Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee heard a deeper dive on the recent increase in costs for Seattle Link projects at their meeting Thursday. A long list of revisions to property costs and construction plans contributed to a more than $4 billion increase in the overall cost of the project just since last year.

The incremental cost of tunnel alternatives, however, are now much closer to elevated alternatives, though only because the representative elevated alternatives are so much more expensive. Board members gave no hint of how they would respond to the affordability gap on the project, though there was enthusiasm for adding tunnels as they would not make the needed delays so much greater.

In 2019 dollar terms, the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) had an estimated capital cost of $7.1 billion in the ST3 plan. By 2019, that had been revised upwards to $7.9 billion, reflecting some mix of the preferred alternative choices made by the Board and underlying inflation in costs. The most recent estimates, with the benefit of more detailed investigation since the Board selected preferred alternatives for the EIS, raises this to a range of $12.1 billion to $12.6 billion. The lower number is for an elevated Fauntleroy terminus in West Seattle, the higher for an elevated station on 41st/42nd in West Seattle.

The largest cost increase at $2.1 billion is in right of way. There are at least three elements to the increase in right-of-way costs. There’s a general inflation of property costs, which is higher than typical consumer inflation. That seems the major element of the cost increases from 2015 through 2019, and a significant contributor to the larger increase in the 2020 estimate. Sound Transit annually adjusts its estimates as the baseline increases, but expects a normal 6.5% appreciation in future as per historic averages. Any single year might be very different, but a typical recession would reduce property prices offsetting increases during growth years. The unusual 2020 recession was remarkable in that it didn’t slow the rate of property price increases at all.

Second, there’s the amount of property to be acquired, which appears to have been under-estimated in many places. The general conceptual models estimate an envelope around the likely alignment. Depending on the type of project element, this envelope runs 55′ to 90′. For a variety of reasons, including more robust construction in some places, the typical property need is running well ahead of the envelope assumptions requiring a greater amount of property acquisition.

Third, there is new development along the corridor, which can dramatically increase the cost of some parcels. The oft-highlighted example of a strip mall on Fauntleroy that is being replaced by an apartment building while it also serves as the representative location for an elevated station is just one instance.

Construction costs have added nearly $1.3 billion to the estimates this year. There are a very long list of issues identified, probably none individually very important. Early design has added $480 million, mostly for additional excavation, larger foundations, longer station boxes in the downtown tunnel, and longer spans on the water crossings. There’s an added $275 million in station requirements, $240 million in higher costs identified through early utilities investigation, and $230 in environmental mitigation and impacts to other transit.

The construction cost estimates in the ST3 plan seem to have simply been too sunny. Construction cost increases of all types appear all along the corridor. Conceptual estimates are, by their nature, not likely to be precisely accurate, but all the errors appear to have been in the same direction with no positive surprises of note anywhere.

Mechanically, the soft costs and contingencies increase as the other items increase because they are estimated as percentages of those other items. As the right of way and design costs are pushed upwards, that is estimated to add $1.05 to $1.4 billion to contingencies and soft costs.

Even on the lower cost Fauntleroy alignment, the net effect is a 73% increase in West Seattle costs, vs +53% on the Ballard-Denny segment and +38% downtown. In dollar terms, however, Ballard contributes the most to the change in estimates (+$1.9 B in Ballard vs +$1.3 billion in West Seattle and + $1.0 billion downtown).

It’s not clear what direction this offers for the Board in deciding how to respond. The obvious cost-saving path is to delay one or both ends of the line with a truncated starter line.

The arguable bright spot in Thursday’s briefing is that the cost gap between elevated and tunnel options in Ballard and West Seattle has narrowed greatly. In Ballard, either an elevated or tunneled alignment to a 14th Ave station has the same $1.6 billion price tag between Interbay and the Ballard terminus. A tunnel to a 15th Ave station is just $150 million more at $1.75 billion.

In West Seattle, the range is wider, though still narrowed vs earlier estimates. The elevated options are $1.6 billion (Fauntleroy) or $2.0 billion (41st/42nd Ave) through the West Seattle Junction and Delridge segments. Tunnel options on 41st or 42nd are $2.1 to $2.2 billion. That leaves an elevated station on Fauntleroy as the clear winner on cost, but with all the other options closely bunched together. Both Dow Constantine and Jenny Durkan have clearly signaled their preference for the tunnel options in recent meetings. Sound Transit expects Seattle to pick up the incremental cost of a tunnel over an elevated alignment if tunnels are selected.

A board workshop on January 21 will consider how the cost changes affect the ST3 realignment discussions with a revised timeline and scope for future projects expected this summer.

120 Replies to “Sound Transit committee gets a closer look at West Seattle & Ballard cost increases”

  1. Seems like the benefits of a tunnel, which to me means not having elevated tracks running through Ballard, Fremont, and West Seattle, is worth the extra cost. (Especially as it seems there is no extra cost!) Save the elevated tracks for when the line gets north of Home Depot on Aurora.

    1. You want to tunnel through Crown Hill?? There’s zero reason for a tunnel north of Market. I’d go the opposite direction: Link should be at grade through Crown Hill, just like it is in the RV.

      1. Agreed. That is one of the few advantages of elevated to 15th: you can extend it cheaply up to Crown Hill. An underground option will never be extended — it is just too expensive. That is why an underground option should be at 20th (a far superior location).

        There really should be only two things people are considering: A tunnel to 20th, or an elevated line to 15th. The former would get more riders, while the latter would be cheaper.

      2. I seriously doubt that the 15th NW option is even possible, given that it assumes demolition of the Ava Ballard in order to avoid building over 15th NW. I smell a serious lawsuit.

        An single extensible tunnel should be at 17th not 20th in order to accommodate development to the east of 15th. If it is to allow for an extension east at some time in the future as well as Crown Hill, it has to be stacked.

      3. A tunneled extension from Market to crown hill is too expensive TODAY. This line won’t come online for nearly 20 years. I’d like to reserve judgement on this.

      4. The farther west you go the harder it is to accommodate an extension to the north or east. Remember that any tunneled option is going to cross the Ship Canal at 14th; the large sewer tunnel reaches the shoreline just east of 20th, and the southern shore of the Canal juts way south between 15th and 17th for Fishermen’s Terminal so a tunnel there has to start farther south. That’s why I think 17th is better.

        To your objection about tunneling being too expensive to the north, I agree. However, all that has to happen to extend a tunneled initial segment is for the tunnel to jog back to 15th and surface somewhere around 65th. If 15th can support “running at grade” — which means taking a bit more than two car lanes for the trackway — it can support a pair of tracks coming out the ground and….running at grade to continue north.

        If ST is going to do such a thing it should have stations at 65th, 75th and 85th, not just one at 85th.

        The most cost-effective and flexible solution is at-grade from the SLU tunnel mouth as I described yesterday, a high bridge at 14th with a stacked station with its north end as close to the north side of 54th as a reasonable low-speed turning radius will allow, curving initially above Market Street, passing over 15th and then descending to grade for a station just east of Leary Way.

        Later, if a need for extension north is identified a stacked elevated guideway can be build to transition over to 15th, descend to at-grade and do as above.

        The more stations on a stub line the better. More people will have “walk-up” access which we all agree is the Gold Standard for transit use. One does not have that luxury on a tunneled main line serving distant suburbs because of the time cost of station stops. But on a six mile long stub line the station penalty is levied in favor of ones slightly distant neighbors, not the inhabitants of another town or city.

        Oh, I doubt you can use a single-track station on the at-grade stub. It might be OK to have a short single-track section somewhere, but with six-minute peak headways, even hot-seating the drivers [e.g. the driver on the arriving train buttons up the control cab, detrains and takes a break while a departing driver enters the other end, opens the control cab and gets ready to take the train out] may run into scheduling problems. It takes a while to reverse a train. ST uses two tracks at HSS to do six minute peak headways.

    2. Yes. Given these numbers it would be unforgivable if they can’t find a way to put a tunnel station at 20th in Ballard – the most useful station placement by far!

    3. So, the way the beurocracy works, you first choose 14th over 20th because it’s cheaper when you go elevated. Then, you decide to tunnel. But, the decision to go with 14th has already been made and cannot be revisited.

      It is also not legally permissible to even think about future extensions, since no future extensions have been voter approved yet.

      Am I missing something?

      1. The preferred alternative is just the zero point in the EIS, which other alternatives are relative to. ST can mix and match any of the EIS alternatives for construction. What it can’t do is build something not in the EIS, without adding a supplemental EIS to study it.

      2. “not legally permissible to even think about future extensions,” – no, the ST3 authorized early planning work for both Link extension to 85th and a much vaguer HCT project from Ballard across the ship canal. So ST will certainly plan for a northward extension from the St3 Ballard station. I’m not sure they will be a position to design & build a wye junction for a Ballard-UW line, but I do believe the EIS will take a future extension to UW in account.

        What ST cannot do, apparently, is plan for future extensions that are not in the Long Range Plan, such as a spur in the 2nd tunnel for an extension to Fremont/Aurora or a Metro 8 tunnel.

      3. What ST balked at was not so much general planning as putting a transfer interface into the station design. That implies a commitment to construct the design in just a few years, and that’s what ST was hesitant about.

        However, U-District Station and the north-south corridor were further along then than Ballard is now. U-District Station was approved in 1996, and the Westlake-UW segment was under construction. In contrast, Ballard has just started the EIS process with four alignment alternatives, and station design won’t occur until a later date. (After the EIS is finalized, if I remember. )So deciding now whether to include an interface to turn east or west is just “planning”, not “station design”. That might make it easier for ST to swallow now. If it’s included in the planning, then it will be included in the station designing.

  2. Seems like much – maybe 25% – of the ROW cost increase in the elevated alignments can be mitigated by better value engineering and adjusting alignments to reflect changes in development & property prices. The tunnel costs are only going to go up given the greater risks. I’m deeply skeptical this new information changes the calculus for tunnel vs elevated, but it appears the Seattle politicians are ceasing the opportunity.

    The cynic in me now says that ST is going to move forward with a silly representative alignment to baseline the cost of an elevated approach to minimize the 3rd party contribution for tunneling. Seattle will pay for the theoretical cost difference while ST will still be on the hook for the actual cost difference.

    The fact that a tunnel at 14th is the same price as an elevated option at 14th is a big nothingburger. The value of tunneling is a better station location. If we are going to place the station at 14th, just leave it elevated to make for an easy extension north and/or east.

    1. The problem with your analysis is that an elevated station on 14th makes ANY extension almost impossible. You can’t turn east with an elevated platform extending any farther north than 54th. ST has shown clearly that it will not re-envision the El with screeching tight-radius curves. It has one in the DSTT because it inherited it.

      You can’t go north without eviscerating at least one and probably two of the east-west blocks between 14th and 15th north of Market.

      If you forced the Safeway to the other end of its block, you could turn left into the Market Street ROW and descend to street level after having crossed 15th to add a “West Ballard” neighborhood station, but that would permanently foreclose extension opportunities unless the main station above 14th is built with stacked platforms to allow for (a) junction(s).

      As I wrote below, the goals for this line need to be considered NOW.

      1. “If you forced the Safeway to the other end of its block”

        Safeway needs to be rebuilt anyway. It’s a one-story building behind a large parking lot. If the station intrudes into that lot and forces the owner to put a multistory building with a Safeway on the ground floor and apartments above, well-integrated with the station, that would be a win-win.

      2. I have just assumed that any 14th or 15th alignment would just close the entire Safeway parcel for construction and staging. ST could purchase it, but more likely will lease it and Albertson would redevelop once Link construction wrapped up.

    2. You are right to be cynical, given the complete mismanagement of this project from the very beginning. Here is a quick summary:

      ST: We want to build rail to West Seattle.
      Public: That sounds very expensive.
      ST: Surprisingly not. See: [showing report].
      Public: That doesn’t sound too bad, although it still doesn’t sound great.
      ST: Bad news, folks, it is going to cost more.

      ST: We want to build rail to Ballard via Interbay.
      Public: Wait a second. Wasn’t Ballard to UW gonna be cheaper, and get more riders?
      ST: Yeah, but now we think this will get a lot of riders.
      Public: OK, but that sounds expensive.
      ST: Not really. The extra tunnel through downtown will be expensive, but the rest will be cheap, since it will be elevated in what is essentially a highway.
      Public: Wait, you are building another downtown tunnel? Why not just connect into the existing one.
      ST: We can’t, because that would mess up the existing trains, that we assume will be at capacity.
      Public: Fair enough. Well at least we get a new downtown tunnel, with lots of new downtown stations.
      ST: Well, no. It will serve the same basic area.
      Public: So it won’t serve First Hill.
      ST: No.
      Public: So you are going to build a brand new tunnel downtown, and unlike every other mass transit system in the world, you aren’t going to maximize coverage?
      ST: Correct.
      Public: OK then. At least this will be pretty cheap. Cheaper than Ballard to UW, right?
      ST: No, but still pretty cheap.
      Public: OK, and the one and only Ballard station will be in the middle of Ballard, like at 20th or Leary, right?
      ST: No, it will be elevated, so it will be at 15th.
      Public: Ugg, OK.
      ST: Sorry, we meant 14th.
      Public: 14th?!!
      ST: Yeah.
      ST: Bad news, Ballard Link won’t be cheap. And it may end up being underground anyway. And still may serve 14th. And still be really late.
      Public: WTF?

      1. That’s a pretty good cynical summary, RossB.

        I would add this:

        ST: we need a second tunnel through Downtown Seattle to cross at Westlake because the current tunnel can’t handle ridership demand.
        Public: But your load maps show that the highest demand is between Capitol Hill and Westlake, which the current plan would make worse (more SLU and LQA transfers).
        ST: (silence)

      2. Matches with their disastrous planning of East Link.

        We can’t build down Bellevue Way because we can’t afford a downtown tunnel, so we’ll go down 112th instead. Oh, the city wants to pay for a tunnel? Well we’ve already spent years litigating against Surrey Downs for a 112th alignment so we’ll stick with it anyway. And we’ll put the station outside the tunnel right next to 405 after years and years of bashing the vision line.

      3. Except ST consistently said Ballard-UW was impossible without a separate OMF or a standalone connection to downtown. But sure.

        This is perhaps illustrative that every time an activist/commentary says, “Hey, instead of this Frankenstein project, we should instead do this perfectly imagined alternative” that any alternative would also become contorted as it deals with the reality of the political process and the reality of, well, reality.

      4. “now we think this will get a lot of riders.”

        A large part of that is SLU trips. SLU has a major need for high-capacity transit that was somehow overlooked when the highrises were zoned for. SDOT argued late in the process to include SLU in the Westlake-Ballard alignment. It’s the only set of alternatives that includes SLU, because Ballard-UW doesn’t.

        “Public: So it won’t serve First Hill…. So you are going to build a brand new tunnel downtown, and unlike every other mass transit system in the world, you aren’t going to maximize coverage? … and the one and only Ballard station will be in the middle of Ballard, like at 20th or Leary, right? … 14th?!! … WTF?”

        That’s not the majority of the public; that’s a few transit fans. The bulk of the public probably doesn’t know a First Hill swerve was ever under consideration, or feel strongly about it (because they have limited transit experience or don’t go to First Hill), haven’t heard about the 20th option, and don’t understand the issues regarding 15th vs 14th. If they know anything about 14th, it’s that Fishermans’ Terminal and the Port objected to the 15th alignment, and Fishermans’ Terminal nostalgia and Port jobs are a good reason to deter to their wishes.

      5. The bulk of the public probably doesn’t know …

        You are right, which just makes it worse. When I mention that Sound Transit is leaning towards building a station at 14th, almost everyone I meet says “What??? That’s crazy!”. This includes people who actually live close to the station. It is a stupid idea, and yet most people aren’t aware of it. Likewise, everyone I’ve ever talked to about a First Hill station thinks it is a good idea, and inevitably asks “Yeah, so why aren’t they building it?”.

        So yes, when I wrote “public”, I mean people who are paying attention, whether it is transit fans, or people in the neighborhood (the First Hill community fought hard for a station, but Dow shot them down). A larger public that isn’t paying attention to the details, and assumes their representatives are doing a good job should not be an excuse to build crap.

        Unfortunately, it means there is a very good chance they will build crap, and then eventually people will look at it and wonder why it is so crappy (“Why didn’t they build the Ballard station, you know, in Ballard?”).

      6. Public: Wait, you are building another downtown tunnel? Why not just connect into the existing one.
        ST: We can’t, because that would mess up the existing trains, that we assume will be at capacity.

        additional question
        Public: Wait, didn’t you guys tell the Seattle Transit Blog head that the current tunnel could handle the Lynnwood hordes in one tunnel and that narrower headways were possible– the STB guy even made it a blog post?

        ST: Well, um, yes we did, and um, he did. Look over there, isn’t that Jeff Bezos????

        Public: Wait, are you going to answer our question?

        ST: walking away….

      7. @Ross. Good description.

        In your opinion, are they doing those small changes intentionally to keep people supportive or on accident because of poor planning? Or both.

      8. “But your load maps show that the highest demand is between Capitol Hill and Westlake”

        The highest demand of regular Link trips is between Capitol Hill and Westlake, but the highest demand of transit across all modes is north-south downtown. The PSRC predicted this corridor’s growth would exceed the capacity of all existing trains and buses if nothing was done, from a combination of people going north from downtown, south from downtown, through downtown, and short trips within downtown. That’s what led to splitting RapidRide C and D, and planning more RapidRide lines on 3rd Avenue, and probably contributed to the decision for a second tunnel.

    3. Honestly I don’t understand why you would buy up property and tear down structures to build it elevated along the side of the road, when the road itself is wide enough to build directly above it, like other cities do and like the monorail does. Property acquisition should be needed for station construction staging–that’s pretty much it. Even then, it is presumably possible to “lease” the space if it’s an underutilized parking lot or unused building?

      1. It’s because of the construction impacts to King Car (and also, to be fair, riders on the D line).

  3. The ridiculous part of this is that the tunnel options won’t be better for the users. In Ballard, for example, the only option is 14th or 15th. Neither is ideal, and both were chosen because it was supposed to be cheap to get there (above ground). For a transit user, it is worse. It takes longer to access the platform, and instead of a nice view of one of the prettiest cities on earth, the riders are in a hole. The way that Sound Transit painted themselves into a corner on this one is disgusting. This is like having a station next to the freeway, but putting it underground.

    If they are going to consider a tunnel option, then they should consider taking full advantage of a tunnel, and putting a station at 20th. Obviously ridership would be higher, which means they could actually make the case that it is a better value (in ridership per dollar spent). A tunnel option to 14th or 15th would be worse by every metric.

  4. Sound Transit needs to decide what its goals are for the Ballard line. Is it to be extended north as a second trunk or east to the U District? Both? Or is it to be a local neighborhood collector terminating in Downtown Ballard?

    If the latter the type of crossing is not very important. Put a station between 53rd and Market above or below 14th for high rise development and bus intercept, turn left at Market and ascend or descend to a surface stub at 24th for the existing neighborhood. Change the zoning west of 24th to allow stepped up multi-family all the way to 32nd and 60th.

    If either of the extensions is planned, a tunnel becomes mandatory because the initial station really should be at 17th and Market since it will have to serve the Ballard-destination ridership well. If extensions in both directions (e.g. Ballard-UW and Crown Hill-Lake City or North Aurora) then a tunnel station is absolutely required, and it has to be stacked to allow the junction to be designed in.

    Please don’t make the same mistake you did in the U-District, ST.

    1. ST’s earlier plans included a possible extension to 85th. ST has never planned to turn it east as far as I know. ST studied a Ballard-UW line (with a possible extension to Redmond or Kirkland), but that was separate; I don’t think it studied turning east much.

      1. I know that, but the Kirkland line is really off the table. The city doesn’t want another floating bridge right in front of its downtown. So there will NEVER be an east-west line between Ballard and the U District unless it connects to Ballard-Downtown.

        Since you and Ross are both 100% in the tank for Ballard-UW you had BETTER wake up to the engineering requirements that it presents and insist that the Ballard extension accommodate them.

        The trains serving it have to get to a Maintenance Facility once in a while. When the line would have crossed the lake it could have been provisioned from the Bellevue MF. But not without that lake crossing obviously.

      2. Ah, it looks like I may have been too vehement. There IS one possibility for an “independent” [e.g. unconnected to Ballard-Downtown] Ballard-UW.

        It would require that the HOV lanes on the new Evergreen Point Bridge be turned into rail tracks, though. Ballard-UW would continue east to a portal and station at 45th and Montlake then turn sharply south to an elevated station next to HSS, cross the Ship Canal in the air, blow a hole through the east edge of Montlake and then descend onto the floating bridge.

        Easy-Peasy, right? And enormously popular politically.

      3. I tried many times for years to get ST to build a transfer interface into U-District Station to prepare for an east-west line. [1] ST said it couldn’t spend resources on it before the east-west line was voter-approved, because the feature might never be used. (He was referring to alternatives on Northlake Way that would have gone via UW Station instead.) I dropped it when it became clear the station design was too far along to include it.

        The same thing is happening now in Ballard. I don’t know how to fix that, because if we could we would have gotten U-District Station fixed. And I’m not an engineer so I can’t evaluate the claims when an amateur claims the soils or turning radii or such require one design or another and we must, must, must get ST to do it that way.

        [1] Toronto built a transfer interface into the Yonge line to prepare for a planned Queen Street line. The latter was never build because it was later decided to put it further north at Bloor Street.

      4. Mike, it’s FAR worse than TRANSFER difficulties. I mean the trains themselves have to be accommodated at the Ballard end. If you EVER want Ballard-UW you had better demand that the junction or necessary transitions be built into Ballard-Downtown from the beginning.

      5. Oh and screw you for the “amateur” slur. We’re all amateurs here, but are we allowed to use our brains or is this the Bus Cancel Culture Blog?

      6. The idea of going to Kirkland was not studied in depth. It was one of those “long term extension” possibilities, like West Seattle Link going to Burien (in other words, not-gonna-happen). In contrast, various studies were made for a UW to Ballard line. I’m not aware of anyone raising the connection issue, Tom. Do you have a reference for your concern? Has anyone, in an official position — or for that matter anyone other than you — raised it?

        There were no plans to combine the lines (as nice as that would be). There would simply be a train line from Ballard to the U-District. The station at the U-District would likely be underneath the station that is about to open.

        Of course it would tie into the main network, but with a non-service line. It could do so in any either direction. If it is problematic to go south, then it would go north (connecting between 45th and 65th). Non-service lines don’t have to extend from the end — trains go back and forth until they connect, the switch is made, and away they go.

      7. You can use your brains but without stated engineering credentials or experience, I don’t know whether to believe your claims or not, and I certainly can’t tell ST it must, must, must do what you advise, against what its engineers say. What I insist on are things I see from a passengers’ perspective and my experience and study of other cities’ networks. So to me it makes sense that U-District Station must have a transfer interface to a 45th line, because 45th is the densest and highest-ridership east-west corridor in north Seattle, and a cross line allows many combinations of trip pairs. And it makes sense for a second bus tunnel to be a Y with exits pointing toward both Elliott and Aurora. But when people get into soils or junction structures or maintenance facility locations, I get more uncertain.

      8. Mike, I have absolutely no disagreement that there should be a platform-to-platform path or at a minimum platform to mezzanine to platform. I am talking about tracks, not platforms. The trains have to go for maintenance once in a while. I expect that ST could get away with storing the trains at the end stations for a short line like Ballard-UW, which would use probably six trainsets. Late at night a single train would probably do fine for capacity, and it could use a single track at each end, with stored trains on the other.

        But sometimes trains are going to need to visit the train doctor, and that requires a junction at one end of the line or the other to connect to the larger network.

        This is what I’m concerned about and it’s not a trivial thing. If you don’t believe me about the tunnel segments think about it. The walls that are erected by the TBM consist of arched segments several feet long connected together to form a solid annular ring. When the TBM moves away the ground expands to fill the small void between the newly installed rings and the borehole. The rings get compressed like the keystone on an arch. That is what holds up the ground above the tunnel.

        If one cuts into one side of a ring, the physical strength supporting the ground above is eliminated and the ring can be crushed from above and the other side. Do it to a few and the whole thing collapses and fills with dirt.

        This is why a cavern [e.g. “station box”] has to be excavated around any junction which is added later between stations. It’s true that strictly speaking one only has to have a small opening in the ground and can construct the station box by excavating from the top down but it is enormously more expensive. The ceiling has to be supported without pilings down to sturdy rock.


        I admit I had not thought of “going north”, but I would assert that it’s only moderately more likely than a junction on Campus. To have a decent transfer the platforms of the new line would need to reach to within a few feet of the point at which the two lines would cross, presumably under 45th or 43rd. After the new line crosses — probably under, but just slightly possibly over — the existing tunnels, depending on its depth it can begin to curve toward the north. I don’t know the minimum radius at which a Light Rail tunnel TBM can turn, but I’d bet it’s not less than 400 feet. There a sharp turn in the DSTT but what happens is that the tubes end on a demising wall and come out into the station box of Westlake which extends to the west well beyond the platform.

        So let’s say that we can have a 400′ radius. That means the 400′ to the north and about 400′ to the east of the beginning of the turn the tracks have a true north heading. They’d need to continue until they’d reached about 135 degrees of curvature on a heading of 315, northwest. After some distance diagonaling at 315 a curve back the other direction which reaches a tangent with the northbound trackway would commence for 45 degrees of arc.

        It’s about 500 feet between 45th and 47th according to “Teh Google” so I expect that the junction could be placed just about 50th, maybe a few yards south of it.

        This is a pretty good location because there’s a parking lot to the east of Brooklyn at 50th. That parking lot — assuming it’s still there in 2050 — could be the staging area for the excavation of a junction box as described above.

        BUT, this would necessitate that trains bound for the Ballard-UW “branch” would have to run out-of-direction from the pocket track north of Northgate Station to the new junction. This absolutely could not happen during times of regular revenue service. It would play hob with the scheduled movement of trains.

        I think it would be adequate for scheduled maintenance, but when a train breaks down and must seek immediate attention, there’s no way to get a replacement into service on the branch.

        If ST were willing to build a facing-point cross-over just north of the junction to the service track, it could work because a Ballard-bound train would only have to foul the northbound track for a few moments.

        However, that would mean extending the junction box nearly to 52nd, and require excavating Brooklyn for pretty much the entire distance.

        I don’t know why Mike thinks I don’t know anything about subway construction.

      9. You could state your credentials or experience with rail construction or planning if any, or look for people with these to confirm your claim. Somebody who has been involved with Link projects in the past would be especially credible. I acknowledge your geographical argument that a train must have access to a maintenance base, and how would it get to a base not on the line? I’m just hesitant to take the word of somebody I don’t know who they are or what experience they have, that there’s only one solution and this is it. This may fall in between the things I would do and the things I wouldn’t do; i.e., to join the call or not; but since it’s an area I know little about I’ll wait for wider collaboration.

      10. I’m super bullish on East Link ridership, and I support Kirkland-Issaquah Link, but I see no reason for a 2nd Lake Washington Link crossing. Any Ballard-UW line should head to the Hospital or just terminate at UW (probably the mall). A future Stride line connecting UW to Kirkland or Redmond (or both) would help complete the network, but rail across Lake Washington simply isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t count on it to as the means to tie-in Ballard-UW to the rest of the network.

        If Ballard-UW doesn’t have a tie-in to Ballard-Downtown, it’s going to have to be a standalone line (Link or other technology)

      11. This absolutely could not happen during times of regular revenue service. It would play hob with the scheduled movement of trains.

        Right, of course. Again, while it would be great if there was an in-service branch at the U-District, that is unrealistic. It would be expensive, and likely require going under the UW — something they have refused to do.

        The only thing you need is an out-of-service junction, and it can be any direction. If it breaks down during service time, it breaks down (its not like the main line doesn’t have problems — it has been shut down before, for extended periods). But the trains can get serviced nightly.

      12. Ross, fair enough, but I doubt ST would publicly admit to such a planned allowance for outages.

    2. Sound Transit needs to decide what its goals are for the Ballard line. Is it to be extended north as a second trunk or east to the U District? Both? Or is it to be a local neighborhood collector terminating in Downtown Ballard?

      I think everyone assumed that the goal was to actually serve Ballard. By that I mean, the vast majority of people who would walk to the station. Of course it also works as a connector, but the main goal is to be like the Capitol Hill Station (in the middle of things) or at the very least, at the edge of them.

      That is why elevated to 20th, or above ground to 15th are the only reasonable options. 20th puts you in the middle of everything. It is the center from a population, employment and cultural standpoint (

      15th is cheaper. That’s the main advantage. Extending it (north) would also be cheaper, as it could run on the ground up 15th. But any extension is unlikely, given the construction and funding issues with ST. The main advantage of 15th is that it is cheaper than tunneling, while at least being at the edge of things.

      14th is not. It is too far to properly serve the neighborhood, for the same reason that Mount Baker doesn’t serve the neighborhood. At best it works as a feeder station, and in that role, it does so poorly (as Dale Menchhofer explained). A truncated D that goes to the center of Ballard, and continues to the locks provides a lot of extra trips for riders to the north — riders that aren’t taking Link. A bus that instead turns to serve 14th provides nothing. Of course it is possible that the area around 14th will grow, but it will never catch up to the area to the west, just as the area around Columbia City station is not the destination that Columbia City is. Even just additional large apartments (like those found in Ballard) are unlikely, given the brand new town houses in the area, the likely reluctance from folks to the east to upzoning, and the industrial area to the south. 14th, at best, becomes a feeder station (and a poor one at that, similar to NE 130th). The difference being that while NE 130th Station won’t cost a fortune (it is essentially an add-on), this will be a very expensive extension, designed to serve Ballard, while missing it by quite a ways. If most of the riders are going to making a transfer from the bus, Ballard would be better off with bus improvements (that would be a lot cheaper, and likely result in a better overall transit network).

      1. “14th is not. It is too far to properly serve the neighborhood, for the same reason that Mount Baker doesn’t serve the neighborhood.”

        Well, OK, but the Mt Baker neighborhood consists of about three shops and a clubhouse. Link was never intended to serve that directly. It’s to serve the convergence of all the major corridors in the valley (Rainier, MLK, and nearby 23rd), and a future hub urban village there. (The vision included an office building or two.) It’s called “Mt Baker Station” because there was no existing name for the area around the station, so “Mt Baker” was as good as any.

        Ballard is different because there’s a large urban village that does need a station a half-mile west of it. People will be going to the farmers’ market or bars or Swedish or apartments and asking why the station isn’t in the center of the neighborhood. It’s not how you build a subway. The walk from Columbia City Station to Columbia City is three blocks, but that’s shorter and Columbia City is smaller so it’s not as egregious.

        I hope we don’t get a 14th Avenue tunnel. The point of 14th was to avoid above-ground intrusions into Fishermans’ Terminal and port interests and the 15th Avenue apartments. None of that applies to a tunnel under 15th.

      2. If the line is just to be a Ballard stub, then the two station model I described above is by far the best. It allows for the potential development of a Skytrain type station at 54th and 14th AND a neighborhoid station somewhere west of Leary and Market for very little more money. I’ll stipulate that it would make traffic worse to continue west of the Leary Way intersection, so maybe that’s far enough for the at-grade stub. But it’s only three blocks and allows a surface station in Central Ballard.

        And so what if bus riders from 15th NW have to get off their bus headed to 14th and 54th at Market and walk into downtown Ballard? They do that already. Very few people bound for somewhere east of 24th transfer to the 44.

      3. “the Mt Baker neighborhood consists of about three shops and a clubhouse. Link was never intended to serve that directly. It’s to serve the convergence of all the major corridors in the valley (Rainier, MLK, and nearby 23rd), and a future hub urban village there. (The vision included an office building or two.) It’s called “Mt Baker Station” because there was no existing name for the area around the station, so “Mt Baker” was as good as any.”

        The center of the neighborhood is actually Franklin High School. I would have named it that (e. g. “Franklin Station”). I can think of two reasons why ST chose to call it “Mount Baker”. First for the same reason real estate agents do: to appeal to white people who are afraid to live in a black neighborhood. When I think of “Mount Baker”, I think of mansions to the east. It wasn’t too long ago that the area around Franklin was considered “the ghetto”. It also helps if the terms are very large, and vague, to hide the fact that it does such a poor job serving it. My point is that the Mount Baker Station did a poor job in every respect. It didn’t connect well with the buses, nor did it connect well with Franklin, or an urban village that could have been built around it.

        I agree, though — Ballard is different because there already is a large, existing popular urban village right there.

      4. If the line is just to be a Ballard stub, then the two station model I described above is by far the best. It allows for the potential development of a Skytrain type station at 54th and 14th AND a neighborhood station somewhere west of Leary and Market for very little more money.

        I would be OK with that, although I think very few people would use the station at 54th and 14th. Still, a poorly performing (additional) station is still better than nothing. Rainier Beach Station is not a great station, but it would be stupid to skip it, just as it was stupid to skip Graham Street.

        And so what if bus riders from 15th NW have to get off their bus headed to 14th and 54th at Market and walk into downtown Ballard? They do that already. Very few people bound for somewhere east of 24th transfer to the 44.

        Yes, but the reason we are spending billions of dollars on this thing is to make life *better*. Not everyone takes the D and walks — some avoid transit altogether and drive. The point is, if you put a station at a major destination, then terminating the buses there serves two purposes. You save service hours *and* provide a new connection. A lot of people in Northeast Seattle don’t like having to transfer to Link to get downtown, but lots of other people appreciate the frequent trip to the UW. The same would be the case if the bus went to the main part of Ballard. If the bus terminated at 14th, the only benefit would be the service savings — no one would welcome the new route.

      5. ST likes to project that station choices are fixed — until they aren’t. The moving of South Shoreline/ 145th is an example. The Downtown Bellevue station is another.

        Although not currently on the table, I remain hopeful that the Ballard station will ultimately be oriented east-west on, under or above Market Street. I think Market Street would be great as an end-of-line surface median light rail line with stations at 15th-17th and near 24th. I don’t see Crown Hill deserving a subway before a connection to a place like First Hill or the CD or Fremont.

        I’m also not averse to ultimately having surface trams in North Seattle as long as design compromises don’t render them ineffective (like the FHSC). Trams could serve Crown Hill, Fremont, Wallingford, U-District and other places. I don’t have a specific route in mind.

      6. “Not everyone takes the D and walks”

        I debate whether to take the 40 instead. That’s the tragedy: we may finally build rail to Ballard but many people keep taking the 40 because Link doesn’t get close enough to the neighborhood center. Or they take Link and curse the ten extra blocks they have to walk every trip (or transfer to the 44) because the line wasn’t built in the most obvious place.

      7. Actually, with a surface station between 20th and Leary on Market, the buses could turn west and transfer at the terminal station.

        I think you are selling the area bounded by Leary, 15th, Market and 12th — or even Eighth — short. It’s a great place for a large regional center adjacent to one of the best nightlife areas in the city. Big development there doesn’t have to wreck Ballard, precisely because of the traffic wall at 15th NW.

      8. “with a surface station between 20th and Leary on Market, the buses could turn west and transfer at the terminal station.”

        I glossed over this when you mention it earlier. That could be a way out of the dilemman if ST insists on a station at 14th & Market. It has been suggested before to turn left. I didn’t pay it much attention because I think it’s very unlikely. Of the options to go north, east, or west from Market Street, west would be the hardest to convince the ST board of. They’re already prepared for north, and it makes a proper grid corridor. Turning east is proving difficult to get because it’s viewed as a distraction from continuing north. Turning west will be even more difficult because it’s a dead end, with all the political and construction costs of turning east.

        Maybe the best way to get support for turning west is to consider it a jog, so that it could turn north again after going west. Two turns are generally be bad, but they would be inevitable if 14th elevated were chosen and a northern extension gains momentum. Because there’s no way ST/Seattle would allow it to go through Ballard High School; it would have to go around it.

      9. Actually, with a surface station between 20th and Leary on Market, the buses could turn west and transfer at the terminal station.

        Yes, exactly. This is one of the big benefits of a station in the heart of Ballard, whether it is underground or above ground.

        I think you are selling the area bounded by Leary, 15th, Market and 12th — or even Eighth — short. It’s a great place for a large regional center adjacent to one of the best nightlife areas in the city. Big development there doesn’t have to wreck Ballard, precisely because of the traffic wall at 15th NW.

        I assume you mean 11th, (there is no 12th there). Again, I’m not saying there won’t be something there, but it won’t ever have the cultural significance — it won’t ever be the attraction — that places to the west are. It is the same things as Columbia City. When people from outside visit, they go to the neighborhood (off Rainier). At best there are a handful of housing developments close to the station.

        Even that won’t be huge, like the area in central Ballard. Partly it is because much of the the area is zoned industrial. For example, Bardahl is not going anywhere (and the new owner would likely have to pay a bundle to clean up everything). Partly it is because the latest round of development was low rise, high quality and typically involves ownership, not rental. Places like this are great: It is the type of development that I feel should happen everywhere in the city (and I mean everywhere). But it isn’t as high density as the places to the west, and the people that bought those places aren’t going to sell for a very long time (and even if they did, building something with “only” a few more times the density would be very expensive).

        Again, as an additional station, it is fine. It is similar to say, SoDo (another industrial area) although maybe not that bad. I would expect ridership to be closer to Columbia City, unless it is the only station in Ballard. That would push ridership at that station higher, but would mean that the line overall would be a lot worse.

      10. @Al S.
        “Trams could serve Crown Hill, Fremont, Wallingford, U-District and other places.”

        Agreed. How different would trams be from the LRT options thru Fremont and Wallingford that were considered as part of the Ballard to U-District segment level 1 and level 2 analyses that followed the white paper commissioned for the Ballard to Eastside HCT corridor (from 2012 I believe)? I think the level 2 analysis was in 2014 and included 4 LRT options, one of which was a very expensive tunnel thru upper Wallingford. The other three LRT options involved surface-running lines thru lower Fremont via Leary Way and N 36th, with one option continuing to the U-District via lower Wallingford (N 34th and N Pacific) and the other option heading north up N Stone Way to N 45th and then elevated eastward over to the U-District station. Couldn’t these same surface-running pathways be utilized for stand-alone tram lines? Upper Wallingford would be left out though as I can’t see an option across N 45th and I-5 that isn’t elevated (or tunneled).

      11. I read “trams” as surface running Link. Could be in its own ROW (like Rainier), of could be bus/BAT lanes. So very simillar to the surface running options studied before. Surface running is a very bad idea in the urban center, but very compelling on an arterial in North Seattle.

        So yes, Ballard-UW could be surface running. I’d prefer elevated or tunnel because it allows for a straighter alignment, but for sure during early analysis surface running options should be studied. Running on 24th or 15th, OTOH, the alignment is identical to surface running which is why a ‘tram’ option is compelling.

      12. “Trams” should NOT be “surface-running Link”. Nor should they be the dinky Inekon-style streetcars running in Seattle and Portland. They should be real actual “trams” like the five section articulated models offered by Siemens and Alstom. They are somewhat narrower than full sized LRV’s so a pair of tracks can fit comfortably within two ordinary lanes of traffic. They’re low-floor throughout so stations can be really cheap.

      13. @Tom T.
        Yes, I had interpreted Al S.’s comment to mean true trams such as the ones you’ve mentioned. Do you happen to know the seated/full capacity of these models. I know the Bombardier 5-section articulated ones used in Toronto’s system seat about 75 and have a total capacity of like 125 or so. I’ve ridden those several times on my last couple of visits there and found them to be quite pleasant. I think the Siemens newer models have a higher capacity and can be ordered in longer articulated sections, and thus must have a higher capacity, but perhaps you can confirm that. Thanks!

      14. Yes Tom and Tlsgwm, I am referring to “real trams” as opposed to the heavier Link or the miniature FHSC vehicles.

        I’m fascinated by Nice’s new trams. They have short battery-powered segments, five-segment cars, and “green track” sections with grass between the rails.

        An ideal surface tram system for North Seattle could operate as two or three lines and could even be a loop. I’m unsure how much controversy would evolve. A Crown Hill to Ballard Link to Fremont corridor would be a good place to have a starter line — and once locals understand the technology, it can get expanded as appropriate with less controversy.

  5. The increment listed here is from 2019 to 2020. Is this because of design findings coming from studies, unit cost increases with the same design, general inflation or something else? I’ll check out the meeting video and presentation to see today.

    I remain concerned that this is still low. The public has yet to see what the detailed entrance locations and profiles of six new subway stations (two as new platforms) will be. Since these are in the middle of high rise districts on streets not particularly wide, the ultimate price tags will surely be hefty.

    1. The land acquisition rises are mostly from general appreciation, but Dan is clear that some is from widening the acquisition envelope.

      1. Correct, and in my opinion the latter part doesn’t get nearly enough attention. I commented about this recently in the initial STB post on this subject matter a couple of weeks ago, using the data from the Lynnwood Link extension project as an example. There is a pattern here and now it’s playing out again with these ST3 projects.

  6. The best Ballard option is clearly a tunnel at 20th or 17th. ST had that option in the Alternatives Analysis but dropped it. So the biggest thing we need to do is get ST to reinstate it and study it for the EIS. That’s the single best thing ST could do to improve the Ballard mess we’ve found ourselves in. Now that elevated land costs and covid have thrown previous assumptions out the window, studying 20th must be revived. It was dropped because all the tunnel options looked unlikely and it was furthest from the 15th representative alignment. But now that tunnels are looking more likely, ST should consider all tunnel options to find the right one. Not ignore the most urban option because it was dropped earlier under circumstances which no longer apply.

    We have some leverage through boardmembers Jenny Durkan, Debora Juarez, so that would be a place to start. And Dow Constantine also represents Seattle to a lesser extent. One problem is that Durkan is a lame duck with only eleven months left, and we don’t know who the candidates for the next term are, and ST’s decisions and the mayoral campaigns will be occurring simultaneously. But once the candidates start campaigning we can make it an issue for them.

    I’m still skeptical of any tunnels because funding has not yet been identified, and it’s hard to see Seattle being able to pay 100% of the additional costs, and no third party has stepped forward. ST could pay for it by extending the schedule some ten (?) years.

    I’m not really concerned about Ballard or West Seattle opening late because they’re already so far in the future it seems irrelevant to my medium-term trips, and I’ll be 65 but the time they open anyway. The only thing that would help me in the medium term is interim D and 44 improvements. Specifically, making them faster so that there isn’t a 30-45 minute overhead to get into and out of Ballard from the regional transfer points.

    1. I agree with all of your points. One thing I would add is that it seems silly that Seattle has to come up with the extra money to build a tunnel, but not for general cost overruns. That doesn’t make sense to me. My understanding is that ST can spend money indefinitely, it will just take longer. So be it. I would much rather spend extra making the line better (by adding a station at 20th) then spending extra and getting crap (like a station at 14th), even if the latter opens a year or two earlier.

      A station at 20th would also get more riders. This might increase the chances that we get some federal help. In terms of ridership per dollar spent, it is quite likely that 20th is the best option.

      As far as leadership goes, it is messy. Durkan is a lame duck, and has publicly said “board members should be more flexible in which sites are chosen for stations, especially if the cost of land continues to rise.” ( This implies that she just wants to avoid the embarrassment of cost overruns, and either doesn’t care about or understand the importance of station placement. It is quite possible she is willing to accept crap, as long as it lowers costs a little.

      Constantine is clueless, as always. Juarez cares most about her district, so she is focused almost entirely on 130th. I wouldn’t expect her to throw Ballard under the bus to get 130th, but she isn’t going to fight for Ballard while also fighting for 130th.

      Although he isn’t on the board, I think it is up to Dan Strauss to fight for Ballard. I’ve been impressed by Strauss in the past, and I would expect him to fight for the station, or at the very least open up the discussion. 14th should be off the table, unless (like Tom suggested) it is a means to an end (a way to have the train turn, and serve the heart of Ballard via Market). 15th should be the main elevated option, and the underground option should be 20th (or thereabouts — a block east or west of there is fine).

      1. The difference is the tunnel options weren’t in the voter approved plan. I suppose if the cost difference between elevated and tunnel goes away, Seattle might be off the hook. But it’s still something like a half-billion cost difference, which is why ST is still looking for 3rd party funding.

        A 14th alignment that places the station east-west above market between 15 and 14th is the most intriguing option to me, as it could be built with a Y-junction at both sides of the station, allowing for extensions west, north, and east. This would unlock Ballard-UW while still facilitating the (relatively) cheap extension north to 65th/85th.

      2. If there’s a station entrance at 15th, and it doesn’t require walking the entire three blocks from 15th to 14th to get to the platform, that might be acceptable.

      3. The difference is the tunnel options weren’t in the voter approved plan.

        Neither was a station at 14th, and yet as of now, it is the preferred option. In general that seems like a very arbitrary distinction. You are saying we can pay more to get something the same (elevated to 15th) or worse (elevated to 14th) but not better (underground to 20th). I just don’t see why that would make any difference. Either way it is a lot more money.

        A 14th alignment that places the station east-west above Market between 15 and 14th is the most intriguing option to me.

        If you are going to go east-west on Market, then you are better off heading to the ground, and just putting a surface station at Market, between 20th and Leary, as Tom suggested. That is probably one of the cheapest options, since a “station” would be nothing more than a stop on the street (similar to a typical Max station: You would have to get rid of some parking, and some curb bulbs, but that is fairly cheap. It would be single track on Market, which would be fine, given the (at most) six minute headways, and relatively short distance from 14th to the termination (at the Ballard Station). You aren’t paying for an expensive station, which requires property on one side of the street or another, along with entrances, escalators and all of that. The line requires a few pylons on Market, and that’s about it.

        An aerial station on 14th (a bit south of Market) would be a future infill station.

      4. “Neither was a station at 14th, and yet as of now, it is the preferred option.”

        That’s a different kind of thing. The mandate was to serve Ballard in general. Lynnwood considered alternatives as far west as Aurora and as far east as Lake City Way, but they all had to serve Lynnwood Transit Center somehow. Likewise, East Link considered alternatives from Bellevue Way to 405, some with a South Bellevue station and some without, but they all had to serve Bellevue Transit Center.

        The difference with a tunnel is it increases the cost. ST3 set a budget scaled to the representative alignment. So adding significant tunnel costs arguably goes beyond the amount people agreed to tax themselves before. However, there is precedent for it, since Rainier Beach to SeaTac was elevated after the fact, and downtown Bellevue was put underground, and Roosevelt was put underground. (Although in Bellevue’s case, Bellevue paid half of it, and the other half came from surfacing parts of Bel-Red and Redmond. And in Roosevelt’s case, extending the tunnel to 95th was cheaper than weaving up and down around I-5.)

        There might be a possibility to argue it’s similar to the north Seattle case, and that extending the tunnel from Queen Anne is not that expensive. Except that it requires going under the Ship Canal, which is expensive no matter how you look at it.

      5. Ross B. Only way the station gets moved off of 14th towards 17th or 20th is if Big Tech speaks out in favor.

        As we have seen, once Ballard to UW, the Metro 8, and the West Side bus tunnel are deemed (either directly or indirectly) not feasible by ST (and no support from SDOT)– it dies no matter how feasible (At most, Seattle Subway claimed a huge victory just getting grade separation for the line) .

        In contrast, once SDOT proposed the SLU station and the second tunnel, even without public comment, it suddenly became the preferred alternative. We saw Big Tech spend more on Seattle city council elections than on stopping I-976. Unless you can get Big Tech to take on the Fisherman (creators of the 14th st. station) and the Port, I don’t see much chance (the one caveat is that someone may be able to make a strong equity argument in favor of getting the station closer to Swedish).

        So when do we think the Ballard station opens– 2045? 2050?

      6. “ Only way the station gets moved off of 14th towards 17th or 20th is if Big Tech speaks out in favor.”

        Sad but true. The ST planning process is remarkably devoid of objective analysts in favor of lobbying , especially secret lobbying. I wouldn’t be surprised if there hasn’t been at least one corporate power wielder discussing things at many of the proposed stations.

      7. I don’t think Big Tech has much to do with SDOT? But yes, if SDOT staff come out in favor of an alignment, that is very decisive.

        And yes, it is a bit arbitrary, but so far the Board has been consistent and I don’t see Pierce/Snohomish giving up ground. For example, a bunch of TDLE will now be elevated because the Puyallup Tribe will require it. Why the tribe doesn’t have to pay more is mostly politics.

        Mike – I don’t think anyone is proposing to extend the tunnel from QA? Any tunnel option still has surface running in Interbay.

        Ross – yeah, I like that idea. “Infill’ elevated station between 14th & 15th and a surface station, and yeah the surface station can be single tracked. The elevated station really becomes useful when it’s the transfer station for Ballard-UW and Ballard-downtown station, so if ST needs to defer that station that seems fine. And even if Ballard-UW dies or goes a different direction, Link could then go north on surface up both 24th (20th?) and 15th (14th?), trading frequency for coverage north of the ship canal.

        As you point out, surface stations can be very cheap (which is why any extension to 65th/85th should be surface), and just like with MAX, buses can share the station.

      8. AJ, buses do not “share the station” with MAX. They always have separate platforms so they don’t get in the way of the trains.

      9. Oh, OK! I thought I recalled seeing a bus driving a MAX lane. Do they share ROW sometimes but not stations?

  7. It would be interesting to see a comparison contrast of these costs with the cost of the underground system being built by Elon Musk’s Boring company in Las Vegas.

    The first segment of the loop was about two miles and was completed for ~$52.5 million. It seems like you could build out a full system based on this technology just for the cost increase to the right of way.

    1. I seriously cannot believe Musk has become the richest man in the world with ideas like this. It’s kind of shocking how ridiculous he is.

    2. The best framing I’ve heard is that what Musk is doing is building tunnels up to the standards of a sewage pipe. Will his pipe suffer catastrophic failure? Probably not. Does it meet EHS standards? No. Could there be a fruitful conversation about how our EHS standards drive up cost? Sure.

      If you compare Elon’s cost per mile with the cost per mile of building a comparable water pipe, they are rather close.

      1. Indeed.

        Fire safety standards for subway tunnels were developed over a course of 100 years experience.

        Giving Musk a pass on all those standards isn’t really a comparison.

    3. It’s as shocking as thinking we can just replace our gasoline cars with electric cars or autonomous cars and we don’t need transit improvements or any transit, and there are no remaining negative problems with car infrastructure making things unwalkably far apart or forcing everybody to pay $7000 a year to maintain a car or they can’t participate in the economy and society. This is ideological blindness, Yet a lot of people do think that.

      The issue with hyperloop tunnels is people think “inexpensive tunnel” and don’t realize a train with 400 passengers can’t fit into it. That’s not so much ideological blindness as lack of knowledge. People can go to many cities now or ask their grandparents to see how much more convenient it is to have things within walking distance and how much more opportunities it gives to your life and how much healthier it is. The only reason people don’t recognize that is they have Futurama blinders on and they’re in denial. But a tunnel, well, only experts know about tunnels. The public thinks a tunnel is a tunnel, so if Musk can build it for a fraction of the cost of others, it will be an identical tunnel and will work just fine, and the agency is wasting money if it doesn’t. But it’s not identical and is not fine. What Musk has can fit small cars, so it’s essentially moving taxis underground. That can’t scale to large volumes of passengers.

      1. If the Boring company can innovate on the boring technology, then that would be great, but i hope they also innovate on station drilling and putting proper trains in the tunnel, not cars and curb stations.

    4. Or, perhaps Eastside Big Tech could pay for a Boring Co network of private tunnels connecting Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond.

  8. $4B will cause a ton of delay or would ST consider cutting scope?!? The measure allows for that if it gets much more expensive. Not sure there will be appetite for adding an extra Market St station but if this is the end of the line, it would be great. If you want to continue at some point to Crown Hill, you might want to stick with 14th or 15th Ave and think about a gondola line from the 14th Ave station to 20th Ave to serve Ballard Center, not as convenient as a single seat ride, but still higher frequency than any bus ride.

    1. Martin, are you trolling us with the gondola talk? You work the word gondola into every conversation, no matter what the subject.

      1. Sam, I love light rail and even buses are ok, but I feel that there are cases where gondolas would be more cost effective and easier to integrate into dense neighborhoods like Ballard or WS. ST identified gondola technology for local connections in 2014, but has never considered it since. The German transport ministry just approved a study to accelerate urban cable projects due to their sustainability and cost advantages, ST might want to do the same. That way ST could focus LR for major arteries and then use gondolas to connect the neighborhoods rather than hoping people will walk from a 14th Ave station to Ballard Center… As gondolas run continuously, it essentially extends the walk shed of a Link station…

    2. We don’t know what ST would consider until it tells us, but it did “cut scope” in ST1 (U-District to Westlake, then re-extended to UW, then U-District was folded into ST2), and ST2 (270th to 200th during the 2008 recesson, then re-extended to 240th, then folded into ST3; and I think downtown Redmond to Redmond Tech Center, then folded into ST3). So if ST sees this situation the same way it could happen. However, that’s more likely with Everett (from Everett Station to 124th or 164th), where Seattle-164th is still a long distance and includes Lynnwood. In Ballard and West Seattle’s cases, truncating them would cause a very short line, which raises the issue of whether that short line is useful enough to be worth it. Truncating Ballarts at Smith Cove would serve SLU-downtown, but it requires the very expensive downtown tunnel. Building Ballard to Smith Cove first doesn’t make sense because everybody would have to transfer to the D to get downtown, and the D already runs from the Ballard terminus and beyond. In West Seattle there’s a precedent for a WSJ-SODO stub, which is in the plan as the first thing built. So ST could just follow precedent there. But that still has the basic problem that not many people would ride a WSJ-SODO stub, especially since the C would have to continue running anyway, so people would just stay on the C.

      As for the gondola issues, that’s the opposite of cost-cutting. Requiring a transfer to a gondola for the last half-mile to Ballard’s center would be silly, especially when that’s where the majority of Ballard riders are going. It would seem less out of place if downtown to Ballard were ten miles long, but it’s three miles long. So you’re talking about riding three miles in ten minutes, then transferring to a half-mile extension for 30 seconds, with a 5-minute transfer time in between: the transferring and waiting ends up being a large percent of the trip. that would make people impatient.

      1. In case of West Seattle at least you can transfer to the existing Link line, you wouldn’t have such option with a Ballard to Smith Cove line. But the transfer would still take you longer than current RR-C.
        West Seattle badly needs a reliable alternative to the WS bridge as that bridge will need ongoing maintenance… A gondola from Junction to SODO and ID would be a lot more cost effective. May be we should use the savings to build the SLU-downtown portion and then combine forces with SDOT to put Link on the Ballard bridge replacement.
        On gondola: Again, the best option would be to truncate Link at Market St, but if you want to continue the line to Crown Hill and ST insists on 15th/14th, how do people get to Ballard Center? bus? With a gondola you could minimize the transfer time by building the station right on top of the Link station and there is no wait for gondolas…

    3. Ok, I just feel like a gondola is a very specific tool that would be appropriate in only limited situations. I like how they use them in some hilly South American cities.

      1. A gondola seems like a good option to consider from SoDo area to West Seattle, to replace the entire extension to the Alaska Junction. I don’t see how anyone rational could not give the idea a fair study given the magnitude of Sound Transit’s budget and affordability crisis. If I’m interpreting these numbers correctly, the West Seattle extension costs more than $850M per mile added to the system. A gondola system could likely be built at a fraction of that cost. The Emirates / Transport London Air Line recently built in London across the Thames where land acquisition is also not cheap cost 60 milllion GBP ($80M USD) for a 1 km length with 300′ high towers and a capacity of 2,500 passengers per hour. Even doubling that cost for a higher capacity system is $250M per mile.

    4. Heck, for the cost of crossing the Ship Canal ST could build a gondola from Ballard to Interbay (as the end station) and have funds to build one from Interbay to Fremont too. Maybe one or two others too! It would be a faster way to travel to the heart of Ballard than to ride further to Market and 14th and walking.

      I’m not a fan of gondolas but it’s certainly possible.

      1. Correct, and if you want to continue to Crown Hill, we can work with SDOT to put Link on top of the Ballard bridge when it gets replaced.
        And once you build a gondola to Fremont, you might as well continue via Wallingford to UW and get the East/West connection everybody has clamoring for.

  9. Gondolas have great applications in hilly neighborhoods and crossing waterways (London Thames, West Seattle…), but separate ROW, cost, ease of construction in dense urban neighborhoods, and high frequency makes them more attractive than street cars and perfect extensions to light rail. Munich is studying one line for that reason:—urbane-Seilbahn-f-r-M-nchen.html. Mexico City had great success with a line w/ 6m per year.

    1. What happens at 5pm when a hundred people line up all at once to get to West Seattle? How many cars does the last person have to wait through until they can get on one, and how long is their wait time?

      1. Mike, the answer to your question varies based on design, but the capacity of mono-cable gondola systems (the simplest, least expensive type) is typically 1000-4000 passengers per hour, per direction. Capacity of the cars is 8-15 passengers and cars can arrive every 10-40 seconds. If you take the design of the Mexico City system, that can load 3,000 passengers per hour per direction or 50 per minute. So the answer to your question is the person who is last in line waits about 2-3 minutes if 100 people show up at exactly the same time. Contrast that with light rail, where the wait time is driven by the headway between the trains, which will be 8-15 minutes. Data taken from the Jacobs Engineering feasibility report for Miama-Dade County.

      2. One line in one amusement park I went to as a kid in the 1970s seemed like they were operating at one car every 2-3 seconds, but they had more complex stations than typical, with the cars arriving off the cable and then split into 5 or so separate alighting / boarding lines. I think they had about 10 people running each station.

    2. A gondola straight from Admiral Junction to the art museum (aka University Street Station) would be nice.

    3. I see some advantages to a gondola over light rail in theory but I’m not sure what the advantage to a gondola over a bus is. In the “before times” I took the C-line downtown and transferred to light rail to get to the U-District. How does taking a gondola and transferring to light rail make my life any easier than taking the bus? Especially if the gondola doesn’t go directly downtown like the C-line does. The appeal of West Seattle light rail to me has always been the one-seat ride from West Seattle to the U-District.

      It seems like gondolas are most practical where there is some sort of geographical barrier that prevents building a road, busway, or train. That really isn’t the case in West Seattle where there is a nicely-graded road leading straight to the Junction. The fact that they are not using that road for the light rail ROW is a fixable design decision…they don’t have to go straight up the giant Genesee hill if they don’t want to. I think a gondola from the Seattle Center to Fremont would be fantastic with a stop at the top of Queen Anne hill. That I could get behind. West Seattle isn’t hilly enough for a gondola.

      Marty, I love your passion for transit and for gondolas, but the gondola is presented as some sort of panacea that is going to get ST3 built faster and cheaper. That simply isn’t true. They can’t just add a gondola option to the draft EIS. There’s been no scoping or engineering or anything done. It would all have to be designed from scratch with minimal precedent in North America. ST3 has nobody who knows how to build a gondola on staff. Light rail is nearly shovel-ready at this point. Can you even imagine all the concerns that will be raised in a public comment period…besides the obvious of taxpayers being upset that they voted for light rail and are now being presented a completely different mode of transit?

      1. Joe, SkyLink would stop at International District right above Link so that you can transfer to UW. Not much different from C-line except that travel time on gondola is totally preditable, no UPS truck in front of a bus or congestion or accidents. Yes, a West Seattle light rail line would allow for a one seat ride to UW but not until 2036, with the recent cost escalation this most likely will get pushed out later. Until then Sound Transit may build the line to Stadium (earliest 2031), but you would need to wait for a train at Stadium or SODO.
        In any case, if you don’t go towards UW or Lynnwood but Bellevue, Ballard, airport, or Tacoma, then you will have at least two seat ride anyways.
        The cost escalation has happened because of property acquisitions and bridge construction has gotten more expensive/complex, none such is required for gondolas and therefore approval process is much easier/faster/cheaper, we have already met with engineering firms which have done gondola projects like this, therefore we believe it could be operational by 2025.
        Light rail was originally going to follow the road up the Junction, but Sound Transit rejected that design as too steep and not allowing for a Delridge station, therefore came up with the idea of going up Genesee Hill but even those alignments have gotten a lot of pushback, the design is far from shovel ready and due to the cost escalation it might get delayed further or even canceled?!? Again, West Seattle topography makes it challenging and expensive to build light rail, we believe gondola technology could meet similar requirement for a lot less.

  10. Here’s how to value engineer the section between the SLU tunnel portal and the bridgehead or Ship Canal Tunnel portal. Dig a retained cut trackway a few feet above street level behind the buildings on the north side of Elliott. Extend the Helix bridge across Elliott and have an at-grade station at the tracks. Continue to the ramp to the Magnolia Bridge and Expedia. Gain enough elevation to cross 15th NW.

    Curve closely next to the Magnolia Bridge across 15th and then curve in the vacant area to run right next to the BNSF at-grade. Raise Dravus a few feet on a widened overpass with bus stops right above the trackway and have the Dravus Station directly underneath the street, poking out both sides of it. Use simple stairs and an ADA-compliant elevator on each side of the street.

    Take Keller Supply and the empty lot next to it and either rise up toward a high level crossing or drop down toward a tunnel.

    I don’t know why they don’t do this. The medium-sharp curves on both sides of 15th NW at the Magnolia Bridge would slow things down a bit, but heck, put a station behind Whole Foods and it wouldn’t make any difference. Three at-grade “MAX” or “MLK” style station would save a bundle.

    1. Aside from placing the station under Dravus, you seem to be describing the preferred alternative but with the retained cut Prospect station alternative instead of the elevated Galer alternative, and the DEIS map (link at end) indicates the Prospect station alternatives can be paired with the rest of the preferred alignment.

      For the retained cut Prospect station alternative, I think ST wants the station to be below grade so that they can build a bus loop over the station, but I agree keeping the bus loop at the same grade as the station should be both cheaper and better for station access. Safety shouldn’t be an issue because only transit vehicles would be crossing the Link tracks at-grade, not private vehicles.

      Looking at the Interbay options, it looks like ST can go under Dravus with the tunnel options but wants to go over Dravus with the ship canal bridge options. I agree the “retained cut 17th” option would be better to at least have the south station entrance directly connect to Dravus. Maybe ST is trying to avoid having a curved station, but as you say if they are acquiring the whole Keller parcel they should be able to figure how to have an at-grade station immediately adjacent to/below Dravus.

      Only counter I’d say is “raising Dravus” basically means “replace Dravus” which might be good for SDOT but could cost ST a bundle.

      And yes, while now is not the time to add costs, I hope they plan for an Amory infill station; would be good station spacing with the Prospect options, and perhaps could be a future terminus for Sounder North.

      1. I’ve always liked the idea of a shared Sounder/Link Station at both Interbay and at Boeing Access Road – even though some (many?) will say that doing so at BAR doesn’t gain you very much. What I say to that is if we are creating a network then the more network options we have the better!

        Nevertheless up at Interbay I think the advantage is more for a terminus for South Sounder than for North. The North Sounder line would benefit from a stop at Interbay so that people headed to Seattle Center and SLU could get to Link quicker, and then it would continue on as before.

        Although… is North Sounder really going to keep running once Link is built to Everett?

      2. ST has always said it won’t delete Sounder North because it believes the voters intended voter-approved services to last forever, and it has unique travel-time advantages in Mukilteo and Edmonds. It feels it needs to have something in every significant city, and Sounder is it for those two. Many of us have told ST many times in feedback that we think it should cancel Sounder North now and put the money into replacement buses and accelerating Everett Link, but ST won’t listen. However, the political situation may change when Everett Link opens, and it will be a different generation of boardmembers making the decision in 16+ years, and evolving public attitudes, so what’s not politically feasible now, may be feasible in the future.

        Link’s Everett-Westlake travel time is expected to be around 60 minutes, so comparable to Sounder and the midrange of ST Express. (Faster than rush hour traffic, slower than Sunday morning.) So from Everett or the north it’s a wash, and it takes you directly to midtown rather than the south edge of downtown. So the main issue is how much deference ST gives to Mukilteo and Edmonds riders and ferry passengers (and their travel-time savings, water views, more luxurious trains, and on-board bathroom). Right now it’s giving absolute deference, but whether it will do so in the future remains to be seen.

      3. It’s kind of a chicken-versus-egg challenge. As long as Sounder is limited to a handful of trains running mainly in one direction on borrowed tracks, it will remain a “supplemental service” for commuting even with the permanent slots.

        I think that the best thing for Sounder is to determine what the service should be, and then step back to develop a business plan to achieve it. Meanwhile, I cringe at each incremental project for Sounder, wondering if it’s a wise investment.

        I predict peak commuting will decline in demand growth, and inter-city higher-speed rail increase in demand growth. For every billion we spend for facilitating longer rail trips, I feel like one goal of that investment needs to prepare us for higher-speed inter-city rail.

        It may even be possible to even exchange the Sounder slots for Cascadia high-speed rail slots. If that evolves, then the entire line — including station designs at new and existing stations — can be revisioned to fit a new reality. On the other hand, if Sounder will remain perpetually limited in bi-directional frequency, we should begin to look to new public segments of track (and stations) to build that can be given self-propelled service until a longer higher-speed rail service can be offered.

        It will be interesting if the “rules” that limit the ultimate offering of faster and more frequent passenger rail will change upon Biden’s arrival. The current FRA game rules regulating private railroad passenger operations, track usage and ownership seem to make each step for faster and better inter-city unnecessarily difficult and expensive. I’m no policy expert to recommend specifics, but strategic major reforms seem to be needed before a networked system can effectively operate.

      4. Mike is correct – the long term decision on Sounder North will be driven by Edmonds and Mukilteo service, not Everett.

        ” I think that the best thing for Sounder is to determine what the service should be, and then step back to develop a business plan to achieve it” – that’s exactly what is going on right now:

        As I understand is, the early analysis suggest that it is far more cost effective (per incremental rider) to add capacity at peak rather than expand the span of service, so ST3 will basically do two things: create longer trains and improve peak frequency from 20 minutes to 15 minutes.

        Unless you think peak ridership will collapse – I expect midweek commuting to return to basically pre-pandemic patterns – South Sounder capacity improvements are necessary to not overburden Link south of ID.

        North Sounder has limits on bidirectional service, but South Sounder does not. South of King Station, the issue is limited span on service, not lack of bidirectional service, and that can be dealt with by using different modes (bus or Link+bus) to serve the corridor midday and evening. North of Seattle, new ROW to serve inter and intracity trips would be very expensive but potentially very compelling. South of Seattle, I’m in the camp that HSR is a distraction from far more meaningful investments in Cascades and there’s little need for anything beyond modest improvements to the ROW. Electronics before concrete.

        FWIW, the most profound advancement in FRA regulations was under Trump (though likely started under Obama, as these things take forever) that dramatically changed the safety rules for passenger rail to bring US closer to European/Asian standards. I have yet to see anything useful from the Biden administration aside from pots of money.

      5. Sounder South and Sounder North have opposite roles in many ways. Sounder South is at the geographical center of South King County with high cachement populations on both sides. Puyallup serves the vast area behind it, Lakewood the city around it, Dupont Thurston County, and Sumner is on the way. Tacoma Dome service preserves 62-minute travel time to Seattle, which Link won’t be able to match. South King County’s travel time is particularly impressive, Tukwila 20 minutes, Kent 28 minutes, Auburn 34 minutes. Compare the 101 at 49 minutes, 162 at 49 minutes, and 578 at 62 minutes (all at 5pm southbound). So it’s definitely worth expanding Sounder South. I’d prefer more all-day service, but peak frequency should keep up with demand. If the ST Express routes at Tacoma Dome are deleted with Link, there will be more demand for Sounder.

        Sounder North is along the coast, while most of the population is inland around 99 and I-5. Most Edmonds and Mukilteo residents have to travel out-of-direction to reach the Sounder station. The right of way is narrow along a steep hillside, can’t be expanded, and gets mudslides several times a year that cause service interruptions for at least 48 hours every time. Link’s Everett travel time will match Sounder’s, so Sounder isn’t needed for that. Sounder doesn’t go beyond Everett to Marysville (akin to Lakewood), which is outside the ST district anyway.

    2. AJ, I’m not exactly describing any of the alternatives between Prospect and Dravus. I’m saying follow the path of least resistance snuggled up to the existing roadway ramp for the Magnolia Bridge and the loop to Expedia. Unfortunately I can’t draw it and attach it here.

      Since the west end of the Magnolia Bridge is slated to be torn down sometime in the mid-2020’s, the modest amount of traffic headed to the cruise ship dock can be accommodated by the northbound left turn bay at Garfield. The existing structure could be replaced by an LRT bridge which would curve away from the ascending westbound Garfield Street rising from the 15th West intersection.

      This would be the only structure needed between the SLU tunnel portal and the Ship Canal crossing, be it bridge or tunnel. Since SDOT’s seeming “preferred alternative” is to “improve Dravus” and the 20th West/Thorndyke route “raising Dravus” can be included in that rebuild.

  11. “The largest cost increase at $2.1 billion is in right of way……Sound Transit annually adjusts its estimates as the baseline increases, but expects a normal 6.5% appreciation in future as per historic averages.”

    Question for the OP: Can you confirm this ROW escalator factor? I recall seeing a ST presentation* giving the rate as 4.6% in the ST3 plan.


    *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%

  12. The real question for the board is whether it can rely on ST’s new cost estimates, or will there be another adjustment in five or ten years? ST has a bad habit of underestimating total costs when proposing levies (and so did Move Seattle). Many thought the cost estimates for N. King Co. in ST 3 were “optimistic”, but I think ST was banking on significant increased general tax revenues for N. King Co., before working from home and a pandemic.

    Then you have future revenue reductions, both fare box recovery and general fund tax revenue.

    So what is the proposal? ST 4? Converting West Seattle and Ballard to buses? Skipping the second transit tunnel?

    Or allowing N. King Co. to place its own transportation/transit levy on the ballot to bypass ST subarea equity that requires uniform tax rates to finish ST 3? My guess is when it is all done N. King Co. is looking at close to an additional $6 to $10 billion to finish ST 3, including the second transit tunnel that many of us think is the most underestimated when it comes to cost (and bridge repair/replacement), maybe a little less with cuts to the original designs. That would consume a lot of Seattle’s tax capacity for decades for any other needs.

    I understand that ST is saying there isn’t enough money to complete ST 3 in the North King Co. subarea, it really still does not know how general tax revenue will work out in the N. King Co. subarea post pandemic, but I don’t understand what it is proposing to solve that huge gap, and have doubts ST’s current estimates are accurate.

    I think ST management is angling for another levy or tax increase, but I am not sure the ST board wants to try and sell a regional levy for Seattle’s gold plated rail projects (ST 3 was exhausting, and a ST 4 to complete ST 3 will be a very hard sell), or tell Seattle to float a massive levy for N. King Co. when Seattle has some serious revenue and funding issues. I am not sure what the eastside subarea would know what do with ST 4 revenue, when the $4.5 billion line from Issaquah to Kirkland in ST 3 is so questionable and both ST 2 and ST 3 left the eastside subarea with way too much revenue.

    Or tell West Seattle and Ballard it looks like buses for you, sorry we used up the money running rail to the Snohomish Co. line and South King Co. and Angle Lake, which means each community will demand no loss of car capacity in any future bridge replacement, which was likely anyway.

    So which is it? More funding, or no rail to West Seattle and Ballard, and maybe not a second transit tunnel, which is what the funding estimates today would fund. I think the Board’s decision will be the second, although ST management is hoping for the first.

    1. My predictions:

      I think that the corporate “powers that be” will make connecting SLU and Seattle Center to Link the top priority. I expect multiple iterations of the subway segment design as the complications of creating stations emerges. I would not be surprised if ways to use existing station exits or deferred stations becomes part of the cost containment package. I don’t see this getting resolved until 2025 or 2026 at the earliest and supplemental environmental studies will be needed. The “fast track” environmental process sold to voters in 2016 is valid for other ST Link extension projects — but will not ultimately happen here because the constructibility issues and choices look significant.

      I think the budget concerns and disagreements over the last two stations will result in a single West Seattle station ending on Delridge until more funding and a consensus is developed. I see an additional measure beyond ST3 to build any extension beyond Delridge. I think that since most of West Seattle (outside of the junction area) will be satisfied with that since they have to transfer from a bus anyway and will no longer dread using the bridge.

      I think that budget concerns and disagreements will result in the northern terminus to be at Smith Cove until more funding and a consensus on how to cross the ship canal is developed. I see an additional measure beyond ST3 to go further north. Unlike West Seattle, I think North Seattle residents will be pushing for a ship canal crossing as a higher priority and will make this extension happen before the final extension in West Seattle gets underway.

      I think that the Seattle Center to ID tunnel will take 10-13 years to build and open once a design is finalized and a construction contract is finalized. That’s based on what I’m seeing from both LA and SF new downtown subway projects — both delayed several years from their original promised dates due to construction issues.

      I see that securing more funding in a mere citywide vote will mean that some sort of “candy” in all parts of town will be needed as part of the citywide referendum strategy. That could include infill stations elsewhere deferred because of funding shortfalls. I think that not enough Seattle residents will get motivated only by short extensions in West Seattle and Ballard.

      1. I think Al S. is spot on. Finally someone arguing that transit should follow density, and not seek to create density where it doesn’t exist. Since there is already inter-subarea funding for the second transit tunnel through Seattle that is the place to start, because there will be cost overruns on the tunnel that will further stress funding rail to West Seattle and Ballard.

    2. “So what is the proposal? … I don’t understand what it is proposing to solve that huge gap”

      Patience, hold your horses. It’s not proposing anything yet. It’s just starting to consider the issue and wil take several months to decide. The default option is to stretch out everything five years across the board, or however many years the revenue allows. That would avoid horse trading or declaring which projects are more urgent than others. Nobody wants to be the first to say “My project is less urgent” because they’ll get the short end of the stick: everyone else will insist all their projects are top priority, they’ll say, “You said your project can wait so we’ll put it last.” The person’s subarea constituents will say s/he didn’t represent their interests adequately because this project is super urgent. West Seattle thinks West Seattle is urgent; Snohomish thinks Everett/Paine is urgent; some in East King think Issaquah is urgent; Pierce thinks Tacoma Dome and Tacoma 19th Ave are urgent; Federal Way thinks Federal Way is urgent.

      There was supposed to be a board workshop around the 19th to explore austerity alternatives. Did it happen? That’s the best place to get the first answers to your question, what the board is considering and whether they have anything to say about which projects should get more priority than others. I was going to attend but tricky work issues demanded my attention.

      I don’t see a near-term “ST4” as a possibility. ST3 hasn’t really started yet: it requires all of the ST1/2/3 tax streams, and the first two won’t be available until the ST2 bills stop coming in ca. 2025 and the bonds are partly paid down. What it’s doing now is just planning, which is a fraction of the cost of contsruction. It has talked about early deliverables on RapidRide C and D and PT 1 but there’s been no sign of them yet, and they’ll probably get postponed or deferred like everything else.

      ST has a couple small tax streams it hasn’t used like a head tax, but the reason it hasn’t used them is they’re so unpopular. A tax on jobs is at least as unpopular as a tax on car tabs, viz. Seattle and Amazon. Additional “ST4” taxes would require legislative approval. Do you think the legislature will do that, especially in a recession? And many people think the ST1/2/3 taxes are already pretty high and a stretch, and would object to increasing them or would say they can’t afford them. Some legislators think ST hoodwinked them by suggesting a 15-year plan to the legislature but then scaling it up to a 25-year plan, and they don’t want to give ST anything more. Some subarea constituents and one boardmember are talking about seceding from the district or opting out of ST’s taxes. All these suggest that additional “ST4” taxes are unlikely. ST4, if it happens, would probably be voted on in the mid 2030s at the earliest.

      Likewise, a King County measure is unlikely. The county still hasn’t gotten around to a measure for Metro Connects, which is still pending. It says it will have one any year now. But the last two countywide Metro measures failed, so it’s iffy if even Metro Connects would pass. I don’t see the county passing an ST supplement while Metro Connects is still uncertain.

      Seattle might be more likely to pass an ST supplement, especially since it would fund the popular Ballard and West Seattle tunnels. And West Seattle is screaming for a reliable alternative to the West Seattle Bridge. If that happens, I’m concerned about it sucking money away from Seattle’s bus needs. If we could get the D and 44 faster, it would lessen the need for Ballard Link. And there are many other parts of the city where frequency improvements are needed, especially after the shortfall in regular funding since the recession started.

      But how much could Seattle raise? The unused monorail authority is about $1 billion. Property tax is close to its statuatory and constitutional ceiling as a percent of assessed value, and the city wants to keep the remaining reserve for emergencies and more urgent things. Sales tax is already high and regressive, and I don’t know if it has a ceiling. Anything else would require legislative approval, which sometimes you get and sometimes you don’t, and it’s usually low.

      If the board instead focuses on horse trading under the existing revenue, then there would be a battle over which projects to prioritize over others, or what can be delayed or deferred. Who knows how that might go. ST could start thinking about things that have heretofore been off the table. We’ll know when we get the first indication of which direction it’s leaning toward. That will be all boardmembers debating and deciding together, because as I said if anyone goes first they’ll get the short end of the stick.

      As for truncating Smith Cove, deleting the second tunnel, converting it to a bus or bus+rail tunnel, doing something in West Seattle, who knows? I may be OK with it, depending on what “it” is and what the balance in the other subareas would be.

      1. “There was supposed to be a board workshop around the 19th to explore austerity alternatives. Did it happen?”

        That was scheduled for today, Jan 21, at 1pm. I wanted to listen in but I had a work conference call at the same time. I’m assuming Dan or Martin will give us a summary of the workshop developments in an upcoming post.

      2. I listened, but they are just starting the realignment process: finding new revenue sources, discussing how they can react (delay, cut, break deliverable into phases)

    3. “The “fast track” environmental process sold to voters in 2016”

      It was not “sold to” voters or an ST promise. It was ST begging stakeholders to agree on one or two alternatives to shorten the EIS process. And begging cities to proactively permit light rail like Redmond did to shorten the permitting process. These didn’t happen. Ballard got bogged down in some people pushing for 14th, others 15th, others 20th, and a high bridge or a low bridge or a tunnel. West Seattle got bogged down in around four alternatives and a tunnel, and whether it was acceptable to knock down single-family houses or cross the golf course. (The representative alignment in the ballot measure was not scaled to afford tunnels. The suddenly demanded tunnels after the projects were approved.) It’s the same kind of mess that happened in south Bellevue, which added at least a year to the timeline. Only this is worse in some ways because people are demanding several billion for tunnels, and real estate costs for even the elevated alternatives are now several billion higher and reaching the edge of affordability. South Bellevue got a trench, and the only tunnel is a tiny two-block one, I assume cut and cover.

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