What if the Sounder train added a Ballard stop?

That’s the idea floated by Stephen Fesler in the Urbanist: what if the North Sounder train, which travels between Seattle and Everett, added stops in Ballard, Interbay and Belltown?

Since the tracks already exist (map), the Sounder could add “infill stations” in Ballard just north of the Salmon Bay Bridge and south of NW 57th St. — as well as at Fishermen’s Terminal, Smith Cove (near the new Expedia campus) and Broad St. along the waterfront. If the stations are “modest” and don’t include parking, Fesler writes, they could cost a “few million dollars a piece.”

He continues:

A station serving Ballard could be successful in generating favorable ridership for several reasons. Firstly, riders north of Seattle may find the station useful to access jobs in central Ballard and the industrial area centered on Salmon Bay. A variety of all-day and peak-hour buses make connections to those areas easy. Secondly, local residents might find the service desirable to get quick service to Downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square, and SoDo. Other proposed stations could make intermediary destinations viable, too.

What would this mean for light rail? Fesler says the Sounder could pick up some of the slack before light rail debuts in Ballard in 2035. After that, light rail “wouldn’t fully compete with North Sounder since the commuter line would still serve unique destinations to the south,” he writes.

What do you think of his idea? Fesler has many more details in this post.

What could light rail look like in Ballard?

With Sound Transit’s expansion plans for Ballard and West Seattle gaining steam, one reader of the West Seattle Blog whipped up some UNOFFICIAL renderings of what elevated light rail could look like in that neighborhood. Since there are parallels with Ballard, we thought we’d share one here:

The caveats are many: the routes aren’t finalized, the dimensions may be off, this is just one person’s interpretation… but it provides a little perspective on what’s likely coming our way. The photo above seems similar to the 15th and Market corner; you can see the elevated station in the distance between the buildings (there are more renderings on the West Seattle Blog).

While the West Seattle route slices through the center of the neighborhood, Ballard’s elevated route will run from Lower Queen Anne along Elliott and 15th Ave. through Interbay — across a new movable bridge — and into Ballard at 15th and Market St.

If you’d like to have a say in all of this, now’s the time. Sound Transit is looking for Ballard volunteers to join its advisory board for the project.

Since the project is in very early stages, there are no official drawings.

(Thanks to West Seattle Blog and “Avalon Tom,” who gave us permission to post it.)

Mayor Durkan signs agreement for ‘expedited’ Ballard light rail

Ballard’s light rail project initially was slated for completion in 2038. But under a new Sound Transit partnership agreement signed by Mayor Durkan today — which we previewed last week — the target date moves to 2035.

The agreement aims to identify a preferred alternative in the next 18 months as well as expedite the Environmental Impact Statement. Mayor Durkan is also joining the Sound Transit Board of Directors in an effort to improve coordination.

“We need better transit as quickly as possible. By expediting light rail to West Seattle and Ballard, we will be transforming our city for decades to come,” Durkan said in a news release. “As both mayor and a member of the Sound Transit Board, I will work to cut red tape to provide faster, more reliable transit service to neighborhoods sooner.”

West Seattle’s target date moves up to 2030 instead of 2033.

Of course, these are just targets, and 17 years is a long ways away. The Ballard project is particularly complex, relying on two new tunnels — one downtown and another in South Lake Union/Lower Queen Anne — and a movable bridge over Salmon Bay.

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.

Sound Transit board unanimously approves ST3 updates

As the My Ballard team reported last week, many readers are aware of the updated ST3 plan that may bring, among many other things, grade separated light rail to Ballard three years earlier than originally planned.

This morning, the Sound Transit board officially and unanimously approved the updated ST3 plan that will be on the ballot this November.

“The vote you’re taking today is…truly momentous,” Dow Constantine, King County executive and chair of the Sound Transit board, told board members this morning. “You are setting down the template for the growth and development of this region for the next several generations.”

After listening to feedback from about 35,000 surveys, updates were made to the ST3 plan which includes bumping up Ballard’s light rail line to open in 2035 as opposed to the originally planned 2038.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff confirms that it might be possible to speed up the timeline even more with a series of process changes which include favoring a design/build contract instead of a design/bid/build contract, having senior staff meet with stakeholders first to address concerns upfront, and finally, having local municipalities make zoning changes to allow light rail sooner.

To deliver the light rail options in the tighter time frame, Sound Transit believes that the overall cost of the project will increase by $4 billion.

Despite the timeline victories won in the updated plan, according to The Stranger, many transit advocates are pushing for a tunnel rather than a bridge to carry light rail to Ballard.

According to The Stranger report, the tunnel option would be significantly more expensive by $450 million.

Advocacy group Seattle Subway is also still pushing for a light rail line from Ballard to UW that, they say, could potentially be funded by unexpected revenue or money leftover from other projects.

“We need to be both prudent and scrappy and plan for success,” Seattle Subway’s political director Jonathan Hopkins told the Sound Transit board this morning.

According to The Stranger, the Sound Transit board showed little excitement for either changes but advocated have another three weeks to push the ideas forward.

The Sound Transit board will take its final vote to send ST3 to the November ballot on June 23.

Light rail could be coming to Ballard… 22 years from now

Sound Transit has unveiled its next proposal for light rail expansion: $50 billion worth that would connect Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, Issaquah, West Seattle and Ballard. Here’s the map and list of projects (.pdf)

But there’s a catch. The Ballard leg is slated for 2038. (Do yourself a favor and don’t calculate how old you would be.)

Here’s how Sound Transit describes the proposed line to Ballard:

This project would build light rail from Downtown Seattle to Ballard’s Market Street area. It would include elevated and at-grade light rail on 15th Avenue NW and Elliott Avenue West and a rail-only movable bridge over Salmon Bay. It includes a new rail-only tunnel through the Uptown neighborhood and Downtown Seattle. This project would include nine new stations.


Adds the Sound Transit Blog in a very good overview:

From Westlake, trains would run undergound to Queen Anne with stations at Denny Way, Harrison Street, and Seattle Center. From there trains would emerge and run at-grade through Interbay, with stations at Smith Cove, Interbay (likely at Dravus Street), and terminate at an elevated station at 15th/Market in Ballard. The train would cross the ship canal in a new drawbridge that would only open in off-peak hours, with ST working with the Coast Guard to limit openings as much as possible.

For those who have criticized Sound Transit for being too conservative with mass transit over the years, the new proposal is much more aggressive. “The debate over light rail is over. We are building a system north, south, east and west,” said CEO Peter Rogoff. It includes a second downtown transit tunnel.

But it’s not cheap. If approved, the project is estimated to add $392 a year in taxes for a typical household, Sound Transit says. The proposal could make the November ballot. Initial thoughts?

Ballard light rail link included in Long-Range Sound Transit update


Last week, Sound Transit updated its draft regional transit Long-Range Plan (click on map) which includes the possible extension of the light rail service to Ballard. This update sets the stage to begin work in 2015 on shaping a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure.

“Our Long-Range Plan creates the vision for the high-capacity transit needed to increase mobility in the Puget Sound region,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Over the coming year, this plan will help us determine the projects to present to voters to move regional transit forward.”

Information on the updated Long-Range Plan (LRP) is available online. Over 24,000 comments and survey responses received from across the region helped shape a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that informed the Board’s actions to update the plan.

The current Long-Range Plan points to transit expansions that will be possible through future ballot measures after the current voter-approved projects are complete.

According to Sound Transit, high-capacity transit investments are the best way to significantly expand transportation capacity in Washington’s most congested corridors as our region’s population grows a projected 30 percent by 2040.

“This action gives our citizens hope that they will have an alternative to being stuck in gridlock traffic. It takes us a step closer to connecting our region, from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond and points in-between, and connecting people to where they work and play,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Everett City Council Member Paul Roberts.

“We will work with residents and cities throughout our region to meet the high demand for more regional transit. In order to do this, the Legislature must grant additional local funding authority for voter consideration,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

In 2015 and 2016 Sound Transit will host events to engage with local residents and jurisdictions to come up with a ballot measure for voter consideration as soon as November 2016.

Sound Transit is set to seek the required local revenue authority during the 2015 Legislative Session that starts in January.

A survey from June this year highlights transportation and traffic as being the region’s greatest problem, according to voters. The survey revealed that 85 percent of voters supported further transit expansions in the years ahead.

Sound Transit’s Long-Range Plan was first established in 1996 and updated for the first time in 2005. The plan emphasizes the overall vision of a light rail “spine” between Everett and Tacoma and all the way to downtown Redmond.

As the plan moves forward, Sound Transit plans to continue working with other transit agencies to develop efficient transit options and drive the State dollar further.

In September 2014 an initial Transit Integration Report documented the efforts that are underway, with initial work focusing on Sound Transit and King County Metro services.

In terms of services to open in the “near” future, the University Link light rail extension, with new stations on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium, is set to open in early 2016, six to nine months early and nearly $150 million under budget.

Further down the track, in 2021, the light rail service is scheduled to extend to Northgate.

The My Ballard team will keep readers up to date with new information on Sound Transit’s Long-Range Plan as it moves forward.

Sound Transit to study rail link between Ballard and the Eastside

According to Seattle Subway, between now and December Sound Transit will study the costs and ridership potential for the Sand Point crossing rail link (see purple line in map below) that would connect Ballard to the Eastside.

Back in July, Seattle Subway advocated for Sound Transit to study a direct rail corridor connecting North Seattle to the Eastside. The Sand Point crossing rail option would link Ballard, Fremont, the U District, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Kirkland, Redmond and the Microsoft Campus.


According to Seattle Subway, this rail link option offers time savings and ridership advantages over crossing a retrofitted 520. Through avoiding the south detour to a new Mountlake bridge required of the 520 option, the Sand Point crossing reportedly has potential to beat vehicle travel times at all hours of the day.

The study of the Sand Point crossing was previously undertaken in 1998, prior to the 520 replacement project. According to the study, the department concluded that a rail link in this corridor was a concept “to be further evaluated” and that service between the two urban centers “would clearly have good ridership potential.”

“This is a win for Seattle and the region. This means taking a serious look at a fast route between very high density residential and work areas—including the UW, Children’s, and Microsoft,” says Jonathan Hopkins, Seattle Subway’s political director.  “These areas already have an overwhelmed transit system and suffer from our region’s most clogged roadways.”

By December, the Sound Transit Board will have to decide which corridors to add to their Long Range Plan, referring to the routes that they would consider building in future as funding becomes available.

According to Seattle Subway, a survey of residents in the Sound Transit area showed that 85% of residents want transit options to expand in our city.

“Building sufficient transit makes it possible for companies to bring more jobs to the region, in addition to the 100,000 jobs that Sound Transit construction has directly created since it was formed,” says Hopkins.

The My Ballard team will keep readers updated with new developments as the study progresses.