(ST3 draft-plan map section with proposed West Seattle light rail)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Today – five days after the draft Sound Transit 3 plan went public – the monthlong comment period officially begins.
That will include a community meeting at 5:30 pm April 26th at West Seattle High School, it’s just been confirmed.
And more information is being added today – fleshing out what was outlined last Thursday – to the official Sound Transit 3 website.
Of course, commenting informally started the moment the plan was circulated that afternoon.
Hours after the announcement downtown, it was a hot topic at the March meeting of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition – though not until about two hours in – and while group members had opinions, the question of an official position wasn’t settled. (The agenda also included the Metro Long-Range Plan – more on that in the second half of this report.)
Regarding ST3, WSTC co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick was concerned about the price tag – envisioned last December as around $30 billion, then, when the 25-year draft emerged Thursday, $50 billion: “That raises a huge red flag in my mind.”
While the draft plan does propose a light-rail line to West Seattle – ending at The Junction, opening in 2033 – Helmick didn’t think it reflected what WSTC had said, and had collected via community surveys. So, she asked, “what do we as a group want to say to Sound Transit about this?”
One quick retort: “Build it sooner.”
ST’s board chair, County Executive Dow Constantine, had suggested in Thursday’s post-meeting media briefing (see the video toward the end of our Thursday story) that the timelines spelled out in the draft might eventually accelerate, at least a bit.
His transportation adviser Chris Arkills was at the WSTC meeting, as he often is, and stressed that only “a map and a list” was released. “I don’t think it was a question of the board not listening [to the WSTC], but they felt that the best line for West Seattle is the line to The Junction.”
“50 billion dollars!” said Helmick, again.
“Any time you’re building light rail, it’s going to be frustratingly long …” many factors, said Arkills. “What we’re voting on now is what the representative plan is – where the stations are, whether it’s elevated or in a tunnel, are all things that can be decided in the future.” There are many reasons why the board favored this alignment with stops projected in Delridge, 35th and The Junction, “offers us the opportunity to do a lot of bus intercepts.”
Helmick at that point read part of an e-mail from co-chair Tom Linde, who couldn’t attend in person, saying “this is a 100-year change for our community and he wants to fight to do it right.”
WSTC’s Michael Taylor-Judd thought it would be important to get out the message that WSTC “heard from 1,000 people excited and overwhelmingly what they wanted was to start looking at going south of the WS Junction” – the draft plan as released only called for a study of sending light rail south to Burien, meaning that would be more than a quarter-century away.
Wondered WSTC’s Deb Barker asked, is there any way to build an underground station without wiping out a full city block? Arkills’ reply: You probably have to wipe out at least part of it, but then you could build buildings on top of it. He thought the parking lots might be the more likely place for the station to go in The Junction. And, he added, task 1 is to pass the plan; Task 2 is to improve on the plan.
Next steps include the aforementioned April 26th public meeting in West Seattle; WSTC also intends to invite ST to its next meeting, which will be two nights after that (April 28th). And as we got ready to publish this story, a survey went live on the ST3 website – find it here.
METRO’S LONG-RANGE PLAN: You’ll start hearing about this all in early April, and it will be part of the April 26th WSHS meeting, too – but for starters, WSTC got a preview Thursday night from Stephen Hunt of Metro (a West Seattle resident).
By 2040, he said, transit boardings must/will triple, as 850,000 more jobs are created in the region and population grows by 1,000,000. “Transit mode share” is expected to grow to 24 percent during peak periods, from 14 percent today. They also expect to get to where 70 percent of people are “within half a mile of frequent service” (every 15 minutes) from the current 20 percent. They also want to make sure a majority of low-income people and people of color are within half a mile of frequent service, and to be “purposeful” about realizing those opportunities. Hunt said they also intend to have “enhanced customer experience.” By 2040, they plan to add 300 miles (20 more lines) of RapidRide, “finishing the alphabet.” They also are looking at how to “leverage” the “different ways people are getting around,” such as Lyft, Uber, carpooling, vanpooling, automation …
In the short run, some transit beefs, including service cuts in Admiral, were brought up. Arkills suggested asking the City of Seattle about how they’re spending the voter-approved Transportation Benefit District dollars to buy added transit service. “They look at the same data we do – the fact is, there’s not real strong midday demand from the Admiral market.”
How will future routes be determined? That was the subject of a spirited back and forth – WSTC’s Taylor-Judd (who is also on the North Delridge Neighborhood Council) recalled the fight to get Route 50 to head that way, and what it took, because advocates were insistent on getting around West Seattle more easily, not just getting “frequent transit” (even at that, Route 50 doesn’t currently qualify as “frequent”).
Other points from the long-range plan – it’s expected that the C Line, for example, would no longer go downtown in 2040 – it would connect to the light rail that, under the ST3 draft plan, would open in 2033. “We are moving away from a one-seat ride,” pointed out Arkills, moving to a “frequent” transport involving transfers, like many other big cities.
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE CORRIDOR PLAN: It was noted that the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee is expected to take this up toward month’s end (as we write this, though, .
TAKE A POSITION ON OCCIDENTAL STREET VACATION? Mixed opinions on this. Co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick said it seemed that if WSTC was going to take a position on SODO traffic, it should be big-picture, especially the Lander Street Overpass – not the Occidental arena-or-no-arena issue. 8-5, the vote was in favor of taking a position.
FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD PROJECT: A brief discussion about the ongoing plan did not, for once, focus on the utility-undergrounding issue that has dominated public discussion recently. WSTC’s Marty Westerman mentioned that business owners along the prospective “boulevard” segment (between the bridge and Fauntleroy) are worried about a bike lane on the north side eliminating ingress/egress from parking areas – “they don’t mind improving the street but they want improvement that improves their businesses.” Deb Barker noted concerns about the Oregon turn lanes. In general, with design nowhere near finished, it was suggested a larger group should coalesce to talk about where the project stands and how the plan is proceeding.
VIADUCT CLOSURE: A bit of discussion focused on the upcoming 2-weeks-or-so Alaskan Way Viaduct closure, when the tunneling machine goes under the structure. Still no date; there was an educated guess it’s likely to be the second half of April. Keep an eye on 99closure.org.
BOARD ELECTIONS: Co-chair Helmick announced she will step away from the WSTC board, though she’ll stay involved with the organization. She’s going to focus on eastern West Seattle community issues such as those tackled by the other organization she’s been co-chairing, the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council. So her position will be among those up for a vote in May.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays, 6:30 pm, location may vary – watch westseattletc.org.