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Capitol Hill light rail update: ‘Extraordinarily lucky’ thus far, construction moves on to Broadway’s ‘pedestrian concourse’

One of the U-Link tunnel boring machines took a rest at the surface two years ago this month. (Image: CHS)

One of the U-Link tunnel boring machines took a rest at the surface two years ago this month. (Image: CHS)

U-Link's one tunneling mishap -- an E Pike geyser in October 2011 (Image: CHS)

U-Link’s one tunneling mishap — an E Pike geyser in October 2011 (Image: CHS)

News spread Monday that the giant boring machine at work beneath Seattle to drill the new waterfront tunnel is stuck behind some sort of “mystery object” some 60 feet below the surface. It’s a reminder just how incredibly smooth the journey has been for the Sound Transit project to create the nearly three-mile-long set of twin tunnels and two stations that will connect through Capitol Hill to form the new U-Link light rail extension.7206228410_72e5b78978_o

The duo of Sound Transit tunnel boring machines that worked on the project and completed the routes in May 2012 were “extraordinarily lucky and didn’t run into any unforeseen obstacles or major delays,” a Sound Transit spokesperson tells CHS. The only sign of trouble at the surface during the yearlong journey was this October 2011 incident when a burst of dirty water briefly flooded E Pike as one of several “observation wells” along the route that hadn’t been properly filled in allowed the boring machine’s concrete and grout to spew to the street above.

Not everybody will remember the U-Link tunneling as flawless, however. Some residents along the route complained of vibrations from the construction process shaking homes and causing peculiar, sleep-ruining sounds. Meanwhile, the excavations also ran into a few — smaller — unexpected items when these artifacts of old Seattle were found deep below ground near the Paramount Theater.8445187978_dbd608a972_o 205767_10150167601308979_4018230_n

The project’s excellent construction progress so far has helped Sound Transit begin planning an earlier-than-expected start of service for the line in 2016. The experienced gained will also help the agency when it builds the Queen Anne Tunnel.

Meanwhile, the next phase of the $1.9 billion project is underway as crews continue to work to construct the Capitol Hill Station structure that will serve thousands of daily riders and be the center of blocks of new Broadway development. Sound Transit has scheduled “drop-in” meetings to update the community on the construction:

Capitol Hill Station drop-in sessions
Drop on by! Let’s have a chat. Come visit to ask questions regarding construction of the Capitol Hill light rail station.

December 10, 2013
3:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Seattle Central Community College
Room 1110/1111
1701 Broadway

December 15, 2013
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Broadway Farmer’s Market

An important topic of conversation will certainly be the impact from a big change to Broadway –the  Broadway pedestrian concourse:

Construction of the Broadway pedestrian concourse to start January 2014
When the Capitol Hill Link Light Rail Station opens in 2016, an underground pedestrian concourse will allow riders to access the station from the west side of Broadway. To build the underground west entrance, Sound Transit’s contractors must excavate portions of the road and sidewalks on Broadway between E Howell Street and E Denny Way.

Get ready for a pinched Broadway to start 2014:

Capitol Hill Station Transit Oriented Development
8544081730_0eabcefa7b (1)The construction effort isn’t the only outlay of blood, sweat and tears underway around the project. The effort to sell off the property around the future light rail station is still being sorted out — along with how the community-shaped, City of Seattle-mandated development agreement that trades increased zoning heights for affordable housing guarantees will be applied in the process.

One "community" element being measured in the survey

One “community” element being measured in the survey

Representatives for the development process from the Capitol Hill Community Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce are distributing a survey asking those who live, work and play around the Hill once again to weigh in on priorities for the various properties to be developed.

“Many elements of the Capitol Hill neighborhood vision have been solidified in Development Agreement between Seattle City Council and Sound Transit,” the introduction to the new survey reads. “Some other elements need further advocacy to ensure their implementation.”

You can add your voice here.

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20 thoughts on “Capitol Hill light rail update: ‘Extraordinarily lucky’ thus far, construction moves on to Broadway’s ‘pedestrian concourse’

  1. I’m afraid Broadway is going to be almost impassable for months. There are already increased backups now that there is only one lane for vehicles each way, and this lane must be shared with busses which no longer have a stop where they can pull over and allow vehicles to pass. This will only get worse when the streetcar is in operation and is sharing that same lane. And now, add in the construction for the “pedestrian concourse,” and you have a perfect storm of unacceptable congestion.

    I’m going to avoid Broadway for the time being, except for north of E John.

    • “impassable for months” you say? Is there a band of Viking warriors erecting a wall to keep the shopping hoards at bay? Are Anarchist Cadres building street barricades to fight the police for “the Revolution” and your car is stalled building the advancing waves of riot police?

      Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but by “impassable for months” do you mean, kind of a hassle to drive through in a car? I mean, c’mon, can we please make sure our CARS can drive through the densest, most urban neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest unimpeded? In all seriousness, maybe we should just raze the west side of Broadway, widen the road and turn it into an expressway!

      Or, you know, maybe you could walk instead? Or you know, like, take all those ‘pesky’ buses that are getting in the way, or if you have one, ride your bike on the new two way cycle track. It’s not like the City, County, and Sound Transit (with the help of the Federal Government) are investing billions of dollars in new transportation improvements for you to use in this exact area. Nope, gotta drive.

      • People here think that we have so much density and so many cars, but both are untrue. What we have here in great supply is unending incompetence, poor planning, and a wealth of stupid piecemeal and feel good ideas when it comes to transportation planing (among other things). It is ridiculous that only 3-4 cars can move through a green light cycle as the result of reductions in road capacity as well as poor traffic light timing ( it’s as if the oil companies timed the lights around this city), when in many other large west coast cities traffic actually flows and a ton of cars can move, even during rush hour. Having traffic that moves helps public transit move as well, not to speak of the positive impact on the flow of commerce.

        I find it typical of most people around here who are employees of someone else that they ignore the fact that commercial traffic plays as much of a vital role as commuter traffic. What I also find strange is how nobody here wants to tackle the issue of parking in these “dense” neighborhoods, hoping the traffic will magically go away. It won’t .

        If Broadway were reverted to a 4 lane road, no streetcar, along with stations with multiple park and ride multilevel parking garages placed in strategic locations, this would have a much greater positive impact on traffic and commuter movement.

      • I fully agree that there is “and a wealth of stupid piecemeal and feel good ideas when it comes to transportation planing,” but I rather think that I will trust reams of data and years of study over loud opinions.

        What’s piecemeal about broadway? Ensuring that there is an abundance of public transit attached to the coming light rail hub on cap hill? Providing a way for frustrated drivers to quickly navgate the hill (albeit without their cars)? Addressing our substantial and quickly increasing density with common sense and high capacity public transit options?

        3-4 cars per light — I live that everyday, but not on broadway. And there is a traffic planner. Maybe you want to apply for his job?

        Density: In Seattle, Cap Hill only slightly trails Belltown for most dense neighborhood. Its therefore fair to say that there is nowhere more dense in Seattle outside of downtown than Cap hill. So we do have density on the hill. The most density outside of downtown – but thats only if you want to continue to see the hill as seperate from the city center. As you can see below, we are dense, and all those cranes on the skyline mean we are getting denser. Those apartment rents that no one can afford anymore? Due to demand. A sign of density, and increasing density. Those lights that can only let 4 cars through? Density. That crush-loaded bus that you can’t get around? Density.

        You may be right, that many west coast cities have less of a downtown traffic problem than we do, but I don’t know what bases you’re using for comparison. Heres the thing – no one expects to zoom down 5th avenue in Manhattan. The FiDi in SF isn’t known as a drag strip. Show me a traffic-free street in Chicago (there isn’t one). I have never seen a lament on the amount of traffic in downtown Seattle – its a fact of life. I don’t know why the most dense area outside of downtown Seattle should have car-centric traffic planning. It makes absolutely no sense.

        I get that things weren’t like this even 5 years ago. Change can be tough. Day to day, or even year to year, things may not make sense. But that’s the thing about tactics – without full knowledge of the long-range strategy, maybe no single tactic makes any sense. I hate the bike tracks on broadway — especially when we went through late summer and fall with so many closures to facilitate its construction. And now I haven’t seen a single biker on the track. As a tactic I hate it. As a part of a larger strategy I think its critical and I know it will become a vital part of north-south transit on the hill. To some neighborhood blog editors, it could already be a vital route.

        If broadway were reverted to 4 lanes of car traffic that would sure be nice for today – I won’t argue that. But tomorrow, and maybe literally tomorrow, 4 lanes on Broadway won’t cut it. Again, it’s not about me, its not about now – its about everyone, and its about being ready for, or sometimes simply responding to, the explosive growth our neighborhood is seeing.

        You can’t drive a delivery truck onto a bus, but let’s get real; those delivery drivers often make minimum wage. If you are some kind of delivery business owner, and a delivery costs you an extra $10 on an order for an extra hour in traffic, well, thats the cost of doing business in Seattle. Can’t manage that? Tell your competitor. He will love the referral.

        Dense downtown cores aren’t car friendly. We accept that. It’s time to accept that Cap hill is now a fledgling member of our downtown core. Expect traffic, transit projects, construction projects, sometimes total chaos. Vote to fund and expand transit. Buy a bicycle, a bus pass or some good walking shoes. Or sit in traffic and pay as much in monthly vehicle costs (including parking, insurance, gas, maintenance) as many areas do in rent. It’s your choice.

        Alternatively, I think West Seattle is still pretty suburban. Everett is, too. Lynnhood, anyone? In short, get out of my hood.

      • Seattle is far from having the traffic volume of SF, LA or many of the major cities. What I am saying is that if you simply had Broadway as a 4 lane road, created strategically located multilevel garages charging reasonable rates which aligned with public transit other modes, eliminated the bike lane and streetcar boondoggles ( bikes should use parallel and less used routes bypassing broadway, and which would align perfectly with parks), while timing the traffic lights correctly so that one can catch green lights on the cycle for most of the length at least (save rush hour), this would actually make a greater long term impact than reducing capacity, slowing down public transit and regular traffic as a result, and limiting people’s desire to go to Capitol Hill (and Downtown by extension), all to instal a useless streetcar and bike lanes that are barely used (especially given the weather, neighborhood demographics notwithstanding).

        Also, keep in mind that the topography around here reduces the amount available thru arterials as options. Further reducing their capacity for the sake of transportation experiments is foolish and dangerous, as these are routes used for first response as well as commuter and commercial traffic.

        Beyond cap Hill, Seattle as a city is lucky enough not to have the traffic volumes of places like LA or Chicago, NY, etc., but there is no excuse for how slowly the traffic moves, density or not. Please take a drive down a street in LA – you have a bunch more cars and the traffic moves a lot faster. It is one thing to accept the problems that come along with density becuase it is a fact of life. It is another thing to create problems when you don’t have to have them, which is the case here.

      • I don’t think you will win the argument that enabling or encouraging single occupant vehicle traffic is the way to go. Thousands (millions?) have been spent developing a long range strategy emphasizing public transit. Again, studies, experts, academics and our elected city council seem to agree that that bike track, street car, light rail connection, busses and the underground pedestrian tunnel are the best options for broadway. I don’t always like it, but I agree with them.

        When it comes down to it, we can’t prioritize me in my car when there are 100+ people on the bus in front of me, 20 bikers blew by me while I was idling in traffic, 50 walkers casually pranced by me, 175 people are on the street car behind me and 250+ people just arrived via the tunnel beneath my feet from downtown. Who would advocate for more SOV capacity, or tactics that would encourage or enable SOV traffic? Think of those thousand or so people who just moved around you in the span of a minute all thrown into SOVs. Now think of the street you are on with double the current lanes. Or even triple. Its still not enough lanes. Now what about expanding considerations to include the environmental impact of all those extra cars, or the noise impact, or the economic impact (certainly not all of those transit users could afford a car, and now they are out of a job and not producing for the economy and are probably living off of public assistance).

        What’s more, if parking is a viable business model for broadway and the hill (and I actually think that Diamond and others make a killing in this city) then more pay lots will be coming.

        Traffic light timing — in my experience the lack of traffic progress has nothing to do with light timing and everything to do with traffic volume and pedestrians obstructing turning SOVs on single lane roads which are so common on the hill. Again, we have a great traffic planner, maybe one of the best, and I’ll bet he’s got some staff under him. I don’t do traffic, so I’ll let the experts worry about signal timing.

        I never did, and still don’t, notice any issues with broadway traffic, but I have also stopped driving as much as possible, and If I needed to go north/south I wouldn’t use broadway anyway. Once our broadway transit options are fully activated, the human-moving capacity of that road will far exceed with two lanes what existed with 4 lanes.

        Traffic in LA — yes, a 6 or 8 lane road with dedicated turning lanes (left and right) and access to a different freeway every 4 blocks would dramatically improve transit times. Unfortunately due to the topography you noted and the simple fact that there is almost nowhere in the city that could support that kind of arterial with the exception of I5, I don’t even think its worth addressing.

        If not being able to drive to, on or from the hill keeps people away, fine, great. Firstly, that isn’t even close to what we who live on the hill experience every day, and if it is the case, then THANK GOD. I’d love to see visitors go elsewhere but they just won’t. In fact, through everything we have seen happen on the hill, we still can’t keep up with demand for housing and services. At peak hours our businesses run at capacity, and if development is a sign of a healthy economy, we got 99 problems but lack of customers ain’t one.

      • OK, Chris, my use of the word “impassable” was not the best, but please note I used the modifier “almost.” Obviously buses must run along Broadway…all I’m saying is that, before the new configuration, they had a place to pull over to load/unload passengers (which sometimes takes quite awhile), and allow some of the backed-up vehicles to pass, facilitating traffic flow. Now they cannot do that, and the streetcars will make matters worse. Broadway is a major arterial and should be configured so that vehicles can move along there without huge delays. It is not a street only for cyclists and users of transit, as you seem to think.

        And, for the record, I walk a lot in my neighborhood…use my car mainly for the volunteer work I do.

  2. My question will be: A year!? To build a tunnel across the street!? The Great Northern tunnel was dug under downtown in about two years. It’s a mile long. It was constructed starting in 1903. The tools were pretty primitive, picks, shovels, and a few steam powered excavators. And men and horses. In 2014 it will take a year to go about 2% of that distance.

    OK, conditions are different. They are trying to keep traffic moving, and some pedestrian access, and keeping working hours reasonable, but still. I can see no reason why this project cannot be cut and covered in about 6 months. A year! Sheesh. I have a pick. I have a shovel. Can I show you how?

    That’s my question.

  3. This pedestrian underpass seems so unneccessary. We’ve had the ability to cross Broadway by waiting a couple of minutes for the walk sign since the dawn of Capitol Hill. The money for this tunnel amd the west side entrance could be better spent by ST somewhere else.

    • It does seem like an odd choice. Maybe in a few years, the intersection will feel busier and more like traversing under the street is useful. Currently, crossing at street level doesn’t cause any problems.

    • Two reasons for the tunnel.

      Experience in other cities show that additional entrances increase ridership. One does question if this makes economic sense in the long run, but… There is a requirement for emergency exit that would have mandated some sort of alternate egress away from the main platform. The tunnel makes as much sense as anything else, plus you get a full time entrance across the street. (Besides, that will be my preferred entry, so it makes a lot of sense for me!)

  4. I remember a time when I went down Broadway daily, and was happy to do so. Now, with all the condos/apartments and other garbage popping up, on top of the lack of street available, I avoid it at all costs. As far as the tunnel is concerned, no, it’s not a necessity, but you have to remember, people here lack commonsense that tells them not to walk out directly in front of a moving vehicle. I’m a fan of the light rail, but as someone that uses bus, car, and bike to travel…the mess this summer was a bit much, especially with the city allowing about 4,245 buildings to be erected at the same time.

    • Most of the new condos/apartments on Broadway replaced empty/abandoned suburban-style box stores and parking lots. Your idea of utopia is quite strange.

  5. Affordable housing is a silly preposition in the City of Seattle. I am working on a project in SLU and affordable housing is based on the average of wages for everyone in Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue. Which happens to be about $87,000 per year. So they consider someone making $43,500 poverty level in Seattle. The affordable rent is based on what that person can afford which is 30% of their income and amounts to about $1,100 per month – for a one-person apartment. Many of those people who need affordable housing make considerably less than $43,500 and $1,100 for one person is a large expense if you are making less than $43,500.

      • No, BR, there aren’t. Funny how often arrogant Hill-dwellers toss around condescending comments about the CD as though it’s a huge expanse of bargain-rate housing. Are we talking about the same “CD”?

        And all these self-righteous comments about how everyone concerned w/ lack of parking on Broadway should just walk or take transit. Yeah, that’s a lovely idea except those glorious buses are all jammed to capacity at busy hours, and woefully infrequent at other times. Not to mention they quit running so early. And several parts of the CD in specific are slated to entirely lose bus connections under the plan currently under evaluation. No parking and few buses either: a winning combination.

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