New Sound Transit Options Would Move Future Light Rail Station Out of Chinatown-International District

One of the options for moving the planned new Chinatown-International District light rail station, near city and county buildings, would allow transfers between all the light rail lines, through an underground connection to the existing Pioneer Square station, but it would not provide a direct connection to Sounder and Amtrak trains.

By Lizz Giordano

After facing heavy criticism from many within the Chinatown-International District over a new light rail station, Sound Transit is considering new options that would move the station out of the neighborhood.

The agency is now studying a location north of the CID, a block from the existing Pioneer Square Station near the King County Courthouse. This proposal would place the new station just to the east of 4th Ave, between Jefferson and Terrace Streets. Another potential location would put the future station along 6th Avenue S, just north of the current Stadium Station and Greyhound Bus Station.

The new station is part of the West Seattle-Ballard light rail extension that will add two new lines through downtown Seattle. The first new line will start at the Alaska Junction in West Seattle and head east to SoDo—eventually connecting to Everett via an extension that’s now set to open in 2032. The second will run from Ballard to SeaTac Airport and Tacoma via downtown, the CID, and SoDo, with service estimated to start in 2039.

Participants in Sound Transit’s public workshops, who included residents, business owners, and representatives from community groups and social service agencies, suggested the new locations to the agency after the Sound Transit board instructed staff to conduct further outreach after many in the neighborhood objected to the alternatives Sound Transit laid out in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), released earlier this year.

Locating the station in the Chinatown-International District, rather than near the stadiums or in Pioneer Square, would enable direct transfers between light rail lines, Sounder commuter rail, and Amtrak long-distance rail.

Those alternatives included building along 5th Avenue in the middle of the CID, consuming several blocks of the historic district, or on 4th Ave, a disruptive and costly option that would include rebuilding the viaduct under the heavily used road. Both alternatives included deep (180-foot) and shallow (80-foot) tunnel options.

Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s executive corridor director, said there are trade-offs for each of the new alternatives that would push the station out of the neighborhood. The new CID station is supposed to connect the communities around it and serve as a regional transit hub for light rail and other transit modes. Locating the station in the CID, rather than near the stadiums or in Pioneer Square, would enable direct transfers between light rail lines, Sounder commuter rail, and Amtrak long-distance rail.

The northern location, near city and county buildings, would allow transfers between all the light rail lines, through an underground connection to the existing Pioneer Square station, but it would not provide a direct connection to Sounder and Amtrak trains. Plans also show a deep station at 103 feet below ground, another drawback to this location.

The southern site, sandwiched between 4th Avenue and Airport Way, wouldn’t offer direct transfers between any of the other rail lines and would leave riders in a very inhospitable walking environment. Current plans show a station 115 feet underground. For comparison, the U District Station near the University of Washington is 80 feet below ground.

During the most recent outreach meeting, in December, Sound Transit did not discuss the heavily criticized 5th Ave options, nor the deep station alternative along 4th Avenue. Transit advocates said a 180-foot-deep tunnel on Fourth Ave. would create a poor rider experience, because it would take several additional minutes to access the underground station.

In a push to keep the station off 5th Avenue, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation recently added the entire CID to its Most Endangered Places list.

“A station along 5th Ave exacerbates displacement of local, long-standing businesses and their employees while placing yet another major construction project within a community that has endured an inequitable burden from such projects in the past,” Huy Pham, the Trust’s director of preservation programs, wrote in an email to Sound Transit in December.

“At this time, our call to action is to have Sound Transit take the 5th Avenue option off the table, while they conduct a thorough analysis of 4th Avenue impacts,” Pham told PubliCola.

Along with the new options, Sound Transit is also considering an even shallower tunnel on 4th Ave—40 feet deep instead of 80.

Ben Broesamle, the operations director for the transit advocacy group Seattle Subway, doesn’t want to see the station moved away from the CID, and supports a shallower, less disruptive 4th Ave. Tunnel. “If Sound Transit is still interested in building a new tunnel that serves transit riders, they should take a hard look at a very shallow 4th Ave station for the CID,” Broesamle said.

“If you’re not too concerned about the cost, the disruption, all of that, you might say, well, 100 years from now [the CID] might be the best place .But people do care about what’s going to happen in the next 10 years. That means a lot to people.” Peter Nitze, president and CEO of Nitze-Stagen

Peter Nitze, president and CEO of the real estate investment firm Nitze-Stagen, sees a lot of benefits of a new station closer to the King County Courthouse: Moving construction out of the heart of the CID and helping redevelop the area. While also saving Sound Transit money by eliminating the need for a midtown station, part of the downtown segment in the Ballard extension located near 5th Avenue and Columbia Street, a few blocks north of the proposed north of CID site.

Nitze-Stagen is redeveloping land on the corner of 7th Avenue and Jackson and has a minority ownership in a parking garage near Union Station. If Sound Transit locates the new station along 4th Avenue, the garage would stand to lose about 200 parking stalls, or about 20 percent of its capacity.

“If you’re not too concerned about the cost, the disruption, all of that, you might say, well, 100 years from now [the CID] might be the best place,” said Nitze. “But people do care about what’s going to happen in the next 10 years. That means a lot to people.”

Sound Transit discarded other ideas brought up during community workshops, including building the new station in the Lumen Field parking lot or just south of Royal Brougham Way. The agency said that these alternatives either presented technical challenges or the location didn’t meet the goals—connecting neighborhoods and serving as a regional transit hub—of the new station.

8 thoughts on “New Sound Transit Options Would Move Future Light Rail Station Out of Chinatown-International District”

  1. A shallow or lidded 4th option makes much more sense than any option on 5th. Creating an underground causeway from the current IDCS all the way to Amtrack? Now that’s a useful mass transit corridor/bypass.

  2. One option the article didn’t mention is The Lid, placed on the west side of 4th Ave. for detoured traffic while construction is done on 4th. When construction is done, and traffic to 4th is restored, the Lid can be converted to a park, similar to Seattle’s Freeway Park or Mercer Island’s Aubrey Davis Park. Sound Transit has objections, but they don’t really know until they do further study and work on the challenges collaboratively with partners. For more info on the Park Lid concept, go to Friends of Chinatown Seattle Facebook page.

  3. One option the article didn’t mention is The Lid, placed on the west side of 4th Ave. for detoured traffic while construction is done on 4th. When construction is done, and traffic to 4th is restored, the Lid can be converted to a park, similar to Seattle’s Freeway Park or Mercer Island’s Aubrey Davis Park. Sound Transit has objections, but they don’t really know until they do further study and work on the challenges collaboratively with partners. For more info on the Park Lid concept, go to Friends of Chinatown Seattle Facebook page.

    Brien Chow
    Co Founder
    Transit Equity for All, TEA

    220331 – MoveOn4th_Poster_Ver5-01.jpg
    Move Forward on 4th!
    transitequityforall.org

  4. Yes, Ben, offering moving money to Chinatown business owners along 5th and adjacent streets was tried and failed because the businesses had no guarantee of an affordable space to return to plus the fact that they are highly location dependent. Here’s the missing perspective of possible transit riders: thousands of CID residents–of whom over 1200 are limited English seniors, 250+ business owners and countless local and regional community members. Reasons: closure of the primary commercial streets of Weller and King Streets for at least 6 years, negative health and safety impacts from noise, dust and air pollution on an already vulnerable, low income majority community of color suffering health disparities; forever altering the national register Chinatown Historic District and the larger Seattle CID Landmark Historic District through demolition of historic buildings for a huge multi-story vent, maintenance facility and a giant bike shed. For details, please go to transitequityforall.org; for public comments and news on interactions with Sound Transit, go to Friends of Chinatown Seattle FB, or watch the ST livestream video meetings, read the public comments (sound transit.org) in which you can see that over 50% of respondents were against light rail on 5th Avenue, and finally, go to historicsouthdowntown.org to skim the Transit Tuesdays newsletters.

    1. Affordable commercial space seems like a problem that money could solve. If Sound Transit wasn’t willing to pay what it takes to compensate business owners and assure them of affordable space after construction, then that’s on Sound Transit.

      My whole thing is that if we’re going to spend billions of dollars on a transit system, then we should make it excellent. Our grandchildren are going to be using this system, and we ought to make decisions about the system’s design based on what is going to be the best for transit usability.

  5. It seems like all parties agree that from a purely “what would be the best option from a ridership and general transit usability” point of view that the 5th avenue shallow station location would be best. I get that Sound Transit feels they need to take into consideration neighborhood impacts; but what I’ve never understood is why the agency doesn’t just go to the impacted business owners, open up the checkbook, and just pay them a generous amount during the most intense construction period. It might have to be a really generous offer, but who wouldn’t take, say, 120% of their annual income for a 2-3 year sabbatical from running a business. Then at the end of your paid sabbatical you come back to a run a business that is steps away from probably the busiest transportation hub in the region.

    It seems so obvious that I bet this was tried, but I wonder if Lizz or any commenters might know if that’s the case.

  6. Great article. Thank you for laying out the facts. One point to note, the realignment of the train tunnels means that moving the new station out of the CID also removes direct access to Sea-Tac and points South for the CID. Also, from the perspective of Pioneer Square, a 4th Ave station greatly enhances services to that neighborhood while a new station a block from the current station, not so much.

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