By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition issued a “call for action,” and the call was answered.
Its January meeting focused primarily on sorting out what people here want to see in Sound Transit‘s upcoming ST3 ballot measure – with the “candidate projects” being reviewed for a draft plan that’s expected in March, followed by a final plan in June and a regional vote in November.
They’re planning to organize the feedback – and collect even more soon, via an online poll.
After gathering that feedback, the meeting took one side trip, into an update on the Fauntleroy Boulevard project, and another call for opinions.
But first, about light rail:
More than 50 people gathered in a lower-level meeting room at The Kenney (WSB sponsor) for a discussion that was truly all over the map, as WSTC leaders tried to set the stage by clearing up confusion over what’s being considered and what might happen.
By means of backstory, co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick explained WSTC had realized Ballard had lots of planning for its expected section of ST3 “but (West Seattle hasn’t) exactly had the same planning.” The area doesn’t just want light rail but wants planning for how it’s going to happen. “The reason that Ballard got all the planning is that Ballard neighborhoods got together and went to the city,” board member Marci Carpenter explained.
More backstory: WSTC made sure the meeting took into account the Move Seattle levy as well as ST3. Move Seattle projects of interest to West Seattle include Fauntleroy Boulevard and Delridge RapidRide corridor. WSTC is concerned about potential conflicts that no one will detect without a West Seattle-specific view.
Co-chair Tom Linde, describing himself as a lifelong transit advocate with involvement in Seattle’s monorail project a decade-plus ago, offered something of a primer in the possibilities for light rail – “at grade,” “elevated,” and “tunneled” version, as well as some monorail background. And as he described it later in the meeting, the light-rail decision is a “big thing to the community, going to change things in West Seattle for 100 years.”
He explained for newcomers that the final monorail alignment – before the project was scrapped – was going to come off the bridge, head toward Nucor, continue up Avalon – elevated – then at 35th head up to Alaska, west toward Jefferson Square, take a left, go up a block, turn down Edmunds, angle down California, still elevated, toward Morgan Junction. It needed air rights – “impactful on the streetscape,” he said of the monorail columns’ size and shape. And that shapes the questions now being pondered.
What about light rail “at grade” (on the surface)? Linde explained what he saw in Salt Lake City, where he had just traveled. The train was in the middle of a busy boulevard. It’s not an “insignificant” thing to ponder how those logistics will be worked out, he said. He said he believes a lot of problems will be solved figuring out if you could tunnel for a mile across the Duwamish to The Junction. Not cheap. But potentially effective, he said.
An attendee later clarified that the type of tunnel we’d be talking about here is not a Highway 99-type tunnel, but something smaller. West Seattle geology is relatively stable, Linde added. “How much more would that tunnel cost?” asked board member Mark Jacobs. “We don’t know for sure,” said Helmick.
Then, the options ST has publicly discussed so far – look for the West Seattle possibilities in this 90-page PDF.
What’s in the red, explained WSTC board member Michael Taylor-Judd, “is as much as ST has released publicly,” and has done some planning for, if light. What’s in blue, “other options they’re thinking about” but haven’t gone into any detail at all. “Options for the lines, basic route corridors” – without “what streets they would go on,” etc.
At that point City Councilmember Lisa Herbold spoke up from the front row to mention the “jurisdictional letters” sent to Sound Transit by the council (among others) – read theirs here. Taylor-Judd summarized that nobody seems to want a spur just to go to The Junction and stop there – they’d like it to continue on to White Center, Burien, etc. He says some advocacy groups have urged ST not to limit itself – “go to voters and instead of going 10 to 15 years like we’ve done for (previous levies), say you’re going to go (for longer) … propose a larger package.”
So if this passes in November, what’s the timeline for when construction could start? Taylor-Judd said he’s hearing a lot more talk lately of 10 to 15 years, if planning overlaps with the continuation of ST 2 projects.
“And,” interjected Helmick, “the key word is planning. All these questions could be answered with proper planning. … We don’t know all the answers; we’re volunteers.” She brought it back around to the “call for action emergency” – ST saying it’ll have a draft plan in March, a final plan in June, to vote on in November.
One attendee interjected – is anybody coordinating all the different transportation services?
Councilmember Herbold mentioned the Transit Master Plan.
“So shouldn’t they be informing this plan, then?
Welcome to our frustration, replied WSTC leaders.
Taylor-Judd to everyone in the room: “Here is the call to action we need from you. We need to gather information, we need your comments.” Butcher-paper sheets were up around the room, headed by questions such as “Do you support light rail to West Seattle?” “Triangle/35th Station – Yes, No, Defer?” “Do you support an Elevated rail line into Alaska Junction?” “Should we go south of The Junction with ST3?” Why? “Like/dislike” for each of three options.
For even more context, Chris Arkills, transportation adviser to KC Executive Dow Constantine, mentioned that Metro’s long-range plan will be coming out around the same time as the ST3 plan – “as you’re thinking about the kind of light rail you want, think about the power of buses and rail together,” especially with buses not having to go downtown.
Taylor-Judd mentions that Stadium/35th SW station is a possibility that wasn’t in the last public release.
And from there, it was time for everyone to circulate, writing on the butcher paper if they wanted to.
Just a few of the resulting sheets:
Also at the WSTC meeting:
FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD: Herbold picked up a question that now-former Councilmember Tom Rasmussen had tossed out a year ago – regarding whether utilities should be undergrounded in the Fauntleroy Boulevard project (Fauntleroy Way between the bridge and The Junction). It’s not covered by the current funding. Her question:
Should they start Fauntleroy Boulevard now without undergrounding – since extra money is going to be difficult to come by? she said SDOT is still asking. A decision is coming up within a couple weeks. Herbold says she told SDOT they should come to the community and ask the question, quick. The undergrounding is still estimated to cost at least an additional $5 million – she said she’d be willing to try to find that money if the community wants it.
Susan Melrose from the Junction Association said she understood that the project could be started without the money and the city didn’t seem to be interested in seeking the money for undergrounding. “I would say that if you went for a delay while pursuing the money you’d need to get some assurances, because as has been pointed out before, the projects on the (Move Seattle) list can change,” Herbold said. She said she has an idea about some “one-time capital funds” that might be available.
If you have an opinion – to underground or not to underground – let your councilmember know, firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, a few announcements:
TRANSIT ADVISORY BOARD: WSTC’s Carpenter is a member of this new city-convened group, one of two West Seattleites, she said. The public is invited to their regular meetings, which include comment periods – next one is 6 pm February 24th at City Hall. The board also has a retreat coming up. The board has met three times so far.
WSTC BOARD: There’s an opening on the WSTC board and Chas Redmond declared himself a candidate. There’ll be a vote next month.
GATHERING OF NEIGHBORS: Michael Taylor-Judd prefaced the transportation discussion by VIEWS reminding everyone about this year’s Gathering of Neighbors, coming up Saturday, March 12th, at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center – time not finalized yet but likely 9 am-1 pm. The theme: “Growing Pains.”
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets on fourth Thursdays, 6:30 pm. The location for February 25th’s meeting hasn’t been finalized yet. Keep an eye on westseattletc.org