Sound Transit wrapped up their study of a light rail tunnel through Wallingford, 3.4 miles from Ballard to the U-District. The rail line as it is conceived would feature 3 new stops, in Wallingford, in Phinney, and Market Street. It would not continue past the U-District station already under construction, instead terminating there. At this time it is not being proposed in conjunction with a rail line from downtown to Ballard, but rather as a discrete project that would exist if the downtown to Ballard rail line did not exist.
Sound Transit estimates it will cost a little more than $3 billion to build for 22,000 daily riders, meaning a construction cost of about $140,000 per rider (operation costs extra). The cost per mile is about $900 million, which is 50% more expensive than other light rail in the region. The additional cost seems to come from this being a runt line that is fully tunneled and requires a separate operations and maintenance facility.
In Wallingford the rail line is to follow 44th street below grade in a tunnel, but there’s no comment on station location. If you take their streetless map on the right and then overlay a real map on top of it, you get station locations of approximately 44th and Fremont and then 44th and Meridian:
Will it happen? The rail line is still being talked about as a lower priority project than going from Ballard to downtown, which is budgeted between $1.9 and $5.3 billion (costing more if you tunnel more). Also, the ridership estimates for the Ballard to downtown line are about double what they estimate for Ballard to U-District. On the flip side, many are arguing that people of Seattle will vote for anything that says “rail” on it these days so we should “go big” with Sound Transit 3 and build everything on the map.
Regardless, all the numbers make Move Seattle look like chump change at $930 million for 9 years of SDOT funding. That’s a single mile of light rail these days. Put another way, a rail line from the U-District to Ballard will cost about the same as the entire downtown Alaskan Way tunnel replacement project ($3.1 billion, cost overruns for either project extra).