Opponents of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) love to say that Seattle doesn’t get that many stations. To take a cue from Trump’s debating style: Wrong! One skeptic, state senator Reuven Carlyle, gets six new stations and one expanded station in his district alone. All told ST3 would bring Seattle ten new stations, four expanded stations, and two infill stations. It would also bring what could qualify for true bus rapid transit (BRT) to Seattle for the first time with the Madison BRT project that would better connect First Hill, Central District, and southeastern Capitol Hill.

Nonetheless, it’s true that some neighborhoods will not be reached by light rail improvements on their doorsteps. However, ST3 puts Sound Transit in a position to grow. The Ballard Station in particular invites an extension with many dense and growing neighborhoods nearby. Seattle Subway sensed the opportunity with its long-term maps which show two dashed lines from Ballard’s station.

Dashed lines represent possible expansions. By Alaska Junction they meant Morgan Junction. (Seattle Subway)
Dashed lines represent possible expansions. By Alaska Junction they meant Morgan Junction. (Seattle Subway)

Which direction would make for the more convenient extension could depend on the Salmon Bay crossing–if it remains a movable bridge in this ecologically sensitive area or whether the environmental impact process pushes Sound Transit to use a tunnel crossing and thus an underground Ballard Station. With a movable bridge, elevated rail to Ballard High School and Crown Hill makes more sense. Elevated rail to UW through Fremont and Wallingford wasn’t studied, perhaps because the right-of-way is pretty narrow along 45th Street making such a plan obtrusive. 15th Ave NW and Holman Road, however, do have the benefit of width.

Potential alignments for light rail extensions from Ballard. (Esri)
Potential alignments for light rail extensions from Ballard with a 2012 density map. Brown represents census tracts with at least 10,000 residents per square mile. (ArcGIS)

In 2015, Sound Transit studied extending elevated light rail to NW 65th St (near Ballard High School) and found that would cost between $351 million and $375 million. That isn’t peanuts, but, if Sound Transit was able to achieve some cost savings or secure larger grants than it thought, it seems conceivable the NW 65th St station could be added as part of ST3. Elevated rail to NW 85th St (Crown Hill) would seemingly add a similar cost, maybe slightly more for a mile of track versus the half-mile to Ballard High School.

An extension to NW 65th St would add 2,000 to 3,000 daily boardings by Sound Transit conservative projection. (Sound Transit)
An extension to NW 65th St would add 2,000 to 3,000 daily boardings by Sound Transit’s conservative projection. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit did study a Ballard-to-UW subway and found it would cost about $3 billion including an operations and maintenance facility. Now, if we got an underground Ballard Station and crossing, then we could make a turn to the east and continue on to the UW. The line would no longer require a separate operations and maintenance facility (since it would be an extension rather than a standalone line) and it would cover the cost of the Ballard station. That would mean savings which would cover the cost of adding another station at 8th Ave NW to cover East Ballard, West Woodland, and southern Phinney Ridge.

Ballard to UW light rail would take just 7 minutes to travel 3.4 miles. (Sound Transit)
West
The extension from West Seattle Junction to Burien would pick up some tracts with at least 10,000 residents per square mile. (ArcGIS)

Sound Transit also studied extending elevated light rail from West Seattle Junction to Burien Transit Center along a jagged course. Its estimated cost would be between $2.7 billion and $2.9 billion for a projected ridership between 10,000 and 15,000. The train would cover the 9.1 miles in 22 minutes and take 12 minutes more to Downtown. The plan calls for six stations at Burien Transit Center, SW 128th St, White Center, Westwood Village, High Point, and Morgan Junction.

Elevated light rail from West Seattle to Burien would cost about $2.8 billion. (Sound Transit)
Elevated light rail from West Seattle to Burien would cost about $2.8 billion. (Sound Transit)

ST3 reaching Ballard and West Seattle Junction is a great first step. Some skeptics argue ST3 would be the last ballot initiative the region passes. However, with expansions to the enticing destinations of Fremont, Wallingford, and Crown Hill within reach from Ballard Station, an ST4 package seems inevitable and it’s remains largely a matter of what funds it. Perhaps King County or Seattle must go it alone but, one way or the other, Seattle voters are likely to want more light rail and vote to get it.

Filling out most of the Seattle Subway map above would appear to cost about $6 billion in 2014 dollars. That doesn’t seem so insurmountable.

  • $800 million for Ballard to Crown Hill elevated light rail;
  • $3 billion for Ballard to UW subway; and
  • $2.8 billion for West Seattle to Burien elevated light rail.

So vote for Regional Proposition 1 to set our transit system on a trajectory to spread the benefits of high capacity transit to every corner of Seattle. And read our full endorsements here.

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Doug Trumm is the Publication Director at The Urbanist. He joined the exodus to Seattle in 2014, leaving behind his home state of Minnesota. Living on disputed land between Wallingford and Fremont, he is doing his best to improve both neighborhoods. He is a grad student at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and a marketing intern at King County Metro. His views are his own and do not represent his employer.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Much will depend on future growth patterns. Looking at north Seattle: Will Crown Hill growth significantly with an up-zone? Wallingford and Phinney Ridge are currently dense but will they grow at all or be eclipsed by growth elsewhere? Will there be so much growth along the E-line corridor that it demands an upgrade to rail? It will be fun to watch how the city grows in the next 4~8 years and how the transportation needs of the city evolve.

    Another important ST3 decision is on the north Lake Washington crossing. If it leverages 520 or a Sandpoint crossing, that will boost the odds of a Ballard-UW line.

    • My guess is next census the tracts around crown hill station will all be 10k plus (as well as the ones from 65th to 85th). There is quite a bit of construction and future development going on around there. Right now, a 105 unit building is going in next to dicks, 21 townhomes by the value village, 3 four story buildings under development between 85th and 87th on the west side of 15th, an 83 unit apodment at 83rd, a 54 unit building south of 80th and a 53 unit building at 75th.

  2. A major factor for a ballard UW line is what it will connect to on the eastside.

    It will be much easier to fund this the eastside is contributing, which will only happen if it’s providing significant value to them.

    Option 1: The other side would pop up in kirkland. From there it could go south and connect up with the south kirkland/issaquah line. The main value of that line would be to give the eastside an easy commute to UW.

    This is the most obvious win, and probably was in the mind of Sound Transit when they made the issaquah line.

    Option 2: would assume that the south kirkland station is already extended up to kirkland and perhaps up 405 in ST4. Then it could make sense for the UW/Ballard line could continue east from kirkland to redmond and microsoft. This would create a triangle where Kirkland, Redmond and Bellevue commuters could all make direct trips.

    However, option 2 would only make more sense if the eastside became a lot denser and less car centric. In 40 years that could certainly be the case.

    • ST already determined that Everett to Tacoma would be too long a line. (Work breaks, etc). Hence, breaking the current line up in ST3.

      Tacoma to Issaquah via Ballard would be even longer.

      I think a more likely solution would be to have the Issaquah line terminate in Ballard. The Tacoma to Ballard line would still terminate in Ballard somewhere as planned.

      The Issaquah line already needs its own maintenance facilities, so no need to build a new one for Ballard to UW.

      The current plan for the Issaquah line has it terminating near the 520 crossing – seemingly poised to cross the lake into North Seattle.

      There is just the very expensive matter of the lake crossing and North End tunnel.

      Here is what I imagine it could look like if we hit the new president federal funding sweepstakes and get frequent stops in the North End https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/de4481ffef6009b45e085fc27160434af63818f8f2fd2da4b15a673fcd098850.png :

      • I don’t believe Issaquah will need it’s own maintenance facilities, as it will have easy access to the OMS adjacent to Wilburton station.

        I agree that Ballard to Issaquah via Bellevue is the best choice from an operational point of view. Given Ballard trains will be coming from Tacoma, it would be much too long. It may, however, be feasible to terminate at UW – getting from Ballard to East King would be a two seat ride, either via east link or via a 520 bus. But right now, I think a short extension north along 15th is most likely.

        The current terminus at South Kirkland yield three compelling options – 1) cross the lake immediately via 520, 2) cross the lake with a tunnel after passing through downtown Kirkland (i.e. a Sandpoint crossing), or 3) simply turn north to serve Kirkland and head towards Totem Lake.

        Which of these three options should be pursued next may depend on how well the existing bus infrastructure is working 10~15 years from now. If 405 HOT can’t handle the bus demand coming from northern East King & Snohomish, maybe that corridor merits an upgrade to light rail (option 3)? Maybe the 520 bus lanes work great and we don’t need to build an entirely new rail crossing of Lake Washington? We shall see.

        • “I agree that Ballard to Issaquah via Bellevue is the best choice from an operational point of view. Given Ballard trains will be coming from Tacoma, it would be much too long. ”

          Perhaps I was unclear in my post. I do not think the Tacoma to Ballard line will continue to UW. Instead, the Tacoma line would end in Ballard either at Market where planned or further to the north.

          The Issaquah line would ALSO end in Ballard but as a line entirely seperate from the Tacoma to Ballard line. See my little map I inserted.

          Cheers.

          • Right – I meant to agree with you, sorry if that was unclear.

            Love the map, though I’d quibble with the routing east of U District. I think U Villiage is a better station location than Childrens, though arguably a line could have both as it’s about 1 mile between 25th Ave & 40th Ave. More importantly, I think ST is going to look long & hard at leveraging the existing 520 bridge to cross the lake, given it should be significantly cheaper than building an entirely new tunnel.

            Why the station underneath I5?

          • “Why the station underneath I5?”
            The UD station will be over capacity after the effects of the rezone are realized.

            Putting another station in the neighborhood will alleviate that.

            As for U Village v. Children’s, I agree 100%. But institutions have played an enormous role in deciding where the stops are. (See Paine Field, Salmon Bay, etc). If Children’s pushes for it, our politicians will give it to them for image purposes.

    • Assuming the current subarea equity policy, I’d imagine the cost of any Lake Washington crossing would be split equally between North & East King. If the U district grows into a 2nd downtown, that should be a compelling use case for East King.

  3. Well, that is an optimistic way to put things. Basically, Sound Transit, after another electoral victory, decides to completely change course and build what makes sense for the region. I am an optimist, but I would consider that highly unlikely.

    Meanwhile, your map seems to reflect Sound Transit’s failed thinking more than it does a logical approach to transit. It has Ballard to UW, but when it extends, it extends the wrong direction. Just look at a census map, and ask yourself why this goes to the very low density area east of the UW, while ignoring the very high density corridor of 24th. Maybe it is because that area over there (around Laurelhurst) is growing rapidly, while 24th remains stuck in the mud. Oh, wait, it is the opposite.

    There really is no reason to go east of the UW. Kirkland is a very low density area, and so is the rest of it. Making matters worse, you would have no stops for several miles (the fish don’t ride transit). So basically you are building an extremely expensive line, with only a handful of riders. That is silly. The 520 bridge functions really well as a transit corridor. All that you need is a good connection from the busway to the transit station (at Husky Stadium). Oh, and who is paying for this new bridge (or tunnel) anyway? Is Seattle paying for half of this instead of building a new Metro 8 subway?

    Speaking of which, this is the long term plan that Sound Transit has: https://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/lrp_map.png. Notice there is no Metro 8 subway (or anything at all for the Central Area). Despite being the most densely populated area without major rail service (and remaining so after ST3) it gets ignored so we can focus on such critical corridors as Sumner to Fredrickson, or Mill Creek to Woodinville. Sound Transit seems fixated on serving low density areas with rail, and only serving Seattle when it is “on the way”.

    The only way to change this mindset is to demand better planning, and that starts with saying no to the current package that exemplifies this thinking.

    • East of UW = all of East King. Kirkland is not the destination, it is simply on the way to either Bellevue or Overlake.

      As to Seattle, neither West Seattle nor Ballard are “on the way,” they are destinations in ST3.

      Stop looking at population density maps and look at Seattle’s future land use map. Between LRT & Madison BRT, ST3 fully covers the urban core as defined by the city – Uptown, SLU, downtown, and First Hill – and builds lines to WS and Ballard, two of the 5 hub villages not current covered by ST2.

      Is it a bummer that, say, Fremont or Lake City isn’t getting rail? Sure. Is it a tragedy that someone in the Central District can’t get a one seat ride to the Seattle Center? No, not really.

      For all your lament of central Seattle not getting service, 23rd & Union-Jackson is the only residential village in central Seattle that isn’t being showered with HCT in ST3. Uptown & SLU will have rail, and First Hill & Madison-Mill with have BRT. What more do you want?

      Metro 8 was a poor idea to begin with, connecting adjacent neighborhoods while ignoring the two most important transit destinations – the CBD, and the regional transit hub at King Station. ST3 will build 1-seat rides for the majority of daily transit trips within Seattle.

      ST3 will render Metro 8 completely unnecessary. #25 on that map should cover all of Metro 8 that won’t be built in ST3.

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