Blog service

Put First Hill back on the table? – Seattle Transit Blog

As Sound Transit moved the West Seattle-Ballard Route Extension (WSBLE) through the EIS process, several challenges emerged, with early concerns focusing on the Ballard and West Seattle terminals. These are far from resolved, but a compromise alignment seems within reach.

The middle of the line is another matter: severe disruptions in Chinatown/ID, deep stations with bad transfers, and really complicated maneuvers and bridges needed in SODO to add a second set of lanes which is not strictly necessary. Meanwhile, the only acceptable option at CID, a shallow 4th Avenue station, adds $500 million to the project budget and has unpleasant impacts.

So, since it’s Saturday and we’re waiting for the ISE comment period to end, let’s indulge in an alternate lineup through downtown that avoids some of these issues.

Moving the whole line to the east, under First Hill, would solve many problems with the current city center stations and overall make the system more useful. This would open up many services to much more territory and significantly reduce the number of redundant track miles being built. Although this would introduce new challenges, these would be outweighed by the considerable benefits. Here’s how it could work:

The Ballard line, after stopping at Westlake station, would head immediately under First Hill, the “Midtown” stop being moved to Boren and Madison. We know Sound Transit is against too many I-5 crossings, so we’ll stay east and under Boren, continuing along Rainier Ave N, either through a shallow tunnel or leveling along of the median. A stop at Judkins Park would facilitate an easy transfer to the Eastside. The line would continue to Mount Baker and connect to the existing Rainier Valley line. A shuttle train between Mount Baker and SODO would serve Beacon Hill.

Some advantages to this approach:

  • Service to First Hill, Yesler Terrace and Little Saigon
  • No movement in Chinatown
  • No need to destroy or move Metro’s Ryerson base
  • No multi-year closure of Stadium Station
  • No new viaduct required in SODO or transmission line replacement
  • Possibility of repairing Mount Baker
  • Less frequent train gates at SODO as only the West Seattle line passes through it
  • Easy transfers between lines at Judkins Park, benefiting Eastside passengers heading to the airport (current proposals require exiting at street level and then back down to get from Bellevue to SeaTac)

Some disadvantages:

  • Beacon Hill passengers have a 2-seater ride to most destinations
  • Slightly longer trip to the airport from West Seattle
  • A 2-seater ride south of downtown for select passengers on the Ballard-Tacoma line
  • Significant construction impacts along Rainier Ave N, between Mt. Baker and the ID

To be clear, Sound Transit has repeatedly said no to a First Hill station. They argued that a First Hill station would violate voter intent when they endorsed ST3. But the move seems minor compared to potential station cuts the agency is apparently considering to deal with cost overruns.

(And yes, I’m aware I’m attempting Betteridge’s Law with the title. Please let me know why in the comments.)