Take Part in New West Seattle and Ballard Link Light Rail Open House

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Ballard Link's Salmon Bay high bridge crossing at 15th. (Sound Transit)

Ahead of their mid-2021 release and comment period of the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Sound Transit has updated their open house page. In preparation of the comment period, the transit agency provides new details on the environmental review process, alternatives being studied in the Draft EIS, and potential station details and transportation contexts.

Immediately, a delay in the extensions’ environmental review process stands out as an important development in the updated website. Previously reported late 2020 and 2022 releases for the draft and final EIS have respectively been shifted to the mentioned mid-2022 and 2023. The delay in environmental review is also reflected in a delayed completion date of the extensions to 2031 for West Seattle and 2036 for Ballard from 2030 and 2035.

New Station Details

Going out of order, details on stations and their contexts are where the open house introduces most of its new information. Initially explored are concepts for elevated stations, and context outlined for existing and potential pedestrian, bike, and bus infrastructure–a priority highlighted in gathered feedback–for all of the stations. The agency constructed a website that allows readers to compare station alternatives and their transportation infrastructure for each station alternative to be reviewed in the draft EIS.

This map shows the alignment and station options under consideration in the Draft EIS. (Sound Transit)

For example, visitors can flip through the illustrations of the elevated 14th Avenue NW station preferred by Sound Transit for a Ballard station. The station’s gallery of images gives the visitor an idea of conceptual and existing transportation infrastructure. Below that slideshow are galleries of the other three Ballard alternatives. Elevated station concepts for Ballard all have access to both sides of either 14th Avenue NW or 15th Avenue NW with pedestrian bridge and mezzanine level access. Like some existing stations, bike storage and new bike routes would be built out.

These initial concepts are based on the feedback from the online open house held in the fall of 2019. While each future station’s surrounding community had their own sets of popular values, walkability and accessibility was an uniting thread for the vast majority of the communities. This shows up in the sheer number of mezzanines and pedestrian bridges that appear in the initial concepts.

More information on stations and their initial station planning concepts will be shared when the Draft EIS is published.

Mulling over the alignment alternatives again

Jumping back to the alternatives, Sound Transit gives us visuals for Motion No. M2019-51, which designated alternatives for the Draft EIS to include, and Motion No. M2019-104, which added more alternatives based on community feedback and political pressure. The agency’s board approved preferred alternatives, alternatives that require third-party funding, and other alternatives for the Draft EIS to include. Sound Transit has divided the extensions into five sections, West Seattle, SoDo, Chinatown/International District, Downtown, and Interbay/Ballard.

Most represented alternatives have already been whittled down to two to four options for each section of the extension. Standing out is Avalon that branches into a chaotic five to seven alignments to the Alaska Junction station. Motion M2019-104 introduced a few of those alignments when it officially added the elevated Andover Street station as a Delridge alternative, which added two more alignment options that had downstream effects for Avalon/Alaska Junction. Note that the preferred options are all elevated, and all other options require tunneling and additional third-party funding at some point.

Courtesy of Sound Transit – Elevated Andover street station is the northernmost light blue bar. Preferred alternative is in magenta, preferred with third-party funding is in red, other to be reviewed also in light blue.

Moving northward, we pass the Duwamish crossing–whose elevated crossing got recently some attention when Mayor Durkan suggested multimodal options for it–and encounter a refined mixed-profile station alternative for SoDo that elevates the alignment of the West Seattle Extension line earlier than other options. This option is the only other update in M2019-104. It elevates a new SoDo station, retains the existing SoDo Station at-grade and Lander Street at-grade, and constructs a new Holgate Street overcrossing.

Courtesy of Sound Transit – A concept for a mixed-profile station alternative for SODO.

From Chinatown-International District to Ballard there is no change since Stephen Fesler described the alternatives in The Urbanist. For Chinatown, a new alignment will either be just east or just west of the existing line. Downtown alternatives are either a tunnel along 5th Avenue and then west on Harrison Street and Republican Street, or a tunnel along 6th Avenue and then west on Mercer Street. Interbay/Ballard is a choice of west or east of Interbay Golf Center, and then 14th Avenue NW or 15th Avenue NW in Ballard with or without a tunnel.

Note that absent from any Draft EIS updates is a 20th Avenue NW tunnel station option for Ballard that had just been designated for study and not inclusion for the draft, so far. It’s been over a year since more alternatives were added to the Draft EIS, so we might be stuck with a station on 14th or 15th Avenue. It’s unfortunate that a Ballard station could be so off-center from the neighborhood’s established density, and relatively poor on accessibility for many in Ballard, but locating it on 14th Avenue NW or 15th Avenue NW could provide impetus to upzone some of the single-family zones in the eastern part of Ballard. Plus, an elevated station, particularly on 15th Avenue NW, would be primed for northward extension in the future and at less expense.

A long road toward construction

The open house ends with a note on staying engaged. It offers opportunity to get project news, announcements, and public involvement opportunities to your email, urges visitors to share the information, and links video resources on the project. There is even space to comment on ways that the agency can engage the reader, request a virtual briefing for a group, or email or speak with an outreach specialist by phone.

With the delay from Covid-19 impacts, Sound Transit is now targeted mid-2021 for publication of the Draft EIS, with a final EIS expected to be published in 2023. The extensions are still very early in their timelines and Covid and recession could continue to bog down the process. More discussion on potential delays will come in 2021’s realignment talks between the Board, setting up Seattle’s light rail infrastructure for potentially major effects, as the 130th Street station’s opening will also be decided then.

The next comment period will come with the Draft EIS. Stay involved, as it is of utmost importance to get the West Seattle and Ballard extensions done right. To reiterate past articles, the Ballard and Alaska Junction stations are just temporary end points right now. Sound Transit is planning them for forward compatibility, so we need to get the most out of these stations to give future expansion the best connections possible.

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Shaun Kuo is a junior editor at The Urbanist and a recent graduate from the UW's Jackson School. He is a Seattle native that has lived in Wallingford, Northgate, and Lake Forest Park. He enjoys exploring the city by bus and foot.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I agree making estimates decades out during a pandemic has inherent risks, and even when not in a pandemic some of the assumptions for 2050 in the Cascadia Report and PSRC 2050 Vision Statement were questionable to me. As John Maynard Keynes famously said, in the long term we are all dead.

    However the transit agencies themselves are making adjustments to future service levels, budgets, and timelines today. For example, Metro plans to reduce ridership 25% by 2026 and maintain that reduced level through 2040 (and has recently diverted north end service to south Seattle for purposes of equity).

    ST just acknowledged the pandemic and expected moderate recession will likely extend its construction timeline by five years. https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/11/24/sound-transit-expects-better-revenue-recovery-but-still-lengthy-project-delays/ Personally I think these extra delays, questions over ST’s project cost estimates baked into the five year delay, and “optimistic” estimates of future ridership even pre-pandemic, will lead communities like Ballard and West Seattle to demand no loss of car capacity in any bridge decision as a safety.

  2. What you people don’t understand is that light rail anywhere only is effective if enough people need to go to locations within a quarter mile of the stations enough times each week. That isn’t going to be the case in the Seattle region, or any of the other metro areas served by light rail in the US, because employers won’t be demanding sufficient numbers of employees commute daily to station areas (or even renting/owning dense worksites near station areas). The validity of Sound Transit’s rail demand forecasts is one of the casualties of the new normal of employment demands with respect to daily commuting.

    • hmm, it might make sense to run a gondola along Market St with stops at the Locks and Leary as a feeder to 14th Ave station.

    • You’re relying on an antiquated modeling of transit demand if you only count work trips. Most trips aren’t work commutes. Places like Ballard are dynamic, with housing density, some job density, and have a major nightlife/culinary scene. Some portion of the work from home trend may linger after Covid is contained, it’s true. But people will want to get back to eating out, visiting cafes and bars, parks, shops, and cultural institution with a vengeance.

  3. You mean the half mile stretch with stations on either side? Yeah, putting stations under a densely populated spot may have its own problems but it sure looks like they didn’t just forget it.

  4. Are there updated ridership projections for this extension? With remote working continuing for a large percentage of the local workforce much of each month, the projected ridership may not justify this particular line.

    • Paul, the train isn’t only for white collar tech commuters, and it is doubtful ridership will be meaningfully impacted by whatever increase in work-from-home percentages of the overall workforce. If anything, the induced demand of rapid transit provided by Link from West Seattle to Ballard will make us wonder why it took us this long to build the line in the first place.

      • Light rail use is down 85% on weekdays, compared to 2019. Light rail not only does not “induce demand,” it is proving worse than useless now that half the still-employed adults in this region work remotely. It’s not just here — this is what’s happening with light rail all over the country — remote working killed ridership projections the transit fans tout so loudly.

        • Seems a little early to project pandemic conditions out that far into the future. Why would a pandemic year be a good baseline for ridership in 2036? Give it a rest.

        • Remote work is temporary. Of course ridership is down in the midst of a global pandemic. When this passes, the ridership will explode.

    • I don’t think it’s possible to project post-pandemic ridership, given all the unknowns. Plus, we’re talking about 2031 and 2036 ridership that would give transit ridership to normalize IF there was post-pandemic hesitance to transit and IF work from home were to fade for the most part.

    • In response to Paul W. What a ridiculous idea…. The pandemic is a blip in the greater picture. Remote work is not as productive for companies as in person work. Big Tech keeps investing in new office space, like it or not. Every metro system in the USA has higher ridership between downtown areas than suburban areas to downtown. The seattle population will continue to grow, with climate change people and companies will start moving north from southern california texas and arizona. People will ride this line, in fact it will be a disaster for the city long term if this line is not built.

      • Just today I got stuck in traffic going to SoDo. Yeah, ridership is down for now, while people are scared to leave their homes and their cars. Even with remote work, even if actual job demographics don’t change for two decades after the pandemic (thoroughly unimaginable, to be frank), with just normal population growth and people who normally would take public transit when it isn’t life threatening getting back on, there is plenty of expected riderships.

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