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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are you recommending a gondola instead of light rail?
    A gondola could be built as early as 2025 and save at least $2 billion. It is the most sustainable, efficient form of public transit, and it can handle more than Sound Transit’s projected number of riders. Building it will cause much less construction destruction and disruption. Check out our comparison.
  • How soon can SkyLink be built?
    By 2026 — allowing two years for feasibility & environmental studies and permitting, and two years for construction. It's a far less complicated and time-consuming process than for light rail. If study and permitting work started this year, a gondola could be up and running by 2026.
  • How many people can be transported in and out of West Seattle? What about rush hour?
    SkyLink has more than enough capacity to deal with current and future needs, even at peak transit times. Sound Transit projects 27,000 trips per day in 2040. SkyLink can handle up to 55,000 per day. At peak travel time (pre pandemic) 25 buses per hour transported riders from West Seattle to downtown Seattle. The SkyLink gondola can handle the equivalent of 60 buses (or 4500 riders) per hour.
  • How many people fit in a gondola cabin?
    Most gondola cabins have room for at least 10 persons and can accommodate bikes, strollers, and wheelchairs.
  • Where will SkyLink stations be located?
    Voters were promised Delridge, Avalon, and Alaska Junction but light rail will stop short of the Junction while the gondola will serve it directly.
  • What destinations can I reach via the gondola?
    From West Seattle SkyLink will connect to the SODO and International District Link stations. From SODO you can transfer to Link trains going North (downtown, UW, Northgate, Lynnwood and eventually Everett) – or South (Columbia City, SeaTac, Federal Way, and eventually Tacoma.) At the International District you can transfer to the Eastlink train to Bellevue and Redmond – or catch a local bus or streetcar -- or walk to nearby destinations including Pioneer & Occidental Squares, King Street Station, Lumen Field and T Mobile Park.
  • What is the construction impact?
    Gondola system construction involves minimal disruption and little or no displacement of buildings and can be done in 2 years (after permitting.) Light rail will require 5-7 years to build a bridge over the Duwamish, clear a wide corridor to construct a concrete guideway for the train, and build three large stations. If partial tunneling is chosen, it will add more time to bore the tunnel and construct underground stations and make it more challenging to extend the line in the future. It will require detours and at critical intersections including close to the West Seattle bridge entrance/exit at a time West Seattle is still recovering from the bridge closure. Construction of a gondola system is a much simpler, shorter process. Premade parts are assembled to create slim towers which are spaced widely apart on small footings. The stations are more compact than light rail and might even be over an existing street.
  • How will I get from my home to the SkyLink station?
    While SkyLink offers 6 stations in West Seattle, we understand some people will still not be able to walk to them. The City and County plan to coordinate bus routes to deliver riders to the West Seattle stations. Pilot programs are being conducted on new “last mile” options for taking people from their homes to the stations, such as on-demand van services.
  • What if I ride my bike, take a stroller, or I'm in a wheelchair?"
    Stations are ADA accessible. Cabins slow down or stop so that people with wheelchairs, bikes and strollers have time to enter and exit. There is level boarding, and straps in each cabin to secure bicycles, strollers, and assistive devices.
  • What about personal safety?
    As cabins arrive continuously, you can board immediately upon arrival at a station, avoiding a wait in uncomfortable circumstances. Cabins are equipped with video monitoring and emergency call buttons. If you want to avoid boarding a cabin with a person of concern, you can catch the next empty car.
  • What about operational safety?
    Gondolas have the best safety record of any transit technology. They have sophisticated backup, operational and rescue systems.
  • What happens in bad weather?
    Gondola systems have operated safely for decades in parts of the world with more extreme weather conditions than we get in Seattle. Depending on the type, gondola systems can operate in winds of up to 70 mph. Overall, gondola systems are considered the safest of all public transportation systems.
  • What about earthquakes?
    Good question, as the Seattle Seismic Fault Zone runs West to East, directly below the proposed West Seattle Light Rail Corridor. Gondola systems operate in many seismic-prone areas of the world. The towers support flexible cables with automatic tensioning. In a seismic event such flexible systems perform better than rigid, elevated guideways (like the one planned for light rail.)
  • Wouldn’t it be better if Sound Transit would just build a light rail tunnel?
    No. Sound Transit already identified that the West Seattle connection will most likely be twice as expensive as originally planned, and a tunnel would be even more expensive. Only Avalon to Junction portion would be built as a tunnel, and multiple pylons up to 60 foot-tall would still have to be erected through Youngstown, creating significant local displacement. A tunnel portal along Yancy St. has been proposed but is not studied as part of the DEIS. Tunneling would also require substantial construction around the tunnel portal along Genesee, and each underground station. Construction of the Avalon station would make it very challening for cars to get to West Seattle once the bridge reopens.
  • I’m always going to drive. Why do I care about transit options?
    All drivers will be impacted by delays and detours during construction but light rail construction will take longer and cause more disruption than gondola construction. But after that, as more people use Link or SkyLink, we should see less traffic on roadways, reduced congestion, and benefits for movements of freight and personal vehicles.
  • Isn’t RapidRide getting me downtown faster?
    Not necessarily. Bus vs. gondola travel times depend on roadway traffic, your destination, and time of day. While the bus may be faster if you work downtown, you may need to wait for the bus or it may get stuck in traffic. A gondola ride and transfer at SODO or International District to Link is a more predictable way to get to your destination. If you work at UW or Microsoft or in Ballard, that transfer will get you more quickly to your destination than the bus.
  • Isn’t residential privacy going to be compromised by the gondola?
    Unlikely. As much as possible, the gondola will be routed over streets rather than private homes. Cabins can be equipped with electrified privacy glass so that windows become opaque when they pass over residential areas. We also think it’s more likely that riders will be looking out at the views, or on their smart devices than looking down on houses. The same privacy concerns also apply to elevated light rail where windows will not have the opaque option.
  • Why is it necessary to build a new bridge?  Can’t light rail run on the West Seattle high bridge?
    The high bridge is not wide enough or strong enough to support light rail. Sound Transit was able to build light rail to the East side across the I–90 bridge because it was designed to accommodate a light rail corridor.
  • Will gondola construction provide fewer employment opportunities than light rail?
    No. Our region has a huge backlog of transit projects. Gondola construction will require building stations, towers and foundations, and system installations. While that’s less construction than light rail, it saves $2 billion, and frees up construction resources that will enable Sound Transit to accelerate other projects in the region, and create even more employment opportunities.
  • Who is paying for light rail?
    We are. In 2016, voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties approved the Sound Transit 3 measure to expand regional public transit – funded through additional property and sales taxes and vehicle registration fees. These fees and taxes will be collected until all projects have been built and all loans paid – some time between 2046 and 2065, depending on expenditures and time it takes to finish the job. To estimate what you will pay, use the Seattle Times ST3 tax calculator and multiply your annual tax amount by at least 30 years (best case scenario.)
  • Didn’t voters specifically approve light rail in 2016?
    In 2016, voters approved the Sound Transit 3 tax measure to expand transit in our region. ST3 included several technologies — light rail, bus rapid transit, trains, even parking and housing -- but the legislation left lots of details to be determined during the planning process. In January 2020, Sound Transit announced a financial deficit in the billions and a major cost escalation on the West Seattle light rail project (73% over budget at $3.2 billion.) This triggered Section 2 of the ST3 measure which states that when plans become unaffordable, infeasible or impractical, the ST board can make changes. Sound Transit had already determined in 2014 that gondola technology was a viable, high-capacity transit option for feeder lines. We believe that the board is now obligated to study and consider an economical, feasible and practical option — the West Seattle SkyLink gondola.
  • Where do you get your cost estimates for gondolas?
    Our estimates come from manufacturers and consultants who have implemented systems all over the world the past two decades. They include the actual costs for recent urban gondola systems proposed and built in North America.
  • What if Sound Transit wants to build light rail south from the Junction?
    Building light rail south from the Alaska Junction would be challenging and costly as California Ave is narrow. Sound Transit would have to either clear a 60-foot wide corridor south for 3-5 miles from its station near the Alaska Junction, or tunnel underneath it all. That would cause years of destruction, construction and disruption. We believe the money and time would be better spent running a light rail line from downtown along the Duwamish via Georgetown and South Park. It would connect a greater number of urban villages and industrial centers and provide transit to a more diverse, underserved population than the potential California Avenue route which is already served by Rapid Ride C.
  • How does Sound Transit envision light rail going up Genesee?
    Sound Transit plans for light rail in the Youngstown area require very tall structures. The Delridge station will need 3 escalators since it will be equivalent to a ten story building and almost as high as the downtown ferris wheel. The light rail viaduct will rise as high as 150 feet (15 stories) next to the golf course going up Genesse Street. About a hundred homes would be demolished to make room for these structures.
  • Isn't this another monorail?
    Monorail technology has not been used much beyond Japan while gondola technology has been used in thousands of locations around the world. The monorail project was trying to supplant light rail while our efforts focus on expanding the reach of the spine into more neighborhoods.
  • Isn't West Seattle an intrinsic part of Sound Transit's regional light rail network?
    Even though Sound Transit currently plans line 3 to go from Everett to West Seattle, it could either truncate that line right after the International District Station or continue to Mercer Island to pick up Eastside bus riders there and then head back. Either way it would not reduce the capacity of the downtown service.
  • Will SkyLink require extra transfers?
    If you live at West Seattle's Admiral Junction and would want to take the light rail to Bellevue, you would need to wait for a bus to one of the light rail stations, wait for a train to SODO, wait for a train from SeaTac there, ride to International District (ID) transit hub and wait for a train to Bellevue. With SkyLink you just board one of the cabins at Admiral and travel on the gondola directly to the ID and wait for a train to Bellevue. Once the second downtown light rail tunnel is done (2037?), you won't need to transfer at SODO anymore, but because Seattle will have 4 different light rail lines as well as street car and downtown bus lines, most people will still need to transfer at the ID. SkyLink reduces transfers as it offers more stations and speeds up transfers as cabins arrive continuously though it may require an additional transfer if you want to continue on light rail towards Everett.
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