This potential station site in West Seattle was a strip mall when the ST3 plan estimates were being developed. (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has revealed sharply higher capital cost estimates for several ST3 projects that are in development but not yet baselined (i.e. the Board has not yet selected the alternative to be built or finalized the cost and schedule estimates). The worst news is in Seattle. The West Seattle to Ballard Link extension (WSBLE) is now expected to come in at $12.1 to $12.6 billion for the preferred elevated alignments, $5.0 to $5.5 billion higher than projected in ST3 (all 2019 $). $4 billion of that cost increase has emerged in just the last year as the initial alternatives selected for the EIS have been fleshed out.

The news was delivered to the Sound Transit Executive Committee earlier today, and further detailed in a memo released after the meeting. Cumulatively, the cost estimate increases across all projects run to $7.9 billion in 2019 dollars. That would be about $12 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars on current project schedules, though those schedules will be inevitably extended.

If realized, such costs would make it very difficult for Sound Transit to complete Link extensions to both West Seattle and Ballard anywhere close to the ST3 timeframe, even if Seattle forgoes more expensive tunneling and other options that could add up to $1.7 billion more to the price tag (though the relative cost of below-ground vs above-ground shifts in favor of tunnels as above-ground land acquisition becomes more expensive).

Today’s board discussion didn’t propose any cancellations or major revisions, but there was talk of phasing options and scope reductions. A board workshop on January 21 will take up the ST3 realignment discussions with a decision on a new timeline expected this summer.

Some back of the envelope math illustrates the scale of the challenge. Sound Transit estimates suggested that the $6 billion or so shortfall in tax revenues, agency-wide, will mean average delays up to four years for all projects not currently underway. The WSBLE capital cost increment is almost as great, but in just one subarea with 30% of agency revenues. The delay to WSBLE would probably not be less than another decade.

There is bad news too for the Tacoma Dome Link extension (currently estimated capital of $3.3 billion vs the ST3 estimate of $2.4 billion), and for the OMF South ($1.2 to $2.4 billion vs an ST3 estimate of $650 million).

Some of the cost increases have been anticipated as the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions confronted higher expenditures on right of way and construction bids. But the increased costs in Seattle have mostly emerged within the last year as staff have analyzed the alternatives selected by the Board for environmental analysis.

West Seattle / Ballard

More than $2 billion of the increased costs are in right- of-way and in construction costs. Right of way costs have grown along with increased property values along the corridor, and have been pushed yet higher by more expansive property acquisition requirements than the simple models used to develop ST3 had allowed for. In some places, recent development is adding to costs. For instance, a set of parcels near Alaska Junction are now being redeveloped, so that Sound Transit will have to purchase a 306-apartment building rather than the less valuable development on the site in 2015.

Construction costs have grown in several ways. Aerial guideways are likely to be wider and longer to reduce impacts on existing infrastructure. Costs for mined stations in downtown Seattle have grown, and there are scope expansions for pedestrian access and transfer facilities.

Cost estimates for Seattle projects grew gradually through 2019, and were revised dramatically higher in 2020 (slide: Sound Transit)

Tacoma Dome Link Extension

Because the TDLE runs mostly in WSDOT right of way, property acquisition costs haven’t grown so much. But there are more extensive stormwater collection needs with more underground storage vaults, and a three mile elevated section that was previously assumed would run at grade. The elevation is to avoid impacts to archaeological and cultural sites on tribal lands. Capital cost estimates have grown 10% in the last year, or 36% more than the ST3 forecast.

OMF South

The draft EIS is examining three potential sites. The scope has grown because this project was reconfigured to serve the entire light rail system. That means a larger site with more track and buildings. The worst case scenario revolves around the Midway Landfill superfund site. Nearby cities would prefer Sound Transit select this site so it can be remediated and also to avoid impacting a Dick’s in Kent. However, the ground settlement and complex construction at the site make it far more costly, potentially adding $1.1 billion in costs vs the 2019 estimate, already far higher than the ST3 plan. Sound Transit would need to either remove the trash from the site or build more expensive structures over it.

In the ‘low cost’ scenario where the OMF is built in Federal Way, it would cost 80% more than projected in ST3. In the ‘high cost’ scenario where it is located at Midway, the cost approaches four times the original estimate.

Stride BRT

The Stride BRT projects are in comparatively great shape, benefiting from aggressive cost management that has trimmed costs already, and perhaps also from the more predictable environment of highway-running buses. I-405 BRT is expected to cost about $20 million less than the ST3 projection, while SR 522 BRT will go $63 million over. The Bothell bus base is also trending higher with a $47 million higher cost, but that base is now being sized to include some of the ST Express bus fleet in addition to the BRT vehicles, so it’s necessarily larger.

Later projects

Extensions where project development have not begun have less precise cost estimates. For later projects such as Everett (where work has just started), or Issaquah Link, Sound Transit is anticipating another 36% or $2.7 billion in 2019 dollars if their costs trend higher in line with the estimates developed so far for the Tacoma Dome Link extension.

What went wrong?

The extraordinary pace of real estate and construction costs was difficult to anticipate. A crude conceptual plan will have significant errors. Scope creep is an ever-present challenge. Some are worthwhile, such as improved access at stations. Others, such as the lavish over-design Lake Forest Park is requiring for a parking structure, are simple waste.

But Sound Transit seems to also be wrestling with requirements that were systematically sized too low. The same model performed well in developing estimates for Northgate, East Link and Redmond Link extension projects, so it’s not obvious if or how the model is biased. Simplistic conclusions about under-estimated costs are unwarranted. Sound Transit is now hiring an independent consultant for an expedited review ahead of this summer’s ST3 realignment decision.

Protective acquisitions can reduce the risk of future property value increases, and have been successfully used in the Bothell bus base, for instance, though not quite in time to avoid some cost escalation. It’s more difficult in Seattle where the multiplicity of alternatives the Board has put in play for West Seattle and Ballard make it difficult for Sound Transit to know where they should make acquisitions.

The realignment decisions have been made much harder by the higher cost estimates, but Board members will also want to understand if there is more bad news to be uncovered as projects are further developed.

207 Replies to “West Seattle-Ballard Link costs revised more than $4 billion higher”

  1. “Sound Transit estimates suggested that the $6 billion or so shortfall in tax revenues, agency-wide, will mean average delays up to four years for all projects not currently underway. ”

    That four year delay estimate was predicated on the now-outdated capital cost estimates used in 2015 for the ST3 ballot measure figures. With the new cost projections so much higher there’s no way to begin estimating how much longer than four years will be needed to arrange financing in any of the five subareas.

    Word has it Butler is floating an idea to suspend subarea equity so the East King subarea will cover capital costs of projects in the counties to the north and south. That might buy them reduced timeline adjustments.

    1. Suspending ST equity would require the legislature’s approval, and would end up in litigation, and my guess is would accelerate Pierce and Snohomish Counties exit from ST. N. KC subarea (Seattle) looks like a dicey loan to me based on likely future revenue, and a council determined to drive business away. Personally I would pass on that loan.

      I am not sure areas north of Bellevue, Renton, or areas east towards Issaquah would be keen on buying West Seattle and Ballard light rail when they get buses to other light rail stations. Effectively Issaquah would be giving its line to West Seattle, when both lines make poor sense.

      Plus I am not sure S. King Co., Snohomish Co., and Pierce Co. need subsidies to complete their projects. A better approach is a N. KC specific levy to complete ST 3 (and ST 2 if necessary). It would be very large, especially if combined with a levy for bridge repair/replacement, and I guess we would see just how pro-transit Seattle is. Move Seattle was $1 billion, and this would be ten times that, unless Seattle voters began to see the wisdom of buses.

      The other approach is to tell West Seattle and Ballard they are getting buses, because the money was necessary to run rail to Snohomish Co. and to S. KC because Lynnwood has upzoned its TC.

      At the same time Issaquah could be told it won’t be getting a $4.5 billion rail line although the east KC subarea has the money, but will continue to get express buses to Seattle during peak hours after East Link opens, which is a better deal than a rail line to S. Bellevue in 2041. Then the eastside subarea could decide what to do with all the left over cash.

      1. Suspending the subarea equity policies that Sound Transit’s board operates under would not require legislative approval. Pierce and Snohomish Counties have no right to “exit” Sound Transit. You have no idea what the projected revenues for any subarea are because Sound Transit only discloses partial revenues projections (through 2041).

        Daniel — you’re 0 for 3 on substantive knowledge regarding the subarea equity policies in your first paragraph. That’s enemy action, dissembler.

      2. A little rude but substantively correct: no right to exit the ST district exists and none is going to become law: Steve O’Ban is gone.

        And discounting Seattle’s future tax base on the ideological leanings of the current city council is asinine.

      3. South King is the region most likely to be under water, not North King. South King’s risk is mitigated because it doesn’t have much Link left to build, but it’s share of the higher 2nd Tunnel costs might be enough to push it under water, but deferring Sounder expansion is any easy lever to pull to rebalancing South King.

        Remember, the 2nd tunnel Westlake to ID is a regional asset, so higher costs there fall to the whole region (allocated by projected ridership), not North King.

      4. “N. KC subarea (Seattle)”

        Fun fact: Lake Forest Park (of the lavish parking garage) and Shoreline are in North King too.

      5. The entirety of ST2 in North King is under construction at this time. It’s finished to Northgate. Large volumes of earth have been moved and concrete poured north of Northgate as you can see in a simple trip up I-5 to Lynnwood. [Go mid-day so you don’t crash the car ahead…..]

        So don’t worry about North King and ST2.

    2. Q, talking about “enemy action” immediately after your maniac adherents visited mayhem on the Capitol may put you in some deep legal jeopardy. It might make sense to butt out and lay low for a while.

      Focus on what you know and love best, Pizza

  2. Makes me wonder how much pushback ST is expecting if they go forward with demolishing a (what will be) less than 10-year-old apartment building.

    Also makes me wonder how much they’re internally banking on Federal grants materializing next year.

    1. “How does Sound Transit assure that transit investments are regionally equitable?”

      “Sound Transit’s policy of subarea equity means tax dollars raised in each of the five geographic areas forming the Sound Transit District are used for the projects and services that benefit that area’s residents. Subarea equity requirements are legally binding and regularly undergo independent audits. The five subareas are: Snohomish County, Seattle area, South King County, East King County and Pierce County.”'s%20policy%20of%20subarea%20equity%20means%20tax,are%20legally%20binding%20and%20regularly%20undergo%20independent%20audits.

      So tell me, without legislative approval just how do you propose changing subarea equity (if the legislature even has the power to modify the agreement) when ST states it is legally binding, and why do you think a subarea would not be able to withdraw if subarea equity were abandoned or modified without its approval? Litigation would either enforce subarea equity, or find the agreement no long binding.

      Of course ST estimates future revenue, both fare and general revenue. That is why ST extended the completion of the West Seattle and Ballard lines. Neither ST nor I know precisely what revenues will be in the future, but I do know ST is estimating less revenue, as is Metro, and only an idiot would not. Here is a recent article on STB.

      Here is one for Metro.

      To claim ST will abrogate subarea equity unilaterally without identifying any legal basis for doing so, or any legislative action, and then state subareas will have to remain in the agreement and lose their subarea reserves is ridiculous. So is arguing because an agency cannot specifically calculate loss of future fare and general fund revenue the lost revenue does not exist, especially when those agencies are making cuts. If you think ST can abrogate subarea equity you need to identify a legal vehicle to do so. I read folks on this blog make this argument over and over and over, and then act surprised when the cuts come. How many times have folks on this blog corrected me and told me ST had plenty of money for all projects in ST 2 and 3, and then act surprised when West Seattle and Ballard are extended, based on reduced revenue alone.

      Whether Seattle’s council will impact its future revenue is relevant to whether I, or a subarea, would make a bet on Seattle’s post-pandemic revenue returning to pre-pandemic levels in a subarea to subarea loan. My guess is no, so I wouldn’t make the loan based on that assumption if I were another subarea.

      No doubt working from home and the reduction in commuters will contribute to the loss of revenue, along with a likely reduction in commercial development (which is not unique to Seattle), and my guess as someone who has actually worked in downtown Seattle for 30 years is the council’s policies will impact retail and restaurant based taxes, along with tourist based taxes. I might be wrong, but I am hardly alone in that concern, if you read the Seattle Times or Puget Sound Journal, which you should.

    2. West Seattle Link should have always been planned to be above Fauntleroy, where nothing would need to be demolished. The ROW is plenty wide, and there are still surface parking lots to use for staging. And clearly, all tunnel options are out.

      1. Fauntleroy would make more sense but there are many land-owning single family homes that would object fiercely. As we saw in Surrey Downs, they wield a disproportionate amount of power against ST compared to the plebeian renters that constantly get shafted. The litigation alone might end up costing more.

    3. Was it already known that this was a potential station site and something ST might have to acquire when construction started? Seems like a ball got dropped somewhere along the line.

      1. Oh yeah. Apparently they can’t run the station east-west close to the West Seattle Junction, because it wouldn’t fit (that seems like a bigger ball to drop).

      2. Ross, that’s because ST has an Edifice Complex. But it’s true that putting a station between 42nd and California above Alaska would be a voyeur’s paradise.

        A station can fit the envelope, but only at grade — which would mean closing Alaska to everything except buses — or underground.

      3. Edifice complex — good one. It seems to me that you could put it on the street, and essentially treat it like a giant bus stop. As it is now, you have bus lanes anyway, so the train simply replaces the bus lanes. This is common for light rail. I think one of the issues would be the grade (it isn’t flat, from what I can tell). Cut and cover would solve the problem (I’m guessing).

      4. And the buses could still use the lanes! I don’t know how the transition from elevated to at-grade would work (if at all), but if the station itself is at grade, no reasons buses can’t share that ROW for a block or two.

  3. I have a hard time understanding why they are first investing in rail for further away places instead of focusing on central areas. Probably increasing the speed and capacity of shorter trips would have the potential to shift a larger amount of car trips than just building one line very far. The incentive of shifting longer trips to transit seems more difficult. I believe they should have prioritized shorter expansion first.

    1. Welcome to your education on sub-area equity, glad to have you aboard. Go do some research on the topic and it’ll become quite clear that ST has never had the ability to truly pick and choose where it invests. The whole thing is steeped in the deeply-flawed and highly-parochial political concept that tax dollars collected are distributed evenly and according to strict geographies based on their collection. Or, put more bluntly, voters in the Pierce County part of the ST jurisdiction didn’t want ST taking all their money and building light rail only in Seattle.

      It’s been problematic to the entire region for a long time. This publication has wrestled with it plenty over the past decade or so.

      1. Subarea equity was adopted a long time ago when ST was just beginning. Tax revenue streams were much different then, and so were the anticipated construction costs, which have escalated because of all the building. Seattle dwarfed other cities when it came to tax revenue.

        ST 2 focused on lines to Tacoma and Everett because ST needed them to be part of the ST taxing district. Naturally they were concerned their ST revenue would go to Seattle projects because ST has always been about Seattle, which density wise makes sense. But those lines meant running very expensive track through some very undense areas. I just don’t see Lynnwood becoming the next Bellevue.

        Without subarea equity I doubt ST would have passed ST 2 or 3, and I am not sure in the beginning Seattle and N. KC would have agreed to share revenue, although it was Bellevue that insisted on subarea equity. If there was one mistake it was using the King/Snohomish Co. line for a subarea border when Snohomish Co. should have paid for more, and maybe S. KC should have paid for more of the line north, but south KC then and now didn’t have a lot of revenue, especially then.

        Personally I think it is the pandemic and loss of future estimated tax revenue that is the bigger issue, and one that was not foreseen. Working from home is a real concern when it comes to future ridership and fare revenue, which drives interest in levies. Projects like ST 2 and 3 always run overbudget, and ST 1 was 84% overbudget after axing three stations, but such a dramatic change in revenue due to a pandemic, and possible seismic shift in commuting, were unforeseen.

        But when we really look at the mistakes of subarea equity it is the projects ST included to sell ST 3. $4.5 billion lines from S. Bellevue to Issaquah, light rail to West Seattle despite the bridge grade and general lack of density, and even Ballard because there is a lot of nothingness along Interbay. Maybe those should never been part of ST 3 or any levy, and now is the time to revisit that.

        Ross is correct, and has been for a long time, when he writes there were a few very good places to run rail in the Seattle area, basically from Northgate to the airport, and ST ended up running rail to about half of them. The density and ridership was there. Instead ST is desperately trying to create density and ridership by upzoning, but King, Snohomish, Pierce and East KC are huge areas to try and upzone when you would need around 10 million new residents, like Northern CA. ST should have started with density, and stayed with it, and not believed it could create density because what it really created was a very expensive first/last mile issue in undense, steep topography.

        It isn’t the end of the world, and who knows what the world will look like at the other side of the pandemic. There will still be rail from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond, and if I were ST I probably would have just stayed quiet about ST 3 for a few more years to see how things shake out.

    2. Since the plans are nonsensical, I can only guess as to what has been the motivation. I think it is a combination of things:

      1) The board doesn’t understand mass transit. I get this. The board has other things to worry about. They don’t have time to read about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to building metros (AKA subways).

      2) Everett to Tacoma sounds cool, especially for drivers. It is what drivers can relate to. We all know about those places, and think we might visit sometimes. Just as a freeway between those places more or less benefits drivers going anywhere in between, we assume that a subway would. Thus the idea of a spine (which looks very much like I-5). Unfortunately, transit doesn’t work that way.

      3) We have a tendency to think in terms of cities, or large neighborhoods (Tacoma, West Seattle) not small neighborhoods (North Beacon Hill, Mount Baker).

      4) The board has members representing cities, and they argue on behalf of those larger entities. Tacoma, for example, will get light rail. Not “downtown Tacoma”, or “Hilltop in Tacoma”, but just “Tacoma”, as if a station in the middle of nowhere, connecting to nothing but suburban areas (and a very long ride to Seattle) is the same as having a real subway line.

      5) People see how well rail works in Seattle, and want the same thing. They don’t really consider that the farther out you go, the less valuable it is. They just want rail, as they assume it is the only way they will get anywhere quickly.

      6) Subarea equity doesn’t allow different levels of spending. This explains how we get Issaquah to South Kirkland. It would be perfectly reasonable for ST3 to include the BRT, the downtown Redmond Station, and nothing more for the East Side. Without a doubt the East Side could use better bus service (it sucks there) but ST really isn’t in position to supplement Metro. At best they could take over a route (e. g. the 271) but that wouldn’t suddenly enable 15 minute frequencies on most of the routes, let alone 10. They had to find a way to spend a bunch of money, and that (along with the other reasons mentioned here) resulted in that silly project.

      Anyway, I think that’s why, more or less.

      1. RossB: your first five points are valid. point six is a bit off. the RTA enabling legislation allows ST to provide very good bus service on an interim basis and does not define interim. ST funds several bus routes in East KC; routes 550 and 545 are 20 years old. They could fund a better bus network; they have chosen not to do so. they could be more frequent; they could collect fares faster; they could have better spans. Subarea equity did not require Link between South Kirkland and Issaquah; it is just dumb. The ST3 I-405 is morphing; the transfer point promised in the ballot measure was not well thought out. by its nature, it is difficult to get intending riders to and from inside lanes of freeways.

      2. Subarea equity did not require Link between South Kirkland and Issaquah; it is just dumb.

        Agreed. I’m just saying subarea equity was a contributing factor. My guess is what would be most popular at this point is for the east subarea to spend a lot less money than Seattle (on both buses and trains). When it comes to Metro, that is essentially what has happened, as Seattle is the only area willing to spend more on buses.

      3. Even staying inside the East King subarea, the fact that ST promoted rail to Issaquah in a relatively free-flowing I90 corridor versus rail to Renton (triple the population) in an overly congested I405 corridor says it all. It’s about responding to people in positions of power over the riders — as Link is viewed as an economic development tool or a nuisance more than a service that should go where the maximum benefit would be for riders. Despite all the lip service to social equity and racial equality and environmental stewardship, we still have a more powerful elitist decision structure and value bias than we are willing to admit.

        To that end, shall we resurrect the push for a new riders + drivers committee — or are we just going to keep legitimizing things by calling power elites with other primary agendas “stakeholders”?

      4. Renton has triple the population of Issaquah and therefore 405 merits rail? Um, no.

        1) Issaquah Link services Factoria and Bellevue College; there’s nothing close to those kind of trip generators between Bellevue and Renton.

        2) Burien and Tukwilla are very happy with 405 Stride and are not interested in a 2040 rail line to Renton that does nothing for them.

        3) Yes, Issaquah played the political game better than Renton … but that doesn’t mean they got a better project. Fred Butler perhaps would have been better to ally with the 522 Transit Now coalition to get Issaquah a nice Stride station opening around the same time as the other 3 Stride lines.

        4) The value of Issaquah Link is that is creates new ROW between Bellevue and Issaquah; could that ROW be provided by widening I90 and building direct access HOV ramps in the 405-90 interchange? Sure, but the capital cost would still be in the same order of magnitude; it’s possible Issaquah Link might end up using a rubber tire technology specifically to better use existing bus infrastructure.
        In contrast, Bellevue to Renton does not need new ROW because WSDOT is already building HOT lanes the full length of the corridor. Studies looked at the ERC, but it is narrow and slow south of Factoria.

      5. @AJ #4

        “Studies looked at the ERC, but it is narrow and slow south of Factoria.”

        Studies looked at the ERC, but the Kennydale Neighborhood said that having trains in their backyard offends them.

        Fixed it for you.

      6. ERC is singled tracked through that whole corridor, correct? It’s not a useful ROW for HCT. A bike trail is the correct use of that public asset.

        It would be like pushing to run Link on the Burke-Gilman for Ballard-UW. Sure, short bits might be useful, but to leverage the full alignment would be just silly.

      7. To be blunt, I really must point out a few things about the 405 corridor:

        – Factoria Mall actually abuts I405 and not I90. It could be served by a light rail line to Renton if a very minor shift in alignment is made. AJ is wrong here.

        – The 2013-15 ST studies on the ERC “froze” the option to only assume staying within that narrow right of way. They did not even study a two-track light rail option and what it would take to operate any better than 20 minutes. They did not add a Factoria stop in the study to see how it would affect ridership. They did not assume using I405 for part of the corridor and ERC for another part. This is a stark contrast where every final light rail line segment in ST3 includes lots of land takes for tracks or stations. It seems systemically deliberate.

        – The option was flawed as a comparison to a line to Issaquah. That option assumed that the entire line would be double-tracked — even when it followed the ERC — and assumed stations in optimal locations.

        – The outgrowth of the final idea was a budget shift as the earlier versions had the line going further north than South Kirkland. Had the line gone further north, the funding would not have been available to go past Eastgate.

        – Had Issaquah and Eastgate been a Stride project, it could easily have fed Link at South Bellevue or Mercer Island — faster for those headed in and out of Seattle. The cost savings would have also enabled multiple stops in Issaquah and a deviation onto the Bellevue College campus.

        – Not only did Renton not get light rail but they didn’t even get median access for 405 Stride! This basic design flaw will penalize Stride riders for decades. Had median access been planned five years ago, the reconstruction could have incorporated that.

        – There was never a 2013-15 study of an MLK spur to the BAR station even though the Issaquah line is essentially a spur to East Link. The scoping reason was that ST2 didn’t require it — and not that it didn’t make sense.

        It may not be a corridor that many posters here use, but 405S a big congestion problem for many hours a day! It’s still a problem during these pandemic days. I realize that not all 405 traffic is headed to destinations within walking distance from Link, but a decent amount are.

      8. Commuter rail in the corridor, in the similar segments (Tukwila – Woodinville) (No rail line between Totem Lake, Bothell, and Lynnwood) show the exact same ridership as BRT of course, since they use same modeling.

        In 2003, WSDOT created the “BRT White Paper”, and in 2005 Sound Transit had their “East King County High Capacity Transit Analysis”, Sound Transit’s analysis fleshing out the ridership and costs.

        in 2009 the “Joint Sound Transit/PSRC – BNSF Eastside Corridor Commuter Rail Analysis” was released, showing that even Sound Transit’s habit of ‘gold plating’ their system, came in slightly less in cost.

        Again, I’m comparing the segments where they shared the same rider base.

        In fact, by running an Eastside Commuter train from Snohomish, to Tukwila could have been arguably the one case where it would have served to actually reduce congestion based on my analyzing the screenline data in the I-405 plan FEIS. It taps into most of the commuters from Lake Stevens, Monroe, Snohomish, which all enter the I-405 corridor in the Bothell area, and are the major factor for the congestion.

        The ROW could handle both a bike trail, and the commuter train.

        The only reason to say the ERC is only good for a bike trail completely ignores the studies, and what’s especially egregious is that in this whole process…

        BRT(I-405) and Commuter Rail(ERC) were NEVER compared.
        Commuter Rail NEVER made it to the Cost/Benefit stage of the I-405 analysis.

        There is absolutely no basis for your statement “Studies looked at the ERC, but it is narrow and slow south of Factoria.” and “but to leverage the full alignment would be just silly” based on the data. PERIOD.

        Look, I don’t have any skin in the I-405 game anymore, so the fact that well-heeled NIMBY lawyers will come on this blog to decry how they’re being negatively impacted (Yes, a few of the SOT group, with $1 Million+ homes adjacent to the ERC have been here), are of no concern to me, other than being quite tiresome. I still occasionally get to hear those complaints, and really have no patience for them. And woe be to anyone who complains to me about traffic on I-405. They will get an earful.

        So STAND TALL all you well heeled NIMBYs, and proudly shout out
        “We got ours, Now you all can go …. yourselves!”

      9. I found the STB post but cannot find the original Joint Sound Transit/PSRC – BNSF Eastside Corridor Commuter Rail Analysis on the internet anywhere. From what I can gather from old STB and your comments, sounds like it’s a single-track commuter rail, which … OK? This sounds like Sounder North with all day service. That’s pretty apples to oranges to Stride. I feel you on your frustration that ST never seriously considered 2-track ERC operations as an alternative to 405 Stride, but perhaps that’s because it was so obviously inferior (sufficient ROW didn’t exist) it didn’t even make it into an official study? Either you are wrong on the technical merits of the corridor, or I’m wrong and there was a vast conspiracy.

        Renton explicitly did not want an inline freeway station. They wanted an off freeway Transit center with parking. There’s a planned but unfunded direct access ramp at Exit 5. Given the Renton station is the lone off-highway station that’s not a terminus, it will penalize through riders. I could see it abandoned in the future and Renton’s Stride connection moved to Exit 5 and/or another inline freeway station near-ish the TC.

      10. Not a conspiracy, just that people with connections, power, and influence get their way.

        All it took during the development of the I-405 Master Plan was for one municipality to say “We don’t want you to include that in the study”, and it was dropped.
        Renton’s mayor Jesse Tanner partnered with the Kennydale Neighborhood Association and sent a letter to the Executive Committee to request they drop the ERC from consideration. Which they did.

        That’s my whole point,
        that there NEVER was a direct comparison between BRT and commuter rail on the ERC.

        I’ll look on my other computer that has the actual links, and see if the documents are available online any more.

        I have enough of the printed documentation from my time on the Citizens Committee to back up my assertions.

        You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.

      11. Fair enough, sounds like you have a lot more facts straight than I do. If you can find a link to the original study, that would be cool to read.

        A single-track commuter rail seems very uninteresting, and while a 2-track rail line was never studied, I think Renton and the 405 corridor are better off with Stride; rail between Renton and Bellevue was probably dead whenever WSDOT decided to go all in on HOT lanes and direct access ramps, no matter what the region decided to do with the ERC. Issaquah played the game ‘better’ but time will tell if waiting for rail is better than getting Stride decades earlier. Time will tell.

      12. If you follow those 3 links, you will see that they no longer exist on the websites they were originally on.

        However, I not only have the paper versions of these, but the PDF files of these reports that I downloaded.

        So if you’re up for some sluething, you can start by looking at a paper copy from the library, I suppose.

        Take note of pages 12 and 19 in the WSDOT BRT White Paper.
        Page 9 in the Sound Transit East Kink County HCT analysis paper.
        Page 61 in the ST/PSRC BNSF Commuter Rail study.

        Trying to filter out the various methods and screenlines of cost and ridership figures is challenging, since they aren’t done in a comparative analysis for the ERC.

    3. Short answer is that the ST governance structure is set up to build BART when what Seattle needs is MUNI.

      1. yes, that has been the case from the beginning. the governance led to the spine worship.

      2. That’s probably true. I would also mention that this not only applies to the governance but also the light rail technology choice!

      3. the most important demonstration of this board action was the south-first decision in 2001. another was the 2008 Lynnwood Link I-5 alignment.

      4. There seems to be some misunderstanding about “the suburbs” role in the cost overruns.

        Subareas other than N. King Co. don’t have an issue with the N. King Co. subarea running rail to the Snohomish Co. or S. King Co. borders. That benefits them with the N. King Co. subarea bearing the cost.

        When it comes to the second transit tunnel much of that had to do with fantastical ridership projections by ST, especially on East Link, 50,000 riders/day in 2050, to validate the $5.5 billion price tag.

        Not surprisingly, Pierce Co., Snohomish Co., and S. King Co. objected to paying half of the tunnel (or 1/4 of 50%) since they didn’t get tunnels, but the Eastside has been subsidizing N. King Co. for years (the express East-West buses will cost nearly $1 billion when East Link opens and the Eastside pays 100%) and was led to believe that without a second tunnel East Link frequency of 8 minutes (due to the bridge span) would not be met without a second tunnel, in part to accommodate trains from West Seatttle and Ballard in the future. . Since much of the ridership on East Link was predicted to be peak hour commuters that would result in long waits and full trains.

        The cost overruns are — drum roll — a N. KC subarea issue, specifically West Seattle and Ballard. ST 3 was necessary to cover very expensive projects in N. King Co., so ST proposed optimistically low tax rates in ST 3 to complete the N. King Co. projects and still sell ST to the four other subareas, which left East KC with too much revenue.

        Yes, $4.5 billion for a line from Issaquah to Kirkland (really Rose Hill based on station location) does not make transit or economic sense, but the real point is the Eastside subarea can afford it, and has to spend its excess reserves from ST 2 ($5.5 billion alone after East Link is completed) and ST 3.

        Many — at least on the Eastside — predicted this from the beginning. Uniform subarea tax rates and the need to sell ST 3 meant the revenue would be inadequate for N. KC, and way too much for East KC that has — and at most needs — one rail line.

        The bigger concern — or unknown — is working from home. ST and Metro are predicting revenue declines through 2040, when ST is based on very large future ridership gains. Even worse, a decline in commuters will shift general fund tax revenues from Seattle to the Eastside, where the commuters live, and will now work from.

        The irony is a second rail tunnel might not be necessary after all. Let’s face it, what ST has really been saying is without billions more West Seattle and Ballard lines won’t happen. ST 1 redux. At the same time ridership — especially peak hour commutes — on East Link will be way down, maybe forever, so less frequency will be needed.

        At that point someone will have to figure out what to do with Eastside subarea reserves. Probably buses, which is the much better solution for West Seattle and Ballard too although not as sexy, because without transit on the Eastside car congestion would be unbearable, and traffic congestion gets the attention of eastsiders, hence the multi-billion dollar 405/167/169/I-90 interchange/RA-8 et al projects. Some on this blog may hate cars, but without traffic congestion there would be no transit on the Eastside, or East-west ST buses paid for by the Eastside subarea.

    4. “I believe they should have prioritized shorter expansion first.” – that’s more or less what we’ve done with ST1, then 2, then 3. Link is getting to Everett and Tacoma 50 years after Sound Move.

      And within ST3, the capital plan focuses on delivering the Seattle tunnel first, and then extensions elsewhere, partially because the 2nd tunnel is required to unlock the operating patterns that then allow for future extension of the spine. The only projects ahead of the tunnel are either deferred ST2 projects (Redmond), early wins (Stride, Pacific BRT), or the Board chair’s home (West Seattle).

      1. “I believe they should have prioritized shorter expansion first.” – that’s more or less what we’ve done with ST1, then 2, then 3. Link is getting to Everett and Tacoma 50 years after Sound Move.

        No. They *built* some of the inner part of the spine first, but they *prioritized* the spine. The point being that the spine is, was, and will always be a ridiculous plan, conceived by people who don’t know squat about mass transit. It has been shown, over and over again — including on this very blog — what a ridiculous idea it is. Yet it has been the overarching goal, from the very beginning.

        Here is what *most* planners would build, in order:

        1) U-District to downtown Seattle. Still not built. Let me repeat: Still not built, even though anyone would tell you it is what we should start with. So much for your theory about prioritizing short expansions, let alone the core.

        2 A) Extend it to 145th, or maybe a bit further. Either you build a big connection for buses on the freeway, or extend until you get that (e. g. at Mountlake Terrace). This is a more suburban line, but Roosevelt and Northgate are two very urban stops (and I would probably try to create some TOD with a station in between them). The northern suburbs benefit more from a subway, as there are more destinations north of downtown (principally the UW, but also First Hill, Capitol Hill and Northgate).

        2 B) Light rail to Rainier Beach. This is a good bang for the buck — I would have included Graham Street (as well as maybe another station) as well.

        2 C) Ballard to UW. As mentioned before, this transforms transit in the north end.

        3) Redmond to downtown.

        4 A) Extension to BAR, SeaTac, and a bus intercept south of SeaTac. BAR would be built so that Renton buses can easily use the station, either as a way to connect to Rainier Valley, or an alternative to going downtown. The southern bus intercept would be the southern terminus (miles short of Tacoma).

        4 B) Metro 8 subway. This would have a lotta bang, but it would cost a lot of bucks. If it wasn’t for the expense, this would rank higher.

        5) Extension to Lynnwood.

        6) Extension to Federal Way. (With the freeway station further north, you really don’t need this).

        7) Extension to downtown Tacoma. (Not clear you ever need this, but if you are going to spend a fortune running rail to Tacoma, at least run it to downtown.)

        8) Everett. Really? OK.

        That is what most successful systems do. They occasionally expand too much. But they build the core system first. Not just one line — but several — in the core. We aren’t doing that, because someone, somewhere, thought “You know what we need — A Spine!”

      2. “someone, somewhere, thought “You know what we need — A Spine!””

        The push wasn’t for a spine in the abstract, it was a push by Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, and their counties to get connected to Seattle and the lucrative Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond job corridor. Tacoma and Everett were emphasized because they’re the largest cities in their counties, and two of three historically largest cities (Seattle, Tacoma, Everett). The reason Tacoma and Everett wanted that was their residents wanted an easy, traffic-free commute, and to attract employers and affluent people to those cities and counties. As I said elsewhere, the favored quarter or desirable area is Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond. The other cities want some of the economic benefits of that, and they think they need light rail in order to get it. Because if they don’t have light rail, companies won’t want to locate in those areas and affluent people won’t want to live there, and they’ll miss out on the potential tax base. At worst, they may become the neglected areas and future slums. They don’t want to end up like Aberdeen, they want to end up like Bellevue. That’s why they’re pushing the Spine. The counties are pushing the Spine partly for that reason, and partly because it seems equitable to have light rail to all largest cities in all three counties and not leave any of them out. The Spine is not about being as long as possible, but just being as long as necessary to reach Tacoma and Everett. Which happen to be 30-35 miles out, so that’s how long the Spine is.

      3. “someone, somewhere, thought “You know what we need — A Spine!””

        The push wasn’t for a spine in the abstract, it was a push by Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, and their counties to get connected to Seattle and the lucrative Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond job corridor.

        OK, someone who didn’t know much about transit thought ““You know what we need — A Spine!”

        As I pointed out elsewhere, it is largely ignorance that has driven this insanity. No one bothered to ask “Hey, what’s the most cost effective way for Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, and their counties to get connected to Seattle and the lucrative Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond job corridor? Let’s ask an expert!”

        If they did, they would have more rail in the city, and a lot more buses and commuter rail outside it. You know, what works. If they just read this comment ( they probably would have figured it out.

    1. Pretty much guaranteed it won’t advance past the Expedia station. Though they might force the line down 15th to stop at Dravus thus forcing any future route to Ballard to the worst alignment.

      1. They haven’t said anything about canceling lines.

        It sounds like delays are likely, but we also have democrats in complete control of the government now, so additional federal funding it likely…

        Under Obama sound transit got a lot of funds from the federal government, and I’d expect another stimulus package in 2021 from Biden.

      2. Additional grants are likely, but $10 billion more for Ballard and West Seattle sounds like more than they’re likely to get. One because it’s a large amount. Two because every other city in the country wants grants too.

  4. Folks really should read the memo from the Deputy CEO in full. It’s only ten pages and avoids a lot of spin for the most part.

    “Protective acquisitions can reduce the risk of future property value increases, and have been successfully used in the Bothell bus base, for instance, though not quite in time to avoid some cost escalation.”

    As I’ve noted on previous posts, If there are FTA grant funds involved there are a number of restrictions that come into play for early ROW acquisitions, including protecting ROW corridors.

    1. Then WSDOT should have bought the property, since the lines all hug the freeway. “Future freeway expansion.” Then sell the land to ST at cost plus a little vigorish for the State.

      Like Trump’s “environmental easements” for unbuilt “resorts”.

    2. Yeah proactive ROW acquisition is a great idea in theory but I see it hard to work in practice.

      Our approach to WSBLE and TDLE, and eventually Everett Link, should allow for protective acquisitions by first establishing the specifics for the full alignment. I imagine each of these ‘mega-projects’ will be broken into more digestible projects for full design & construction, but getting the EIS done for the full mega-project should unlock much earlier ROW acquisition.

      FWIW, I got to interact with DCEO Farley a few times when I was at ST and was super impressed by her.

  5. What if Ballard/West Seattle doesn’t need a single station under ground? Former project chief Marshal Foster was pretty emphatic about certain utility replacements to give train passengers something pretty to look at also called The Seattle Waterfront.

    The real beauty of the concept called “Light Rail.” When your back coupler clears the end of its built-in slow order, a lot of obstacles finally just step aside and say “Thank You.” Where there’s a Will- a certain presence named George Benson has already got this covered.

    Mark Dublin

      1. I agree. If it comes down to abandoning the tunnel or nothing, they should either find additional funding or scrap it entirely. Although, I’m still not convinced they couldn’t fit an additional line through the current tunnel.

    1. It sounds like Mark is talking about running elevated along Alaskan Way. That resembles an earlier Monorail 2 proposal around 2010 or so. Or there may have been another proposal too, but Monorail 2 was rejected by voters 70%. The reason was the same as why Bellevue’s Vision Line alignment on 405 was rejected by the ST Board: the pedestrian concentration and all bus transfers are between 2nd and 6th Avenues, not along Alaskan Way. Alaskan Way is several blocks away and a steep downhill from them. It looks on paper like it serves downtown well, but it doesn’t.

      1. There would be a big problem at Alaskan Way between Pike Place and the Aquarium. The new market to waterfront steps will completely block that path and unlike ST3 is under construction right now.

  6. Wow, that sucks. It is hard to see what Sound Transit does, other than hope Congress will bail them out (as part of a “Green New Deal”). (Time to send Joe Manchin a batch of his favorite cookies).

    When the first Sound Transit proposal wasn’t going to build anything near what they promised, ST simply built something smaller. It was meant as a starter line. In this case, it is hard to see that working. It isn’t clear how much of it you could actually build. The downtown tunnel, from SoDo to Expedia? Yeah, maybe, but that thing is practically useless. The main value would be downtown to Lower Queen Anne, something accomplished reasonably well with the monorail. Most of the stops within downtown already exist, on the other tunnel. It is stupid enough to build a second tunnel downtown and not maximize coverage (by going to First Hill), but really stupid if it doesn’t connect anywhere. You have a couple other stations, but both seem very weak in this context. One of the stations is a connection for SR 99 buses, but most will just keep riding the bus. So that leaves the “Denny” station, that is very close to the Westlake Station. That’s fine if you have lots of people riding the other line (coming from Rainier Valley, for example) but it is a bad idea if you are asking those folks to transfer. Many will just walk (since the stop is so close). If this tunnel was the only tunnel under downtown it would have value. But it isn’t — the other tunnel exists, serves more stops, and will run more often. Yuck.

    Maybe there is enough money to connect this to West Seattle, but I don’t think so. I really doubt there is enough money to connect it to Ballard. So, basically, the most cost effective rail project in ST3* — the one lots of people said was the most (and some said the only) worthwhile project — won’t be built. Yuck.

    As I wrote, last time this happened, they built a “starter” line. But everything was on the table. Some wanted to start with the UW to downtown section (because it would get the most riders per dollar spent — which was true). Some wanted to give up, and just put the money into buses. No matter what, it is a bad situation.

    * You can see the subsidized cost per project on the second chart:

    1. The downtown tunnel, from SoDo to Smith Cove, is the most useful thing in ST3, with or without the extension to Ballard. Getting that section built and worrying about the rest later (i.e. defer West Seattle) is the ST3 equivalent of building the UW to Downtown section first. That’s your “starter” line, and under ST3 the Westlake to ID section is a regional assets and therefore paid by all the subareas.

      I think ST’s path forward is pretty straightforward. Continue with the lower cost early deliverables (Stride, Pierce Pacific BRT, etc.) and focus on getting the 2nd tunnel done while extending the Spine only as far as needed to get one OMFs built (I believe OMF-S). The rest will wait for money to roll in, either through the Feds or just waiting long enough to ST3 taxes to accrue.

      The only subarea that loses under this plan would be Snohomish, so perhaps ensure a minor extension to Alderwood opens in a timely manner, akin to the Angel Lake extension.

      1. Keep in mind the 2nd tunnel is needed to create more capacity downtown, so even if Everett and Tacoma decide they are good just taking buses to a Link transfer station, there’s still a compelling reason for the entire region to invest in a 2nd rail tunnel.

      2. Getting that section built and worrying about the rest later (i.e. defer West Seattle) is the ST3 equivalent of building the UW to Downtown section first.

        Oh come on, AJ. That is a ridiculous comparison. Before Link, tens of thousands of people took buses from the UW to downtown. Now they take some combination of buses and trains. In the future, they will take the train a lot more, but because ST failed to put in enough stations, still take the bus quite a bit. But they won’t have the option of taking a second, better train line.

        Look at the stops for the mini-line, and ask yourself — who is going to take that? Here, I’ll help:

        SoDo to Stadium, I.D., Midtown, Westlake — Other train or bus
        I. D. to Midtown, Westlake — Other train or bus
        Westlake to Denny — Walk or bus
        SR 99 to well, anywhere — Stay on the bus.
        Westlake to Seattle Center — Monorail.
        Smith Cove — There is nothing there. It doesn’t even work as a bus intercept.

        You’ve only got a handful of useful combinations, because it is short, and shares stations with the much better, much more useful main line.

        Take a look at the existing data. When the buses got kicked out, ridership within the tunnel went down. In other words, folks stopped using the tunnel as a way to get from one end of downtown to the other. They used the far more frequent buses. Maybe it would be different if we had a cut and cover tunnel, but we don’t. By the time you go way down deep into that station, it better be worth it. Most of the time it isn’t. The buses get stopped by traffic lights, but they are there immediately. Using a deep bore tunnel for short trips on an infrequent train is simply not popular if there alternatives.

        Not only would the new train tunnel compete with surface transit, but it would compete with trains on the other tunnel. It can’t. There are essentially only four new stations:

        1) Denny. Too close to Westlake to be worth a transfer. Riders from the south will either take a bus or take the other (more frequent train).

        2) SR 99 — Meant as a feeder station. But no one will get off the bus, just to go deep into the tunnel, and then emerge right where their bus driver is, wondering why you got off. Its a worthy station — for a longer line.

        3) Uptown. This is the only decent station on that line. Again, some riders would take the monorail. To be fair, this will get riders. But how many? Westlake — the most popular station in our system — which dwarfs other stations — gets only a bit over 11,000. You are delusional if you think this station will get anywhere near that.

        4) Expedia. There is nothing there! At noon, you will be able to count the number of riders at this stop on one hand. This is one of those “Well, we are running an above ground line here, might as well add a station” stations. At best it is a feeder station — to that one Uptown station.

        It all adds up to crap. Unlike other major investments in the system, it won’t even be felt from a ridership standpoint. Again, at most you get 20,000 riders, and most of those people have a minor improvement in their trip (great for the hockey game if you live in SoDo I guess). But for billions and billions of dollars, it doesn’t move the needle. I doubt that overall transit ridership in the city would even go up.

        The second tunnel isn’t valuable unless people use it. Making a stub — a bus tunnel without the buses — just won’t get riders.

      3. Let me make it simpler AJ. Imagine two projects:

        1) A bus tunnel from Expedia to SoDo.
        2) A train tunnel from Expedia to SoDo.

        Who benefits from the latter? I contend no one. Not a single person comes out ahead. Those who take trips within the tunnel get better frequency. The rest of the users avoid a transfer. Who do you think benefits by laying rail, and why?

      4. Well, if it’s a train that runs only from SoDO to Smith Cove, yes that would be very stupid. But if it’s a tunnel that allows for a 100% increase in for train throughput during peaks hours (admittedly ST3 only uses half of that capacity), I’d say most of the region benefits.

        A 2nd tunnel doesn’t remove buses from the 3rd Ave busway – it creates more transit capacity in our most important node. Sure, some buses might be truncated or rerouted, but that’s not because we want less buses downtown, but because we want to redeploy scarce service hours to another use.

        I saw your point about low frequency. Again – yes if the tunnel runs at low frequency, that would be stupid. That’s why the 3rd OMF is a priority, because ST would need the fleet to run trains at 3 minute headway in the DSTT and run 6 minute headways in the new tunnel (or whatever the headway is in the RV).

      5. The point of terminating at Smith Cove/Expedia is not because Expedia is a star station area. It’s simply because that’s where the hill ends, and it’s better to terminate in open air where it’s easier to build an extension rather than underground. Smith Cove is so close to Queen Anne that the additional track is no big deal. As we learned in North Seattle, it’s less expensive to continue a tunnel than to weave around I-5 foundations. And it’s less expensive to extend a tunnel a short distance to Smith Cove than to terminate it at Queen Anne and later try to extend it with a second tunnel-boring machine. TBMs are extremely expensive and are custom built for each project, but once you have one deployed, it’s not that expensive to extend the tunnel a little further. So why not extend it another half-mile to where it can surface, and that happens to be where Expedia is, so why not?

      6. AJ, I fear that you don’t understand the capacity issue. It is all about avoiding interlining.

        The obvious thing to do with lines from Ballard and West Seattle is to interline them to the main line, at Westlake and SoDo (respectively). The problem is, this would delay the other trains. It would mean a Northgate, Northgate, Ballard, Northgate, Northgate, Ballard pattern. This means that if headways are three minutes in the tunnel, there is a six minute delay for the Northgate train. This creates crowding — in other words, a capacity issue. This is why it is considered a regional asset — the folks in the suburbs don’t want to see their trains delayed. They don’t want to be forced to stand until Northgate (or wait for the next train). They would rather chip in for another tunnel.

        We don’t have a capacity issue *through downtown*. We could have a capacity issue *leaving downtown*. Just think about when the train gets crowded. Imagine the evening rush hour, and you start at SoDo. At every station there are people getting on, and people getting off. But at Stadium, more people get on, then off. Same with I. D. and Pioneer Square. Even at Westlake — the end of downtown, and where the other train splits — more people get on than off. This is maximum crowding. This is the capacity crunch — people getting ON at Westlake, not getting off. Finally, at Capitol Hill, more people get off than on.

        The only reason the second tunnel is important is to avoiding interlining. But if there is nothing to interline, it is irrelevant to capacity issues.

      7. I guess if you believe that Ballard-UW spur could be built without exceeding the capacity of the existing tunnel, then you will also believe we can build Ballard to Westlake and not exceed the capacity of the exact same tunnel.

        What matters is if the system exceeds capacity somewhere and we are unable to add additional trains through the relevant segment to provide the needed capacity. The segment of maximum ridership is between Westlake and Capital Hill. I guess that’s what you mean by ‘leaving’ downtown rather than ‘through’ downtown?

        If at Westlake some fraction of the trains are diverted to Ballard, there will not be enough trains to move people between Westlake station and Capital Hill station. It is irrelevant whether those riders are boarding a Westlake/Cap Hill or traveling onwards; the system needs to move X number of people per hour between those stations, and if we interline another route in the DSTT that consumes tunnel capacity but doesn’t run trains between Westlake and Cap Hill, we have now reduced capacity on the highest ridership segment.

        This is a slightly different issue than the Ballard-UW spur, which doesn’t degrade the capacity between Westlake and Cap Hill but does add sufficient incremental riders to overburden the same segment of the tunnel. But it’s the same result – the system’s capacity is projected to be exceeded.

        I guess you could say, tough cookies, change the capacity standards so we can run 3 lines through downtown in a single tunnel. I think several of the S-Bahns interline 3 lines through a single downtown tunnel, so there’s no operational reason we can’t run 3 lines at 9 minute frequency rather than 2 lines at 6 minute frequency. But my understanding of the ridership projection is that a single tunnel will be easily overburdened by 2040, in particular north of Westlake when the throughput drops from 20 trains per hour per direction to 13.3 trains/hr/direction.

        This would beg the question why can’t we upgrade the tunnel to handle 2 minute frequencies, and I’ll admit I don’t have a good answer for that. I assume the ST3 studies considered that, and I suppose it could be revisited as a cost savings measure, but I doubt they would come to a different conclusion.

      8. The point of terminating at Smith Cove/Expedia is not because Expedia is a star station area. [It is just the logical terminus for the first part]

        I get that. My point is very simple: A bus tunnel would be better, in every respect. I don’t say this lightly. I’m used to trade-offs. But in this case, there are none (except maybe cost). Consider the two types of riders:

        1) Those who never leave the tunnel (e. g. Westlake to Seattle Center). The bus is better because it is more frequent.

        2) Someone who starts outside the tunnel, but ends inside (West Seattle to Westlake). The bus is better, as they avoid a transfer.

        Then there is maintenance costs. It costs more to run a train than a bus. But a train carries a lot more people, so you can often run one train instead of a half dozen buses. System wide, you take advantage of this when buses are truncated. Metro (and ST) save a bunch of money by not running buses downtown, along the same corridor. This more than makes up for the cost of running the train more often.

        But in this case, there are no big maintenance savings, because there are no truncations. The West Seattle buses aren’t going to truncate at SoDo (otherwise they would now). Likewise, the Ballard and Magnolia buses aren’t going to truncate at Expedia. Like SoDo and Capitol Hill, at that point you are practically downtown. There is no good way for the buses to turn around, and layover. Finally, it is likely that the station will be elevated. So it wouldn’t be like making the transfer at Columbia City. It takes a while to get up to the platform, where you would then wait (sometimes ten minutes) for the train. Sorry, it just won’t happen.

        What would happen, though, is that the D is rerouted, and would follow the route of the 15. This is nice. It would save a few minutes for that bus. But that is only one bus, and a relatively small savings. In contrast, a tunnel would save a lot of time for every bus from West Seattle, Magnolia and most buses from Ballard.

        In every respect, a bus tunnel is better than a small subway.

        The only consideration is cost. It probably costs more to build a bus tunnel. But my guess is not much more.

        It may be a very long time before the subway goes to Ballard and West Seattle. It took 17 years for us to add rail to the transit tunnel. My guess is it would be at least 20 before we get to Ballard — if we ever do. The world is full of grand plans for big projects that never quite pan out or are delayed so long they might as well not exist. The Second Avenue Subway was planned in 1920 — a full century ago. It is still isn’t complete. This is the greatest subway system on the continent, and a line that could carry over a million riders a day, but it isn’t done yet. It is quite likely that a subway will not get to West Seattle or Ballard for a very long time. We might as well give people a worthy project — something that is better for everyone — in the mean time.

      9. I think a good case could be made for studying options to add Downtown capacity without the full second tunnel and stations. With the need to do something, it is probably time to revisit basic assumptions.

        1. How much would a Midtown Station cancellation save? Would an aerial funicular from Pioneer Square to County buildings to Harborview work as a substitute?

        2. Given the Midtown station depth, would it be possible to instead bore under Fourth Avenue and connect to the mezzanines at University Street and Pioneer Square (enabling skipping a Westlake Station transfer mega-station and moving the platform closer to Belltown and Amazon HQ as a new station)?

        3. Can a single-track tunnel work as non-revenue access for the Ballard + SLU line until the demand warrants?

        4. Can an underground one-way “loop” using Third, Pine, Sixth and Olive allow enough new capacity to enable a Ballard + SLU branch as well as demand flexibility?

        5. Since University Street and Pioneer Square have side platforms, it it possible and useful to simply add outer tracks only at these station platforms to increase capacity?

        Years ago, there was quite a bit of discussion about using Second Avenue. The pre-ST3 studies never fully evaluated rethinking how to add capacity through Downtown Seattle. To save billions, we really need to broaden options before giving up entirely on the second downtown tunnel.

      10. The segment of maximum ridership is between Westlake and Capitol Hill.

        YES! That is what I’ve been saying. This section is the most likely to be crowded — to have a capacity crunch.

        If at Westlake some fraction of the trains are diverted to Ballard, there will not be enough trains to move people between Westlake station and Capital Hill station.

        YES! This is why they won’t interline there. Now you are getting it. Building the second tunnel wasn’t about adding capacity within downtown, it was about giving those trains from Ballard and West Seattle a different way to go downtown.

        The point being, this is not an argument for a subway from SoDo to Smith Cove. It is an argument against interlining that subway (or any subway) at Westlake, since that would interfere with the main subway going from downtown to the UW. The suburbs are essentially paying so that won’t happen.

      11. “why can’t we upgrade the tunnel to handle 2 minute frequencies, and I’ll admit I don’t have a good answer for that.”

        Because ST didn’t include money for that project in ST3. It was on the project candidate list. ST says DSTT1 needs capital improvements to make 1.5 minute headways reliable. Otherwise it doesn’t want to go above 3 minutes because it’s concerned about train bunching. When ST chose the second tunnel it rejected this other project. It could still build it later.

        The reason ST chose the second tunnel was:
        (1) to add service to SLU, where somehow Seattle had overlooked the fact that those new downtownish highrises would need high-capacity transit and the existing buses were straining to serve it.
        (2) to ensure downtown wouldn’t reach a capacity ceiling. It was iffy whether only one tunnel would reach capacity in the 2040 planning window, whereas having a second tunnel would ensure plenty of capacity. It would also allow for an additional line in the future.
        (3) Redundancy. If one tunnel breaks or has to close for some reason, the other tunnel would still provide some circulation.

      12. Ross – I think we agree, then? I was specifically trying to dismiss the “build Ballard/SLU Link but interline between Westlake and SoDo” alternative. I don’t like your bus tunnel for various reasons, but yes a 2nd bus tunnel wouldn’t constrain the ID to Maple Leaf rail tunnel, so no objections on that specific front.

        1. I think canceling midtown would overburden the DSST, but I suppose if ‘new tunnel’ riders could be nudged to use the 3rd Ave busway for last mile transfers, rather than transferring to the DSTT, it might work. But I’m skeptical.
        2. Interesting. I would just put the station roughly adjacent to University street (don’t both connecting to Pioneer Sq.). If ‘Denny’ station then drifts a block or 2 south, that would still provide good coverage for Westlake. A side-by-side Midtown/University transfer might very well be cheaper & easier to navigate than the proposed Westlake junction.

        3. Yes, but a single track tunnel just means more money spent in the long run. Single tracking is only a good idea if A. double tracking is never needed, or B. the cost and disruption of double tracking is low, so it’s useful to defer the capital cost. I could see this for some at-grade segments, but not here.

        4. No sure I follow. Loops are generally a bad idea for HCT, and pulling the north & south bound platforms apart doesn’t actually create new coverage. Good bus example here:

        5. No. That’s effectively building a new tunnel, as the bores between stations are all single tracked, but way more disruptive to ongoing operations.

        Mike – well said on 1, 2, and 3.

      13. I was specifically trying to dismiss the “build Ballard/SLU Link but interline between Westlake and SoDo” alternative.

        Fair enough. I don’t know who proposed that. It certainly wasn’t me, and these comments are on my comment thread. Whatever.

        I don’t like your bus tunnel for various reasons

        Such as?

      14. I thought you were arguing for interlining rail to save money. My bad.

        The bus tunnel delivers very little in capital costs savings for an asset that has higher frequency but lower capacity. The cost of “rail” in a rail tunnel is a tiny fraction of the cost of a tunnel, in particular if the tunnel is rail convertible. IMO, building a rail-convertable bus tunnel is neither cheaper nor faster than building the curren proposed tunnel.
        More importantly, for every route that gains by going downtown, another route loses by not having a Link intercept outside of downtown. For example, a bus tunnel is great for the D, but Ballard Link is better for the 40. West Seattle, in particular, would be better served by having a north-south bus grid that can intercept Link at the Junction, Avalon, and Delridge, rather than contorting all major routes towards downtown. A bus tunnel will optimize our bus network to feed downtown. WSBLE will optimize our bus network to be a robust grid in both SW and NW Seattle. I think the grid approach is much better, in particularl if Seattle is going to add hundreds of thousands of people this century and many people will live/work/play without ever need to pass through downtown.
        And finally, most of the routes you want to funnel through this new tunnel (the D, C, Delridge) are all rather long. We broke up the D and C for good reasons. So I think it’s highly unlikely many of these routes will run through downtown. So either most of these bus are pretty empty half the time they are downtown, or they have tails outside of the tunnel on the other end which will impact reliability. Under the DSST, most of the routes that use the tunnel terminated in downtown, correct? They used either the Convention Place station or SoDo for bus layovers. That was a good operating pattern, but it meant most buses were empty by they time they reach their last stop in the tunnel. For WSBLE, the trains should turn over, not empty, as they pass through downtown; I don’t see the specific bus lines that would use a 2nd tunnel be able to provide that service pattern. Curious if you disagree on this last point.

      15. The bus tunnel delivers very little in capital costs savings for an asset that has higher frequency but lower capacity.

        You are confused. I never said it would save any money. In fact I think it would cost money. Just so we are clear, here are the two choices:

        1) A light rail line from SoDo to Smith Cove, with all of the proposed stations.
        2) The exact same thing, but as a bus tunnel.

        I contend that the latter is better in every respect, as I wrote here:

        West Seattle, in particular, would be better served by having a north-south bus grid that can intercept Link at the Junction, Avalon, and Delridge, rather than contorting all major routes towards downtown.

        OK, I get it now. You are confused. I guess I didn’t make it clear enough. Read the two items. Neither go to West Seattle or Ballard. No one is talking about going to West Seattle or Ballard with anything. There simply isn’t enough money. We are talking about building a small section of the project, then either running rail on it, or buses. This would be the short term plan, which essentially means it is the only plan. There simply isn’t enough money to build anything to Ballard or West Seattle (let alone both). Eventually, if we got more money, either project could be extended (with rail the whole way) and it would be what people voted for.

        Under the DSST, most of the routes that use the tunnel terminated in downtown, correct? They used either the Convention Place station or SoDo for bus layovers. That was a good operating pattern, but it meant most buses were empty by they time they reach their last stop in the tunnel. For WSBLE, the trains should turn over, not empty, as they pass through downtown; I don’t see the specific bus lines that would use a 2nd tunnel be able to provide that service pattern.

        Layover patterns get complicated. I’m probably not the guy to ask. In general you save a lot of time (and money) when you can through-route. You also make life better for some riders (e. g. Uptown to West Seattle). Doing that for some routes is a challenge, as they are just too long (from a time perspective) or too unreliable. In both cases, the tunnel would help things. I would imagine all of the Magnolia buses would through-route with West Seattle buses. Rush hour Ballard buses would likely through-route with West Seattle buses as well. I think the problem comes when the Ballard Bridge can be up (middle of the day). It is also likely there is some sort of imbalance (I haven’t bothered to count the frequency of buses going each way). Southbound buses could layover at SoDo, obviously. I’m not sure about northbound buses — Dravus, maybe? I think you could turn around at Galer, but I don’t know if there is a comfort station there ( In general I don’t see it as a big issue. Once a northbound bus gets to Elliot, it is smooth sailing until the Ballard Bridge. There are bus lanes the whole way, and they would (presumably) become 24-7 bus lanes. Getting to Dravus (where there are lots of people, and riders can connect to buses like a revamped 31/32) would be a side benefit at very little extra cost.

      16. Do you think the 2nd tunnel, Smith Cove to ID, will only run trains between Smith Cove and ID? I’m assuming Link south of ID will be routed through the new tunnel, per the ST3 plan. Sounds like you are criticizing a rail tunnel that only runs a shuttle service.

        We are really talking past each other here.

      17. I’m assuming Link south of ID will be routed through the new tunnel, per the ST3 plan. Sounds like you are criticizing a rail tunnel that only runs a shuttle service.

        Yes, I am.

        But I can explain why it is a bad idea to route the main line to the new tunnel. The only reason that it is being proposed is because Tacoma to Everett is too long. With Everett (and probably Tacoma) off the table, it becomes a non-issue. It was also proposed assuming that Link would go from West Seattle to Everett. That is gone as well.

        So according to your plan, every rider from Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, SeaTac and the southern suburbs would lose their one seat ride to Capitol Hill, the UW, Roosevelt and Northgate. They instead get stations on the way to Smith Cove. This is a clear degradation. Northgate is better than Smith Cove. Capitol Hill is better than Lower Queen Anne. Riders gain a downtown station at Denny, but lose one in the middle of downtown (University and Pioneer Square being replaced by Madison). The so called “South Lake Union” station is nothing more than a bus intercept for Aurora buses that could make that connection somewhere else. There is nothing that comes close to the UW Stations. I’m not saying the stations on the new tunnel are bad, I’m saying the stations that they would replace (on the main line) are much better. This means riders *of the existing line* are worse off. This would likely *reduce* ridership …

        If it wasn’t for transfers. Riders could, of course, transfer to the existing train. Except the opposite is true. If we build a stub train, and the main line continued to the UW, riders could transfer to the stub train. This is what you want. You want to minimize transfers for the most common trips, to minimize overall travel time. A stub train does that, as does a bus tunnel. This means that people would transfer to get to Lower Queen Anne, while retaining their one seat ride to the UW. That’s clearly better.

        But that isn’t the only issue. In a few years, service will be doubled from downtown to Northgate. This is what most would consider the “core” of our system. It is where most of the riders will come from (or, at the very least, most of the riders per mile). This doubling of service is essential not only to deal with capacity, but also to improve ridership. The day East Link opens, Northgate Link will suddenly be a lot better. Instead of 10 minute headways, there will be 5. During rush hour, it may be as low as 3. Three to five minute headways is huge improvement, especially for a line that is so dependent on bus feeders (at Northgate, 130th, 145th, and every station north of there).

        With the original ST3 plan, those headways are retained. There would still be two trains coming from the south. Instead of trains interlining from SeaTac and Bellevue, they would interline from West Seattle and Bellevue. But if there is no West Seattle rail, and we only shift SeaTac trains to Smith Cove, that leaves lower frequency on the core.

        At best we would need a place to put the trains (down in SoDo). This would be to avoid the very crowding that Snohomish County riders were worried about. But about the middle of the day? Will ST — an agency that has never been focused on frequency — run extra trains to SoDo? I seriously doubt it. That costs a lot extra, and ST doesn’t have the money.

        So that means existing riders south of downtown are worse off (since the train doesn’t go to the UW) and existing riders in the core would be worse off (with lower frequency). Even a stub train tunnel is better than that.

        In contrast, with a bus tunnel everyone comes out ahead. All existing train riders retain their same direct connection, while lots of bus riders come out ahead. The folks that are willing to transfer to Lower Queen Anne or Expedia still transfer, and they have a lot less waiting than they would with a stub train. It is just better than either rail proposal.

      18. Hmm. Building a stub line (Smith Cove to ID) and running high frequency trains (likely shorter sets, given the lack of a 4th OMF at the time) might actually be a good intermediate solution. Rearranging the lines (basically, moving RV to the new tunnel) could wait until the Ballard and WS extensions are ready to open.

        That approach still seems more useful that a temporary bus tunnel because the ‘rearranging’ could happen over a few weekends, if the various switches are built during initial construction. OTOH, with your bus tunnel, which does do all sorts of very good things for bus riders, would probably need to be closed for at least 18 months to be rebuilt into rail. The complete closure of the tunnel for conversion offsets the temporary value of a bus tunnel.

        So I guess it comes down to how long our 2nd tunnel is a stub. I’d wager it’s no more than 10 years, likely closer to a 5 year lag between the LQA and Ballard stations opening. If, for whatever reason, the 2nd tunnel is bus-only for >15 years before Ballard opens, then yeah starting it as a bus tunnel is probably good. That would be very similar to our use of the DSTT, which was bus-only for 15 years before closing for conversion.

        (Of course, you are arguing for a permanent bus tunnel, which is a very lonely position so I won’t rehash that debate).

        I’ll throw out one final argument in favor of a 2nd rail tunnel, which you may likely disagree with but that’s OK because here I’m also not in alignment with official projections. IMO, with the employment growth we are going to have on the east side over the next decade, I think ridership will be high enough crossing Lake Washington that the best operating pattern will be to send Ballard, WS, and Rainier Valley trains through the 2nd tunnel. Ridership between ID and Judkins Park won’t be as high as Westalke-Cap Hill, but I think it will be high enough that ST will not want to split the Lynnwood to ID ‘trunk’ line at ID, given ridership demand heading east to Bellevue (from north, south, and west). Yeah, RV loses it’s one seat ride to UW, but Ballard to Westlake gets double frequency, so seems like a push for Seattle itself. Not sure if we’d have enough trains (this basically add another 6-min frequency line to central Seattle), so would require either fleet & OMF investment or suburban turn-backs.

      19. So I guess it comes down to how long our 2nd tunnel is a stub. I’d wager it’s no more than 10 years, likely closer to a 5 year lag between the LQA and Ballard stations opening. If, for whatever reason, the 2nd tunnel is bus-only for >15 years before Ballard opens, then yeah starting it as a bus tunnel is probably good. That would be very similar to our use of the DSTT, which was bus-only for 15 years before closing for conversion.

        Fair enough. If you think the stub (in whatever form) is only around for a few years, then it makes sense to go that way. It is likely a bit cheaper (as I mentioned) to just focus on rail.

        I just don’t see that happening. It took 15 years and another vote to get to the U-District. The U-District! This is a station that everyone — everyone! — says is essential. The general consensus is that we should have started with a line from the U-District to downtown. There were many people on the board that suggested that, after they realized we couldn’t build ST1. Yet it took 15 years, and another vote, to actually get there.

        At best, that would be the case with Ballard and West Seattle. Both Ballard and West Seattle are not going to be cheap to serve. Both will require more funding, which means another vote. Right now the default is a station at 14th, which would likely raise a lot of questions. Should we spend all this money for such a lousy station? Maybe an underground station at 20th is a better value, even though it costs more.

        Likewise, West Seattle has a ton of issues. Unlike Ballard, the original proposal isn’t even the second choice — it is nonexistent. Everything that is planned is either more expensive, or worse than originally planned (or both). It will be a while before ST rebuilds trust, and Seattle will be willing to pay for this.

        Then there is the matter of paying for this. Is it Seattle, or is it part of a regional project (ST4). My guess is, they try for ST4 first. But like with Roads and Transit (the vote after ST1), it would fail. There is little reason for the suburbs to invest in Sound Transit projects — heck, they even vote against bus service. Take the cynicism found within Seattle, multiply it ten times, add in the fact that East Link is the only suburban project of merit (fully funded and largely complete by the time a vote is taken) and I see an overwhelming number of people voting no.

        The only way I see another package passing is if Seattle does it alone. This will take a while, and assumes that the board agrees that it is the best value (without Dow on the board to champion West Seattle’s concerns, it is hard to see the same priorities — the board might even do something crazy, like ask for an independent consultant to come up with the most cost effective set of projects for the region). All of that means that it will be a very long time before we get Ballard or West Seattle Link. Not 2035 (the original estimate). Not 2040 (the estimate after they accounted for funding problems. More like 2050.

      20. I should mention mention that there are significant differences between the first formal proposal of a new bus tunnel (the so called West Seattle Transit Tunnel and what I have in mind. They stops are different (mine would have the stops as designated for ST3). The bus tunnel would not serve Aurora buses. It would, instead, serve all the same stops between Lower Queen Anne and SoDo (inclusively) as the proposed Ballard to West Seattle subway.

        But there is one important similarity: Cost. Let me just quote the first sentence from that excellent essay:

        It is becoming clearer that Sound Transit 3 (ST3) will not provide Seattle (‘North King’) with the approximately $7B needed to fund a true subway from Ballard to West Seattle. At currently proposed ST3 funding levels – $11B in the Senate and $15B in the House for all regional projects– Seattle’s shortfall could be roughly $2-4B. This presents a dilemma: should we build the high quality segments we can afford (and risk alienating the neighborhoods we pass over), or give in to the political temptation to dilute the quality of the lines (surface running, stub lines, etc) to serve more neighborhoods at once? At Seattle Subway we believe we cannot let today’s funding constraints forever dampen the quality of our transit service. So what investments could we make with an ST3-sized budget that would provide high quality (and highly upgradeable) transit?

        [A a new rail convertible bus tunnel through downtown]

        Keep in mind, this was written by an organization that believes that we can build this: These are not folks who prefer bus over rail. These are folks who envision a massive network of trains connecting the region. In terms of mileage, it would exceed the Chicago ‘L’ and Washington D. C. Metro.

        Yet even this organization that seems to dismiss the role of buses in our city (or likely, any city) had the good sense to see the value of a bus tunnel (that can be converted to rail), when you only have so much money. I see many similarities. Change around the numbers a bit, and that paragraph is as true now as when it was written. We simply can not afford to build Ballard to West Seattle rail now, if ever. It makes sense to build a bus tunnel, and see what the future holds.

      21. If the Board is willing to defer WS Link to open alongside Ballard Link, even with these higher costs estimates & the COVID recession, I don’t see the 2nd tunnel opening more than 2~3 years later than the original plan, and then the Ballard and WS extensions opening ~ 5 years later. ST has plenty of runway to value engineer the alignments and massage the regional project sequencing to navigate the period of maximum financial constraint. There remains no need for an ST4 to deliver ST3. ST4 simply facilitates project pivots, accelerations, and/or expansions.

        For all the drama of these costs increases, ST3 remains intact simply because the taxes keep collecting until there is sufficient revenue. It is possible for an entity to go underwater where revenues no longer cover O&M and debt service (NYC MTA is in this spot), but ST is a long, long way from that, mostly because very little of the ST3 money has been spent.

      22. If the Board is willing to defer WS Link to open alongside Ballard Link, even with these higher costs estimates & the COVID recession, I don’t see the 2nd tunnel opening more than 2~3 years later than the original plan, and then the Ballard and WS extensions opening ~ 5 years later

        The recession has pushed everything back 5 years. So you are basically saying that these estimates only push it back another 2-3 years. Sorry, that seems way too optimistic.

        Rearranging the order doesn’t save any money. Even if you built the whole thing at once (with only one grand opening, when it was all done) the Ballard + West Seattle Link wouldn’t be done until a long time after the original proposal. I figure 5 extra years because of the recession, and 10 extra because of the added cost. If you look at the original plans, the spending peaked with Ballard Link. It is the big mouse, if you will, that the snake has to digest. Except now the mouse is much bigger.

        On the other hand, you could probably build a bus tunnel well before then. A bus tunnel would be much cheaper than the original estimate for Ballard + West Seattle. I figure that could be done around 2035, while the main rail line would be built in 2050. With a little bit of luck both could be done a few years earlier.

      23. A bus tunnel *cannot* open earlier than the rail tunnel. That’s just a straight up lie. The ST board would have to give up on ST3, go back to the voters, and then restart the EIS process. Even if you handwaved away the legal issues and replaced the Board members with Ross-omatons, ST’s financial ability to build a bus tunnel is IDENTICAL to it’s ability to build the rail tunnel with WS and Smith Cove to Ballard construction phases 100% deferred until after the tunnel opens.

        Yes, the mouse is bigger (good metaphor), but you create space by deferring other mice prior to the big mouse, notably the WS extension but also TDLE (Tacoma Dome won’t open until after the tunnel itself due to the planned operating pattern). The problem isn’t the snake’s throat but its stomach; if ST eats less ST3 ‘mice’ to start and waits a bit longer to digest away the ST2 debt, it will be able to eat the big mouse sooner.

        The 5 year delays is an “everything moves together” metric. It’s a good starting point, but if other projects are delayed more than 5, the keystone project can stay closer to the desired opening. So yes, an incremental 2 years for the 2nd tunnel seems very reasonable given the numbers we have today.

        Initial Plan -> COVID 5 year delay -> AJ’s armchair, illustrative estimate:
        West Seattle: 2030 > 3035 > 2045
        2nd Tunnel: 2035 > 2040 > 2042*
        Ballard: 2035 > 2040 > 2045
        Tacoma: 2035 > 2040 > 2045

        *I honestly think they will figure out how to have the tunnel open by 2040, but if it slips a few more years, that doesn’t nothing to change the decision calculus on project sequencing because every other alternative would also slide a few more years.

      24. Arguing about interlining along Third is arguing an impossible theoretical. Again, you can’t break into existing bored tubes. You have to build a station box around the tubes, excavate vertically down to the bottom of the tubes, then carefully support the tubes, excavate the rest of the dirt and peel off the rings. All while trains are passing through the work area.


        However, since the cut and cover section east of the platforms is three lanes wide, it might be possible to slice through the floor of the center “lane” and dig a descending ramp down to about Ninth and then turn north there. This could be a non-revenue connection for a Westlake-Ballard line or even Midtown-Ballard.

        But it would not do for revenue service.

        However it might also be possible to stack the tunnel headed north from Ninth and Pine with the lower northbound level connecting to the trench track described above and the upper southbound connecting at the curve from the tunnel to Pine. It would approach the northside southbound track from the north, so it could be a simple trailing-point merge at level.

        Of course this would only be in service until the new tunnel were pushed south. Such a later tunnel would need to follow the Fifth/Sixth pathway because the station would not be directly under Westlake.

        However we know that might never happen, but it isn’t the section between Convention Center and IDS that has the three minute capacity constraint. It’s the long unventilated stretch between CHS and HSS.

        Trains could run in the old tunnel every two minutes with appropriate signalization upgrades, so you could have four minute headways on the two interlined Capitol Hill line, giving eight minute headways for the base service on Everett-West Seattle and Lynnwood-Redmond and eight, twelve or even sixteen minute headways on Ballard-Tacoma with the option for four minutes peak as far south toward Tacoma as makes sense, passing through the tunnel two minutes from the Capitol Hill trains. Or, a peak-only hybrid line could cross the lake from Ballard in order to add capacity and give direct service to SLU.

        Grant that the junction at Convention Center would be stressed in the peak.

        This would also require moving the Denny Station east a couple of blocks.

      25. A bus tunnel *cannot* open earlier than the rail tunnel. That’s just a straight up lie. The ST board would have to give up on ST3, go back to the voters, and then restart the EIS process.

        That’s ridiculous. The *preferred plan* is to move the station from 15th to 14th — do they have to go back to the voters? The station at the West Seattle Junction is more or less dead. In other words, the two best stations outside of the greater downtown area — some would say the main reason the lines are even being built — are gone. Are they going to go back to the public, and ask for a vote?

        Of course not. They will just build something else. As I have written many times now, a bus tunnel is not permanent. Just as you can open a smaller light rail line as the first step towards a larger light rail line, you can open a bus tunnel, as the first step towards a larger light rail line. There is no difference.

        This is not permanent. As you wrote, they could take fifty years to build this. They could take one hundred. So be it. The point is, they can open parts of a big project before they complete the big one, as they have done before.

        You don’t seem to grasp the reality here. The only reason these projects will take so long is because they are expensive. This has nothing to do with planning, or the time of construction. It has everything to do with bonding and cost. Now, the most expensive project that Sound Transit has planned is suddenly a lot more expensive. To quote the article: “The West Seattle to Ballard Link extension (WSBLE) is now expected to come in at $12.1 to $12.6 billion for the preferred elevated alignments, $5.0 to $5.5 billion higher than projected in ST3 (all 2019 $)”. It was supposed to take them 21 years to spend 7 billion. You think it will take only a couple more years to spend an extra 5 and a half? Dude, that’s a ten year delay, easy. Sound Transit simply can’t spend that kind of money quickly. Its against the law.

        All I’m saying is that before it is finished, before they get anything close to what voters approved, they could provide all of those people in West Seattle and Ballard something, while they wait for the namesake light rail lines.

        No other “shrinking” of the project, or “first step” provides anything close. A rail tunnel — with no service to Ballard or West Seattle — is a very bad value, as mentioned. A line from Ballard to Mercer is pointless, as is a line from West Seattle to SoDo. You have to build the tunnel, and at least one of the other two projects, and that will be a lot more expensive than just building the tunnel with a hole for buses to pass through. Based on these estimates, billions of dollars more expensive. It is also controversial, which can lead to other, non-cost related delays (See Gilman, Burke).

        It is not even close. Either we wait for two sections to be built (which will take an extremely long time) or we build the tunnel, run buses through it, and then, eventually, somewhere around the middle of the century we finally complete Ballard and/or West Seattle Link.

    2. The Feds as the rail transit cash cow changed a few decades ago. The New Starts funding process is very rigorous and takes a few years.

    3. ST absolutely should put West Seattle last and focus on Intl Dist to Smith Cove or Ballard first. This whole think has been distorted by arbitrarily putting West Seattle at the front of the line. The maximum ridership/usefulness of the corridor is first downtown-SLU, second Ballard, a distant third West Seattle So they should be built in that order.

      When the ST1 budget couldn’t fit all of 45th-SeaTac, ST considered going north or south first. North lost because ST was fearful of construction risk and cost overruns over the Ship Canal crossing. So it went south first, which didn’t have those risks. There were also the advantages of serving Rainier Valley (it looks good to serve a low-income/minority area, and attracts federal grants), and serving a second subarea and city (SeaTac is in South King, and a separate city from Seattle). Against this was the obvious high-density and high-ridershp UW-Capitol Hill-downtown corridor, and the fact that the 71/72/73X were melting down trying to serve all the demand between UW and downtown, with overcrowding and bus bunching and long boarding/deboarding times every day.

      1. The maximum ridership/usefulness of the corridor is first downtown-SLU, second Ballard, a distant third West Seattle So they should be built in that order.

        I disagree. A subway from SLU to downtown would not get that many riders. Service within downtown is that big. ST doesn’t have origin-destination numbers, but prior to the extension to the UW, you could see that not that many people boarded the train northbound after Beacon Hill. From SoDo to Westlake was less than 3,000 boardings (out of 34,000 total). So that works out to less than 6,000 riders a day.

        Adding stations to the north adds some, just not a lot. Some of the combinations just aren’t worth the bother. These are deep bore tunnels — it takes a while to get down there. Westlake to Denny, for example, is better by foot or via a bus. Westlake to the Seattle Center can be done via the monorail. For many of the combinations, the other train will do the same job, but more frequently. The “SLU” station is bound to be inconvenient for walk-up riders. It is designed to be a bus intercept — but if the bus is going to the same stops (downtown, and only downtown) it isn’t worth the transfer. I’m not saying you aren’t going to have riders — you just won’t get that many. There aren’t enough stops, and the alternatives (walking, bus, monorail, other train) are often better. You have to go to Ballard before you get a significant number of riders.

        To be clear, without a doubt those stations are good. It is like First Hill Station. It would have been great to serve it as part of another line. But a line from First Hill to downtown (with only a couple stops) is not going to get a lot of riders.

        You would get a significant number of riders if you sent the main line (from SeaTac) out that way. But I don’t see any advantage in that. While South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne are popular, they are nowhere near as popular as Capitol Hill and the UW. It also reduces frequency in the core. Instead of trains running every 3 to 5 minutes from downtown to Northgate, they would run every 6 to 10. It only makes sense as a standalone line, and as a standalone line it will only get decent ridership if it goes as far as Ballard or West Seattle (or both).

        Anyway, to me it is clear that a short subway line is a bad idea. Very few would benefit from it. West Seattle and Ballard would get nothing out of it. It is crazy to think that West Seattle jumped in line to get light rail, jumped in line to get rail before Ballard, and yet will be happy with a line that does it absolutely no good at all. The only sensible approach is to build a bus tunnel, (which can be converted to rail in the future).

        By the way, this is the opposite of the main line (the spine). When Link gets to Federal Way and Lynnwood, it benefits Tacoma and Everett immensely. I would argue any extension after that is vastly diminished returns. The extension to Tacoma won’t go downtown (forcing a transfer for almost all riders) and the extension to Everett is much slower than an express bus to Lynnwood.

  7. Andover Street through Delridge to the ‘medium’ shorter tunnel alternative with the portal at the Pep Boys looking better and better…

    No large apartment buildings in the way there and a good Junction station location that only costs you two definitely non-remarkable bank locations.

  8. You know what I’ll like best about this project? How many Canadian passengers will be able to flash their pass and whistle “O, Canada” as they transfer off the Victoria Clipper and board for Seattle sight-seeing which will always include Mt. Rainier.

    And on the grander scale, this is one value-judgment about things that suck. As any little boy with a big sister knows, if you get your whole tongue-quick licks well in hand, don’t even need to get any on your white shirt.

    Truth to tell, when the time comes to look at West Seattle more like a service area and less like an obstacle in the face of your cutter, the happiest everybody will be. Kind of interesting, though, that the line I’m describing will turn out to be exactly the Indians’ view of the term “Alki Point.”

    In the Chief’s culture, “In A Little While” suggested an open time frame. With the digging performance a whole lot under the control of the average New Englander’s hand on the throttle.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “How many Canadian passengers will be able to flash their pass and whistle “O, Canada” as they transfer off the Victoria Clipper and board for Seattle sight-seeing”

      A lot fewer that the number of people who will exit downtown every weekday morning, or who will exit downtown at other times to walk to a destination or transfer to a bus. We shouldn’t spend billions of dollars just to convenience a cruise ship when we need circulation for residents; i.e., the ones who are paying for the line.

    1. In retrospect the reinforcement required to run the monorail over the West Seattle Bridge might have saved a lot of trouble in the long run.

    2. The big mistake here was kicking owners off the property acquisition ROW before any clear plan of building the system was in place and then not keeping the ROW as a long term lease. Said it then and stand by it now. The best thing you can do with bond money is buy and hoard ROW. Lease payments break even or even turn a profit and lock in long term costs.

    3. The monorail was limited to 35 mph. Link is 55 mph. The monorail had no realistic financing plan and would have collapsed. It was depending on no transfer credit, so a monorail+bus trip would require two fares. That would have caused even rail fans like myself to take the bus with my unlimited monthly pass, since there were few trips I could take only on the monorail: almost all my trips would be monorail+bus or monorail+Link. The monorail’s funding was mostly car tabs, then Eyman’s initiatives yanked that away. The monorail’s funding got so low it was even planning to single-track large portions of it, which would have put maximum frequency at 20 minutes or below, which contradicts the purpose of building a monorail in the first place. (Rapid transit is supposed to be frequent.)

      1. Monorails lose their relevance for anything beyond a loop or a short back-and-forth shuttle (like our current monorail). Switches and branches are bigly complicated messes.

  9. I think former CFO Brian McCartan saw the writing on the wall some time ago and decided to jump ship in back in 2018 as he probably didn’t want to be around to manage this pending fiscal disaster called ST3.

  10. Is it too late to switch to DSTT2? Create minimal rail investments, but construct a new bus tunnel that can be converted to rail in the future. Might also throw North Burien a bone and build a new transit bridge that can be converted from bus to rail – that way they have capacity to get people in and out of WS once the time comes for the existing high bridge to be replaced.

    1. I think everything should be on the table. My guess is some of it would require another vote, but that is reasonable. What isn’t clear is whether the region would require a new vote, or just subareas. This goes back to what I wrote up above — for some projects, half a loaf is fine. For others, it is useless. For example, the farther south Link gets, the more it benefits Tacoma. When Link gets to Federal Way, it is huge — it will dramatically speed up the time to the airport, as well as other Link stations to the north of it. For the vast majority of riders, every addition after that gets them every little (lots of diminishing returns). There just aren’t that many people in Fife.

      But West Seattle to Ballard Link is different. Consider it as the following three pieces:

      1) Ballard to Expedia
      2) Expedia to SoDo
      3) SoDo to West Seattle Junction

      Now assume that we can only build one of those projects (which I think is the case). None of those do much of anything for West Seattle or Ballard riders. The first and third just don’t make any sense. In both cases, just about everyone would make a transfer. For most of West Seattle, Ballard and Magnolia that means catching a bus, riding a train, then catching another bus. The train would not be especially fast compared to a bus (although in the case of Ballard, it would avoid the bridge opening).

      That means the only logical project is the middle one. But again, that does very little, if anything, for people in Ballard or West Seattle or for that matter anyone else. Train trips within downtown are significant, but not huge. This would largely have the same stops, but less of them. At a very optimistic, pie-in-the-sky estimate, I would say it would peak out at 20,000 riders a day. You would add more riders by bumping up the frequency of a handful of buses, with enough money left over to build a giant golden statue of Jimi Hendrix.

      Building a bus tunnel, which could eventually be converted to a train would be quite reasonable, and (in my opinion) the closest thing to what voters approved. It benefits all of the areas, even it isn’t what they wanted. It improves things the day it is built, while still opening up the possibility that rail from West Seattle to Ballard is built at some later date (if voters approve ST4). The buses run faster, which not only increases ridership, but means it could run more often. For people in the tunnel (the only people that would be served by a central segment) it would be better, as frequency would be much better. Everyone else avoids a transfer.

      But I would also welcome just revisiting the entire thing. ST3 was largely crap, and Seattle was no exception. Ballard to UW is a much better value, especially with the new estimates. One of the selling points about Ballard via Interbay (and also West Seattle rail) is that it would be relatively cheap, since it would be elevated. So much for that, I guess. West Seattle might be pissed, but frankly, given the current state of planning, it looks like a huge mess. None of the plans get close to The Junction. Like running the train to 14th, there won’t be a lot of disappoint if that is the only option. Those “downstream” in both cases would lose the most (Dravus, Delridge) but in most cases, those are folks being asked to transfer from a bus — something that is not particularly popular.

      To be clear, a bus tunnel would probably be the most popular in the short run for folks that stood to benefit from the original plan. But replacing it with Ballard to UW is also reasonable, and my guess is the cost/benefit numbers favor it now more than ever.

      1. Ross, did you ask this question under a different alias just to give yourself a layup to talk about the bus tunnel?

      2. It is an obvious idea if you think about it. What would be cheaper than rail to Ballard (and West Seattle) yet still benefit them (and the folks making shorter trips)?

        1) A small train line, largely inside a deep bore tunnel. Wait, no. Everyone from West Seattle and Ballard has a long and tedious transfer. Everyone within downtown has low frequency.

        2) A bus tunnel. Yeah, that’s it.

      3. Again, Ross, Ballard-UW is impossible without digging a ginormous hole on the UW campus somewhere near the new Law Building. ST simply cannot break into existing buried tubes; it would have to build a station box around the tubes, excavate and support them, and then peel off the top 80% of the segments to create the turnouts.

        That’s it. That’s the only way. They can’t even get DP’s single-track “service connection” because it requires one new turnout at a minimum. A turnout which was not “allowed for” when drilling the tubes.

        To do it this “minimum” way would require running trains entering or leaving service to run through HSS “wrong way”, depending to which tube the service track was connected.

        There is insufficient room for a full maintenance facility in the industrial area of Ballard, and certainly nowhere else along the line. And yes, it has to be a “full” facility because otherwise cars would have to be trucked to the existing Forest Street MF when they need heavy work. Of course the storage area would be much smaller than one of the larger MF’s.

        The bus tunnel is a good solution but people along the WSBLE will be very disappointed.

      4. Subareas can’t have a separate vote. ST is one tax district. Everyone in it has to be taxed and have access to voting equally.

      5. Ross B,

        No one wants to build Ballard to UW, even when they know it carries the same amount of people (or more) at a cheaper cost.

      6. There is a pretty large consensus that South Lake Union needs a light rail station and service. The logic likely extends through Seattle Center as well. There are too many buildings over 300 feet tall building or at least approved. The Ballard-UW idea has some logic — but the building boom in SLU pretty clearly throws the logic to getting it served first.

      7. West Seattle Ballard Link Extension”. Isn’t that the general term ST is using for the overall project?

      8. That’s the meaning, but it’s a relatively obscure acronym. I didn’t understand it the first couple times I saw it in STB. And “X Link Extension” is bureaucratese; we’re not bureaucrats. I suggest people stick to only the most common acronyms like BRT, or include the expanded name in the comment for those who don’t recognize the acronym.

      9. Alright, I thought it was something like that, but I didn’t know the acronym. The “E” threw me, as I don’t think of the line as an extension (in contrast to service to the Tacoma Dome and Everett). Anyway, I wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

        I can’t speak to the technical challenges with light rail from Ballard to the UW. But ST officials didn’t raise any concerns in any of the previous studies. To be clear, this would not involve interlining. While plenty of people (myself included) believe interlining would be worth it, there is no reason to assume it would happen, and it is not essential.

        But as I see it, that is a moot point. There is no way that Ballard to UW Link gets built instead of what they proposed. It would do nothing for West Seattle — a key constituency. It would also do nothing for Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Magnolia, or the Expedia company, that was wooed to Seattle. It would be dramatically different than what was proposed.

        In contrast, a bus tunnel would be quite similar to what was proposed. It would have many of the same stations (from Lower Queen Anne to SoDo). It would be a step towards the larger project, which is something ST has done repeatedly. But more than anything, it would be a large help for everyone who would benefit from the original project. If you live close to The Junction you might prefer a train, but at least your transit trip is better. West Seattle, Ballard, Magnolia, Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union all see improvements, even if it isn’t what they wanted. (I contend that for many, if not most, it would be better).

        In contrast, I don’t see any other project that could do that. If the train only gets to Smith Cove, then Ballard is screwed. They take the same bus as they did before, and it is no faster. Same with Magnolia. The same is true if it ends in SoDo, and you are in West Seattle.

        As reported by the Seattle Times, Seattle mayor Durkan said board members should be more flexible in which sites are chosen for stations. I still don’t think that gets us there. At best it means that every station is like Mount Baker Station (awful). While it is OK to live with an awful station here or there, it isn’t a good idea if your line is as fundamentally weak as this one. This is not the UW. While folks (rightly) complain about all the flaws with the UW station (that likely reduces ridership significantly), the UW is still the UW. You really can’t mess it up too much. The U-District Station is great, and there will be riders no matter where you put a station, as long as it in the general area.

        You can’t say that about West Seattle or even Ballard. The original plans were a stretch — 15th is on the edge of Ballard, nowhere near the middle — 14th is much worse. Cheap stations in Lower Queen Anne could cripple ridership in the same way, making surface transit (buses) suddenly look very attractive. Skip the Junction, and now West Seattle stops start looking like those in Rainier Valley. Plenty of people ride it to work (most of whom have to transfer from a bus) but no takes it there to visit. Because while there are destinations in both Rainier Valley and West Seattle, the train doesn’t serve them. (Just for the record, I’m not complaining about the fact that Link doesn’t actually serve Columbia City. Doing so would have been very expensive.) The point is, just getting to West Seattle or greater Ballard is very expensive (as is building a new tunnel). If you cheap out with the stations, you will cripple ridership, and be left with a very expensive, relatively unpopular subway line.

        As I see it, the only reasonable way out of this mess is with a bus tunnel (with *good* station locations along the way, not cheap ones). Whether the board comes to that conclusion or not is a different issue. They don’t really have a good record when it comes to decision making.

      10. “No one wants to build Ballard to UW”

        No politician or technical staff wants to build a Ballard-UW line that is a spur off the existing UW tunnel.

        OTOH, Ballard to UW as either a standalone line or as a spur coming off WSBLE has strong support, is included in the long range plan, is fully funded for preliminary studies, and does not yet have any technical issues. I expect it to be a keystone project in ST4 in 2028.

      11. Al, Ballard-UW could be built as an extension or connection to Ballard-Downtown, but again, only if the means to interline are provided when B-DT is built.
        That’s the only way it will happen.

      1. I was really just spitballing. Something like what ST is proposing – it would just have to connect buses to the road network on each end, as well allow for future conversion to connect to new elevated light rail guideways. This may be a challenge, but having an additional bridge would likely bring West Seattle voters on board.

      2. Oh ok. You referenced north Burien so I thought it was something closer to South Park.

        Spending $200M-ish on great bus infrastructure, like Ross recommends, would be a great complement to deferring WS Link to the end of the ST3 plan. The long term goal can still be to have a standalone Link bridge across the Duwamish before the WS freeway bridge reaches useful life. Opening WS Link by 2040 would allow Seattle to pivot to decommissioning the WS freeway bridge & approaches in the 2040s.

      3. Spending $200M-ish on great bus infrastructure, like Ross recommends, would be a great complement to deferring WS Link to the end of the ST3 plan. The long term goal can still be to have a standalone Link bridge across the Duwamish before the WS freeway bridge reaches useful life.

        Yes, exactly. Build the bus tunnel but design it so that it can be retrofitted for rail. Spend some money on the West Seattle Freeway or Spokane Street Viaduct. Do similar things in Ballard. Build a bus stop under Dravus, so that the bus doesn’t have to deal with traffic. If possible, I would like to see the southern approach to the existing bridge widened, so that the bus lane could be extended right to the bridge. When the bridge is open, the bus goes right to the front or line, next to the bridge. The biggest delays are not waiting for the bridge to open and close — it is waiting for all the traffic to clear (a problem that would go away). This would also include a wider shoulder for bikes, dramatically improving that situation. While 20 to 40 million seems like a fortune for bike infrastructure ( it would be nothing in the scale of this project, and would simply be thrown in as a bonus.

        That’s really the only way I see ST making anything substantially useful out of the Ballard to West Seattle lines in the short term (meaning the next 20 years). Eventually you could have rail the whole way (as originally promised) but that would likely require a re-vote, and take a while. It took another vote for Link to get to the U-District, and it will be roughly 15 years late.

  11. “a three mile elevated section that was previously assumed would run at grade. ” What section is that? 3 miles is basically the width of the Puyallup reservation, so did the initial plan assume at-grade running through Fife?

  12. It’s too bad they didn’t release the revised cost estimate for the Ballard and West Seattle tunnels. If real estate costs increased by $2 billion, then presumably the tunnel options are now competitive with the elevated options.

    1. Good point. The cost increases are because of surface real estate and impact mitigation additions. These wouldn’t be needed underground.

      1. And the tunnel costs have gone up as well (“higher mined station costs, and improved understanding of utilities and environmental work”). The higher mined station cost may be related to the property that is taken when they mine (or other factors).

    2. Tunneled options still have real estate needs as well. I’m not sure why people keep thinking tunneling is some magical panacea, tunneling is almost always more expensive than elevated, especially for Seattle where we’re deciding between single family houses or small apartments not 50 story apartment blocks like in London/China etc…

  13. Maybe instead of taking land for the station, they can find a way to use street space, above or below the street. It would mean closing a street for a few years and inconviencing some drivers. But that seems a far superior alternative to tearing down a 300 unit apartment building that was just built.

    Or, move the station a few blocks over to where there’s a large parking lot.

    1. Yeah this feels like the alignment just needs further revision, like anticipating slower speeds between the Junction and Avalon to allow for tighter turns to follow the street grid, or perhaps single tracking between some of the WS stations.

      Also, I don’t see why the train can’t run at grade (not in traffic) in short segments between the Junction and Delridge.

    2. Demolishing a 300-unit apartment building sounds like a counterproductive way to increase housing near transit stations. The great thing about all the new apartment construction is it typically doubles or triples or more the number of units compared to the previous buildings. How would you do that with a 300-unit apartment building? Build a 1000-unit building? How would that be possible in Seattle?

      1. I think some of the super towers downtown approach 1,000 units.

        Also, while demolishing a new apartment block is expensive and probably a bad idea, there’s no reason ST can’t then rebuild a similarly sized building on top of the alignment afterwards.

      2. Ideally ST would only close a portion of the building to incorporate a station entrance at most, but that would probably be absurdly expensive if it’s even possible.

    3. Exactly, acquiring ROW is the problem and acquiring less ROW (by building at-grade) is the solution.

      We need to accept a few at-grade crossings if we want to reduce the cost. In West Seattle I would bring back the level-1 alternative that stayed along the bridge ramp via Fauntleroy rather than turning south at Delridge. I would built it at-grade in the median of Fauntleroy starting where the Spokane viaduct meets Harbor Ave. I think this could be done with only two at-grade crossings, one at 35th and one at Alaska. The only downside is the poor location of the Delridge station (it would be right at the bridge near Nucor) but I think that is an acceptable tradeoff for a station that will be mostly bus transfers.

      Same goes for Interbay/Ballard–run the line at-grade in the median of Elliott->15th and build a multimodal Ballard Bridge replacement. I think this could be done with only one at-grade crossing at Gilman since there are already overpasses at most of the other crossings.

      Added bonus–safe street advocates have started pushing for road diets in Interbay, which could be accomplished by rebuilding the street for light rail.

      1. Yep: one overpass at Gilman to accommodate peds/bikes/left turns in and out of west Queen Anne and a reconfiguration of the Magnolia bridge/Expedia overpass ramps for the same to Magnolia and you can run at grade in the median all the way from the bridge to Mercer with no grade crossings. If they’re going to value engineer it that’s the place to start. Would honestly improve the ambience of the current 7 lane highway.

  14. Why is no one thinking about outsourcing to the Boring Company? Given the cost of their recent Las Vegas project, including stations and equipment, they could probably do a fully underground system for $750 million, including a tunnel under the ship canal. The stations could be under the streets, to avoid buying adjacent property, with escalators or elevators to the sidewalk level. The way that Sound Transit does projects seems to be mostly a way to funnel a vast amount of money to construction companies and union construction workers, while greatly extending the time to get service.

    1. Sorry, but there is no way to build an entire system with underground stations that cheaply. The stations cannot be bored.

      1. The initial Las Vegas system was built for just over $50 million for not quite a mile, with twin tunnels plus stations, and a transit speed close to 60 MPH. The Boring Company is proposing to extend that to a 15 mile system in the Las Vegas area, including under downtown. You cannot build an entire system with underground stations the way that Sound Transit builds systems for anything like that price. It is not a law of a nature that one has to do it the Sound Transit way, although it might be a law of politics in this area.

    2. Because the Boring Company is a laughable and almost pitiable joke designed to appeal to morons?

      1. Why would you say something so insulting with no basis in fact? You sound like one of the short sellers who lost over $30 billion betting against Tesla, with same sort of wording.

        The Boring Company have built the Las Vegas people mover very quickly at relatively low cost, unlike anything Sound Transit, or for that matter other transit agencies, have done. Continuing to believe that political organizations can deliver anything quickly at reasonable cost is delusional. Seeing the results of effective companies is not.

      2. I’m a big believer in the Boring company, but their speciality is smaller diameter tunnels that aren’t going to fit a light rail vehicle and all the needed catenary and track infrastructure.

        I could definitely see Bellevue getting on board with them to build a circulator between the mall, old downtown, the transit center, etc., though. Seattle’s throughout needs full on rail, though.

  15. We can still do this. We just need to stop gold-plating our transit, and start sacrificing car infrastructure.

    Eliminate the mezzanines. Stop acquiring so much land. Inside downtown, do cut-and-cover rather than deep-boring if we can. Outside downtown, put all the tracks and all the stations on elevated structures in the center of the street.

    Focus on what’s important: fast, reliable trips with easy bus connections. Everything else is unimportant.

    1. A Fifth Avenue line has to be bored and the Midtown station has to be deep. There’s a big “hump” between Fifth and Pine and Fifth and Madison and almost a cliff between Fifth and Washington and Fifth and Madison. Simply to get from Fifth and Washington to underrunning the existing tunnel at Fifth or Sixth and Pine is a pretty good grade.

      Sure, its guaranteed always to be dry because its underground, so the gradient can be steeper than what is practical at grade or elevated. And, fortunately, the track level is probably another 30 feet below the Westlake tracks which helps with the grade, but you don’t want to go up to Madison and down much more steeply south of there.

    2. Oh, and you can’t “eliminate the mezzanines” with center platforms. I doubt that there is enough width in Fifth Avenue to have two tracks and two side platforms. Third Avenue is considerably wider than Fifth.

    3. “start sacrificing car infrastructure.”

      That’s hard to do when voters say, “Don’t take away my highways or parking!” We could have done that twenty years ago but it wasn’t politically feasible. The 6-lane Alaskan Way Viaduct was replaced with a 4-lane tunnel and a 4-6 lane boulevard in order to preserve car capacity and a fast car bypass through downtown. There have been theoretical speculations about not replacing the West Seattle Bridge or downsizing it, but nobody thinks that will realistically happen. Seattle has gotten more accepting of urban density, but it’s not ready to give up its suburbanesque highways and parking. Maybe in a couple decades when climate change gets worse and driving becomes less popular, but not yet.

      1. Not replacing the WSB or downsizing it would be more feasible if we knew for sure that we were getting light rail or if our Ferry system to downtown was radically improved (no extra ferries for WS, so ain’t happening.) However, since the cost update either imperils light rail delivery or drags it out considerably, we should not be denied viable road alternatives for buses and cars in the absence of light rail.

        Driving will get less popular as the public transportation gets more efficient. I don’t think climate change will blunt driving unless fossil fuels become close to extinct (not for a long time, I suspect) or cost prohibitive.

      2. Driving will get less popular when Americans get over their Futurama vision of driving everywhere and arranging their built environment to be car dependent. And when they get concerned enough about the environment to accelerate this trend. In other words, when they become more like other countries, and demand transit that’s at least as comprehensive as we had in the 1950s or 1920s. I think this will eventually happen as people’s attitudes gradually change and new generations don’t have the same attitudes as their parents. I can’t predict how long it will take: maybe decades, maybe less. If it happened now we’d be in a lot better situation. If it had happened twenty years ago, we’d be in an even better situation.

        Among the advantages, parking garages wouldn’t have to be built, or they could be smaller. That would give more room for housing near stations, and make cities take up less space, so it would be easier to walk to things.

    4. “That’s hard to do when voters say, “Don’t take away my highways or parking!” We could have done that twenty years ago but it wasn’t politically feasible.”

      Mike, Mike… Mike….

      You’ve gone Off The Rails with this statement!

      (If people who don’t know me want to understand me, I’m basically Mike Orr, but old and with a shit-ton of NY snark. I’ve been involved with this for way too long. )

      The problem with that statement is – Voters Never Approve Road Projects.

      The only example I can give is from my old stomping grounds of Bothell, who back in 2014 tried to put major road improvements in their Proposition #1 Parks and Recreation ballot measure.

      It was voted down.

      Arguing that people want their roads as a given is somewhat specious.

      I heard a road engineer at a design charrette during the I-405 Corridor Program grousing “Yeah, everybody wants more roads, just not in their backyard!”
      To which I would personally add “and they want everyone else to pay for it.”

      (The charrette was covering the Kirkland Totem Lake NE 116th St and NE 124th St interchanges. One of the engineers leans over, and says to another “Give me and eraser!” and proceeds to mock erase the whole section of the map, giving in to the hopelessness of the situation.)

      So, when I see a Roads Only ballot measure, with clear definitions of cost/benefits/and the roads version of ‘farebox recovery’ for an expensive piece of highway infrastructure, I would agree with your statement.

      MAKE.THEM.JUSTIFY the highway expense.

      1. The reason politicians are very reluctant to reduce car capcity on a new West Seattle Bridge is they’re afraid they’ll be voted out of office if they do. Some people vote for transit, but many people vote to repeal car tabs, and community groups get up in arms if somebody wants to convert parking spaces on Aurora or 45th or 35th Ave NE to BAT lanes or bike lanes. These may all be loud minorities but the sentiment is so widespread (and the car tab initiative passed) that I can understand politicians’ reluctance. We need to address it at that level: where the loud activists are and the politicians’ fear is, and show it’s not as representative as it may appear. The idea of making car infrastructure explain and justify itself in ballot measures is a good one.

      2. The car tab initiative only passed because Eastern Washington wants to wipe Seattle off the map.

  16. It’s really tempting to dive into the cost-cutting weeds to figure out how to confidently salvage a set of projects. Drop stations, change profiles away from subways, build reversible single track segments for long bridges or tunnels, extend the timeline and so forth. We will have plenty of future discussion on those.

    But let’s step back and reconsider if the miscalculation is unfortunate or negligent . Keep in mind that ST only put in a 10 percent contingency when the FTA recommends 30 percent AFTER the planning stage. Comparable projects in California were already well above the per-mile cost promised here. The $54M was so big that no one wanted to discuss if it was too low.

    I think some senior management and Board members need to come clean about why the estimates are so far off. This reminds me of overbudgeted Move Seattle promises in 2015 and we are generally aware of that situation.

    People love to complain about ridership estimates bring off 20 or 30 percent. But this is much greater and yet the finger pointing is avoided.

    1. Yeah it does feel like Move Seattle, in that we might only get half the projects done, but it’s still a good step forward.

      Another framing – if these overruns were known, the WSBLE opening date was 2 years later and the sale tax was 0.2% higher, would the vote have been any different? I think not.

      Accelerating opening dates in the ST3 plan was good PR as a general move and may have helped sway many votes, but the specific opening dates for specific projects are pretty irrelevant from a political standpoint. They are super important in organizing ST’s work, but they don’t really sway votes.

      1. The history seems a bit suspicious. I’m painting with broad strokes here, so maybe there was no malfeasance. But consider how things went down:

        1) At one point, the standard proposal was a surface line to Ballard. Essentially, it was all we could afford.

        2) Folks on this blog hated it. This spread to the general public.

        3) The powers that be heard that, and said it was just an idea. They came back with a better plan (and somehow it was now affordable).

        Maybe they had it right in the first place. Maybe they simply came up with a plan that was more optimistic. In general everything about this plan was based on the idea that it was going to be cheap. For example, going through Queen Anne and Fremont (Corridor D, if I remember right) was clearly better, but we saved a fortune by using what is essentially a freeway (Elliot/15th). So that was the route that was chosen. Likewise, somehow West Seattle Link was going to be cheap, again taking advantage of running above ground. But now there is talk of tunneling, and you still have a massive amount of concrete and steel.

        This does feel a lot like Move Seattle, where their estimates were way off. Only this time, it feels like they had an inkling this was going to happen.

      2. I believe the ‘somehow affordable’ came from making the plan a lot longer and therefore larger. IIRC, everyone initially assumed a 15 years plan but staff or the board figured out that they could do a 25 year plan using the exact same authorization, which basically doubled the plan in YOE$. That allowed for a much more ambitious WSBLE alignment, and then the other subareas got goodies like Paine Field and Issaquah Link to build a coalition for the bigger plan.

        There were some who thought switching from 15 to 25 was a ‘bait & switch,’ including some in the WaLeg, but they lost that argument.

  17. From the Seattle Times today:
    “Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit board member Jenny Durkan said she had concerns about the cost estimates and the timeline of when the board was informed.”

    ” “Some of this information obviously was available at a time when we should have had it while we were deciding and approving increased costs for projects over the last year,” she said.”

    I agree with Mayor Durkan. I find it odd that none of this was disclosed in 2020 Q3 or Q4 while the agency was working on its new budget cycle and updating its financial plan. I guess Peter was more concerned with spinning the state audit results and exit interviews at the time.

  18. I think people are being a bit overly pessimistic. I’m sure there will be delays, but with Democrats being in complete control of congress and the presidency, additional infrastructure funding is likely.

    The government also is throwing around a lot more money than after the financial crisis. Obama’s stimulus was only $831 billion. Over the past year, the government has spent something like $4 trillion (hard to keep track). I would expect at least another trillion in stimulus in 2021.

    I think there is much less resistance to federal deficit spending at this point. Borrowing costs are very low for the federal government.

    1. Democrats being in complete control of congress and the presidency for two years

      There, fixed it for you.

    2. One trillion dollars doesn’t go far in a country of 50 states, 350 million people, decades of infrastucture backlog, and the need for all kinds of non-automobile infrastructure and climate retrofitting throughout the country. Seattle won’t get all of it.

    3. The problem is that it is a lot of money, and likely a tough sell. For the same amount of money, you could probably dramatically increase the frequency of every bus in Ohio. In terms of riders, the Ohio plan is better. In terms of politics, it isn’t even close.

      This is why New York has struggled funding plans that are clearly better. Politically, there is little to be gained. But more than that, why should the government spend a fortune on a system that won’t carry that many riders, when a similar amount would go way farther in New York?

      It really doesn’t make sense politically, or based on any sort of metric (ridership per dollar spent, ridership time saved per dollar spent, etc.). ST3 is full of weak projects, and Ballard to West Seattle is borderline. It is possible that work could be done to get a lot more money, I just doubt it.

  19. Ballard: How about deferring the bridge until the road bridge is rebuilt?!? We could just run Link to Interbay and build a gondola to Ballard Center (and stop and Fishermens Terminal). Much better than a station on 14th.
    West Seattle: already proposed a gondola which needs a lot less land acquisitions meaning about tenth the cost of LR.

    1. It would make more sense to build a bus tunnel (designed to be eventually converted to a train tunnel). I think that would fit well within the original budget, and avoid the controversy on both ends of the project (the downtown/SLU/Uptown section has been fairly uncontroversial).

      Throwing a gondola on top (for West Seattle) would be worth looking at, as would further transit improvements to the West Seattle freeway/SR 99. It wouldn’t take much to enable unimpeded access for a bus from West Seattle to the tunnel.

  20. So, the “the $64,000 dollar question” is, when will Seattle Liberals grasp the fact that all ST estimates are garbage? Maybe they already know and just don’t care. After all, it’s a rich voting base that doesn’t really need (or use) these public works projects.

    Biden was a train guy. So far his appointments have been very reasonable. Maybe things will be good moving forward?

    1. Somebody is riding Metro and Link. Ridership per capita is higher than in other American metros of similar size/density. If it’s not Seattle liberals riding it, who is? I’m a median-income Seattle libreral and I ride it, and I can think of several others that do. So the idea that all Seattle liberals don’t care and don’t ride it is wrong. It’s more that Seattle liberals are like the rest of the country: they tend to like houses and cars.

    2. I know Sound Transit has questionable estimates. It’s because estimates are hard, even without political pressure to keep them low. I also think they acquire too much property and over design stations.

      But above all that, Seattle still needs transit and voting yes is the fastest way to get it.

      I’m a “rich Seattleite” who uses transit.

    3. When will Seattle Liberals grasp the fact that all ST estimates are garbage? Maybe they already know and just don’t care.

      As a Seattle liberal I would say it is a mix. I think you could propose just about anything and people would vote for it in Seattle. I think ST3 proved that.

      It is understandable. Most people don’t follow projects with great detail. It is like anything else — they assume the folks in charge know what they are doing. So then the vote comes done to: Are you for transit or against it? In Seattle the answer is obvious.

  21. None of the projects will be built, then. It’s over – all except the hemming and hawing and excuse-making, as the project horizons keep moving out farther and farther, and the financial woes keep growing. The official death, of course, will take its sweet time.

    Part of me hopes the above is wrong – the West Seattle to Ballard project, at minimum, has some real merit for the city – but part of me is relieved that it’s likely true. Almost every project in ST3 is trash. It’s the wrong alignment/station placement, the wrong method, the wrong usage of land around the stations, the wrong… everything. Seattle could do worse than throwing it all in the garbage and starting again.

    It’s weird to find myself saying this – even a year ago, I would never have posted this “out loud” even if I thought it in my head. But… Seattle needs to plan transit projects when it is NOT rich. Because when this city is rolling in the dough, it’s enabled to make incredibly stupid decisions. (About more than transit, frankly…) A good hard dose of poverty might even be what this city *needs* right now. A time when absolutely *everyone* understands that there are no perfect choices – only ones that will work, and ones that won’t, and if it doesn’t work then somebody’s head is going to roll down one of the seven hills. The end.

    We’ve had a long, long run where what works in real life and what works on paper have been held to be of equal value. Maybe the sad, dark chapter in Seattle’s history that the events of last year are clearly ushering in will have the silver lining of eradicating this false equality. It could be good for us – or, well, for the next generation that will follow us.

    I don’t think Seattle’s out for the count, though, nor even rail in Seattle (unless the idiots in charge focus their full energies on murdering it, a possible outcome). There are still lines that could be built, which would genuinely increase the prosperity of this city. Now if we were REALLY sane, we would run frequent buses to and from those places first, and then build the rail lines in the exact same places, extending out them piece by piece as the money was (painfully, slowly) raised. But we would need a few DECADES of poverty to so comprehensively evade the Seattle Process, lol! I won’t hold my breath.

    Lines planned in better locations, with better concepts of station access – I’d take that. Even if they don’t come along until my hair is gray.

    1. ST1 and 2 were clearly needed: a Lynnwood-Redmond-Des Moines extent is the sweet spot for providing circulation in the denser areas and having terminal stations for express buses beyond it. Ballard is the next-most deserving area after that, because Ballard is the largest urban village the furthest from Seattle’s ST2 Link network, and has a half-hour overhead to get to regional transit (U-District or downtown) via existing buses. But ST3 is turning out disappointing. West Seattle, Tacoma, Everett/Paine Field, and Issaquah were always excessive. The 14th Avenue alternative for Ballard Station is too far east, excessively far from the pedestrian concentration. The unequivocably good things in ST3 are the Stride lines, the infill stations at 130th and Graham, the Tacoma 1 BRT, the Sounder South expansion, and the interim contribution to RapidRide C&D. It’s hard to figure out how to keep just the good things and ditch the rest, since the political pressure goes a completely different way.

      If I had to economize I’d keep the bus things above, look at multi-line BRT for West Seattle, and maybe some kind of SuperRapidRide for Ballard (whatever that means). That could be combined with a second downtown bus tunnel, which RossB has advocated for. That gets into subarea issues though, as all subareas are funding the second dowtown tunnel, but they won’t want to do that if it’s just Seattle buses in the tunnel. And you can forget about Everett/Tacoma/Issaquah express buses in the tunnel. The point of Link to the suburbs is to truncate those.

      1. The political and legal dynamics surrounding the second downtown tunnel are interesting. In general, the approach from various subareas have been to let each area build what they want to build. But when Seattle wanted to build a line from Ballard or West Seattle to downtown, I’m sure they said “Hey, we can save a bunch of money by interlining at Westlake and SoDo”. This got the suburbs nervous. It would mean running the trains to the north less often (Northgate, Northgate, Ballard, Northgate, Northgate, Ballard, etc.). So if the tunnel can only handle three minute headways, that means a six minute gap. If nothing else, it means a lot of crowding, which would be unpopular.

        Thus the suburbs decided to pay part of the cost of the new tunnel. It really isn’t about the new tunnel, exactly, it is about *not* using the old tunnel (i. e. not messing with the capacity of the old tunnel). Fair enough.

        If Seattle decided to go with a bus tunnel, I could see them trying to back out of the deal. On the one hand, a bus tunnel is different. On the other hand, it can be converted to a train tunnel. Since the cost sharing was based on *not* interlining, while providing a different (additional tunnel) I think you could make the case that a bus tunnel is just as good.

        Even if we went with a stub tunnel, the different subareas might want to back out. Even if we interlined, we probably couldn’t get all the way to Ballard or West Seattle. Thus they would have a good case for saying the same about a short rail tunnel as a bus tunnel — it wasn’t what you promised. Either way it wouldn’t be built for a very long time, and those agencies have other things to worry about, like getting their own lines extended.

        I don’t know what legal obligation they have to be part of a project that will be significantly different, either because it is smaller, or carries buses. For that matter, I don’t know how much they are chipping in for the project.

      2. Why do you think the “politicians got nervous” and not “technical experts said people wouldn’t be able to physically board the trains at Capital Hill during rush hour”?

        Board-members will point out that Seattle infill stations means their constituents have slightly longer commuter, but I’ve never see anyone (outside of STB comments) say we need two tunnels because the suburbs want better frequency. My understanding has always been that the need for a 2nd tunnel arose from the technical staff and ridership projects, not from the politicians wanting to preserve frequency outside of Seattle.

        You are conflating between ‘unpopular’ crowding and the safety issues of operating over capacity.

      3. The issue wasn’t the suburbs getting less frequency, it was downtown being so overcrowded people would be passed up by trains. Ridership doesn’t just go away because a train to Lynnwood is every 15 minutes rather than every 5 minutes; people still need to get to Snohomish County. Some people at the margins will choose not to risk waiting 15 minutes, but at least half the riders would remain. Ridership could go away if Link is so overcrowded people go back to driving.

        Seattle never considered adding Ballard to DSTT1 as is. There were two choices: enhance DSTT1 so it could accommodate 1.5 minute headways reliably, or build a second tunnel. ST chose a second tunnel. Then it lobbied all subareas to contribute to it saying it benefits them and they shouldn’t get a free ride. If ST had chosen to enhance DSTT1 instead, it’s at least probable it would have charged it to all subareas anyway. Because the tunnel benefits all subareas, regardless of what order North King or suburban lines are built. And if Ballard would have been connected to Tacoma anyway to avoid a 2+-hour Tacoma-Everett runs, then South King and Pierce would have benefitted directly from it.

      4. The issue wasn’t the suburbs getting less frequency, it was downtown being so overcrowded people would be passed up by trains.

        It is both (less frequency causes more crowding, but it bad in and of itself). It hurts the suburbs more. Seattle would take their chances. To begin with, it isn’t likely to happen. It certainly doesn’t effect Rainier Valley — it is limited to six minute headways, no matter how often the trains run in the tunnel. For the north, people adjust. Instead of taking the train up to Capitol Hill, you take the bus. Even if you are headed to the UW you have the revamped 70, along with the 49.

        But if you live in Mountlake Terrace, suddenly the commute sucks. You never get a seat, and once in a while, you have to wait for the next train. Except instead of waiting 2 or 3 minutes, you might wait 4 or 6. I can see how ST talked them into the idea of a new tunnel.

  22. Does an underground station in the Alaska Junction have to be another ST Palace? What’s wrong with a Muni Metro style single-level station? By that I mean the under-Market stations at Van Ness, Church and Castro, not the ones that share with BART.

    They have center platforms with stairs/escalators toward each end angling toward the center of the station. There is a Mezzanine which is big enough to support entrances at each of the four corners of the primary intersection, and the headroom in it is modest, but not TOO low.

    One does not need buildings to enter subway stations! A hole with stairs in the sidewalk is quite sufficient; yes, of course it would have to have a cover here in the rainy northwest.

    The “station buildings” — or whatever they call them … “head houses”? — at U-District and Roosevelt are ridiculous extravagances. The stations should have straddled 45th and 65th so that people from both sides of the arterials could enter easily. Even worse, they stranded Roosevelt between two north-south arterials, each of which is one-way the wrong way for direct boarding/alighting next to the station.

    I understand that HSS and Capitol Hill have to be as deep as they are because of the profile of the line, but if ST chooses the “short tunnel” and more modest stations, it probably wouldn’t be any more expensive than elevated, and with much less impact on the neighborhood.

    1. Uhhhh… Church and Castro Stations in SF have mezzanines. They aren’t single level. I’ve been through them thousands of times.

      1. I said that they have mezzanines. They are “single-level” in that they have only one level of platforms unlike the ones downtown shared with BART. I also said that they have mezzanines large enough to support entrances on all four corners of the intersection above.

        Now a station like that does require breaking into the street above to dig and build the mezzanine. The intersection has to be closed long enough to build decking. That says “don’t build under Fauntleroy” because there’s no alternate route for traffic. But Alaska and California would be fine. There are parallel streets that could accept rerouted for a couple of months while the street is excavated to depth sufficient for work to continue under the decking.

        Are cut-and-cover stations perfect? No. They disrupt the neighborhood severely during startup and then when the decking is removed and the street is rebuilt. They disrupt it much less severely during the interim. It’s great when they can be built off the street right-of-way, but ST failed to buy such a place in the Junction, so they are left with no alternative except a cut-and-cover station under the street right-of-way or a surface station in it. That would be disruptive forever. They neighborhood seems implacably opposed to an elevated station, and ST won’t build one in the street ROW anyway, so they’re back to razing big apartment buildings.

        The best alternative is the “short tunnel” with a station just east of California under Alaska, but with and under street connection to the west side of California for efficient bus transfers. If that can’t happen then surface west of Fauntleroy and have the station on the surface. Some stretch of tunnel seems necessary, because the tracks cannot cross Fauntleroy at grade. It’s too important an arterial.

      2. I can attest to both Castro and Church stations having frequent major escalator and elevator maintenance hassles and closures where they are exposed without a surface “headhouse”. This in a city with only 19 inches of rain as well as the most temperate weather almost anywhere.

        While it’s true that Link station entrances can be overly excessive, some structural protection (and frankly adding some climate control) goes a long way to reduce maintenance hassles and costs. It comes down to what’s the best design rather than it being a binary yes/no choice.

      3. Al, OK, that is a good point. So they should have provided for something to be built above the station instead of wasting the land available for development closest to the station. Put in the foundation for ten or fifteen story building and then let someone built the upper part.

        Make some money off the lease.

    2. The reason for Roosevelt station’s size is allegedly that all the equipment for ventilating the entire Northgate Link tunnel is located there. Some of the Second Avenue Subway stations have sizeable auxiliary buildings for this reason.

      Still not a good reason for not straddling 65th, but ST gonna ST.

      1. Pat: ST has set a pattern; they do not help pedestrians cross busy arterials very well; see Mt. Baker, SeaTac, NE 130th Street; see West Seattle concepts for Delridge Way SW and 35th Avenue SW or Interbay plans.

      2. SeaTac has a ped bridge that somehow manages not to have an elevator down to the southbound bus stop, so you have to cross the arterial twice to get to it, once on the bridge and then back on the surface.

      3. Thank you. That makes the existence and its size more understandable. It doesn’t explain the UDS “headhouse” though.

    3. A thousand times THIS.

      Stairs down to the platform.. That’s all you need. Monstrous glass buildings of wasted space? Completely unnecessary.

      It’s almost as if a political organization doesn’t know how to build a subway system. Crazy!

    4. Yeah I don’t understand why
      1) There isn’t an option for the Avalon station to be a “portal” station similar to the Bellevue downtown station, which would allow for the station itself to be not underground (cheaper) and the shortest possible tunnel to the Junction (also cheaper). The Bellevue tunnel is a half mile and it was built using sequential excavation, neither boring nor cut & cover. They did need to acquire 1 parcel near the tunnel’s midpoint (for ventilation?), but aside from some brief closures, the Bellevue street grid remained open. Nothing close to the disruption of a cut & cover approach, and the tunnel followed the Bellevue street grid to avoid the underground parking garages & tower foundations.

      The distance here (Avalon to Junction) is very similar. The big difference here is the lack of a portal on the other side, so ST would still need to acquire a full parcel for the Junction station itself. But on the Avalon side … can’t they just use some of the golf course for staging?

      2) There isn’t a proper cut & cover option for the Junction station, as you say. Sure it’s disruptive, but there’s a proper street grid so just route traffic on side streets for a few months. Like if the station is under Alaska, just close Alaska for 2 full blocks for a few months and turn Oregon and Edmunds into 1-way streets temporarily.

      But finally,
      3) There isn’t an at-grade Junction station. Whether the Avalon station allows for a crossing over or under Fauntleroy, why can’t Link just cover to at-grade along Genesee and run down the big median on 39th and place the station on 39th immediately north of the Fauntleroy/Alaska junction? That A. incredibly close to the preferred alternative station location, and B. still allows for a future extension, albeit. Or shoot, just have an at-grade approach along 39th (given the elevation change) and only elevate the last full block, so the platform can extend across the intersection. I prefer at-grade station access, but others will want elevated so they can pretend it is ready for a future extension.

  23. One major cost savings can come about by simply removing the deep station platform alternatives in the ID station. It’s easy to forget that this deep station boondoggle is included in the alternatives. It’s very expensive and makes rail transfers as well as boarding more difficult.

    While we are at it, we need to fully see how deep the Midtown station is. ST has not produced any profiles of this station. If the tracks are under the current ones at Westlake and 100 feet underground at ID, it’s going to be so deep that only elevators could serve it. Deferring this station could provide quite a savings.

    A final discussion is with the place where Link would cross Aurora/99. If it’s at the 99 tunnel portal, a nearby station is going to be deep and harder to use. Again, ST has not released a profile for SLU.

      1. They can be somewhat shallower, but even if a cut-and-cover station is built under Fifth South it would have to be deep enough to allow some sort of under street connection to the existing platforms above the tracks, so roughly 30 feet below the existing platforms.

        That’s several feet below MSL, and Fifth and Madison is about 290 feet above MSL. It’s about 3200 feet from Fifth and Jackson. Assuming a 3% grade limit, The sine of 3 degrees is 0.052. When multiplied by that 3200 feet (the cosine is 0.998 so no change in the “run”) that gives a rise of 166 feet. Unless the grade is notably steepened, say to 5% which would give 250 feet of rise, Midtown is going to be pretty deep.

        That’s a good argument for bellying over to Seventh or Eighth (no farther) as long as a pedestrian connection under the freeway were built as well.

  24. As Joe Z noted above, I like the idea of looking into the higher costs of real estate acquisition vs tunneling, which wouldn’t have any real estate costs.

    Also, could the west seattle group advocating for a gondola known this was coming? It seems like suspiciously fortunate timing so maybe they will get their wish if light rail costs too much.

    Still, if they could build light rail to Delridge, they could then run a circulating bus (or gondola, or maybe a U-shaped gondola line) between Alaska, the light rail station at Delridge, and Admiral.

    1. A one end-station West Seattle solution with feeder access (gondolas, guided cable peoplemovers, streetcars, RapidRide) seems reasonable to me. Unlike the time-consuming slog from West Seattle to SODO using a gondola, the connecting distance would be much shorter and not seem to take long for a rider to use. That end station could also be part of a dense redevelopment project with paid parking for the electric cars in our future.

      1. Or simply break the WS project in two and defer the extension up to the junction. ST doesn’t need to cancel it, just park it at the end of the timeline.

      2. Given the messiness of West Seattle neighborhood politics, it’s more than reasonable to only put in one West Seattle station to serve Delridge in a Phase 1.

        Unlike a West Seattle to SODO gondola, this would be only one transfer. Since all of West Seattle outside of the Avalon and Junction walksheds (and half of Avalon could walk to a Delridge Station) has to transfer anyway. having more than one West Seattle is like adding more icing to a pretty sweet cake.

      3. You could improve the Yancy/Andover connection from Avalon down to Delridge and send buses from the Junction/Admiral down to a transfer station next to the steel mill. Could be a pretty seamless transfer. To me that’s the minimum viable product for West Seattle.

    2. they could build light rail to Delridge

      Sure, why make the trip slower for 90% of the riders, when you can make it slower for 99%. Sounds great.

      Look, I’m a big fan of feeder stations. Bus to rail transfers are essential, especially for suburban tails. But no one builds a major, extremely expensive mass transit line that consists of nothing but feeder stations.

      It isn’t hard to see why. Consider the UW station, which is a major feeder stop. Lots of buses now terminate there, as bus service from the UW to downtown was dramatically cut back when Link got there. Lots of riders are inconvenienced. They have a much slower trip to downtown. Metro has kept many of the same express bus routes — running them only during rush hour — and it saves those riders a lot of time over taking the bus and then the train. For those commuting downtown, it has to be considered worse.

      But it much better in other ways. If you are headed to the UW from downtown, it is much better. If you are trying to get to the UW from those other areas it is much better. If you are trying to get to Capitol Hill from anywhere it is much better. You lose that nice express trip to downtown, but gain back a lot. It also wasn’t why they added the station. Its value as a feeder is secondary.

      Or consider 145th. This will be a major feeder station, and nothing more. There is practically nothing there, just as there is practically nothing at Delridge. Riders who used to have a one seat ride to downtown will have to transfer. Except those riders also get connections to Northgate, Roosevelt, the UW and Capitol Hill. That is huge. Those are all good, if not great destinations.

      More than anything though, the line is not being built for those riders. The 145th station is just being added to a line that is largely being built to serve places where lots of people walk to the station (UW, Roosevelt, Northgate, etc.). It is a cheap extension to an otherwise solid line.

      Now consider a station at Delridge. There is practically nothing there. That means lots more bus trips to a place that no one wants to go. There is also nothing along the way (no equivalent of Capitol Hill, let alone the UW). It is like terminating all of the West Seattle buses at SoDo. Sure, you could do it. But why? You would probably increase frequency, but everyone has a transfer they don’t want. I mean everyone. There is a reason why agencies don’t do this — it is horribly unpopular.

      As weak as it is, West Seattle Junction, and to a lesser extent Avalon, are the keys to West Seattle Link. Those are the stops that people will walk to. Delridge Station is just along for the ride, like 145th.

      1. A lot of people who live in Westwood Village, North and South Delridge, and White Center would (via bus feeder transfer) use and derive benefit from a Delridge Station, those would be the people at a Delridge station, rather than nothing (granted, nothing of significant cultural value to go to, but one could say the same for Issaquah:)). Not simply along for the ride, but a potential vital connection point for significant population utilizing link, assuming it is ever built in WS.

      2. A lot of people who live in Westwood Village, North and South Delridge, and White Center would (via bus feeder transfer) use and derive benefit from a Delridge Station

        Yes, but my point is that they would be better off just staying on the bus. The train would not add anything. It would take longer to transfer to the train than it would to just stay on the bus. The station would likely be tall, if not extremely tall. It will take a while to get to the platform. The train will run at best every 6 minutes. Most of the time, it will run every 10.

        Why would you get out of your seat, a few feet from the freeway entrance, to take the train? To get to SoDo or Stadium? I guess, but we are talking dozens of riders a day, at best. The vast majority of riders will just keep riding the bus.

        This is why Metro doesn’t truncate the West Seattle buses at SoDo, even though though it would generate huge savings (that could create much better frequency). That would delay the vast majority of riders, while making life better for hardly anyone. A station at Delridge would be similar.

        Just to be clear — the problem isn’t that Delridge lacks destinations — it is that the Delridge Station is not a destination. Very few people will walk to or from the station. Almost everyone will take the bus, and those bus riders would be better off going downtown.

      3. Yes, RossB, agree 100%.

        Now do the math on how much of that $2 billion cost overrun for ROW acquisition is caused by the West Seattle line deviating from Fauntleroy in order to move that Delridge station two blocks south. (and then having to climb the giant hill up Genesee while acquiring dozens of valuable properties zoned RSL or LR1). All with the hope of generating a little more TOD in Delridge (even though half the properties in Youngstown that would be bulldozed are brand new townhouses/rowhouses).

  25. I am SO disappointed by this! It angers me that Sound Transit inflated the ST3 package to a staggering $54 billion to account for future costs when it was originally going to be around $15 billion and they still screwed their estimates up. Don’t get me wrong, I am the biggest proponent for light rail but hearing this after the continuous assaults on ST’s budget (Eyman’s car tab fiasco + recession + lack of federal funds from Trump admin.) is so frustrating. I understand Seattle has one of the hottest real estate markets, but it is so dumb that ST did not create a deal with right of way property owners to prevent development that would need to be knocked down. This is not a money issue, this is a planning issue. The moment Sound Transit knew ST3 passed in ’16, they should’ve reached out to every single property owner and begun acquisition talks. This needs to be fixed and never happen again! An additional 4 years on top of the already insane timeline is ridiculous!

    1. It’s not $54 billion, it’s $28 billion. The $54 billion figure is based on paying future interest payments with future inflated dollars. I don’t say my rent will be $4000 in 2040 in 2040 dollars; I say it will be $2000 in 2040 in 2020 dollars.

      1. I understand that, that’s why when they predict what costs will be at 2040 dollars, it should include 2040 property value estimates. It doesn’t make sense that ST now just realizes that the costs are going to be higher due to a booming real estate market, Seattle’s rate of growth has been high since the early 2010’s! Also, it didn’t occur to ST that the land they might need might get developed and acquisition will cost more? Seriously?!

      2. They do have 2040 property estimates. The exact issue driving much of the cost overruns is that the rate of inflation for ROW has exceeded those estimates.

      3. The assumed ROW cost escalator built into the financial plan for ST3, which I believe was assumed to be 4.6% annually over the 25-year plan’s life*, is only part of the picture of the fiscal challenges the agency is now facing with this particular cost component its capital program. One must not lose sight of the history Sound Transit has with regard to also underestimating the SCALE of the total number of properties acquired for ROW and constructing its light rail projects.

        Case in point: Lynnwood Link Extension
        The FEIS concluded that the number of relocations would be somewhere between 108 (107 residential and 1 business) on the low end and 239 (208 residential and 31 business) on the high end for all alternatives studied. The 2015 project description with the preferred alignment brought the number of relocations up to 138 (129 residential and 9 business). Then there was an addendum to the FEIS in 2017 reflecting additional refinements that brought the total relocations to 145 (+7 residential properties, the cul-de-sac in Mountlake Terrace taken for temporary parking).

        There was another addendum to the FEIS in 2018 that reflected further refinements to the 2015 project. This involved 35 additional properties being acquired, 24 full takes and 11 partial takes. These 24 full takes resulted in an additional 20 household displacements (4 of the properties were vacant), bringing the total number of relocations to 165 (156 residential and 9 business).

        Fast forward to today. The most recently available Link Progress Report (Nov 2020) now shows the following updated ROW info for the Lynnwood Link extension project as follows:

        Total acquisitions- 363
        Board approved- 400
        Relocations required- 440

        So we have now gone from the range given in the FEIS of 108(low) – 239(high) anticipated relocations to 440 total relocations expected. Keep in mind that this for an alignment that largely utilizes the I-5 WSDOT ROW along its 8.5 mile course.

        All those staging locations, and ST clearly likes to spread its work area quite broadly, really start to add to the overall ROW costs. I can see a similar pattern (to the Lynnwood Link extension) developing with regard to the Ballard and especially the West Seattle light rail projects.

        *Source: ST3 Financial Plan – Snap Shot, PSRC – Finance Working Group, December 8, 2016

        Page 4:
        Inflation Cost Indices
        (Sound Move, ST2, ST3)
        Consumer Price Index 2.90%, 3.60%, 3.30%
        Building Cost Index
        3.90%, 3.60%, 3.60%
        Right of Way Index
        3.90%, 4.60%, 4.60%

  26. Astronomical cost increases on a project that wasn’t a sure thing. Seems par for the course these days in the US of A. Taking the point of view that all is hopeless is a really sensible position to take these days or you just end up totally wrecked and demoralized. This is insane, though. These costs for such a small amount of a scaled down metro system is totally unreasonable by international standards. Meanwhile, you’ve got the Musk types promising self-driving cars or something in his tunnels, others saying the city is over, and a government mostly disinterested or hostile to transit in power, so none of this will likely make any difference. That’s too bad. A line to Ballard would have been nice. Oh well…

    1. The biggest problem is the US doesn’t have the infrastructure it needs, and doesn’t have plans to build it, and some congresscritters and legislators deny the need even exists. They say we should cut taxes or shouldn’t raise taxes, as if that decision is in a vacuum. But it’s not: it’s directly tied to whether we have the services the taxes would have paid for. The debate should be about how much we need those services, whether they are essential, or whether we have a moral obligation to support the low-income, then decide whether the impact of the taxes is worth it or feasible. And if it’s not, then is there any other way we can get those services? Instead the debate is just an abstract one about whether taxes are good or deficit spending is good.

      We should have a vision of a country that has good infrastructure and a good social safety net, and how can we get there the soonest? Myriad examples abound: Canada, Finland, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan, etc, all have — in their different ways and to different extents — better transit infrastructure, better overall infrastructure, and a better social safety net than the US does. So we can choose any of them as a model to start with.

  27. Thanks for your steadfast participation over all this time, Mike Orr. One “trick” of mine, though, for dealing with information that can seem like nothing but centuries of setbacks:

    Transit-wise, look how far we’ve come and how much we’ve earned ourselves through our own hard work. We owe ourselves some lifetime pride in responding to two lost transit elections at the end of the ‘sixties by starting a regional electric rail system with specially-designed buses.

    And no rule I can see in any book we can’t do the same again if circumstances warrant. Believing as I do that facts need to be faced rather than fussed-over, there’s nothing wrong, and a lot right about laying out the costs that need looking at.

    But for a balance sheet to mean anything, we need to read the whole thing, and never let ourselves overlook the credit where it’s due. With a truth like this in front of anything non-positive.

    Of all the world’s comparable systems, and yeah I mean San Francisco, if they’d had to deal with the stingy inheritance in corridors conducive to all-electric rail and buses alike…

    No offense meant, SF, but soon as the Downtown Seattle Transit Project opened for business, with a “107” above my windshield, I drove a sixty-foot trolleybus a mile and a third through a grooved-rail tunnel the length of Seattle’s whole central business district. Every station, its own art-work.

    And, emerging at Chinatown, dropped poles for a seriously cross-regional diesel ride including both freeway, and a splendidly beautiful ride along the lakeshore into Renton. Before a couple more scenic hill-climbs through neighborhoods that really did both need and appreciate our presence.

    Semantics, maybe, but if the subject’s archery, when we say “Quiver”, nobody on our side needs to be the one to shake.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yes, I sometimes remind myself how far we’ve gotten since 1979 when I first started riding Metro. And Pugetopolis has long had higher ridership than most other American cities its size and density, so that shows a commitment on the part of passengers. And Seattle has kept its downtown central business district, which has 10% of the region’s jobs, while other cities have let their downtowns decay to almost nothing, so everything is scattered. I spent three decades wishing there were a subway between downtown, the U-District, and Northgate as I slogged on less frequent buses taking 30-60 minutes, and I’m glad it’s finally happening this year. And RapidRide C, D, and E, while I wish they were better, I’m glad that they’re there and always frequent. Their predecessors were half-hourly evenings, and that made those areas more inaccessible during those times.

  28. The government underestimate cost? Who would have guessed!

    Outsource it to the Chinese. They’ll have it done in 2 years at half the cost.

  29. We are connecting Redmond to Seattle via Bellevue, maybe we will connect West Seattle to Downtown via George town.

    Regarding Ballard, build the segment to Sodo-Interbay, and skip the Expedia station until the area is rezoned.

  30. Remind me, why are all the Junction stations pointed north-south? Seems like a much more straightforward option would be to put the station east/west elevated or at grade (or both, given the incline) on Alaska as close to California as possible while still allowing for a future turn down 42nd or 41st. Turns immediately next to a station can be pretty tight given the slow speeds (east through downtown Bellevue is a good example)

    A future West Seattle that merits further Link extensions will probably have midrise development throughout the entire rectangle roughly bounded by California and Fauntleroy, not just thin ribbons of development as there is now, so it shouldn’t really matter if Link heads south on any of the streets between California and Fauntleroy; they all seem wide enough to host elevated rail.

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