Ballard, Interbay light rail connection design moves ahead with preference for tunnel option

Jun 8, 2022, 8:55 AM | Updated: Jun 10, 2022, 11:12 am
Seattle - east to Salmon Bay from the Ballard Locks (Joe Mabel) Preferred design for Interbay-Ballard – Alternative IBB-2b, retained cut Interbay station at 17th Avenue W and tunnel 
alignment to Ballard station at 15th Avenue NW. (Seattle City Council)
Aerial of Ballard Bridge and Salmon Bay, 1950 (Municipal Archives) Visual Simulation of Preferred Alternative IBB-1a crossing Salmon Bay looking northwest from 
West Emerson Street and 13th Avenue West (Sound Transit)

The City of Seattle and Sound Transit are formalizing a design for one of the largest infrastructure projects in Seattle’s history: the $12 billion task of expanding the light rail into Ballard and West Seattle. One of the more challenging and controversial aspects of that process has been how to move trains from Interbay, across the Lake Washington Ship Canal/Salmon Bay and into Ballard.

The original considered designs involved five different options, largely split according to tunnel or bridge choices. In a presentation before the Seattle City Council Tuesday, the transportation committee expressed its preference for a tunnel, with an Interbay Station retained cut north of West Dravus Street, between 17th Avenue West and Thorndyke Avenue West; a Ballard Station tunnel east of 15th Avenue Northwest and south of Northwest Market Street.


Visual Simulation of Preferred Alternative IBB-1a crossing Salmon Bay looking northwest from
West Emerson Street and 13th Avenue West (Sound Transit)

That decision exists within the context of servicing a Seattle neighborhood that is the fastest-growing urban village in the city, adding 6,200 people since 2010. The committee made the point that bridge construction over the canal would present a barrier to commercial and recreational activity in the canal.

They also addressed the point that a bridge over the canal has engendered “concern from Fisherman’s Terminal regarding bridge impacts on maritime dependent businesses.”

‘Superyacht facilities’ resize Sound Transit’s draft bridges for light rail over Lake Washington Canal

“The two bridge alternatives … and associated construction activities could affect a wide range of cargo, fishing and other industrial operations, hamper freight movement, and ultimately result in a loss of jobs in our community,” Kathy Roeder, a spokesperson with the Port of Seattle, wrote to MyNorthwest.

“The Port cannot support [a bridge option] because of impacts to Fishermen’s Terminal and the variety of operations on the site, the impacts to the regional economy due to impacts on seasonal-provisioning homeport activities and the impacts to maritime and landside access… Further, the construction impacts along Elliott and 15th Avenues W corridor make the Elevated 15th Avenue … and the Elevated 14th Ave Alignment Option … untenable.”

A Sound Transit navigation impact report, obtained by MyNorthwest, which analyzes the ramifications of bridge construction for maritime activity through the canal, notes that “if a bridge alternative is ultimately selected for construction, Sound Transit would prepare a bridge permit application and identify the proposed and completed mitigation for affected waterway users,” with the context that the proposed bridge height is 136 feet, identical to the Aurora Bridge and therefore has enough clearance for most vessels that move through the Lake Washington Canal.

The exceptions are “nine recreational vessels/superyachts with air drafts greater than 136 feet,” serviced by “two marine facilities that reported providing services in the past to vessels with air drafts over 136 feet and having a desire to do so in the future, as well as one upstream marina that could accommodate and service vessels with air drafts over 136 feet,” the report reads.

The Port of Seattle, National Marine Trade Association and businesses that cater to superyachts are actively working to attract them to Salmon Bay and Elliott Bay by creating a cluster of superyacht service facilities … Superyachts with air drafts over 136 feet have entered Salmon Bay over the last several years. Those few tall superyachts cannot transit the Ship Canal east of the Aurora Bridge and must use the superyacht marinas and services available in Salmon Bay and Elliott Bay. SBMC (Salmon Bay Marine Center), which is located downstream/west of both bridge alternatives bills itself as “the premier superyacht moorage and refit facility on the West Coast” (Port of Seattle 2019b; SBMC 2020).

Other businesses in Salmon Bay and the Fremont Cut that can offer services to superyachts and/or other vessels over 150 feet LOA include Pacific Yacht Management, Fishermen’s Terminal, Stabbert Maritime, Pacific Fishermen’s Shipyard, Waypoint Marine Group,
CSR Marine, S3 Maritime, Bowman Refrigeration., Foss, LeClercq, and Ballard Marina.

The Port of Seattle is also planning to replace Docks D and E at the Salmon Bay Marina, located downstream/west of the proposed bridge alternatives. The current design would replace the existing floating docks with concrete docks and a steel bulkhead, allowing recreational vessels up to 150 feet long with hull drafts up to 16 feet to dock at the marina (Poor 2020). While it appears that superyachts and other tall vessels with air drafts over 136 feet cannot currently moor at the Salmon Bay Marina, the new docks may be able to accommodate such vessels in the future.

The Sound Transit Board is expected to vote on a motion to confirm or modify the preferred alternatives for the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on July 14, 2022, with Sound Transit Board action anticipated on July 28, 2022.

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Ballard, Interbay light rail connection design moves ahead with preference for tunnel option