Any hope of a First Hill light rail station being part of Sound Transit 3 appears to have been left in the dust after deliberation by the transportation agency’s Elected Leadership Group Thursday afternoon.
CHS reported here on hopes from the First Hill Improvement Association and neighborhood and transit advocates that the rapidly growing, incredibly dense neighborhood would be included in planning for the coming third wave of Seattle-are light rail that will span a total of 11.8 miles and add 10 new and four expanded stations. West Seattle Alaska-Junction and Ballard routes will converge downtown by 2035.
But Thursday’s discussion of the planned Midtown Station seemed to lock in the idea that the facility should reside in the shadow of the Seattle Central Library on 5th Ave and basically takes further talk of a potentially expensive, probably engineering-challenged First Hill location off the planning board completely.
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Instead, the body of regional elected officials including King County Council member Joe McDermott, Seattle City Council members, and Mayor Jenny Durkan — who was not in attendance Thursday — said the neighborhood would be better served by bus rapid transit and improved pedestrian investments.
Metro plans to begin operating the new RapidRide G line serving First Hill and the Madison corridor by 2021. Meanwhile, money for a study of a potential I-5 lid between First Hill, Capitol Hill, and downtown is part of a package of public benefits recently approved as part of the convention center expansion.
“The First Hill improvement Association is obviously disappointed at the decision of the elected leadership group to remove First Hill from further study,” director Alex Hudson said in an email to CHS. Hudson said it was too early to take her neighborhood “off the table” and that the group’s suggested mitigations do not “come close to meeting the transportation needs of our dense urban neighborhood” —
We believe that a meaningful look at what the potential ridership opportunities and costs associated with this alignment option would have been time well spent and are sorry to see such hugely important decisions being made based on assumptions and conjecture rather than data driven analysis. It’s sad that the tens of thousands of residents, workers, patients, and visitors in Washington’s densest residential neighborhood won’t be connected to the region with fast high-efficiency transit, and that people across Puget Sound will miss out on this once in a generation opportunity to be connected to our resource and opportunity rich neighborhood. Simply put, it was way too early to take First Hill off the table. We believe that First Hill is an obvious and ideal location for high capacity transit, and that neither the under-funded and years delayed Madison BRT nor the notoriously inefficient and disconnected First Hill Streetcar come close to meeting the transportation needs of our dense urban neighborhood.
The plan for a First Hill station was introduced in 1996 with the start of light rail in Seattle. According to the Seattle Times in 2005, Sound Transit staff told the board that a deep-underground First Hill Station posed potentially expensive construction and schedule risks and would hurt the light-rail line’s prospects for badly needed federal grants. In lieu, Sound Transit paid for the 2.5-mile, ten station First Hill Streetcar route which cost approximately $134 million and still has city planners scratching their heads trying to find a way to speed up the service.
Thursday, meanwhile, the ETG helped push forward plans for new ST3 stations including three in West Seattle.