Light rail tracks running toward Northgate Transit Center (Lizz Giordano)

Sound Transit 3 is not going to match the stellar project delivery record of Sound Transit 2 barring a bailout from another government or the economy. In attempt to understand the cost estimation failures that got us to this point, on June 24th ST accepted the report of consultants asked to investigate why (report, slides, video).

The report points out parts of ST’s own cost estimation methodology that it did not follow during initial project estimation in 2015 and 2016. In particular, ST did not seek a second opinion on costs and did not sufficiently invovle its own Real Estate division in determining acquisition costs.

It’s a long report and hard to summarize. It identified eight key drivers of the increases between “phase 1” and “phase 2” estimates, and was able to assign a subjective importance to five of them:

1. Inaccurate original assumptions for major design elements such as stations, foundations, storm water requirements and sitework were contributing factors to cost increases from ST3 to Phase 2. The use of robust analysis from ST’s programmatic design team appeared absent based on various interviews with ST staff. [40%]

2. Utilization of a ROW methodology that employs a formulaic approach that is repeatable and can be applied consistently to a wide variety of projects and alternatives. This formula contains many inputs including contingency and was updated to reflect current market conditions throughout the estimate phases. [20%]

3. The use of a “buffer method” for defining preliminary ROW impacts instead of a properly defined project footprint that evaluated ROW requirements in light of construction needs. [20%]

4. A dynamic real estate market with rapidly rising property values and the redevelopment of lower density uses to higher density uses. [10%]

5. Updates to ST’s Unit Cost Library (UCL) to more reasonable units. Areas contributing as large cost drivers were bridge and tunnelling cost per route foot and vertical conveyance (i.e., elevators). It appears ST updated these units based on similar projects in lieu of escalating older information that was previously utilized. [10%]

6. The rigid nature of the estimate practices. For example, environmental costs were originally captured using high, medium, and low-cost allocation per route foot of the alignment. While having a system in place to ensure these items are not overlooked is important, it also creates an environment where an outside opinion from the design consultant performing the estimate appears unnecessary. [N/A]

7. ROW Ownership was not utilized to the extent it should have been due to the primary focus being on ST2 projects that were going on at the same time. [N/A]

8. Second opinions were not utilized to the extent they should have been. ERP approved methodology but did not perform an in-depth assessment on the accuracy of the cost estimates that could have identified inaccuracies earlier than what were presented. [N/A]

So what’s to be done? There are 38 recommendations. One answer is simply to do more engineering earlier, which is expensive but would reduce surprises. Short of that, involving more agency experts earlier would help a lot, as well as moving away from convenient formulas into real assessments of the cost to acquire the property at hand. The last leads to a less formalized method; any opening for judgment also creates one for wishful thinking. In the hands of well-intentioned staff, though, flexibility would be powerful.

118 Replies to “Sound Transit seeks to understand cost failures”

  1. A lot of this seems like what the NYU folks/Alon Levy are saying – at least things like outside experts and full-time planning staff. Not copying Asian practices with TOD on station sites seems really stupid in hindsight.

  2. Even though the popular perception is that cost increases are a result of inflation, the report makes it clear that most of the problem is a bad cost estimation process before the referendum. Those involved were apparently not doing their work correctly and ST guidance on costing was apparently terrible.

    The surprising element of this is that ST had U-Link and Angle Lake in construction when these estimates were presented in 2015. The size of the Capitol Hill Link station site was obvious at the time — yet they assumed a smaller station footprint? The mistakes can’t be considered naive. They appear more deliberate.

    1. Agreed.
      This seems beyond sheer utter incompetence on the part of ST and entering into the area of professional malfeasance.

      The question I have in my mind is whether or not this will be the final nail in the coffin for terminating or not renewing Mr. Rogoff’s contract, particularly following the Dupont derailment tragedy and the agency’s role in that failure.

      In the private sector, it’s not unheard of for CEO’s to be removed for performance failures of a lesser magnitude than we have in the case of Rogoff’s tenure at ST.

      One last note. I don’t agree with the author’s characterization of the consultant’s report being difficult to summarize; it seems very straightforward in this reader’s mind. I would strongly encourage the STB community to read the actual report itself in full. With that said, I think Martin’s summary here is pretty well done.

  3. The recommendations here are more specific — but as long as an entity has a political motivation to get additional funding passed for major capital projects, they are compelled to underestimate costs at every level. The larger political questions about when measures go on the ballot and how to verify the estimates need to be added to these recommendations.

    1. as long as an entity has a political motivation to get additional funding passed for major capital projects, they are compelled to underestimate costs at every level

      Bingo! You nailed it.

      Remember that early plans were much cheaper, involving a lot of surface running. It was believed, based on the initial studies, that we simply didn’t have the money to build a high quality line from West Seattle to Ballard. This resulted in a lot of angst as well as soul searching. It got to the point that an organization known for its delusional dreams of not one, but two subway lines to Woodinville had a rare moment of mental clarity. Since we don’t have the money for a really good subway, they thought, how about we build a really good bus system (https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/02/18/westside-seattle-transit-tunnel/).

      This sort of sensible approach was short lived. Sound Transit magically found that it could build the lines much cheaper AND make them grade separated. Seattle Subway went back to fantasizing about hundreds of miles of grade separated track, so that Tukwila would be connected to three lines (or is it four?). Everyone was happy. Until of course, that ugly party pooper called reality showed up.

      A decent Ballard to West Seattle line was always outside the budget of ST3. This was before they planned on watering it down (with a station at 14th NW). Even with a station on the outskirts of Ballard (nowhere near the cultural, employment or residential center of the area) it is way over budget. Of course it is. But if you are a “leader” (and I use the term loosely, referring to Dow Constantine) then you keep asking the question until you get the right answer. Because if they tell you the truth — West Seattle and Ballard is too expensive and we can’t afford it — then the folks you care about the most (your homies) will be upset. Because it would be ridiculous to build West Seattle without Ballard, while it is quite reasonable to do the opposite. That would leave you with nothing of substance for your beloved peninsula. Better to fudge the numbers and look the other way so that this thing can go through, and hope that it all works out in the end. Keep talking about how this was what voters wanted (as if they were given a choice) and hope that the feds will bail you out, without asking the tough questions (like “Is this really the most cost effective subway route?”).

  4. Who is to blame? Was it ST project managers or senior staff, Board member pressure, consulting firm staff trying to appease the project manager or someone else and perhaps not know what they were doing or someone else?

    The major overrun should be specific to WSBLE. Something happened here that did not happen to other corridors. Even the TDLE increase is relatable to a specific design change. So, rather than observe a costing system in the abstract, some emphasis should be given to showing why the WSBLE was specifically so off. Making the report so general ignores that some blame needs to be spotlighted.

    1. The Tacoma Dome extension is fully elevated over wide public highways. The costs are relatively easy to estimate and non-volatile. In North Seattle the freeway is so old and brittle ST had to step gingerly around it, but I assume that’s easier to do south of Federal Way where there’s more empty space. Ballard, West Seattle, and DSTT2 have a lot of geographic complications and potential cost volatility that Tacoma and Everett don’t have. Still, ST made a lot of egregious errors that go way beyond this. And it knows Seattle is complex because it experienced it in U-Link and Northgate Link, so it should have had a large contingency for unknowns.

      1. Apparently they incorporate a 75% contingency, which basically doubles any engineering cost estimate increase and is remarkably high for transit construction.

      2. I think 75% is what the FTA recommends for pre-EIS estimates. I don’t know what global best practice is.

        The large increase in contingency was also the big driver for the most recent big increase in Lynnwood and FW cost estimates, which in turn mean the actual cost for both of those projects are likely to come in under current estimates.

  5. “The larger political questions about when measures go on the ballot and how to verify the estimates need to be added to these recommendations.”

    Of course, highway projects don’t have to underestimate costs to get funded, since they aren’t subject to a public vote.

  6. I went back and skimmed through the comments from the January 9 post on the release of these massive cost estimate increases – it seems that many of the comments in this report were known in January. Now, we know that the consultant believes that about 90% of the underestimation is attributable to ST. However, what’s not clear to me is what changed from ST2 to ST3.

    I think it’s as simple as ST getting too used to relatively simple suburban projects (ST2) going relatively well and forgetting that urban construction is stupid expensive, especially in the USA. Maybe they just got lucky with their ROW estimation methods in suburbia.

    If you skip to about 1:48:40 in the ST board meeting, you’ll get to Chair Kent Keel’s brief questioning of the consultants.

    Many people forget Hanlon’s Razor. However, the argument for “malicious” initial underestimation could be supported by assuming ST thought that even if their general estimates were significantly off, the strength of economic growth or federal bailouts would be there to save them. And frankly, while the pandemic may have been a municipal kick in the cajones, they may just be right about federal dollars.

    Meanwhile, this cost explosion and slow-burn “realignment process” will continue to give fuel to those who think ST is a garbage-fire and that the RTA taxes are tantamount to theft in addition to continued haranguing about subarea equity and ridership manufacturing. Hoping ST can figure it out but confidence is low.

    1. The “garbage fire” appears specific to WSBLE. General recommendations may appear safer at some level but the lack of criticizing the WSBLE project specifically taints ST at a much broader level.

      And let’s not forget that the WSBLE project was cooked up by SDOT staff and the Mayor’s office after two different early technical studies were completed by two different sets of consultants. Then ST rolled out the operating plan based on the corridors. It was all glued together very quickly — which is a sure fire way to get inaccurate cost estimates.

  7. At something approaching a billion a mile this might be the most expensive light rail in history, and all they can offer is bad estimation?? How exactly does this cost 50% more per mile than the fully tunneled UW link and mostly tunneled Northgate link extensions? Someone please tell me I’m making a mistake with my numbers here.

    What’s worse is these consultants told the board there was no opportunity to reduce costs.

    1. Link is the most unusual light rail in history. Most light rails are 90% surface or along highways so their cost per mile is low. When networks have a lot of tunnels and elevation they’re usually heavy rail, so that’s a fairer comparison to Link.

      1. I agree Link is much closer to heavy rail than light, and a billion a mile is absurd even for heavy rail, especially one which is mostly elevated. Deep bore tunneling is the most expensive construction possible and ST has proved its capable of doing it at much lower cost than this, so what happened between UW/Northgate Link and now?

      2. ST Light Rail I’d say is less trying to be Portland MAX or San Diego MTS and seems to be more of akin to Vancouver’s SkyTrain, though I think SkyTrain does better in terms of getting better TOD around their stations that’s more than a just few nice apartment buildings.

      3. In terms of aligning land use with rail investment and connecting islands of density, ST/PSRC is like Vancouver, but in terms of the rolling stock technology, ROW quality, line branching, station footprint, and operating frequency, I feel like San Diego’s trolley is the best west coast comp, with the important difference of a downtown tunnel for Seattle.

        If San Diego 1) built a downtown rail tunnel, and 2) created major nodes of density outside of downtown, such as at Midway or SDSU Mission Valley, it would look a lot like Link.

        Interestingly, MTS’s proposed suburban loop Purple Line is likely to be downgraded from light rail to freeway BRT, which is very comparable to ST’s decision to run Stride along the 405 corridor.

        MTS treats gondolas (‘skyways’) as a serious alternative to short light rail extensions, which perhaps would be useful in the WS Stub debates.

      4. In terms of aligning land use with rail investment and connecting islands of density, ST/PSRC is like Vancouver

        Sorry, no. From a routing and station standpoint, SkyTrain was build like most transit systems in the world. They focused on the urban core, serving it with multiple lines and lots of stations. At every turn they considered the overall transit network, creating a lauded transit grid. They made the usual trade-offs, which means accepting that some worthy destinations would be served by bus or ferry, simply because of cost.
        There was no attempt at geographic balance or serving well known, but distant locations. It was all about value. At worst, it built things out of order (UBC/Broadway should have been built a while ago). But when that section is done, it will be similar to most systems in the world.

        We aren’t doing that. We are building long distance lines that are both extremely expensive and unproductive. The lines run along freeways, limiting ridership potential, while providing riders with little benefit. Even a line within the city (West Seattle) adds little in the way of speed benefits or network effect, despite costing a fortune. There is probably no other area of the city less appropriate for a subway line, but they managed to prioritize it. Meanwhile, huge swaths of the urban core are left without mass transit (Belltown, First Hill, Central Area) and high ridership corridors are left with extremely slow service (44, 8). There is no attempt to cover the highest ridership areas, nor little attempt to build a better overall transit network. Even a simple and obvious addition like a 130th station — a critical piece of a decent grid for one of the more densely populated parts of the region — required a hard fought political battle.

        In a few years, a transit expert will be able to look at a transit map of Vancouver (that wouldn’t be much different than it is today) and say “Well, that makes sense”. They may quibble about a decision here or there, but there will be no big mystery as to why they made the decisions they did.

        In contrast, after the dust finally settles on ST3 (in 2050?), just about any transit expert will be left with a big “WTF?”.

      5. RossB, July 2, 8:49 a.m.: amen. High capacity transit is best when it serves pedestrian centers. The freeway alignments limit the pedestrian and land use benefits. Freeways are to pedestrians as dams are to fish. They also reduce the transit advantage over bus in the freeway; we could and have implement variable tolling on freeways. Note the Forward Thrust alignments were not in the freeway envelope except to cross the lake. FT was also a single county and that is another significant advantage, as our counties are huge. ST governance may have helped lead to those choices. ST2 might have Link in the SR-99 corridor and fast bus on I-5 and approach a grid rather than a long narrow spine in the freeway envelope.

      6. I compared Skytrain to Link only with respect to land use in the immediate station area. For everything else, including routing and station placement, I compared to San Diego.

        But as to your praise on Vancouver, the grid is primarily bus service; Skytrain is super important but looking at a Skytrain map with no buses, there is no grid but 3 lines downtown that wander out into the suburbs. The ST3 network similarly makes no sense if you look at it in isolation. If you overlay the expected Stride (3), Swift (5), RapidRide (27), and Stream (5) lines you end up with a reasonable grid, given geography and some radial orientation around the region’s 4 major cities.

        So instead it is a question of which parts of the grid merit investment in rail, and I chuckled at your “hard fought political battle” comment after you just barely mentioned UBC/Broadway and completely ignored Skytrain service to Coquitlam and Surrey. How is that any different than prioritizing rail to Redmond and Tacoma before tackling Ballard-UW? Vancouver does only 2 things better than the rest of the west coast: better land use around the immediate station vicinity, and excellent all day frequency because they automated the rail. ST3 assumes the former, and there is nothing in ST1/2/3 that prevents us from doing in the latter in the near future.

      7. I compared Skytrain to Link only with respect to land use in the immediate station area.

        Yes, and I pointed out that they are dramatically different. That is because the bulk of SkyTrain’s stations are in urban areas, while inner suburbs have stations far from the freeway. In contrast, ST3 is largely about building distant suburban stations close to the freeway.

        But as to your praise on Vancouver, the grid is primarily bus service;

        It is both train and bus, which is my point. The stops on the train make the train grid easier. This isn’t the case with ST.

        The ST3 network similarly makes no sense if you look at it in isolation. If you overlay the expected Stride (3), Swift (5), RapidRide (27), and Stream (5) lines you end up with a reasonable grid, given geography and some radial orientation around the region’s 4 major cities.

        No, you don’t. There will be no reasonable grid, because you completely ignore scale. A transit grid only functions at a walkable scale. If getting to your destination requires walking a mile, then taking a bus or train, then you aren’t part of the grid. This more or less describes most of Seattle when this is all done. For example, the station at Northgate kills a grid for the area, as buses make huge detours just to connect to the station. It is that way most of the way (no stop on Boren, which means no service from South Lake Union to Boren; no stop at 23rd and Madison, which means the 43 still has merit, etc.). The lack of stops contributes to detours to serve a station, or complete abandonment of the idea (sticking with the hub and spoke system we’ve had for years). You can’t find similar areas in Vancouver because the train has good stop spacing. They would never dream of skipping 130th, because they would instantly recognize it as an important corridor. For ST, skipping it is just par for the course.

        you just barely mentioned UBC/Broadway and completely ignored Skytrain service to Coquitlam and Surrey. How is that any different than prioritizing rail to Redmond and Tacoma before tackling Ballard-UW?

        Because UBC/Broadway at least made it to a vote! Even though it was rejected, it will still be built. There is no reason to believe that Ballard to the UW will ever be built. As for the differences, they are huge. When Vancouver finally finishes the UBC/Broadway line, they will be done. At that point, it is really difficult for people to come up with ideas for a new line, or things they would have done differently, other than build things in a different order. In contrast, Ballard to the UW is just the tip of the iceberg for Seattle. We will lack train service to the Central Area, as well First Hill and Belltown. Somehow we are well on our way to building one of the biggest, most expensive mass transit systems in North America (dwarfing SkyTrain) and yet it will be filled with regret — areas we wish had subway service. Because unlike Vancouver, we never were concerned with serving the city — the primary focus was to connect Tacoma to Everett — to build a “spine” — using a mode that is way too expensive and inappropriate given the distances and density of the areas. Which brings me to another point:

        you completely ignored Skytrain service to Coquitlam and Surrey. How is that any different than prioritizing rail to Redmond and Tacoma?

        Surrey is 14 miles from Downtown Vancouver. Coquitlam is 15 miles. These are inner suburbs, with plenty of density and size (Surrey has half a million people). These are what Redmond might eventually be, and what Lynnwood and Federal Way can only dream of. They certainly aren’t Tacoma or Everett, as those cities are much, much further away.

        To be clear, I’m not complaining that East Link or Lynnwood Link or even Federal Way Link is built before Ballard to UW. I’m complaining that Ballard to UW isn’t even on the table, while Link will be built all the way to Everett and all the way to Tacoma (and from Issaquah to South Kirkland). That is absurd, and while SkyTrain has its flaws in terms of order, they aren’t doing anything that stupid.

        The biggest difference between SkyTrain and Link is not the technology, but the focus. SkyTrain was built like a traditional subway system, serving the urban core (the inner city and inner suburbs). Link was built so that we could have a “spine”. Other additions (from West Seattle to Issaquah) took the same ridiculous and arbitrary approach.

        Note the Forward Thrust alignments were not in the freeway envelope except to cross the lake. FT was also a single county and that is another significant advantage, as our counties are huge. ST governance may have helped lead to those choices.

        Absolutely. I think governance had everything to do with it. The first problem was the scope. This was a plan appropriate for L. A., not Seattle. You also had no expertise on the board. As a result, each city (or county) fought for light rail to its area, no matter how inappropriate, or poorly planned. It really should have been planned by Metro, with input from the suburbs (outside the county) so they could tie into the system (or eventually extend that far).

    2. ST assumed suburban construction costs while planning an urban rail, because its model for ST2 apparently worked OK even though there are no plans for aerial trackway and stations straddling roads, and ST didn’t build DSTT so it didn’t know how to estimate for DSTT2 (for its part, ST/KCM didn’t build the rails in the original DSTT correctly). Also, building a high bridge over Salmon Bay instead of the “representative alignment” of a moveable bridge.

      There are few opportunities to lower costs, except by compromising the scope of the projects (particularly, WSBLE). I think there are opportunities for savings, particularly with putting Link at-grade in WS and reconsidering options from Smith Cove to Ballard. DSTT2 will always be stupid expensive – that’s just going to be a hard pill to swallow for the subarea equity sticklers out there.

      1. They can shrink stations so they’re not giant monstrosities, they can choose alignments that dont require massive viaducts, they can not bulldoze half of Youngstown for said monstrous stations, they can cut and cover through SLU instead of boring, and more importantly without doing any of this it should still be less than the fully tunneled sections they’ve built recently. A billion s mile is an absurd amount money, and theres no way any transit project should ever cost that much

      2. I don’t know that cut and cover saves much in SLU. There would have to be a bunch of utility relocations.

        Certainly should be considered though.

      3. @Glenn

        As far as I know cut and cover is almost universally cheaper than bored, at the obvious cost of disrupting the street. I’m more worried about the fact that apparently they don’t want to even consider doing anything at all different and just plan to take this on the chin. A billion/mile for a fully underground subway is expensive, a billion/mile for a 1/3rd underground subway is truly, shockingly obscene.

      4. It depends on a number of factors, but really depends on how deep they plan to make it. Cut and cover is relatively cheap if it’s just below the surface. From the sounds of it, they are talking of making this pretty deep.

        Of course, the closer you are to the surface, the less vertical infrastructure you have to install and maintain, and getting to/from the train is easier too.

        Another cost factor is year of expenditure. If you build something now, the dollar number will be lower now than if the same object is built in 2035.

      5. Dalton, running the TBM’s is actually pretty cost-effective. Cities are digging large sewer and storm-water pipes all over the planet with nary a peep of catastrophe. They’re cheap and reliable because they’re under everything else and don’t mess with it.

        Bored subways cost so much because ipso facto, they’re deeper than cut-and-cover lines to keep the between-stations sections under the utilities. So the cost of the station vaults rises exponentially. With cut-and-cover the project has to mess with the utilities every foot of the way, so make it shallow to reduce soil removal costs.

        I think SLU is one of those places where boring probably makes sense because there’s a lot of old “urban” infrastructure piled layer on layer in the streets, the natural station locations are in a rough line which is diagonal to the street grid, and you sure as heck don’t want to cut Aurora up again.

        Now West Seattle and, dare we say it, “Ballard”, not so much, though there is that big sewer siphon blocking a 20th Northwest approach (which was bored with a TBM…see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WijrapoBLnI). Running up 14th at grade after a mid-level bridge landing just north of Leary with a “West Woodland” (thanx and a tip of the Hatlo Hat to RossB) station around 53rd and then a dive into a cut-and-cover tunnel swinging under Market and ending in a simple stub-end station with a Powell Street-like plaza supplying a same-level “mezzanine” with open-entrances on both sides of Market — hey, there’s a similarity… — makes sense and saves money.

        Also, run it alongside the BNSF tracks all the way past Armory to just north of the Magnolia Bridge, rise to replace the westbound loop over 15th with the LR tracks and then run at-grade behind the buildings on Elliott down to a portal just east of Prospect where an extension of the Helix Bridge across Elliott would tie the line to the Expedia campus.

        The trackway can run behind all of the buildings except the one housing DGM Controls, preserving most of their parking. There are two houses on Van Buren Avenue West which would have to be taken.

        Yes, yes, most businesses will lose someparking and the intensely auto-oriented ones will have to move. They’ll be replaced with ones which are less auto-oriented but which will be attracted by the Expedia station. If ST is actually considering tearing down a $275 million apartment complex for a station in Ballard, it can buy out two houses and the parking for a dozen one-story buildings along Elliott to avoid putting up structure.

        Yes, this is the somewhat more expensive western portal, but that option allows the Lower Queen Anne station to be right at Queen Anne and Mercer which has the best walkshed.

        If there is going to be a DSTT2 it really needs to be bored, simply because the only streets available for it, Fifth and Sixth Avenues, are too narrow for cut-and-cover. New Westlake and New IDS can themselves probably be built cut-and-cover with decking, but Midtown will be so deep that removing the spoils will have to be done at least partially through the tunnels themselves, that is, mining upward from the platform level.

        Although the steep grade down to Fourth offers a great opportunity for horizontal access to the mezzanine, it is going to be a huge project.

      6. If a Fifth/Sixth DSTT2 survives realignment, I like Al’s idea of just boring the tubes south of Westlake to provide connection to the outer world and leave Midtown and New IDS for another generation to solve. It means that New Westlake has to have a vault that extends another forty yards to the north in order to accommodate a scissors.

        Omitting the most and third-most expensive stations from the immediate project would cut the cost of the central leg easily in half. If a temporary end of track at Dravus were used for bus intercept and West Seattle used the Charlestown Station, Andover, the a track-on-each-side-of-the-West-Seattle-Freeway and a the outer lanes of a widened Fauntleroy down to Alaska, the entire project would easily fit within North King’s budget.

        It’s called “smart value engineering”, not just “cheaping out”.

      7. “ Although the steep grade down to Fourth offers a great opportunity for horizontal access to the mezzanine,”
        I think that a bore under Fourth Ave and a horizontal connection to University Street Station mezzanine could also possibly work. That would create a transfer point platform midway between Westlake and Midtown stations and save hundreds of billions by not building two sets of costly platforms and vaults.

        Another variation could be to create two sets of 90 degree curves just northeast of Westlake Station so that one line won’t have to pass deeply under the other (although locating transfer platforms would be tricky).

        Another variation could be to configure a two-track one-way subway loop using Third, Pine, Sixth (or Seventh) and Olive. That would turn both existing Westlake platforms into northbound platforms and new southbound platforms would be added under Olive around Fourth or Fifth Avenue.

        The larger point is that — given the need to now save billions and delay construction fir six years— ST should now consider analyzing multiple operations variations Downtown. This was not done in the pre-ST3 studies. Instead, ST picked one concept as a “representative alignment” at the time and then redefined it as the only referendum-consistent alignment once ST3 passed (remembering the First Hill elimination as “incompatible” with ST3 according to the Board discussion). When costs are this much out of whack, the public deserves better value engineering and design alternatives rather than a multi-year delay as the only choice available.

      8. Tom, totally agree that in most cases TBMs work great, I don’t expect a repeat of Bertha at all, and ST has done quite well with the tunneling between Downtown and Northgate. Still, even in the best of cases it’s more expensive than cut and cover, and we have a 140 ft wide Mercer street to do it in (with no disruption to Aurora). Along 5th or 6th a TBM absolutely makes sense, although the stations should still be cut and cover if possible. I thought we could do just two (Westlake and Courthouse) and still be fine. Through Interbay I agree, it should be at the surface along the railyard or elevated on 15th, not the worst-of-both-worlds-elevated-along-the-railyard they have now. It’s unfortunate both that the wastewater tunnel is in the way and that even in ST’s tunnel proposals they seem wedded to a 14th or 15th St station instead of one close to the Ballard core.

        Other than that the one big constant looking through the draft EISs are the absurdly high stations, every one is more than 60′, and even the Ballard low bridge options has stations at exactly the same height at the high bridge. Delridge station is 110 feet!

      9. Dalton, I don’t think you’re right about costs. Yes, when the deep vault stations are included, bored subways become more expensive than cut-and-cover. But the cost of removing all that dirt in c-n-c adds up. A TBM only cuts a cylinder exactly the size needed to clear the vehicles that will use it.

        Cut and cover tunnels dig a rectangular trench the width of the two tracks with the meeting clearance down the middle, usually filled with a load-bearing wall to hold up the roof and the replaced soil above the tunnel. Side platform stations are easy; just make the trench wider for a few car lengths.

        But the amount of soil removed for the tunnel proper is much greater with a cut-and-cover tunnel than an equivalent bored one.

    3. ST continues to avoid discussing a big elephant in the room — the assumed light rail technology may not be the best choice. It requires bigger bores for subways, limits top speeds, longer platforms and station vaults (with valuable feet taken up in two empty driver cabs on every car except one at each train end), and has grade limitations that make bridges across waterways and ravines intrusive and expensive and puts platforms way deep or way up in the sky. Staying with compatible technology has advantages — but at what cost?

      1. Are you suggesting BRT or gondolas? Monorails or other rubber-tire transit? Mixed-fixed transit systems always suffer from lack of compatibility over time that ends being its own questionable cost.

        I don’t see a problem with trying to build out some high-capacity transit to low-capacity areas – that’s how you grow new areas from car-independent seed. It seems that without federal dollars, WSBLE is screwed.

      2. I’m not necessarily suggesting changing modes to those. There are plenty of other ways to power a train running on two steel rails.

      3. The empty internal cabs can be eliminated by simply ordering open-gangway trains or non-cabin ends. MAX has non-cabin ends and they have twelve extra seats in a U shape instead of the cab. We tried to convince ST to do this in the ST2 order but it insisted on keeping the internal cabs so that all cars are interchangeable. It didn’t count the additional capacity “for free” that open gangways or non-cab ends would provide, or the fact that it would help address any potential overcrowding issues between UW and Westlake.

      4. Mike:
        The MAX cars actually *do* have controls at that end of the car for emergency use. Note windshield wiper on the car at that location. It just folds up into the enclosure at the car end.

        So, the “single ended” cars really aren’t as difficult to work with as some might claim. Eg, when coupling cars together it’s just like doing it with a car with a cab at both ends, except for folding up the control panel.

      5. the assumed light rail technology may not be the best choice.
        I saw a piece on NHK about UrbanLoop designed in France. It sort of looks like an amusement park ride but the claim is it’s efficient for less dense cities that don’t need high capacity rail. Hard to say where it would be applicable. Maybe a pair of loops between Eastgate and South Bellevue P&R and Eastgate to Issaquah. The NHK piece did mention the energy use was about 1/2 a cent per kilometer. They also mentioned it would make it’s debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Capacity on one loop was estimated at 3,000 riders per hour.

    4. “ What’s worse is these consultants told the board there was no opportunity to reduce costs.”

      ST doesn’t want to examine this question. It’s politically easier to make this look like a technical mistake rather than a bad choice.

      Interestingly, I think more people should familiarize themselves with the Ontario Line saga. It took the province to step in to introduce a different way (as opposed to the original Relief Line) to add this badly needed expensive new Downtown Toronto subway tunnel as well as a way to offer better direct connections to the northeast.

      The result? Big changes from the original “stay with current technology” plan! Driverless frequent shorter trains (even 90 second intervals) that allow for smaller station vaults, steeper grades and a host of other changes.

      Although I tend to prefer the current ST3 operations concept (if only they added cross-platform transfers at SODO), the magnitude of these cost increases really makes me wonder if both lines of WSBLE should be built with a different driverless technology that has shorter and more frequent trains, steeper grades and several other cost-saving and user-benefitted features. At least this needs to be studied. With a six-year delay to the main tunnel anyway, now is the time to look at this.

      1. I agree, I think there is value is considering if WSBLE is better executed as an independent line. Simply running 2-cars trains might be an enormous cost reduction, and driverless technology can be introduced even with a shared OMF. With Mariner to Everett significantly delayed, I’m not worried about lines being too long for a single operator shift.

        Switching to different mode (i.e. 3rd rail) will be tricky as will require an additional OMF; perhaps that will be worth the cost savings but I’m more skeptical.

      2. While you might be right I think theres plenty to be said for using the current technology well. If I had to guess it’s the Youngstown and Ballard stations that are really driving this, and I can’t believe that there’s no opportunity for a (much) lower, cheaper Youngstown station and possibly a Ballard tunnel

      3. “The result? Big changes from the original “stay with current technology” plan!”

        That’s Canada. They prioritize transit higher, follow transit best practices more, and fully fund the real needs. If only ST and other American transit agencies and the federal and state governments did the same.

      4. “If I had to guess it’s the Youngstown and Ballard stations that are really driving this.”

        The ugly truth is that ST WSBLE team has not yet indicated where and how the six subway station vaults will go. To that end, the project’s cost and complexity can only get worse. 400+ foot vaults on a narrow street next to buildings over 300+ feet tall is messy, time-consuming and potentially cost explosive — all for the privilege of long escalator or elevator rides or maybe even stairs since ST declared down escalators mostly useless.

        I’m predicting an additional major cost and schedule delay for the second tunnel as proposed.

      5. “ With Mariner to Everett significantly delayed, I’m not worried about lines being too long for a single operator shift.”

        Honestly, there are many unknowns on what operational plan is needed. I think waiting to 2025-6 to assess the plans would be wise. The ST2 riders will mostly be onboard and crowding challenges will be apparent.

        I have doubts that East Link will ever need more than 10 or maybe 8 minutes. The 6 minutes helps to offload North Seattle trains. With this assumption, I could see three current tunnel having three 9/10 minute lines:

        – Tacoma/ Northgate
        – SODO/ Everett
        – Redmond/ Mariner

        If the Rainier Valley segment gets too crowded, the Duwamish Bypass can get resurrected with the Tacoma Line shifting to it, and a transfer station south of BAR that could enable the RV segment to be served by trains ending at SODO and that could continue to Renton.

      6. Al, yes, that’s an elegant operating plan. All three lines would be roughly the same length, though Redmond-Mariner would be the longest. It would require some rebuilding at Northgate, though, because nine minutes would be a pretty tight timeline for turnback, unless the hot-seated every train arriving from Tacoma.

        Nine minutes on the south line, though, is probably not frequent enough, though during the peaks.

        Here’s an alternative: instead of every three minutes and three lines, have two minutes and four or eight minute headways north of Mariner, east of IDS and south of the airport. Everett to West Seattle, Mariner to Redmond, Northgate to Tacoma and Northgate to the Airport. That would require two-lane overpasses along Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard at the major arterials (Columbian Way, Graham, Othello, Cloverdale and Henderson). Left turns onto and off of MLK Blvd can simply be delayed by the more-frequent trains. As South King grows, extend the airport trains farther south.

      7. I will mention again that ST should commission a study about what to ultimately do about restricted capacity in the MLK corridor. We can speculate about how to introduce more capacity and frequency (Duwamish bypass, MLK grade separations, crossing eliminations, bypass tracks, aerial station relocations, tandem A/B trains, etc) but I think it’s a topic that needs solutions to be evaluated by a team of professionals who understand capital costs, train operations, train overcrowding, traffic conflicts and complex signal timing with rail priority.

        For example, if 2 of these 3 lines were on MLK, they would be arriving at 3.3 and 6.7 minute intervals (averaging 5 minutes per direction), what traffic changes on MLK would be needed?

      8. Al, I proposed “four lines” each running at eight minute headways peak. The two Tacoma and Airport lines would run in opposite slots as would West Seattle and Redmond trains. That guarantees at least some seats for riders in the middle of the system.

        And, of course, when suggestions are proposed it’s assumed that “a team of professionals” will vet them. Sound Transit thinks and claims that it’s doing that, but it seems instead to be following the whims of leadership or the Board. That seems to be a recurring problem, along with “penny wise, pound foolish” project prioritization.

  8. These are all great comments. Don’t have much to add, except to repeat what I have said all along: ST had to pass ST 3 to complete ST 2 in some subareas and complete the spine, it had to underestimate the costs of ST 3 in N. King Co. to keep the uniform tax rates at a level the other subareas would pass (even though it created too much revenue and some questionable projects in East King Co.), and ST hoped those involved would be long gone when the gig was up but the pandemic forced the issue because of short term and long term funding issues, and hoped population, ridership, and general fund taxes would rise enough to cover the underestimated costs.

    Don’t forget these are the same folks who lied about the car valuation formula and needed the state supreme court to bail them out. ST knew what it had to do to pass ST 3, and dishonesty was part of that. This was probably the height of arrogance for the paradigm of arrogance of government agencies.

    “Sound Transit 3 is not going to match the stellar project delivery record of Sound Transit 2 barring a bailout from another government or the economy.” I am not sure who wrote this, but it is delusional, especially when ST needed ST 3 revenue to complete ST 2 projects.

    If there is one project ST needed to be honest about, but couldn’t if it wanted to pass ST 3, it was the second tunnel. The complications from Big Bertha and that tunnel made it clear the risks of a very deep transit tunnel under 5th Ave. were too great, and worse unknown, especially if ST was already underestimating project costs for this subarea.

    I remember many on the eastside — even though the villainous ETA — laughed at the $2.2 billion cost estimate before ST 3, because the eastside was on the hook for 12.5% of the tunnel’s costs, and the cost was never, ever going to be $2.2 billion. Ever. Did so many folks on the eastside know this but not ST’s estimators? Of course not.

    So now we are here. It is beyond question Rogoff has to go. What a fucking disaster. But once the second tunnel is eliminated, which eliminates the rail line from West Seattle to Ballard, things don’t look so bleak.

    The spine will be completed, and of course urban Seattle parts of the spine will function the best, which probably supports more infill stations. Northgate Link should be a success if first/last mile access is figured out. West Seattle will decide a stub to Sodo is worse than express buses, especially when that neighborhood insists on no loss of car capacity in any new bridge, so the cost of the new bridge is much lower.

    East Link won’t be as popular as Northgate Link, but then eastsiders are pretty blasé about transit and East Link anyway, and things have changed so much since East Link was first proposed.

    N. King Co. will suddenly show an extra $1.1 billion on the books that can be used for projects much better than a second tunnel or WSBLE. Every other subarea will suddenly book an extra $275 million to complete their projects, which should quell threats to secede. A ST 4 that would never pass is no longer needed. Even an HB1304 levy is likely not needed if the $1.1 billion funds stations at Graham St. and 130th, and some kind of first/last mile access to SLU. The concern about a HB1304 levy in Seattle is Seattle transit advocates are too often unrealistic and ideological, and very levy has to have something for everybody.

    The ST 3 revenue was always necessary to complete ST 2 projects in N. King Co. (and what should be in ST 2 in N. King Co.), and Seattle did fund most of the spine, and now without the second tunnel and WSBLE a bad and very expensive project can be replaced with something else. Same with the other subareas with their $275 million. It wasn’t that the ST 3 revenue was not needed, it was many of the ST 3 projects were bad (and made up to sell ST 3), because ST Ponzi’s scheme really began with cost estimates for ST 2.

    Eventually the eastside has to decide what to do with the Issaquah to S. Kirkland line, but that is years away. The park and rides in “Tier 4” will get built because there is so much money in the subarea, and eastsiders love park and rides, and can afford them.

    Pull the band aid off in N. King Co., eliminate the second tunnel and WSBLE line, and reopen the discussion where to spend the money in the one subarea a lot of folks really care about transit and there is the density, and I think the transit advocates will be excited to start the project discussions new, with some reality on the funding this time.

    1. Pull the band aid off in N. King Co., eliminate the second tunnel and WSBLE line, and reopen the discussion where to spend the money in the one subarea a lot of folks really care about transit and there is the density, and I think the transit advocates will be excited to start the project discussions new, with some reality on the funding this time.

      Wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. This is not a democracy, it is a very messy republic. As it turns out, the people who run the Sound Transit board know very little about transit, and are interested in helping out their favored constituents (e. g. folks who live in a tiny part of West Seattle). As a result, there is little interest amongst the powerful in building the most cost effective transit solution for the region. The folks who want that are left writing scathing comments on a blog, and boring our loved ones with tales of how they are doing it wrong.

      1. “…and boring our loved ones with tales of how they are doing it wrong.”

        Lol. That’s so true in this household as well. My spouse has a time limit for sharing my latest ST and other transit system gripes and then I just get tuned out.

      2. “As a result, there is little interest amongst the powerful in building the most cost effective transit solution for the region.”

        This is so painfully true. I would expect the more moderate board members to want better accountability — but it seems that the Board doesn’t care very much.

        I will also say that there is a perception that all things transit don’t deserve criticism. The political calculus today seems to be very polarized. The great irony is that underestimating expenses costs time and money ultimately. The cost mistakes should have been identified before WSBLE had a preferred option, for example. So, being prudent now would have shaved years off of completion — so it’s more pro transit than anti-transit.

        I’m also waiting for the equity topic to emerge. ST3 is similar to the way LA ended up with a Title VI lawsuit. That lawsuit wasn’t about “construction impacts” but was instead about building and funding rail in low-density areas when the bus system was way over capacity in poor and minority neighborhoods. This is exactly what ST3 is doing!

    2. Dude, Bertha’s problem was a poorly planned and executed set of exploratory cores. And some bad luck, to be honest. You’d have had to bore every six feet to find that piece of metal trash in the muck. But it has NOTHING to do with a tunnel under Fifth and Sixth Avenues which will be above MSL from Washington Street north. Bertha started in the muck of landfill south of Pioneer Square and stayed in it past Columbia Street before changing its heading to a more easterly bearing into the hillside on which GIANT buildings like the WaMu Center and Martin’s Folly stand securely. [Well, we hope…..]

      You DO know that the DSTT is to be a bored tunnel, right? Sometimes your fluency and erudition masks a shocking ignorance about the topic about which you’re bloviating. You DO know that the DSTT takes a dip down to pass under the BNSF tunnel south of Pioneer Square Station, right? That it is at that point deeper than any potential deepest any point on DSTT2 now that the Fourth Avenue options have been eliminated? You DO know that it is bored through the same hillside that DSTT2 would be two blocks to the east, right? You DO know that before DSTT2 would be bored there will be a coring investigation along Fifth and Sixth Avenues, right?

      Certainly, there may be springs or water-bearing strata under Fifth/Sixth that weren’t under Third, or vice-versa. But overall the geology is well-known and fully mapped for all those big buildings that stand on it!

      These are things that people who know about transit understand.

      Boring the damn tunnels would be relatively cheap. I guarantee it can be done for less that $400 million, from Massachusetts Street through “New IDS” where ever ST puts it to “New Westlake” at Sixth and Pine. It would be another half billion or a bit more to finish the bores through SLU and LQA to the Elliott portal.

      I’ll shamelessly rob from James Carville here: “It’s the stations, stupid!” They, especially Midtown but also potentially New IDS and certainly New Westlake, will be ruinously expensive and quite disruptive. The three SLU/LQA stations should be somewhat less expensive, though Denny may be squeezed pretty badly, depending whether it’s north or south of Denny Way. The stations as a group will be 3/4 of the total cost, which is a damn good argument for considering whether “DSTT2” can placed underneath DSTT1, thereby getting free Mezzanines and street entrances.

      1. “It’s the stations, stupid!”

        This is exactly the giant ugly cost and schedule driver that concerns me most about this plan. Subway stations require vaults, access, new entrances, construction staging areas and a host of other still-undisclosed challenges. I’m fully expecting the project cost and delays to grow lots more as these get better designed in the coming months and years.

        It’s so easy to draw a wishful line on a map and put little rectangles where we want stations to go (pleasing some vested interest) — but each rectangle is very expensive to make real.

      2. TT, I admit I am not a deep transit tunnel expert. I doubt there are very few such experts, and you may be one, I don’t know. You are the only one on this blog recommending some of these alternatives, which alone concerns me, but maybe we are all not deep bore tunnel experts.

        Since my subarea has skin in the game I want a guarantee on the contribution. If the guarantee is 12.5% of $2.2 billion, or $275 as originally estimated for east King Co., and N. King Co. has the rest of the money, and is willing to bore under 5th Ave. to build rail to West Seattle and Ballard that it also has the money for, go for it. That was the deal in ST 3, although three of the other subareas also have some cash crunches because of ST’s cost estimating.

        Start digging cores, although they dug cores for Bertha too, which fortunately was under a highway that was being demolished. The reason these projects have such high contingencies is because of “bad luck”, which is synonymous with tunneling. Maybe you heard of the big dig in Boston, and they dug cores for that first, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig

        “Boring the damn tunnels would be relatively cheap.”

        I will save that statement to see if it is correct. If it is not, and N. King Co. is on the hook for any costs above $2.2 billion, you have just wiped out N. King Co.’s funding for any other Link project, basically forever, and any HB1304 levy. If the four other subareas don’t have a guarantee on their contribution you will have wiped us out too.

        I am intrigued by your posts about using the existing tunnel for the WSBLE line, or even boring under the existing tunnel, that magically would solve all our problems and allow the WSBLE to be built with current revenues (if N. King Co. has the money for the rail lines), but it is such a politically attractive solution I am guessing ST studied this before ST 3, and before the recent realignment, and neither are feasible. But I can’t comment because I have no qualifications to know.

        Your beef is not with me. Stating I am ignorant of deep bore tunneling is something I readily admit. I do know some smart folks thought $2.2 billion for DSTT2 was fantastical before ST 3 was voted on, but I didn’t have the expertise to know if they were correct or not, and to be honest kind of trusted ST to be honest. Burned once, twice shy.

        Take your ideas to ST. Everyone would be thrilled if you are correct, and DSTT2 can be bored under DSTT1, or a transit tunnel under 5th Ave. basically to Queen Anne would be “cheap”, so the WSBLE can be built with existing N. King Co. revenue. You would be a hero on this blog. The realignment would be irrelevant, at least in N. King Co.

        All I am saying is roll the dice with N. King Co. revenue, because a line from West Seattle to Ballard doesn’t benefit any of the other subareas.

        Based on my reading of the realignment tea leaves, ST is not willing to roll the dice on DSTT2, probably because it is rolling the dice for all the marbles, which I have predicted for a long time on this blog.

        The “realignment” says to me the WSBLE won’t get built because DSTT2 is too risky and expensive, but for political reasons a WS stub was included because West Seattle will realize a stub is worse than just about any other project, especially if a stub would reduce car capacity on a future new bridge. Essentially a stub is no rail for WS, just like a realignment is elimination, not rescheduling.

        Let me know what ST says, because I assume they have deep bore transit tunnel experts who can understand your ideas.

      3. “ Take your ideas to ST.”

        It’s useless to do this. They don’t listen! The STB is full of anecdotes about ST ignoring even the simplest suggestions. Heck, it’s still called University Street Station downtown!

        The way that our political culture is generally structured and how ST set up the WSBLE process, ST summarily ignores individual input. You’ll be hard-pressed to merely find a record of the myriad of constructive comments both large and small sent to ST about the WSBLE in the past three years. Meeting topics and general feedback opportunities were severely restricted (ST would only allow comments on a single segment of WSBLE at any one public meeting — and ended those meetings with only an hour of feedback as the other hour was a presentation on the project).

        The fact that riders are considered one stakeholder is symbolic of the appalling process that our “woke” leaders created. Imagine building a park or school with no feedback from the operators (teachers or landscapers) and giving adjacent property owners a much bigger say (calling each one a stakeholder so that the collectively have multiple times more clout) than the actual users!

        At this point, probably the most influential thing someone could do is to convince multiple corporations and property owners to respond to the soon-to-be-released EIS strongly.

      4. @DT & TT: A reminder from Seattle Times, January 3, 2014: “State officials revealed Friday that the mystery object blocking tunnel machine Bertha is a long steel pipe, left buried in 2002 by one of the Highway 99 project’s own research crews.”

        So, no, it wasn’t fortunate that Bertha ran near the old viaduct, because an improperly decommissioned groundwater well from the initial viaduct investigation caused Bertha’s failure. And, Bertha didn’t run in the Viaduct ROW – the tunnel starts under Alaskan Way next to the old viaduct route, then crosses under the viaduct into downtown curves its way towards Aurora. I’d like to remind you all, too, that Bertha is still the largest TBM ever constructed.

        DT, I’m curious about your opinion about the SR99 Tunnel project – was replacing the viaduct with a $4B+ tunnel that now carries about half of the volume of drivers the viaduct used to worth the cost? I do ask that you keep it to less than a thousand words, if you can.

        Al S. has the right understanding, which is that the main source of unexpected costs with urban bored-tunnel construction is the station vault excavation. The crappy part is that mining out the station (where you dig access shafts and then mine out the volume of the station around the tunnel bore) isn’t any cheaper than just digging out the entire box to the surface – it’s just less impactful.

        Cut & Cover is the cheapest way to do it, not because TBMs are expensive, but because your stations are pre-dug while you’re digging out the track. The reason we don’t do cut & cover in the USA is because we care too much about how much it disturbs the businesses around the and it’s hard to do any route that’s not directly below an open street.

        Seattle will need a second tunnel under its downtown if it wants to really reduce car dependency in the city – whether that happens before or after the climate apocalypse, I guess that’s what we’re here trying to hashout.

      5. Alon Levy’s diagnosis of NYC MTA’s super high cost is (among many other size) very large, bored station vaults. Outside of NYC, underground stations are both smaller and excavated. For LA’s Wilshire subway, I believe all of the stations are excavated.

        This is one reason I’m intrigued by a standalone 2-car WSBLE line; 2-car trains mean smaller station vaults and therefore potentially significantly lower capital costs.

      6. Or, not build station vaults at all.

        The MAX tunnel station (all 1 of it) just expands the width of each tunnel somewhat. More like Beacon Hill station than the downtown Seattle stations. Pretty sure some Chicago are that way, and I know some London Underground statins are.

      7. But our glorious, incredibly necessary, absolutely affordable mezzanines!!

      8. Glenn,

        Yes, but Forest Park was not intended as a high-volume station with surge capacity with four car trains dumping a significant portion of their capacity every three or four minutes. That’s what Midtown would be.

        You are right that they got it right; they just mined out the space between the tunnels for the platform, but they were in good rock there. They were kind of lucky, because other parts of the tunnel were rotten, crumbling rock. That would have been a disaster at the station site.

      9. Daniel, you really need to understand that Bertha was not the TBM to end all TBM’s. There will be no metal trash in the muck in the pathway of DSTT2 should it be dug. Standard model TBM’s in the class used to drill a single rail tunnel are still chewing away around the world 24/7/365. A new tunnel would be nosebleed deep, as everyone agrees. There’s no construction debris from the big buildings down that deep. The last time those rocks saw daylight was through 1000 feet of ice.

      10. Actually, one time I did “take my idea to ST” — well, actually the King County Council. It was back in the 1980’s when the DSTT was under discussion. At the time everyone was assuming a cut-and-cover tunnel but at a Council meeting I put a little tract about bored tunnels on each of the councilors desks before the meeting.

        I was leaving on a trip to see my folks and on that trip I decided to go to Alaska to see an old girlfriend and just took off when I got back on the train to Seattle without any follow-up.

        But, lo and behold, within two months they had decided to bore the tunnel between the stations.

        I certainly cannot claim that it was that little tract that caused the change, but I expect it at least raised some questions that quickly led to the same conclusion.

        So, once in a while, it does work.

        I figure that some folks at ST read this blog when there’s a Link-related article, if for no better reason that to see if the natives are restless.

      11. “ Yes, but Forest Park was not intended as a high-volume station with surge capacity with four car trains dumping a significant portion of their capacity every three or four minutes.”

        The platform width is actually about the same as it is at any of the downtown DSTT platforms. It just lacks the huge bus passing bus area in the center.

        It handles some surge capacity when special events at the zoo happen. You’d definitely want something more than 80 passengers per minute in elevator capacity though.

    1. Take your ideas to ST.”

      “It’s useless to do this. They don’t listen!”

      Fair enough, but my point to TT was don’t criticize me for not being a deep bore tunnel expert, or for not understanding his tunnel ideas. If ST is not going to listen, then what we have — realignment — is what we have.

      Still, since some of TT’s concepts would be so attractive to ST and some like Dow — and solve the N. King Co. funding issue while allowing the WSBLE line to be completed — my guess is every alternative idea was explored, and the only alternative that came close to penciling out was a surface line through downtown Seattle that Seattle balked at.

      I might not understand transit engineering but I understand contracts and money and risk, and I guarantee you the four other subareas would balk — or secede — unless they received a written guarantee from ST their contribution was limited to $275 million for DSTT2, if they even have $275 million after ST’s cost estimations.

      It would be crazy for the eastside subarea to roll the dice on an unknown DSTT2 that could wipe us out, and would not benefit the eastside subarea at all. Much better to secede from ST if there is no written guarantee on the maximum contribution ($275 million) than watch ST and N. King Co. bankrupt us. Basically what you would have at that point is two ST’s: N. King Co., and the four other subareas, and ST can’t risk that.

    2. “DT, I’m curious about your opinion about the SR99 Tunnel project – was replacing the viaduct with a $4B+ tunnel that now carries about half of the volume of drivers the viaduct used to worth the cost? I do ask that you keep it to less than a thousand words, if you can.”

      Nathan, yes I strongly supported the project. It is critical that major waterfront cities be connected to their waterfront (e.g. Baltimore), and the rest of Seattle except Westlake Center and some parts of Pioneer Square and the Market are so sterile. Plus the viaduct was failing. It is also critical that development along the waterfront does not effectively remove that waterfront from public access.

      However, I wish the convention center had not been built over I-5 permanently restricting the number of I-5 lanes and creating a bottleneck. Many don’t remember Seattle had the opportunity to buy all of Two Union Square for a very modest price due to the market at the time, and combine all city, state and federal agencies in Two Union Square, while devoting the first several floors to the convention center. But like ST, mission creep and territoriality and the concept that public money is free money crept in.

    3. TT, one more time: I know very little about tunnel engineering.

      What I do know:

      The original 2016 cost estimate in ST 3 for the tunnel was $2.2 billion.

      The most recent cost estimate for the tunnel is $3.65 billion.

      These projects generally have a 30% to 50% cost contingency.

      You probably live in the N. King Co. subarea. All I know is my advice to the Eastside subarea is to demand a guarantee that our maximum liability for the tunnel is $275 million. Otherwise we risk our subarea solvency.

      Then dig whatever you want if WSBLE is worth the risk.

      It’s easy to have big talk on STB, but I don’t see ST rolling the dice for all the marbles on any tunnel, for WSBLE, and I certainly don’t want the Eastside guaranteeing that dice roll when there is zero benefit to the Eastside, and I have zero trust in ST.

      Go for it, except N. King Co. doesn’t have the money even if the cost of the tunnel is $2.2 billion. As they say where we come from, big hat no cattle.

      Now, let’s discuss what N. King Co. can build with the limited money it does have.

      1. Danie.l, if you “know very little about tunnel engineering” then quir quadrupling the cost estimates. Capiche?

  9. “DT’s ideal transit world: https://imgflip.com/i/4l23z8

    Nathan, I don’t think you get it. I want all those other drivers on transit so there is no congestion for me. I just wish transit agencies would do a better job of making transit an attractive alternative to driving, or actually figure out what they can afford and prioritize. Is that so hard?

    My biggest hope is WFH ends this kind of peak hour congestion because we build all our transportation systems for peak loads, and WFH ends the tyranny of commuting to work because the common worker can’t afford parking, and the wasted time commuters spend in traffic or on transit. Commuting during the pandemic has been wonderful, and still is today.

    In my ideal transit world I am the only one on that freeway, like The Omega Man, but without a pandemic. Unfortunately that is everyone else’s ideal transit world too.

    So please design and build transit more people (drivers) want to use, rather than screwing over those who have to use transit. Because every driver in every car in the photo in your link to has made a conscious decision that doing that is still better than taking transit. Sad indeed.

    1. I do get it, Dan. What I get is that point of view is disgustingly selfish and atrociously hypocritical – although I appreciate the glimmer of honesty, as ugly as it is.

      Unfortunately that is everyone else’s ideal transit world too.

      No, it fucking isn’t. That point of view is myopic and ignorant.

      WSDOT is apparently happy to have the gas tax gathered state- and nation-wide to endlessly add lanes and rebuild midcentury mistakes. Have you ever thought about how many drivers WSDOT could have taken off Seattle’s streets if they’d paved the way for a train rather than that overpriced tunnel? Or even just helped Metro do some BRT in its place? I mean, have you ever really considered it? And now, $3.4B+ later and a repaired record-breaking TBM later, I still have to pay to maintain my own car in addition to a toll to use it? Zero busses use that waste of money because it bypasses all the worthwhile downtown destinations. And the toll only covers a portion of the debt service!

      Yeah, infrastructure is expensive to build, and we apparently have plenty of money to widen I-5 in Tacoma and Lakewood, to extend 509 south of SeaTac, and to build Spokane a new freeway, but we don’t have the money for 12 miles of new train in Seattle? What kind of crap is that? It’s this kind of SOV-focused hypocritical bullshit that gets me so fucking riled up as to bother to respond to this repetitious drivel.

      I mean, are you serious? “These are all great comments. Don’t have much to add, except to repeat what I have said all along” followed by 800+ words of doing just that. A waste of time for all involved, frankly.

      If you’ve skipped to the bottom (and probably rightfully so), I have two terms I think this comment section really needs you to understand:

      1. Elite Projection
      2. Induced Demand

      I don’t need you to prove your understanding to me – we’ll all see it in your future comments.

      1. “[b]ut we don’t have the money for 12 miles of new train in Seattle?”

        Nathan, you never ask the fundamental question: who is “we”?

        You live in the N. King Co. subarea. I live in the E. King Co. subarea. Subarea equity requires any ST tax revenue raised in one subarea be spent there. Even if I wanted to help you I couldn’t, and none of the other subareas do want to help you or N. King Co., especially on an ego transit project like WSBLE that does not benefit them at all.

        Uniform tax rates mean the same tax rates in each subarea, which depending on the projects demanded in each subarea means some subareas might have more money than they need, and some have less. Your subareas has less. A lot less.

        Realignment of light rail projects is not about justice. It is about choices:

        1. Pass a ST 4 levy. Unlikely. My guess is the WSBLE as designed including the cost of the tunnel (assuming the four other subareas refuse to contribute more than $275 million each as required in ST 3) would require around $10 billion to $12 billion in new N. King Co. revenue since my suspicion is N. King Co. is using ST 3 revenue to complete ST 2. That means too high of a uniform tax rate for the four other subareas who don’t have such grand projects.

        2. Pass a Seattle only HB1304 levy. The taxes to afford $10 -$12 billion would be just too high (if you pay taxes), just to complete the WSBLE that was promised as part of ST 3 taxes.

        3. Modify the design. A stub from WS to Sodo. A surface line through downtown Seattle, or parts of it. A different tunnel design that TT has talked about. Still, you are looking at money N. King Co. doesn’t have, because the beginning and end point of this debate is the fact the four other subareas won’t contribute more than $275 million/each towards DSTT2, and ST won’t roll the dice on DSTT2 because it could wipe out ST.

        4. Use buses, especially since you know all those selfish bastards in West Seattle and Ballard are going to insist on no loss of car capacity for any new bridge considering Seattleites own 460,000 cars.

        5. Spend the money somewhere else, like a station at Graham St., or 130th, or better frequency on Link or buses. This choice alone probably undercuts the WSBLE.

        “And now, $3.4B+ later and a repaired record-breaking TBM later, I still have to pay to maintain my own car in addition to a toll to use it?”

        Oh no! The inhumanity!

        Everyone has to maintain their own car, and pay the toll. No one gives a damn about your economic plight. Rule number one. The city of Seattle and Mayor McGinn wanted access to the Seattle waterfront, and the rest of us paid for it. I supported it. So what? Buy a bike if you don’t want to maintain a car. Or ride transit.

        I don’t mind profanity or insults in transit posts, but what I can’t stand is self-pity and sanctimony. If you really think the WSBLE line as designed between too pretty wealthy and privileged neighborhoods is the definition of justice in this world you really are living in a bubble. Sometimes YOU need to get out of the wagon and help pull if you want something as excessive as WSBLE, rather than asking some pretty poor cities in the region to be the “we”.

      2. I don’t care about your precious subarea equity. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Maybe WSBLE’s estimated riders per dollar won’t match the value of suburban commuter light rail, but a decade after it’s built, assuming the city gets its head out of its ass about SFH zoning, it’ll make more sense than adding more lanes to I-5 and a tunnel under a failed viaduct.

        To answer your question: “We” should be as many people as possible, because this infrastructure stuff eventually affects everyone.

        Every time I’m at the pump after driving to some remote field site for my job, I’m paying for SR99, SR509, I-5, and every other future freeway mistake. So is every driver from Bellingham to Vancouver, from La Push to Spokane. If you really want drivers off your roads, why are you the arbiter of who has to pay for what?

        You think it’s self-pity for me to care about eliminating the car ownership requirement for anyone who can’t afford a $600k+ townhome – as if it’s impossible for me to actually care about someone who has different needs than I do. And you think I’m the sanctimonious one.

  10. This report only covers the cost estimation problem.

    The underlying problem is the cost itself. At the prices we’re paying, we won’t have a good transit network, at least not while we’re still alive. We don’t need lengthy extensions into the suburbs, but we do need a lot more than two lines in the city.

    I strongly suspect the solution is: 1) much smaller stations (without mezzanines), 2) cut-and-cover instead of boring, and 3) repurposing car traffic lanes wherever possible.

    1. “Every time I’m at the pump after driving to some remote field site for my job, I’m paying for SR99, SR509, I-5, and every other future freeway mistake.”

      Have you thought about taking transit to these remote field sites? It sounds like you drive much more than I do, but want to eliminate cars for others, and it sounds like roads too. (Plus it is called a business deduction — and at 58 cents/mile is way more than the gas you pay including gas tax so you are really paying nothing — your employer and the IRS are paying for your work related trips).

      “I don’t care about your precious subarea equity.”

      It isn’t my subarea equity. It is the law, and many of us feel a fair law that protects smaller and poorer cities that don’t get tunnels, but somehow got duped into sharing the cost of DSTT2.

      “You think it’s self-pity for me to care about eliminating the car ownership requirement for anyone who can’t afford a $600k+ townhome”

      This makes no sense. How does a $10 billion WSBLE make housing in Seattle more affordable? In fact some of us feel that $10 billion should go towards affordable housing.

      You own a car. Most Seattleites do, including the 50% who rent. What I think is self-pity is you complaining about a gas tax you are not even paying, in a car you are driving all over the state while complaining about global warming, while demanding someone else pony up $10 billion for the WSBLE that is the antithesis of equity.

      The cut and dried issue is what to build with the money the N. King Co. subarea does have, or how to raise more money in that subarea. If this were really about equity and justice, light rail has nothing to do with those, especially WSBLE.

      1. I don’t own a car, but I guess I couldn’t expect anything less than a purity assumption. Your attempt to bring me down to your level of SOV adoration is cute. The car I drive most often has my employer’s name on it, and usually has about a hundred pounds of necessary equipment – does yours? Our clients usually pay for the mileage, so you’re wrong there, too. I don’t care about these technicalities, anyways. I used to own a car, but I have the privilege of being able to afford rent where I can bike to work.

        If you see my words about the gas tax as complaining, that’s on you. I’m saying it’s an established tax burden on literally every driver in the state to pay for projects they are very unlikely to use elsewhere in the state (and nation!), and that’s about as big of a “we” as it gets. Why aren’t you mad that your gas taxes pay for a tunnel you likely rarely use? I get that you’re a lawyer, so you must understand that the law is totally infallible, incapable of being manipulated.

        PS: you’re either skimming or cherry picking – pick a metaphor. But what I said was that WSBLE will only be useful if Seattle get it’s head out of its ass about zoning, and allows density to grow up around the new stations in order to absorb population growth and improve affordability.

        PPS: I don’t know if you’re doing it on purpose, but finding the correct reply button really isn’t that hard.

      2. There you go again: it’s not “a $10 billion WSBLE”, and it never will be.

        The pair of downtown tunnels, assuming the current plans, will cost roughly a billion and a half to bore and line. A twenty-one foot TBM faces one-seventh the soil that Bertha did, and costs about fifteen million dollars. DSTT2 would probably use two as did North Link, totaling 40% of Bertha’s capital cost, but remove only half as much total dirt.

        The three fairly shallow SLU stations will cost about $500-600 million apiece, New Westlake and New IDS a billion+ each and Midtown two to two-and-a-half billion. The trackway and signaling would be a couple of hundred million.

        That $6 billion at the outside definitely exceeds the current budget, but it’s WAY less than $10 billion, a figure you Trumped up.

        Are there ways that ST could screw this up? Of course. But Dow wants to be Governor in the worst sort of way, so even he will wake up to being flim-flammed by the consultants.

  11. I decided to measure the amount of time taken in the downtown tunnel.

    Door opening to door opening at the next station averaged about 1 minute 43 seconds.

    My understanding is that ST doesn’t want any trains to run the risk of being stuck between stations. From this timing, it looks to me like there is enough capacity for a train every 2 minutes and still avoid this possibility. Every 2 minutes is something other operations have been able to accomplish.

    This should allow all 3 lines (West Seattle – Everett, Redmond – Northgate, Tacoma – Ballard) every 6 minutes at peak.

    I’m not sure what to do about Westlake – UW, as it’s a bit over 5 minutes to Capitol Hill. And closer to 6 from UW to Capitol Hill, but neither of those will be helped by the second tunnel. They might have to adjust their thinking on that section and just let some trains on the line between stations.

    1. Glenn, plexiglass dividers about six feet from the warning line that close when a train enters the station can reduce dwell times significantly by ending door forcing.

      1. Oh, there are many things that can be done. Every single DSTT station has huge mezzanines and could process a large number of passengers. Add center platforms and open all doors and you really improve passenger movement too – while at the same time dealing with the “only one space for an escalator and it’s broken” (or going the wrong direction) problem. The speed limit for the buses was 30 mph if I remember right, lowered to 15 mph during joint operations. All of this would be cheaper than a second tunnel.

        Keep in mind also when the second tunnel is built,this also gives a backup tunnel. This has been quite useful for the Red Line in Chicago to be able to use the connections it has to the loop, as sometimes they need to close the tunnel. Pittsburgh maintains an entire surface alignment alternative to its tunnel, though rarely used.

        I would also point out there is an existing tunnel branch that used to go to Convention Place station. It was several blocks long, so it may be possible to utilize that as the branch to Ballard without a major disruption to the existing tunnel for tunnel building. You’d need a sharp curve under one of the streets, but at least there is an existing tunnel branch.

      2. Glenn, yes, I know about the Convention Center Station stub. The problem with using it for Ballard is that you’d have a level crossing of the southbound “Spine” track in the most heavily trafficked portion of the entire system. That said, having a station between Stewart and Denny under Boren or Minor would be a spectacular “win” for South Lake Union coverage. There’s a significant cluster of big buildings there, and there are two pedestrian crossings of the freeway (Denny and Olive Way) that would make the west edge of lower Capitol Hill available to the station.

        A few weeks ago I was advocating for adding a third, non-ascending track on the ramp up east of Westlake Center to the curve into the bored tunnel to do this very thing. But then I went and looked to be sure of my recollection that the ramp was three lanes wide and saw that it is not. The tunnel pinches together so that the driving lanes (now tracks) are still considerably farther apart than required to make a meet, but not wide enough to add a diverging track.

        Adding center platforms would also be a great idea, but as I understand it ST will actually destroy the temporary platform at Pioneer Square “because ADA”.

        Al has suggested just boring the southern half of at least one of the DSTT2 tubes without stations to connect Ballard-Downtown to the outer world and leaving Midtown and New IDS for a later day. Ballard (or Dravus or Expeidia whichever can be afforded) to New Westlake would run as a stub until the money for Midtown and New IDS is accumulated and the stations dug.

        According to projections, enough people will exit southbound Spine trains at Westlake Center that the southbound traffic from a stub could be accommodated, at least for a while [meaning a decade or more, not a few months].

        However, because I believe that climate change is going to so dewater Southern California and Arizona, it’s likely that the resultant “flood” of refugees to the Northwest will fill the tax coffers sufficiently that those stations will be finished pretty quickly.

        Also, every new house built on the west side of the Cascades is now going to include air conditioning…… We need to plan for big increases in summertime electrical loads.

    2. My $10 billion figure represented the likely total ST deficit in N. King Co. subarea, because my suspicion is ST is using ST 3 revenues to complete the spine and ST 2 in N. King Co., so those ST 3 revenues won’t be available for WSBLE.

      I certainly would not accept cost estimates for WSBLE from ST, and worry when deficit estimates swing from $12.5 billion to $7.9 billion in a matter of months (during a pandemic), and generally these kinds of projects come with a 30% to 50% contingency, for a reason.

      The fundamental point I make is the four other subareas won’t and can’t contribute more than $275 million each towards DSTT2, so WSBLE and DSTT2 are a risk N. King Co. must bear alone, and whether WSBLE and DSTT2 are even worth the cost from a transit point of view. Is WSBLE really the best place to spend $6 to $10 billion?

      The original cost estimate for the DSTT2 in 2016 was $2.2 billion. Current estimates put the cost at $3.65 billion, for the tunnel alone. TT’s estimate for the entire WSBLE of $6 billion — exclusive of contingency factor — seems optimistic to me, but if you add a 50% contingency to $6 billion I could see TT’s $6 billion back of envelope cost estimate possible as a starting point, although I don’t see the East King Co. subarea rolling the dice based on a back of envelope estimate by someone with the name Tom Terrific on STB. At least I hope not.

      1. Daniel, ST2 will be complete in North King the day Lynnwood Link opens. Since it will open one year later than planned, and ST2 taxes, like ST3 taxes can continue until the bonds which they back cam be amortized as quickly or as slowly as needs be. There is no “fixed” or “limited” pot of money set aside for ST3 that ST2 projects are “raiding”.

        There are streams of money from specific taxes which will simply end when the bonds are paid off.

  12. Except… ST is going to build the 2nd downtown tunnel. Whether it is the ‘right’ thing to do or not, it was in the approved voting measure, and we all know how they will not budge from what was approved by the voters.

    And frankly if they (we?) ever do pull their heads out of their asses and build an urban subway that works well in the city, and doesn’t cater to far distant commuters, they will want the extra capacity. I don’t think this tunnel is about capacity now, or even about the west seattle ballard line. I think it’s about having capacity in the future when it’s needed.

    In the end I think investing in infrastructure can be a tough sell, and I just don’t see ST, having gotten approval to build, just tossing that away.

    1. ST will build the second downtown tunnel.

      I only advocate for the downtown part to be delayed until later, rather than consume capital unnecessarily early in the process. After all,, they’re delaying a vastly smaller amount for 130th Street….

      1. Most likely they’ll afford it by delaying it. That’s why it’s important it not be required to do anything else.

      2. By doing it in stages. Bore the tunnels all the way, dig the SLU and New Westlake stations and run it as a useful stub to Dravus for a few years. Then dig New IDS and build West Seattle when riders would have two downtown stations to use for a few years. Extend to Ballard after it becomes clear whether “West Woodland” can become a Skytrain community. Finally, dig Midtown, but do it right with lateral connections to Fourth and Eighth under the freeway. If that all takes until 2050 so be it. However, I believe that climate change refugees will massively accelerate tax revenues and it’ll be done by 2040.

    2. Whether it is the ‘right’ thing to do or not, it was in the approved voting measure, and we all know how they will not budge from what was approved by the voters.

      Except, of course, when they did (in the case of First Hill).

      Besides, this would all be temporary. It is fundamentally no different than building light rail to Mariner years before it gets to downtown Everett. That isn’t want voters approved, but it gets them towards it. They won’t deliver anything in the time frame they promised the voters. But they will build bits and pieces that aren’t too late. Hooking in West Seattle and Ballard to the main line “temporarily” is well in keeping with the new plans. You simply delay the second tunnel until later.

      The biggest issue is that changes the dynamic between the other subareas and Seattle. The plan was for them to chip for the new tunnel. There were two arguments for it: First, it was needed for overall capacity. Second, this wouldn’t disrupt the other lines. The trains would run consistently from Lynnwood every 3 minutes during rush hour. Instead (under this plan) the trains would run every 2 to 4 minutes and there might be the occasional bunching.

      My understanding is that the other subareas were supposed to chip in for the entire tunnel (not just the redundant section between Westlake and I. D.). Yet the arguments really only apply to that redundant section. You might be able to convince the other agencies to chip for the work needed to run the trains every 2 minutes, but I really doubt you are going to get them to chip in for a tunnel between Smith Cove and Westlake. This means that while the overall costs go down, the costs for this subarea goes up.

      As for capacity, we don’t need it. Keep in mind, these are really big trains, and similar trains in other parts of the world function just fine running every six minutes. Worse comes to worse, we would simply run more express buses. Since a huge portion of the stations are next to the freeway or in other low density areas, running peak only service to downtown (which tends to be popular) would alleviate the crowding.

      It is pretty easy to see this play out with the Seattle additions. If Metro runs express buses to downtown from West Seattle, then West Seattle Link ridership would be tiny. At most you have people who live close to the stations who prefer the train (as opposed to a surface bus, that may be more frequent). There are only two stations that would get a significant number of riders. That is tiny for a train.

      The same is true for Ballard. If they run the 15, 17, 18 a lot of people will prefer the one seat ride. Same with the 19, 24, 33 in Magnolia. Smith Cove will have hardly anyone peak direction. Lower Queen Anne has plenty of people, but if SDOT speeds things up a bit, a lot of people would prefer the very frequent surface option, since for many, the distance is short. The “South Lake Union” will be located in an awkward location from a walk-up standpoint. Few will use it to get downtown, although some might use it to get to Bellevue or south Seattle. It all adds up to only a few stations where riders have a huge advantage by taking the train. Capacity won’t be a big issue.

      It would be different if Link consisted of lots of Capitol Hill type stations, all closed tied together. These are places with lots of people, who have slow alternatives when it comes to bus service. That is simply not the system we are building, which means capacity concerns are exaggerated. Run an express bus from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle and it will get plenty of riders — riders that would otherwise crowd the train.

    3. Much of the discussion here is about short term alternatives that keep alive the long term goals. For example, extending the line to Mariner, and getting to downtown Everett years later. In that regard, let me propose again what I consider to be the best alternative for the West Seattle to Ballard project:

      Build a rail convertible bus tunnel first (from SoDo to Smith Cove). This would be less expensive than Ballard Link, and certainly less expensive than West Seattle and Ballard Link (WSBL) combined. This means that it could be built much sooner. For those years while we wait for the complete WSBL, it would provide great benefit. In contrast, compare this to some alternatives that would be built in the interim:

      1) West Seattle to SoDo Link versus the new bus tunnel:

      The new Link line would benefit very few in West Seattle. Other than the occasional ball game, very few would ride it. Metro would ignore it, as would lots of riders. Similarly, it would provide little benefit for riders from Ballard, or anywhere else for that matter.

      In contrast, a new bus tunnel would speed up bus service through downtown for West Seattle riders, given them one seat rides to South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. It would do the same for Ballard as well. Along with the speed improvements would come major service savings, which would then be fed into more frequency. Buses within the tunnel would be very frequent, while easing some of the oversupply on the surface.

      2) Stub Train versus Bus Tunnel:

      A stub train (from Smith Cove to SoDo) would add less value than a bus tunnel. Even for those who never leave the tunnel, the frequency of the buses would be better than that of a train.

      3) Smith Cove to Tacoma Line versus Bus Tunnel:

      The other alternative suggested is to send the line from SeaTac/Tacoma to Smith Cove. This is a bit more complicated, with more trade-offs. Those on the existing line would gain a one-seat ride to South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne and Smith Cove. But they would lose the one seat ride to Capitol Hill, the UW, Roosevelt, Northgate and the rest of the north end. In my opinion, this is a degradation. In both cases though, the riders could transfer relatively easily (in underground stations). But again, the bus is better in this respect. With a bus tunnel, those who want to get to Lower Queen Anne could transfer, knowing that a bus will be there within seconds, any time of day. With the southern line headed to Smith Cove, riders headed to the UW would have to transfer to a bus that may run every ten minutes. Which brings up another issue. When East Link is built, the most popular section of our system (downtown to UW) will have double the frequency of other sections. If we connect one of those lines to Smith Cove, those riders will see a degradation.

      Meanwhile, Ballard and West Seattle are again much better off with a bus tunnel.

      In all cases, the bus tunnel is better than an incomplete train line. You really need to connect Ballard to West Seattle to get to the point where it would provide more value than a bus tunnel.

      1. Just in this post’s comments there are well over a dozen suggestions on how to enable the system to get built faster for less money. Many involve changing the technology. The basic question that has never been answered is this: is this the right rail vehicle? Every pre-studies done never addressed this. The capacity argument has never addressed this in any document that I can find.

        Instead, the Board and ST management keep their blinders on. The “race” is only expected to be run at a lower speed — but every horse comes from the same farm with the same trainer.

        I think it’s been well explained by many here. We have collectively demonstrated that solutions likely exist.

        The problem goes back to a stubborn insistence that ST3 (with “representative projects”) only allows fir variations in opening dates but nothing else. As long as the Board believes this, no other changes are possible.

        Will a Board member ever speak up and declare the King (Rogoff or Constantine) naked? It’s obvious to us peasants.

      2. Fair enough. My point is that only a bus tunnel offers all three of these:

        1) Initial project is substantially cheaper (which means it can be built sooner).
        2) Very big interim benefits.
        3) The ability to easily build it out as originally planned.

        Consider the other sensible alternative bandied about: Smaller trains. You would reduce the size of the stations, which would reduce the cost of the project. But it would still cost a fortune to complete (way more than just building the bus tunnel). You still have the new bridge (and new elevated stations) in West Seattle. You still have the elevated section on Elliot/15th, as well as a new bridge to Ballard. All of that costs way more than just the tunnel (even if the tunnel stations have bigger platforms).

        Furthermore, you also have very tough decisions to make with regards to station placement in Ballard and West Seattle. If you are trying to cut corners, then you end up with a really poor system.

        Finally, when all is said and done, if you really did want to send the Tacoma line to Ballard, you couldn’t. It would be ridiculously expensive to enlarge the stations to handle bigger trains. Unlike a bus tunnel, it couldn’t be built so that we could eventually build what the voters approved.

        There is also no reason why we can’t do both. Deciding on the platform size is really a separate decision. We could decide that the long range plan involves automated 2-car trains running from West Seattle to Ballard. But in the short term, we could still run buses in the tunnel. They might be a little crowded at times, but with level boarding, off board payment, and a small number of tunnel stations (six) things would be fine.

      3. Ross, i agree that your idea of a new bus tunnel has merit for consideration. I also think that a rubber-tired metro train technology has merit for consideration — like applying it to run on the West Seattle Bridge or the 520 bridge.

        I’m only observing that the current approach does not dare to ask whether any other technology could be better. There are many other technologies — not experimental ones but ones that have been honed like Vancouver Skytrain, Docklands Metro, electric light rail with wireless sections, EBART and others — that were never introduced into alternatives being considered. It’s like saying that the only food is pizza.

        Finally, I think that ST does not care to make transfers easy. Many involve 40 steps with no down escalators. Many force riders to the ends of platforms before changing levels. Many consider the ADA elevator in the corner “good enough” rather than a bare minimum — and ignore that high volumes of transfers (locations never reported in ST documents) require additional vertical capacity beyond ADA. This results in general pushback about making transfers. Where a cross-platform transfer to another timed train can take a mere 10 seconds, ST seems content making it a 2-5 minute effort.

        All of this points to a political system where those in power (elected officials, stakeholders, even advocacy groups pushing other modes) don’t value the effects of their decisions on the light rail transit riding experience.

        I do believe that when Link goes from 80K daily riders to above 200K daily riders with many of those riders transferring in 2025, expectations will change. This change inside the City of Seattle won’t be as profound as we are only given four new stations (three in a few months) before West Seattle Link is supposed to open in 11+ years the way that this looks. However, other ST Board members will see a push to make the experience better by their own constituents.

        I will end by noting that many P3 rail proposals are a bit more willing to think out of the box. I generally bristle at using them, but if the current path of limited vehicle choices is what we get in the current system then the P3 approach may get us a better transit system faster and cheaper.

      4. Ross, ST’s mandate is to build rail transit between identified urban centers in the three county area. It is not to build bus infrastructure except between peripheral centers which have been determined not to need rail service. STRide service in the I-405 corridor meets that exception.

        The agency is allowed to run interim express bus service in corridors for which rail is planned until the rail line is built.

        Sure, you can argue that “well it’s convertible”, but I believe there would be a huge backlash — and many lawsuits — were ST to adopt your plan.

        The only way to make this switch would be to repeal ST3 and for King County to dig the tunnel itself. ST cannot do it.

        And for the record, the bus tunnel is not “significantly cheaper”. The curvature and gradients have to be rail-compatible if the tunnel is to be “convertible”. So, the only saving would be in avoiding the costs of the trackway. But if it is to be “convertible” you BETTER build the trackway to avoid the two year hiatus while the pavement is trashed and a trackway built.

        It of course has “interim benefits” if you assume that only the tunnel would be built.

        So far as point 3 you do not need an “elevated section along Elliott/15th West”. The only reason that ST is assuming on is to support higher speeds through the Magnolia Bridge interchange. That’s it; that’s the only place that elevation is needed and if 20 mph curves on either side of 15th West were acceptable — and I see no reason why on a line four miles long they should not be — then the line can run at grad all the way south to Blaine Street before rising onto an elevated structure. That structure would replace the to-be-destroyed-anyway westbound ramp to the Magnolia Bridge, then descend on the east side of 15th West to ground. It can stay on the ground behind the buildings all the way past an extension of the Helix Bridge to a station at 10th West after which it would portal. This is the “long tunnel” option and would be a few tens of millions more than portaling farther east, but once a TBM is chewing it’s not terribly expensive to have it chew farther.

        I agree with your position that a mid-level bridge is all that’s needed to Ballard, but SOMETHING will have to be done in that corridor in the next two decades for transit whether Link is built or not. The old bridge is insufficient for the demand, and if a transit bridge is not built, there will be a highway bridge built at 14th and there will never be a transit bridge. Is that really what you want?

        So far as West Seattle, yes, buses are better, clearly. They do just fine in reserved lanes downtown. They don’t need a bus tunnel.

      5. I think Ross’s post above is very good.

        He hits on the funding issue among subareas. I also think ST’s claim during ST 3 that DSTT2 was necessary to meet capacity or frequency for the spine to get the four other subareas to chip in 1/2 was untrue (pre-pandemic), and caused a lot of unappreciated angst on the eastside.

        WSBLE and DSTT2 are N. King Co. funding issues, although I think N. King Co. has a legitimate claim with the other subareas — other than East KC — that it paid for a disproportionate amount of the spine so folks could get to Seattle without congestion, except those three other subareas have no extra cash.

        However I agree with some others that a convertible bus tunnel would not be materially cheaper than DSTT2, and don’t see where in the future the N. King Co. subarea will ever have the money to complete WSBLE. There isn’t much point building DSTT2 for buses permanently.

        One other issue I think gets lost are future bridges. Based on history Ballard and West Seattle will insist on no loss of car capacity in any new bridge. I know that drives some transit advocates crazy, but transit is not going to replace cars and roads.

        If you replace a West Seattle bridge with the same car capacity and light rail that is a fantastically expensive bridge, that Seattle must fund w/o ST revenue. If West Seattle citizens have to choose they would overwhelmingly choose car capacity because the bridge is such great access to I-5 and I-90 with no first/last mile issues.

        Getting to Ballard is like getting to Pluto, but still the density and ridership don’t support the cost of DSTT2.

        Express and regular buses don’t have nearly the first or last mile access issues light rail does. My guess is the express one seat buses that will continue from Northgate and Issaquah (including to SLU) will be more popular than truncation and light rail, and would be throughout the spine for most commutes.

        When I saw the “realignment” it said one thing: ST isn’t building DSTT2. Maybe a stub to West Seattle, but as Ross points out who would deal with first/last mile access hassles to go to Sodo, and you still need the very expensive bridge for rail and car capacity. So don’t hold your breath on the stub.

        The rest of the realignment was just window dressing. Move some park and rides to Tier 4 to appease the anti-car crowd although they will get built on the Eastside on schedule ,

        We can debate forever how to complete WSBLE, except it won’t be through DSTT2, and just the cost of bridges with no loss of car capacity is unaffordable.

        In the end, buses from West Seattle and Ballard will be feeder buses to the spine. With ST increasing frequency of one seat express buses in the south until Link opens there could be demands to continue the buses after Link opens to Federal Way, especially if one seat express buses are running from Lake City and Issaquah. Link will be one mode of transit, not the only mode, because buses have better first/last mile access, and their routes can be adjusted without forcing everyone to move to a TOD next to the freeway. 90 miles of spine very well could address housing shortages, especially with WFH, but horizontally and not vertically because the SFH is still so desirable.

      6. “When I saw the “realignment” it said one thing: ST isn’t building DSTT2.”

        You’re making a huge leap from TBD changes to no DSTT2. If ST isn’t planning to build DSTT2, why is it tiering it now? You’re making a lot of assumptions about what ST can and can’t afford, when ST says it only needs to delay things by a few years. And that gap may shrink if the economy improves or federal grants come.

      7. Why do you think a bus tunnel is substantially cheaper? If it’s rail convertible, the tunnel and station vaults will need to be the exact same time size, and any cost savings from avoiding to install some electrical equipment will be more than offset by the costs needed to make the tunnel bus compatible. It’s probably significantly more expensive to build a bus-rail tunnel than a rail only or bus only tunnel, given the need for entirely differently tunnel portals and potentially much different stations if there is a need for ‘breakdown’ lanes like the DSTT1.

        If part of your argument is your don’t need the WS to ID or Ballard to Smith Cove rail segments, that’s an argument to defer those segments for financial reasons, not an argument in favor of a bus-rail tunnel. Or, your hope is to never cover the tunnel to rail, in which case you are arguing for a bus tunnel and spending a ton of money on rail compatibility purely for political reasons.

      8. And for the record, the bus tunnel is not “significantly cheaper”.

        Are you saying that a bus tunnel would not be significantly cheaper than the entire Ballard to West Seattle light rail line? If so, you are delusional. If not, you are missing my point entirely.

        It is pretty simple: This will be built in stages. Building the tunnel first would just be the first stage. Either way, the plan would be to eventually build the entire thing (from West Seattle to Ballard) exactly as originally planned.

        No matter what, they will not be able to build what they promised they would build by the time they said. There may be big lawsuits as a result. The downtown Everett association may sue over the fact that the train won’t reach downtown Everett at the time they promised. Or they may see the progress towards that as worthwhile. The exact same thing would happen if they built a rail-convertible bus tunnel in Seattle as the first step. Either way, there would be plans to build the entire thing at some future date. The only significant difference is that riders would get a lot out of it in the meantime. No other stage of the project offers as much value for the money as a rail-convertible bus tunnel.

      9. I wrote: “Build a rail convertible bus tunnel first (from SoDo to Smith Cove). This would be less expensive than Ballard Link, and certainly less expensive than West Seattle and Ballard Link (WSBL) combined. ”

        Why do you think a bus tunnel is substantially cheaper?

        I think it is obvious why the bus tunnel is cheaper than Ballard Link or the WSBL, but I’ll break it down for you.

        With Ballard Link, you need BOTH a tunnel AND a bridge over the ship canal. You also need stations for Smith Cove, Ballard and Dravus. With WSBL, you need ALL of that, AND the bridge to West Seattle, as well as the West Seattle stations.

        With a rail-convertible tunnel, you simply need the tunnel. Yes, you need to enable buses to use it, but there is no way that is more expensive than the entire section from the northern entrance of the tunnel to Ballard, let alone that and the West Seattle section.

        If part of your argument is your don’t need the WS to ID or Ballard to Smith Cove rail segments …

        NO! Come on man, just read my comment. Here, I’ll copy it a third time:

        “Build a rail convertible bus tunnel first (from SoDo to Smith Cove).”

        It is simply a matter of building things in an order that allows riders to take advantage the infrastructure as it is building out. It is why people UW Link was built before Northgate Link. It is why Northgate Link is built before Everett Link. Even the most ardent supporter of Everett Link understands that there is great value in building Lynnwood Link first instead of waiting another twenty years before there is enough money to build the entire line.

      10. The bigger problem with DSTT2 is the massive station requirements. They will be deep! They will be two blocks long! They will be on relatively narrow corridors with skyscrapers just a few feet away (and this month’s condo tower collapse is putting even more emphasis on tall building safety)!

        Meanwhile, the DSTT2 station details have yet to be presented fully. This 2021 “realignment”!saga will probably be replayed once more details including construction hassles and risks emerge.

        I think that the Board is being led (perhaps willingly) on a premature decision about “realignment” (actually just rescheduling because no alignment or technology is changing) because of this. And because DSTT2 involves funds from across the region, every Board member has a stake here. I think that it’s a deliberate deception that the Board is debating just this because if the full extra cost, delay and hassles for these six subway station platforms was included, the entire program would go back to square 1. This way, the Board can save face saying that only a delay is needed — and delays were inevitable anyway as the 2016 construction time estimates will also be proven wrong for the WSBLE.

        I don’t see any Board member currently willing to question the detailed assumptions of ST3 projects. They are all playing naive. That way, they can claim to be “surprised” when the next round of difficulties materializes — and I think it’s coming even though the consultant report suggests that no further major cost increases should be anticipated because of the original ST3 “cheapness”.

        Every Board member is going to be giddy with at least six major ribbon cuttings by early 2025. Then in 2026 or 2027, the ugliness will finally take hold. Rogoff will be 67 and retiring before then. So will several of the Board members. An entirely new team will be left grappling with this.

      11. My goodness we are talking past each other. A phased approach is indeed cheaper, no one is disputing that. That fact is true regardless of the mode.

        A) Building a rail convertible tunnel is more expensive than building a rail only (or bus only) tunnel, assuming the tunnels serve the exact same stations & alignment. Both the tunnel portals and the station vaults will require a completely different design.
        B) Any savings yielded by deferring the Smith Cove to Ballard segment, or WS to ID segments, are identical whether the Phase 1 project is a rail only or bus+rail tunnel. If anything, the second phase becomes more expensive due to need to decommission the bus specific infrastructure.

        So to go back to your original points:
        1) Initial project is substantially cheaper (which means it can be built sooner).
        2) Very big interim benefits.
        3) The ability to easily build it out as originally planned.

        #1 is false. The same ‘savings’ can be realized by phasing the rail project as-is. Introducing bus operations likely makes phase 1 more expensive than the equivalent rail-only phase 1.
        #2 is true.
        #3 is likely false. Introducing bus operations likely creates design compromises, in particular around tunnel portal design & placement, that will make extensions harder than if the tunnel was design for rail only. There will also be decommissioning costs after buses leave the tunnel.

        So if you want to argue, “hey, let’s spend a bit more money on a bus+rail tunnel so that Seattle transit is really great during the short period in between the opening of DSTT2 and the completion of WSBLE,” I think that’s an interesting argument.

        But you are going through all this rigmarole to make bus operations better for 2 years. That’s it. 2 years! Sodo to Smith Cove in 2038, Smith Cove to Ballard in 2040, as per the example in the post. Should WS to SoDo be the final, not first, phase? Yes! But the sequencing of the 3 phases has literally zero relationship with bus-convertibility.

      12. My goodness we are talking past each other.

        Yes, because you didn’t bother to read my comment carefully. Now I have to basically rewrite it, as you (and Tom) take my words out of context. You don’t even bother to quote the entire sentence. You claim that I made statements that I never made.

        It is as if I said “It is cheaper to buy one Honda Civic than a dozen Honda Fits”, and you said “Why do you think a Fit is cheaper than a Civic?”. You then proceeded to talk about about how Fits are cheaper than Civics, as if I don’t know that.

        My original comment was pretty damn clear. You can’t seem to bother to read it, so I’ll simplify it for you:

        This is the Sound Transit plan:

        Stage One: West Seattle to SoDo rail.
        Stage Two: Everything else.

        This is my plan:

        Stage One: Rail Convertible Bus Tunnel.
        Stage Two: Everything else.

        My point is that with my plan, stage one is better. During that period — which could be many years — transit service is much better than it is now. I would argue that you get *most* of the benefit. In contrast, you get very little benefit with stage one of the ST plan. Understand now? Hmm, maybe you do:

        So if you want to argue, “hey, let’s spend a bit more money on a bus+rail tunnel so that Seattle transit is really great during the short period in between the opening of DSTT2 and the completion of WSBLE,” I think that’s an interesting argument.

        YES! That is my argument! That has always been my argument! It is stated very clearly in my original comment.

        It could be a very long time between stages. If it was built with that as the focus, it is possible that the first stage could be done much earlier. Of course you need to study this, but no other plan offers this much potential this early.

        Folks on this blog seem to ignore the fact that ST has a blank check. They can build every single project — no matter the cost — of ST3. It will just take a long time. But by the end of the century, it could be done. Everything that has been discussed recently is about timing. When will each piece be built. The plan I proposed is simply about building the most valuable piece as early as possible.

      13. The bigger problem with DSTT2 is the massive station requirements.

        Right, but that is what ST wanted. There are alternatives:

        1) Don’t build another downtown tunnel from SoDo to Westlake. This would save a considerable amount of money, but you would still need to mix the lines, and build three underground stations north of Westlake. That is not cheap. You could eventually build what the voters approved.

        2) Build smaller stations. This would save some money, but it would be a fundamentally different project. West Seattle to Ballard would be linked (no pun intended). That isn’t a huge difference (the idea of running trains from Tacoma to Ballard was a relatively late change, and is probably not known by 99% of the public). But it is a change.

        With the first option, you can forget about other subareas chipping in for anything. My guess is Snohomish County would be especially upset. Not only are you not increasing capacity through downtown, but you are reducing capacity for north end service (as the trains share space with trains coming from Ballard). In contrast, I don’t think the other subareas care about the size of the stations in the new tunnel (as long as there is a new tunnel).

        Smaller stations would certainly be cheaper, but I doubt it would be that much cheaper. Underground stations (even tiny ones) are expensive. This also doesn’t consider costs outside the tunnel. Getting to West Seattle and Ballard is expensive. There are big issues there in terms of cost and value and that was before the latest estimates. It is quite possible that the one station in Ballard will lie well outside the urban core, which will cripple its ridership potential. It will go from being like Capitol Hill to being like Mount Baker. Not really easy to walk to, but there is a bus you can take that will connect to it. This will make the stop only popular during rush hour. Even then, Metro may decide to keep a lot of the express buses to downtown, and allow people headed to Queen Anne (or other Link stations) to transfer at Smith Cove.

        West Seattle has similar issues. The West Seattle Junction station may miss the junction. The Delridge station may be over 100 feet in the air. That would mean that only reason for the station (to allow transfers) becomes extremely time consuming. Even with smaller stations, things are expensive.

        We should certainly explore it. But my point is, it will be a very long time before anyone along that corridor gets anything of value with that approach. In contrast, with my approach they could get something substantial much sooner.

      14. How about this, Ross? Advocate for a study task just to look at alternative technologies for the WSBLE corridors. That could encompass your idea, the (likely misguided) gondola idea and other train technologies. There could be advantages of introducing a different light rail vehicle that can run more frequently, have smaller stations and operate on steeper grades so that the stations wouldn’t have to be as deep as Midtown or as elevated as Delridge. Apparently, the Docklands technology allows for 2 percent higher slopes and in our hilly city that could be quite advantageous at many of the WSBLE station platforms.

        The ugly truth is that the current low-floor vehicles preventing open gangways, empty driver cabs making trains and stations longer, catenary-sized bigger tunnel bore requirement is probably not the most efficient and adds significant costs to the project.

        I’m also of the belief that how stations get built matters as much as where. Every bus-rail transfer ideally would be level or at most less than 30 stair steps (or a single elevator ride) of a rail platform. Using the Delridge situation as an example, the better station location/ design is probably more about how riders can easily transfer from RapidRide H than how walk-up riders will get to the platform.

  13. What would the capital costs amount to to trench the MLK section of Central Link? In the context of an $8B hole in the agency’s financial plan, with ridiculous LR lines in ST3 and a $300 million gift to WSDOT for the 85th/I-405 interchange rebuild, etc., etc., it is indeed time to be doing more than just a program “realignment” as others have suggested above.

    https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/1-pedestrian-dead-another-injured-light-rail-train-collision/ZH3Q75QA3ZBFBF5T4ZYBGE45HE/

    *The headline wasn’t corrected to reflect that the second pedestrian later died from his injuries.

    1. Tlsgwm, IF the utilities were rationalized away from the median when King Boulevard was rebuilt, it would be reasonably cheap, maybe $250 million. If they’re still under the trackway, it could easily be double that.

    2. Pedestrian conflicts with light rail are unfortunate and very tragic and often fatal.

      ST is installing new pedestrian crossings of light rail tracks at Judkins Park, East Main, 130th/ Bel-Red and SE Redmond — in addition to those on MLK and the SODO busway. rev there others? I will observe that MLK also has several pedestrian-only crossings of the tracks.

      I’ve also observed that median running light rail (or median busways ) on multi-lane streets makes the streets very wide to cross. It encourages impatient pedestrians to take risks, as the signals have to hold red lights for longer periods of time to give enough time for other pedestrians to get across streets.

      Pedestrian danger is just one of many issues on MLK. The ST approach is that they can’t revisit what they’ve already built — even if it’s just a study and concept on how to redesign any part of MLK. I can’t even seem to find a diagram for the Graham infill station!

      Has it been established that the senior-age victims were headed to the train, or were they just crossing the street?

      Putting in a trench for Link would probably require moving all MLK traffic to just one side of the road, building the trenched tracks where the closed lanes of traffic were (the other side of the road), connecting the new trench tracks to the existing tracks, then ripping out the current surface to widen MLK back. A bonus would be to introduce a linear park with a trail on a lid above the new 4+ mile-long trench. My guess is that the cost would be between $3-10B to do this (I don’t know enough about costing to narrow that range).

      It would seem to be prudent to compare that cost to the Duwamish bypass for Tacoma trains, and then give MLK over to work more like a streetcar — adding 3-5 more stations on the street segment but have the route end in Tukwila or maybe get extended into Renton.

      Anyway, it would really help to begin with an analysis that looks at the last 10 years of MLK with Link to determine the likelihood of future incidents and costs to prevent them. I would want to see how many fatal incidents were pedestrians, people in cars or bicyclists. That would add some perspective to the level of urgency for solving it.

    3. That’s what we want to know. Somebody (Al S?) suggested yesterday that ST should study it. That’s a good idea. Getting ST to do anything requires first getting ST to study and consider it.

      I’ve said from the beginning that Link’s minimum standards should have included full grade separation. It chose surface because it’s cheaper to construct. But if you include the human and financial costs of collisions and interrupting service for hours, the cost difference between surface and non-surface diminishes.

    4. 1. It would be really expensive to move all of the track above or below grade.

      2. There are probably cheaper alternatives that could be implemented. In Bend, Oregon or Tukwila and a number of other examples, it was cheaper to just dig a tunnel for the crossing road under the railroad line. You might have to cut back to a single through lane in each traffic direction, but each of those lanes wouldn’t stop anywhere near as often, so the through traffic capacity would probably not change much.

      In any event, there are various scenarios for improvement.

    5. There are several benefits from a trench. First, the train gets to run grade separated. This may best be achieved by building over or underpasses. It is probably not worth it. The speed improvement would be minimal, which means the big improvement would be in frequency. But absent a branch (e. g. to Renton) it is unlikely that ST would ever run the trains more often than six minutes (as things stand right now, it is hard to get ST to run them that often). From a rider standpoint, it is better for those who skip those stations, but worse for those using the train. You would spend more time getting to the platform and riders can’t tell if the train is coming. ST would have more to maintain (escalators or elevators). From a transit standpoint, it isn’t worth it unless there is a plan to branch. Such a branch seems extremely unlikely. If you added a branch, you would probably run down Rainier Avenue, starting right after Mount Baker Station, which means that the surface running section wouldn’t change at all.

      From a safety standpoint, this is just one of many things that could be improved. We don’t have Platform Screen Doors (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platform_screen_doors) but then again, neither does New York City (a city that needs them a lot more than we do). It is quite possible that the crossing can be improved to be made safer, but the same could be said for much of the city. Many of our streets are dangerous. The accidents usually involve amateur drivers, but a bus driver killed a pedestrian on Aurora yesterday afternoon. There have been numerous pedestrian accidents on Aurora (https://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2020/12/24/aurora-ave-traffic-fatality-is-10th-in-less-than-two-years/) — if Seattle prioritized any street from a safety standpoint it would be that one, not MLK.

      Another potential advantage of grade separation is automation. But this could be achieved as things exist right now. I don’t think the trains are any safer with human drivers, while problem situations (e. g. debris over the road) could probably be handled just as well with a robot and a remote operator (the robot would err towards shutting things down, while a remote driver would decide that the debris is harmless, and creep along). If automation is a priority, spending money burying the tracks would likely still be a huge waste.

      I suppose you could make the argument that all of these combined (speed, safety, potential better headways) add up to a good case for it. I still don’t buy it. This would likely cost a lot of money. That money could be put into simply running the trains more often (every six minutes, all day long) or other buses. In both cases you get residual safety effects, with fewer drivers on the road. Or you spend your safety dollars where they would go farther (Aurora) and your transit dollars where they go farther as well (on just about anything else).

      1. “ You would spend more time getting to the platform and riders can’t tell if the train is coming. ”

        In the case of MLK, there would often be less time getting to the platform with separation. A pedestrian crossing has to wait for a walk signal unless they jaywalk. It’s taken me up to an extra three minutes to transfer between Metro 50 and Link at Columbia City (where the fatalities happened).

        I’m not disputing your overall point — but I’m just noting this one aspect of it.

    6. “I wrote: “Build a rail convertible bus tunnel first (from SoDo to Smith Cove). This would be less expensive than Ballard Link, and certainly less expensive than West Seattle and Ballard Link (WSBL) combined. ”

      I understood your point Ross, but still don’t think a phased approach is affordable. Where will this future money come from to complete WSBLE?

      I am not sure what a convertible bus tunnel from SoDo to Smith Cove would cost, but imagine it would be the most expensive part of the WSBLE, but I don’t think the N. King Co. subarea has the funds for that project alone right now anyway. And as you note, the tunnel is predicated on converting it to rail later and completing WSBLE (I think, permanently building a second tunnel for buses only seems extravagant to me). So although phased, in the long run a convertible bus/rail tunnel would be more expensive due to conversion and redundant systems, and any tunnel comes with unknown risks and costs that N. King Co. will bear alone when that subarea does not have any reserve funds.

      The option I think ST is adopting in its “realignment” is to run buses from West Seattle and Ballard to Link, or SLU, or wherever, forever. That frees up $1.1 billion for the N. King Co. subarea for other projects, and $275 million for each of the four other subareas for their projects, some of which have discovered ST’s optimistic cost estimating in their subareas.. It also avoids very costly bridge replacements for West Seattle and Ballard when each demands no loss of car capacity and light rail.

      Without the risk and cost of DSTT2, ST and ST 3 look ok. You were the very first person to note express buses would serve West Seattle better than rail (and certainly a stub to SoDo), and I think the same is true of Ballard, which has to get east as well. $275 million in additional funding for the other subareas will also quell any talk of secession, or ST 4.

      A good example is the eastside subarea. If it turned out there was insufficient revenue for ST 3 in that subarea would I cut the park and rides because of ideology, or build it in phases. No, I would cut the rail line from Issaquah to S. Kirkland because it is way too expensive per rider, express buses will fill the need (commuting to Seattle or downtown Bellevue) better, and it would free up $4.5 billion for every other project, plus some new ones too (just like eliminate DSTT2 frees up money for infill stations along the spine, and more bus service and train frequency).

      I guess I could understand disappointment at the elimination of DSTT2 and WSBLE if I thought they were remotely a good use of limited resources (or lived in either community) but I don’t, and honestly always suspected ST would abandon DSTT2 after Big Bertha. There are much better uses in the N. King Co. subarea for that $1.1 billion, and I am certain West Seattle and Ballard will demand expensive rail stations and bridges with no loss of car capacity even if they do get rail.

      I think ST thought the funding was limitless. ST 4, 5, 6 etc. I think it ends with the revenue from ST 3, so choices have to be made. Cutting WSBLE and DSTT2 are no brainers to me. Either run buses from West Seattle and Ballard down 3rd Ave. (or to SLU and First Hill) or truncate them at SoDo and Westlake.

  14. I wonder what the vehicle/pedestrian fatality rate was before Link helped keep the cars closer to the speed limit.

    Anyone who’s been around long enough knew MLKing Way was the high speed alternative to the congestion on I-5.

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