WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: To realign or not to realign? Sound Transit board arguments intensify

Sound Transit board members continue to disagree over whether ST needs a full “realignment” plan, which could delay/downsize voter-approved projects including West Seattle light rail. The video above is from ST’s Executive Committee meeting on Thursday morning. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Council Chair Claudia Balducci (from Bellevue) – all board members who are part of the committee – continued to argue the points they made in a letter to Board Chair Kent Keel (from University Place) reported here last month, saying it’s too soon to decide. Keel in turn recapped his reply, insisting the realignment plan – currently scheduled for a July vote – is necessary.

First the board got an update on more possible realignment “scenarios” as well as the latest stats on the “affordability gap,” all shown in this slide deck:

What’s in that presentation is not a complete list of possible scenarios – they’ve been looking at various concepts over the course of multiple meetings in recent months. Possibilities for West Seattle include building to Delridge first – maybe on a 2-year delay beyond the original 2030 plan – or a 5-year delay for the entire extension.

The big point of contention, intensively discussed on Thursday, remains whether a realignment is even needed. When this all first came up last year, the big problem was a pandemic-fueled revenue drop. That started bouncing back, but then came news of dramatically increased cost estimates. Now the latter is more of an issue than the former, according to ST staff, but Durkan argued on Thursday that they don’t have enough cost information for realignment decisions. She also noted that the gap has shrunk by billions already and could shrink further. “The affordability gap could be less and we could build what the voters want and what the climate needs.” Balducci, who has long argued against making these decisions now, said that since this has become much more of a cost gap than a revenue gap, “project-based approaches” might be a solution to the higher cost estimates. Constantine warned that officially setting “lowered expectations” now could “become the default.” Keel contended that whatever they decide would be a “flexible framework” and could be changed. Balducci countered that even if that’s technically true, a realignment vote “would essentially adopt a revamp of our program.” Keel said not responding to the current gap predictions by creating an “affordable plan” via realignment would make ST look financially irresponsible.

The discussion will continue at two upcoming meetings – the System Expansion Committee (which Balducci chairs) on May 13th and the full board meeting on May 27th, which is also when the board is scheduled to hear more about the results of recent community opinion-gathering, which brought in just under 10,000 survey responses, ST staff said on Thursday.

22 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: To realign or not to realign? Sound Transit board arguments intensify"

  • DB40 May 7, 2021 (2:13 pm)

    When is this crap going to stop!? Blah, blah, blah…decide not to decide…blah, blah, blah…ka-ching…that’ll be another 5 billion dollars…blah, blah, blah…

  • Al May 7, 2021 (2:33 pm)

    Like an idiot, I bought a house a few years ago in W Seattle near a supposed future light rail station. Since then, we are minus one bridge, and minus one hope of future light rail. These are bleak times for anyone who needs to commute from W Seattle to anywhere except straight downtown. 

    • wait...what? May 7, 2021 (3:36 pm)

      Wait, you’re upset that you bought a house close to light rail that may be 15 years out instead of 12 years out? The west seattle bridge closure is unfortunate, for sure, but events like the Mexico City overpass collapse help put things in perspective. That said, I do appreciate the ability to rant anonymously on a blog… 

      • Neighbor May 9, 2021 (6:10 pm)

        “It could be worse” should be West Seattle’s official motto.  It seems to be the preferred outlook of the residents that don’t mind being walked on by city hall.

  • Jon Wright May 7, 2021 (3:28 pm)

    Sounds like Kent Keel is one heckuva “can’t do” leader.

  • Jeff May 7, 2021 (3:34 pm)

    I propose they do all this crap about the Ballard line instead, and build ours exactly as billed on the original schedule.    Somehow that never comes up though. 

  • StuckInWestSeattle May 7, 2021 (4:05 pm)

    I have lived in West Seattle for a long time and the whole elevated Delridge corridor makes me sick to my stomach. It needs to be a tunnel but to be honest a dedicated bus route similar to what Netherlands does is the most efficient and cost effective option. I will move if the new route comes down Delridge as its going to destroy this neighborhood. ST3 is a disaster and should never have been. We need a subway.

  • Niko May 7, 2021 (5:26 pm)

    Defund sound transit

    • Rick-WS May 8, 2021 (8:16 pm)

      I’m With Niko.

      • natinstl May 12, 2021 (3:24 pm)

        same here

    • Jort May 9, 2021 (10:31 am)

      Oooo interesting idea! Maybe we should put it up for a public vote among taxpayers? Oh wait we did and it was a blowout win. Cool idea though. Good luck. 

  • Jared May 7, 2021 (6:37 pm)

    I’m surprised not to see the gondola crowd chiming in.  The West Seattle Skylink proposal would make transportation available much sooner, with smaller footprint and visual impact, have more than sufficient capacity and speed, and completely solve this budget shortfall.  Maybe it’s actually worth a real look.


    • WSB May 7, 2021 (7:34 pm)

      Joyce Hengesbach from SkyLink was among the public commenters toward the start of the meeting

    • Also John May 8, 2021 (6:59 am)

      I believe Skyline is a great idea.  The views would be amazing.  Much smaller construction footprint.  Cheaper….and can be completed sooner.

  • Anonymous Coward May 7, 2021 (7:36 pm)

    If you believe increasing building material costs are due to pandemic related  “shortages”, it would make sense to hold off on re-alignment until input costs settle back down to normal.  If it’s secular inflation on the other hand, they’ll be in for even greater disappointment in another year…

    • WS New Guy May 7, 2021 (9:49 pm)

      Costs are not going to come down, never do. They will keep escalating, especially the value of land

  • Just build it May 8, 2021 (2:41 pm)

    It’s very short sighted to cancel or change this project considering that zoning changes encourage more dense construction in west seattle ahead of the light rail construction and the train will still be needed. 

  • Neighbor May 9, 2021 (6:16 pm)

    I’m a Sound Transit apologist but even I’m having a hard time caring this far out.  We are 50 years behind on developing this infrastructure already.  We have had previous plans (monorail, lol) fail completely.  It’s hard to believe we will ever see any actual results on this project.  All the public comment period nonsense is just a waste of time.  They are going to do what they want anyway.  We already voted, the comments are over.  Just build the damn thing.  Who cares what it costs?  This is already a generational project.  Previous generations let us down, lets not keep doing the same thing.  I’m not even 40 and I doubt I will ever commute on this thing before I retire.

  • Brad May 11, 2021 (11:37 pm)

    Gondola, please! 

  • Brad May 11, 2021 (11:38 pm)

    Gondola would be so great! 

  • natinstl May 12, 2021 (3:26 pm)

    I’m not sure how you can make ST look anymore financially irresponsible than they already are. That comment made me laugh out loud. 

  • transit rider May 20, 2021 (1:23 pm)

    I don’t know why the West Seattle project couldn’t be completed from Alaska Junction to SODO and the Ballard project from Interbay or Smith Cove to Westlake Station as the initial phases.

Sorry, comment time is over.