WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Here’s what happened at Stakeholder Advisory Group’s first session

(Sound Transit’s West Seattle-to-Ballard ‘representative’ map – draft ‘alignment’)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Your first official, Sound Transit-convened way to have a say on West Seattle light rail is now four days away.

But first – another of the two groups that are also meant to represent you in the process has just had its first meeting, last night at Union Station downtown.

What’s formally known as the Stakeholder Advisory Group for the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extensions spent two and a half hours together for introductions, presentations, declarations, and questions.

The full list (as approved/appointed by the Elected Leadership Group), made public the previous day, includes these six who live and/or work in West Seattle:
Deb Barker (who is a board member with West Seattle Transportation Coalition as well as president of the Morgan Community Association)
Willard Brown (executive with the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association)
Hamilton Gardiner (West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, not in attendance)
Brian King (introduced himself as a Delridge resident and daily bicyclist)
Greg Nickels (Admiral resident best known as Seattle’s 51st mayor)
Walter Reese (executive at the Nucor steel mill in West Seattle)

“This is a moment that’s been years if not decades in the making,” opened Sound Transit’s Don Billen. Next to him were Elected Leadership Group co-chairs County Council President Joe McDermott (a West Seattleite) and City Councilmember Mike O’Brien.

O’Brien said, “We are now moments away – in a geological sense – from light rail being delivered to West Seattle and Ballard.” And he noted that more than 100 people had applied to be part of the stakeholder group.

McDermott said, “If we learned anything during the ballot process for Sound Transit 3, we learned that not only do people want light rail, they want it now … they want it faster than we can deliver it.” The timeline already is “rapid,” as he described it, exhorting group members to bring all their best ideas to the process.

Before they made way for presenters, Nickels – who noted in the introduction round that he was a longtime Sound Transit board member, until 2009 (when he left office) – asked them, “How can we be most helpful to you?”

McDermott: “As many ideas as possible being brought to the group and work to evaluate as many of those ideas and possibilities as you can possibly gather … to have as many ideas vetted as soon as possible, rather than later.” O’Brien seconded that and said, “What we’re trying here is a bit of an experiment … to reach a consensus … more than a decade before the project being done. …Let’s get the ideas out there, understand the pros and cons and tradeoffs … have a dialogue out there in the community (and agree on) the best way to do this.” He also acknowledged that there may not be a community consensus.

Added Billen: “We’re going to be most interested in your collective opinion … (toawrd) a project that is affordable, environmentally feasible …” Of the project itself, he said, “It’s a crucial part of the regional transit system.” – especially pieces such as the new downtown tunnel. “We cannot operate the West Seattle and Ballard extensions unless we also install light rail further into Snohomish and Pierce Counties,” because of the additional maintenance facilities that will be built. “This project has regional implications and those projects have regional implications on your work.”

Facilitator Diane Adams introduced the project team. She also assured that future meetings “would be far more interactive,” but this one would be briefing-heavy. She also announced that the stakeholder group meetings would not have open-microphone public-comment periods, but would accept written comments; asked about that afterward, she said they had decided only to take spoken comments at meetings of the elected officials’ group (which doesn’t meet again until May).

THE BRIEFING: Cathal Ridge, project director for Sound Transit, went through some background, and where the system overall is going in the years ahead. We’ve covered this before, so we’ll spare you the play-by-play, but it’s worth noting again that in 2030, the same year West Seattle opens, light rail also is scheduled to reach south Federal Way, Fife, East Tacoma, and the Tacoma Dome. In 2031 – “infill stations” come online. In 2035, Ballard opens, along with the new downtown tunnel. In 2036, it extends to Everett; Sounder rail goes to DuPont and Tillicum. In 2041, ST3 ends with light rail to South Kirkland and Issaquah.

He recapped the term “representative project” as “what has emerged from the planning work to date.” And he focused on some past planning efforts like this one from mid-decade.

The West Seattle line to open in 2030 is currently envisioned in the “representative project” with four elevated stations (SODO, Delridge, Avalon, Junction). As he did at last month’s Elected Leadership Group meeting (WSB coverage here), ST’s Chris Rule presented the project flyover, noting that the new bridge across the Duwamish River that would carry light rail is expected to be “about the same height” as the current one.

West Seattle rep King told the ST team that he’s very interested in learning about elevations. He suggested more detail on their Google Earth maps.

Ridge stressed that what was presented is “the representative project, our starting point … We hope to identify a preferred alternative – it might be very similar … or it might be very different.” His presentation continued with a review of the project-development process. He said “a lot of work” has gone into this already in the past five years. As has been said at previous briefings, they hope to settle on the preferred alternative by April of next year, “before we get into the environmental-review process … then we can be more efficient than we have been in the past, in going through that environmental process.” He recapped the timeline, including environmental work to be complete by 2022, construction 2025-2030.

Consultant Jim Parsons got specific about steps to get to that preferred alternative in April 2019. “We’re going to do this in three steps:

#1 – Early scoping; study ST3 representative project and alternatives; screen alternatives (cut down to a smaller list – each step narrows the list and expands knowledge of “most promising ones”)

#2 – Refine and screen alternatives –

#3 – By late 2018/early 2019, more screening, conducting Environmental Impact Statement scoping, “a fairly detailed analysis of hopefully the most promising alternatives”

As part of step 1, ST is about to launch its first round of three open houses (West Seattle, Ballard, downtown), and then “neighborhood forums” in March, with the stakeholder group meeting twice in March and twice in April; the electeds group will meet again in early May and “entertain the recommendations from the stakeholders” and then the ST board will be briefed in early May.

The subsequent “steps” are intended to work similarly, he said, just with a greater level of detail. Four more meetings for this group – “no summer vacations!” – and yet another series of four meetings runs up to spring of next year. Formal EIS scoping, Elected Leadership Group in March 2019, then decision on preferred alternatives and other alternatives that would go into EIS for study, in April.

“It’s going to be a fairly intense effort,” Parsons warned. Asked by West Seattle rep Barker if this was exactly the same process detailed at previous meetings, he acknowledged there had been some changes.

At what point will the impacts on freight mobility be studied? asked freight rep Warren Aakervik.

“Throughout the process, we’ll be looking at impacts,” promised Parsons. “Freight impacts will be one of those.”

Will you discuss the impacts on B and C Lines? Parsons replied, “Obviously this will be replacing some existing bus service.” But since the need will keep increasing while the line is built, “we’ll be looking at some interim bus improvements.” ST3 has some money for “bus rapid transit,” Ridge affirmed.

Next up: The Community Engagement Guide was reviewed, explained as meant “to explain Sound Transit’s rules for public engagement, and how public feedback will help shape this project.” (You can see the 16-page document here.)

Asked “how does this group fit in with everything?” Ridge replied, “We hope you will take in and process all the information we throw at you,” and ST hopes the group members in turn will bring in what they learn and hear from other groups and individuals.

Barker wondered about the difference between the open houses and “neighborhood forums.” The open-house formats will include a short presentation, Q&A, and opportunities for conversation with project staff. Forums will be “more area-specific,” talking about issues such as “station-area planning and specific communities.” (We confirmed after the meeting that these meetings’ locations and dates have not yet been set – they are expected to start in late March.)

How is ST getting out the word about this early feedback phase? Postcards were sent to about 108,000 addresses “within half a mile of the entire alignment” (West Seattle to Ballard), and a “robust” advertising campaign is under way. (Noting here for disclosure – WSB is one of the many publications in which that advertising has been placed.) They also have a stakeholder contact list of about 2,500, and have had “mini-briefings” in a variety of venues in recent months (including some West Seattle community meetings we’ve covered).

And before closing, the group’s charter (see the draft version here) was reviewed – its job is to come up with recommendations to present to the elected group, which in turn will present recommendations to the ST board. Members are expected to represent their “constituencies” rather than focusing on personal opinions, and are expected to communicate with those constituencies. The group is not “a voting body” – its job is to “strive for consensus.” They are expected to “commit to support a process that is open, iterative, and transparent.” But they also are expected to not speak as a representative of the group, if approached by “the media,” facilitator Adams said, suggesting any such request be deferred to ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason.

Barker asked if ST has had stakeholder advisory groups on previous projects. No, Ridge replied.

After the charter discussion, the meeting wrapped – about half an hour short of the three hours allotted – with a chance for members to bring up other questions/issues. One asked if they would be briefed on the State Legislature bill that would reduce the amount of car-tab revenue ST receives and how that might affect this project. Don’t worry about that, Ridge suggested, replying: “Our mindset right now is that this (project) is going to happen, it’s funded, and let’s just work toward identifying the preferred alternative on the assumption that the funding is going to be intact.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The stakeholder group will meet again on March 14th – time and location TBA (the board room might not be the location for all meetings).

The project is in “early scoping” through March 5th (see the “early scoping information report” here). Key feedback components include:

-Online open house starting Monday (you’ll find it here)
-In-person open houses start Tuesday (February 13th, Masonic Hall in West Seattle, 6:30-8:30 pm, 4736 40th SW)

11 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Here's what happened at Stakeholder Advisory Group's first session"

  • Joe February 9, 2018 (3:01 pm)

    You can thank Alex Tsimerman, Paul W. Locke and Magurite Richard (sp?) for the ban on public comment.  The cassette tape trolls have to be stopped somehow.    

    • WSB February 9, 2018 (3:42 pm)

      Yes, I was there at the electeds group when Alex and friend(s) spoke, but that’s no excuse to ban everybody – the City Council as I’m sure you know just banned him after warnings about his profane tirades.

      • Lack Thereof February 9, 2018 (4:12 pm)

        The sound transit board doesn’t have the nerve to outright ban him like the city council did.

  • Scarlett February 9, 2018 (4:54 pm)

    Smart move Lisa Herbold —keeping JUNO of f this advisory group.  They might lobby for a tunnel the last 2000 feet. 

    • gatewood February 10, 2018 (2:15 am)

      Did Lisa somehow do that?  I would find it disappointing to hear that a neighborhood association had their voice silenced when they have a legitimate stake in the project.  

  • Jeff February 10, 2018 (12:26 am)

    Will Sound Transit provide the PowerPoint file, the Google Earth route/map, meeting notes, and contents of the binder they handed to every Stakeholder Advisory Group at this meeting?

    Is the 2015 Candidate Option 3 still a viable alternative? That Option 3 could serve 50% more lower-income families (White Center = 18%, versus Junction = 12%), double the number of minority families (54% versus 27%) while being 43% cheaper per mile to install ($2047M / 6.5 miles, versus $1980M / 4.4 miles).

    “ST3 Candidate Project: West Seattle to Downtown Seattle Light Rail Corridor Options”, dated 03-Dec-2015.

    Selection of members for the “advisory” group seems to be geared toward the affluent income levels and big market companies in Seattle. Toward the end of the meeting, even one of the members himself questioned the motives behind the ST3 program and the communities it will serve… neighborhoods with shiny, new, expensive condominiums, and commercial areas with newly renovated campuses for worldwide travel agencies and internet shopping companies.

    • gatewood February 10, 2018 (2:08 am)

      I could be wrong here but isn’t the goal with the routing to help provide transportation to the densely populated Urban Villages they are over populating 10 years too early?  I don’t think it is a projected geared towards only the wealthy.  If that where the case why would they have run the first line in rainier valley?  Other areas would still have bus access that would feed to light rail right? 

      • Fonz February 14, 2018 (1:17 am)

        I also don’t think serving wealthy is a bad thing. When we build rail into poorer neighborhoods, that may result in gentrification since the places that have access to rail are currently so few and far between, that accessing it is such a unique amenity those with capital will rush to claim it. We could still serve the poorer residents of the city with quality bus service, though the powers at be must make a commitment to it. 

    • J February 11, 2018 (11:58 am)

      I agree that’d serve more neighborhoods. It could also connect burien and SeaTac eventually. 

  • Question February 10, 2018 (1:01 pm)

    Is the route set in stone?  Any chance lightrail could come up Admiral and down California to the Alaska Junction ?  That way it’d catch the North Admiral residents. If not, are there plans to beef up DART connections to have greater access to North Admiral and Alki? 

    • Fonz February 14, 2018 (1:18 am)

      It isn’t set in stone. Alignment is still movable, but you must comment before scoping ends, so send in your comment right now!!!

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