LIGHT RAIL: ‘Hybrid’ scenario arrives as Sound Transit realignment vote approaches

Originally the Sound Transit board was expected to vote today on a realignment plan, to deal with a multi-billion-dollar “affordability gap.” The board’s been talking about it for many months, but some said they wanted to hold off on making big changes because the affordability gap keeps shrinking as the revenue/funding outlook improves. One of the board members in that camp, King County Council chair Claudia Balducci, had been advocating for focusing on cost savings rather than schedule delays to close the gap; ST board chair Kent Keel had proposed a plan focused on the latter. At today’s meeting (here’s the video), a “hybrid” plan incorporating elements of both (highlights above or here; draft resolution here) was presented. Like Keel’s plan, it would push back West Seattle light rail one more year, to 2032, but the plan includes provisions for relatively frequent re-evaluation of schedules and costs system-wide. The board “is on the verge of a solution,” Keel declared at today’s meeting. The vote is now scheduled for a special meeting on August 5th – no time set yet. Got an opinion? is where to send it.

27 Replies to "LIGHT RAIL: 'Hybrid' scenario arrives as Sound Transit realignment vote approaches"

  • Marfaun July 23, 2021 (8:16 am)

    Thank you ST board for showing us how to think inside the box.  And for the new definition of “hybrid” (delay ST3 & wait for money).How about a new definition of “hybrid” that includes thinking outside the box?  Saving $2 billion with an aerial gondola to connect WS with SODO light rail?  Delivering it in 2025 instead of 2032, not evicting 100-200 people from their homes, not impacting businesses & causing 5-7 years of traffic congestion and pollution ST3 is supposed to reduce?

    • Also John July 23, 2021 (4:50 pm)

      Well said…..I couldn’t agree more.    Think about a gondola!    A gondola would bring business to the junction.  Famalies would enjoy ‘taking the gondola to WS for the day’.

  • WS Taxpayer July 23, 2021 (8:45 am)

    So, in other words, never gonna happen…

  • Derek July 23, 2021 (10:00 am)

    Much rather have this than that silly and colossally stupid gondola idea that people who never ride public transit are pushing.

    • PT Rider July 23, 2021 (10:36 am)

      Derek,   I’ve used public transit in my travels on six continents, including gondolas in both urban and recreational settings.  I’m a fan and think the gondola idea for West Seattle is brilliant.  Could be here sooner, costs less (our taxes are involved), would get us to Link much sooner, and reduce car emissions years earlier.  What’s stupid about that?

      • Derek July 23, 2021 (12:31 pm)

        Ugly, inefficient, impractical, not compatible with the environment, and did I mention SLOW.  Just put that energy and money into speeding up lightrail. 

        • MisogynyNotRequired July 23, 2021 (4:37 pm)

          Derek, please keep your comments respectful in nature. Aerial gondolas around the world are beautiful (see Mexico City) and efficient (no waiting, hop right on!). The build-out is practical as it leverages West Seattle’s hills. The gondola would likely get you downtown faster from the Junction than taking the C Line (especially during rush hour). King County has a goal of 50% emission reduction by 2030, and SkyLink would help the county reach that goal and protect the environment.

        • Also John July 23, 2021 (5:01 pm)

          Derek,   I couldn’t disagree more.  Like PT Rider I’m a public transit user for decades.  I’ve also traveled to 62 countries and have ridden many gondola systems around the world.   They’re definitely not slow…..there are no waits at the stations like our current light rails.   They’re not restricted to following roads.  They travel straight as a crow.  The gondola cars are always pulling up and loading.  The views are fantastic.  Regarding efficiency, I don’t know.  I’ve never reviewed power usage between the two options.  I guess you have?!

    • KM July 23, 2021 (10:42 am)

      Yes, but their simplified and unsubstantiated claims sound so fun! 

    • Brett July 23, 2021 (10:55 am)

      Agreed.  Colossally stupid is an understatement.

      • MisogynyNotRequired July 23, 2021 (4:40 pm)

        Brett, I respectfully disagree with your assessment. SkyLink would be an emission free option to get on and off the peninsula, with beautiful views! It would also bring tourists to West Seattle during the summer, helping local businesses, in addition to efficiently serving commuters. 

    • Yes to SkyLink! July 24, 2021 (4:03 pm)

      ‘people who never ride public transit’

      I ride public transit, have years of experience as a bus and light rail user, and as a cyclist, and I support the SkyLink proposal.

  • PT Rider July 23, 2021 (11:45 am)

    Would those of you who assert this is stupid and unsubstantiated provide more facts about why that is so?   Otherwise it’s just your opinion.  The website provides lots of information which I have verified through independent research.  

  • TJ July 23, 2021 (12:04 pm)

    I don’t know the specifics of gondolas, but it seems like a real option. I would think the capacity would be less, but the reality is I don’t think ridership on light rail will be huge. I see the trains on the elevated tracks in Tukwila heading towards Seatac half full. It is convenient for those going to where it goes. Having to catch a bus after to get to your end destination is not going to work for many people. That is the problem with fixed rail. Many people will rather sit in their own car. That is the reality of it. ST3 has a obnoxious price tag that is really a blank check as it will cost more and take longer than advertised, all while you can guarantee a “ST4” will be proposed at some point before the ST3 lines are even completed. 

    • Martin July 23, 2021 (1:21 pm)

      Capacity is a valid concern. Currently light rail runs every 10min with 3 cars, that’s an hourly capacity of 3600 in each direction while a gondola could handle 4500. Before the pandemic we had 26 buses running per hour to Seattle during rush hour, a gondola can handle the same capacity as 60. If more people leave their cars behind as they enjoy the view of Mt Rainier and the space needle on their morning commute, we can build a 2nd line to serve White Center and Westwood directly rather than having to take a bus first. Sound Transit would still save billions.

  • skeeter July 23, 2021 (1:23 pm)

    I’ve been hearing a lot about gondolas but I’m completely confused why folks are advocating for them.  Sound Transit 3 was a tax/spending package that included, among other things, light rail to West Seattle.  Even if 100% of all ST board members, transit authorities, and citizens agreed that gondolas were 1000% superior to light rail in every way and cost only $200 per year to build and operate, we would not be allowed to build gondolas, right?  Because that’s not what voters approved.  Can someone tell me if I have completely misunderstood the issue?    

    • Martin July 23, 2021 (1:40 pm)

      The plans for light rail to West Seattle were very fuzzy when approved in 2016, many alignments have been proposed and discussed with Sound Transit, all involve many houses and businesses to be demolished. After doing more studies, Sound Transit also found that cost would be almost double than originally anticipated and approved by voters. If the program turns out to be unaffordable the ST3 measure allows the Board to make changes to the program. If Sound Transit would build a gondola, it would allow them to stay within the budget approved by voters.    

      • skeeter July 23, 2021 (3:45 pm)

        Ah.  Okay Martin.  Thank you.  I didn’t realized the Board would have that much flexibility.  

    • nwpolitico July 23, 2021 (3:45 pm)

      Thank you Skeeter for the thoughtful question! ST3 is a voter-approved package to create more transportation options in the tri-county area. These options could include just about anything, from light rail to bus rapid transit to water taxis and aerial gondolas. The voters approving the package under the assumption that a light rail line would be built to West Seattle also did so with the assumption the line would cost significantly less and be built on schedule. As seen with ST1 and ST2, and during the current ST3 realignment process, the modes, costs and timelines proposed to voters are often not accurate in practice. Finally, the First Hill Streetcar set a precedent for Sound Transit to change the mode of proposed transit options. That streetcar was built after Sound Transit determined it wouldn’t be technically feasible to serve First Hill with light rail, despite the original package sent to voters proposing light rail to that neighborhood. The massive cost escalations, losing out on a lot of expected tax revenue during the pandemic, and the increasingly delayed timelines that fly in the face of the county’s climate goals make SkyLink an increasingly attractive alternative. Hope that helps!

  • Wseattleite July 23, 2021 (1:33 pm)

    I am interested in a real look at the Gondola technology as an option.  In either Light Rail or Gondola, you enter a conveyance carrier, and exit at your destination.  Same conclusion.  With all the issues trying to get the conveyance carrier moved across the Duwamish, over the Longfellow valley, and up through dense neighborhoods, it seems to me that running a cable on pilings offers a much more efficient and economical way to accomplish the overall goal.  It also appears to have  with the ability to expand the system more easily than to lay down what is essentially 1800s rail technology that cannot be moved easily.  And apparently cannot be built easily.

  • Sorry Ballard! July 23, 2021 (5:24 pm)

    Wow!  I was wrong.  I thought Ballard would be the winner of the ST3 lottery but somehow West Seattle is pulling ahead with a less than or equal to two year delay (2032).  Ballard has a six year delay (2040). Interesting to me how there seems to be little public coordination between ST and SDOT when both would benefit from shared use crossing across the Duwamish and Canal, either bridge or tunnel.  But wait, politics are always at play and Ballard could still rally and get their awkward light rail station before we do in West Seattle.  Stay tuned!  The plot continues to twist. . . .

  • Auntie July 23, 2021 (6:44 pm)

    And let’s not forget, in spite of all the unanswered questions, we all (well, you all) voted for this. Be careful what you wish for!

  • Yes to SkyLink! July 23, 2021 (7:00 pm)

    For those who don’t understand the gondola idea, maybe do some online research, take a look and learn about other gondolas in operation, and other places also considering gondolas for urban transit.

    Side note, those with a fear of heights may not be a fan of ‘sky’ travel, but similarly, there are people who may not be a fan of being stuck on a train in a transit tunnel. Unfortunately we can’t develop transit around all people’s phobias.

    SkyLink is worth exploring, for the reasons @Marfaun and others have mentioned, and further detailed here!

  • East Coast Cynic July 23, 2021 (10:05 pm)

    Are you Gondola groupies pushing for Ballard to get it as well since you’re so interested in saving money, saving homes and having a transit option ready to go much sooner, rather than having it wait till 2040?  Or is West Seattle so special that we’re the only ones who should benefit from a transit option with less capacity than light rail for future decades when the population in West Seattle increases?

  • Joe Z July 23, 2021 (10:06 pm)

    The 2.5 billion West Seattle-Ballard gap is a cost, not a revenue problem. Do our elected officials really think that property acquisition and construction costs are going to decline? Personally I would prefer at-grade rail which is cheaper and easier to transfer to because the stations are at ground level. I don’t want a gondola going over my house and creating weird shadows. 

    • Martin July 23, 2021 (11:10 pm)

      How do you envision ground level light rail? I guess we could turn half the bridge and access ramps and Fauntleroy over to light rail and use the other lanes for freight, not sure all car owners will agree, but certainly cheaper. Trouble is that ground level light rail creates other challenges: 1. cars get stuck in traffic and block trains  2. two people were killed in Rainier Valley a few weeks go as they missed the signal3. still a ton of construction activity, Rainier Valley was really suffering4. how do you build a station on Delridge to connect with 120 bus?Sound Transit has avoided ground level ever since gaining experience in Rainier Valley.

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