NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 5th, 2018

Thoughtful planning will help Sound Transit’s Ballard, West Seattle Link projects succeed

Edi­tor’s Note: Today, Sound Tran­sit is con­clud­ing the com­ment peri­od for the first phase of ear­ly scop­ing on the Bal­lard and West Seat­tle Link light rail exten­sions, which were autho­rized by vot­ers in 2016 with their yes vote on Sound Tran­sit 3. The fol­low­ing are the com­ments that NPI sub­mit­ted to Sound Tran­sit regard­ing issues we believe should be stud­ied as part of the plan­ning for each exten­sion. 

The North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute has strong­ly sup­port­ed the con­struc­tion of a region­al mass tran­sit sys­tem since our found­ing in 2003. We are head­quar­tered in Red­mond and work with orga­ni­za­tions, stake­hold­ers, and elect­ed offi­cials through­out the Pacif­ic North­west, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Puget Sound region.

We sup­port con­struc­tion of the Bal­lard and West Seat­tle lines as a cru­cial ele­ment of our region’s strat­e­gy to reduce emis­sions of pol­lu­tants like car­bon diox­ide, cre­ate good jobs, and address our trans­porta­tion needs.

We request that Sound Tran­sit pri­or­i­tize the fol­low­ing issues in its stud­ies of the rail lines to Bal­lard and to West Seat­tle: fast and fre­quent trav­el times, reli­a­bil­i­ty, long-term sys­tem expan­sion, and pro­mo­tion of sus­tain­able urban devel­op­ment.

With regard to the Bal­lard line, NPI urges Sound Tran­sit to close­ly study a West Inter­bay alter­na­tive to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive align­ment, that would run along 20th Avenue West, with a below-grade sta­tion at Dravus Street, and a tun­nel under Salmon Bay to a ter­mi­nus at the Bal­lard sta­tion, ide­al­ly locat­ed below-grade at or near the inter­sec­tion of NW Mar­ket Street and 15th Avenue NW.

NPI shares the wide­spread con­cerns voiced by com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and stake­hold­ers that the mov­able bridge over Salmon Bay includ­ed in the rep­re­sen­ta­tive align­ment presents an unac­cept­able risk to the reli­a­bil­i­ty of pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice. Even with a high­er bridge than the cur­rent Bal­lard Bridge, the need to occa­sion­al­ly open the rail bridge would cause delays that would ren­der pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice unpre­dictable and hurt rid­er­ship lev­els.

By con­trast, a tun­nel under Salmon Bay would pro­vide reli­able ser­vice to train rid­ers at all hours of the day. It would also min­i­mize the impact to local busi­ness­es and homes. Sound Tran­sit’s suc­cess­ful tun­nel under the Mont­lake Cut pro­vides an exam­ple of the fea­si­bil­i­ty and desir­abil­i­ty of such a tun­nel.

This tun­nel would also align with a 20th Avenue West route through Inter­bay, which has the ben­e­fit of serv­ing more homes and busi­ness­es with­out caus­ing major dis­rup­tions to 15th Avenue West.

We also request that Sound Tran­sit car­ry for­ward sta­tion designs in Bal­lard and in South Lake Union that enable easy expan­sion of the sys­tem.

In Bal­lard, those expan­sions could be to the north along 15th Avenue NW to Whit­ti­er Heights, Crown Hill, and North­gate, or to the east, serv­ing parts of Fre­mont, Walling­ford, and the Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict.

At the South Lake Union sta­tion, we would want to enable future expan­sion north­ward along the Auro­ra Avenue cor­ri­dor. This will allow the rail sys­tem to be expand­ed to serve future rid­ers at a low­er cost.

With regard to the West Seat­tle line, NPI believes the cur­rent rep­re­sen­ta­tive align­ment con­tains the right route and stop loca­tions to car­ry for­ward.

Because the bridge over the Duwamish Riv­er is high enough to not require open­ings, and because of the grade pro­file chal­lenges of a tun­nel under the Duwamish (specif­i­cal­ly the need to rise rapid­ly in order to reach Alas­ka Junc­tion) we sup­port the cur­rent fixed struc­ture bridge pro­pos­al.

NPI also sup­ports the cur­rent pro­pos­als for new sta­tions at Del­ridge, Aval­on, and Alas­ka Junc­tion.

As with the Bal­lard line, we would like the Alas­ka Junc­tion sta­tion to be designed to allow an easy expan­sion of the route south­ward to serve oth­er neigh­bor­hoods in West Seat­tle, as well as Burien and oth­er near­by com­mu­ni­ties. Again, this enables future trans­porta­tion ser­vice to be designed and built at a low­er cost.

NPI’s pri­or­i­ties for these two exten­sions are, in order, to max­i­mize rid­er­ship on these routes by focus­ing on fast and reli­able ser­vice; deliv­er­ing projects faster than the cur­rent­ly pro­ject­ed dates of 2030 for West Seat­tle and 2035 for Bal­lard; and min­i­miz­ing dis­rup­tion to exist­ing com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing con­struc­tion, where pos­si­ble.

Thank you for this oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide com­ment on these much-need­ed exten­sions of our region­al light rail sys­tem.

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