Consensus reached on new light-rail line
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Sound Transit board yesterday reached consensus on a new light-rail route from downtown Seattle to the University District, but split on what route to take north to Northgate.
The new route to the University District, all underground, would run under First Hill, Capitol Hill, the Montlake Cut and the University of Washington campus. Stations would be built:
• On First Hill, beneath Madison Street between Minor and Boylston avenues.
• On Capitol Hill one block east of Broadway, beneath Nagle Place between East John and East Howell streets.
• At Husky Stadium.
• In the University District, under Brooklyn Avenue Northeast either north or south of Northeast 45th Street.
No votes were taken yesterday. Formal endorsement of the new route is expected May 20. By then, the board could resolve its two remaining areas of disagreement — the location of the Brooklyn station and the route through the Roosevelt neighborhood to Northgate.
Final board approval won't come until environmental studies are completed, probably sometime next year.
Sound Transit began looking for a new route north in late 2001 after projected cost overruns forced it to mothball its original plan to build the line under Portage Bay and 15th Avenue Northeast. The agency decided to build south from downtown first instead and broke ground on that segment last November.
Board members hailed yesterday's decision as a significant milestone. Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, the board chairman, predicted the line would become "a backbone of our regional transportation system."
But Sound Transit still doesn't have the money to start building. The agency estimates it will cost about $1.3 billion to construct the line to the University District, and another $410 million to $490 million to reach Northgate.
Those estimates are for construction only. They don't include rail cars or engineering and administrative costs.
A three-county transportation package tentatively scheduled for the November ballot could provide about $1 billion for the project. With the route to the University District selected, Sound Transit staff members plan to develop a comprehensive cost estimate, a prerequisite for including it in the package.
Sound Transit estimates the new route will cost slightly more and carry slightly fewer riders than the old route under Portage Bay. But King County Executive Ron Sims said a tunnel under the Montlake Cut makes more sense because there's less risk of encountering unforeseen, potentially expensive obstacles.
The board punted on the route through Roosevelt after discussion revealed deep divisions. Roosevelt community and business groups favor an alignment with an underground station near Roosevelt High School.
That counts for a lot, said Kenmore City Councilman Jack Crawford. Metropolitan King County Councilmen Dwight Pelz and Larry Phillips, both D-Seattle, said that, if they had to vote now, they'd also support that route.
But Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said an alignment with an elevated station at Interstate 5 and Northeast 65th Street would cost less, promote redevelopment and better serve the Green Lake neighborhood.
Ladenburg agreed. "The ridership is virtually the same for $80 million less."
Winners and losers
Almost every decision the board made about the route left some interests happy, others displeased.
Among the losers: Vulcan. It had pushed for a route up Eastlake Avenue East, near its holdings in South Lake Union, rather than one serving First Hill and Capitol Hill. Company spokesman Jim Kelley said he wasn't surprised by the board's decision and expressed hope that a way can be found later to link South Lake Union to the regional transportation network.
Among the winners: the University of Washington. The route the board adopted across campus, under the Husky Union Building and the Quad, had the university's blessing. University officials are concerned about vibrations and electromagnetic fields from trains and feared a less expensive, more direct route under Rainier Vista and Red Square would harm sensitive research.
The board rejected a proposal to tunnel straight from downtown to Capitol Hill, bypassing First Hill and perhaps saving $180 million to $190 million. First Hill is a major employment center, Nickels said, and not including it would be shortsighted.
That pleased Seattle University and the neighborhood's big hospitals. But Steve Gaines of the First Hill Condominium Association vowed to fight the route in court.
"We'll be in a construction zone for up to 10 years," he said, "and a lot of the elderly who live here have problems with their hearing and their lungs. We don't think it's necessary here."
On Capitol Hill, the board chose the Nagle Place station over one a block west, under Broadway, largely because of concerns about the fragility of Broadway businesses. "To impact the Broadway business district for a couple years while we virtually close down the street is not a good option," said Sumner City Councilman Dave Enslow.
The Nagle station got a lukewarm endorsement from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.
But Anne Donovan, president of the Capitol Hill Community Council, said the site, which would affect homes and a city park, is "completely unacceptable," and the community has been telling Sound Transit that for years.
Nickels backed the Nagle Place alternative, arguing a Broadway station would have "a devastating impact" on business.
"It's just a repetition of what he's done elsewhere," Donovan said. "He's not done anything to support neighborhoods."
A Nagle station would be $20 million to $30 million cheaper, but would eliminate the parking lot of the venerable Bonney-Watson funeral home. Board members said they would work with the firm, and company President Bob Anderson said he's optimistic a solution can be found.
The board picked property now occupied by the 71-year-old Hop In Grocery as the site for a controversial power substation and emergency vent shaft in Montlake.
Another site that would have required demolition of three homes was rejected, as was one that would have taken one home and part of a church parking lot.
The board directed agency staff members to devise a plan that wouldn't take the entire property and might allow the market to remain in business. But Hop In owner Scott Iverson said he wasn't satisfied.
"It wouldn't kill my business," he said, "but it would severely limit and crunch the parking."
In the University District, the board tossed out a potential station on UW property near Northeast 45th Street and 15th Avenue Northeast in favor of a station on Brooklyn.
Nickels said the Brooklyn station should be built between Northeast 45th and 47th streets. University District businesses south of 45th generally are in better shape than those north of that thoroughfare, he said, and a northern station would encourage redevelopment.
But more board members spoke in favor of a station between 43rd and 45th, a site more acceptable to local community and business groups. "I think that's kind of an uphill battle if the community's not with you," said Bellevue Mayor Connie Marshall.
Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Gilmore contributed to this report.
Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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