@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: Who’s responsible for dealing with port-truck trouble?

(2015 photo by Don Brubeck)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When port-bound trucks clog routes leading to shipping terminals, who’s ultimately accountable for clearing them, and preventing future problems?

That was part of what was explored in depth during port reps’ visit last night to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, which also reviewed key points made by participants in its June workshop about light-rail routing.

First:

PORT TRUCKS: As they had done at this month’s Southwest District Council meeting, operations executive Zachary Thomas from the Northwest Seaport Alliance and Port of Seattle communicator Mick Shultz talked, and answered questions, about the truck traffic.

Thomas explained again about how the shifting alliances in the shipping business had led to the “additional volume (for) some terminals” and less for others. The “general shift of volume from Tacoma to Seattle” led to a 40 percent increase in volume at Terminal 18 on the east side of Harbor Island at one point this spring, Thomas said, noting that similar changes were happening around the world at the same time, “massive changes” that meant “for the first two to four weeks of the new alliance(s) … the vessels were just all over the place.” (Terminal 46, further north, didn’t see any change, though.)

At the time of that volume increase, “you would have seen a lot of trucks, no doubt about it.” The terminal operator, SSA, did take action in response to what was going on, Thomas said – though not enough to prevent backups. So that led to some grilling on who could have and should have done more.

One WSTC member asked how much advance notice the port had about these changes. They knew changes were going to happen (in fact, we received and published this alert in April), but they didn’t know until the last moment exactly how things were going to play out. “We put out as much information as we could,” but since the port itself does not operate the terminals – the tenants do – they aren’t a direct participant in business decisions and discussions. “The reality is, we don’t dictate, we don’t get to say ‘do this/do that’,” Thomas said. “Once the decisions are made, we sit down with Terminal 18/SSA, and say, ‘what are you going to do to handle this volume?’ … Our role to play is to make sure the terminals working these vessels are doing everything they can do” to handle it.”

That led to a followup observation that, for example, traffic speculation in the Terminal 5 modernization environmental impact report might be inaccurate, if problems like the backups can’t be fully predicted.

Thomas detailed some of the action that had been taken, such as opening the gates to get trucks onto the terminal property and off the street even before the day’s processing began.

He also talked about some of the realities of the business – “historically, it’s never been cheaper” to get your cargo across the ocean, and competition is part of what took Hanjin – previously a Port of Seattle tenant – out of business.

“Are other seaports having (similar) issues?” was another question.

“They all are,” said Thomas, saying numerous ports around the world have the same issue as ours, having to make changes to keep up with increasing ship sizes, among other ways in which ocean shipping is evolving. Some ports in other countries are even using fill to create new land for port expansions (as did Seattle decades ago, resulting in Harbor Island, as an attendee noted).

It was pointed out that the truck backups kept people from accessing West Seattle at some times – “so are you going to change your leasing agreements… to step back and say, ‘we have to take this into account’?” Leases don’t currently have language about these issues, but Thomas replied that the Port Commissioners of Seattle and Tacoma are the people who would have to make the decision to change that. “Most of these lease agreements are very long term – 20 or 30 years,” and could be “opened up,” but that would open the leases up to discussion of other issues too. Overall, he reiterated, it’s up to the commissioners to “find that balance,” he said, saying that while he couldn’t speak for them, he knows they are thinking about such things. He also pointed out that the shipping-line alliance changes are not under the control or influence of the terminal operators.

Another attendee said he had contacted Port of Seattle Police to ask about enforcement, noting that they had pointed him to city police. “Is it possible that the port can hire off-duty cops to police that whole stretch?” Thomas replied, “We can look into that.”

Another way to try to increase safety when truck volume is high: Putting in barriers to separate traffic on roads such as East Marginal. (SDOT has an East Marginal Way project in the works, it was pointed out – read more about that here.) Shultz said construction in the general area – such as Highway 99 – is affecting traffic in the area too.

“So who’s ultimately responsible?” asked WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd. “Or should we be getting SPD in here and (asking them to ticket violators)?”

“It’s a combination of stakeholders,” Thomas replied. The streets are the city’s responsibility; the terminals, their operators; the truckers, the independent businesses that they’re all operating. “In those times that you have … a couple hundred trucks, it completely goes beyond the ability of any one group to call a tow truck.” Shultz picked up to say they’re hearing from city leaders, among others, and mentioned that the manager of T-18 was out one day in a safety vest actually directing traffic to get trucks off the street. “It’s a shared responsibility, and the port understands that we share (some of it).”

What else is being done? Thomas mentioned the free app he had explained at the SWDC meeting, with information about the trucking situation, Dray Q – “we’re putting that out as a visibility tool, and that’s available to anybody.” But, pressed WSTC’s Deb Barker, what about warning SDOT to warn residents? (Watching traffic every morning, we can say, there were very few alerts when trucks were backed up – we mostly heard about backups directly from readers.) Thomas said they are working with SDOT and trying to help it use the app’s data to be aware of truck backups.

WSTC member Mark Jacobs wondered if truckers could be queued in a way similar to the Cell Phone Parking Lot at Sea-Tac Airport (which the port also runs) – waiting somewhere until they are told the terminal is ready for them. Could Terminal 5 be used for that? asked Barker. The port reps noted again that a tenant is being sought for T-5, and that it would be up to port commissioners to decide whether to use it that way in the meantime.

How does a trucker know when to be at the port, then? asked Bert Patrick. There are no appointments, was the reply – a trucker’s dispatched when they are dispatched.

There are so many “individual businesses” involved in the chain of events that don’t necessarily share data because some “consider it proprietary,” Shultz pointed out. “We need to get greater visibility of that data and use it in a way that makes everybody more effective.” Thomas says, “We’re doing everything we can to facilitate making it more efficient … so trucks are moving at a higher velocity … terminals are handling the increased volumes … (so that) communities surrounding them are not suffering.” He again said it’s about “finding that balance.”

WORKSHOP WRAPUP – AND HOW ABOUT A GONDOLA? No final report on last month’s light-rail routing workshop yet, said chair Taylor-Judd, but the group shared bullet points from what was brought up at the various tables around The Hall at Fauntleroy, by people who were there in person. (Here’s our as-it-happened coverage from the event last month.) Here are photos of the two sides of the one-sheet that was handed out – we’ll replace with a PDF when we get it:

You’ll notice #4 missing in the recap – that was the “routing” table, so it resulted in a map, not a list.

Vice chair Marty Westerman had a provocative question, “Why do we want light rail?” – at all.

Redmond said a major benefit is that it would create “a new passage across the Duwamish Waterway” – a new bridge – which is needed because what’s there now is maxed out.

Regarding the bullet points, Taylor-Judd said table #1, Delridge, was particularly interested in whether Sound Transit‘s early “representational alignment” was the appropriate route or not, and whether it would be better to tunnel from there into The Junction. From table #2, 35th and Avalon, also a question about undergrounding, whether the golf course could be used for routing, and whether the station should be closer to 35th and Alaska, or whether this station could be deleted altogether if that meant funding would be available for tunneling, which is “not currently budgeted at all” and would cost another half a billion dollars at the least, as Taylor-Judd noted.

From table #3, the Junction station, the currently envisioned elevated station would affect many things, including views. And from table #5, “The Kitchen Sink” – aka everything else – there were issues such as whether this technology will become obsolete before West Seattle’s light-rail target date in 2030 arrives. Could the bridge across the Duwamish be built sooner, with buses using it before light rail?

And what about a gondola across the bay instead? That got back to Westerman’s “why do we want light rail?” question. It could be years faster and many millions cheaper than light rail, and could go further – to Morgan, for example. “if we think outside the box, (the money that’s already being collected) could (go further),” he said.

Taylor-Judd asked if the WSTC board would be interested in advocating for/exploring alternatives such as that. Yes, they said, so it’ll be an item at the next board meeting.

Other postmortem points included hearing from participants that they would like to see more community-driven discussions such as the workshop; Taylor-Judd said WSTC also realized that Metro should be brought into the loop more, too.

Redmond said that WSTC should research “policy issues” such as parking near transit stations – since other cities have it, and “it works,” he said. “(Not pursuing parking is) a stupid issue of the Seattle City Council, that’s all it is.”

More than 50 people attended the workshop, Taylor-Judd said (that’s about what we counted, too), and those who filled out WSTC’s survey about the experience – about half – said they felt they had learned a lot. The demographics of those who filled out the survey included a two-to-one homeowners-to-renters split.

They’ll finish assembling the results and wait to get feedback on it before deciding on whether to have another similar event. The full gamut of available feedback – including scans of what was written – will be provided to Sound Transit, though the agency (which had reps at the workshop) is under no obligation to do anything with it. “We’re going to give them as much raw data as possible,” said Taylor-Judd.

OTHER NOTES: WSTC is now officially recognized as “a nonprofit corporation” by the state, though it does not yet have 501(c)(3) status: “We’re a step up from bare bones.” They might need the higher-level status if they want to continue with public-education events such as last month’s workshop (which cost $800 for rental/refreshments). The group – which doesn’t charge dues – does incur expenses from time to time. And as Taylor-Judd pointed out, “we welcome all support going forward.” … WSTC might in the future do some of its own Find It Fix It type walks to encourage community members to log and report problems…. Taylor-Judd says the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce is suggesting that WSTC co-sponsor a general-election candidates’ forum, mayor and council seats most likely, in the third week of September. They’re going to suggest port commission candidates be included. (Here’s our coverage of the mayoral-candidates forum the Chamber presented last week.)

INTERESTED IN BEING ON THE WSTC BOARD? Elections will be on the agenda at WSTC’s September meeting.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets on the fourth Thursday most months – not in August – 6:30 pm at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way).

23 Replies to "@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: Who's responsible for dealing with port-truck trouble?"

  • Marti July 28, 2017 (11:29 am)

    You think it is bad now, wait until Terminal 5 is operational with the mega-ships. The number of additional trucks proposed is staggering.

  • ScottA July 28, 2017 (11:46 am)

    Thanks for the coverage of the port’s  unscheduled blockages of E. Marginal Way that I observe on my commute to downtown about 6am many weekday mornings.  It’s mentioned in the story but SDOT and SPD need to cite truckers who block roads and cause hazards.  Without enforcement the terminal operators and truckers will continue their current practices. 

  • GDD July 28, 2017 (12:40 pm)

    Is it possible to ‘warehouse’ waiting trucks at Terminal  5 rather than surface streets?

    Basically a flight control system.

    • WSB July 28, 2017 (12:45 pm)

      That was asked (it’s in the third-to-last paragraph of the “port trucks” section of the story) – would be up to the port commissioners.

      • Jim July 29, 2017 (9:47 am)

        You see them say a couple times that the Port Commissioners make the big decisions to protect you.  Consider that when you vote for the three Commission seats that are open.  

        Existing Commissioner Fred Felleman is the most aggressive at looking out for our interests.  Luckily for us, he still has time left on his term of office.

  • Jort Sandwich July 28, 2017 (1:56 pm)

    Of course the West Seattle (Automobile) Transportation Coalition would try to ask Sound Transit to avoid bringing light rail to West Seattle. Of course they would oppose it because of “parking.” Of course they think that a magical gondola across Elliott Bay will be “cheaper” and “just as efficient.”

    That’s because, at the end of the day, the WS(A)TC is mostly concerned about making sure they can still drive their cars around and that the “neighborhood character” is preserved. With light rail comes growth, see, and WS(A)TC sounds like they want to prioritize limiting density instead of providing transportation infrastructure. Maybe some people got confused the the JuNo meeting?

    The voters of West Seattle overwhelmingly approved light rail to West Seattle, and rail is a proven technology that hasn’t managed to somehow go obsolete for the last 150+ years. No city has realistically addressed transportation and congestion issues with a magical, super-special gondola. Seattle won’t be the first. To suggest so is an absolute joke in transportation planning.

    It’s becoming close to time for people to start looking at WS(A)TC as little more than a fringe automobile enthusiast club and single-family neighborhood advocacy group. The entire tone of this discussion is unbelievably disappointing and disheartening and just goes to show how far WS(A)TC has strayed from its stated mission. The board should be ashamed of itself, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that Sound Transit recognizes that WS(A)TC doesn’t speak for me.

    • WSB July 28, 2017 (2:33 pm)

      Jort, that’s not what they said and that’s not what I wrote. Nothing about “neighborhood character” was or has been part of the discussion. I’ve covered WSTC since its launch and participants include transit, bicycle, and pedestrian advocates. They’re all volunteers and they are people who stepped up several years ago because NOBODY was taking a big-picture look at our peninsula’s formidable transportation challenges. If you want to form another coalition, we’d be thrilled to cover it too. – TR

      • Meyer July 28, 2017 (5:01 pm)

        Thanks Tracy. I don’t know what Jort is talking about. WTSC is hard working people spending their own time and money to ensure that West Seattle’s voice is heard in regards to all things transportation. 

    • AmandaK July 28, 2017 (7:46 pm)

      Oh Jort, you are often confused.  But that’s okay, WSTC still advocates for light rail, and bikes, and buses, and out of the box ideas for mobility despite your refusal to go to the meetings and participate. 

  • Jort Sandwich July 28, 2017 (2:54 pm)

    I’m sorry, but when I see people who proclaim themselves to be “transportation advocates” start angling for absolutely ludicrous magic wand “solutions” like a gondola, it’s time to evaluate what the board’s true intentions are.

    The voters of West Seattle overwhelmingly voted for light rail. The last thing a “transportation coalition” should be doing is trying to “Seattle Process” the very existence of a light rail line.

    If you’re on a so-called “transportation coalition” and your first question about a massively-approved light rail transit project is, “Do we even really want this?” … then you are not a transportation coalition and you don’t represent the people who live in West Seattle. 

    • Michael Taylor-Judd July 29, 2017 (6:47 am)

      @Jort, did you ATTEND the workshop? Have you ever come to a monthly meeting?

      A comment about a different technology was brought up during a public workshop we held. As I understand it, the discussion at the table was about if there was a solution to build cheaper — and faster than 2030+. And ONE Board Member raised a question, accurately pointing out that everyone’s goal isn’t to bring light rail to West Seattle, but to move people rapidly and in a time-certain fashion from West Seattle across the Duwamish River.

      That’s all that happened. The WSTC isn’t advocating against light rail. We just held a workshop about bringing it here! And the entire focus of that workshop is about that project and buses and getting people OUT of cars.

      Right now, however, the vast majority of people travel to/from the Peninsula by automobile, and so that is why we also sometimes have discussions with the Port and other entities about moving them around too.

      So why not come by some time? Introduce yourself. Get involved. 

  • Neighbor July 28, 2017 (3:05 pm)

    If they open up T5 to the trucks will they require them to shut their engines off? Will they require the trucks to abide by the  promise that they would be highly regulated in terms of their polluting? Why aren’t they requiring the ships to use shore power? 

    Why are we allowing our neighborhood to be polluted by everything that is coming out T5? Don’t the parents of West Seattle care that their kids are going to be exposed to an amount of pollution that will cause permanent damage? Why are we sacrificing them so that this port can protect shipper’s profits?  Again, the neighborhoods surrounding LA and San Perdro took these issues all the way to the  CA Supreme Court and the court agreed that the exposure from these pollutants was in violation, that the number of people getting sick was criminal. The Port is lying when they say that the ships won’t be exposing us all to pollution that will have deadly consequences for some in our community. 

    T5 is bad for business and bad for our health. We should demanding the Port protect the families of West Seattle.

    • KM July 28, 2017 (3:35 pm)

      These are all great questions! If I recall, LA/LB dual port has mandatory at-berth shore power usage (diesel engines off), but Seattle’s voluntary? 

    • Kevin July 28, 2017 (4:55 pm)

      I don’t want to discount the pollution potential but to be fair, the wind blows pollution at the Port away from West Seattle. Supporting data: https://wrcc.dri.edu/htmlfiles/westwinddir.html

      • Thatsallyougot July 28, 2017 (6:23 pm)

        One way, or another, it’s gonna find ya, it’s gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha..!!

        That info is not only irrelevant, but about as predictable as the weather..

        • Kevin July 28, 2017 (10:22 pm)

          Uh, wind belts are predictable. It’s a science thing. Wind belts are also relevant to air pollution. Also a science thing. 

      • Jim July 28, 2017 (10:31 pm)

        Read the Environmental Impact Statement.  The experts don’t agree that the pollution will not hit West Seattle residents.

  • KM July 28, 2017 (3:19 pm)

    Is the next meeting September 28th (none in August–correct)? I would like to make the next meeting, the direction of the transit discussion as recapped is a bit disheartening.    

    • Michael Taylor-Judd July 29, 2017 (6:52 am)

      Yes. Our next meeting is September 28th at Neighborhood House High Point starting at 6:30pm. Currently planned agenda items include an update on issues in the Bridge corridor from SDOT and an update from WS Ferries about recent changes with the Triangle Route and impacts to traffic flow from Kitsap foot ferries and Colman Dock construction.

  • Jim July 28, 2017 (4:07 pm)

    People concerned about the pollution from T5  (and everyone should be!)  need to contact the Port Commissioners and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.  They are the ones that are deciding how much poison the Terminal will be allowed to release into our community.  Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM 2.5) is a deadly carcinogen.  Shore Power is one of the solutions.  No truck idling is another.

  • j July 28, 2017 (9:04 pm)

    The terminal operator has the option (if they weren’t so cheap) to operate night gates from 6p-3a and/or from 3a-8a.

    This is the solution. 

    It just won’t happen cause they (SSA) would have to spend more money.

    Re; pollution…don’t locate yourself next to industry then expect industry to relocate. This city was built and still exists because it is a port city. 

    Are we going to shut down the steel mill and cease all ferry/tug/boat/train traffic?

    There is a freeway (with polluting cars) right above your head too. 

    It’s great to get shore power and cleaner running trucks. I support that fully. Please realize the millions of dollars and many many many jobs that are in Seattle because of the marine industry.

    We have a geographical gold mine that other states only wish they had. 

    • Jim July 28, 2017 (10:20 pm)

      J – >>>It’s great to get shore power and cleaner running trucks. I support that fully.<<<  Perfect.

      >>>Please realize the millions of dollars and many many many jobs that are in Seattle because of the marine industry.<<<    Please acknowledge that using Shore Power is a job creator, as well as reducing health impacts to the workers and the community.

    • RayK July 30, 2017 (9:48 pm)

      The Port has worked with truckers to modernize the truck fleet which reduces pollution. It’s a step. Only electric trucks will eliminate their pollution. The pollution will move to the site of energy generation for recharging the electric trucks. Fortunately, Seattle is invested in hydroelectric power as well as the region using electricity from the Columbia River hydroelectric plants.

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