By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Light rail to and from West Seattle is still 13 years away. But the process of making it happen is accelerating.
Two signs of that: Sound Transit‘s “partnering agreement” with the city will be discussed by councilmembers this week. And for the second time in two weeks, ST sent a team to West Seattle for a community-group briefing.
First, the “partnering agreement.” It’s on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the Sustainability and Transportation Committee (2 pm, Council Chambers at City Hall, 600 4th Ave.). As the slide deck atop this story shows, it covers the entire West Seattle to Ballard extension plan (while WS is scheduled to open in 2030, Ballard is planned for 2035).
Components of the agreement would involve streamlining permits, as has been mentioned at previous discussions of the plan for the 4.7-mile extension into West Seattle. You can read the full 46-page agreement here or below:
The agreement addresses matters beyond the transit line itself – such as redevelopment, on page 8:
The Parties will work together to identify and evaluate opportunities for transit-oriented development (“TOD”) in station areas, including direct integration of transit facilities with development done by others. The Parties further agree to consider strategies for advancing equitable development outcomes in their planning activities, including but not limited to opportunities for development of affordable housing on publicly-owned land
Among other things, the agreement also asks the city to designate a single point of contact for the project; the Sound Transit point of contact is Cathal Ridge, the Central Corridor Project Manager who led both recent West Seattle briefings, including the one at last Thursday’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting. We were at both; here’s what happened that night:
Ridge told WSTC that the next step for ST as it gets ready to design light rail to West Seattle is a 30-day “early scoping” feedback period early next year.
He led a team of three who presented a briefing similar to the one given to the Junction Neighborhood Organization two weeks earlier (WSB coverage here). Interest in the topic was evident – the meeting drew more general-public turnout than WSTC usually draws.
The slide deck they brought is mostly replicated in the one atop this story that will be shown to City Councilmembers on Tuesday. It began with an overview of the ST expansion, not just West Seattle. Light-rail ridership almost doubled last year alone, he said. One point that hasn’t got so much attention is that in 2035, when the system stretches to Ballard, that’ll be via a new downtown tunnel, and until then – from 2030 to 2035 – West Seattle riders will have to transfer at SODO.
ST3 goes to 2041, by which time the system will have 116+ miles, 80+ stations, connecting 16 cities.
The West Seattle work has just begun, with “alternatives” under development until a “preferred alternative” is identified in 2019, followed by three years of environmental review, final design 2022-2025, and construction until the 2030 opening.
One slide compared the ST2 and ST3 project-development processes, with the “preferred alternative” to be identified sooner in the process this time around – early 2019 is the current target date, “and if we achieve that, a lot of things become possible,” Ridge said.
They’ll be setting up stakeholder groups, beyond the general-public engagement and outreach that’s ahead (like this very meeting), before year’s end.
“Come the New Year, you will start to see the formal community engagement process kick off,” Ridge promised.
Who are the consultants? Ridge listed several firms and said they’re being co-housed in “project offices” with the Sound Transit team members working on the project.
Who appoints the stakeholder group? The elected-officials group will do that, working with Sound Transit. “A certain number of spaces will be available for application,” Ridge said.
Who will be on the elected group? Community-relations point person Leda Chahim said it would include, Councilmember Lisa Herbold and other city councilmembers, plus County Executive Dow Constantine, County Council Chair Joe McDermott, Mayor Jenny Durkan, and others.
WSTC’s Deb Barker brought a scale model of the “representational alignment” (the early draft of where ST thinks the West Seattle line might go); Ridge was asked if Sound Transit will have something similar when they kick off the engagement process. Yes, he said.
To the point of getting things done quicker, he said, it’s an “unusually large” consultant team “to dig into stakeholder issues right from the start – (so that) we have enough information to make a good assessment earlier.”
WSTC’s Mark Jacobs asked about building the bridge sooner so that buses such as RapidRide C Line could use it for a while to “get people in and out of the city quicker” while light rail is awaited. Other WSTC members noted that the idea’s been suggested to ST before. Ridge said he doesn’t have an answer and has not seen that done before, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done.
WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman asked about whether the outreach and community comment that’s already been organized by the group would count in this process. The short answer seemed to be “no”; what Ridge said in response was that legally, they have to set a comment period, and they “sincerely value” those that have already been made, so what they’re doing now is getting awareness out that there will be ST open houses in January so people can “start to frame” what they want to say. Technically, that’ll be a 30-day “early scoping” period, he clarified in response to a question by Barker, who wondered how the word will be gotten out. Everyone within half a mile of the project area will get a postcard; notices will be sent to media outlets; they have an e-mail list of people who already have expressed interest. And they appreciate groups like WSTC helping circulate the word, too. “Our goal is to ensure that everyone possible who is interested in this project will be aware.”
ST should add even-more methods – like a billboard, and text notifications – WSTC’s Chas Redmond suggested, and should try novel engagement processes, maybe a LEGO-bridge-building contest for kids. In acknowledgment, Chahim said they realize the traditional outreach methods don’t reach everyone.
What about the cost? Ridge said that they are working on an estimate that was done for the 2016 ST3 ballot measure. (You can see that overview in the back half of the “partnering agreement” – at page 29, $1.5 billion.) But – “as we move forward from here, we’ll have to re-evaluate,” since some factors have changed, such as the real-estate market. They don’t have “total confidence until we look at this in more detail. … We want to make sure whatever the preferred alternative turns out to be, we don’t discover several years from now that it’s not affordable.”
In response to a question from Redmond, Ridge said WSTC is in conversation with the city about how to speed up the permitting process, which currently is running slow with far-less-complicated projects than a multistation light-rail extension. Responding to another question about feasibility, he said they are working to deliver what voters asked them to deliver, and that they believe the plan they’re working on now is what’s feasible.
The concerns about the tentative plan for an elevated alignment surfaced too, especially concerns about how that will affect right of way. Redmond pointed to Tukwila, where he said the elevated track and surface improvements worked well. In response to another question about somewhere that ST is undergrounding, Ridge acknowledged that real-estate costs and displacement can factor into those decisions, and their role is to put together all the information they can, such as “if you do this, here’s what it costs.”
Speaking of the existing system, Ridge said they do sometimes have tours of parts of the system while planning extensions, so that’s another possibility.
Videos of the proposal were suggested. Ridge noted that they have animations of current projects online – for example, check out the ones for East Link by going here.
(The ST webpage for the West Seattle-Ballard extension is here.)
OTHER BUSINESS: WSTC is still deciding whether to be a 501(c)(3), which could enable it to seek donations.
HALA AND TRANSPORTATION: Deb Barker mentioned that the community council that she serves as president, Morgan Community Association, is a party to the citywide coalition appeal of HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning, and that MoCA has filed its own appeal too. On a transportation note, MoCA’s appeal alleges that the MHA Final Environmental Impact Statement is deficient in ignoring the impacts of Fauntleroy ferry dock traffic. It was also noted that the FEIS document seems to vastly underestimate how many additional bus riders the upzoning development would generate.
DURKAN TRANSITION TEAM MEETING: Some local neighborhood reps had met the previous evening with a rep from new mayor Jenny Durkan’s transition team.
FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD: Next month’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting is expected to include an update from SDOT.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays most months – not in December, though, so its next meeting will be January 25th.