As Sound Transit has moved the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) through the EIS process, several challenges have emerged, with early concerns focused on the Ballard and West Seattle termini. These are nowhere near solved, but a compromise alignment seems within reach.
The middle of the line is another question: serious disruption in Chinatown / ID, deep stations with poor transfers, and some really complicated maneuvering and bridging required in SODO to add a second set of tracks that isn’t strictly necessary. Meanwhile, the only palatable option in CID, a shallow 4th Avenue station, adds $500M to the project budget and has some nasty impacts.
So, since it’s Saturday and we’re waiting for the EIS comment period to close, let us indulge ourselves in an alternative alignment through downtown that avoids some of these problems.
Moving the entire line east, under First Hill, would solve many of the challenges with the current downtown stations, and overall make the system more useful. It would open up a lot service to a lot more territory and greatly reduce the amount of redundant track miles being built. While it would introduce some new challenges, those would be outweighed by the considerable benefits. Here’s how it could work:
The Ballard line would, after stopping at Westlake Station, immediately head under First Hill, with the “Midtown” stop moved to Boren and Madison. We know Sound Transit is averse to too many I-5 crossings, so we’ll just stay east and under Boren, continuing along Rainier Ave N, in either a shallow tunnel or at grade along the median. A stop at Judkins Park would facilitate an easy transfer to the Eastside. The line would continue to Mount Baker and connect with the existing Rainier Valley line. A shuttle train running between Mount Baker and SODO would serve Beacon Hill.
Some advantages to this approach:
- Service to First Hill, Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon
- No displacement in Chinatown
- No need to destroy or relocate Metro’s Ryerson Base
- No multi-year closure of Stadium Station
- No new overpasses required in SODO or transmission line replacement
- Opportunity to fix Mt. Baker
- Less frequent train gates in SODO as only the West Seattle line is running through it
- Easy transfers between lines at Judkins Park, which benefits Eastside riders headed to the airport ( the current proposals require exiting to the street level and then going back down to get from Bellevue to SeaTac)
- Beacon Hill riders have a 2-seat ride to most destinations
- Slightly longer commute to the airport from West Seattle
- A 2-seat ride to south downtown for some riders on the Ballard-Tacoma line
- Significant construction impacts along Rainier Ave N, between Mt. Baker and the ID
To be clear, Sound Transit has repeatedly said no to a First Hill station. They’ve argued a First Hill station would violate the voters’ intent when they approved ST3. But this move seems minor compared with the potential station eliminations the agency is apparently considering to deal with cost overruns.
(And yes, I’m aware that I’m tempting Betteridge’s Law with the headline. Feel free to tell me why in the comments.)
Update 4/10/22: the original map above incorrectly showed East Link serving stadium station. Sloppy crayon work on my part. The map has been corrected.