Where should the new light rail line go in Seattle? The city council gives some recommendations

Seattle City Council members voted Tuesday in favor of new light rail stations on Northwest 15th Avenue in Ballard and Mercer Street in Uptown, as well as a tunnel in West Seattle and a host of other recommendations for a new line from West Seattle to Ballard.

But on some of the thorniest issues, particularly in the international district of Chinatown and the neighborhood of Delridge, the city council decided to choose a preference.

The city council’s transport committee voted on the set of recommendations for the train’s future route on Tuesday morning. How the roughly $13 billion megaproject, part of the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure approved by voters in 2016, plays out depends on Sound Transit’s board of directors, made up of elected officials from across the region.

As the largest city member of Sound Transit, Seattle’s desires carry significant political weight as the transit agency tries to assemble the project until at least 2035.

“Seattle has been Sound Transit’s biggest supporter and continues to be the crucial hub of the entire regional system,” said council member Alex Pedersen, who chairs the transportation committee. “Doing the right thing in Seattle will benefit the region because it will make implementation easier and faster.”

Building a transit system in a well-established city is a recipe for conflict, and that was clear in Tuesday’s resolution, which could be considered by the full council as early as next week.

Most notably, when it comes to adding a new train station in the international district of Chinatown — a complicated balance between transit access, cost, and community impact — City Hall has declined to weigh in without further information on impacts to businesses and residences. Sound Transit chooses between a deep or shallow station between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Although the Fifth Avenue option is cheaper and more central, local organizations have sounded the alarm about disruptions to the community, especially as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

The city council also waived declaring a preference in the Delridge Ward. Town Hall initially signaled support for an elevated station in Delridge and Andover, but is no longer taking a position. One concern is that Sound Transit has not sufficiently considered the station’s impacts on Alki Beach Academy, a daycare center that fears construction will displace it.

The city now says support for the Delridge station depends on Sound Transit addressing possible impacts to the Alki Beach Academy as well as a nearby behavioral health center.

“Those are workable terms,” said board member Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle.

Seattle officials backed tunnel under 41st Southwest Avenue, with the train emerging near the West Seattle Bridge entrance. From there, the train would go north through Sodo before plunging underground into a newly dug downtown tunnel.

In addition to the complicated dynamics of the international district of Chinatown, the city has also sought to accommodate competing demands near downtown Seattle.

Sound Transit prefers a station near Republican Street, but arts organizations including KEXP, The Vera Project, Seattle Repertory Theater and the Seattle International Film Festival have all raised concerns about trains running under their venues. The city’s favorite map sought a compromise and now has the line veering west from one station at Denny Way and Terry Avenue, to one station at Harrison Street, then to Mercer Street – one block down. north of Republican and bypassing most organizations.

In Ballard, business and community representatives lobbied for a station that serves the west side of 15e Avenue Northwest, as opposed to a proposal to place the station at 14e Northwest Avenue. The city agreed in its recommendation, despite a likely higher price, calling a station east of the busy corridor “unacceptable.”

“The conversation you’ll hear from me today is really, how do we make this crossing [over 15th] safe?” said council member Dan Strauss, who represents Ballard. “How can we ensure that users have access to the station in order to have as much traffic as possible?”

Final routes will be voted on by Sound Transit’s board of directors next year.

Jose P. Rogers