Just a few months ago, Sound Transit released its Draft Plan for the Sound Transit 3 expansion plan. Seattle transit advocates quickly hailed the proposal as a flop for reasons ranging from delivery timelines and at-grade rail to lack of commitments to infill stations and studies for additional light rail extensions. But the Seattle City Council seems to have heard these concerns loud and clear. This week, the Council unanimously passed a resolution that makes five key asks for a Sound Transit 3 package, which includes:

  1. Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan for Seattle. (Sound Transit)
    Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan for Seattle. (Sound Transit)

    Construction of two light rail infill stations, one at S Graham St in South Seattle and another at NE 130th St in North Seattle.

  2. Construction of a Ballard-to-Downtown Seattle light rail line with a new tunnel for regional operations. The Council implores Sound Transit to build the line using a fully grade-separated alignment, preferably via Interbay west east of 15th Ave W. Significantly, the Council requests a Ship Canal tunnel crossing as opposed to a bridge, if program funding or additional revenue becomes available.
  3. Construction of a West Seattle Junction-Downtown Seattle light rail line that is fully grade-separated through West Seattle. The Council additionally requests a tunnel alignment in West Seattle, subject to additional funding becoming available to support such an option.
  4. Inclusion of the Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit project and additional enhancements of the RapidRide C and D lines. The Council requests that these are bumped up as early deliverables in the program to meet immediate needs and growth in the corridors.
  5. Funding for two studies of light rail extension from Ballard to the University District and West Seattle Junction to Burien.

The resolution includes other asks like funding for equitable transit-oriented development as part of projects and more funding emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian facilities to enhance access to transit and build ridership. This no doubt is a huge turnaround from what the Seattle Department of Transportation requested just a year ago: analysis of an at-grade line on 15th Ave W through Interbay, a mutli-use movable bridge over Salmon Bay, and mere requests for evaluation of the Graham St and 130th St infill stations.

In the resolution, the Council also reiterated the City’s commitments to ensuring that Sound Transit 3 moves ahead smoothly through permitting and environmental review:

The City pledges to develop an agreement with Sound Transit for delivering ST3 projects that could include establishing an inter-agency team made up of Sound Transit project managers and City department directors or managers; a Mayor-appointed coordinator to manage the City’s efforts across departments while also serving as a single point of contact for Sound Transit project staff; and tools, processes and potential code amendments necessary to streamline permitting and facilitate other regulatory procedures.

Such an agreement will necessarily depend on Sound Transit providing a commensurate level of executive commitment, financial planning and staff resources to effectuate our mutual desire for accelerated project development. The City hopes such an agreement will be in place to immediately begin work, if voters approve the ST3 measure in November.

Tomorrow, Sound Transit will release their updated draft plan for the ST3 package. With the Council having largely endorsed the platform of Seattle transit advocates, will Sound Transit heed the advice?

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.