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  • Marie McKinsey

Sound Transit Presents an Excellent Case for the No Build Alternative

Updated: Sep 4

When Sound Transit's ST3 project went to voters in 2016, 54% voted to approve it. Those voters undoubtedly believed that light rail would reduce pollution and improve transportation in the region.

And the hefty price tag, $54 billion, seemed worth it to them. Small price to pay to help save the planet.

As time goes by, though, it is becoming clear that ST3 does not offer any significant benefit for the environment or for West Seattle. That's why many people now want Sound Transit to adopt the No Build Alternative that was proposed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

They aren't alone. Even Sound Transit's comparisons between the Build and No Build Alternatives seem to support No Build.

What is the No Build Alternative?

Note that this does not say that nothing will be built. Only that light rail will not be built in West Seattle or Ballard. Other transportation improvements will continue. Now that the two extensions have been uncoupled, it seems like Ballard could be built, if their residents agree, and West Seattle could go into the No Build category.

Additional projects that will go forward under the No Build Alternative:

Adopting the No Build Alternative will not require further studies or for people to vote on this project again. The No Build Alternative is a valid choice that Sound Transit can make without having to go to a final Environmental Impact Statement.

The tables shown in this post are from the DEIS. These are Sound Transit's projections about what they expect in the year 2042, when they hope to have the entire project built out.

They don't paint a very optimistic picture of the future.


What about the environment?

A major reason people approve of light rail, and mass transit in general, is that they believe it will reduce CO2 emissions. One aspect that gets forgotten, however, is the amount of CO2 produced during construction. Steel and concrete manufacturing creates A LOT of CO2.

Let's look at what building the bridge from SODO to West Seattle will emit.

When Sound Transit announced their first set of preferred alternatives, they wanted to build an elevated guideway into the Junction. However, people were alarmed by the number of businesses that would be lost, so Sound Transit now prefers a tunnel option.

In the table above, the low cost option was the elevated train. The tunnel option that is now preferred is the high cost option - producing a whopping 614,461 tons of CO2!

This is just for the West Seattle extension. It does not include Ballard. Here is the Ballard table.

If we add the 614,461 tons of CO2 from West Seattle construction to even the low cost option in Ballard, 1,654,311, we get a total of 2,268,772 metric tons of CO2.

Proponents say that any emissions produced will be more than offset by the reduction in CO2 once the system is running. The table below, projecting amounts in expected 2042, is for both the Ballard and West Seattle extensions. It amounts to very little savings in CO2 emissions.

At the rate of -10,941 tons per year, it would take 207 years to mitigate the amount of CO2 produced in the construction of the WSBLE project!

The No Build Alternative is clearly the better environmental choice.


Environmental impact is not limited to CO2 emissions.

West Seattle, and particularly the Duwamish Greenbelt, is home for many endangered species.

Here is a description from the DEIS of some of the critical habitat area that will be affected by light rail construction.

Here's what the DEIS says about some of the construction impacts.

And here is what it says about the No Build option.


Relieving congestion.

Another reason people want light rail is because they believe it will relieve congestion. They are tired of being stuck in traffic on the West Seattle bridge. They want more transportation options so there will be fewer vehicles using it.

Here are Sound Transit's projections about bridge traffic in 2042.

This table shows the difference between Build and No Build Alternatives. During peak hours, there will only be 100 fewer cars. Not enough for you to notice.

That's less than a 1% reduction in traffic.

The No Build Alternative should be a no-brainer, according to Sound Transit figures.


What about ridership?

People say they can't wait to ride the train, but will they? Sound Transit doesn't seem to think so. The numbers in this table are for the entire Sound Transit region - King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. 20,000 new trips is not an impressive increase for that large an area.

No Build again looks like the best option, according to Sound Transit.


Here is the Draft Environmental Impact Statement if you want to read more about what Sound Transit proposes and the differences between Build and No Build Alternatives.


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