Could the light rail station under Pacific Avenue and above the railroad work?

The Everett Station District Alliance, which represents residents around Everett Station, wants Sound Transit to evaluate a light rail station on the BNSF tracks and under the Pacific Avenue overpass. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

When riders reach the northern end of the light rail line in 20 years, they could be closer to downtown, Broadway or Everett Station.

Sound Transit evaluates these options. But Everett Station District Alliance, a group representing some landlords around the transit hub, wants Sound Transit to consider a new possibility that its members are calling Alternative X.

The alliance envisions the station platform northeast of the existing Everett station building. Putting it there means the light rail line must cross the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks north of 41st Street, then parallel east of those to Pacific Avenue.

All other alignments would likely overlap with existing businesses, said alliance executive director Brock Howell. Alternative X only crosses two once it gets east of the train tracks, and the properties to the east it would move are an undeveloped “brown field” and a Sound Transit parking lot.

“It’s an affordable option that has less impact,” Howell said.

But the tracks already there — and used by Amtrak, freight trains and Sounder commuter trains on weekdays — present a problem for Sound Transit.

Early in its station site selection process, Sound Transit staff considered three other sites east of the BNSF line. Stations are evaluated based on access, cost potential, equity, integration with existing transit, and feasibility.

The three sites east of Everett Station received low marks for transit integration and downtown access. A major downside was their “constructability risk” of crossing an active freight and rail line, spokesman John Gallagher said.

“The existing rail line is a major barrier to accessing the west where most downtown Everett businesses are located,” Gallagher said.

Building elevated track over a rail line can increase costs and more than double the length of those concrete spans to about 250 feet, Gallagher said.

The alliance thinks its Alternative X could work as an elevated station above the Sound Transit parking lot east of the train tracks and under the Pacific Avenue overpass.

A “lid” above the platform could have a park and a pathway that leads west over the train tracks to Smith Avenue. It could also provide another entrance from the North Pacific side for people to head downtown.

In this scenario, the right lanes in each direction of Pacific Avenue would be reserved for buses and turns, turning the road into a high-frequency transfer stop.

“The neighborhood is quite crossed by tracks. That would definitely help,” Howell said.

But Everett’s preliminary preference is a light rail station between Broadway and McDougall. City leaders believe a large station straddling these routes could help commuters navigate between transit options and downtown.

The city one Everett Subway Map as the area around downtown envisions the two lanes of McDougall Avenue as a bus-only street between 33rd Street and Pacific.

Everett could also elevate Pacific Avenue west of the Smith Avenue ramp so that it runs flush with Broadway, instead of dipping down to McDougall and then up to Broadway.

“Bringing that center of gravity a bit closer to downtown, where many events and destinations where people want to be” is a goal for city leaders, planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda said.

A small parking garage built along the Smith Avenue ramp could also help support the transit hub.

Alternative X’s location puts it close to a potential strip of properties that could be redeveloped into tall, dense housing. A study carried out for the alliance examined the potential for development around Everett Station.

Two properties within 1/4 mile of the Alternative X location stood out.

Just two blocks east is the city’s public works and transit campus along Pine Street between Pacific and 33rd Street. The current zoning of this land allows for buildings of seven to 11 stories and represents over 2 million gross square feet.

One block north of the Alternative X station is the Lowe’s home improvement store. His property is zoned for 12 to 25 stories, which is approximately 3.8 million gross square feet.

“Really, the catalytic zone is that walking distance,” Howell said.

Moving businesses and residents for the light rail line and for staging the construction is on city leaders’ radar, Economic Development Director Dan Eernissee said.

“That’s obviously one of the negatives that you try to avoid,” Eernissee said. “It’s a compromise list.”

The city wants to minimize market pressure on real estate, particularly housing, by stimulating construction through prices, Stevens-Wajda said.

“Hopefully none of these options will result in a ton of travel and teardowns,” Stevens-Wajda said.

City and Sound Transit staff share concerns about where the light rail line might go from its northern end if it runs parallel to the BNSF railroad. So far, there are no plans to build light rail north or east of Everett, both of which would require expensive bridges over the Snohomish River and its delta.

But the line will at least need a tail track, basically parking for train cars outside the main line.

Alternative X is an idea and not an engineer’s report on the structural and technical feasibility of the station option. But the alliance hopes it can be evaluated in the next phase along with the other alternatives.

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Jose P. Rogers