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Link vs. SkyLink for West Seattle

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Light rail plans (red) vs SkyLink (core route: teal - future options: light blue)

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Start of Operations    SkyLink to SODO and the International District could be ready as soon as 2026 – given two years to permit and two years to build.  Light rail from West Seattle to the SODO and Stadium Link stations is scheduled to begin in 2032 and will be extended to the International District and downtown stations in 2037 at the earliest.

Cost to build    The West Seattle light rail project is now 73% over budget.  Gondola consultants/manufacturers estimate SkyLink would cost at least $2 billion less.

Capacity   SkyLink would provide 4500 seats per hour while light rail depends on the frequency of the trains, on a weekend it may provide 1600 seats, but at most the line could handle 3200 seats per hour (6 min interval), though more people could be accommodated standing.
Sound Transit estimates 13,500 riders in 2042.  SkyLink can handle at least twice that amount.

Frequency    Sound Transit estimates light rail trains will arrive at 6-12 minute intervals depending on time of day.  Gondola cabins circulate constantly and therefore are available whenever the rider arrives at the station.

Total Travel Time     Light rail speed is faster than gondola but due to continuous boarding and a more direct (aerial) route, gondola riders often arrive at their destinations earlier or at about the same time as they would on light rail.

Construction   Gondola:  requires two years to place slim towers, assemble prefabricated parts and cables by crane and/or helicopter.  Placing towers requires little or no demolition of existing structures.  Light rail:  requires 5 years to build Duwamish bridge, demolish homes & displace businesses to clear a wide corridor, and build elevated guideways and/or tunnel.

Stations    Gondola stations are about half a block long while Link stations occupy almost two blocks. 

Displacement    Elevated light rail cannot be built until a wide corridor is cleared.  That will cause five years of continuous disruption, displace businesses, destroy green spaces such as the northern portion of the Duwamish Greenbelt, narrow streets, and displace as many as 700 homes, businesses and 1200 jobs.  A tunnel may reduce impact to some neighborhoods but may increase cost and make it difficult to extend the line to White Center later.  A gondola, with slim towers and smaller stations, would cause minimal displacement and could be finished in two years with far less disruption. 

Sustainability   Both light rail and gondola can run on clean energy.  But a gondola could reduce emissions in 2026 rather than 2032. With little foundational concrete, prefabricated tower parts, minimal construction, smaller displacement, and zero particulate emissions, gondolas are more environmentally friendly as their carbon footprint is much smaller than building a bridge, elevated guideway, larger stations, and possibly a tunnel.