Graham Street Light Rail Station Moves Closer to Reality

by Ross Armstrong

A light rail station at Graham Street, which was part of the Seattle’s transportation levy passed by voters last fall, is on track to be on the November 2016 ballot as part of the next phase of Sound Transit’s expansion.

The Graham Street station is projected to cost between $66 million and $71 million and is now a part of Sound Transit 3, or ST3, the next group of mass transit investments in the greater Seattle region.

The projects in ST3 include work from Everett to Puyallup and the Sound Transit board is revising the Puget Sound ballot measure for the 2016 November election. The Graham Street Station is included in the current ST3 draft.

The Seattle Department of Transportation and Mayor Ed Murray have shown strong support for the project through the Transportation to Move Seattle levy, which voters approved last November. Sound Transit has shown strong support, as well.

Susanna Tran of the Martin Luther King Business Association is a supporter of the light-rail station at Graham Street. Her parents own Tony’s Bakery and Deli and Joy Palace, formerly known as Saigon Dynasty. Both restaurants are accessible from the intersection of Martin Luther King Way and Graham Street.

“There are a great deal of employers there. It would be helpful for employees to use public transit and would certainly help business,” Tran said. “It makes so much sense to have a stop at that intersection.”

Construction on the project would include widening Martin Luther King Way to accommodate the station, new pedestrian signals and changes to the sidewalks, utilities, street lights, drainage and landscaping.

By 2040, projected ridership for the station is 4,000 to 5,000 riders per day. The Graham light rail would relieve adjacent stations– the Columbia City and Othello stations–of 2,000 to 3,000 riders per day.

“We need people to be closer to where the community center is. The distance between the Columbia City and Othello stations is too big and leaves too far of a distance for our seniors to walk. We are missing a station on Graham Street,” said Sheila Burrus, the executive director of the Filipino Community Center that is just north of Graham Street on Martin Luther King Way in South Seattle.

But with the addition of a light-rail station, housing planners are working to ensure affordable housing becomes or remains available.

“We need a way to let people stay in station areas for access,” said Colin Morgan-Cross, a project developer for Mercy Housing Northwest. “We have one affordable housing project by the Columbia City station and one under way by the Othello station.”

The Filipino Community Center is building an affordable housing site behind its center that will have 70-80 units for seniors and immigrant families.

Mercy Housing Northwest provides housing for those making between 30 to 60 percent of the area’s median income, which translates to incomes ranging from about $22,000 to $55,000 per year. The complex by the Othello station will include an office on the first floor for 20 full-time employees.

“We would view the building of the Graham Street station very similarly to the Othello station,” said Morgan-Cross in reference to Mercy Housing Northwest building an affordable housing complex close to the potential Graham Street station.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray included the Graham Street station project in his original levy proposal, and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has backed the Graham Street Station as shown in the Transportation Levy to Move Seattle final proposal, also known as the Let’s Move Seattle levy.

The necessary steps to complete the project suggest it is still years away from being completed, but the parties involved are actively involved and show a desire to see this station completed.

“There could start to be movement in three to seven years, maybe sooner depending on elections this year,” said Rebecca Saldaña, Executive Director of  Puget Sound Sage. “We are helping our community see our future and how things are adding up to track our progress.”

The Graham Street Station is one of the projects under the Congestion Relief Programs that was given $303 million in funds from the transportation levy from the city of Seattle. The original $10 million from the levy is still present but the project will require a substantial amount of additional funds.

“The $10 million for the Graham Street Station was Seattle showing good faith with a down payment,” Saldaña said.

“The project now is contingent on being included in the ST3 System Plan that will be adopted this summer,” said Norm Mah via e-mail, the senior public relations specialist for the City of Seattle Department of Transportation in regard to the Graham Street Station.