In my previous post, “Notes from a Vancouverite”, I pointed out that the Sound Transit plan for Ballard and West Seattle was not very good yet had a high cost, and I advocated for a superior route to serve Ballard:
And West Seattle with a possible extension to Bellevue:
These were to be tunnelled lines using frequent, automated trains with short stations in order to save money. I note that my proposals were not taken up (although part of the West Seattle-Madison-Bellevue Line did make it into Seattle Subway’s vision), so I have decided to try again. My quest is aided by Sound Transit’s current plan, which is truly awful, and Sound Transit’s current budget, which is truly huge.
Problems with ST’s Draft EIS Plan:
The best I can tell the current cost estimates for the plan are over $12b:
I couldn’t find figures for the total increase in boardings that the plan will bring, but I have estimated it as follows. The DEIS estimates that the West Seattle and Ballard stations will generate 33,300 boardings per day. That includes residents of those areas starting a journey and non-residents returning from a journey started elsewhere on the transit system. So doubling that figure should give the increase in boardings due to those new stations: 66,600. In addition, the new downtown stations will generate trips among themselves and on the rest of the Link network. Because of the integration of the lines with the existing Link lines, it was difficult for me to determine which of these will be new boardings due to the additional stations or existing Link riders in DSTT 1 being moved to DSTT 2. So I’m going to be nice and say those new downtown stations will also generate 66,600 new boardings (over and above the return journeys to the West Seattle and Ballard stations already included) for a total of 133,200 boarding per day.
133,200 new boardings per day is a good expansion and justifies spending money. But over $12b? Assuming 133,200 boardings means 66,600 individual riders, you could purchase a $180,000 car for each of them with $12b. A transit line lasts longer than a car and that the real limitation for urban transportation is space and cars don’t solve that, but the metric is still not good. And it gets worse. Sound Transit’s financial plan implies that this new expansion will not cover its operating costs with fare revenue, so the actual long term financial cost is actually over $12b. And bus integration isn’t what it ought to be, so there won’t be large savings in reducing duplicating bus routes either.
Cost Benefit Analyses don’t walk on water and are based on assumptions, but it would be nice to see at least some attempt to match the total cost of the plan with the total benefit of the plan plus a comparison with other options.
2. Only One Station North of Ship Canal
Only one station north of the Ship Canal seems insane. That looks like fertile transit ground to me. Not to mention that the Ballard Station placement is only OK.
3. Terrible Stations
This is the real doozy. Some of these are so bad that there is earnest consideration on this blog about whether these plans are a pretext for cancelling the whole thing.
The part in grey is the current Westlake Station, already a large structure, which demonstrates just how huge the new underground works are intended to be. If this engineering marvel did something marvellous, who would complain? But all this engineering actually just causes trouble. Making people spend five minutes or more just to get to the platform.
Since I’m actually pathetic enough to go through a bunch of this crap, I will include quite a few images of just what Sound Transit has in store for you.
Westlake Preferred Option Plan:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing West:
Westlake Preferred Option Section Facing North:
In case anyone missed it, behold Escalatorpalooza:
The Second Avenue Subway in NYC introduced the world to the concept of the billion dollar subway station. Sound Transit has not broken out the station costs separately, but I wonder, do we have a runner-up here?
Midtown Preferred Option Plan:
Midtown Preferred Option Section Facing East:
Midtown Preferred Option Section North Stack Facing South:
Midtown Preferred Option Section South Stack Facing South:
Midtown Preferred Option Ventilation Section Facing South:
New Vancouverite Plan
My goal isn’t to come up with something entirely new but to adapt the current plan as much as possible to make it workable and cheaper. In the main this means a tunnelled, automatic metro with very short platform lengths:
The Stations are:
- 15th Ave
- Denny Park
- Westlake – Transfer Station
- ID – Transfer Station
- Stadium (Optional) (Or Located on 1st Ave)
- Avalon – Connection to Operations Centre under West Seattle Stadium
I still think that Queen Anne is a worthy target for some rapid transit, but remembering the spittle flecked rage the last time I mentioned the unmentionable, I’m not pushing that one again:
The Ops Centre would be under the West Seattle Stadium which would mean ripping it up, excavating out the required area, building the ops centre and then decking it over and rebuilding the stadium and maybe the clubhouse for the West Seattle Golf Course. It is city owned so the only cost would be construction. Here is a comparison with the ops centre for Skytrain (which handles way more rolling stock):
For capacity I’m comparing this new line with the Canada Line in Vancouver. The Canada Line was built with an ultimate capacity of 15,000 passengers per direction per hour (ppdph), but is currently operated at 8,000 ppdph. Pre covid the line had a peak ridership of 150,000 boardings per day. I can tell you that 8,000 ppdph was not enough to handle that. The trains were crush loaded at peak times. So for a new 133,200 boardings-per-day line, 8,000 ppdph is probably the bare minimum.
The Canada Line uses Hyundai Rotem cars in two car trains that have a passenger capacity of 334 and a total length of 135 feet:
Operated on a 90 second interval or 40 trains per hour provides a total of 13,360 ppdph which seems like enough to me. Not enough to cover major growth in the corridor, but enough to cover some growth.
To make the central section more usable, the tunnel needs to be much closer to the surface and constructed with the cut-and-cover method. Ideally the tunnel should be as close to the surface as possible, so that the road surface is the tunnel roof. To aid in this, metro tunnels without overhead wires don’t have to be tall as light rail tunnels. 5th Avenue is not that wide downtown, but it does look wide enough to handle cut-and-cover tunnels, and it is also possible to stack the metro tunnels if need be. (Skytrain in downtown Vancouver is stacked.)
However, one disadvantage must be acknowledged. Shallow tunnels will make a total mess of the current Westlake Station. The tunnels will have to go through the current mezzanine and require a bunch of reconstruction:
On the other hand, short platforms really expose the gigantism that has overtaken Sound Transit’s plan. Here are several images of the Sound Transit plan with a shallow 150 foot station box superimposed.
ID – Shallow tunnels under 5th:
One concern with cut-and-cover construction is the amount of time that the road will be closed. However, in this case, this is almost a benefit. Some of the stations in the current plan are so big and complicated that the construction timeline anticipates that they will be under construction for 9 years! And there is no reason why cut-and-cover cannot be done quickly. The Pine Street cut-and-cover segment of the original DSTT was built in under six months albeit with a temporary surface put down for the Christmas shopping season that had to be taken up and re-done in the slower shopping months.
The tunnels will have to be bored south of ID and north of Denny Park, but even then, the very short station boxes make things so much easier. Here is a 150’ station box at 15th Ave:
This is less than a third of the block.
This is my estimate of costs in millions:
|Tunnel at 150m per km||2,475|
|14 Stations at 150m each||2,100|
|More Seattle Nonsense||1,000|
The 150m per km figure is from Alon Levy who estimates that this is the no-BS international cost of metro lines (I think he also means to include stations and rolling stock too but I daren’t go that far). Stations I have pencilled in at 150m each which is on the high side plus an additional 250m for a total of 400m at Westlake because it will be a mess. And the operation centre at 500m is also on the high side but it means that it can be done right.
For those that think that my estimates are unreasonably low, actually 5.325b for a short metro line is no bargain and 7.325b is properly expensive. (Sound Transit first estimated this extension at 7b for ST3.) There are those on this blog that decry tunnelling at the main driver of costs, but it isn’t tunnels, its stations. Colossal, overblown stations mean colossal, overblown costs. The tunnel from downtown to Roosevelt was expensive but not preposterous, so it can be done, even in Seattle. And the promise of lower costs above ground is clearly spent. Elevated lines can be built cheaply on publicly owned ROWs, but it isn’t that cheap on purchased land, and not if there are two bridges and a high level viaduct as in West Seattle.
As a postscript, this is how I would outline expansion if that were undertaken. Two interlined lines going east and west. Since the peak frequency is 90 seconds, interlining only drops this to 3 minutes which is still perfectly doable if expansion were desired in the future.