Groups push for light rail tunnel into Ballard and new Interbay route

The first wave of light rail feedback from Ballard neighbors has focused on Sound Transit’s plans to build a movable bridge over Salmon Bay.

Many residents suggested a tunnel into Ballard would be less disruptive: light rail would not be interrupted by boat traffic, and businesses and drivers would not be disrupted by the above-ground construction and inevitable lane closures along 15th Ave. W.

Sound Transit video showing a Google Map flyover of the current route

Now that idea is gaining some traction. Two neighborhood groups are formally supporting a tunnel alternative: the North Seattle Industrial Association (NSIA) and the Coalition of Magnolia, Queen Anne and Interbay Neighborhoods.

“It would destroy many of our businesses,” explains the NSIA of Sound Transit’s current plan to run an elevated track down Elliott/15th Ave. in Interbay and across a movable bridge into Ballard. The NSIA pointed to a 2016 letter (.pdf) — signed by most major neighborhood groups in Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia and Interbay — that urged Sound Transit to avoid the 15th Ave. route in Interbay and build a tunnel under Salmon Bay to an underground station in Ballard.

The Coalition of Magnolia, Queen Anne and Interbay Neighborhoods agrees. It has created an online petition and organized a letter-writing campaign asking Sound Transit to shift its route to the west of 15th Ave. and consider a tunnel under the bay into Ballard.

Both groups point to a map in that 2016 letter that proposes the alternate route:

The map doesn’t specify a specific route in Interbay, but the Coalition is recommending using 20th Ave. W, just to the west of the railroad tracks and a quarter mile from 15th Ave. The groups suggest running the elevated track up to Dravus, and then tunneling underground into Ballard. The Coalition argues an underground Ballard station would allow more flexibility in future expansion to the north and east of Ballard.

Of course, the tunnel option would cost more money — and potentially lengthen the time horizon on the project as well.

Have an opinion? You only have a few more days to send in your feedback. The public comment period ends March 5th.

25 comments on “Groups push for light rail tunnel into Ballard and new Interbay route”

  1. Billions for tunnels to Capital Hill and the U-District, but not enough in the budget for a relatively small one in Ballard? If one looks at how Ballard gets treated in terms of this issue, the homeless, ridiculous over-development, road work, the North Precinct Project and a whole slew of other issues, it’s pretty obvious where we stand in terms of influence at City Hall.

    We are supposed to shut up and just keep paying those property taxes, right? That $50 billion seems to be going down the drain in a hurry. Will they want more?

  2. I think a tunnel is the best option too, but since I live on the QA side I’d hate to see the station move to 20th. That extra 1/4 mile of walking would negate any time savings I’d get with the rail over the bus.

  3. I would hate to see Fisherman’s Terminal go away. The tunnel sounds like an interesting alternative.

  4. Tunnel is best.

    The city owes Ballard something, at least, for jamming in all the “services” that nobody asked for and ruining commons park with all the spillover and detritus. Of course we can’t expect to see fare enforcement or safety for riders…so at least give us the tunnel.

  5. Bridge is best. I’m sick and tired of being shoved underground as if I’m a mole. It would be great, and a less expensive option, if it was slightly elevated to avoid having to open for all the sailboats.
    By the way, before anyone whines about the time spent waiting for the bridge and how omg-I-am-too-important-to-wait-5-minutes, keep in mind, the Ballard Bridge does not open during rush hour for pleasure craft or small commercial boats. (roughly 7am to 9am and 5 to 7pm). Take a moment out of your self-important attitude to enjoy the view.

  6. Yeah more transit options for me riders to dogspread or nod off from fentanyl.
    Raise them taxes!
    Any opposition is nimby racism!

  7. Yeah Dan Arles— there are no homeless in the University District or Capitol Hill.
    Amazingly they have been totally immune from development too— it’s exactly the same as it was in 1970.
    Why do people like to pretend that Ballard gets the short end of the stick? Maybe move your comparison to the East side if you want to be taken seriously

  8. The issue is less about convenience (and certainly not homelessness) and more about business disruption. QA gets a tunnel. Cap Hill gets a tunnel. Univ District gets a tunnel. But Ballard, which also has Fishermen’s Terminal, must move out of the way for an elevated line. We’re not arguing to be special, just equal to the other business districts in the city.

  9. KOMO has a story today about taxation, and why people are moving out of this once fair area. All I see are unfunded mandates, for now. Do these community leaders go to the Church of the Open Wallet? So we are going to tax ourselves right into greatness and retrofit our entire city? For what/whom? Bitchy millennial, that’s who. What I do see is lots of chaos and angry people, playing right into the hands of the democrats and their tax, spend, control machine. Think taxes and congestion are bad today? Just wait until they are done.

  10. Hey Grumpy Ballard, you clearly don’t have to take the bridge during rush hour because the restrictions are actually between 4-6 pm, which is why that corridor is completely backed up between 6 and 6:45.

  11. Tunnels are too expensive. Build a higher fixed bridge, replacing the Ballard Bridge, for cars bikes and the train. This new bridge should provide 20 feet more clearance which should accommodate 95% of the boat traffic. The other 5% would be prevented from going further east. We did a similar thing with the new 520 which prevents any taller boats from going further south.

  12. Geeky Swedes,

    In terms of more time to build, that is due to the downtown portion of the route which requires a second tunnel. Also, as a heads up, there is some grumbling from West Seattle to have their portion tunneled as well (as opposed to elevated).

  13. Throughout the history of Seattle/Ballard, Ballard has gotten the short end of the stick. Look at the idea of light rail service to Ballard in 2035, but light rail to Lynnwood first (I bet few riders use it when it is complete). Do the tunnel and if possible replace the Ballard Bridge too. It is way overdue.

  14. I think the city know Ballard people will be pissed off regardless. Why build an expensive tunnel and get yelled out when you can build a cheaper bridge and get yelled out. Kind of the same reasoning as why your children won’t visit you when you’re dying (you are unpleasant and everyone hates you)

  15. Could that crowd in the photo be any whiter? Oh, wait, I forgot its the line to Ballard.

  16. Even if they build a tunnel they will need to replace the Ballard Bridge soon.

  17. >> QA gets a tunnel. Cap Hill gets a tunnel. Univ District gets a tunnel. But Ballard, which also has Fishermen’s Terminal, must move out of the way for an elevated line. We’re not arguing to be special, just equal to the other business districts in the city.

    Right, but this was the plan all along. Why complain now? The time to suggest something different was before the vote. This is what everyone voted for, in part because it was cheap.

    That is where the analogy breaks down. There was no way to cheaply serve Capitol Hill or the UW on the surface — you needed a tunnel, or it simply wouldn’t work. Ballard could have a tunnel — should have a tunnel — via the UW. It would only add two minutes for a ride from Ballad to downtown, and would have been cheaper, but folks picked this option instead.

  18. There is no pool of money to tap for “fairness” between Ballard and the U-District. The issue is their cost relative to the ST1/2/3 budget they’re in. North King’s ST3 list is packed full with expensive projects: Ballard, West Seattle, and the second downtown tunnel. There’s not a lot of room to get more than ST3 budgeted, which is the representative alignment. The time to ask for a higher budget was before the ballot measure was written — which ST did ask the public about what to include and how much was essential prority, and it had to balance the wishes of the subareas against their available revenue under a certain common tax rate. A Ballard tunnel may be affordable somehow or it may not — I’m concerned about whether West Seattle’s representative alignment can really fit the budget, so that may determine how much extra is available for Ballard. In any case it doesn’t have to do with fairness vis-a-vis the U-District. The time to bring that issue up was two years ago before ST3 was written.

  19. The time to ask for a higher budget was before the ballot measure was written. Yes I was there. Yes I and others pointed out the impracticality of anything other than a tunnel to Ballard. NO this was not in their plans. NO we were not heard.

  20. @Seattle Jitterbalm

    They didn’t listen to me either. They decided to build the line through Interbay, instead of via the UW. Too late now — folks voted for it (I didn’t). I would love to see them scrap the whole thing, build an underground line from Ballard to UW, build it ten years earlier and billions cheaper, but that isn’t going to happen. This is what people voted for. There might be minor tweaks here or there (a station moved a block or two) but nothing as expensive and fundamentally different as a tunnel.

    Unless, of course, they find that a tunnel is actually a lot cheaper. That could happen, but don’t hold your breath (tunnels tend to be very expensive).

  21. I agree totally with this except for the Ballard station location. Put the station in the heart of Ballard which is west of 15th. Its crazy to tunnel under the heart of Ballard only to locate the station over at 15th & Market (almost as crazy as Bellevue with its downtown tunnel through the heart and then locating the “downtown” station on the periphery).

  22. This is dumb. Put the boring machines in the ground and drive them from Westlake to 17th and Market.

  23. I’m happy with the bridge option but would like to see it include pedestrian’s and bikes.

  24. Bridge! The views would be awesome. Hearkens back to the days when streetcars went across the Ballard Bridge and up 15th as well as across the canal to run up Leary Way. Tunneling increases the timeline and makes the project financially unrealistic- which is my fear the car-centric organizers of this bad tunneling idea really want – an unrealistic project that never gets rail to Ballard built. Tunnels are expensive and should be a last resort. Bridge please!

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