(Some miss the 4th Avenue onramp that’s been gone 21 years. This sign was still up in 2008.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Hours after announcing that it has a rep on the city’s advisory committee for choosing a new SDOT director, the West Seattle Transportation Coalition put two of the department’s managers in the hot seat for a special round of Q & A.
Bob Chandler, assistant SDOT director, came to the WSTC’s meeting Tuesday night to answer questions (while noting that he’s retiring in two months), and was joined midway through by a fellow SDOT staffer, Bill LaBorde.
The questions were asked by various WSTC interim-board members and other meeting participants.
Unless you see quotation marks, the Q/A are our summaries/paraphrases, not direct quotes.
Q: Is it possible to add a West Seattle-bound 4th Avenue onramp to the newly widened Spokane Street Viaduct, like the one that was closed more than 20 years ago?
A: It’s possible, but it would be a safety challenge, among other things, Chandler said, especially having drivers merge into traffic that’s going relatively fast since vehicles have just come off I-5. In order to get that 4th Avenue-leaving traffic to a safe point, you would need a ramp of seven hundred feet, he added, and that would bring it close to the people coming onto the bridge from the 1st Avenue ramp.
Q: The proposed-but-not-yet-built Lander overpass is one way of easing the situation in the SODO area near the bridge. So why hasn’t it been built yet?
A: Chandler said for one, it was estimated to cost about $150 million, but there was only $30 million funding set aside (he said he would need to doublecheck that). “Mercer was further along … so that’s where the money went.” However, Lander is not a hugely busy street – and lacks various factors to make it eligible for federal grant money. Mercer was “put together with all different kinds of (funding) pieces,” as, said Chandler, was the Spokane St. Viaduct Widening Project.
Q: What is SDOT’s biggest priority for West Seattle?
A: Chandler started by saying one priority SDOT had for the area was to keep the Metro buses running with “mitigation money” from the state – which will continue, as announced in February, something that was for a while in doubt. He also said more service will be needed as job growth continues and he pointed to the Highway 99 tolling committee suggesting that part of the revenue be used for added service. And he discussed SDOT working to improve signal system, to make them more efficient for traffic, among other goals.
(Overall, Chandler had a lot to say about Metro, observing that “construction downtown is going to continue to be difficult,” especially when the Viaduct is (eventually) torn down, and especially for Metro, which became a subject of discussion. He went into the background of how Metro chose to use 99, Alaskan Way, and 3rd Avenue, as opposed to other possibilities.)
Q: When the Viaduct comes down, what improvements will be made on east/west streets to get people into the heart of the city?
A: For starters, 4th Avenue has had some signals redone, Chandler began, and “we’re looking at some additional (signal) improvements on 1st.” There will be a replacement connection for Alaskan Way and East Marginal Way eventually, he said: “We will put that connection back” – both directions. He added that once the south portal is done, you will be able to access the stadium area directly from 99, with an exit at CenturyLink Field that will route you onto Alaskan Way and then on to whatever street you want to use to get into downtown – Yesler, Marion, Columbia. SDOT is still working to determine the lane configuration in the area, Chandler said, and “there will be exclusive transit lanes on Alaskan Way.” To get back to the bridge, you’ll go down Columbia, then turn onto Alaskan Way, and head onto 99. And, he reminded, “All streets will be signaled coming up Alaskan Way.” The Marion Street pedestrian overpass will be rebuilt, and they’re currently talking about how it will interface with the Washington State Ferries dock.
Q: Can the West Seattle Bridge carry light rail?
A: Chandler reminded that Sound Transit is doing a study now about potential West Seattle, Burien, Renton routing, “and they’re quite a ways along – you should start seeing something in a month or two.”
“The high-level bridge has a four-inch gap between the concrete and the rebar – there’s this space.” That’s not enough for a six-inch rail … however, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, he said. “We think there may be a way if you want to put rail embedded in the roadway.” The Fauntleroy Expressway (southwest end of the high-level bridge) does not have any such spacing, though, so it could not facilitate it – you’d have to figure out “how do you get to the high-level and how do you get off it?” Using the existing structure would have to be studied again, even if some information existed from the previous monorail exploration, he said. And it could reduce the rest of the bridge’s capacity, as well as raising safety questions, he said. What about tunneling for light rail? Chandler was asked. That would present its own challenges, he said.
Q: The 35th/Fauntleroy/Alaska area will see a lot of traffic changes. How is SDOT planning ahead?
A: LaBorde replied that since the development envisioned more than a decade ago is only now coming to pass, existing plans aren’t necessarily outdated. He said that RapidRide also will address some of the ongoing issue.
Q: Can and will the pavement problems on Avalon be fixed, and why haven’t they been fixed already?
A: LaBorde said, maybe it’s been a lower priority. Chandler added, there’s been some road-work strategy that “maybe isn’t apparent to everybody … part of the strategy here was, some of the (not-necessarily-West Seattle roads that are) routing into downtown, we prioritized them more highly.” Delridge, for example, added LaBorde. Now they’re getting to some of the ones that were lower priorities, said Chandler.
Q: What role does SDOT have in the overall transportation vision regarding development, especially given the concerns about parking shortages, and suggestions for a transportation-impact fee for development?
A: LaBorde said it’s being looked at in the Comprehensive Plan update. He claimed only a few regional jurisdictions have them, a point on which board member Deb Barker challenged him, saying it’s a lot more than a few. The SDOT reps say elected officials will decide the issue. Chandler says, “Part of (the issue) is a policy question – what do you want that part of West Seattle to be? How do you want it to function? … In my mind, land use and transportation go together. Transportation is a service.” Figure out what you want for land use, and then “transportation serves that,” he said.
“As a West Seattle resident, I feel I’m being pushed out of the Junction” when parking is hard to find, said Kevin Broveleit. He pressed, “Where should we be spending our time and energy?”
“We can look at transportation planning more holistically,” said Chandler, noting that’s a personal opinion. He acknowledges that just reviewing individual developments hasn’t necessarily led to taking advantages of all the opportunities. SDOT, he says, is “starting down that road.”
But overall, “we will never have enough money” to do everything that’s needed or wanted. “We’re going to grow … if we don’t grow, we’ll end up like Detroit. Nothing stays the same. Part of this is a conversation about how we accommodate that growth.” That feeds into the question about parking, for example. DPD and SDOT could work more closely together, Chandler suggested, though he says they do work fairly closely together now.
Q: What about the chokepoints for transit from West Seattle such as Avalon?
A: No easy answers. Reversible lanes on the bridge? they were asked. No easy answers there, either.
Q: What about road work and other challenges to keeping traffic flowing?
Chandler said they’re getting more aggressive about the fees they charge (for street-use permits, etc.) and the planning they require. Overall, he stressed, funding is a huge challenge … gas-tax revenue keeps getting to be less and less and less.
WSTC REP ON THE MAYOR’S ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR NEW SDOT DIRECTOR: The group had announced earlier in the day that the coalition now has a representative on the advisory committee helping Mayor Ed Murray hire a new SDOT director. Marci Carpenter attended her first committee meeting today and says they handed out seven pages of comments they had received from the survey asking people what they want to see. The advisory committee’s meetings are open to the public – next one is April 16th, according to this infopage on the mayor’s website. You also can still respond to the city survey – which also asks how you think SDOT itself has been going; go here.
SPEAKING OF METRO – PROPOSITION 1 CAMPAIGN: 34th District Democrats are holding a get-out-the-vote/rally-support type of gathering for the Metro/road-money ballot measure Proposition 1 at 1 pm this Saturday (April 12th), reported board member Michael Taylor-Judd, at the Senior Center of West Seattle (California/Oregon). The WSTC has endorsed “yes” on Prop 1. A bit later, this side note: If Prop 1 fails and Metro slashes service, “I think we should buy a bus,” said board member Amanda Kay Helmick – a connector bus for West Seattle. Kevin Broveleit from the Research/Solutions Committee said that it dovetails perfectly with the kind of creative solutions his committee’s been discussing in its monthly meetings.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets the second Tuesday of each month, 6:30 pm, at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center; follow its website for updates between meetings, westseattletc.org.