Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Sound Transit Issues "Final" Environmental Impact Statement on Central Link Light Rail Extension to Northgate

by John Niles

Map courtesy of Sound TransitOn April 7, 2006, Sound Transit released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on North Link, the proposed extension of its Central Link Light Rail starting at the north end of the bus tunnel under  Pine Street near the Paramount Theater, traveling through a five mile long tunnel under Capitol Hill, the Montlake Cut, and the University of Washington, emerging at 75th Street just east of I-5, and then continuing beside the freeway on the surface to the Northgate area. The approximate route is shown on the map at left.

The Final SEIS is written by consultants to Sound Transit to shine the best possible light on the physical impacts of the light rail project, both in construction and in operation. The document is intended to meet both Federal and State of Washington legal requirements.

The document also includes a mitigation plan describing how Sound Transit intends to minimize damaging environmental impacts. That plan is available here for download.

This Final SEIS has been years in preparation. An earlier Final EIS covering this route was released in 1999.  The design proved to be too expensive to build, and was cancelled in early 2001. Preparation of this supplement began in 2002.  The complete  Final SEIS is posted by Sound Transit here.

The Environmental Impact Statement reveals that the construction of the entire northern segment will consume more energy than will be paid back in a lifetime of energy conservation from people riding the train.  Why so much energy to construct this?  Over 100 thousand truck loads of tunnel dirt will be removed from the station construction sites on Capitol Hill, beside Husky Stadium, and in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

The SEIS contains site plans for the Capitol Hill (Broadway) and University of Washington (Husky Stadium) light rail stations as available here:


Sound Transit's Capitol Hill light rail station site plan


Plan for routing trucks removing dirt from Capitol Hill Station construction site


Sound Transit's University of Washington light rail station site plan

It is the position of the Public Interest Transportation Forum (PITF) that this tunneled segment of light rail would be unnecessary if available all-bus alternatives were instead implemented.

The Final SEIS included the following "common objection" to the North Link project, with Sound Transit's response:

Objection: "Light rail is too expensive. Sound Transit chose light rail as the preferred technology as a result of the Regional Transit Project (RTP), but the SEIS failed to acknowledge that bus transit has greatly improved since the time of the RTP conception."

Sound Transit response: "The purpose of the Central Link project is to construct and operate an electric light rail system connecting the region’s major activity centers. The Central Link Project is an element of the Sound Move Ten-Year Regional Transit System Plan adopted by the Sound Transit Board in May 1996. Voters within the Sound Move District authorized local taxes to implement the Plan in November 1996.

"North Link is the northern segment of the Central Link light rail project. A substantial history of planning and public decision-making has led to the selection of the alternatives for Central Link. This includes the original Regional Transit planning studies, which were part of the regional transportation planning program defined under the Metropolitan Transportation Plan. The publication of the 1999 FEIS for the project and the subsequent Record of Decision issued by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as well as all of the post-FEIS legal decisions, have confirmed the decision-making process that led to the identification of Link Alternatives and the selection of the project to be built.

"All-bus and bus-transitway systems are not being considered for the North Link project and were previously screened out early in the process prior to the 1999 project-level FEIS for Central Link. The 1999 FEIS specifically addressed similar comments on the 1998 Draft EIS. See FEIS Section 7, comment group 1, specifically comment 1.3.

"Through its future long-range planning and in other business lines such as Regional Express, Sound Transit is participating in ongoing regional planning programs, and is working with other governments and agencies that are moving forward with many of the strategies and approaches that have been suggested in the comments.

"The absence of a review of system alternatives in the light rail proposal presented to the voters and in the 1999 FEIS was raised previously by project opponents in a NEPA lawsuit filed in federal district court. Following a review of the administrative record in the case and written arguments by the parties, the court concluded that the environmental review conducted by Sound Transit and the FTA, its timing, and the scope of alternatives and impacts analyzed was reasonable and adequate under the applicable legal standard. See Friends of the Monorail v. United States, No. C00-852Z (W.D. Wash. March 30, 2001); see also Save Our Valley v. Sound Transit, No. C00-715R (W.D. Wash. July 13, 2001). See also response to comment 1A.

"Sound Transit recently reaffirmed its decision to extend light rail beyond the Central Link corridor with the agency’s adoption of an updated Long-Range Plan (July 2005). A supplemental EIS was prepared updating the analysis of the 1993 EIS on the Regional Transit System Plan. The supplemental EIS evaluates alternatives and impacts, including BRT, monorail, light rail, and other technologies, outside of the Central Link corridor. Following the issuance of the final supplemental EIS (June 2005) and public review and comment on a draft plan, the Sound Transit Board adopted its Long-Range-Plan on July 7, 2005. The plan includes light rail in the Central Link corridor and beyond, and it includes BRT and other transit modes for various other corridors.

"As stated in the purpose and need section (Draft and Final SEIS Section 1.3), the North Link SEIS is a project-level review focused on route and station decisions for completing the Central Link light rail project to the north. Sound Transit is not reconsidering previous decisions regarding the selection of light rail for the
Central Link corridor. The Central Link Final EIS has previously addressed prior decisions in Chapter 2, Alternatives."

Below you can download the Sound Transit response to critical comments on the draft version of the North Link SEIS from various organizations and individuals, in pdf files extracted verbatim from the official record:


University of Washington

University of Washington has many concerns, but the most important is protecting the University’s research mission by preventing and/or mitigating potential construction impacts (noise, dust, economic hardship, and vibration) as well as electromagnetic field and vibration impacts during train operations in the tunnel under the campus.  An interim terminus station or system-wide tunnel spoils removal at a station on University property were stated as unacceptable to the University. 


City of Seattle Department of Transportation


Dick Nelson, Integrated Transport Research


John Niles, Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA)


Emory Bundy, Citizens for Mobility


Vulcan (Major developer of the South Lake Union area of Seattle)

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Last modified: February 07, 2011

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