Sound Transit updated the community on plans for a Ballard light rail extension during a recent neighborhood forum.

The agency concluded its scoping process In April, responding to 5,600 questions and comments from the public, conducting 189 presentations to local community groups, visiting 26 neighborhood events, sending out 25 emails updates, facilitating 21 meetings with stakeholders and elected leaders, and hosting 17 open houses.

"We wanted to start with a broad range of alternatives,” said Sound Transit consultant Dennis Sandstrom. “We wanted to hear all of the different ideas folks had about how we’re getting light rail from downtown out to Ballard. That was then narrowed through more engagement, more work with technical staff, work with our stakeholder advisory group… and then also our elected leadership group."

Sound Transit began to identify its preferred alternatives in October.

The preferred alternative route would approach Interbay from West Republican Street, then run along Elliott Avenue West, banking further west after passing the new Expedia Group campus, continue under the Magnolia Bridge and along the western edge of the Washington National Guard's armory site and the Interbay Golf Center, moving east from 17th Avenue West to cross 15th Avenue West, straightening out at 13th Avenue West to cross over Salmon Bay and into Ballard, running along 14th Avenue Northwest and ending at Northwest 58th Street.

"I want to point out at this time what ‘preferred’ is intended to mean," said Kate Lichtenstein, Sound Transit's light rail development manager. "It is intended to make clear where the project is headed to indicate a preference among alternatives. It is not a final decision or an obligation."

With the preferred option, Lichtenstein said there would be an elevated stop at West Galer Street, and the elevated track would continue behind the Interbay Golf Center to another elevated station just north of West Dravus Street. Next, it would cross over 15th Avenue and continue to a high-level fixed bridge across Salmon Bay to a station in Ballard on 14th Avenue.

A second preferred option shows a tunnel going underneath Salmon Bay, instead of a bridge going over it, Lichtenstein said.

Sound Transit expects to publish a draft environmental impact statement by early 2021.

The EIS will test each route option as rigorously as the last, whether the option is preferred or not, she said.

Lauren Swift, Sound Transit's essential corridor environmental manager, said there are three main areas that the EIS will study; transportation, the natural environment and the built environment.

With transportation, the EIS will assess ridership, transit operations, regional and local traffic, non-motorized facilities, freight movement, marine navigation and parking.

For the impacts on the natural environment, the EIS will study how the project will affect air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, ecosystems, water resources, and geology/soils.

The EIS will evaluate how the project would impact the built environment by studying its impacts on noise, vibration, land use, acquisitions, displacement, relocations, hazardous materials, impacts on low-income/minority populations and neighborhoods.

A final EIS will is expected to be published in 2022, at which point Sound Transit will move forward with station design, and then construction.

The Ballard extension is expected to begin service by 2035.

Sound Transit land-use planning manager Sloan Dawson walked open house attendees through the considerations that the agency will be making when designing its stations.

He said station planners try to imagine how the stations will affect the pedestrians moving around them, how the buses will interact with them, how bicyclists will have access to them, the impact they will have on other vehicles and traffic, and how accessible each station is for those with disabilities.