Seattle could have a complete Seattle Subway network, but only if the City of Seattle has a plan to champion that future. Currently, Seattle is marching into the future without a plan for a fully connected city. Even when ST3 is complete, nearly 60% of Seattle’s built-up areas will still not be served by light rail. If Seattle City Council doesn’t act now, many of these areas will never be served. Decisions are being made now—without the Council’s conscious input—that may forever preclude parts of our city from ever being added to the light rail network. This includes corridors as obvious as Aurora or a replacement for the forever-late King County Metro route 8.
Currently, 57% of Seattle’s urban villages will NOT be served by the ST3 light rail plan. One would think that all of those neighborhoods could just be added later, but for ST3 planning reasons, they likely will not be unless we determine now what our future system should look like. The reason lies in the details of how Sound Transit plans extensions (or—more charitably—is forced to plan by state law and the FTA).
Sound Transit only plans exactly what voters voted for. In 2016, voters approved light rail from downtown to Ballard, for example. No aspect of that authorization included future compatibility so that some day, an Aurora Line could be added. However, any look at the pre-pandemic Rapid Ride E-Line would tell you that we are already past due for light rail on that corridor.
What does this mean? It means that if Seattle doesn’t create a plan for what the long term city network looks like, Sound Transit will build a tunnel through downtown Seattle with no ability to add branch lines in the future, such as a wye junction near Harrison and 99 to enable people to go up Aurora, perhaps has far as Edmonds. It also means that a $4+ billion downtown tunnel has no accommodation for new lines nor for new destinations to be added in the future—leaving 75% of its capacity permanently unused. Instead of one line with trains arriving every 6-8 minutes, in most downtowns around the world subway tunnels have three to four subway lines with trains arriving every 90 seconds to 2 minutes that take passengers to dozens of destinations.
This would be a costly and irreversible oversight that would preclude our city from having the transit options that connect every neighborhood in a safe, sustainable, and convenient way. Failure of planning now prevents us from being a climate leader with high quality of life in the future.
In the next few months, Sound Transit will begin work that will lock this omission in concrete, forever, as it releases a draft EIS that will be finalized in two years. Without a vision that stands up for a connected Seattle, we will forever preclude neighborhoods like Bitter Lake, Licton Springs, South Park, First Hill, and Madison-Miller from ever being connected to the rail system in a cost effective manner.
In 2013, it was the City of Seattle that initiated the process that led to Sound Transit 3 when the city and Sound Transit partnered to create the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study. That study was completed in May of 2014 and it led to a much earlier ST3 vote than originally planned. Sound Transit and the city worked together on that project, and regional partners would have to come together to implement a future vision as well. However, Sound Transit’s regional board can’t tell the City of Seattle what our vision for future high capacity rail is. We have to initiate that conversation ourselves.
This is why we are asking the Seattle City Council to ensure there is planning money to have a technical analysis of what our future transportation and light rail needs will be, so that our City can speak with clarity to Sound Transit about what the $4B downtown tunnel must be able to support in the future.
If our Council doesn’t champion what the future of transportation in Seattle should look like, who will?
The first Seattle City Council Transportation and Utilities Committee meeting on this topic is scheduled for Wedneday, April 21, at 9:30am.
The fastest way to make your voice heard is to email email@example.com and say:
“Don’t leave any neighborhood out. We all deserve light rail connections. We must create a Seattle light rail vision now to make sure we are not locked out of light rail expansion forever. As the Seattle City Council, please champion light rail beyond ST3 and for all of Seattle.”
You can also sign up for live, online public comment before Wednesday’s council meeting at: https://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/public-comment (available starting just after 7:30 am, Wednesday)