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.
The West Duwamish Greenbelt is within the Duwamish Segment. The greenbelt stretches 4 miles south from the West Seattle Bridge along the western side of the Duwamish Waterway.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife designates the greenbelt as a Biodiversity Area and Corridor (a priority habitat). It is primarily deciduous forest with bigleaf maples and red alders, and provides habitat elements such as mixed forest snags, downed woody debris, and areas with multi-layered canopy. The Delridge Segment includes the greenbelt around Longfellow Creek (also a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife-designated Biodiversity Area and Corridor), as well as developed open space in the West Seattle Golf Course and the Delridge Playfield and Community Center park. The golf course contains mowed fairways bordered with rows of trees and a few patches of forest. Delridge Playfield has lines of trees and the groundcover is primarily mowed lawn. Riparian habitat along Longfellow Creek is fragmented, but stream and riparian restoration projects, including native plantings and placement of large woody debris in the creek, have increased habitat quality within the study area.
These greenbelts, as well as the forested patches within the golf course, provide shelter for wildlife tolerant of proximity to urban areas, including deer, coyote, raccoon, squirrel, opossum, bats, and many species of birds. Voles and other small mammals might also occur in the greenbelts and in portions of the small parks and the golf course that have shrubs or herbaceous groundcover. Great blue herons have established nesting colonies (rookeries) within the West Duwamish Greenbelt in the study area, including at Pigeon Point just south of the West Seattle Bridge. A wetland along about 800 feet of Longfellow Creek (within the golf course) stores sediment deposited during high flows and provides riparian habitat for wildlife including waterfowl, herons, songbirds, small and large mammals, and amphibians.
Several raptor species are known to use these greenbelts for nesting, roosting, and foraging. The City of Seattle has historically mapped bald eagle nesting in the West Duwamish Greenbelt.
Peregrine falcons are known to nest along the West Seattle Bridge on a nest platform placed on a bridge guideway column (Urban Raptor Conservancy 2019). Osprey may forage in the Duwamish Waterway, and may use trees or utility poles near the waterway for nesting. An artificial platform for nesting osprey is present near Sound Transit's existing operations and maintenance facility on the eastern edge of the Duwamish Segment. The greenbelt trees and golf course trees also provide roosting and nesting habitat for raptors such as red-tailed hawk, merlin, and barred owl, and roosting opportunities for bald eagles.
Here's what the DEIS says about some of the construction impacts.
Recovery plans for listed salmon identify shallow areas of shoreline as important to migrating
salmonids. Guideway columns and pier-protection systems along the shoreline could change
the movement patterns of migrating salmon, and navigation lights on the bridge structure could alter the nighttime swimming behavior of juvenile salmonids, which may avoid these areas to avoid potential predation, or seek these areas to feed on prey. The bridge guideway columns could cover up to about 18,370 square feet (about 0.5 acre) of bottom habitat that is currently accessible to fish and benthic invertebrates. The covered area of benthic habitat could reduce the amount of productivity in these benthic locations. Over-water shading from the guideway is not likely to change fish behavior or impact benthic productivity or temperature in the waterway, as the bottom of the bridge would have a clearance of approximately 90 to 135 feet above the water. Some bridge types would require pile cap structures close to the waterline that would prevent daylight from reaching the waters and benthic surface below them. This could reduce productivity and also increase areas for predator fish to shelter that may prey upon young salmonids.
Preferred Alternative DUW-1a and Option DUW-1b would cross the north end of the West Duwamish Greenbelt on a mix of elevated and retained-cut guideway. Trees and understory vegetation (primarily nonnative Himalayan blackberry and English ivy) would be removed. Low-growing vegetation may be used to stabilize this slope, but large trees would not be allowed near the guideway for safety reasons.
Some of the trees that would be removed in the West Duwamish Greenbelt are within the core zone of the management area for a great blue heron colony, and the guideway would also pass close to a known peregrine falcon nesting site on the West Seattle Bridge. Preferred Alternative DUW-1a would pass closer to the falcon nest and Option DUW-1b would pass closer to the heron colony. Although the falcons are already habituated to an urban environment and traffic on nearby roads and bridges, under either Preferred Alternative DUW-1a or Option DUW-1b the light rail trains moving close to the nest could affect their return to this artificial nest location. Both alternatives would affect the buffer of a Category IV wetland.
Preferred Alternative DUW-1a would impact the habitat enhancements that may occur at the City of Seattle's Bluefield Holdings/Wildlands Site 2 shoreline restoration project, and could require modifications to the site. Alternative DUW-2 would cross the Duwamish Waterway on the north side of the West Seattle Bridge, avoiding impacts to the greenbelt, the Category IV wetland, and the heron colony. Alternative DUW-2 may require relocation of the artificial nesting platform for osprey on the eastern edge of the Duwamish Segment; the platform would be relocated in the vicinity to ensure continued use. This alternative could also impact about 600 square feet of the Port of Seattle's proposed habitat restoration project at Terminal 25. Sound Transit would coordinate with the Port to identify to identify potential modifications to the restoration site design. The guideway would be at least 90 feet above the site such that no impacts on vegetation from shading are expected.
And here is what it says about the No Build option.
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.