Sound Transit looks at high-capacity alternatives for Northend commuters

A voter-approved plan in 2008 to expand Sound Transit’s light rail system north from downtown Seattle to Lynnwood may not end up involving light rail at all. That was one possibility discussed during a North Corridor transit planning meeting sponsored by Sound Transit at the Shoreline Conference Center Thursday night. It was the third in a series of Sound Transit meetings (the first two were in North Seattle and Lynnwood) to gather citizen input on the planning process.

The original intent of extending high capacity transit to the Northend assumed “a fully elevated light rain line from Northgate Station to the Lynnwood Transit Center,” with stops at 145th Street, 185th Street, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood, said Sound Transit’s Matt Sheldon. It’s clear there is a willing customer base for this type of service; over 100,000 Snohomish County commuters travel south to King County via Interstate 5 daily and an average of 30,000 people ride transit in the North Corridor (defined as the area generally encompassing North Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood).

But the recession has hit Sound Transit hard, reducing projected revenues by 25 percent, so the agency is looking to federal grant funding– known as the “New Starts” program — as an alternative funding source. But to be eligible for the very competitive federal grants, Sound Transit must complete an alternatives analysis to justify the federal investment, and that means options in addition to light rail, such as bus rapid transit, must be investigated.

The three planning meetings were designed to give attendees (there were about 150 at the Shoreline meeting) an opportunity to not only hear about the options, but actually break into groups and suggest the best high capacity transit “access points” — for example, main corridors leading to Interstate 5 or Highway 99 —  and how they should be connected to any transit system.

If you weren’t able to attend one of the meetings, you still have time to express your opinion via an online survey. A link to all planning documents as well as the survey can be found here. The deadline for commenting is Oct. 27.

Sound Transit will review all comments, then come back to the public in late winter or early spring of 2011 with refined proposals. From there, the agency will advance “the most promising alternatives” to the environmental review and preliminary engineering stage, with a final decision in 2015-17. Construction is projected to begin in 2017 with a target service date of 2023.

Sheldon acknowledged that 13 years seems like a long time but noted that the transit project extension is an investment likely to last 100 years, and “we need to take the time to do it right and get the service in properly.”

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