Sound Transit open house at Union Station on Feb 20, 2018. (Doug Trumm)

Last month, Sound Transit presented the Level 1 Alternatives Screening recommendations for the Ballard and West Seattle light rail extensions to the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG). The recommendations produced somewhat unexpected results after extensive feedback from community members, SAG, and Elected Leadership Group. First Hill was fully removed from consideration in an unceremonious and questionable manner by the transit agency’s lawyer, an International District-Chinatown station at 4th Ave S will be considered in the next screening round, and Salmon Bay tunnels are still in the running despite Sound Transit’s long-standing aversion to any underwater tunnels to Ballard.

The results of the Level 1 Alternatives Screening recommendations will be fed through the Level 2 process, which will unfold over the course of this summer.

What’s Still Under Consideration

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The Ballard and West Seattle extensions are broken into four distinct segments for the purposes of evaluation: West Seattle/Duwamish, SoDo and International District-Chinatown, Downtown Seattle, and Interbay/Ballard. Each segment retains review of the original Representative Project alignment as an alternative going into Level 2 review. However, Sound Transit has picked the following alternatives by segment for further review:

  • West Seattle Duwamish: Pigeon Ridge/West Seattle Tunnel, West Seattle Bridge/Fauntleroy, Yancy Street/West Seattle Tunnel, Oregon Street/Alaska Junction, and West Seattle Golf Course/ Alaska Junction;
  • SoDo and International District-Chinatown: Massachusetts Tunnel Portal and Surface E-3;
  • Downtown Seattle: 5th/Mercer, 5th/Harrison, 6th/Boren/Roy, 8th/6th/Republican, and 5th/Roy/Consolidated SLU Station; and
  • Interbay/Ballard: Elliott/15th/16th/Fixed Bridge, West of BNSF/20th/17th/Fixed Bridge, West of BNSF/20th/17th/Tunnel, East of BNSF/14th/Movable Bridge, Elliott/Armory Way/14th/Tunnel, and West of BNSF/20th/Tunnel.

West Seattle/Duwamish

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Alternatives still under consideration for West Seattle and the Duwamish. (Sound Transit)

Two alternatives were eliminated from the West Seattle and Duwamish segment. The Level 2 process will look at how to serve the community around the Delridge station better across options and evaluated wheterh shifting the Avelson station west to Fauntleroy Ave SW improves overall access. In terms of the Alaska Juntion stop, Sound Transit will play with what planners describe as “mix-n-match” options with the station located on on 44th Ave SW, 42nd Ave SW, and Fauntleroy Way SW. Specific changes to the general alternatives may include:

  • Oregon Street/Alaska Junction Elevated: The alignment could be shifted just south of the West Seattle Bridge instead. The Level 1 analysis considered the alignment running north of the bridge.
  • Oregon Street/Alaska Junction Tunnel: Instead of running the alignment elevated from Alaska Junction from Avalon, Sound Transit will look an tunnel alternative to see if it performs better.
  • West Seattle Golf Course/Alaska Junction: This alternative will include two possible refinements that would avoid any impacts to the golf course to please the Federal Transit Administration and add an extra stop between the Delridge and Alaska Junction stops. The modified alignment would run just north of the golf course on SW Avalon Way.

SoDo and International District-Chinatown

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Alternatives still under consideration for SoDo and Chinatown-International District. (Sound Transit)

Several possible refinements to the alternatives that will be further evaluated in the Level 2 process.

For the Massachusetts Tunnel Portal alternative, Sound Transit will consider modified option to an elevated alignment over S Lander St. Instead, a new roadway S Lander St overpass could be constructed allowing for both the West Seattle extension and South Link line to be built at-grade providing equal benefits to the lines for grade-separation. Additionally, the SoDo station for the West Seattle extension could then be similarly constructed at-grade.

With strong community support for an International District-Chinatown station at 4th Ave S, Sound Transit has indicated a willingness to consider a station there instead of 5th Ave S. This could possibly mean better integration with King Street Station, existing Chinatown/International District Station, and reuse of Union Station.

Downtown Seattle

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Alternatives still under consideration for Downtown Seattle, South Lake Union, and Uptown. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has eliminated three alternatives for the segment through the city center and Uptown. The remaining alternatives will largely be analyzed in Level 2 as they were presented at the Level 1 stage. However, Sound Transit has indicated some common threads for refinements, such as: how South Lake Union station locations at Harrison St and Roy Street might be able to integrate with local transit, shifting the Denny Way station further east to Terry Ave N, and developing a hybrid corridor from proposed routes between the South Lake Union and Seattle Center stations. Two specific alternatives will also be evaluated with some modest tweaks:

  • 5th/Harrison: Sound Transit will take a look at if a station near Denny Way might perform better is placed further south thereby expanding the overall walkshed and ridership catchment. The South Lake Union station near SR-99 could be shifted so as not to conflict with the highway.
  • 6th/Boren/Roy: For the Seattle Center station, placement of the stop will be considered further south so that it could better serve Seattle Center proper. Further east, a shift to the South Lake Union station and overall alignment will be evaluated so that it avoids conflicts with the sewer system near Roy Street.


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Alternatives still under consideration for Interbay and Ballard. (Sound Transit)

Only one alternative for the Interbay and Ballard segment was eliminate from Level 2 evaluation. Sound Transit will consider some changes to the Smith Cove and Interbay stations, such as ways to improve multimodal access and reduce impacts to Elliot Ave W and 15th Ave W. Several other possible refinements include:

  • Elliott/15th/16th/Fixed Bridge: For 15th Ave NW, Sound Transit wants to consider ways to reduce potential impacts that elevated rail north of the Salmon Bay bridge could create.
  • Elliott/Armory Way/14th/Tunnel: Instead of located the Ballard station in the industrial area, Sound Transit will look at shifting it just outside for better compatibility and ridership.
  • East of BNSF/14th/Movable Bridge: Similar to the other 14th Ave NW option, Sound Transit will consider a Ballard station outside the industrial area. Additionally, the Salmon Bay bridge crossing will include an alternative for a fixed bridge instead of a movable one.
  • East of BNSF/15th/Tunnel: This is a new alternative entirely that would blend the East of BNSF/14th/Movable Bridge alternative with the other tunnel options under Salmon Bay. A Ballard station could end up somewhere around 15th Ave NW.

Later this month, Sound Transit will meet with the SAG before refining the alternatives further and providing an update to the Elected Leadership Group in mid-July. Further recommendations will occur in September.

Sound Transit Unveils West Seattle and Ballard Alternatives

Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.