In the world of public transportation planning, time moves a bit faster than it does for the rest of us. While opening a needed transportation project in 2035 may seem like a long wait for regular Seattle commuters, for the planners at Sound Transit it seems like they are rushing to meet a deadline.
In the past month, Sound Transit has transitioned to the next step on the new West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions, which will narrow down the best option for Queen Anne, Magnolia, Interbay and Ballard.
In 2016 voters gave Sound Transit the go ahead to work on the ST3 plan, which will open new lite rail and other commuter rail stations from as south as Tacoma and north to Everett.
“The lite rail works in its own exclusive right away,” said Sound Transit Public Information Officer Kimberly Reason. “We are building out, we opened up Capital Hill and University Washington stations in 2016. Ridership just skyrocketed. We opened up Angle Lake, that’s our southernmost station. We are now working on stations in Federal Way and Tacoma … and our next station will be working on is in Northgate which will open in 2021.”
The Northgate project will include two underground stations and one elevated station.
The Ballard Link Extension’s planned opening is 2035. Reason said it seems like 16 years is a long wait for the new stations, but Sound Transit actually moved up the opening date by a few years as requested by voters.
“We are working at top speed,” Reason said.
The Ballard Link Extension will include three elevated stations in Ballard, Interbay and Smith Cove. There will be six tunnel stations in Seattle Center, South Lake Union, Denny, Westlake, Midtown and International District / China Town. The extension will cover 7.1 miles and will include a bridge or tunnel connection over Salmon Bay.
Lite Rail Development Manager Kate Lichtenstein said Sound Transit is still in the planning process and hopes to begin design of a final project draft starting in 2023. Designers are in the last phase of choosing a preferred design of the new stations.
“During this process we are looking for a preferred alternative to perform an environmental impact statement,” Lichtenstein said. “We then will develop the draft and the final environmental impact statements. There is still more studies to be done before the design phase.”
For the Interbay Ballard extension, Sound Transit looked at eight alternatives and then narrowed it down to three options, which will be studied and presented to local groups and the public for input. The three options include;
*The original ST3 option: The extension would begin at West Republican Street, would travel up Elliott Avenue West and curve onto 15th Avenue West, would cross Salmon Bay west of the Ballard bridge and would continue on 15th Avenue West in Ballard.
*The Armory Way / Tunnel / 14th Avenue option: The extension would begin on West Mercer Street and would then connect to West Prospect Street to 14th Avenue West where it would move west of the Interbay Golf Center and Interbay Athletic Complex on Alaskan Way West. It would lead into a tunnel station on Thorndyke Avenue West. It would cross Salmon Bay east of the Ballard Bridge and would end in Ballard on 14th Avenue Northwest.
*The Central Interbay / Fixed Bridge / 14th option: The extension would begin at near Seattle Center and move west of the Seattle Armory, Interbay Golf Center and Interbay Sports Complex into a tunnel station on Thorndyke Avenue West. Another tunnel east of Ballard Bridge will cross Salmon Bay and end either at 15th Avenue Northwest or 14th Avenue North West near Ballard High School.
Lichtenstein said Sound Transit held multiple public outreach meetings and met with neighborhood councils to help narrow down the possibilities.
“Some of the key themes was support for central Interbay and Amory Way to avoid traffic on 15th,” said Lichtenstein. “Concerns about traffic and hearing those central Interbay alternatives means we will look into those further.”
Other concerns included traffic on West Dravus Street if commuters needed to access the Thorndyke tunnel station.
There was more public support for cost effective tunnels across the shipping canal or a higher-level fixed bridge over Salmon Bay versus a moveable bridge.
Reason said Sound Transit has no exact cost for each project. And estimated cost will be presented during the design phase, which will begin in 2023. Construction of the phases is estimated to begin in 2027.
Reason said Sound Transit is working with King County Metro to find a way to possibly create bus routes to help others reach the lite rail stations. Parking near the new lite rail stations is uncertain.
“Parking in the city currently, there are codes and restrictions,” Reason said. “We can’t speak for the city. We can’t say if they are going to make any changes. What we know is a lot of people use buses or ride bikes, so how are we going to create access to our stations for them.
Lichtenstein and her project group will evaluate each option with a list of 17 criteria points the projects need to meet including reliability, travel times, technical feasibility and financial sustainability.
Anyone interested in learning more about the new alternatives can visit https://wsblink.participate.online/level-3-alternatives or call (206)903-7229.  Sound Transit will announce new community forums to be held in February in the upcoming month.