Kohl-Welles pens letter backing 'West is Best' light rail route plan

Dear Executive Somers,

This is an exciting time for my constituents, most directly in this case those living in Queen Anne, Interbay, Magnolia, Ballard and beyond. The potential for world-class link light rail service to and back from downtown Seattle will be an absolute game changer for commuters and businesses throughout our community.

It is clear that the sooner we get light rail up and running the better. However, we only have one chance to get this right. As we enter the alternatives development phase of light rail implementation, I am writing to reiterate my support for the route plan that has become known as “West is best.”

The current representative plan includes elevated or street-level rail from Smith Cove all the way to Ballard. This includes a 70-foot tall draw bridge across the ship canal. Unfortunately, to me, this alignment plan does not sufficiently meet the needs of our communities now or in the future.

My main concern is the impact this alignment will have on 15th Avenue West in Interbay and 15th Avenue in Ballard. With the addition of light rail tracks, the reduction of street lanes, and this street’s serving as a major freight as well as motorist corridor, I am concerned that instead of traffic relief we will see increased congestion and gridlock. Not to mention, this alignment may lead to train delays if the draw bridge is in constant use as a result of boat traffic through the ship canal.

Alternatively, the “West is best” plan would run light rail parallel to 15th Avenue West and under the ship canal via a tunnel. This plan will ensure speed and reliability, preserve existing lanes on 15th Avenue West, and create an underground station in Ballard that would be the best option for future northern and eastern expansion.

While this route may cost more money up front, I strongly believe it would save us money in the long run and have a positive impact on the economy and commerce in Interbay and Ballard.

At the very least, I am asking the board to consider the following questions before a final route is identified:

  • What impacts will there be to businesses and freight mobility along 15th Ave. W if at-grade commuter rail lines are added?
  • Is there any available Port of Seattle and/or city-owned land west of 15th Ave. W that could be utilized?
  • What are the operational costs of operating a moving drawbridge including cost and schedule impacts when the drawbridge is open or the drawbridge breaks?
  • Are there any limitations to further system expansion as a result of an above ground Ballard station?

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I look forward to working with you on a solution that best meets the needs of my community and continues to make Seattle a wonderful place to call home.


Jeanne Kohl-Welles

King County Councilmember, District Four