WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Sound Transit’s schedule slides

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Even before its “realignment” decision, Sound Transit has slid West Seattle-Ballard light rail back a year, telling the Avalon Neighborhood Group that WS is now set to open in 2031 instead of 2030, Ballard in 2036 instead of 2035.

This neighborhood group has been meeting regularly with ST, and invited us to cover its online meeting last night. We previously reported on the group in July, when they held a fact-finding meeting to learn more about the Yancy/Andover Elevated option added relatively late to the list of options being studied.

Last night’s meeting began with a status report from ST’s Zack Ambrose, going through where the planning process stands. In addition to the pushed-back launch date – pending “realignment” decisions for the entire ST3 plan next year – they’re saying that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) won’t be released until mid-2021, and the final EIS won’t be out until 2023.

One attendee asked if the timeline always had called for two years between the DEIS and final EIS; ST said yes, but past presentations we’ve covered (such as this one in February) suggested otherwise, with the DEIS due in 2021 and the final EIS in 2022.

Meantime, the meeting also included a city rep, Sam Stork, who explained their current involvement – trying to “identify issues early and craft solutions.”

ST explained the geographic focus of segments of the West Seattle-Ballard extension – Jason Hampton said the Avalon and Junction stations are both part of the “West Seattle Junction segment.” Geographic segments are how the DEIS document will be broken down.

The release of the DEIS next year will open an important public-comment period. So – how will it be circulated?

“We’re still trying to think abut all the different ways to reach people,” ST’s Leda Chahim said. They’ll also be developoing a “reader’s guide to the DEIS” as well as different ways for people to comment. They offered some tips on commenting – facts, references, observations if you see something that’s wrong – “that’s the point of the draft.”

In the meantime, the ST reps stressed, it’s important to explore the updated online open house, first announced last month. It includes new maps, cross-sections, and stats – such as potential guideway heights – of what’s being studied in the DEIS.

Ambrose went through several alternatives for the Delridge to Avalon route – both route alignments and station locations/heights – pointing out that the Delridge station would be 60′ to 110′ up, and then the guideway along Genesee would be up to 150′. The DEIS will include more renderings, Ambrose noted.

Asked about third-party funding, which would be required for tunneling – “we’re not picky about where (it) comes from,” Chahim said. (There’s been no recent public talk about this, and local/regional governments are more strapped than ever because of pandemic-caused revenue shortfalls.)

Station-height projections, such as those on the right side of the slide above, drew significant comment/concern, as residents pointed out it’s of great interest to them. Updated cost information was another subject of questioning, but that is awaiting the draft DEIS publication.

What would be realistic when commenting on the DEIS? Explain why you’re making a suggestion, Chahim offered.

Could a gondola be suggested at this stage of planning? they were asked. The mode of the system is part of what voters approved in 2016, Chahim explained, after ST looked at a variety of modes including gondolas, and arrived on light rail, so that’s why light rail is the plan and not, say, a gondola. Nonetheless, when you are commenting on the DEIS – “Give us the ‘why’ and explain what it is you’re trying to accomplish,” Chahim said.

Another attendee offered that it’s important for neighbors to focus on what they can realistically recommend.

“We look at what the board tells us to look at,” said Chahim, while pointing out that they’ve already gone through a lot of “process and analysis” to get to this point.

Yet another area of interest for the group: What’s next for property-acquisition engagement? They’ll talk about that more when ST comes back to the group in January. And before the DEIS is published mid-next year, they’ll notify potentially affected property owners.

Various other questions were generally met with a reiteration of “comment when the DEIS comes out.” But that won’t necessarily be an opportunity to suggest entirely different routing options, for example – the DEIS to EIS evolution is more likely to be a modification of what’s currently being studied, Chahim clarified.

One attendee countered that it would be better for the board to listen to concerns/additions now, when that’s likely to be less disruptive, with more delays likely in the process. Chahim attempted to explain that the multitude of options being studied now were already the result of community input.

The discussion then moved on to station planning. A rendering of the Redmond station’s plan was shown as an example:

That level of detail should be available now for proposed West Seattle station locations, it was suggested by an attendee.

Some of that type of detail is actually in the new “online open house,” Chahim pointed out: Station cross-sections, context, height, etc. And: “The level of detail is going to increase as we have more information and more engagement.”

Concerns persisted about, for example, a 50-foot-high Avalon station. A tunnel is really all that makes sense, one attendee said, voicing concerns about construction choking off traffic.

Once the DEIS is out, ST will review the comments, for which you’ll have a 45-day period. The final EIS will have the final preferred route and station locations, with the board then charged with finalizing their decision.

One attendee wondered about the noise studies’ accuracy, and whether the current shutdown of the West Seattle Bridge would affect that. Chahim noted that a lot of studies were done before the bridge closure. “The DEIS will look at the noise as if the West Seattle Bridge was (open),” said Ambrose.

WHAT’S NEXT: ST will meet with the group again next month. It’s likely to appear before the West Seattle Transportation Coalition soon, too. But if you have questions. you can email any time – wsblink@soundtransit.org – they promise prompt replies.

P.S. Here’s the full slide deck from the meeting (including the frames shown above).

24 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Sound Transit's schedule slides"

  • Question Authority December 8, 2020 (2:32 pm)

    150′ is 10′ higher than the West Seattle Bridge, that’s way high and also a long way down in a SHTF moment.

  • ReConnectWS December 8, 2020 (3:41 pm)

    Strong show of faith by pushing out project deadlines only 10%. I expected worse    

    • WSB December 8, 2020 (3:44 pm)

      That may be yet to come – as noted, the “realignment” decision for multiple ST projects has yet to be made; when we last covered the board’s discussion, they decided to push that decision to next year so they’d have a clearer picture of what finances will look like …

  • Peter December 8, 2020 (4:18 pm)

    You can always count on someone asking about a gondola. Sheesh. Seriously, who actually believes a glorified ski lift can match the speed and capacity of rail transit? Stop wasting ST’s time with nonsense, there’s actual work to do. 

    • Question Authority December 8, 2020 (5:19 pm)

      There’s a high-speed Gondola in Europe that carries 4500 people per hour so your argument is moot.

      • Peter December 9, 2020 (11:20 am)

        A four car light rail train can carry 800 people, running every six minutes that’s 8000 people per hour. West Seattle will also be the terminus of the line running to Everett once ST3 is complete, an integration that would have to be scrapped if they built a gondola. My point is far from moot. 

        • Martin December 9, 2020 (10:30 pm)

          Sound Transit projects 32,000 to 37,000 trips for 2040 for West Seattle, 4500/h is plenty for that, 8000/h is not necessary for West Seattle, only required for UW traffic up North. Larger gondolas can even handle 6000/h.  Check out http://www.westseattleskylink.org 

        • Martin December 9, 2020 (10:47 pm)

          Sound Transit projects 32,000 to 37,000 trips per day in 2040. 4500/h is plenty for that. Yes, Link can handle 8000/h, but it’s overkill for West Seattle. The latest larger 3S gondolas can even handle 6000/h. Check out westseattleskylink.org. The Everett line could be terminated at International District.

    • Also John December 8, 2020 (6:18 pm)

      I was in La Paz Bolivia April 2019.  They have a gondola system that was fantastic.  A 10 person car comes every 15 seconds at all stations.  You can travel anywhere in the City.  Everyone uses it.
      It would definitely be less expensive, faster to build and not require the purchase of most of the land needed for light rail.

      • NRV December 8, 2020 (6:30 pm)

        The mountains in La Paz do not compare with the hills in West Seattle. 

        • Matt P December 8, 2020 (10:40 pm)

          In what way?  The gondola in Medellin, Colombia goes up hills similar to what we have in West Seattle and carries 3k to 4k per hour.  If they can do it Latin America, we can do it here.

          • Peter December 9, 2020 (11:28 am)

            3-4K per hour does not compare well to the 8,000 per hour ST light rail trains can carry. That you for helping make the case against gondolas. 

          • Sam December 15, 2020 (11:32 pm)

            Dear Peter,
            The Medellin gondalas run at a comparatively slow 11 mph versus the proposed Seattle gondola’s 25 mph, doubling the capacity. Thus, the high estimate of the carrying capacity of the gondala (25mph/11mph) * 4000 people = 9,091 people is greater than the carrying capacity of a light rail.

  • Derek December 8, 2020 (5:40 pm)

    Need this much sooner. Build it above ground down Avalon and above Fauntleroy. That’ll be fastest and easiest. 

  • ReasonableVoices December 9, 2020 (8:12 am)

    I truly hope Seattle gets new leadership that advocates for mainstream, efficient ideas and stops wasting time exploring every goofy concept like gondolas suggested by arm chair engineers. West Seattle will benefit greatly from traditional means of transportation like roads, bridges and trains. I love my community but it is getting really frustrating having to wade through the Jorts and Gondola people and those who wanted to land lock WS by tearing down a fixable bridge. At some point, if things don’t get better, might be time to give up on any hope of a progression back to normalcy in Seattle and leave. Hopefully, and I truly hope, there are enough reasonable people left who understand a working infrastructure is needed in Seattle. 

  • eddiew December 9, 2020 (9:57 am)

    Please see ST maps.  To help riders connect with Link via foot and bus, the stations should straddle the arterials with bus routes, here 35th Avenue SW and Delridge Way SW.  But ST has illustrated the pink Delridge Link station to the west and the Avalon station to the  east of 35th Avenue SW.  ST stations could straddle the arterials and provide pedestrians a touch down either side.  Historically, ST did a poor job of this at Mt. Baker and SeaTac.  Let’s do better in West Seattle.

  • Meyer December 9, 2020 (11:28 am)

    Nice find WSB on ST moving the final EIS from 2022 to 2023 despite ST saying they have always said 2023. We need to keep them honest. The faster we get light rail the better WS will be.

    • Martin December 9, 2020 (10:35 pm)

      ST said that this delay was due to social distancing etc due to covid. In another meeting they talked about covid related budget issues which may delay projects by 5-7 years unless they receive additional funding.

  • anon December 9, 2020 (11:45 am)

    So basically just as the bridge will need replacing again we’ll also be dealing with this and an ugly elevated structure taking out huge swaths of the neighborhood. No wonder so many homes for sale over here. We took down the viaduct because it became outdated and it was an ugly structure that loomed over the city, why do we continue to do the same thing elsewhere.

  • Dennis December 10, 2020 (9:11 am)

    Gondola commuter technology compared to West Seattle Link
    light rail: 1/10 the cost, same number of stations, 3 to 5 years before
    operational, similar capacity and commute times, quiet, and with minimal  construction  and operational impacts to the existing infrastructure.  

    • Peter December 10, 2020 (9:45 am)

      Please cite your sources.

      • Martin December 10, 2020 (12:59 pm)

        westseattleskylink.org, if you have specific questions, contact them

      • Martin December 10, 2020 (6:04 pm)

        Tampa might beat us, here is their mayor explaining the convenience and cost advantage: https://youtu.be/xtGQbNqIQso

  • Brian December 10, 2020 (10:05 am)

    9-years before ground is broke, and 14-years before it’s in use?! Meanwhile my $400 car tabs will have cost $5,600. That’s even I even survive the raging covid pandemic thanks to a bunch of right wing politicizing that has led to it ravaging our country. Any other country on Earth could build this in 1/3 the time, for cheaper, and still safely. This is why the USA is being passed up by other succeeding countries. It’s sad…

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