West Seattle – Ballard Link staggers towards the EIS

The original genius (or sin, if you prefer) of the legislation that created Sound Transit was that it yoked together the region’s high capacity transit needs. The suburbs and the cities had to work together to get what they wanted, or no one would get anything, like a municipal prisoner’s dilemma.

The West Seattle – Ballard link extension (“WSBLE” in Sound Transit’s lingo) is pushing that 25-year-old decision to its limits.  Pierce and Snohomish County reps want WSBLE to be fast and cheap, lest it jeopardize the extensions to Tacoma and Everett (to some of them, WSBLE it isn’t part of the “spine,” so the whole thing is a kind of agency scope creep anyway).  Seattle reps, meanwhile, are hearing an earful from their voters and maritime interests about elevated alignments at the termini.  These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.

Like I said, yoked.

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Broad Support for West Seattle and Salmon Bay Light Rail Tunnels

Troubled bridge over waters. Credit: King County

Letters from businesses, government agencies, and community groups show a citywide desire for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions to be almost entirely tunnels.

Troublingly for Sound Transit, businesses on the Duwamish Waterway made conflicting demands about where to build the bridge that will cross the river mouth, which means a costly legal fight to acquire right of way is likely.

The letters indicate that the ST3 project could be headed towards a higher cost than planned.

That cost could come from several scenarios that would drive expensive litigation and mitigation. The first is a contentious Duwamish crossing, with legal and condemnation battles fought against the Port, maritime businesses, and industrial concerns. The second is a similar fight over land and right of way with neighborhood groups and residents, if their tunneling preferences are ignored.

On the third hand, if the agency does follow public opinion and put trains underground, engineering costs could spike dramatically. In that scenario, Sound Transit would need to either find new sources of revenue (such as the City of Seattle or the Port), find significant cost savings (as occurred with U-Link), or some combination of both. 

Follow these links for letters from stakeholders in businesses, government, and community groups. View a table here of various interests’ positions on specific elements of proposed alignments. Continue reading “Broad Support for West Seattle and Salmon Bay Light Rail Tunnels”

West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square

1st & King SB With the Spring 2019 service change, routes 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, and C Line began serving two stops on 1st Ave. This will be the first time this century that [ed: some of these] southwest Seattle routes will connect directly to Pioneer Square. Both stops are centered on King Street, albeit at the furthest end of the intersection, with the northbound stop closer to Jackson and the southbound stop nearly at Dearborn.

The two stops add an important connection to routes that previously used the viaduct’s Columbia and Seneca ramps, making them an anomaly amongst the rest of the downtown routes as they did not serve any stops in or near Pioneer Square or the International District. With the viaduct out of commission, routes have been traveling along 1st Avenue South making a quick jog on Dearborn to access the new ramps to SR-99. Continue reading “West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square”

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:

Ballard

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.  

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Where Now For The Water Taxi Expansion?

This dock at the Kirkland Marina, currently used by Argosy Cruises, might be a future foot-ferry port
Might this dock at the Kirkland Marina have a Water Taxi in its future? (Photo by the Author)

On February 8, the King County Council accepted the final report on Water Taxi expansion. The Council vote followed an occasionally contentious review at the TrEE (Transportation, Economy and Environment) Committee the week before. No decision was taken on moving forward with the expansion. That’s a budgetary decision to be taken up, if a request is made, as part of the budget process later this year.

The final report refines analysis presented in the interim report, and accommodates some suggestions by the jurisdictions and stakeholders that might be served. But the key findings haven’t changed greatly. Three routes are being considered:

  • Kenmore (Log Boom Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
  • Kirkland (Marina Park) to University of Washington (Waterfront Activity Center)
  • Ballard (Shilshole Marina) to Downtown Seattle (Pier 50).

A few modifications are suggested. In Kenmore, the ferry may eventually serve Lake Pointe where development could create an opportunity for shared parking (initial service would be via Log Boom Park with parking at a remote lot served by shuttle bus). In Kirkland, where downtown parking for transit riders would not be available, a circulator shuttle to bring riders to the Marina is examined. Expedia has asked that the ferry from Shilshole Bay stop at Interbay en route to downtown Seattle.

The revisions to the proposal do not improve expected performance. These are low-ridership high-cost services. At launch, off-season ridership would range between 135 and 165 daily riders per route, growing to 285-370 after 10 years. Summer ridership, boosted by recreational users, would grow from about 300 daily riders on each route to just over 500 after 10 years.

Continue reading “Where Now For The Water Taxi Expansion?”