The Fate of Light Rail in Seattle Hinges on a Hearing This Week in Olympia


The game may be this: go ahead and cut education spending even more - to the point of absurdity, and let the state supreme court tackle the constitutional issue - put all those R's in contempt of court.
It's all just depressing. The price tag is enormous, b/c we waited too long. Light rail isn't even anybody's preferred transport option (subway) for a megaproject of that scope. It won't be completed for decades. The Eastern WA rednecks will block it based on faulty premises regarding exactly who is buttering whose bread. We are the city that blew it. We are stuck in a deep, muddy hole.
Considering Washington's stellar track record with mass transportation (from Bertha stuck in a hole to buying the wrong light rail tracks in the bus tunnel), would you really blame the Eastern Washington people (like myself) for being skeptical? :)
Even if funding weren't an issue, they still wouldn't be able to secure the rights-of-way necessary to get half this project done, especially since Seattle seems to lead the nation in lawsuit-crazed NIMBY-ites.
My two cents? Concentrate on the southbound track to T-Town. Land through Federal Way is still reasonable, and having a non-road alternative from South King County to downtown would be great for commuters. Heck, make a big ole transportation hub right where Hwy 18 and I-5 come together, with the light rail feeding a bus system. I bet the folks that run Wild Waves would love it. :)
#2, in Seattle a subway is never the preferred transport option. The soil around here is prone to something known as liquefaction in earthquakes, meaning subways are death traps that would choke the people inside them to death with mud and gravel. Tunnels are the worst idea ever in this region.
@3 yea no way Seattle could ever build a successful light rail line.
@4 Maybe you can still get a refund on your Civil Engineering degree?
It's a great plan. And just to think that when it's completed Ambassador Jean-Luc Picard can attend the opening ceremonies.
This article points to the twisted transportation priorities in our state legislature. However, it is not just Seattle’s light rail that stands to lose. The entire state could be locked in to another 15-20 years of car-centered, unsustainable, and irresponsible transportation investments if this package is not reformed.
48% of Washington State’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, and in recent years, Washingtonians have taken up more sustainable habits. People all over the state are driving less. Still, the transportation package currently being debated in the House of Representatives is promoting more highways, more driving and more trucking all while pinning public transportation against cleaner fuels.
What’s more, the package allocates billion dollars to highway mega-projects which are unneeded. Meanwhile, urgent maintenance needs (such as repairing our 382 structurally deficient bridges) are left underfunded. While it is true that we need some kind of a transportation package, how much are we willing to compromise? The House must reform this package to fund sustainable, responsible investments instead of boondoggles.
#6, perhaps you should look into getting that refund on your geology degree first. Since the problem is with the soil type more than the tunnel's structure.
@6 Since I mistook you for an educated person, I will elaborate. Yes, the soil in some areas of the area is prone to liquefaction. Engineers know how to design things to deal with that. A contemporary tunnel is probably the safest structure to be in during an earthquake.
Only certain areas are prone to liquifaction, Mostly that area is down by the stadiums and in the duwamish area. You wouldnt have to worry about it at Macy's, for instance. Its totally a valid geotechnical concern, but most places wouldn't ever have it happen.
maybe don't be mean? not a lot of people care enough about this stuff to know all that, and that's not unusual.
It's awesome you know all that, and it's awesome that you want to share it, but if you come across as mean, folks wont listen and wont remember what you're telling them. They'll just remember that it wasn't fun to talk to you.
For the record, building a subway is DEFINATELY my first choice!
#10, since it seems like you are trying to talk to me while confusing yourself with me, I'll respond to your misattributed statement.

There is no magic engineering that makes tunnels in this region safe. While there are parts of this region that are better and worse for liquefaction, the worst areas (right under downtown) are some of the worst possible. There is no way you can design a tunnel to deal with that. Designs that deal with that level of liquefaction simply don't exist.

If you honestly believe that a modern tunnel is even mildly safe in some of the earthquakes this region is prone to, forget your degree and go back to high school physics.

#11, the data is online and open to the public. Macy's is still in the heart of the liquefaction zone. The worst of it runs North all the way to roughly The Battery Street Tunnel. Look it up yourself. The Duwamish fill material is actually more stable than the silty glacial till under Seattle.

We get the same type of earthquakes as the one Japan experienced in 2011. Big 9.0s.

To this day I have never heard of a transit tunnel in Japan the collapsed or failed from that earthquake. I don't think Japan has dramatically better civil engineers then we do. So my guess is that out tunnels are pretty damn safe during earthquakes.
#15, no we don't. This side of the Ring of Fire is much more prone to "sticking", providing us with earthquakes that are very different from the ones seen in Japan. The big quakes we have to worry about are more closely related to the Banda Aceh style quakes.

Also, Japan has very different soil. No glacial till, little liquefaction. Even if we had an exact replica of the 2011 quake, the devastation in Seattle would be massive, with every tunnel in the region collapsing.

Your guess isn't terribly well informed or logical. I wouldn't bet Seattle's infrastructure on something so sketchy.
Honest question : what is your degree in? I ask because I am studying this stuff, and if you are that same level of nerd as I am, we could talk about this differently and more exactly.

To address your concerns: If my memory serves, liquifaction is the condition that exists when the pore water pressure inside the soil equals the effective vertical stress on that soil, and the soil particle start to separate and "float". It is like quicksand. Usually this takes both a very high water table, and some sort of seismic activity to dislodge the particles. This is less likely in a poorly sorted soil like a glacial till, although the till will generally contain silt layers from proglacial lakes which might be prone to it. Fill is usually considered the worst offender.
Liquifaction is a problem for all structures, not just tunnels. However, tunnels would be more protected from its effects provided they are not just under the surface. Liquifaction requires the pore water pressure to equal effective vertical stress, which is much harder to do deeper down. So if it is liquifaction that worries you, worry about the buildings, not the tunnels.
Also, if the "Big One" hits, IMHO we are all screwed, wherever we happen to be. Therefore it isn't a good reason to not build something. You could also say that every tower in the region will collapse, or every house. In smaller quakes, tunnels are actually a safe place to be.
First of all, concerns about tunneling are overblown. The company doing the work for the 99 tunnel is different than the company doing the Sound Transit tunnels. We have built several transit tunnels, ahead of schedule and under budget. So worrying about that is silly.

Second, without a doubt we are being screwed by the state legislature and the their priorities. The voters don't have to approve the road projects, but we have to approve the transit projects, and we are limited in doing so. My guess is a majority of Washington voters want money for road maintenance, a few little fixes here and there (like additional overpasses and ramps) and lots of transit. We wouldn't want an extension to 509 or 167 for example (which are expensive freeways that will only encourage sprawl).

Even with that, we can't build everything for everyone in Puget Sound when it comes to light rail. We have to prioritize, and focus on what works and what is cost effective. So, for example, light rail to Everett or Tacoma is out. It is just too far for light rail. Commuter rail makes sense, but light rail will take way too long to get into the city, and there are way too few attractive locations along the way to attract many riders. Likewise, West Seattle is just ill suited for light rail. The destinations are too spread out (e. g. you can't serve Alki) and it is really expensive just to build one station (around four billion). Nor would it be very effective to try and funnel buses to the station(s). It is much easier in most cases to simply get on the freeway. So the best thing for West Seattle is to improve upon what they have. Add additional HOV lanes and ramps (they actually have a significant amount) to enable traffic free trips to the SoDo busway. Then build another transit tunnel (…) which would not only improve the bus trips from West Seattle (more than a light rail line would) but enable good service from the Aurora corridor (including South Lake Union, which will be connected to the street grid once Bertha does her job) as well as Queen Anne and Ballard. That, plus light rail from the UW to Ballard would greatly increase the transit mobility of our area (more than just about anything we could build now).

After all that, the next thing to build would be a subway following the "Metro 8" route, which means the C. D., Madison, South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne would all be connected by a fast subway (five minutes from the C. D. to South Lake Union, another minute to get to Lower Queen Anne). This would intersect with the other light rail line (on Capitol Hill) as well as a bus tunnel (on Lower Queen Anne) enabling a lot of quick, easy trips.
You're pretty spot on. The soil from downtown to just North of it is incredibly silty till, which has sorted itself quite well due to our seismic activity.
The big problem with tunnels is separation during the quake. A tunnel is only connected to the surface at key points, and that creates uneven stresses at the "stations". This added movement at such a structurally critical junction is an issue.
I plan on surviving The Big One, and am of the opinion I will see it in my lifetime. While The Big One is not a reason to stop building, everything built in the area should be built to expect it. There is no excuse not to, unless one wants to intentionally cause the deaths of others. The Big One is an excellent reason to build more safely. That much of downtown is not built that safely is a cause for concern, and groups like the DSA who supported such shoddy workmanship should be prosecuted for fraud under The RICO Act.
You seem to hop from smaller quakes that are so inconsequential nobody cares about them to quakes of actual danger to try and prove yourself right.
@4 and @8 are correct

In a major 7 to 9 quake the power systems would be off for weeks and people in a tunnel would be the lowest priority for rescue due to triage as the water seeping and lack of ventilation would give a very low chance for healthy survivors
Civil engineering for earthquake preparedness requires a great deal of education and experience. If you don't have it please don't hypothesize and present your opinion as fact. There is no justification for misinformation, whether cynical or sincere.