A Fight Is Brewing Over West Seattle's Dreams for a Pricey Light Rail Tunnel



Remember when they decided against the fastest route from Downtown Seattle to Seatac airport along I-5 that would have removed the most cars from the highway and done the most impact climate change? Selling it as "developing the Southend" when all it did was gentrify the area pushing out the people it was supposed to be helping? Good times.
The slow meandering route from downtown to Seatac is a crime. At-grade? Hitting cars? Stopping women from using Light Rail by forcing them to transit through the most dangerous part of town at night?
You can't make this stuff up. Unless you work for the Taxi cab lobby and Seatac that killed it.


Visualizations of the elevated alternatives:



A tunnel is safer in an earthquake, and the current light rail already runs through a tunnel under Beacon Hill.


Who cares. Just start earlier. We need both the Ballard and WS lines before 2030.


Cap Hill got a tunnel. U District got a tunnel. Ballard (I think...) is getting a tunnel. Notice a trend here? One plan will send the El right down my street. My house will need to be Eminent Domain'd. No Bueno.


This is dumb. Build the elevated tracks. That goes for Ballard as well. Build the moveable bridge so that the station can be built on 15th rather than on 14th. If traffic stops from time to time due to boat traffic everyone will live.

The real question we need to be exploring is why all of it will be so expensive. This isn't just a Seattle problem but a US problem. Other countries, including countries with stronger union protections and the same environmental regulations, can build mass transit at a fraction of the cost of the US. Given how much infrastructure in the US will need to be rebuilt due to global warming we have to figure out what magic they have in Europe that enables them to pour concrete and lay tracks at a fraction of what we do.



The most dangerous part of town at night, by far, is Downtown, not south seattle. Rainier Valley has less violent crime, and less crime overall, than Ballard or Northgate:


Or maybe you had something else in mind when you said "the most dangerous part of town?"

Property along the light rail route is indeed being developed, as you'd know if you were in the habit of taking Link to the airport. It's not happening quite as fast as the rosiest predictions suggested (surprise, surprise) but the cranes and bulldozers are definitely out all along the route, and dozens of projects are in the pipeline.


@1 "Dangerous part of town" = OMG! Black people!

You certainly can't let the your women folk be exposed to that!


Lester... good fucking lord. You didn’t ask one of the candidates how they would pay for a $700 million tunnel... where are the extra funds going to come from? Happy thoughts? If this was District 3, Sawant would just say “big business!”

Are you that incompetent of a reporter?


Love that Lisa Herbold could not be bothered to do her job and answer questions about a pretty critical issue that will impact her constituents. November can't come soon enough.


Yes, SirWalterRaleigh dear, by all means what we needed was a light rail that left downtown with no stops, going direct to the airport. That would have gotten the taxpayers their money's worth!

And it's so chivalrous of you to think of the poor women, terrified, on a slow, meandering train, traveling a route that is both a GENTRIFIED WASTELAND and THE MOST DANGEROUS PART OF TOWN!!!!!

Obviously, this was a conspiracy between Big Taxi and SeaTac (which, after all, had it's own nefarious reasons for keeping people from getting to the airport!). One has to get up pretty early in the morning to put anything past Our Dear SirWalterRaleigh!


Here's a fun little thought experiment. Imagine, if you will, that the light rail that runs through Capitol Hill had resulted in hundreds of homes being demolished, thousands of people being displaced, and the character of the neighborhood permanently altered. Does anyone really think The Stranger's writers would have just shrugged and said, "a tunnel is sooooo expensive! quit whining!" in that situation? Yeah, no.


@7: There’s some long-overdue developments near Mt. Baker Station, and a few other projects near MLK, but there’s not the numbers we see in Roosevelt. Ross’ link from yesterday remains relevant.

But therein lies opportunities for much more affordable housing, in a traditionally lower-income neighborhood.

@11: As a New Yorker, I always wondered why we didn’t build an express line along the same right-of-way. A one-stop ride from downtown to the airport would have been amazing. Ditto from downtown to the UW. Not thinking big enough, it seems...


A direct, non-stop train from downtown to SeaTac would be "amazing" for the people downtown who were going to the airport (and vice-versa), tensor dear. Which is primarily tourists and business travelers. Maybe someday there can be a train that goes that route - you could add stops at Georgetown and Boeing Field, but there's really no other traffic to be gotten between SODO and the Tukwila Link station.

And just where would you run the second "amazing" line (downtown to UW)? On the express lanes of the ship canal bridge? How would to get onto it at a grade that rail can handle, and how would you get to UW from the bridge? An elevated section along 45th?

And what about Paine Field, which is now starting to accommodate commercial passenger traffic? How should we get to there?



If what you want is nonstop, traffic-free service from Downtown to the Airports, you can simply charter a helicopter.

Fuck the poor, of course, but you've already cleared that hurdle.


Of course in Sound Transit 1 there was no thought of tunneling through the Rainier Valley. Now all the new kids on the block want a tunnel and are willing to put their time and money into lobbying for one.

And there are still stations "planned" for the Rainier Valley that have not bee built in ST3. Apparently cannon fodder for cost overruns like the budget-busting tunnel notions in West Seattle and Ballard.

Note to civic leaders: Decades-long community investments that fail to maintain a reasonable agenda for deciding such issues in both diverse and in majority white neighborhoods end up creating the same sorts of systemic injustice as anything out of Jim Crow. Whether intentionally or due to simple oversight, the result of unjust decisionmaking is the same either way.


Remember, the rule is: only white rich neighborhoods get a tunnel.

Everyone else has to beg for them, and then get denied.


@17 to be fair, it'd be inane to tunnel through Rainier VALLEY. Wallingford and Ballard are at least more than 15' above sea level.

I did some research in grad school that showed how african-americans were more likely to live in areas that were impacted by flooding after Katrina, and that the pattern of poor people living in the lower-lying areas of coastal cities was observed across the country. So while it's clearly stupid to argue that tunneling decisions in King County, 2019, are impacted by race, it's not stupid to realize that poor people live in areas that are harder to tunnel through.


@7 & @8

I do not doubt that downtown or Ballard is "more dangerous" than the Southend. It has been my experience that many women are not comfortable taking Light Rail at night because there are many stops between downtown and Seatac that are less busy than downtown crime has been an issue.
It has nothing to do with race, it has to do with safety. And it is not safe as designed.
You know what would have really helped the Southend more than screwing up Light Rail for the entire city? A mass transit system that worked better. A dedicated Southend Light Rail line and a dedicated airport line would have been better for everyone, especially you.


@1 Development is gentrification. Literally the same thing. Anything that makes an area nicer to live in will cause slightly more people to want to live there, and they'll slightly bid up prices. There is no alternative to Gentrification other than Redlining.

But yeah, A fast train from downtown to the airport would be a godsend.

@6 Tunnel and rail construction in the US is in a very, very bad place. Spain is presently the world leader in tunneling costs. @market_urbanism talks about this a lot. My analysis is that ever since WPA, contractors have been expecting some portion of their deals to include a large percentage of make-work.

In any case, transportation pays for itself many times over. If NYC had never built the subway, they'd be a slightly bigger Philadelphia, rather than the effective Capitol of the Western World. That's been worth what, a few hundred trillion dollars to the city over the past century? They could have paid 50x the construction costs and it would have been worth it.


It's going to be used for the next 100 years or—human civilization withstanding—so just bury the damn thing. Every day spent arguing adds to the cost. Why do the fiscally conservative often have such a short-term view?


@14: “Which is primarily tourists and business travelers.”

Plenty of locals make that trip too, dear. (Perhaps you need to get out more?) Yes, tourists and business travelers add to our local economy by spending money here, and also by making deals to create more wealth here. Why on earth should we make that easier for them?

Really, if you think about it, a one-stop ride would be an indirect subsidy to downtown’s hospitality workers. I can’t think of a group who could possibly be less deserving of our help. Don’t you agree?


While I've always believed Ballard has a more compelling case for a tunnel, I'm not here to argue that West Seattle DOESN'T have a compelling case for a tunnel.

And while I'm no fan of Lisa Herbold, I do have stand in awe at the sheer nerve of her two challengers' cases for a tunnel:
"Both Tavel and Kolding, the only two challengers to Herbold in this August’s primary, told me that they had multiple concerns over the raised light rail tracks. From construction impact to the loss of single-family homes and the impact on the quaint suburban feel of West Seattle, they said they have a lot of reasons to support a tunnel.
"Kolding said his biggest worry is that the elevated tracks will get rid of single-family homes in the area and take up too much space."

Let me single out Kolding since it's hard to separate his views from Tavel's in the first paragraph. If you're going to spend the extra hundreds of millions of dollars a tunnel is going to cost, then you better damn well be doing so because you want to maximize its impacts, not because you want to minimize its impacts. If your goal is to preserve the character of the neighborhood and save as many single-family homes as possible, then just come out against light rail. If you're going to build a subway-quality transit line but hang on to streetcar-level density, then all you're doing is wasting the taxpayers' money.

It's like spending a record sum on a Hockney or a Basquiat painting and then just keeping it in storage. OK, that analogy would be better if you were spending other people's millions on that painting.

Basically, I'm not sure a tunnel is wrong for West Seattle, but I'm sure these are the wrong reasons for it.


Tensor dear, I do hope you did some warm-ups before that stretch. You don't want to pull a muscle in your brain.

And you sudden, tender, concern for "hospitality workers" is certainly charming, but your assumption that none of them live in the Rainier Valley is terribly naive.


@23: The comment @12 describes the situation nicely. If the light rail line under Capitol Hill had instead run atop it, it would have had a very negative impact on that neighborhood. The same is true for the West Seattle project. As with Beacon and Capitol Hills, the line should run underground simply because West Seattle sits on a hill.

No one is saying West Seattle should not add more homes; the Junction has done so tremendously over the years. We’re saying the light rail project should not destroy existing homes.


tensor @25, you express some valid concerns. The problem is, these concerns have to be weighed against valid competing concerns, the big one being the cost.

If we're even going to entertain building a tunnel to West Seattle, then the only way to justify the cost is to make sure that the areas around the three West Seattle stations have been seriously upzoned. For all I know, that may already be in the works. Let's be clear that upzoning around a tunnel is a different thing from tearing down homes in the path of an elevated line.

I also believe the City of Seattle needs to be having a serious discussion around how to pick up some reasonable share of the tab for the more expensive options being explored for Ballard and West Seattle. This is a chance for Jenny Durkan to assert her leadership and try to build a coalition around funding. And I think some candidate for City Council needs to take up the cause of helping to fund these improvements.


People do realize that part of the reason why tunnels are employed is because rail can only handle a certain amount of incline, right? That alone makes it likely that at least part of the West Seattle line will have to be underground.


I'm still frustrated that we are even building rail lines. Expand some roads, barricade them from non-transit access, and run electric busses up and down them 24/7. The Sound Transit line would be completed in less than half the time (estimate).

Rail lines provide the benefit of high speed service, but our trains barely top 50mph ... What's the point? Electric Busses with a ton of torque could out accelerate Sound Transit lines. Be smart people. Rail lines are completely unnecessary in King County when Electric busses using expanded lanes could accomplish the same thing for half the cost.


@26: “For all I know, that may already be in the works.”

Have you been to the Junction anytime in the last five years?


@14: “And just where would you run the second "amazing" line (downtown to UW)?“

Exactly where I said I would: “... along the same right-of-way.”

“On the express lanes of the ship canal bridge?”

No, “... along the same right-of-way.”

“How would to get onto it at a grade that rail can handle,”

By putting it “... along the same right-of-way,” dear.

“...and how would you get to UW from the bridge?”

Link Light Rail gets to UW via tunnel, not bridge, dear. We would have dug a larger tunnel, “... along the same right-of-way.”

“An elevated section along 45th?”

In a tunnel, dear. A larger tunnel, “... along the same right-of-way.”

“And what about Paine Field, which is now starting to accommodate commercial passenger traffic? How should we get to there?”

It’s a short flight to Boeing Field or Sea-Tac, dear. :-)