Underground Transit Hub Plan Surfaces for Downtown Seattle

When the big-picture types at the Discovery Institute think about Seattle’s future, they see a subterranean, multi-modal transit center under Benaroya Hall.
The dream is to connect light rail, commuter rail, monorail, buses and ferries at Second Avenue and University Street.

Welcome to the Mid-Town Transit Hub.

On the hub’s lowest level, commuters could catch Sounder trains traveling in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tunnel. Up one level on a mezzanine, they could travel under Second Avenue, and connect to a street-level pedestrian corridor past the Seattle Art Museum to the ferry terminal at Colman Dock. Above the mezzanine, they could hop aboard light rail trains and buses in the downtown transit tunnel, and board the monorail along Second Avenue.

“You really have the potential to have true inter-modality for the first time,” Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman said last week when he unveiled a drawing of the hub during a public forum on tunneling that was hosted by his think tank.

“All we’re talking (about) is a connection between two existing tunnels,” Bruce Agnew, director of the institute’s Cascadia Project, said. The goal of the Cascadia Project is to develop a seamless transportation system for British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

Institute officials see the hub as part of a larger vision. Agnew also described “a grand makeover” of Colman Dock into a multi-modal gateway on a rejuvenated waterfront. He would like to see Colman Dock connected to downtown via the pedestrian corridor, the institute has dubbed the Seattle Art Walk.

“We see this as kind of a phase two of the downtown area,” said Agnew. The first phase is light rail, the monorail and replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “We think this is an obvious addition that would add tremendous value.”

Institute officials are showing the plan now in hopes officials will consider at least punching a shaft between the two tunnels as they build light rail and upgrade the BNSF tunnel’s ventilation system to accommodate more Sounder commuter and freight trains.

“If all that happens, this becomes urgent rather than a dream,” Agnew said. “As you do (light rail), think of this,” he added, pointing to the drawing of the hub.

He wants monorail officials to be aware of the idea so they might consider a station at Second and University.

The institute commissioned J. Craig Thorpe, a transportation consultant and artist, to come up with the drawing. Thorpe said he researched the plan by talking to railroad experts, monorail officials, engineers for Benaroya Hall and officials at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Thorpe’s research indicates the distance from the midpoint of University Street between Second and Third avenues to the BNSF railroad tracks is 85 feet. The distance from the floor of the bus tunnel to the floor of the railroad tunnel is 65 feet.

He said while it would not be cheap “this is a doable kind of thing.

“Seamless transportation is not just a phrase, it is a crucial necessity. This is one of the things that jumped out at me about this project.”

The institute plans to shop the plan around to local officials. If it receives support, engineering work and cost analyses could begin.

Funding, according to Agnew, could come from the federal government. He noted Congress is reconsidering a transportation bill and as much as $425 billion for road and rail projects could be available. “This is example No. 1 of a national project,” he said.

“This is a drawing. This is a vision,” Agnew said. “This is the beginning of a long process. But from the viewpoint of connectivity and public safety, it just seems to make a lot of sense.”

Marc Stiles can be reached at (206) 622-8272 or by e-mail at