WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: See how the potential components compare

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The process of arriving at a “preferred alternative” for Sound Transit‘s West Seattle/Ballard light rail routing and station locations will stretch further into spring than first planned.

That’s part of what was announced at last night’s Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting, which was centered on releasing and discussing how the currently under-review possibilities compare on a variety of criteria, including cost. The same information will be reviewed by the Elected Leadership Group tomorrow morning, and your feedback will be sought online and via in-person forums in a month or so.

Here’s the full slide deck from the meeting (PDF, 12 MB). First thing to remember – the so-called “end to end alternatives” that are in the spotlight for this third and final review phase are not “all or nothing” plans from which one will move into the next phase. But here they all are on a map:

In order in the legend, they are the “representative project” (outlined in the ST3 vote in 2016), the
West Seattle Elevated option, and the West Seattle Tunnel option. ST staffers stressed repeatedly that this is the time to “mix and match” components if that makes more sense. So the evaluation information emerged in segments, rather than simply scorecards for each full “end to end alternative.” Here’s the criteria on which the components were evaluated:

If you were tallying up the score, however, the one with the best rankings is the one that includes tunneling toward the West Seattle Junction and Ballard ends – though its elements would require hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding.

Here are the two summary slides regarding what ST called “key differentiators” – green means that one option is better in that area, red means it’s worse, and the cream shading means it’s somewhere in the middle:

One pricing component of note – despite the challenges of skirting/hugging Pigeon Point on the south side, ST now says building the light-rail-only bridge across the Duwamish River on the north side of the current bridges would cost $300 million more than building it to the south, because the property is more valuable and different types of guideway would have to be used to minimize the footprint below. The rest of the cost estimates go as high as up to $2.1 billion extra, as you can see on the “key differentiators” #1 slide above, further quantified below:

Among the other criteria, time – in a meeting-opening overview, ST’s Cathal Ridge noted that tunneling could add time to the schedule, which has already been fast-tracked in a variety of ways, as well as increasing the cost. Even if tunneling is the preferred options, decisions to be made would include the location of the Junction station – these are the possibilities bundled currently with the “West Seattle Tunnel” end-to-end alternative:

The options vary in how much private/public property would be needed, among other things.

Here’s another comparison of Duwamish River crossing options:

That’s just a sampling of the information made available to the SAG; there’s also an appendix that we have requested but not yet received. It’s also important to note, last night’s meeting didn’t result in any decisions, and wasn’t intended to. After Ridge’s overview, the SAG members – seated at tables – got to ask clarifying questions as the ST staffers specializing in project segments rotated between tables. We observed at tables visited by Stephen Mak, the West Seattle point person for ST. At one table, one of the West Seattleites on the SAG, Willard Brown, pointed out that community input had led to many of the blue line (West Seattle Tunnel) options including a Delridge station location that would affect fewer homes and businesses:

The Youngstown-area homeowner who organized a recent ST briefing for his neighbors who face potential displacement (WSB coverage here), Dennis Noland, was there; we’ll be following up separately on his latest efforts. The potential displacement came up in another table’s discussion as well. SAG members’ questions and observations were recorded at each table by an ST note-taker.

TIMELINE: The “scoping” period has been pushed back because the recent federal shutdown led to delays in the consultation process – it’s now not expected to start any sooner than mid-February, so the next community forum/open houses are not likely to be scheduled before late February. That also will push back recommendation meetings of the SAG and Elected Leadership Group to April and the Sound Transit Board‘s final decision to May 23rd. Here’s the timeline:

Here’s what the final decisionmaking in May will boil down to:

But first, the next discussion is when the ELG meets tomorrow (Friday), 9:30 am at the ST board room (401 S. Jackson) – their meetings, unlike the stakeholders’ group meetings, do include a public-comment period.

43 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: See how the potential components compare"

  • Marc February 1, 2019 (7:44 am)

    I moved my family to West Seattle 5 years ago and, if we are lucky, we plan on staying here for the long term.  As a current resident and future resident, I hope we are given the chance to pay for the extra cost to tunnel the Avalon and Junction stations.  This is a once in a generation opportunity to provide quick, convenient and equitable  access off the peninsula while maintaining the character of West Seattle and preserving the maximum amount of mixed use zoning land for TOD development. With the recent Alki Lumber news, it is clear that the Triangle and Junction areas will continue its transition into a dense urban node.  Within a .25 mile walk (5-8 min) of each proposed tunnel station, WS has the capacity to provide more HALA zoned density than the Ballard station. I will happily pay an added tax with with my neighbors, business owners and the help of  city allocations to see world class infrastructure brought to our neighborhood. 

    • Azimuth February 1, 2019 (9:11 am)

      I agree Marc. Yeah it’s expensive but this is a chance to do it right the first time for the long term (100+ years). We need to think about the future of the city, even if we aren’t around to enjoy it. We are about to tear down a large loud overhead behemoth of a structure in the middle of active pedestrian area downtown, so why build a new one in our awesome, livable neighborhood? West Seattle will be twice as dense before we know it and we will have saddled ourselves with the elevated tracks that may look fine for the first 20-odd years but not so much in year 50. Nice view for the riders I guess but no-one else. Someone awhile back had made some cool mock-ups on WSB of what it would look like with overhead light rail and it helped illustrate  what it will actually be like… yuck.

    • CS February 1, 2019 (9:50 am)

      Like a LID? FYI, assuming a $1B price tag, the tunnel option will cost each West Seattle resident (including children) $7,500. That might be a tough sell, family of 5 = $37,500. This is in addition to tax increases due to the rest of ST3. I know it’ll be stretched out over many years, but that’s real money. 

      • perhaps February 1, 2019 (4:22 pm)

        CS: If residents were to fund a billion dollars entirely by themselves, then your math sort of holds.  But assuming West Seattle continues to grow, and assuming there would be other funds contributing, and assuming, as you mentioned, the cost would be spread over a number of years (all safe assumptions, mind), then your numbers are a bit misleading.  That said, I agree with Marc (and so many others): Let’s do this right.  We want to ever be a world-class city?  We want to be proud of West Seattle?  We want to do right by future generations?  Hell yes we do, so let’s do this right.  Let’s have civic pride, pride in our neighborhoods, and do what it takes to get it right the first time.

    • HS February 1, 2019 (8:54 pm)


  • Joe Z February 1, 2019 (7:45 am)

    The ‘ST3 representative’ alignment looks the best out of these 3. The tunnel is ridiculously expensive and the other elevated option would bulldoze a ton of houses to make that turn south. Better to just run the line up Fauntleroy where there is already space to do it. Extending the line farther south doesn’t pencil out. If they are going to raise $700 million-$2 billion it should be spent building another line. 

    • CAM February 1, 2019 (10:31 am)

      The only problem with the ST representative alignment is that their is no ability to turn that line south (as it is shown on this map) for future expansion of the light rail to South West Seattle. Making a decision that eliminates almost all possibilities for future growth seems like a silly idea. Now, the last I had seen there were options to have the ST representative alignment adjusted to make the station orientation in the Junction capable of accommodating that growth in the future. I don’t see that here other than a tunnel option and that doesn’t seem responsible of either of the groups that are supposed to be making recommendations. They are going to force STs hand to make them build a tunnel and basically write a check that they don’t have the money for or a current plan to get the money. That’s a recipe for delays and eventually having the whole thing scrapped because it becomes impossible to make happen. 

      • Joe Z February 1, 2019 (11:03 am)

        I agree that the Junction station should be designed with the possibility of going south later. But we do not have to spend the money turning the line south right now. It can turn along 44th later if they ever decide to expand it. My feeling is that White Center/Burien will eventually be reached via Georgetown/South Park on a different line. It would not be easy to get a light rail line from the Junction to White Center and the impacts would be exponentially greater than ST3. 

      • Will S. February 1, 2019 (11:11 am)

        Yes, this is the issue and it’s a tough one. If you want to be cheap about it, the best option is Joe Z’s idea: use the ST3 representative alignment and forget about extending the line south to Morgan Junction/Highland Park, Westwood Village, and White Center/Burien. But if you want to orient the Junction station to support future southward expansion, you need to pay for a tunnel or it’s never going to happen.

      • CAM February 1, 2019 (11:29 am)

        Ugh. I missed the yellow line in the image above. I’m glad they are still considering that as it is the most reasonable considering current feasibility and future needs. 

      • KM February 1, 2019 (11:41 am)

        I do have concern over that too, but otherwise fine with the representative design.  I wondering if they are just thinking they would branch any futures lines from the Delridge station instead of running it from the Junction? I haven’t been following the updates and design closely enough to know if this was a thought. Seems like it would be cheaper for future lines to run down Delridge.

  • Rick February 1, 2019 (8:20 am)

    So happy there are others willing to spend my money to improve their lives. Seattle…sigh.

    • Joe Szilagyi February 1, 2019 (9:07 am)

      Welcome to this thing called society, Rick. We stand as one or die as individuals.

      • not this one February 1, 2019 (4:25 pm)

        When it’s YOUR house being plowed under – you can share the homeless experience with us ‘as one’

        • perhaps February 1, 2019 (7:57 pm)

          You’ll be one of the wealthiest homeless folks out there, buddy!  Make no mistake folks, this isn’t going to make anyone homeless–property in West Seattle is worth mucho dinero, and people displaced will be well compensated.  Don’t be fooled by silly comments like the one above.

  • Pete February 1, 2019 (9:07 am)

    I am still waiting on Sound Transit to show us updated figures on going forward with the purple line. There has to some cost savings in not having to buy up all of the properties along Delridge Way SW from the bridge south to Genesee.  It would seem that this would reduce the anticipated additional cost of this tunnel. West Seattle needs to insist on the best option for our future generations not what pencils out to be the cheapest option in 2019. 

  • Marc February 1, 2019 (10:42 am)

    I think a LID could be a good option for a portion of the funding, not the entire $1B.  The City of Seattle has funding sources as well, similar to what was done for the Bellevue tunnel. The important thing to remember is that the population of West Seattle could double +/- with the HALA zoning and the land in the 0.25 mile walkshed of the station will become immensely more valuable.   

  • TJ February 1, 2019 (11:09 am)

    Agree with Rick. Some people are sure good with wanting to spend my money for their visions. I already feel like a broken slot machine with money continuously pouring out. I think “welcome to society” is alive and well with tje masive taxes recently. And the LID tax concept is terrible. Gives politicians creative ways to gerrymander boundaries to benefit some, while not creating LID’s for projects in less affluent areas that put the costs back to all taxpayers.

    • Marc February 1, 2019 (12:36 pm)

      There is a negotiation period for LIDs, similar to what happened with the business and lang owners downtown. It is not all terrible. 

    • CAM February 1, 2019 (1:24 pm)

      The world has always worked that those with more pay more for infrastructure and other amenities than those with less. I have yet to hear of a successful libertarian country/state, etc. in which the flat tax is proved to be a viable alternative to progressive taxation. 

    • Q February 1, 2019 (2:36 pm)

      You’re spending my money every time you get in your car and drive somewhere, yet you seem to have no problem with that slot machine payout. 

  • Plf February 1, 2019 (12:22 pm)

    Nope no more taxes, we are driving many homeowners away from owning their homes, including seniors and middle income residents, , every one of these projects never ever come in on budget and appears it is a bait and switch, always require more funding , and not a small amount of additional funding,  we voted and allocated dollars for this project. Make it happen and make decisions that reflect the funding that was voted .  If STD had been honest  in the beginning that they may need billions more than what was proposed the voters could have made that decision then, or not  but coming back now seems like a predetermined tactic 

    • CAM February 1, 2019 (1:17 pm)

      I’ve never heard ST advocate for a tunnel. It is your neighbors that are pushing to have the tunnel be one of the options. 

    • not this one February 1, 2019 (4:44 pm)

      I agree PLF – Seattle is driving out homeowners, tearing
      down homes for a train that has not shared anticipated ridership and is
      preparing, as the going in position to be over budget. There seems to be no
      strategic plan to make this a livable city, not attention to the services that
      cannot support the over-development already in place, no upgrade to the water
      service, electrical is still above ground, this city contracted with comcast limiting other options, existing road structure is not repaired or
      serviced adequately and the current priority for our police force is to patrol
      the bus lane.  I do not agree with the priority to provide a convenient
      commute for some, by tearing down livable priced homes. ST3 is certainly not
      offering replacement value for my home. And the WSB armchair warriors that feel
      the need to monopolize every story comment section – do NOT represent me,
      simply because you troll and go on the attack with anyone that disagrees with
      your opinion.

      • heartless February 18, 2019 (7:46 pm)

        “ST3 is certainly not offering replacement value for my home”  That’s really odd, since the city isn’t offering any value for any of the homes yet.  So…  what on earth are you talking about?  Oh, and then you go on and accuse others of being a troll?  I tip my hat to you, good sir.  Well played.  

        • WSB February 18, 2019 (7:57 pm)

          The “city” isn’t offering anything. Sound Transit is a separate standalone agency. (And yes, they’re years away from offering anything to anyone.)

  • Jort February 1, 2019 (12:33 pm)

    I’m wondering if a “tunnel or nothing” advocate can volunteer to help me understand how a tunnel will materially benefit actual users of the actual transportation system? Perhaps the $2 billion tunnel will make it easier to ride the train or increase the number of people who can ride it? From what I understand, the chief arguments against elevated rail are that it is aesthetically icky to look at, with specific concerns regarding the appearance of “concrete.”  Is hiding the train from above-ground eyes worth $2 billion?                   Also, a question for people who are advocating for better public transportation in Seattle. What could $2 billion buy if it were used to further expand the light rail system? Would that help pay for an extension to White Center? What about Aurora Ave?                     A question for both sides: if we’re going to spend $2 billion on additional light rail spending, is it a better use of that money to expand the system and increase its utility and function to serve our region’s transportation needs? Or is it better to hide the light rail so that people don’t have to look at it in West Seattle?           I’m genuinely curious if people could help me understand this. Genuinely!    

    • Will S. February 1, 2019 (3:11 pm)

      Ok, I’ll play, against my better judgment.
      This line of thinking–that the sole purpose of a rail system is to serve riders, and therefore rail systems should be designed solely for the convenience of riders and with no other purpose in mind–is not new. It’s what highway planners were thinking when in the mid-20th century they carved up American cities with highways. It’s viaduct thinking. It’s a serious
      Transit riders are still people who live in communities. The addition of light rail should be done in a manner that improves a community, rather than worsens it. The appearance of concrete is beside the point. Elevated rail has been recognized as a regrettable drag on urban communities for decades, going back to the time when NYC tore down its elevated Second Avenue railway (in anticipation of a tunnel which finally opened 75 years later). Chicago offers the exception that proves the rule: the red line is celebrated as part of the fabric of vibrant neighborhoods on the north side, while the green/pink line track casts desolation onto the street that runs beneath it.
      It’s true that two billion dollars is a lot of money–to be clear, it’s enough for tunnels in West Seattle AND Ballard. You are right to ask questions about opportunity costs, even though as legal matter the ST3 funding is available only to expand transit to the places identified in the ST3 plan, which does not include White Center or Aurora Avenue. I would also ask how Sound Transit is learning from its extensive tunneling experience to reduce costs, and why a rail tunnel is so much more expensive in the US than the rest of the world (see for example
      https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/01/why-its-so-expensive-to-build-urban-rail-in-the-us/551408/ ). But ST has been very clear that additional money would be needed for tunnels, and in principle I think it’s a worthy use of funds from the city (not to mention the naysaying port).
      Personally, I think a West Seattle tunnel adds regional value because it offers the only hope of future expansion to the south, given that the Delridge area is not being planned as a potential fork in the track and that the 509 corridor lacks the potential for density to support a sensible light-rail investment. In any event, further expansion would be unlikely if voters came to feel that light rail is undesirable.

      • CAM February 1, 2019 (4:32 pm)

        Will, the El in Chicago is actually being expanded currently and was expanded the last time less than 20 years ago. The red line runs both north and south and the green line runs through some of the most in need areas on the west side of the city. I know of no person who grew up in or has lived in Chicago or the surrounding areas who thinks the El is the ause of “desolation.” In fact, some of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago are fighting to get a line extended into their areas. And before you ask, I lived in and around Chicago until I was 24 years old, the majority of my personal network remains in Chicago, and I travel there at least 3 or 4 times a year. I think I’ve got a fairly accurate pulse on the community. 

      • CAM February 1, 2019 (4:39 pm)

        I forgot to add that any southward expansion of light rail will require future funding to be raised before it can be built. The money currently being collected through ST3 is insufficient to build anything more than what was planned, including a tunnel. 

  • zark00 February 1, 2019 (2:55 pm)

    Seems like no matter what they do, tunnel or not, it’s going to be too little too late.  I’d put more buses on the road, and fix the streets.  If they can pull that off without a catastrophic failure maybe then move on to something bigger.  Trump is actively trying to slash transit budgets in Washington state right now as revenge for not voting for him.

  • WS Realtor February 1, 2019 (3:13 pm)

     The representative alignment still makes the most sense heading toward the Alaska Junction.  Fauntleroy Way seems ready made for this, its already wide enough.  How about not turning west on Alaska though but continue south on Fauntleroy for a block or so south of Alaska.  Fauntleroy Way is already somewhat level through there as opposed to the new yellow line raised track option, which is a significantly steeper route. 

    • CAM February 1, 2019 (4:35 pm)

      That was considered and eliminated already as it doesn’t serve the densest part of West Seattle.

  • TJ February 1, 2019 (3:52 pm)

    Q, anytime gets in public transportation they are spending my money as those are heavily subsidized. But I wasn’t even talking about that. ST3 was approved at $54 billion, which we all know will be more than that, yet some people want to change what is a grade seperated train for a tunnel and a blank check from me for that? Nope. And regarding LID’s, our tax system is already has those with more paying more with property taxes. LID’s allow our progressive council to excarcebate that more. Create a LID for a project in West Seattle where only we pay for it, yet the same exact project could be built somewhere else without a LID. It’s a dangerous trend

  • Plf February 1, 2019 (7:45 pm)

    I realize that the funding proposed must be used for transportation. I would prefer if and I mean if we had to tax ourselves more, that the additional 2B go  to improving rapid transit, roads, lite rail and human services in our community .  Think for a moment the improvement in the human experience we could achieve if half those dollars were for human services.but since we are talking about the astetics of elevated or a tunnel, I advocate for a solution within the budget the elected voted on, not one penny more

  • Jort February 1, 2019 (10:17 pm)

    The Seattle Head Tax, which received national attention for being “outrageous” and an incredible fiscal overreach of astronomical proportions, would have provided ~$47 million in tax revenue per year.      It would take 42 years at $47 million per year to pay off the $2 billion cost to put the light rail in a tunnel because people don’t like looking at it.                 So. Where’s the money coming for this $2 billion priority to make sure people don’t have to look at the concrete pillars? Does anybody think that there’s a lot of political desire in Northgate or Rainier Beach or Magnolia or Georgetown for West Seattle to get a special tunnel for a couple blocks that costs 42 times the annual revenues of the most controversial tax in Seattle’s recent history? 

  • Swede. February 2, 2019 (8:20 am)

    I really like how they drawn all the maps incorrectly with north to the east. Will confuse a lot of people so they don’t know what will be done. 

  • Alkimark February 2, 2019 (8:10 pm)

    Is it too late to just say no? I’m already telecommuting 2 days a week and might go to 3 soon.  

  • Wakeflood February 4, 2019 (1:55 pm)

    Somehow we found the $ to build 21 tunnels (so far) in the existing or soon to be built ST lines. And some of them aren’t even in places where they HAD to be underground (looking at you north of UW to Northgate).  Why doesn’t WS get the most logical, functional option? Because we’re further down the list than those places?  That’s a very shortsighted solution. I want each and every one who thinks that an elevated station situated in the junction to go to Northgate or Angle Lake or the airport and just take in the size of the station. THEY ARE HUGE. Longer than a football field and as wide. Now, superimpose that SOMEPLACE around the junction. That’s essentially a full city block structure WITH columns every 30-50ft. that are 10′ diameter.  Maybe if you want to just buy up the lumber yard and the rest of the triangle, you could stick it there?  But there’s more than aesthetics at stake here.  An elevated solution is going to be difficult to engineer and will be WAY taller than any other section they’ve ever built. You want to see how close and big the stantions are going to have to be to support a structure 100′ in the air? That’s basically twice as high as any current elevated track.  And it will have to snake around a fair bit to do that. So, super high, super snaky, and it will still have ups and downs to boot. All that equals SLOWING the trains significantly compared to straight, flat, underground track. Less people moving. LESS PEOPLE MOVING.  ST hasn’t given you any specifics on that because they haven’t wanted to do the detailed math/engineering yet – they’re hoping we just accept the cheapest option.  We’ve waited this long and regardless of which option, we’re going to be waiting for a while. Why not do the most logical and FUNCTIONAL solution? Or are you going to enjoy standing on the platform in the rain for an extra 10 minutes every day?

  • Tom February 9, 2019 (8:25 pm)

    I see a couple people rejecting the idea of the tunnel in this thread, strawmanning the argument into some shallow, purely aesthetic issue over whether it would look good or not. To do so is reductive; I’d like to weigh in a little on the subject.As somebody mentioned earlier, a critical aspect to think about in transit planning is the well being of the community. Particularly from the elevated proposition, I get the impression that Transit isn’t thinking about the impacts of light rail construction on neighborhoods in any way other than superficially. Take (North) Delridge, for example.The elevated light rail proposition intends to bulldoze huge swathes of property between Spokane street and Genesee. Youngstown residences, Delridge businesses, nothing is sacred. For homeowners, those who have their properties bought will get market value plus ~10% interest; but those, say, immediately adjacent to the path of the light rail get to enjoy a decimated property value and a loud train for their troubles. Beyond that, the small strip of businesses from the West Seattle bridge to Andover also gets bulldozed, businesses that accumulated there gradually and would eventually form the core of the neighborhood, gone. I realize the tunnel is more expensive, and as Seattlites we’re all collectively tied of taxes. But how much saved money can justify the destruction of a neighborhood community?

  • Willow February 18, 2019 (6:32 pm)

    It seems my property will be directly below the elevated track.  Does it mean that my property will be eminent domain?

  • Willow February 18, 2019 (10:00 pm)

    I totally agree with KM.  If the idea is to have southbound to White Center Westwood and ultimately Burien, why not fork off Delridge, instead of continuing at Alaska Junction?  Delridge Ave is wide enough to accommodate rail all the way to Ambaum.  Having rail to swing southbound from Alaska Junction will displace and affect so many residents.

Sorry, comment time is over.