Sound Transit and the city invited the public last Wednesday (Oct 25th) to the Alki Masonic Center to review their plans for station access along the West Seattle Link Extension (WSLE).
Sound Transit had been planning the extensions for West Seattle (WSLE) and Ballard (BLE) together but has now separated them. Ballard planning has been extended to consider new station alternatives downtown and in South Lake Union. For West Seattle they are now preparing the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS, scheduled for mid 2024) for a stub to SODO. They published the Wednesday’s station details and now solicit feedback at: https://wsblink-wsle.participate.online/
The original representative alignment promised up to 37,000 daily riders for $ 1.7 billion with stations close to the Delridge Community Center, Avalon Way, and the Alaska Junction connecting to SODO and the Stadium station. The current preferred alignment eliminates the Stadium station connection, pushes the Delridge station further north in the corner between the West Seattle Bridge approach and the Nucor Steel plant, and moves the Junction station further away from California Avenue into a tunnel station along 41st Ave SW. All of these reduce the stations’ walksheds. Sound Transit also admitted that a lot of housing and businesses would be lost. To reduce the impact the Board decided to favor tunneling to the Junction station. The Board also asked Sound Transit staff to consider further alternatives to reduce construction impact and cost. As a local advocacy group pointed out, none of those alternatives would spare the city from losing housing, acres of trees, the grey heron colony along Pigeon Point, or businesses such as Alki Beach Academy, one of the largest childcare centers in Seattle. Eventually each station will provide some transit-oriented development though.
In last year’s draft EIS, Sound Transit also revised their rider estimates from up to 37,000 down to 27,000, but they don’t expect to reach that goal until the line is extended to go downtown directly. That’s about as many riders rode the bus downtown before the pandemic. Depending on some of the remaining alternatives, cost may approach $4 billion.
Wednesday’s meeting was well staffed by Sound Transit and some from the city – almost as many staffers as attendees. They started soliciting feedback on station access and designs for plazas and such. You can still provide feedback on their website, where you can also find the material they presented.
SODO station design has not changed much. Sound Transit still plans to build a new line/guideway at grade level and parallel to the existing Rainier Valley line, though it will stop at the station for now. Direct service towards Northgate is not planned until a new downtown tunnel design is approved and built. Until then, coming from West Seattle most riders will need to go up an escalator to the mezzanine on the south side or the overpass at the north side, switch to the other line, and go down another escalator before they can wait to board a train coming from Rainier Valley. If Sound Transit would instead merge the West Seattle line into the Rainier line right before the SODO station, trains from West Seattle could continue to Northgate immediately, and a SODO station with a single center platform would make transfers between the lines much easier. Either way local pedestrians can enter the mezzanine from the new Lander overpass on the North side. Cyclists and pedestrians can also access the station via the North/South multi-use path or directly from the East. A bus loop is planned on the East side.
For the Delridge station, after moving it a few blocks north from the original location, Sound Transit now seems to favor moving it back half a block again. That way the line can continue to the Avalon station along Yancy St. instead of the currently preferred alignment along Andover St. While the Yancy alignment would make bus access a bit easier and spare more of Transitional Resources’ mental health facilities, it would increase the impact on the beaver and salmon spawning habitat at Longfellow Creek. I listened to people suggesting various alternatives, but the response by Sound Transit was that they had looked at all possible options and they are now focused on building what they presented even though there are still many challenges such as difficult terrain and soil conditions such as the Pigeon Point slope. One good news is that they reduced the height of the station size a bit, now the Delridge Station is “only” 50 feet above ground, even less if you approach from a bridge from Delridge Way.
Avalon station would be barely underground next to one of the busiest roads in Seattle (Fauntleroy Way), its northern portion in a retained cut similar to the current CID station. Most riders would need to cross multiple wide roads to reach the station. It’s not clear whether the station gets built or dropped. Staff have suggested dropping it to reduce cost and construction impact. If it gets dropped, bus lines along 35th Ave SW would need to get diverted to the Junction station. Pedestrian access would suffer – though the Delridge and Junction stations are not far, the change of elevation is considerable for people living along Avalon.
For the Alaska Junction station Sound Transit is focusing on a tunnel station along 41st Ave SW under the SW Alaska St. This would eliminate the Jefferson Square / Safeway shopping mall and apartments above. Construction will certainly cause some disruption. The entrances will be closer to 40th and 42nd Ave. That means some underground walking will be required, but a bit less climbing if you want to reach the shops along California Ave or Fauntleroy. Choosing a tunnel alignment will make it far costlier to extend the line further south – a consideration which was not discussed at the Board meeting when this alignment was selected even though Sound Transit’s long-rage plan already contemplates such extension.
So now that the ridership estimate has dropped, cost has doubled, and the environmental impact has become apparent, some local activists have questioned the value of the WSLE. They advocate instead for Sound Transit to make incremental changes to RapidRide C and D as they had also committed to in the ST3 ballot measure as an early deliverable. (ST has since postponed these to the end of ST3 due to the budget gap. It’s unclear what this means, since the C and D will be gone by then. Would the money follow to an intra-West Seattle line?) Sound Transit’s DEIS already pointed out that most riders will arrive at any of the stations via bus and their ride would take longer due to the transfer. Similar to the East Link Starter Line, Sound Transit does not expect very many riders taking the stub to SODO until it is continued through downtown, so why spend $4 billion on it now?!? If we continue to use buses to reach West Seattle, we will not need a second downtown tunnel. Would we be better off accelerating the connection from Westlake to SLU and Ballard instead? I do hope that the Board will consider this option before they approve the construction of the West Seattle Link extension.