Breaking Down the Walls

Part Four - Light Rail, Seahawks Will Change Neighborhood

Transportation has been a chronic sore point, but nothing has generated the level of anxiety as the coming of Sound Transit, the regional transit authority that intends to build a light-rail line connecting the University District with SeaTac International Airport. Once it selected 15th Avenue N.E. as its underground route through the "U" District, a huge debate raged: which side would the stations go on? This turned into a real hot potato, as neither the west (business and residential) nor the east (the University) sides wanted them. Placing the line on the west side might require the tearing down of such buildings as the UW Alumni House, Bartell Drugs on the "Ave" and the venerable Malloy Building apartments. Placing it on the campus side means tearing up the greenbelt along 15th Avenue N.E. Stations up to five stories tall would eat up precious campus land meant for landscaping, open space or education.

Digitized rendering of Sound Transit light rail train

Six years of construction—and a battle over the sites for "U" District stations—make the coming of Sound Tranist a mixed blessing. Above is a digitized image of what a typical train might look like. Image courtesy Sound Transit.

In the end, Sound Transit decided to spare the business community and place the stations on campus. Although the UW has always been a major proponent of mass transit, the decision did not sit well with UW officials. They have grave reservations about the construction of subway stations on campus, where the impact of construction and regular use could harm sensitive scientific research labs and instruments and disrupt the UW's mission of teaching, research and service. Negotiations to soften that impact are continuing. Under state law, the Board of Regents has the final say on what happens on University property.

There are myriad issues beyond which side stations will go. They include station security, having the light-rail line terminate at N.E. 45th Street (instead of the Northgate shopping mall) and drawing potentially thousands of people into an already jammed area, and, last but not least, how to get rid of the tons of dirt that will be dug up to create the line. (For the record, a debate on that still rages. Sound Transit wanted to truck out dirt via 15th Avenue N.E. and N.E. 45th Street, while the UW—with community support—is lobbying hard to have it removed via barges on Portage Bay.)

At the same time this was under way, hackles were raised regarding the arrival of the Seahawks, who will play at Husky Stadium in 2000 and 2001 while their new stadium is being built on the site of the soon-to-be-toast Kingdome.

With no other place to go, the Seahawks turned to the UW to see about playing at Husky Stadium, just as they did in 1994 when the Kingdome was closed for five games for emergency repairs. The University has tried to be a good citizen all around, accommodating its NFL neighbor and working diligently with the Seahawks to ensure the impact on the Montlake neighborhood will be minimal. Alcohol sales at Seahawk games are prohibited. No Monday night games are permitted. Season ticket holders will get passes for free Metro bus rides at local park-and-ride lots. All in all, the impact could be surprisingly mild.

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