(Bus headed southbound on 26th SW, north of Roxbury; watch for the damaged pavement panels after it passes)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
One of the side effects of Westwood Village becoming a de-facto transit center is something that residents just to the south say they’re living with day in and day out, night in and night out – buses rumbling by almost continuously, leaving behind damaged pavement and causing their homes to settle.
More than a dozen residents brought their concerns to last night’s meeting of the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council (as we tweeted during the meeting). WWRHAH’s transportation committee is headed by Chris Stripinis, who lives in the area, and has created a website with a clearinghouse of information about the problem, at westwoodbus.wordpress.com.
In his introduction on that site, Stripinis wrote:
Severe visible road damage – On Barton, 26th Ave. and Roxbury, concrete panels in bus lanes are misaligned, cracked and subsiding under the weight of the buses.
Shaking of homes – Residents of Roxbury, 26th Ave. and Barton have reported significant, earthquake-level shaking in their homes as buses pass by. A seismic sensor designed for monitoring earthquake activity has recorded earthquake-level shaking in one Roxbury Street home.
Pavement Condition Index (PCI) numbers – On Barton and 26th Ave., PCI numbers supplied by SDOT show markedly lower ratings for lanes used for bus travel.
Bus weight waiver – Transit buses are overweight for local roads but operate under federal and state waivers to allow them on surface streets not engineered to handle these loads.
The panels over which the buses travel on 26th, as seen in our video clip above, look like this:
Last night, the problem was discussed with both Metro and SDOT reps in the room:
“The RapidRide is noticeably heavier than the other bus coaches – 7 percent heavier but causes 30 percent more pavement damage,” said Stripinis. He noted that the MoveSeattle levy called for 2021 repavement of Roxbury, but given the damage done so far, that’s too far away. Residents are interested in the road being re-engineered, and they’re wondering how to move the repavement up in priority.
“Did anybody do an Environmental Impact Statement when all the buses were moved there?” asked WWRHAH co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick (who also co-chairs the West Seattle Transportation Coalition). “If there was an EIS done, people on the route might have had their windows done differently, or gotten some mitigation?”
No, was the reply. Why not? was the immediate response.
Helmick pointed out that they want to know when the streets will be rebuilt, not if; she mentioned backstory including the research and the walkabouts done around the transit area, where the streets “are not rated for this type of weight … literally, every curb is sinking into the ground … we have oil from the buses … we have a serious problem and it’s going to take some serious investment into this neighborhood. If you’re going to (keep) the buses here, you have to (fix it).”
The houses aren’t just shaking, but are settling and sinking, said attendees. One said he didn’t think it was going to be as big a deal when the changes were first proposed – but he didn’t realize it was going to be “400 buses going by my house every single day.”
Doug Johnson from Metro didn’t have much to offer in response to the pavement concerns. He said that Metro is working on some other transit-center-related issues such as the design of the lighting project on the north side of Roxhill Park, “pedestrian-level lighting along the layover area,” and rebuilding sections of the sidewalk, since the lighting will be going “onto the sidewalk itself” rather than into Parks-owned ground behind it. They’re hoping for construction/installation in fall, which brought the interjection from Helmick, “It was summer – now we’re looking at fall?” interjected Helmick.
Stripinis pointed out there’s a “slow” reduced-speed-limit advisory now for buses in the area, as of a few months ago, and that Metro “needs to work with (bus) drivers” to make sure that’s respected.
How could this all be quantified, to decide on next steps?
SDOT pavement engineer Benjamin Hansen says they’d probably need to hire a consultant. He said “your situation is not unique – there are streets around the city that have ‘slow orders’ on them that are failing under heavy bus loads. … Even Marine View Drive is in pretty terrible shape, because we’ve routed buses onto roads that were never designed (for this kind of use). … I think fundamentally at some level we prioritized transit service over pavement; we’d rather not have pavement hold us back from transit service.”
Hansen said that most vibration studies point to a level that’s “a nuisance but is not damaging to the structure,” while acknowledging that it depends on where the monitoring equipment is placed. He thinks that before such studies, on Barton, Roxbury, 35th, they’ve done some spot repair projects to “try to mitigate all this,” but have not done much on 26th SW, “and there’s a reason for this … you pointed out that Puget Sound Energy has made a bunch of repairs in the street, and when I went out there and looked at the pavement condition, I found that some of the worst in terms of vibrating and cracking were some of the new panels Puget Sound Energy put in. … so we have (those) panels out there that are failing, and some older SDOT panels that are failing, so what I was hoping to do was get PSE to come out and fix their panels and coordinate with (SDOT work, at the same time) … I think if we replace some of the worst panels out there, it will help.” However, that’s not all worked out yet – Hansen said the city brought the issue to PSE and they “immediately kicked it over to their lawyers and now the City Attorney’s Office is involved.”
But that’s not the only problem, Helmick pointed out – it was all marshland before it was paved over (Longfellow Creek still goes beneath).
The meeting had to be cut short because of library hours, but SDOT’s engineer promised “we’re going to make (repairs) happen.” City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, in attendance at the meeting, asked, “Is there anything more that we can do to help you?” The engineer said citizens already had gone above and beyond – he’d never had a citizen go as far as Stripinis had, in terms of collecting a study.
Helmick returned to the issue of an Environmental Impact Statement.
And for Hansen, the big picture was how much of the city’s road network needs repairing. The MoveSeattle levy only pays for 25 miles of repaving a year, while the city overall, he said, has more than 500.
The Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council meets on first Mondays, 6:15 pm, at Southwest Library.