This article is cross-posted at The Urbanist.
Commuters in Seattle’s suburbs should like what they see in the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan that the Sound Transit Executive Board unveiled on Thursday. Seattle urbanists are left wondering what they get out of the ambitious but suburban-focused 25-year $50 billion plan to bring Sound Transit’s total to 108 miles of rail, a length that would rival BART in San Francisco. Sound Transit officials estimate that $27 billion would come from regional taxes and $23 billion would be leveraged from other sources like the federal government.
Seattle: West Seattle Junction, At Grade To Ballard… That’s It?
The plan would build light rail to West Seattle Junction in 2033 and to Ballard via Interbay and a new Downtown transit tunnel by 2038. The plan calls for at-grade rail in Interbay and a moveable bridge crossing of Salmon Bay which cause some to worry that light rail to Ballard would be bogged down in traffic, both nautical and terrestrial. Sound Transit’s own study found that the at-grade option to be 5 minutes slower than a completely grade-separated option (23 minutes versus 18 minutes). We can take solace that a second Downtown transit tunnel is on the plan, but, without many additional Seattle destinations in the light rail network, that tunnel would also be more about expanding capacity for suburban commuters than it would be about helping Seattleites. If ST3 has $50 billion, why did Sound Transit not pick a gold standard rail option for Ballard? The Ballard-to-Downtown options that were entirely elevated or with a tunnel crossing of Salmon Bay show massively larger ridership. Options C-01B (elevated) and C-01C (tunnel crossing) each showed ridership of 102,000 to 133,000. With the opening of the University Link, the Central Link hit ridership of 57,000 on Tuesday. Option C-01B or C would more than double that, showing its colossal potential. So why did Sound Transit not go with the superior option on travel time, reliability, and ridership?
Extensive Suburban Rail Service
Finishing the Central Link spine north to Everett and south to Tacoma remains the central focus of Sound Transit’s vision. Everett promoted the extravagant option of routing to Paine Field picking up roughly the same ridership while spending about $2 billion more and taking 13 minutes longer than the I-5 alignment, and costing about $1 billion and taking 7 minutes longer than the most direct SR-99 alignment, according to Sound Transit own study.
Extending the East Link to the Redmond city center also got priority by being pegged for 2028 completion. Tacoma Dome would get service by 2033 and Tacoma Community College by 2041.
Meanwhile, Everett could be served by 2041 (a mere 26 years from now) via extensions of the Link spine. Same goes for Bellevue to Issaquah with a 2041 opening while the plan also calls for the extension of Sounder rail service from Lakewood south to DuPont by 2036.