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. For more details, www.westseattleskylink.org/comparison
How soon can SkyLink be built?
How many people can be transported in and out of West Seattle? What about rush hour?
Sound Transit projects a between 25,000 and 27,000 riders per day in 2040. A gondola can transport up to 55,000 per day; 4500 riders or about the same as 60 buses an hour per direction. Currently there are about 25 buses an hour running between West Seattle and downtown during rush hour. Therefore we expect SkyLink to be able to handle all traffic in the foreseeable future.
Where will SkyLink stations be located?
Stations will be located in the Alaska Junction, Fauntleroy/Avalon and Delridge Community Center areas, just as the ST3 plan proposes. We also propose to add Admiral Junction, Morgan Junction, and High Point. They will feed directly to the SODO and International District Link stations.
What destinations can I reach via the gondola?
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) and from International District you can transfer East (Bellevue and Redmond) or towards Ballard – or you can walk to nearby destinations including Pioneer & Occidental Squares, King Street Station, Lumen Field and T Mobile Park, or catch a local bus or streetcar.
What is the construction impact?
2 years for gondola, and 5-7 years for light rail. Light rail requires time to clear a pathway for the support system, and build the guideways and stations. Tunneling may take even longer — to bore the tunnel, and excavate and construct underground stations. It will all create constant traffic congestion. A gondola requires little or no pathway clearing to place its small number of support towers and cable, and it only needs small stations. Many components are prefabricated, and are installed via crane or helicopter. Gondola work creates little if any disruption and traffic impact.
How will I get from my home to the SkyLink station?
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?
Gondola cabins and stations are ADA accessible. Cabins slow down or stop so that people in wheelchairs or with bikes and strollers can board. There are straps in each cabin to secure bicycles, strollers and assistive devices.
What about personal safety?
As cabins arrive continuously, you never have to wait alone in the dark. 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?
Gondola systems are safely operating 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.
Wouldn’t it be best if Sound Transit would just build a light rail tunnel?
No. Sound Transit’s $7.9 billion cost overrun may make it difficult to justify spending more on a West Seattle tunnel. Only Avalon to Junction portion would be built as a tunnel, 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. Station construction 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 public property rather than over private, residential areas. Cabins can be equipped with electrified privacy glass so that windows become opaque when they pass over residential areas. We also think that most riders will be looking out at the views, or on their smart devices, rather than looking down on houses. The gondola may provide more privacy for residents than light rail which will pass close to windows and yards along its route.
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 by 2041. ST3 included many technologies — light rail, bus rapid transit, trains, even parking space — but it left lots of details to be determined during the planning process. Sound Transit had already determined in 2014 that gondola technology was a viable, high-capacity transit option for feeder lines like SkyLink. Now, with a $7.9 billion cost escalation, West Seattle light rail costs have jumped by 73% to $3.2 billion, and no proposed alignment looks feasible or practical. Section 2 of the ST3 measure was designed for this: when plans become unaffordable, infeasible or impractical, the ST board can make changes. We assert that the board is now obligated to consider the most economical, feasible and practical option —West Seattle SkyLink.
Where do you get your cost estimates for gondolas?
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 need to 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 Link 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.