A Better Ballard Option for Link

by Dale Menchhofer

Overview of the better Ballard option

tl;dr: This post proposes a new option for the Interbay – Ballard segment of the West Seattle – Ballard light rail project that is measurably and significantly better than any of the remaining official options. The major components are (1) an aerial bridge over the BNSF rail yard, (2) an optional station at Fisherman’s Terminal, (3) a shorter tunnel under Salmon Bay, and (4) a station at 20th Ave NW and NW Market St.

This option has the highest possible value—retaining the high quality of a tunnel, but with significantly higher ridership, and at a competitive cost. In fact, it has a lower capital cost per rider than any of the official options. It has opportunities to turn Port of Seattle and BNSF into 3rd party funding sources, instead of potential adversaries. In spite of its superior characteristics, the only hope it has of becoming the preferred alignment is if enough of you support it in ‘scoping’ comments submitted to Sound Transit. Find handy links to do that at the end of the post. 

Intro: why this option is optimal

The best possible ridership puts the station location in the center of the urban village, at 20th Avenue and Market Street. This location is closest to all of the current density, and closest to potential future development.

This option uses the shortest tunnel possible for crossing the ship canal of any practical location. It is about 10-12 % shorter than the 14th or 15th Avenue tunnel options. It is 28% shorter than the “BNSF West/20th Tunnel” option rejected in Level 1 scoping. The shorter the tunnel, the less costly the option. The limiting factors preventing the tunnel from being even shorter are (1) a maximum 5% grade and (2) allowance of 25 feet between the top of the tunnel and the bottom of the ship canal. 

In order to reach the shortest possible tunnel, it is necessary to bridge over the BNSF rail yard. I acknowledge that would generally be unwise, but in a later section, I explain why this route is different; why it is uniquely feasible.

There is no practical route using a high fixed bridge to reach a station on 20th Avenue, because of impacts on the legally protected Ballard Landmark District. A tunnel is the only way to do it that does not sacrifice quality.

This option has two additional advantages. It has a net reduction in properties taken, thereby reducing cost further. By eliminating a curve, the Interbay station can actually be at Dravus Street, a better location.

Continue reading “A Better Ballard Option for Link”


Graham Johnson, KIRO:

Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.

That could rise even more, between about $500 million and $2 billion, if Sound Transit decides to enhance the routes beyond the basic alignment approved by voters.

“Tunnels are really more expensive, said Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s Executive Corridor Director for West Seattle and Ballard.

The costs of the representative alignment are creeping up.

The accompanying video segment is excellent as well. The content won’t be surprising to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s really well put together and does a good job of explaining the high-level tradeoffs.

Watching it I was struck by how far we’ve come as a region: zero minutes of airtime are given to light rail opponents. Everyone interviewed supports the project. 10 years ago this same piece would have had at least one person talking about how buses are better and light rail is a waste of money.

See also: Seattle Magazine touting the best neighborhoods near light rail. Remember when the Freeman-backed Bellevue City Council fought like hell to keep Link away? You don’t hear much about that anymore.

Durkan asks FTA for Chinatown/International District comment extension

4th and 5th Avenues South in Chinatown. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt.

Yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan petitioned the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to extend the environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping period for the West Seattle-Ballard Link extension by 15 days, in order to solicit more comment on the planned second Chinatown/International District (CID) station.

Durkan’s request is a result of lobbying from CID community leaders. Under present plans, the EIS scoping period will end on March 18.

“We are supportive of the request by residents, civic, and business leaders of the Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square neighborhoods for a scoping extension for gathering comments for the [West Seattle-Ballard] project,” Durkan wrote in a letter to the FTA’s regional administrator, Linda Gehrke.

Continue reading “Durkan asks FTA for Chinatown/International District comment extension”

Pellicciotti / Transit Advocates Working to Close the Gap on HB 2123

Will a Federal Way state representative’s bill delay Federal Way Link’s opening date?

House Bill 2123 is on the agenda for action by the House Transportation Committee this afternoon (starting at 1:00), but is not expected to pass out of committee yet. Nor have any committee members offered an amendment to the bill by the deadline to do so in order to be part of this afternoon’s consideration. Friday is the deadline for most bills in that committee that aren’t necessary to the state budget. However, this afternoon is the committee’s last scheduled meeting this week.

Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way), prime sponsor of HB 2123, indicated by email that work continues on the bill, and he hopes to moved it forward next week, with the bill being considered “necessary to the budget”, meaning it has no deadline except sine die.

Continue reading “Pellicciotti / Transit Advocates Working to Close the Gap on HB 2123”

Sizing ST4: future rail expansions will be smaller

The northern terminus of the planned Issaquah-South Kirkland line in 2041, and one candidate for a future extension in ST4 (Image by author)

Although we are early in the ST3 program, some observers are already looking forward to extending Link light rail lines into the suburbs and adding more lines in Seattle. The ST3 plan funds several studies of suburban extensions. Current taxes do not support further expansions at the pace of ST3, however. Unless Sound Transit secures another large tax increase, capital spending beyond ST3 will be mostly squeezed out by the costs of managing what has already been built and financing the bonds accumulated in ST3.

The budget for future projects is constrained by Sound Transit’s tax authority. Sound Transit levies nearly all the taxes currently permitted by the Legislature; the only unused authority is a small rental car tax. Any prospect of further authority is hard to forecast. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine today’s Legislature granting more tax authority. Many legislators were unhappy about how the ST3 program far outran the smaller 15-year program they anticipated in 2015, and high car tabs remain unpopular. On the other hand, fifteen years is a long time in politics, and a new generation of legislators in the 2030s may take a sunnier view.

But let’s suppose we are limited by current law, or equivalently that voters resist new taxes. In that scenario, Sound Transit might ask voters in the waning years of the ST3 program to authorize more projects with an extension of current taxes. How much could Sound Transit build with voter approval if they just roll the current law taxes forward indefinitely? Less than you might expect. It turns out that a capital program extended to 2060 would have a run rate perhaps only a third as large as the 2016-2041 program.

Why is this? ST4 will face several constraints that were not present in ST3. Continue reading “Sizing ST4: future rail expansions will be smaller”

ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner

We’re finally here:  ST3 Planning level 3 is where we cut everything but two options and send those on for an environmental impact study. Those options will include a high end options that relies on local funding an an affordable option that doesn’t.  At this point, our primary concern is with the low end options. There is a conversation to be had in the future about whether spending $1.9B on high end ST3 options makes sense and where the money will come from, but that’s a topic for another day.

Right now we need to make sure the affordable options that we send through are acceptable in case additional local funding never comes.  Building on our central concepts of Reliability, Expandability, and Accessibility along with our Level 2 feedback and plea to put riders first, here is what we’re focused on now by station:


Though we’ve heard ST staff say many times that the options are mix and match, we don’t get the impression they mean it when it comes to the Ballard station location.  As we (and others) have said many times a 14th NW station and a drawbridge are both unacceptable.  A drawbridge is an unacceptable reliability compromise for the future or our system.  A station on 14th NW simply doesn’t serve riders west of 15th or transfers well.  A station on 15th NW with entrances on both sides of the street does.

A 14th high bridge crossing with a station on 15th is our minimal expectation for an affordable option.  While it’s not impossible to see local funding via the port come through for a tunnel to Ballard, as the current options stand, the 15th Ave NW tunnel station the only option we can support.  

Continue reading “ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner”

Kirkland’s BRT Design

Kirkland’s preferred option for BRT on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor

Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.

Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.

The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions trails and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.
The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan has walk, bike, and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.

Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.

What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.

Continue reading “Kirkland’s BRT Design”

North by Northwest View 18: What Should I Ask North by Northwest Transit Agencies about…

A Light Rail Driver and A Passenger Wave
My photo: A Light Rail Driver and A Passenger Wave

This should have happened long ago, but with Thursday evening’s Sound Transit 3 meeting knowing Community Transit & Everett Transit & more will be there, thought I’d let you plant some questions into my mind.

I already got several that went from ideas to words, thanks to Mike Orr, so let me start with his help:

  • What is the projected ridership for a Lynnwood – Paine Field – Everett CC corridor and where do those people live?
  • How would workers get from Paine Field Station to their scattered jobs in the Paine Field industrial complex – whether at museums or flight schools or industrial?
  • How will a Link route service Mukilteo and other points west towards the coast?
  • What barriers are there to hourly if not half-hourly transit service from Seaway Transit Station to Hwy 525 & 84th St SW if Community Transit gets its transit levy lift?
  • What if Paine Field does get its passenger terminal – what then in regards for transit?!?
  • What if Sound Transit 3 only has $12 Billion of taxation authority, what then?
  • How does the Mayor of Everett’s Office respond to the current issues around lack of transit ridership to Paine Field?

Plant a few more questions in the comments if you would please.  As I cannot edit this post, I think I’ll post my final question list in the comments as well.  So make sure to follow along here…

North by Northwest 64: Update on Paine Field…

Here in Nikon D5300 Minature Mode is Historic Flight Foundation at 10 AM On Paine Field Aviation Day at 10 AM
My aerial photo: Here in Nikon D5300 Miniature Mode is Historic Flight Foundation at 10 AM On Paine Field Aviation Day at 10 AM^

Figure since many of you in the Seattle Transit Blog comments have some concerns about future Paine Field transit service and in particular light rail… let me give you some updates:

  • Beacon Publishing is doing a survey on transportation with emphasis on the proposed Paine Field passenger terminal.  Some would say supporting a commercial terminal at Paine Field means supporting light rail to Paine Field…
  • Today, and I’m sure this will be covered more thoroughly on Page One, Sound Transit has a new website for ST3.  One part is a survey on what projects for ST3.  If you have an agenda you want to accomplish or help accomplish*… vote and ditto at the upcoming meetings where other local transit agencies will also participate such as the 18 June meeting at Everett Station which I will attend.
  • The Everett Herald kindly posted an update on conversations the Future of Flight and Community Transit are having about weekend transit service to Future of Flight as an initial hydration to the transit desert.  As I said to the Everett Herald, “The Future of Flight deserves a fair slice of service and this is a significant step in that direction.”  I don’t think light rail is that “fair slice of service” any longer but feel the Future of Flight, the #1 tourism destination for Snohomish County with 777.8 daily visitors – many of which international who rely on mass transit back home – needs a “fair slice of service”.  Another option I am now proposing is for that “fair slice of service” being an express bus route from Seaway Transit Center at the east end of the Boeing Paine Field campus to Future of Flight and then Community Transit Route 113…

There you go.


^Yes, I write long photo titles :-).  I also wanted an aerial photo that showed more than the Future of Flight.  Below Historic Flight Foundation/HFF will be a major park & ride in a few years.
*Help accomplish like light rail to Ballard, I just expect support for more, better bus service to all Paine Field tenants in return from you commentors.


First, these are my personal views after spending several hours doing other work to calm down after reading some hand-wringing over ST3.   After reading the hand-wringing and hearing the gawdawful sissy excuse-making below from The Stranger, one must wonder if Seattle legislators have the right guts & glory to get ST3’s flag on the hill so voters can decide without a Drill Sergeant giving them discipline & focus:

In an April 1 meeting, Ric Ilgenfritz, Sound Transit’s Executive Director of Planning, Environment and Project Development, issued a warning to a group of a transit advocates: “If one person gets pissed off, this whole thing can crash.”

Well, here’s one person who’s already pissed off: Representative Reuven Carlyle, the Democrat whose district covers downtown Seattle, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Ballard.

“I’m pretty sure that as much as we’re committed as a delegation and a region to being 110 percent supportive of Sound Transit, [ST3] didn’t come down from Mount Sinai written in stone,” Carlyle told me yesterday, his voice cracking at times with almost Biblical anger. “Just because they want it doesn’t, in and of itself, make it religiously pure.”

“They’re asking for taxing authority that comes out of our pocket,” Carlyle adds. “Of course they would like it. I would like ice cream as well.”

Carlyle’s beef with ST3 is that it relies, in part, on what he says is the state’s portion of property tax authority, which he believes the state needs in order to properly fund education. In other words, he fears we’re about to sacrifice education funding on the altar of improved mass transit.

Sound Transit has requested a property tax of up to 25 cents per $1,000 property value to fund ST3. “That $0.25 is ‘in the gap,'” Carlyle explains, “meaning it effectively uses the state’s portion of the property tax.”

. . .

“Reuven’s concerns are legitimate,” says Farrell (D-North Seattle), “and are something that are shared, as we’re trying to figure out the McCleary [education funding] issue.”

It’s up to the Seattle delegation to play hardball, she argues, against the Republicans, who are pitting transportation against education. “My constituents care about trains and they care about education,” she says. “In an ideal world, we’re not having these debates next to each other.”

Newsflash: Rep. Carlyle with much business experience (i.e. he can actually make a decision and I wish he’d have spoken up last year) might actually have a point and I would encourage you to read the whole article before passing judgement on his concerns.  I’m sure in the next 24 hours oh… the Washington Policy Center Transportation Pundit that I’ve helpfully passed the link to, the Seattle Transit Blog main page, and G*d knows who else is going to pounce on this as an excuse to kill ST3.

Now our supposedly reliable ally Rep. Farrell who according to her bio is, “an attorney with a focus on mediation, and her past professional experience includes working as the Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, an organization dedicated to expanding bus, rail, bicycle and pedestrian transportation options. Her biggest accomplishment – bringing together transit and road advocates in support of transportation initiatives that secured billions in transit funding – is also a top priority in Olympia” is seemingly about to drop out of the ST3 fight.  Oh and smearing Republicans is a) really ignorant and b) a really quick way to get ST3 killed – we North by Northwesters are fighting hard just to save a basic bus inter-county connector route with bipartisan opposition both behind us and in front of us.

Hey Representative Farrell: It’s not Republicans who are pitting transportation against education and it’s bipartisan Senate negotiating team who put on the table 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax increase for Sound Transit.  It’s Sound Transit knowing voters might get nervous at using other taxation authority decided to request 25 cents per $1,000 of property value.  Furthermore, I agree that;

Screwing around with ST3 risks scuttling its chances altogether, according to Transportation Choices Policy Director Andrew Austin. “The Sound Transit board asked for this suite of taxes for a reason,” he says, “and removing one of the three legs of this funding proposal could jeopardize ST3 both politically and financially.”

So Rep. Farrell, got anything to say for yourself?  Personally, I hope you tonight get yourself in a quiet room, pull yourself together via mediation as I have, apologize to Republicans – especially the Republicans who’ve compromised to get ST3 this far & who’ve carried the torch for transit like me, and bounce back realizing ST3 is imperfect but one of the big things we need for Seattle, Paine Field and a few other under served areas.  It’s beyond time to fall in, salute and get ready for one last gallant rush up Curtis Hill on the Yakima Firing Range in a somewhat cynical political version of “the King of the Hill” playground game to raise the ST3 flag like in another playground game called “Capture the Flag”.  HOO-RAH and fall in!

Oh and you guys wanna fiddle with the tax code – put it to voters in 2016 as an initiative and maybe many if not most of us writing & reading at STB will vote for it :-).  We just don’t have time for Tax Policy 101 at the 2 minute warning here.  Just get ST3 on the ballot and learn next time, the appropriate time to speak up to fix a major project proposal is when the proposals are being drafted and put through committee – as I very much spoke up last year.  Not when we’ve got to get a transportation package out of the State House, reconcile with the State Senate, then have the two chambers vote on reconciliation, then get the Governor’s signature and then off to the 2016 campaign – all within the next two weeks.  A lot is riding on ST3 and that transportation package, please keep this in mind.

Again, these are my personal views.  I’m rather strident in them not just because of the Paine Field angle – that I’m willing to compromise on, but because we need to replace Sounder North with something safer & better, we need a state transportation package, Snohomish County needs light rail at least to Lynnwood – preferably Everett, and I’m convinced we need Seattle to have east-west subways.  We North by Northwesters also desperately, oh so desperately need congestion relief – and that’s mass transit where 1% of the vehicles take 25% of the commuters off of I-5!!!