Councilmember urges Sound Transit to consider ‘west is best’ light rail route

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles has joined several community groups in support of an alternative plan for the Ballard light rail extension called “west is best.”

As we reported last week, the alternative route — shown in red above — would run to the west of 15th Ave. W through Interbay and tunnel underneath Salmon Bay to an underground Ballard station. The current plan (.pdf and video) calls for elevated track along 15th Ave., a movable bridge over Salmon Bay and an elevated station at 15th and Market.

Kohl-Welles sent a letter today to the Sound Transit board chair, Dave Somers, asking the board to reconsider the current route along 15th Ave. in favor of the “west is best” alternative. She writes:

My main concern is the impact this alignment will have on 15th Avenue West in Interbay and 15th Avenue in Ballard. With the addition of light rail tracks, the reduction of street lanes, and this street’s serving as a major freight as well as motorist corridor, I am concerned that instead of traffic relief we will see increased congestion and gridlock. Not to mention, this alignment may lead to train delays if the draw bridge is in constant use as a result of boat traffic through the ship canal.

Alternatively, the “west is best” plan would run light rail parallel to 15th Avenue West and under the ship canal via a tunnel. This plan will ensure speed and reliability, preserve existing lanes on 15th Avenue West, and create an underground station in Ballard that would be the best option for future northern and eastern expansion.

While this route may cost more money up front, I strongly believe it would save us money in the long run and have a positive impact on the economy and commerce in Interbay and Ballard

The most likely “west is best” alignment would run to the west of the train tracks at the border of Interbay and Magnolia on 20th Ave. W, switching from an elevated route to a tunnel at Dravus St. — avoiding any above-ground disruption around Fishermen’s Terminal.

“I strongly disagree with the suggestions to run the Ballard line thru Magnolia,” explains one comment on the Sound Transit feedback map. “This will have a negative impact on the neighborhood in terms of noise and traffic flow. This diversion would also add additional cost and time to the project. Keeping it either along 15th and/or in Interbay is the most logical option. I agree there are traffic concerns with having it on 15th, but there are other ways to solve this instead of ruining Southeast Magnolia.”

Here’s a cross-section view of the current plan (click image for larger). Elevated track runs down Elliott and onto 15th Ave. W at a height of about 55 feet through Interbay, 70 feet over Salmon Bay and about 50 feet above 15th Ave. and Market St. The tracks would likely displace at least one lane as well as disrupt traffic during the construction phase.

“It would destroy many of our businesses,” the North Seattle Industrial Association said.

Meanwhile over in West Seattle, some neighborhood groups are pushing for a tunnel in some portions of that alignment, as well.

There are only a few more days to submit your feedback — March 5th is the deadline. Sound Transit is in the “early scoping” phase of the Ballard-West Seattle light rail project, compiling input from the community before it embarks on the important environment impact phase of the project. In other words, now is the time to submit alternatives to the plan.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

14 thoughts to “Councilmember urges Sound Transit to consider ‘west is best’ light rail route”

  1. Agree with Don.

    Whatever happened to the train we were supposed to get to the airport? My kids will be long graduated from Ingraham and I’m CERTAIN there will be no choo choo.

  2. This is really stupid. Elevated tracks will not displace traffic except perhaps during construction, that’s the whole point of grade separation and a separate bridge! The plan is definitively NOT for MLK-style median running at grade. Kohl Welles’ concern trolling here is ignorant of the facts of the proposal. And the idea of delaying the second downtown tunnel to prioritize a Ballard-SLU stub line is a non-starter.

    First of all, it would require a separate maintenance and train storage base in Interbay, which I’m certain this coalition would oppose if they were aware.

    Second, without the second tunnel and Ballard trains connecting to the airport and Tacoma, that would leave three lines in the current tunnel instead of two (West Seattle-Everett, Redmond-Lynnwood, and Tacoma-Lynnwood), which would mean cutting frequency on all three lines in the current tunnel to accommodate the added traffic. All passengers headed to South Lake Union, Expedia, or Ballard from anywhere else in the region would be forced to transfer at Westlake, whereas the current plan would allow those from the south to ride straight through. The second tunnel is essential to providing the core capacity needed to move hundreds of thousands of passengers quickly, reliably and frequently.

  3. The new bridge is projected at a height which would result in 2-4 delays per day. Not nothing, but significantly less than the Ballard Bridge and far from “constant use.” It’s also hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper than a tunnel would be.

    I’d love a tunnel. It’s the superior solution if you ignore financing. We just can’t afford to ignore that part of the project.

  4. I don’t care if it’s a bridge or a tunnel, just make sure each train features an off leash area and plenty of seating room for “dogspreading” techies who can’t function without having their living teddy bears in tow 24/7.

  5. @Common Sense
    The only opioid use I see on transit is junkies talking up whole sections while on the nod.
    They are usually under 35, and the boomers around here have way more money than they have “common sense”.
    Haha, see what I did there?

    Riddle me this: why do Seattle liberals hate and joke about rust belt rural/suburb drug addicts (“haha Die You Trumpers etc!”) yet scramble to “provide services” and fund shooting galleries for urban addicts and promptly fill the city – and the transit – up with surly hobos and addicts? It’s remarkable that the drivers aren’t allowed to carry weapons and Metro/Light Rail etc only has almost zero transit police.

  6. I applaud Jeanne Kohl-Welles for her ability to conceptualize the current plan for a light-rail-route and then stop, look and listen. Thank you for the clarity of thought and for supporting a plan that stands on it’s merits. Ballard has always been unique and that single quality will not become the political poster child of anything or anyone. Unique; as in the way we describe a child,,, period, no more, no less.

  7. “Why do Seattle liberals hate and joke about rust belt rural/suburb drug addicts”

    Question as old as the baby boomers themselves.

  8. Se need a new high bridge that can accommodate people walking, biking, driving and taking transit. The old bridge is beyond it’s life span. Come on SDOT get in the ball. A tunnel isn’t going to solve for the old bridge that has to be replaced soon anyway.

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