2030 light rail, 2017 action: Sound Transit’s latest West Seattle moves

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Light rail to and from West Seattle is still 13 years away. But the process of making it happen is accelerating.

Two signs of that: Sound Transit‘s “partnering agreement” with the city will be discussed by councilmembers this week. And for the second time in two weeks, ST sent a team to West Seattle for a community-group briefing.

First, the “partnering agreement.” It’s on the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the Sustainability and Transportation Committee (2 pm, Council Chambers at City Hall, 600 4th Ave.). As the slide deck atop this story shows, it covers the entire West Seattle to Ballard extension plan (while WS is scheduled to open in 2030, Ballard is planned for 2035).

Components of the agreement would involve streamlining permits, as has been mentioned at previous discussions of the plan for the 4.7-mile extension into West Seattle. You can read the full 46-page agreement here or below:

The agreement addresses matters beyond the transit line itself – such as redevelopment, on page 8:

The Parties will work together to identify and evaluate opportunities for transit-oriented development (“TOD”) in station areas, including direct integration of transit facilities with development done by others. The Parties further agree to consider strategies for advancing equitable development outcomes in their planning activities, including but not limited to opportunities for development of affordable housing on publicly-owned land

Among other things, the agreement also asks the city to designate a single point of contact for the project; the Sound Transit point of contact is Cathal Ridge, the Central Corridor Project Manager who led both recent West Seattle briefings, including the one at last Thursday’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting. We were at both; here’s what happened that night:

Ridge told WSTC that the next step for ST as it gets ready to design light rail to West Seattle is a 30-day “early scoping” feedback period early next year.

He led a team of three who presented a briefing similar to the one given to the Junction Neighborhood Organization two weeks earlier (WSB coverage here). Interest in the topic was evident – the meeting drew more general-public turnout than WSTC usually draws.

The slide deck they brought is mostly replicated in the one atop this story that will be shown to City Councilmembers on Tuesday. It began with an overview of the ST expansion, not just West Seattle. Light-rail ridership almost doubled last year alone, he said. One point that hasn’t got so much attention is that in 2035, when the system stretches to Ballard, that’ll be via a new downtown tunnel, and until then – from 2030 to 2035 – West Seattle riders will have to transfer at SODO.

ST3 goes to 2041, by which time the system will have 116+ miles, 80+ stations, connecting 16 cities.

The West Seattle work has just begun, with “alternatives” under development until a “preferred alternative” is identified in 2019, followed by three years of environmental review, final design 2022-2025, and construction until the 2030 opening.

One slide compared the ST2 and ST3 project-development processes, with the “preferred alternative” to be identified sooner in the process this time around – early 2019 is the current target date, “and if we achieve that, a lot of things become possible,” Ridge said.

They’ll be setting up stakeholder groups, beyond the general-public engagement and outreach that’s ahead (like this very meeting), before year’s end.

“Come the New Year, you will start to see the formal community engagement process kick off,” Ridge promised.

Questions included:

Who are the consultants? Ridge listed several firms and said they’re being co-housed in “project offices” with the Sound Transit team members working on the project.

Who appoints the stakeholder group? The elected-officials group will do that, working with Sound Transit. “A certain number of spaces will be available for application,” Ridge said.

Who will be on the elected group? Community-relations point person Leda Chahim said it would include, Councilmember Lisa Herbold and other city councilmembers, plus County Executive Dow Constantine, County Council Chair Joe McDermott, Mayor Jenny Durkan, and others.

WSTC’s Deb Barker brought a scale model of the “representational alignment” (the early draft of where ST thinks the West Seattle line might go); Ridge was asked if Sound Transit will have something similar when they kick off the engagement process. Yes, he said.

To the point of getting things done quicker, he said, it’s an “unusually large” consultant team “to dig into stakeholder issues right from the start – (so that) we have enough information to make a good assessment earlier.”

WSTC’s Mark Jacobs asked about building the bridge sooner so that buses such as RapidRide C Line could use it for a while to “get people in and out of the city quicker” while light rail is awaited. Other WSTC members noted that the idea’s been suggested to ST before. Ridge said he doesn’t have an answer and has not seen that done before, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done.

WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman asked about whether the outreach and community comment that’s already been organized by the group would count in this process. The short answer seemed to be “no”; what Ridge said in response was that legally, they have to set a comment period, and they “sincerely value” those that have already been made, so what they’re doing now is getting awareness out that there will be ST open houses in January so people can “start to frame” what they want to say. Technically, that’ll be a 30-day “early scoping” period, he clarified in response to a question by Barker, who wondered how the word will be gotten out. Everyone within half a mile of the project area will get a postcard; notices will be sent to media outlets; they have an e-mail list of people who already have expressed interest. And they appreciate groups like WSTC helping circulate the word, too. “Our goal is to ensure that everyone possible who is interested in this project will be aware.”

ST should add even-more methods – like a billboard, and text notifications – WSTC’s Chas Redmond suggested, and should try novel engagement processes, maybe a LEGO-bridge-building contest for kids. In acknowledgment, Chahim said they realize the traditional outreach methods don’t reach everyone.

What about the cost? Ridge said that they are working on an estimate that was done for the 2016 ST3 ballot measure. (You can see that overview in the back half of the “partnering agreement” – at page 29, $1.5 billion.) But – “as we move forward from here, we’ll have to re-evaluate,” since some factors have changed, such as the real-estate market. They don’t have “total confidence until we look at this in more detail. … We want to make sure whatever the preferred alternative turns out to be, we don’t discover several years from now that it’s not affordable.”

In response to a question from Redmond, Ridge said WSTC is in conversation with the city about how to speed up the permitting process, which currently is running slow with far-less-complicated projects than a multistation light-rail extension. Responding to another question about feasibility, he said they are working to deliver what voters asked them to deliver, and that they believe the plan they’re working on now is what’s feasible.

The concerns about the tentative plan for an elevated alignment surfaced too, especially concerns about how that will affect right of way. Redmond pointed to Tukwila, where he said the elevated track and surface improvements worked well. In response to another question about somewhere that ST is undergrounding, Ridge acknowledged that real-estate costs and displacement can factor into those decisions, and their role is to put together all the information they can, such as “if you do this, here’s what it costs.”

Speaking of the existing system, Ridge said they do sometimes have tours of parts of the system while planning extensions, so that’s another possibility.

Videos of the proposal were suggested. Ridge noted that they have animations of current projects online – for example, check out the ones for East Link by going here.

(The ST webpage for the West Seattle-Ballard extension is here.)

OTHER BUSINESS: WSTC is still deciding whether to be a 501(c)(3), which could enable it to seek donations.

HALA AND TRANSPORTATION: Deb Barker mentioned that the community council that she serves as president, Morgan Community Association, is a party to the citywide coalition appeal of HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning, and that MoCA has filed its own appeal too. On a transportation note, MoCA’s appeal alleges that the MHA Final Environmental Impact Statement is deficient in ignoring the impacts of Fauntleroy ferry dock traffic. It was also noted that the FEIS document seems to vastly underestimate how many additional bus riders the upzoning development would generate.

DURKAN TRANSITION TEAM MEETING: Some local neighborhood reps had met the previous evening with a rep from new mayor Jenny Durkan’s transition team.

FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD: Next month’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting is expected to include an update from SDOT.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays most months – not in December, though, so its next meeting will be January 25th.

32 Replies to "2030 light rail, 2017 action: Sound Transit's latest West Seattle moves"

  • JeffK December 3, 2017 (9:56 pm)

    The whole build out should take 5 years – tops.  They haven’t been thinking large enough.

  • TJ December 3, 2017 (10:51 pm)

    5 years for the build out? While I agree with that, 2030 is the supposed completion year, but with Sound Transits track record we should be prepared to add a couple years to that. Never mind the blank check we’ve been handed for this as there seems to be so much still left to be figured out on how to get it here. I hate to be a pessemist, but I highly doubt that the largest local tax in US history will cover this. But part of keeping to budget is making sure they don’t buy up unnecessary expensive property as a guise to build affordable housing

    • Jort December 4, 2017 (10:04 am)

      When you refer to Sound Transit’s “track record,” do you mean that time when Sound Transit opened the UW and Capitol Hill stations six months ahead of schedule and $150 million under budget?

      Perhaps you’re referring to the 13.5 percent increase in third quarter ridership over last year’s ridership? That’s a track record I’m happy to support!

      • Rusty December 4, 2017 (10:42 am)

        JORT –

        I think TJ was referring to the UW station being well behind schedule until they RE-SET their calendar from the original 1996 issued timeline for the project (which was supposed to be done by 2006) and issued their bogus claim to be ‘on time’. As for on budget, it was supposed to cost $1.67 billion, ended up at $4.95 billion. Here’s a link from the Seattle Times that backs this up: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/sound-transits-cost-overruns-for-first-phase-hit-about-86-percent/

        Glad you’re happy to support it, but be informed about what you’re supporting – not quite as rosy as they like to portray, which in itself is disturbing on many levels, since it’s OUR money.

        • Mike Lindblom December 4, 2017 (11:15 am)

          Hello Rusty –

           Thanks for remembering our news story, and even more for WSB tracking every step of the future design.

          West Seattle’s terrain is more hospitable that the original Portage Bay tunnel concept, and Beacon Hill passage, that caused so much havoc. We will have Seattle Times stories about the West Seattle line, so I won’t speculate too much here, except to say the community response will greatly influence the cost of the projects.

  • Fred December 4, 2017 (12:45 am)

    13 years is ridiculous. They know the ridership is the there, waiting. 1000 people a week – A WEEK – move to Seattle. This is an urgent issue, one with an obvious solution, and taking thirteen years is inexcusable. 

  • boz December 4, 2017 (6:48 am)

    This is welcome development linking West Seattle to the downtown business center.            

  • Mark December 4, 2017 (7:55 am)

    The WSTC needs to be watched.  They produce pie in the sky ideas that have little practical value.    They are NIMBY’s disguised as transit supporters.  The people of West Seattle, including myself, need to show up to these early meetings to help watch WSTC and show that they do not have 100% of the support of neighborhood. 

    • WSB December 4, 2017 (8:18 am)

      And what did you hear/see at this meeting that constituted a “pie in the sky idea”? It wasn’t a comment meeting, anyway, but absolutely, everyone should get involved in the process, and that was the point of ST being there (and at JuNO, and wherever else they are showing up), to try to get the early word out that an official month of ‘scoping’ comment time is coming up fast. If you follow the link to the project webpage toward the end of the story, you can sign up for ST’s mailing list and get direct word. – TR

      • Mark December 4, 2017 (8:25 am)

        They claim to want to speed up permitting, yet they present ideas like a bridge the can carry buses early in the process.  That WILL SLOW DOWN the process. This is a pie in the sky idea that would not speed up any delivery for the peninsula.  The more ideas that are presented, “for study”, the slower this process will be.  Just look at how long it took Bellevue to get a preferred option.  The neighborhood will already have a number of differing ideas for the alignment, so we need to focus our energy on coming to ST with a unified voice. 

        WSTC has also presented illegal ideas of Park and Rides in the past.  Why?  Why would we present an idea that is currently illegal in the City of Seattle?  Again, slowing down the process. 

        WSTC has also presented ideas about gondolas.  Why? Slowing down the process.  

        The region has voted on light rail.  Let’s work within those confines to present clear unified decisions as a West Seattle community, and THAT WILL SPEED up the process. 

        • Mark Schletty December 4, 2017 (10:30 am)

          Park and rides are the best way to get increased ridership for mass transit systems. They make it possible for many to ride the transit that wouldn’t be able to otherwise. They will get more cars off the bridge. They are, in fact, a necessary entity for efficient transit systems and are widely used in other metro areas. Seattle, with its horrible lack of connecter buses to transit stations, needs them more than most. Don’t let your hate of cars force more people to use their cars to get downtown. 

          • Mark December 4, 2017 (5:35 pm)

            Parking garages provide parking for single family zoning, while prohibiting dense zoning at the station.  This then limits the potential capacity of the system by limiting the amount of people that live by the system. Parking garages, in fact, lower the ridership, not increase.  

            Denver is a case example for why your statement is not true.  True density promotes high ridership.  This was clearly seen when the Capitol Hill station opened.

            Park and Rides are a new concept and not widely used in dense urban areas, I am not sure why you claim this to be true. New York, Boston, Philly, DC, Chicago…none of those examples have any park and rides in the urban centers.

          • WSB December 4, 2017 (6:07 pm)

            What’s your time frame for “new”? I lived in Northern California in the early ’80s and BART, for example, had park-and-rides at many stations outside the heart of San Francisco – places that might be considered to relate to downtown SF the way WS relates to downtown here.

            And FWIW the ST Angle Lake station, with a ginormous garage, was considered to be a success from day 1.

            Seems like there’s a fair use of developable land near there too.

            I suspect we’ll be fine without park-and-rides here and I doubt the city will change its course … but, just the facts.

        • Anonymous Coward December 4, 2017 (11:34 am)

          “WSTC has also presented illegal ideas of Park and Rides in the past. 
          Why?  Why would we present an idea that is currently illegal in the City
          of Seattle?”  Well the city council doesn’t seem to have any problem with implementing policies that conflict with state and federal law…. maybe WSTC was thinking that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

          • Mark December 4, 2017 (5:31 pm)

            They claim to want to speed up the process…This will go no where in City Hall.  The city has made it clear that they are moving away from parking options, not providing more. 

      • Paul December 4, 2017 (8:39 am)

        Mark is spot on.

        There may not have been any goofy ideas floated at this meeting, but I recall earlier this group was suggested ideas like a gondola system instead of rail. 

        • WS Guy December 4, 2017 (10:00 am)

          My experience with the WSTC has been wonderful.  They’ve offered a forum for information, ideas, and opinion.  

          I don’t understand why anyone would be opposed to that or decide they need to be “watched” suspiciously. 

        • Heather December 4, 2017 (12:15 pm)

          Ahem, I’m totally down for the ridiculous gondola.

          • Paul December 5, 2017 (6:40 am)

            Have a side of half-baked monorail too, Heather.

    • CMT December 4, 2017 (8:53 am)

      Good lord – so anyone that doesn’t agree with you is a NIMBY (and how exactly do you define that anyway – it’s a convenient way to dismiss someone that doesn’t fall in with your own vision of the world).  Guess what – they are also “the people of West Seattle.”

      • Mark December 4, 2017 (5:32 pm)

        We are talking about the dense urban setting, not the single family zoning areas.  A real line needs density not parking garages. 

  • Jort December 4, 2017 (9:46 am)

    Did the Sound Transit reps discuss ways in which neighborhood-advocacy groups like JUNO and WSTC can help to speed up the process, as well?

    I’m just wondering, because it seems that almost everybody out there wants this done as fast as possible — and I want to make sure we can help to make that happen!!

  • Nate December 4, 2017 (1:08 pm)

    Is there a possibility of tunneling instead of building elevated tracks in the Junction? Could the higher cost of tunneling be offset by taking less time (assuming less slowdowns for street vacations, traffic interruptions, etc.)? 

  • MJ December 4, 2017 (1:17 pm)

    Getting light rail to WS as quickly as possible is needed.  

    Yes the WSTC has discussed getting the new bridge structures sooner rather than later to facilitate transit busses in the interim.  Not sure why this would cause delay.

    And not everyone lives near a light rail station or has good transit service.  These people are helping to pay for the system and need to be provided reasonable access, aka some parking.


    • Mark December 4, 2017 (5:37 pm)

      It is called the Seattle Process.  Whenever you start introducing and demanding new ideas get studied, it costs time and money.  Each study needs an additional 6-8 months to review.  More ideas, more time more money.  We have the system voted on and approved.  We need to come together to discuss the really important topics that will truly affect our community; alignment and station location/access.

      • WSB December 4, 2017 (5:52 pm)

        Which is exactly why WSTC organized last June’s community event:

        • Mark December 4, 2017 (6:41 pm)

          Exactly…and at that event they proposed an illegal option of Park and Rides…which slows down the entire process.  

          I am all for community groups helping to speed up the process, but ideas like Park and Rides and bus bridges will only slow the process down more.  We need to focus on the real options at hand; alignment and station locations/access. 

          • Jon Wright December 5, 2017 (2:07 pm)

            WSTC did not propose anything. WSTC provided maps and models of ST’s representative alignment and gave community members an opportunity to share their concerns and input. Whatever comments people had–even wanting park and rides–was dutifully recorded verbatim. If you had been at the meeting, your opinions would have been captured along with the rest.

  • dcn December 4, 2017 (1:52 pm)

    Unless connector buses are very frequent, I would be much more likely to take light rail downtown if there was a park ‘n ride. I live miles from the planned stations.  

    • Mark December 4, 2017 (5:39 pm)

      All of the hours used for Rapid Ride C will be diverted to feeder systems.  Metro has proven to be very progressive with this concept.  Rapid Ride C runs every 5-6 minutes during the peak and must travel all the way to SLU.  If you limit that ride to the Junction, you get many more serviced areas in WS that are not nearly as affected by serious morning traffic. 

  • At least it's an ethos December 5, 2017 (7:12 am)

    How on earth are park and rides illegal at all levels of government?

    Also, what’s with the irrational hatred of park and rides?  Did you get lost in one as a kid?

  • AL December 5, 2017 (6:00 pm)

    Sound transit are a bunch of crooks.   

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