[UPDATE: Several factual corrections, courtesy of Sound Transit. – MHD]
Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee met on February 9th to review the results of studies on details of the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE). The full ST board will meet February 22nd to consider this, and March 23rd to choose a preferred alignment (routing) for project, if it’s ready to do so. This article explains the study findings without much opinionating. Future articles are in preparation that will make specific recommendations.
ST has released a 3.5 hour webcast of the meeting, and a 124-page slide deck of the study results. Meeting timestamps: 0:00:00 roll call, 0:04:30 intro reports, 0:16:30 public testimony, 1:14:00 Everett Link studies, 1:43:00 WSBLE studies.
Last year the board selected a preferred alignment in West Seattle, but asked staff to study Chinatown/International District station (CID) and a few other details a bit more. The studies ST ordered last year concern how to avoid negative impacts in the CID, opportunities to mix and match South Lake Union stations from the two routes studied in the DEIS, refinements to the Smith Cove / Interbay stations, and how to reduce cost and improve access in Ballard.
The report presents a lot of alternatives. These address some of the issues identified last year. They may also add construction time, risk, and another $900 million to the already much higher cost than originally planned and promised to voters. Skipping some stations may eliminate those cost increases.
The report first presented ways to reduce the impact of the 4th Ave Shallow option which was studied in the DEIS. This would avoid impact to existing buildings, but would add $700 million in costs, raising the cost of the Pike St to Holgate St segment to $3.1 billion, and the Midtown station would still be 200 ft deep.
Next they presented a “Shallower” station on 4th Ave which would reduce transfer time and allow for a not-quite-as-deep (145 ft) Midtown station. It may also allow better connection to Sounder, and potentially a lid over the Sounder track and additional public space. The construction footprint would move to different areas over the course of 9 years.
Then staff presented various ways to move the CID station out of Chinatown, either to the north or south or both. Bypassing the CID along 6th Avenue, the tunnel would then avoid going under or over the existing transit tunnel.
The North Station would replace the proposed Midtown Station. The proposed station would be at the King County Administration building 4th Avenue and would have a pedestrian tunnel under James Street to the current Pioneer Square station for transfers. This may add three or more minutes to Link-to-Link transfers, or twelve minutes to Link-to-Sounder transfers. Riders from SeaTac or Rainier Valley would have to travel further north and then backtrack to reach the CID, Sounder, or the Eastside, adding another 3.5 minutes. Sound Transit also said that Madison RapidRide could be modified to serve this station.
A South Station, in combination with a not-quite-as-deep Midtown Station, would be close to the existing Stadium station: south of the Uwajimaya parking lot and north of I-90 on 6th Ave. It would provide access to the stadiums, but it would be a 5-6 minutes’ walk to Sounder or the CID. Riders from SeaTac would need to travel to Westlake before transferring to Line 2 to the Eastside or vice versa.
The South Station may also be combined with the North Station instead of Midtown. This would essentially shift both the Midtown and the CID stations further south.
Staff provided some travel time comparisons for the various alternatives for an able-bodied person. This also shows that some station alternatives would increase the number of transfers.
Union Station Activation
Sound Transit also presented some ideas on how to modernize the CID station, and integrate Union Station and make it more accessible to the public. This would provide extra space for retail and community events, and improve integration between the Sounder and Link station and the CID.
At the end of the meeting Mayor Harrell called the CID a Seattle “gem”. The presentation showed how central Union Station is to South Seattle.
Downtown and South Lake Union
For the Midtown Station and Denny Station, Sound Transit presented various ways to reduce cost and schedule risk, by using street space instead of private property for entrances.
At Westlake there would be one new entrance that served all three lines. None would servie the platform directly.
For South Lake Union, they looked at a station on Terry rather than Westlake, in combination with a station on Harrison. While it avoids some building impact, the Terry Station would be next to the H5 Data Center, which connects many cross country fiber lines adding cost and risk.
For Seattle Center they tried to either connect a Harrison Station with either one on Mercer St, or push Republican Station further west to reduce impact to various Seattle Center event spaces. Though doable, cost may increase by up to $60 million.
Interbay-Smith Cove and Ballard
Staff presented the options which were recently shared with the public at two Open Houses.
In the public comments at the beginning of the meeting, several people testified that a 14th Avenue Station would be too far from the core of Ballard. More than one person said nobody in Ballard has spoken up for a 14th Avenue Station.
For the 15th Ave Station staff presented a smaller entrance option on the southwest corner but voiced capacity concerns. They did not mention that an option to add another entrance on the northewest corner may mitigate such. Neither did they mention that during the Open House a station on NW 56th St between 20th Ave and 22nd had been proposed.
As the Board had already selected a preferred alignment last year, staff had only looked at a few refinements.
By taking over the Jefferson Square building, they could provide access on the West side of the 41st St Station towards the Junction. Though walking distance would not change much, it would reduce one street crossing.
By moving the Delridge Station further south and then following Yancy instead of Andover St, bus access could be improved and displacement of Transitional Resources properties reduced.
By eliminating the Avalon Station, staff hopes to reduce cost and complexity. By redirecting buses from 35th Ave to the station on 41st, they hope this will not have any impact on ridership, though they acknowledged it will make it more difficult for many Avalon residents to reach either station.
They presented some refinements to the SODO station connecting the mezzanine to the Lander Street overpass and further reducing property acquisitions but it still does not provide for cross platform transfer. Most riders will require two escalator riders to transfer.
The presentation ended with cost comparison tables for the various portions of the project which may increase the cost by up to $1.5 billion.
STB authors are busily writing articles on specific recommendations for WSBLE ahead of the preferred alignment decision, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime I’m sure the comments section will have lots of opinions.