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Sound Transit narrowing down light rail options in Seattle

(Sound Transit)

It turns out that building a light rail line through a long established city can be quite a challenge. Sound Transit is still working through two dozen options to expand the line throughout Seattle.

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There are 24 different light rail options still being discussed as Sound Transit looks to expand service through downtown, Seattle to Ballard, and West Seattle. The basic corridors are mostly set, but where the lines will go and what they will look like is still up in the air.

Will the tracks be at street level, elevated or will Sound Transit build a tunnel?

“We’re looking at the technical and engineering factors and looking at environmental effects,” said Sound Transit central corridor director Cathal Ridge. “We’re looking at ridership, travel time costs, and money factor in it.”

If you look at the plans for Ballard, for example, Sound Transit is looking at whether to go over the water or under the water at Salmon Bay. Should the line go over or under to the west of 15th or to the east of 15th? Those potential projects are already anywhere from $300-500 million more expensive than the original ST3 plans sold to voters.

The same questions are being asked for the route to West Seattle. An elevated track with a dedicated bridge over the Duwamish was the plan under ST3. But now potential tunnels are being considered with price tags that are up to a billion dollars more expensive than the original designs. Despite those cost projections, Ridge said it’s too soon to say what the final price tag will be.

“Several years from now, as we get into final design, we’ll really establish what the project budget is,” he said. “It’s far too early to say right now where we are, overall, in terms of cost.”

Sound Transit is still working out the tunnel under Seattle that will feed both the line to Ballard and West Seattle.

A big part of this process is getting public input on where they think the line should go. Ridge said there is an online open house available and one more in-person open house in Ballard next week. Ridge hopes to have the 24 options narrowed-down by next month to keep the planning on schedule. The Seattle portion of the light rail expansion was estimated to cost about $6 billion. Light rail is scheduled to arrive in West Seattle by 2030 and in Ballard by 2035.

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