Another ramp? Light rail on the bridge? Road repairs? West Seattle Transportation Coalition’s Q&A with SDOT

(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,

15 Replies to "Another ramp? Light rail on the bridge? Road repairs? West Seattle Transportation Coalition's Q&A with SDOT"

  • Joe Szilagyi April 10, 2014 (11:53 am)

    Slightly late news (that we literally JUST got confirmation of): WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson will be our guest on June 13 to talk Viaducts, and Southworth/Vashon ferries:
    Our guest on May 13 is Andrew Glass Hastings, Mayor Murray’s principle transportation policy advisor, to talk about how we can make the things in the WSB report here a reality.

    • WSB April 10, 2014 (12:00 pm)

      Thanks for the update! We’ll mention it in context in other coverage between now and then as usual, when state transportation issues come up…

  • wakeflood April 10, 2014 (12:29 pm)

    There was one simple (to express, not execute necessarily) idea floated, that made my heart lift. (I’ve been espousing it for years so that’s not too surprising.) And that was the idea of doing grade separated BRT that could convert to rail at some point. Best of all possibles as far as I’m concerned. I’d cough up a fair chunk of taxes toward that, I would.

  • Brian April 10, 2014 (12:39 pm)

    The comment about less money being gathered from gas taxes is interesting. I presume it’s a combination of more fuel efficient cars, more electric cars, and less people driving (since Metro usage numbers are way up).
    This is why the city, county, and state need to find new ways to generate revenue and it totally makes sense. They’re simply not getting the same amount of cash flow that they used to as people are finding more and more ways to avoid paying at the pump.
    Bring back the MVET, I say.

  • miws April 10, 2014 (12:51 pm)

    Wow! Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since we were able to use the 4th Av S ramp! I still had a car back then!



  • Smitty April 10, 2014 (1:38 pm)

    Is that 20 years correct? I swear I used the 4th avenue on-ramp after moving to WS in 1999…….it was THE best route home from Costco!

  • bolo April 10, 2014 (1:40 pm)

    Am I right or am I wrong in perceiving a lot of non-answers in those “answers?”

  • enough April 10, 2014 (2:15 pm)

    Until the old 4th ave on ramp was torn down, people occasionally used it despite the big white picket fence type barrier. Small cars and definitley motorcycles snuck through. Very dangerous considering drivers on the bridge weren’t expecting motorists. For those that don’t know, this on ramp was closed after atleast one death. Poor design! And yes, I did alert the city to people using this decades closed on ramp but nothing was ever done. Noticing a pattern..

  • schwaggy April 10, 2014 (2:53 pm)

    I remember using the 4th Ave S ramp in 98/99 – or am I confusing it with the 1st Ave S ramp, LOL
    When was that one closed?

  • CMP April 10, 2014 (2:58 pm)

    Spot on bolo! That Lander overpass was proposed almost ten years ago when I first started working in Sodo, funny to see the idea still being tossed around. Maybe we’ll see a bridge ten years from today, I have no idea how it could cost THAT much money to construct though!

    As for signal timing, I swear I sat on southbound 35th waiting to turn left on to Fauntleroy/West Seattle Bridge for a good two minutes this morning at 6:15. I didn’t have my watch on, but I heard an entire story on KUOW about the EPA doing remediation work at a home near Green Lake. And then some. I see they’re really working on timing, LOL!

  • HelperMonkey April 10, 2014 (3:42 pm)

    I seem to remember SPD using that closed off ramp as a spot to park and catch speeders.

  • wetone April 10, 2014 (5:11 pm)

    A lot of words from SDOT people but not one real piece of info. No budget, no or low priority, It’s possible, will look into that, hum…. is the only thing they say. Government standard issue answers 101. High Bridge rail idea was studied around 15yrs ago and was said back then it couldn’t be done unless you remove a lane of traffic and even then it would be iffy and elevated was out as bridge was never designed for added stress. Our city government never plans for future growth as their to busy trying to find there tail. You just got to laugh at how they answer the questions, all to common these days. I wonder how long one would last in the private sector with answers like they had…..

  • CJ April 10, 2014 (9:46 pm)

    How about a pedestrian overpass over Fauntleroy next to Alaska. Eliminate the. Injection safety concerns by creating an urban walk way over Fauntleroy to allow walkability to the new retail squares. Has anyone been to Denver lately to see how pedestrian friendly hey are. They’ve done a great Jon synthesizing their neighborhoods with the downtown core and have made a very vibrant pedestrian path.

  • autocorrect amok April 10, 2014 (11:50 pm)

    If Seattle had impact fee structures in place, the city could DEMAND any developer PAY for a disabled-friendly pedestrian overpass to mitigate safety impacts, or whatever other features, structures, or services this “world-class” city decides would benefit the close nexus of that development hub. Schools? Seniors? Disabled? Parking? Transit? Green space? Parks?

    Imagine it. Then join to actually work toward making it happen. Thanks in advance for your hard work.

    Impact fees. Impact fees. Impact fees.



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