Sound Transit considers competing proposals for West Seattle, Ballard Link extension

Mar 16, 2022, 5:30 AM
A light rail train waits at a station in Seattle. (Credit: Sound Transit)
(Credit: Sound Transit)

The future of light rail through West Seattle to Ballard hangs in the balance as Sound Transit negotiates its draft Link extension plans with community stakeholders.

Sound Transit held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss competing proposals for how to construct the Link extension, approved under ST3, through West Seattle and Ballard. That session was set to focus on the Interbay/Ballard extension, with subsequent public hearings for other Link stretches scheduled throughout March. Comments on the draft environmental impact statement will be accepted through April 28.

The Link line would connect Ballard to West Seattle through Interbay, the Seattle Center, around Elliot Bay, terminating at the Alaska Junction in West Seattle. Design is currently scheduled to conclude in 2027, with construction finished in stages by 2039, although potentially subject to realignment as the transit agency has reported budget shortfalls in recent months.

Broadly, some of the proposals plan tunnels through population-dense areas of Seattle that naturally lend themselves to future high-volume Link traffic. Other proposals leverage cheaper real estate through elevated Link-lines as a compromise to their budget gap.

In 2019, the Sound Transit board voted to approve consideration of the more expensive routes with the caveat that the project would require third-party funding. In January, Sound Transit released a draft environmental impact statement that stipulates, largely, that the real-estate cost for both lines is now projected to be comparable, increasing the odds that the once-more expensive tunnels might come to fruition.

“Some tunnel alternatives in West Seattle and Ballard are comparable in cost to the elevated alternatives,” a Sound Transit spokesperson confirmed with The Urbanist.

The current Link extension plans as drafted are far from a foregone conclusion. Earlier in March, a coalition of arts groups that define the cultural and economic fabric of the Seattle Center, under the umbrella organization of the Seattle Center Foundation, wrote to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, calling the draft plans a “truly existential crisis.” The foundation represents KEXP, the Vera Project, the Seattle International Film Festival, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

“[We] cannot stay in place and solvent during 5-10 years of construction, unless a significant change of course happens in the design, construction methodology, and location of the Uptown station. The impacts of noise and vibration, as well as the significant unknown construction impacts have created a truly existential crisis,” the letter reads.

“We do not take sounding this alarm lightly. But as the City is the landlord for all Seattle Center Resident Organizations, the Partner Agency for Sound Transit, and the permitting entity, we believe we needed to
share these conclusions with you as soon as possible. And we hope you will come to the same conclusion as your staff reviews the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.”

Below is a complete listing of Sound Transit public hearings on the draft EIS for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions:

  • Tuesday, March 15, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (Interbay/Ballard focused)
  • Tuesday, March 22, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (Downtown focused)
  • Thursday, March 24, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (CID/SODO focused)
  • Wednesday, March 30, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (West Seattle focused)

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Sound Transit considers competing proposals for West Seattle, Ballard Link extension