Link light rail in Mount Baker Station
A Central Link light rail train pulls into the Mount Baker Station (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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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