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.