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ST3 Light Rail–The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: Light rail lives! The new Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium stations are operational and successful, and riding on the wake of their popularity, Sound Transit has announced the new ST3 draft plan, which lays out the future of Seattle’s public transportation.

This draft plan matters. It’s huge, developmentally speaking. As Seattle keeps growing bigger and as traffics keeps worsening, public transit will make or break this city’s future. The basics of ST3:

  • The Bad: A $50 billion price tag ($23 billion from federal funding and existing taxes, $27 billion from new taxes). This will cost the average household $400 annually.
  • The Good: Expand Link Light Rail to to 108 miles, with 75 light rail stations across 17 cities (including Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, Issaquah, Ballard, and West Seattle), with a target of serving 500,000 passengers daily.
  • The Good: Allow express buses to drive on the shoulder, other expansions to Sounder commuter rail and bus rapid transit.
  • The Ugly: A 25-year timeline, with the West Seattle station opening in 2033 and the Ballard station opening in 2038.


Seattle lags behind other major cities (NY, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco) for public transportation, and this new plan addresses that deficiency. But this draft ST3 plan might be a case of “too little, too late.” I’m not saying it’s bad—not at all. But I am saying it can be better.

The Ugly: For instance, the Ballard-downtown line won’t be finished until 2038—one of the last pieces of ST3. The current plan also would make this line at-grade and cross the water via a drawbridge, meaning this route would lose the reliability that makes people love light rail. Regular trains every 6-8 minutes can’t happen when you need to wait for a boat to pass through. Yet this line will attract the most riders and have the lowest cost/rider ratio of any part of the new light rail lines (it’s expected to received 145,000 riders per day, which is on par with the entire Portland MAX system). The Ballard line needs to be a top priority, and it needs to be done right.

The Bad: Also, this plan does not provide a line from Ballard to the UW station. Traveling east-west is comically difficult already, and this plan does little to address that. North-south transit will improve drastically, but we’d like to see a similar improvement the other way, too.

But this isn’t all about our ideas. Do you like ST3? What would you improve?

Tell Sound Transit! They have an open survey, and they’ll be reading responses and modifying the plan before it goes on the ballot in November. Make your voice heard.


Also, although this plan pushes right up to that $50 billion budget, there’s a chance a ST3 will end up underbudget (as what happened with the UW and Capitol Hill stations). If so, would you rather see light rail expand deeper into West Seattle or see a Ballard-Fremont-Wallingford-UW line?


We want to hear what our people think before we weigh in on ST3. Tell us your ideas and preferences on our Facebook page.

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