Sound Transit launches surveys to plan South Seattle Link refill stations

Sound Transit launches surveys to plan South Seattle Link refill stations
Sound Transit launches surveys to plan South Seattle Link refill stations

Two riders walked along the platform, the Seattle skyline visible in the distance.
Sound Transit is planning the two light rail stations in Rainier Valley funded under the ST3 vote. The agency is aiming for opening in 2031. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is seeking public feedback on its planned Link light rail stations in South Seattle and Tukwila. Stations near Graham Street and Boeing Access Road have long been promised to South End communities and could finally be realized by 2031.

Last year, Sound Transit hired planning, engineering and design firm Kimley-Horn to design the two stations. The firm has two main tasks to complete over a 16-month period. The first phase – which the agency is currently in – will review options to determine a preferred alternative for each station and will also conduct a public engagement campaign to better understand community priorities. Once the alternatives are reviewed, Kimley-Horn will begin the environmental assessment and conceptual design, which will make up to 10% of the design.

Sound Transit is planning two Link light rail stations (marked in red on the map) along Line 1 in South Seattle and Tukwila. Existing stations are marked in blue on the map. (Stephen Fesler / Google Maps)

Sound Transit’s respective online open houses for the infill stations are fairly sparse on details. For both stations, the agency says it considers several factors when siting and designing stations on an active line. These include things like rail operations (i.e., minimizing disruption during construction), managing traffic flow, accessibility to stations, potential land acquisition, and impacts on the environment and nearby businesses and residents. Still, the open houses offer a small glimpse into the alternatives the agency is considering.

Alternatives to Graham Street stop

Sound Transit proposes two location alternatives for Graham Street Station. (Sound Transit)

For the Graham Street station, the agency has identified two possible locations. Both options would place a station at grade on Martin Luther King Jr Way S near S Graham Street, with one option north of the intersection and one option south of it. A station at this location would help close a 1.6-mile station gap between Columbia City and Othello stations and provide direct light rail service to Hillman City, New Holly and Brighton, giving the Rainier Valley its fifth station.

Project documents show that Sound Transit is considering possible changes to the S Graham Street intersection, widening Martin Luther King Jr. Way S to accommodate the station, and relocating some utilities. Pre-pandemic ridership estimates suggested the station could see up to 2,500 riders a day, but as part of the planning process, those figures are expected to be adjusted based on newer ridership modeling. Recent cost estimates put the project at around $118 million.

Alternatives to Boeing Access Road Station

Sound Transit proposes two site alternatives for Boeing Access Road station. (Sound Transit)

Meanwhile, the Boeing Access Road Station project has two possible locations for an elevated station: the traditional site on S Boeing Access Road near I-5 and the BNSF trail boundary, and a new alternative to the southwest along E Marginal Way S. Establishing a station in this area would provide access to nearby industrial and office park areas as well as residential areas, and would fill a 5.5-mile gap between the Rainier Beach and Tukwila International Boulevard stations. There are also numerous possible bus connections depending on the location, including opportunities to connect bus routes that run on I-5. Sound Transit has also earmarked a 300-space parking lot for the project.

A station at E Marginal Way S would serve industrial areas more directly than a station at S Boeing Access Road. It would also be closer to the existing bus route, which is one block west at Tukwila International Boulevard S with Route 124 and could be served by I-5 buses. However, development around the potential station is still relatively sparse.

Alternative stop locations further south (e.g., Interurban Avenue S/E Marginal Way S, Interurban Avenue S/Macadam Road S, or S 133rd Street/SR 599) could have a much greater impact by more directly serving densely populated areas, including residential neighborhoods such as Allentown, Riverton, and Latona, while also serving the overall project goals.

Blue indicates the representative project site for the S Boeing Access Road station, purple the new alternate site, and orange other alternate sites that may be worth investigating. (Stephen Fesler / Google Maps)

As for a station on S Boeing Access Road itself, its main benefit would be a transfer point if local and I-5 buses were routed there. However, there is no real pedestrian and bike path accessible from there due to obstructions from I-5, topography, a rail yard, and a shooting range.

In the past, Sound Transit had considered the station as a transfer to Sounder’s commuter rail service. Official plans for such a transfer were dropped in the early 2000s, but they were briefly revived when project elements were discussed for the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot package. This project element ultimately did not make it into ST3, but if a light rail station is ultimately built at S Boeing Access Road, it would be wise to create future accommodations for a Sounder transfer or even reallocate parking funds to build facilities for the Sounder station. The newly adopted Seattle Transportation Plan also seems to support this.

Regardless, ridership estimates – also from before the pandemic – suggest that a Boeing Access Road station could see as many as 2,000 riders a day. Recent cost estimates put the project at $261 million.

looking ahead

The main disadvantages of these additional stations are that they increase travel times on Line 1 for passengers on the south end and increase the number of vehicles required to operate Line 1. Service on the south end of Line 1 is already relatively slow due to the above-ground sections in the Rainier Valley, which limits speeds, reduces reliability, and increases vehicle requirements. The costs, particularly in the case of the Boeing Access station, are quite high relative to the expected increase in ridership.

However, the trade-off of building the additional stations could be worth it, as they would provide better connections to neighborhoods, jobs, and other transportation options, and would fulfill decades-old promises to communities.

The public has until July 28 to provide input on the station alternatives and personal information that Sound Transit can incorporate into its planning. Next week, the agency will also hold open houses for the public. The first open house will be held on Tuesday, July 16, at the Graham Street Station. The event will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Van Asselt Community Center. Then the following day, Wednesday, July 17, the agency will hold an open house from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Tukwila Community Center Banquet Hall.

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is particularly interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. After stints in major cities such as Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily works on land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.