The 15-1 vote favors the "North of C-ID" option, just diagramed this winter, underground near the corner of Fourth Avenue and James Street . Another station south of the district would also be considered.
King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell are endorsing this new superstation in Pioneer Square to complement Constantine's vision, released March 7 , to turn the bedraggled seat of local government into a high-rise civic campus.
Harrell says he is leaning toward the station shift because of worries about ruining businesses or displacing residents, after a long history of hardships by public-works projects in Chinatown International District .
"My family has owned and operated small businesses in the Chinatown International District for over 80 years, and continue to operate small businesses there. So I want to get this right," Harrell said in closing remarks.
However, the other option, next to Union Station , will remain under study as a secondary option during final environmental studies, with staff ordered to seek quicker, less intrusive and lower carbon construction, after members — even Constantine and Harrell — passed an amendment by board member Claudia Balducci .
The vote Thursday is not a final route decision, said Constantine and other members.
After six years and $140 million spent for outreach, studies and preliminary designs, the 18-member board reached a self-imposed deadline Thursday to choose a "preferred alignment" as new ideas and facts continue to flow.
The discussion was so dizzying that at one point Thursday, board member Christine Frizzell , the mayor of Lynnwood , complained about regional delays, and remarked, "If we want to do all this cheaper, maybe it's time to go to the voters and see what they want."
Constantine didn't bring up the civic campus angle Thursday, but did make hay of an estimated $800 million extra cost if Sound Transit were to demolish and replace the city's Fourth Avenue South viaduct at Union Station , while installing an underground light-rail stop in tight quarters along BNSF Railway corridor. He mentioned the risk of creating "false hope" with the public that this version, also known as Fourth Avenue Shallow, will be affordable.
But Balducci, a Metropolitan King County Council member from Bellevue , said she's not ready to give up on the once-in-a-century chance for a grand regional hub at Union Station , where a projected 60,000 riders might come and go daily between light rail, Sounder commuter trains, long distance buses, streetcars and Amtrak.
Also, the Pioneer Square version would cancel the deep Midtown Station on Fifth Avenue near Marion Street , making access somewhat harder from First Hill.
Constantine, the current Sound Transit chair, wrote in a memo to the board that the county can help the "North of C-ID" version at Pioneer Square , by providing $400 million in land contributions, chiefly the unused county administration-building lot at Fourth and James.
Meanwhile, the board rejected a suggestion by Balducci and state Transportation Secretary Roger Millar to run the regional "spine" of trains from outside Seattle through the existing tunnel, while Ballard to West Seattle trains take the future 2037 tunnel, part of a longer 12-mile city corridor estimated at $14.6 billion . Something like that would happen anyway, Balducci said, for a few years when West Seattle is connected to Sodo but Ballard isn't yet.
Balducci has questioned the Pioneer Square version because it would make riders arriving from the Eastside skip Chinatown International District and continue north to Pioneer Square before they could waste several minutes to change trains and backtrack toward the stadiums and SeaTac .
But under questioning by Constantine, agency staff said Balducci's new concept would put too many people into the main tunnel, leading to crowds and train delays. And Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers objected to more delays in planning, to redesign how the trains cross downtown.
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier called an $800 million cost increase ridiculous for the Union Station version, and said he would defer to officials within Seattle about central-city station choices, so long as they're within budget and provide regional mobility.
Pioneer Square hub options would eliminate the ultra-deep Midtown Station under Fifth Avenue near Marion Street , which saves money but also means no new destinations for 7 miles between Denny Way and Delridge Way , except for a "South of C-ID" station next to busy roads.
The board room was packed with more than 150 people, including people in red T-shirts supporting the Union Station version and a smaller group in black favoring Pioneer Square .
"Our city loves to tout itself as progressive, and racially equitable, but I must remind you that a solution that serves only future riders, at the expense of poor and BIPOC people, flies in the face of racial justice," testified Kaileah Baldwin, with the group Puget Sound Sage , referring to Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Regarding a litany of public works, Christopher Clarizio said the Union Station hub is the only version that will enable his wife, who works in a First Hill medical center, to make swift transit connections. "Tear down I-5 if you must, tear down the stadiums, but don't block something that will be beneficial to everyone in Seattle ."
Denise Moriguchi , CEO of Uwajimaya , testified in favor of the Union Station version, saying it's the best for connectivity. That diverges from activists who want a station south of the district, and argued it's still close to Uwajimaya despite huge streets to cross. A few seniors testified to build at Union Station so they could walk there easily.
Sound Transit is even hearing a few public comments to scrap the second downtown tunnel entirely. Instead, it could boost capacity with a pivot to automated trains, like Vancouver, B.C.'s SkyTrain, which might run every three minutes through a refurbished 1989 tunnel, plus a shorter ST3 tunnel attached at Westlake Station to lower Queen Anne .
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