Ty Swenson
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn discusses the latest in Sound Transit light rail service to West Seattle at Dive Espresso on June 11.

McGinn: Sound Transit will study light rail feasibility from West Seattle to downtown this summer

Light rail service to West Seattle still has a shot, according to Mayor Mike McGinn, but don’t expect it anytime in the next decade.

In 2009, then-mayoral candidate McGinn told Erica C. Barnett with Publicola, “… Within two years of taking office, I commit to bringing a plan before voters of Seattle to bring expanded light rail service to neighborhoods (including West Seattle).”

As we say, “Life got in the way,” as the economy tanked, city council resisted the vote, and Seattle’s Department of Transportation Transit Master Plan, released in 2011, put the West Seattle corridor well down the list of top priorities for major people-moving improvements.

This week, Mayor McGinn reached out to local media for a sit down at Diva Espresso to update our readers on where the possibility of light rail service from the West Seattle to downtown stands. It's an issue still on his mind, and that of many West Seattle commuters.

“The question is ‘What’s the status of rail expansion, or transit expansion to West Seattle?’ and I’m not sure people are well aware of where things stand with Sound Transit and the development of Sound Transit’s long-range plans …,” McGinn said.

This summer will be a telling moment, he said, as Sound Transit will be performing an internal study on the feasibility of extending light rail service from West Seattle to downtown, downtown to Ballard, and Ballard to the University District as part of the “Sound Transit 3” long term plan. Once the internal study is finished, ST will hold public meetings, according to McGinn.

ST is currently working on their “Sound Transit 2” plan, constructing a light rail University Link from downtown to the University District by 2016 right now, with future projects to provide a Northgate Link by 2021 and an East Link to Bellevue and Redmond by 2023.

For those who doubt West Seattle’s light rail will ever happen based on the history of a 2002 monorail plan that died (after $124 million from taxpayers were used), McGinn said he understands.

“There was a plan to bring a monorail to West Seattle, and a lot of people feel discouraged by the way that turned out …,” he said.

As part of Sound Transit’s summer study, SDOT strategic advisor to McGinn, Micheal James, said they will look at far out projections for population rise in West Seattle. For those opposed to the thousands of apartments being built, or in the planning stage on the peninsula these days, the exploding projections as a result could be a silver lining in putting light rail marks in West Seattle’s column.

With the SR99 tunnel project coming up (and lasting for the next several years) and King County Metro funding shortfalls making service expansion difficult, McGinn said he’s fully aware of the continued transit challenges for West Seattle.

Part of that has to do with history, he said:

“We are way behind on transit, you know, we could have started a long time ago (speaking decades back) on transit to connect our neighborhoods together … for decades, we have neglected basic infrastructure,” he said, adding that the Transit Master Plan put together under his tenure is an attempt to identify areas of critical need, so catching up has a logical path in better connecting our city.

As always, McGinn said money also plays a role as city, county and transportation partners will have to find room in their own budgets, compete for federal dollars, and ask state lawmakers and everyday citizens to help pay for infrastructure improvements, Metro funding, and - possibly one day – a light rail connecting West Seattle to downtown.

Looking at the broader political landscape as we come into a mayoral vote in November, contender Sen. Ed Murray (who received the 34th District Democrats endorsement on June 12) told Publicola earlier this year, “We can’t afford [light rail from Ballard to West by ourselves. There are probably things we could do as a city … that would feed in and make the light rail system work. The city is all gridlocked. More light rail is great, but that’s got to be built on a regional level.”

Funding for Sound Transit's current Link Light Rail system was approved by voters in November of 1996, including the Tacoma Link and Central Link (with service from downtown to SeaTac airport).

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