@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: SDOT progress report on ‘bridge corridor’ projects

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Two years after the unveiling of a “white paper” and project list with recommendations for easing traffic in the West Seattle Bridge Corridor, an SDOT rep came to the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s monthly meeting with a progress report.

Bill LaBorde began by saying that the list started with 27 projects but has fewer now – primarily because some weren’t SDOT projects (Sound Transit 3 light rail, for example, which had a significant West Seattle-related update earlier that day).

Chas Redmond from the WSTC Board said that the “disintegration of the integration” of the projects was troubling – LaBorde said that taking projects off the list wasn’t intended to signify dis-integration. Redmond said list-shrinking still didn’t make sense since the agencies are working together on some of these projects anyway. After that, LaBorde ticked through the list, including:

*Communication of traffic issues has been beefed up – including via Twitter; he’s spent some time as “duty officer” for notifications and saw firsthand how it’s intensified.

*ITS (Intelligent Traffic Systems) signboards are continuing to be installed – two of the three promised in this area so far, and the third is set for installation this fall.

*The sequencing of aspects of opening and closing the “low bridge” has been done, making the process more efficient – the amount of time it needs to be open hasn’t changed, but the time it takes to open it has.

*South Lander Street Bridge – the bidding process closed the day before the meeting; LaBorde didn’t know how many bidders there were, but believes at least two.

*Alki Trail connection work: They’ve gone through two phases of this, LaBorde said, and don’t expect more until the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 expansion project gets going (not imminent since the port has yet to announce a tenant).

*ITS for some of the railroad crossings, such as SODO, is scheduled for 2018 – but not funded.

Regarding overlapping projects, Redmond asked if there’s a “maximum period of grief” – LaBorde thought 2019-2020 would likely have a lot going on – including demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct once the Highway 99 tunnel is open.

WSTC board member Deb Barker wondered who’s tracking the effects state projects have on city streets – such as the tunnel project and neighboring waterfront/surface Alaskan Way work – and those who use them. LaBorde mentioned that the city “so far has been able to hold WSDOT’s feet to the fire” to avoid major problems.

WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd wondered about deterioration of the red markings on the West Seattle Bridge’s bus lane, which were being installed when the “white paper” came out two years ago – “did we know it was only going to last such a short time?” Or was there a materials problem, or… ? Is SDOT looking at replacing/repairing those thermal-plastic markings? Yes, LaBorde said.

Suggestions ensued.

Taylor-Judd proposed a future ITS installation somewhere before the Delridge/Orchard intersection so that people could divert before it’s too late – through Highland Park to the east, for example.

What about widening the exit from the eastbound bridge to northbound 99? “That’s the single chokepoint that, if improved, transit would work – where transit fails, at this point,” Redmond emphasized. Doing that would require adding some structure beneath the ramp, LaBorde said.

“With (the new) light rail (bridge),” Barker wondered, what about Sound Transit’s future light-rail bridge – build it sooner and use it for buses? “Whether that’s feasible is to be determined,” said LaBorde.

WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman also brought up the concept of an aerial tram (gondola), which he contended would cost less money and time to do the same thing as light rail, with the same capacity. Redmond wondered if the forthcoming Environmental Impact Statement for the light-rail line could look at another option like that.

Redmond also asked about road repairs and repaving, and LaBorde agreed that the “prioritization of pavement projects” has been fairly low in the city “for years.”

His briefing ended without any info on non-bridge-corridor projects, so we’ll be following up with others at SDOT about those.

After LaBorde left, discussion continued on two of the not-on-the-table-officially-so-far options – aerial tram and adding transit-only lane to eastbound bridge offramp. WSTC is not officially planning to lobby for either but Westerman and Redmond will continue to ask questions and will bring back whatever they find out. One attendee observed that the aerial option might not seem practical – take a bus to The Junction, take the gondola across the bay, then transfer to another bus,.

Also discussed:

WSTC BOARD: Seven positions are potentially open – two vacancies, five positions that are currently held or recently expired, with votes to be held at next month’s meeting. One new attendee said she’s potentially interested in joining the board but not ready to declare her candidacy.

CANDIDATES’ FORUM: WSTC is co-sponsoring a forum with the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce on October 19th, with city candidates to answer questions about transportation and business issues. 6:30 pm at American Legion Post 160‘s hall, 3618 SW Alaska.

NEXT MONTH AND BEYOND: WSTC meets fourth Thursdays. Next month will be at the Senior Center/Sisson Building in The Junction, with accessible transportation the signature topic, 6:30 pm October 26th.

18 Replies to "@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: SDOT progress report on 'bridge corridor' projects"

  • Paul October 2, 2017 (7:05 am)

    Aerial trams are NOT a replacement for light rail.  The idea that it would be more cost effective and faster than light rail is a fantasy.

  • Jort October 2, 2017 (9:56 am)

    I’m curious if anybody can show me some examples from other places in the world where an aerial tram was used instead of a fixed-rail system and had light rail levels of capacity, was scalable to future demand, had lower long-term operating costs, had similar operational performance and was seamlessly integrated with the existing rapid transit network.

    I’m willing to wait a long time, since that’s never happened before and it will not happen here.


    This “flying carpet” fantasy-land idea is a really bizarre fixation. The voters of West Seattle overwhelmingly voted in favor of being taxed so that they could pay for a light rail connection to the SoundTransit system. I am NOT paying higher taxes for some weird “gondola.” You might as well just go to the ST board and ask for jetpacks and flying cars. Why waste ST’s (and your own, frankly) time and energy when we all know without a shred of doubt that they’re putting in light rail? 

    This is truly bizarre.

    • WSB October 2, 2017 (10:14 am)

      Don’t know about “instead of” but the Portland gondola/tram/etc. was frequently mentioned. Of course Portland has light rail as well.

  • Peter October 2, 2017 (9:59 am)

    Their eastbound viaduct to northbound 99 ramp expansion proposal is beating a dead horse. Sadly, WSTC board members keep bringing it up for some reason. Are they really that determined to tear down the business under the ramp?

    This aerial ram stuff is utter and complete nonsense. It is entirely impractical for mass transit and could not move nearly as many people as light rail, not even close. And just imagine how well it will work in wind storms. Frankly, the gondola/tram idea exists only as opposition light rail, or at least I’ve only heard it from people who are desperate to find grounds to oppose voter approved light rail. And now WSTC, so that says something. It’s just completely absurd and is only meant to distract from real transit planning.

    • WSB October 2, 2017 (10:04 am)

      There was some discussion of the business owners not being opposed to it. I didn’t get all the details, having to deal with something else at that moment, so I didn’t get into it.

    • KM October 2, 2017 (10:14 am)

      From the sounds of it above, it’s just a curious person or two on the gondola idea, not a WSTC position they are taking.

  • old timer October 2, 2017 (10:00 am)

    Many people will have to take a bus to the light rail, just as they would to a tram.

    Even the Water Taxi takes a bus ride, to catch a shuttle, to get to the boat for most potential riders.

    West Seattle is big, and just getting around the peninsula  is sometimes very difficult.

    No figures have been put out on the tram carrying capacity, nor the routing, not to mention the cost.

    Until there is more info, I can’t personally  decide against a tram.

    All solutions, at this point are fantasy.

    Remember the Monorail?  We had bought property and designed stations.

    IMO, Sound Transit sees us as an annoyance,

    Witness their ST560 service, 

    They will have to be dogged every step of the way, no matter what service they decide to provide.  

    The”vote” did not end out traffic/connection problems.

    • Jort October 2, 2017 (12:24 pm)

      The light rail line I ride to and from the airport and the university certainly isn’t a “fantasy” solution. It’s what we call a “proven” solution here in the Seattle area. And it will work just fine here in Wets Seattle, too, just like is has in nearly every situation that it’s been used in in any city in any country anywhere in the world. Light rail works: that’s why we build light rail.

      Also, when you say that the “vote” did not end our traffic/connection problems, I want to be clear:

      NO vote will ever get rid of our traffic/connection problems because no city in the recorded history of human civilization has solved the “traffic/connection” problem. Seattle won’t be the first.

      • WS Guy October 2, 2017 (8:05 pm)

        Fixed-line transportation, light rail included, will be obsolete within 20 years.  It’s viable where it’s already deployed as a network, but it’s not viable as a new transportation system in an already established, medium density environment like Seattle.   Sorry Jort, but the cost per rider including capital cost just doesn’t make sense.  

        Buses and cars make more sense for Seattle.  Autonomous, shared ride transit will eclipse rail in cost effectiveness and commuter convenience, and public investment needs will be minimal.  You just have to “let the cars win” and stop with the induced demand/road diet extremism.

        Seattle is one of the only US regions making an aggressive bet on new light rail, and even after billions are spent on ST3, the network will still take you to only a handful of places.

        It would be nice to stop wasting so much money, but contractors want their money and they’ve captured the imaginations of urbanists.  Instead we will see AVs create real alternatives to car ownership and consumers will bring them here with their demand, before the first ST3 station opens.  We will sell the train cars for scrap by 2040.

        • Peter October 3, 2017 (5:15 pm)

          Pretty much everything you say is completely false, but just tell me this: until your entirely speculative fleet of self driving cars (which will just add to cars on the road) replace all need for transit in 20 years (LOL!), what do we do in the meantime?

          Also, let’s do some math:

          Light rail maximum capacity: 800 people per train, every three minutes. 800 x 20 = 16,000 people per hour.

          Your fantasy cars: holding four people, you’d need 4,000 cars per hour to have the same capacity. That’s 4,000 cars added to traffic volumes that will also increase in that time without your 4,000.

          There is no possible was your plan would meet our transportation needs, and if they did congestion and traffic would be much, much worse. It’s just more flimsy “reasoning” to try to counter VOTER APPROVED light rail. 

  • george October 2, 2017 (11:27 am)

    la Paz, bolivia has a huge gondola system.  very effective and fast built

    • WSB October 2, 2017 (11:30 am)

      Thanks! Hadn’t heard of that! Most informative link I found on a quick check: http://www.lapazlife.com/the-worlds-highest-cable-car-ride/

      • Jort October 2, 2017 (12:35 pm)

        La Paz, Bolivia, has an incredibly unique geographical situation with significantly steep terrain challenges (far, far steeper than what we think is steep here in West Seattle). It has served La Paz well — for very different reasons than why it is “believed” to be an option here.

        Furthermore, the La Paz gondola has a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, while light rail can scale up to 16,000 passengers per hour in each direction

        Additionally, the longest line in the La Paz system is 2.9 miles. The straight line “as the crow flies” distance from the Junction, across Elliott Bay, to Westlake Center is 4.2 miles. 

        Additionally the operating costs of running a 24/7 cable-driven system are higher than operating a single train.

        On top of all of this, Sound Transit is in the business of building train lines, and it is building a lot of them. For them to spin up an all-new engineering and development effort centered around an all-new, bizarre transportation system would actually increase costs significantly.

        West Seattle isn’t a special snowflake that deserves special snowflake attention just so we can pointlessly research the possibility of putting in a flying carpet — I mean — gondola.

        Light rail is a proven technology that has worked in cities big and small, flat and hilly, wet and dry, rich and poor everywhere on the planet earth. 

        There is absolutely no need to re-invent the wheel on this.

        • WSB October 2, 2017 (12:45 pm)

          Calm down, J. That doesn’t make it not fascinating. I – clearly not a student of transportation systems around the globe, aside from appreciating them in cities with good ones (our son lives in Boston, for example, and we’re all-T-all-the-time when visiting) – hadn’t heard of anything like that. The one in Portland is barely a ski-lift ride in comparison. http://www.gobytram.com/about/

          • Jort October 2, 2017 (1:32 pm)

            Indeed, gondolas can be fascinating. However, “fascinating” does not always make for great transportation planning outcomes. (See: Monorail attempt, and, one could reasonably argue, the “streetcar fad” that has hit many U.S. cities.)

            Americans seem to have a predisposition for reinventing the wheel with new and even more fantastical transportation ideas (flying cars, jetpacks, monorails, self-driving cars, etc.), despite the fact that there is technology that exists (and has existed for 100 years) that moves people reliably, safely, and affordably all around the world, in countless examples.

            This gondola thing would be like going up to a hard-working community blog editor and telling them, “you know what you should spend your money on? Let’s print off your blog entries and then have OWLS deliver them to people’s houses, just like in Harry Potter! Wouldn’t that be so cooool?!?!” 

            Yes, undeniably and undoubtedly it would be cool. No, it would not be a good use of resources for WSB.

            Light rail works, it is an exhaustively proven transportation system, and it will work just fine here in West Seattle, just as it has before in hundreds if not thousands of applications around the world. We’ve voted on it, we’re paying for it, let’s just get it done and start using it.

          • Canton October 2, 2017 (10:45 pm)

            @jort-Please do settle down, light rail, in whatever form, is coming. While I realize you hate cars, with a unknown passion, this isn’t about you. This is about traffic concerns for the entire region. If any idea, be it gondola, or whatever, new ideas are allowed. The reality that you envision, is just that, your reality.

  • anonyme October 2, 2017 (1:48 pm)

    Agree with Jort on every point.

  • TJ October 2, 2017 (8:16 pm)

    Fixing the eastbound onramp to I5 is a must. Flyovers, extra lanes, whatever. That backs everything else up. The chokepoint onramp to north 99 doesnt need anything as once the tunnel opens and tolls start less people will take it. There seems to be a throw in the towel mentality by some when it comes to transportation. Gondolas, trams, anything helping move the flow of cars, people seem to think we can’t or shouldn’t do it because other parts of the world don’t? People want to spend my money on a $50 billion ST3 that won’t come in on time or at that budget, and at that price tag taps us out on funding any other public transportation expansion (Metro bus expansion is out). And for those who don’t know, Sound Transit actually wanted to ask for more taxes BEFORE ST3 is finished for further expansion! With the backlash on Sound Transit and crumbling support and faith now, I think that won’t happen!

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