Ballard light rail plans include movable bridge over Salmon Bay, new tunnels

When you consider the Ballard extension of Sound Transit’s light rail project isn’t scheduled to open until 2035, you may feel compelled to calculate your age just over 17 years from now. What could possibly take a small eternity to build?

This week Sound Transit is discussing its partnership agreement with the city for both the Ballard and West Seattle extensions, and it sheds some light on the complexity of the Ballard extension in particular, which is dramatically larger in scope and scale than the West Seattle project.

For starters, the Ballard project will involve building a movable rail bridge across Salmon Bay, next to the Ballard Bridge, that would open for boat traffic. In the project planning deck, Sound Transit explains the bridge would need to be approved by the Coast Guard, and it “could require acquiring property from the Fisherman’s Terminal and impact buildings, docks, vessels, and equipment associated with maritime businesses.”

This alone is a big project with a lot of variables. Just remember how long the “Missing Link” project is taking — and that’s for a cycling and running path.

The Ballard run is also dependent on a new tunnel from the International District to South Lake Union, and then another new tunnel from South Lake to Uptown (Lower Queen Anne) with tunnel stations at South Lake and Seattle Center. Then the extension becomes elevated, running down Elliott and 15th Ave. to elevated stations in Smith Cove (near the Magnolia cruise ship port) and Interbay (at Dravus) before it heads over the new bridge into Ballard.

That’s a total of 7.1 miles. In many ways, the Ballard “extension” is more like a new Seattle main line when you consider the full route from the south end of downtown:

Sound Transit estimates it will take 15 minutes to ride from Ballard to Westlake — presumably when the bridge isn’t up — and 47,000 to 57,000 people will travel back and forth from Ballard to South Lake every weekday. Include the new downtown tunnel to the mix, and the estimate adds 110,000–136,000 weekday riders.

Under the “risks and issues” section of the planning deck, Sound Transit lists three big ones for the Ballard extension: the movable bridge, the new tunnels and “displacing vehicle travel lanes.”

Keep in mind the Ballard project is only in its initial planning phases. Sound Transit say it will begin holding public meetings early next year to start collecting community feedback, and it’s targeting “early 2022” for a final environmental impact statement and 2026 to finalize the design. Construction would begin in 2027 and be completed in 2035. In the meantime, the smaller-scale West Seattle extension is scheduled to open 5 years earlier.

9 comments on “Ballard light rail plans include movable bridge over Salmon Bay, new tunnels”

  1. Better Idea:
    Round up lunatic junkie hobos and make Ballard safe instead. The D line is filled with prostitutes, miscreants, juvenile delinquents (t h u g s) , and other assorted losers who drift around Ballard making trouble while our City Council makes excuses and ratchets up taxes and fees. Time for this stupidity to end.

    Seattle for its citizens!
    Free Ballard!

  2. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and faster to build a spur from UW Station? The tracks are already across the ship canal why not split the Ballard train off at UW or Roosevelt?
    Seems that would save considerable time and money.

  3. The canal crossing either needs to go high enough that it doesn’t get disrupted by boat traffic, since no one’s smart enough to change coast guard regulations, or tunnel underneath like they did with the new sewage line 5 years ago. If they can’t figure that out they’re idiots!
    I’ve driven this route for 30+ years.

  4. This is really funny …
    from the “partnership” agreement…
    West Seattle Ridership 2040 daily project riders 32,000 — 37,000 Per day !!
    Ballard Ridership 2040 daily project riders 47,000 — 57,000 Per day !!

  5. Tunnel under or build a higher bridge. Silly to be beholden to ship traffic.

  6. @Ballardite: That was floated around by a lot of the pro-transit crowd. I think the lure of Amazon, Gates Foundation and Expedia connections overruled what could have been a great route.

    @Henry: Dollars to donuts that a tunnel gets built. Once ST actually starts looking at what it’s going to take to build a “high enough” bridge, they’ll see the cost benefits of a bridge start to evaporate. Also remember, $1 billion of ST3 is going towards parking garages in the suburbs, instead of investing in a better rail system.

  7. @Ballardite has it right. Otherwise (and even if) 2035 will be more like 2055.

  8. I agree with the comment that the most practical route to Ballard would be a link from the station at the University of Washington. This would be so much faster to build and not require a complicated bridge over the Ship Canal or as much tunneling as the proposed route. It would also not require the disruption of Fisherman’s Terminal which I think should be regarded as a unique regional asset. And it would also not require the disruption of auto travel lanes along 15th Ave. due to the use of elevated tracks.

    But it seems to me that Sound Transit has so much tax money to spend that it only thinks about the most complicated and expensive solutions. And how it can prolong its own life span. It does not seem to be about providing reasonable and practical transportation solutions.

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