do.

    West Seattle-Ballard? When Downtown Seattle Library tenth floor becomes either “Essential” or “All-Cleared”, some excellent “period” documents on streetcar plans for a Viaduct-free Waterfront. “Smith Cove” just called something else. Extension south, a lot more interesting. Streetcar presence a given ’til rendering by rendering and 100% vote-free, suddenly silently gone.

    Few years back, Marshall Foster, director of the Seattle Office of Waterfront and Civic Projects, assured me that some basic civil engineering was being built into the plans to keep light rail both directions permanently possible.

    For the Waterfront, Ballard, and West Seattle all three, life of Swedish-American labor agitator Joe Hill who got shot for puns about chains and chairs was not the only thing that Never Died.

    Rebrandwise, difficulty, all self-inflicted. Pork or buffalo, quick call to Jimmy Dean’s lawyers should handle. After that, easy type-set. Make all the letters capital to resemble rolling stock, put three little lines resembling headlight rays in front of the “L”, and a little “Z” for a pantograph over the “N”. And relax. Except for the French TGV, the world’s every railroad switch goes “CLINK.”

    Good post, but main thing all around is just Hang In There. Every pedigreed dog breed in world history owes its existence to a feminine representative.

    Mark Dublin

  6. ‘Nother thing I’m saying a lot because considering its simplicity I’m seeing so little action on it:

    Has any agency got some sample section drawings, meaning underground side views of potential Link tunnels and stations for travel between Ballard and West Seattle? Downtown Library tenth floor, maybe?

    In addition to our Link tunnel and stations to date under Downtown, we’ve had a busy freight-and-passenger railroad in heavy service for decades. Just to let some indisputable Facts-IN-the-Ground sink in, major consideration for every inch and bench is “Where in All Three Dimensions Do We Put It? ”

    And same for the footing of every pillar. I forget who classically raised the question of the transition between ideas we think about into those we think with, but for this day and time on, major pertinent.

    Mark Dublin

  7. More service cuts coming with significant drops in metro weekday and Saturday service. Link light rail to run every 30 minutes on starting Monday on weekends, with potential hourly service on weekends!

    1. Yep, 30-minute Link has been reached. Link has reached the level of VTA SJ-Mountain View on weekends before it was restructured recently, and MAX Sundays during a recession around the 90s, and maybe BART Richmond-Fremont during the same recession.

  8. Thanks for addressing my question regarding charging for pricing. You make a very good point that charging is more of a demand management tool than a revenue source. You mention that ST/Metro can’t make money on parking because it costs so much to build. Given that what has been built is sunk cost perhaps charging market rate is a management tool to prevent huge expenses in the future that do little to add per dollar ridership. The 800# gorilla being that promised P&R lots are a tool to get votes without which ballot measures won’t pass.

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