Light rail could mean fast ride between downtown, Ballard

SEATTLE -- Imagine getting from downtown Seattle to Ballard in less than 15 minutes during rush hour. Sounds too good to be true?

But that’s the idea behind a new transit corridor.

It’s still in the brainstorming stage but Sound Transit is currently surveying people on the possibility of building a light-rail corridor between downtown Seattle to Northwest Market Street in Ballard.

With more and more traffic, many Seattleites are begging for a detour.

“Today I was going from the University of Washington down to Columbia City and I spent 90 minutes in traffic,” Fremont resident Christopher Billingham said.

“Ballard is a growing area and the density is not lining up with the transit,” Ballard resident Elenka Jarolimek said.

That frustration brought dozens of drivers to Sound Transit’s open house on Thursday.

There are five options, five different routes from downtown Seattle to Ballard but the most talked about is the Queen Anne Tunnel.

“With stations in lower Queen Anne, top of Queen Anne and then over to Fremont, we have a station there tunneling all the way to Ballard in Northwest Market Street,” Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said.

A tunnel would mean less disruption during construction, but it’s also the most expensive, possibly costing taxpayers up to $3.6 billion.

“People didn’t think we could do a light rail 30 years ago and we are up and running, so this (is) work that needs to be done today,” Gray said.

Aside from the cost, another problem is that nearby residents could be affected by eminent domain.

“It all depends on what options we are looking at and where we are going to build the stations,” Gray said.

“If we want to turn this city into a world-class city, we need to make some major investments,” Jarolimek said.

Commuters say anything is better than the gridlock.

“To get down to Ballard, to downtown, in 10 minutes or less using the light rail, I think that will be possible,” Jarolimek said.

Ultimately, voters will have the final say and the issue could be on the ballot as early as 2016.