Light rail for West Seattle? See the progress report given to Sound Transit’s executive committee

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Will West Seattle really get light rail someday?

We have new information today about a study taking a serious look at how it might happen – a precursor to determining if the money, and the will, exist.

It’s in the slide deck above, part of a progress report on Sound Transit’s West Seattle and vicinity light-rail (and more) study, presented to the ST Executive Committee, chaired by King County Executive Dow Constantine. The presentation was given a week ago, but we only heard about it last night, courtesy of Charles B, via Twitter.

To follow up we obtained the slide deck today from Sound Transit, which has the entire meeting on video (not embeddable but you can watch it here – this discussion starts just before the 51-minute mark).

Before taking a look at the toplines – which include four possible light-rail routes and two possible bus routes – consider some context from Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick, who explains that they represent “high-level, conceptual information on the potential alignments, cost ranges, travel times and ridership levels of future high-capacity transit extensions, including light rail as well as bus rapid transit services.”

The discussion in the video elaborates on what you can see in the slides – among the most interesting points, ST has been studying the possibility of light rail generally assuming a new bridge across the Duwamish River would have to be built for it, instead of assuming it could study one or both of the current West Seattle Bridges for repurposing – not that the latter has been ruled out.

West Seattle is part of what Patrick explains is the “corridor between downtown Seattle, West Seattle, Burien, Tukwila and Renton (called the South King County HCT Corridor Study),” with funding for the study provided by the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure, adopted in 2008, provided funds to complete. It’s under way now, he says, “as Sound Transit moves forward with a process to update its Long-Range Plan, which will update the projects that may be included in future ballot measures.”

For further context, Patrick explains:

When the Long-Range Plan was last updated in 2005, the Seattle Monorail Project was assumed to provide future service to West Seattle. With the cancellation of that project, the Board is expected to consider adding a high capacity connection between downtown Seattle and the West Seattle Peninsula to the plan. In June Sound Transit will publish a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Long-Range Plan Update, and kick off a public comment process.

That update will be done later this year, and could pave the way for a November 2016 ballot measure if the Sound Transit board decides to pursue one, though it would not be obligated to include anything on this particular route or any other; Patrick says that part of the discussion would likely begin in 2015 – and that there’s a catch: “Sound Transit would need to secure additional authority from the Washington State Legislature for funding sources that could be part of a ballot measure before moving forward with any major package.”

One last word from Patrick at ST: “It is very important to note that the Sound Transit Board would not select a detailed project or alignment until after a public vote providing the engineering and construction funds, as well as completing a detailed environmental process that would involve the public in examining the benefits and impacts of different options.”

This, by the way, is the study that was mentioned last June by former Mayor Mike McGinn when he came to West Seattle for a media briefing on the area’s potential transit future. In all, ST has been studying nine corridors, shown on a map included in our story last June. This is also related to the survey linked here last November, which is reported to have received a strong response from West Seattle.

NEXT STEP: As ST’s Patrick mentioned, a public-comment process for the long-range-plan update is expected to start next month; we’ll publish updates when that happens.

44 Replies to "Light rail for West Seattle? See the progress report given to Sound Transit's executive committee"

  • Steve May 8, 2014 (2:58 pm)

    Just curious…has there ever been a proposal for a gondola/aerial tram between West Seattle and say the Stadium District in Sodo? Am I crazy for thinking this could be a solution for our traffic woes?

  • West Seattle Hipster May 8, 2014 (2:59 pm)

    Should light rail to WS ever make it to a vote, mine would be “yes”.

  • quiz May 8, 2014 (3:11 pm)

    Yeah, whatever, just build it. Amiright?

  • I. Ponder May 8, 2014 (3:20 pm)

    Anything that requires a funding vote will be DOA. Never underestimate the short-sightedness of humans. We can’t even get funding for basic bus service.

  • M May 8, 2014 (3:27 pm)


    Unless there is a downsizing of the work on Harbor Island or mainland Port operations, there’s nowhere to cut through to the Stadium District without disrupting that. Not to mention how high it would have to be to not interfere with Duwamish traffic.

  • WestCoaster May 8, 2014 (3:54 pm)

    I am all for light rail to WS!

    Monorail wasn’t up to the task. So many weaknesses, including single-track areas, inability to handle rush-hour and post-game traffic.

    So glad monorail got the boot.

    P.S. I am glad that the historic monorail did not get torn down!

  • alkiobserver May 8, 2014 (4:35 pm)

    Light rail service between West Seattle and downtown is the way to go. Real mass transit that doesn’t move with street traffic! Buses that would remain in service through the neighborhoods could be smaller, shuttle deals to pick up and deliver to the stations… leaving main arterials free of the mega-sized articulated buses and their bulbs. I’m already voting yes for this over any Metro bus expansion.

  • Gatewooder May 8, 2014 (4:43 pm)

    The cancelled monorail project would have provided for transit moving at 50mph above traffic, regardless of congestion. That should be the standard for any new system. I agree that buses just don’t cut it, we need a grade separated system.

  • RayK May 8, 2014 (4:51 pm)

    Tunnel to Alaska Junction is worth the cost to avoid running on surface streets. B-4 offers much higher ridership compared to A-5.
    Regardless of routing, we need to offset operating costs by cutting back C-line and offer subscription feeder service to commuters using small buses like the Metro Access minibuses or even minivans. Outside peak load times reduce the number of buses (drivers) and use demand-response via smartphone for directing drivers.

  • M May 8, 2014 (5:10 pm)


    While Metro operates Link Light Rail, the operating costs are reimbursed to them by Sound Transit. Therefore, cutting back the C wouldn’t offset any operating costs that have to do with light rail.

  • DTK May 8, 2014 (5:11 pm)

    After the DBT, Pontoon and Metro debacles, ST3 has little to no chance of passing in 2016. West Seattle is on its way to becoming something nobody would have imagined a few years back. Get out while you can.

  • Gene May 8, 2014 (5:18 pm)

    Tunnel to Alaska Junction??? Really ??? Sorry just can’t see that happening anytime in the near future. Especially if it requires a vote. Demand -response via smartphone directing drivers- directing them where?? There’s only a few ways out of WS.
    Mini feeder Bus/Vans could be a great idea- I think many more would take the bus– if they could get to one. With so many hills here- it can be difficult to get to a bus stop- a feeder that takes one to the central junction hub would be very helpful. A central larger parking structure in the junction could also help- but has been mentioned here before – that idea never gets a positive reception.

  • JOE May 8, 2014 (5:56 pm)

    The ‘govment’ did this a few yrs ago and it was filled with massive fraud.

  • JOE May 8, 2014 (5:56 pm)

    What about a bridge to Vashon ?

  • MikeZ May 8, 2014 (6:07 pm)

    I dare not get my hopes up.

  • Curtis May 8, 2014 (6:27 pm)

    This just in…..JOE has been found floating in Puget Sound……….

    sorry JOE, no one gets away with backing that in West Seattle, no matter how much sense it makes.

  • Trickycoolj May 8, 2014 (7:03 pm)

    I’d love to see the direct connections to Tukwila/Renton! Opens up a lot more job prospects… You know provided it runs early enough for 1st shift.

  • cascadianone May 8, 2014 (7:23 pm)

    Yes yes yes we need Light Rail in West Seattle and we need it now. NOT MORE BUSES WITH FAKE “RAPID TRANSIT” BRANDING.

    We need to run a cut-and-cover tunnel right down the middle of California Ave with major underground stations in the Alaska Junction, Morgan Junction and Westwood Village. We should send it all the way South to the Burien Transit Center.

    No more buses on the Bridge! The only buses in West Seattle should be small, fast and frequent circulators carrying people from all over our peninsula to the three major transit centers.

    Total grade separation (meaning it never shares a pathway with cars, other trains, etc.) and building it mostly underground means more money up front, sure, but it also means your commute will be super-predictable and the system won’t need as much maintenance due to weather-related damage. Underground in Seattle means no freeze/thaw cycle damaging the track. Light Rail like this won’t ever be stuck in traffic or have a car crash on its tracks. Connecting it to other transit centers on both ends means that more people will use it and get cars off our overloaded streets. I think drivers in this town, those few who do not use this public infrastructure, should be able to enjoy their drive without constant heavy traffic. The rest of us can enjoy our smartphones and relax on the train or on the underground station platform, OUT OF THE RAIN. :)

    This is a time to be brave and invest in a better Seattle in twenty years. Hell, we should push even harder and demand they build it out to completion within 5-7 years.

    Seattle is the primary economic motivator for the entire State. Seattlites should pay more, but every single person in this State owes a debt to Seattle for what goes into the State budget from this city. We need to see a VERY GENEROUS transit package from our State Legislators and we should demand top tier Federal funding as well from our National Reps and Senators.

    Dragging Seattle into the future is going to be hard, but this will happen. It’s only a matter of how fast we can meet our goals.

  • Raincity May 8, 2014 (8:05 pm)

    Very interesting reading. Looks like it will be hard to serve all portions of west seattle with one alignment (A3/A4 vs A5/B4). Looking at the travel time (what would make it worthwhile) B4 works best and it’s due to the separation/tunnel. Very intriguing!!!

  • M May 8, 2014 (10:05 pm)

    Of course we need light rail in Seattle. Can’t happen soon enough!

  • M May 8, 2014 (10:06 pm)

    Oops…meant to say “in WEST Seattle!”

  • Me mamma May 8, 2014 (11:36 pm)

    Light rail? Even better than a TJs!

  • cj May 8, 2014 (11:45 pm)

    Light rail in West Seattle would be awesome! Just do it!

  • KAN May 9, 2014 (4:09 am)

    I’m all for seeing light rail in West Seattle, but doesn’t anyone else think all these tunnels in an area known to be extremely seismically active are a bad idea? Bridge. Build a light rail track along a bridge. Also, I agree that voter-backed funding of ANYTHING will fail. Nobody ever wants to pay for the good things we enjoy, abuse and take for granted. I have no idea where funding would come from, but putting it to the voters will guarantee a failure. We have precedent for that, clearly… and obstructionists like Eyman will crawl out of their cesspools to ensure that.

  • JK May 9, 2014 (5:41 am)

    Bravo cascadianone!

  • Johnny on the go May 9, 2014 (7:15 am)

    I shot down busses, but I will vote for rail if I’m still around then. It’s a better solution and truly reduces street traffic.

  • Big G May 9, 2014 (7:56 am)

    Please tell me West Seattle to Burien/Renton includes a stop at SeaTac. Ever since the ST 550 quit servicing West Seattle getting to and from the airport has become a major hassle.

  • Paul May 9, 2014 (8:25 am)

    KAN, you’d be a lot safer during an earthquake in a tunnel than on a bridge. Also, the current light rail line between downtown and the airport was put to voters and passed. Same with the extensions to Bellevue, Lynnwood, and Federal Way that are being developed. The bad news is that if light rail to West Seattle (and Ballard, etc) was voted on in 2016 and passed, we probably wouldn’t be able to use it until 2028 at the earliest.

  • snowflake May 9, 2014 (8:40 am)

    WSB, do you know the percentage of the seattle population that lives in west seattle ?

    • WSB May 9, 2014 (8:58 am)

      ~100,000 people live here. Don’t know the current city population, would certainly come up on Google but I’m in the middle of a few things if anybody else has a sec to pull the search!

  • James May 9, 2014 (9:39 am)

    Seattle Population: 634,535 (2012)

    • WSB May 9, 2014 (9:48 am)

      It was noted in the meeting (see video) that West Seattle has a population larger than most of our state’s non-Seattle/Tacoma major cities. Bigger than Bellingham or Kent, for example (thanks for the lookup, James, I just dropped back in):

  • BlairJ May 9, 2014 (9:49 am)

    Total grade separation gets my vote. And as long as the vote is a Seattle-only one, it has a chance of passing if it addresses the whole city. Seattle voters have historically shown more willingness to support transit than suburban voters.

    On the other hand, at-grade surface transit proposals like bus “rapid” transit, or trains running in the street, will either result in reduced vehicle capacity or removal of homes and businesses to widen the right of way.

    A few years ago, while the water front streetcar was still running, we went downtown for a concert on the waterfront on the same night as the Torchlight parade. When we got to the streetcar station at 5th & Jackson they told us they had to run FEWER streetcars because there were too many people. At those times and places where we need transit the most, surface transit performs the worst.

  • Mickymse May 9, 2014 (10:05 am)

    You’re unlikely to get a stop on “our” line at SeaTac for various engineering reasons. My guess is there would be a transfer at Tukwila.

  • Coleman May 9, 2014 (2:02 pm)

    You know what we should do. Let people work from home. We don’t need a light rail. People really don’t need to drive everyday in there metal boxes for an hour to get to their shiny cubical. With today’s technology cellphones, skype, etc.. we can work at home. Its better for the environment, your family, and your overall health. Its simple, cheap, and logical.

    • WSB May 9, 2014 (2:32 pm)

      I do wish more people could/work from home, Coleman. We took two cars off the road when we went commercial with WSB 6 1/2 years ago – but the job I did before that, TV news manager, could have been done from home – the managers/producers mostly just clustered around computers viewing video, writing stories, sending IM’s to each other. Things have changed dramatically since then, including the availability of IP video… But some companies just don’t want to loosen the reins of having everybody clustered in physical space somewhere.

  • wsn00b May 9, 2014 (2:12 pm)

    +1 for all the comments talking about grade separation (tunnel, elevated or otherwise).

    Catching a train to downtown or the airport from an underground 35th ave station would be awesome.

    We might even get rid of one of our cars.

  • Big G May 9, 2014 (2:56 pm)

    So trips to the airport will continue to take an hour with multiple transfers.

    This would be from the junction to Renton, so it would neither go downtown, nor to the airport. No thanks, I and most people I know will vote no. The majority of the 100K people who live here work in Seattle and Bellevue. We need to get downtown to work there or transfer to the future Bellevue line. Not go all the way out to Renton/Tukwila, only to light rail back to those places.

  • Jane May 9, 2014 (4:27 pm)

    Light rail for West Seattle?
    Not gonna happen, not in this lifetime.

  • Mike May 9, 2014 (8:04 pm)

    Light rail would need to run along the upper bridge, unless they are able to support the Coast Guards mandates on allowing the lower bridge to open anytime boat traffic arrives. Last week we hit 3 days in a row where they opened the lower bridge at 7:30AM which destroys traffic flow.
    As for working at home, even most Online companies want their workers AT work. The team dynamic has to be right for work at home to be effective. That and people need dedicated work space to not have at home distractions of kids, TV, etc…

  • Grant May 9, 2014 (8:21 pm)

    At construction costs of hundreds of millions of dollars per mile? Right.
    That money would be better spent on fixing the stupid single-lane interchange from the West Seattle Bridge to Highway 99 and the stupid single-lane interchange onto I-5 north to get to I-90. That would do more to solve traffic woes than a heavily subsidized light rail that few will ride.

  • Max May 10, 2014 (12:24 am)

    How about this idea, build the Monorail/ Lightrail whatever but please please keep Bertha out of it I just don’t she is the one, Bertha, is only good for like just digging in sand hills and making large ant hills. Wait that won’t work Sand will ruin Bertha the worlds largest tunnel boring machine. But any future transportation taxes should only come out of the pockets of the ones destroying what West Seattle was. I 100% except growth but it MUST be managed growth and we do not see that anymore. Guess I just like common sense. All future transportation taxes should come from the ones getting rich destroying a beautiful part of West Seattle and funded 100% by the contractors that have used no common sense except to line their pockets at our expense.
    West Seattle growth is out of control. Just wait for more taxes being demanded/threatened for more utilities, Storm Drains, Water, Power, schools and sidewalks brought out into the street, still afraid of going bald scratching my head over that one. and a larger sewer system. ect. I just think a lot of the West Seattle area was designed for lets say in a square block 16 single family homes. Now in area of that size holds 50+ I will never be able to pay for taxes that I will never benefit from, just lose the some of the quality of life.

  • dawsonct May 11, 2014 (4:46 pm)

    Tunnels are actually safer from a structural standpoint than are bridges.

Sorry, comment time is over.