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Sound Transit 3: Big, long, Ballard by 2038

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

2016_0324_ST3_DraftPlan_BoardhandoutIt’s finally here: the Sound Transit 3 draft proposal (PDF) for how to extend and complete the agency’s regional light rail network, a $50 billion package which will be put before voters in the fall of this year. Seattle’s transit wonks will be tearing every piece of the proposal apart in the coming days, weeks, and months, but for now, here are the basics.

It’s big. Really big. As local transit advocates had hoped in the build up to yesterday’s unveiling, Sound Transit decided to go all-in with package to build out light rail lines north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and Issaquah, and highly anticipated lines to West Seattle and Ballard.

And it’s long. Really long. Timelines call light rail to West Seattle in 2033 — and then, five years, later, light rail to Ballard.

The plans will require digging a new transit tunnel under downtown and a total of 108 miles of new light rail track.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 6.45.47 AM

There’s no “Metro 8 Subway,” a proposed line running between south lake union and the future Judkins Park station in the Central District (mimicking the Metro 8 bus route); an unlikely investment—it wasn’t even a candidate project or potential investment study—that Seattle subway had been pushing for.

In addition to the new light rail lines, the package also includes a variety of bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects—BRT lines on I-405 and SR 522, capital improvements to Metro’s existing C and D Rapid Ride lines, and potentially using highway shoulders for buses during peak congestion hours on the likes of I-5 and I-405—as well as three studies of potential future investment including light rail lines from Ballard to the University District, West Seattle to Burien, and further north to Everett Community college. The Seattle Transit Blog has a detailed, full run-down here on the package and all its non-light rail elements, like Sound Transit’s proposed utilization of their surplus property for transit-oriented, affordable housing development.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project, by the way, won’t be part of ST3’s funding — the city will now have to turn to the feds or beg from the state legislature to power that plan to overhaul Madison from downtown to the Central District.

“This proposal is a great start, but we know it is not perfect…”

As for the monies to pay for all this: the package would be funded and constructed over the course of 25 years, with roughly $27 billion in new regional taxes—composed of property, sales, and motor vehicle excise taxes—and the rest coming from a combination of Federal grants, bonds, and existing Sound Transit tax revenue from Sound Move and ST2. Sound Transit estimates that ST3 will cost $200 annually for individual adults and $390 annually for families within the regional taxing district.

As exciting as this all sounds for the future of regional mass transit, the catch is the long timeline for rolling out ST3’s projects. It will take a while before any of us will be able to ride from Capitol Hill all the way down to Tacoma. The Tacoma extension from ST2’s Federal Way station, for example, isn’t slated to be finished until 2033—the same goes for the downtown to West Seattle line—and 2038 for the Ballard to downtown line (this part of the new north/south line will require the new downtown tunnel). Sound Transit has designated some of their bus investments as “early ST3 deliverables” to compensate, like the highway shoulder routes and capital improvements to Metro’s Rapid Ride lines.

It has been noted by Sound Transit that its limits on annual borrowing capacity, not lengthy construction, are what draw out the timelines for projects so far. Federal grants, which aren’t bound to taxing and borrowing capacities, could accelerate some of these timelines.

Apparently Seattle State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D—36) has some misgivings about the package’s size, stating on twitter and to the Seattle Times that such a massive investment may eat away at the local legal tax capacity for other public amenities like parks and schools which rely on local levies.

Now, the package goes before the public. Sound Transit will gather public input and taking comments and criticisms for the next few months before June, when a final package will be put together to go on the November ballot.

Mayor Ed Murray (and Sound Transit board member) called on the public to chime in on the proposal a statement released yesterday. “Now that we have a draft ST3 plan, public input is critical. This proposal is a great start, but we know it is not perfect,” he said. “Now it is up to Seattle residents to help us refine this vision for the future of transit in our region.”

You can learn more at

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16 thoughts on “Sound Transit 3: Big, long, Ballard by 2038

  1. Wow that is a lot and isn’t going to be done anytime soon. Will probably be voting yes even though by the time any of this is built we’ll all be in self driving cars

  2. This should be one of our regions top priority and shouldn’t take 22 years to complete. I’m glad we have a plan but would like to see it pulled forward.

    The save for our environment and positive impacts to quality of life are too important to delay.

  3. Here is the important bit

    The new taxes equate to $392 per year for a typical household, the agency says. The increases are in addition to the Sound Transit taxes that voters approved in 1996 and 2008, which average $330 per household, and would continue being collected.

    Already paying 10% of my take home in property tax.

    • Property tax is currently $10k – thanks to seattle housing boom the taxable value keeps going up, but salaries don’t. Most of cap hill will be around that or greater.

      So yeah, let’s adds on some more $$.

    • Yes, let’s. I’d rather have 100 miles of new light rail and rapid transit. I trust you to negotiate a 0.4% pay raise during the next 25 years.

    • Don’t forget the Move Seattle levy, and the levy last year to expand bus service. And of course every single other levy on every single ballot financed entirely by property taxes. It doesn’t even bother me that I’ll be dead before this is built– I’ll probably be living somewhere else anyway. By then, property taxes will have long since forced lots of us out of our homes, and out of Seattle. Oh well, might as well enjoy it while we can.

    • “$60 a month, boohoo.”

      Rents will be going up more than $60 to pay for this, so reserve your tears for those bitching about rent.

      “Your rent is going up, boohoo.”

  4. The long time line is going to be a significant negative as far as getting this approved by voters, in addition to the cost. I’ll probably vote for it, in spite of the fact that we older citizens are not going to reap the rewards.

    One thing I don’t get is the need for another transit tunnel under downtown. Why can’t the new routes use the existing tunnel, especially since buses will be gone?

    • There will be many trains in the downtown tunnel serving the red (north-south) and blue (east) lines when both are operating in 2023. Adding a third line will require the city to operate fewer red and blue line trains or to build more capacity.

  5. Everyone reading this blog needs to comment on the draft plan and demand that it at least include an investment study for the METRO 8 SUBWAY line. It is truly disappointing that ST left this out of ST3, but there is still time. It was unrealistic to think constructing the Metro 8 line would be part of the package, but ST3 absolutely should include a study for it.

    The Metro 8 Subway would bring a true urban subway to the Central Area.

  6. The long timelines suck, but once the ST3 is approved, then our Sen. Murray and others can start working on “acceleration grants” and other funding options to make things happen faster. But voting against ST3 won’t bring light rail more quickly.

  7. This plan is irrational. Tens of billions are allocated over decades to built slow and low-ridership lines to the hinterlands so that finally 2038 there may be the most valuable line to Ballard (which would be much better as UW-Ballard).
    Voting it down would either force a devolution in capital transit funding –subregions can finally choose and fund the things they want and need– or force ST to come up with something better and tighter (like in 2007).