Early scoping begins on West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions

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Comment period starts today through March 5; chance for public to weigh in on route and station locations as work to reach consensus on a preferred alternative by early 2019 moves forward

Sound Transit today kicked off early scoping work on the plan to expedite light rail extensions to West Seattle and Ballard with three open houses scheduled this month:

West Seattle

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th Ave. SW Street

Ballard

Thursday, Feb. 15, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Leif Erikson Lodge, 2245 NW 57th Street

Downtown Seattle

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Union Station, 401 S. Jackson Street

The early scoping process kicks off project development and the environmental process for light rail extensions opening in West Seattle in 2030 and Ballard in 2035. As part of early scoping, members of the public are invited to comment on the representative project in the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) Plan approved by voters, the project purpose and need, other alternatives, and the transportation and community impacts and benefits to consider.

During alternatives development, staff will assess the representative project and, based on additional public engagement and technical analysis, further refine the route, station locations, and other project elements. The representative project itself is based on yearslong, extensive planning and public involvement work, including high-capacity transit studies, the process to update the agency’s long-range plan, and the work to develop the ST3 Plan.

Through early 2019, staff will engage the public and stakeholder groups in an intensive public involvement process that will lead to the Sound Transit Board identifying a preferred alternative, as well as other alternatives to evaluate in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An outline of the Community Engagement Plan is available on soundtransit.org.

Identifying a preferred alternative earlier in the EIS process will jump-start public conversations about project decisions, reveal areas of broad agreement, and help focus project leadership on areas needing problem-solving and consensus building. This streamlined process is also intended to reduce overall project delivery time by reaching early public consensus on the preferred alternative and reducing the risk of new alternatives being introduced late in the environmental review process or after the environmental process is complete. The Sound Transit Board will make a final decision on the project to build after completion of the environmental review.

The representative project for the extension to West Seattle includes 4.7-mile of elevated light rail guideway from downtown Seattle to West Seattle’s Alaska Junction neighborhood with a new rail-only fixed span across the Duwamish River. It includes one at-grade station in the Stadium area and four elevated stations in the SODO, Delridge, Avalon and Alaska Junction areas.

The representative project for the Ballard extension includes 7.1 miles of light rail from downtown Seattle to Ballard’s Market Street area with a new 3.3-mile rail-only tunnel from the International District/Chinatown to South Lake Union and Seattle Center/Uptown, an elevated guideway along 15th Avenue West and Elliott Avenue West, and a rail-only movable bridge over Salmon Bay. It includes three elevated stations in Ballard, Interbay and near Smith Cove and six tunnel stations at Seattle Center, South Lake Union, Denny, Westlake, Midtown and International District/Chinatown areas.

Public input during the development of the Sound Transit 3 plan emphasized a strong interest in placing new light rail extensions in service as fast as possible. Accordingly, when adopting the final plan in the fall of 2016, the Sound Transit Board took action to speed up both the West Seattle and Ballard extensions by three years. A partnering agreement between Sound Transit and the city of Seattle will support meeting these aggressive schedules and explore the possibility of further expediting the extension to Ballard, which includes the technically complex construction of a new light rail tunnel through downtown Seattle and South Lake Union that will include six underground stations.

More information, including maps of the representative project, is available at soundtransit.org/wsblink.

In addition to the West Seattle and Ballard extensions, Sound Transit is simultaneously working to extend light rail north, south and east, opening new stations every few years to form a 116-mile regional system by 2041. The agency is on track to open extensions to Seattle's University District, Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods in 2021, followed by service to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond's Overlake area in 2023. Additional extensions to Kent/Des Moines, Federal Way, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and Downtown Redmond are planned to open in 2024.

Thereafter, further light rail extensions are scheduled to reach Tacoma in 2030; Paine Field and Everett in 2036; and South Kirkland and Issaquah in 2041. The downtown Tacoma Link light rail system will reach the city’s Hilltop neighborhood in 2022 and Tacoma Community College in 2039. Other upcoming transit expansions will see the 2024 launch of bus rapid transit on I-405 and SR-522, major expansions to Sounder south line service that include longer platforms and trains, and service extensions to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and DuPont.