(Sound Transit’s West Seattle-to-Ballard ‘representative’ map – draft ‘alignment’)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If you care about what’s going to happen with West Seattle’s forthcoming light-rail line, you need to pay attention to and get involved in the process right now, especially for the next year and a half – though it’s not due to arrive until 2030, the timeline depends on key decisions being made in the next year and a half.
That point was made repeatedly during the first meeting of one of the groups that will be involved in the planning process for Sound Transit‘s West Seattle and Ballard extensions, the Elected Leadership Group. Here’s video of the meeting, just published by Seattle Channel:
Another point: The planning process is not ONLY for groups – individual comments will be vital. (But if you want to get involved at a more-intense level, you are invited to apply ASAP for one of up to seven spots open on the soon-to-launch Stakeholders Advisory Group, which has 19 members already announced – more on them, and how to apply, later.)
West Seattle-residing County Council Chair Joe McDermott is co-chairing the Elected Leadership Group with City Councilmember Mike O’Brien. Others in attendance at the group’s first meeting, at Sound Transit headquarters on the south side of downtown, included Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and City Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Lorena González, Bruce Harrell, Lisa Herbold, and Rob Johnson.
ST CEO Peter Rogoff opened by speaking of a “certain sense of urgency” and mentioned “how much worse congestion will get … before we can deliver these projects.” He also mentioned the hope of speeding up the projects beyond the current 2030 West Seattle/2035 Ballard opening plans. And he acknowledged the complex logistics – including the bridges to be built over waterways for both lines, and the new tunnel that the Ballard line will use. He vowed to be “responsive” and “straightforward” in the anticipated “back and forth,” and promised that ST would do its best to answer questions thoroughly and transparently.
Two West Seattleites was among the half-dozen people who spoke during the public comment period early in the meeting.
Both were from the board of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition. First was Deb Barker, who noted that WSTC has been “watching and advocating for decent transportation for all of West Seattle,” and beyond, and “we’re glad that this process has started and we’re glad to know that you’re starting your public outreach.” She mentioned WSTC’s routing workshop with 50 attendees back in June (WSB coverage here) and said she’s hoping WSTC will be part of the forthcoming discussion, one way or another. The other was Marty Westerman, who noted that he didn’t see an SDOT rep at the table (ST then said SDOT had someone in the audience) but wants to see lots of inter-agency cooperation. He specifically mentioned SDOT’s Fauntleroy Boulevard project, which, as has been pointed out, is set to be built in the next few years – and then, perhaps just five or so years later, torn up for light rail. “We would like to see that conflict eliminated.”
Main points of the meeting, as noted by facilitator Diane Adams after that, were ST’s presentation, the group’s charter, and appointments for the Stakeholder Advisory Group.
Cathal Ridge of ST (above, center) gave the presentation (he’s the same ST executive who gave two recent presentations in West Seattle) about what’s happened so far and what’s ahead. Here’s the slide deck (or see it in PDF):
Points of note – 2030 is not just the year light rail is to extend to West Seattle, but also the year that the southward line is expected to reach the Tacoma Dome.
Ridge explained the “representative alignment” – the draft routing and station locations – identifying some of the key factors. He also had some ST3 backstory (the ballot measure in which $ for West Seattle and Ballard light rail was approved), including a reminder that six possible alternatives had been studied before ST3.
After that, Chris Rule of ST showed a little more detail (in a Google Earth visualization that we’ll add if and when we can – in the meeting video, you can see it at 30:30 in) about the “representative alignment,” with these specifics – which, it was stressed, are not final, just what was drafted: They’re envisioning the line going down Alaska – “elevated along Alaska, transitioning to Fauntleroy Boulevard heading northeast, to “Avalon Station near the intersection of Fauntleroy and 35th,” then continuing elevated east “past the West Seattle Golf Course, turning north toward Delridge Way, to a Delridge elevated station “near the intersection of Andover and Delridge.”
From there, in the “representative alignment,” the route would go on, elevated, “close to the West Seattle Bridge, hugging Pigeon Point,” over the south end of Harbor Island, then continuing south of the bridge until SODO, where it would turn north “into SODO, … we’re assuming we would have a new elevated SODO station adjacent to that.” He continued to show the route through downtown, and on toward Ballard. “Westlake Station … will be an important transfer point.” There’ll be a station at Westlake and Denny, then a turn westward into South Lake Union, with a station “just to the east of the Bertha tunnel portal.” The light rail continues under Seattle Center, to a station serving Uptown – near KeyArena – and the light-rail tunnel will go elevated over Elliott Avenue West, past Smith Cove, serving the cruise-ship terminals, then on along 15th to Interbay, north to the existing Ballard Bridge with a new structure to its west. The Ballard Station would be “in the vicinity of 15th and Market Street.”
City Councilmember Bagshaw was the first to comment after that – she said that people in the Ballard area favor a station “west of 15th” and favor below-ground routing, not above ground, even knowing that adds extra expense.
Councilmember O’Brien asked about what “construction disruption” might look like. Ridge said that over the next year, they’ll be assessing that.
Executive Constantine asked “how are we going to unpack … the different questions, concerns” that participants will have, while “meet(ing) our schedule to get to the preferred alignment.”
That set up the next discussion – how the process will work, toward the goal of getting the projects done more quickly. “A lot of outreach, engagement, and partnership” will be key, Ridge said. He showed the slide comparing the new and old approaches to project development. He said they hope to “build on the system-planning work” that’s been done in recent years. Identifying the “preferred alternative” before the environmental-review process is key, he reiterated. They want to have the “preferred alternative” locked in by mid-2019.
So how do they get there? “This is going to be challenging,” acknowledged ST’s Jim Parsons. And it’ll be fast – by April of this year, they hope to get to a “short list. … We’re going to look at the most critical issues first,” including “the water crossings.” To get to the short list and beyond, they’re looking at neighborhood forums in “five general areas of the corridor,” plus four meetings of the soon-to-be-finalized Stakeholder Advisory Group before April. That’s all part of the “first level” of planning, which makes way for a “second level” starting in May of this year. For those familiar with some of this process, “formal (Environmental Impact Statement) scoping” will happen toward the end of the process to choose the preferred alternative. Your role in this:
“Lots of opportunity for public input,” Parsons promised.
A subsequent comment led Ridge to say that recognizing budget limits would be important in the process, so they would assess budget implications along the way, when suggestions and questions pointed in costlier directions.
But don’t let that discourage you from speaking up.
“We have to do authentic community engagement,” insisted Mayor Durkan. “It can’t just be left up to … whatever task force we create.” And after prefacing it with “spoiler alert,” she said she is in favor of alternatives that won’t cause major disruption in the International District, plus she also wants to “mitigate the need for elevated in West Seattle … as much as possible,” and she expressed interest in tunneling in Ballard.
Councilmember Herbold also said she wanted too to be clear that they’re not on a timeline to pursue the current “representational alignment,” necessarily, but to get to the “preferred alternative.” In response, Ridge warned that changes could have implications for timeline as well as cost.
Councilmember Johnson asked how much time they have to get “all the ideas out on the table.” Ridge said it’s important that everything be brought up as quickly as possible: “What we’re trying to encourage everyone to do is to engage actively in this process over the next year.”
Parsons underscored that and said “we constantly have to look at the urgency of the schedule.”
So how do the various voiced-and-to-be-voiced issues get factored into that? Executive Constantine sought to clarify. Parsons said that for starters, they’re looking at the big issues. “So save the minor issues for later?” Constantine said.
Then Rogoff stressed the point again, not just for the elected officials’ benefit but for everyone interested: Get your issues on the table sooner rather than later, rather than waiting because you don’t believe that decisions will really be made in 2019 for something that won’t open until 2030 … they WILL be. “There were always be people at the end who are shocked and dismayed and feel they weren’t consulted … but we’re going to be bending over backward and doing triple back flips” to minimize how many people wind up falling into that category.
“In that spirit,” then, Herbold said, maybe another update should be added to the schedule (in the slide deck).
“If people want to know what’s going on, there are going to be many many ways,” Ridge promised.
Bagshaw at that point observed that many in the community have done a lot of work so far too – and suggested “inviting (those people)” into the process now to work from there.
O’Brien said he hopes the outreach will “build toward broad community consensus toward the specifics … and that’s a big task.”
Councilmember González wanted to recognize that no matter which alternative(s) are chosen, “there will be impacts to some parts of the community. … I am really interested in making sure that especially the city stakeholders at the table are putting that at the top of our minds … about what the realistic impacts will be of any of the designs we ultimately adopt so that we can address those impacts with the community…”
Councilmember Harrell then asked about mitigation funds, and whether they’ve been discussed yet. “No … we’re just beginning,” replied Ridge. Harrell expressed concerns about small businesses in particular.
The group discussed its charter – with five more meetings ahead – and “a lot of behind the scenes work,” as facilitator Adams put it. Reading the draft charter, Bagshaw said she wanted the language in the third paragraph to say elevated OR tunnel. Ridge said the language in the charter just reflected the “representational alignment.” Councilmember Johnson noted at that point that the “representational alignment” represents the outline of what voters approved in 2016. He then said that “ease of connectivity” is something he thinks should be evaluated while they’re working toward the “preferred alternative” – to improve that connectivity.
County Council Chair McDermott expressed concern about equity and suggested some alternative language to be sure that effects on marginalized populations, “especially people of color and low-income populations,” are addressed. Adams said that’s under development.
Mayor Durkan said she wants to be sure the stations and service are friendly to all modes of transportation; Councilmember Herbold says she’d like that specific language included too.
Elaborating on Johnson’s point, O’Brien said that the potential for “editing” the representational alignment still is something that should be explicitly mentioned, lest anyone think this all was already long since locked in.
Finally, they moved on to the issue of setting up the Stakeholder Advisory Group. The group is to include 25 to 30 people from along “the full corridor” (West Seattle to Ballard). 19 appointments were made at the meeting, and then applications are being invited to fill out five to seven spots on the group. Here’s who’s on the list already:
Becky Asencio, Seattle Public Schools
Willard Brown, Delridge Neighborhood Development Association
Lynn Dennis, West Seattle Chamber
Abigail Doerr, Transportation Choices Coalition
Colleen Echohawk, Chief Seattle Club
Dave Gering, Manufacturing Industrial Council
Ginny Gilder, Force 10 Hoops/Seattle Storm
Erin Goodman, SODO Business Improvement Area
Paul Lambros, Plymouth Housing
Steve Lewis, Alliance for People with disAbilities
Mark Nagle, Expedia
Greg Nickels, Former Seattle Mayor
Savitha Reddy Pathi, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience
Scott Rusch, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Jon Scholes, Downtown Seattle Association
Peter Schrappen, Northwest Marine Trade Association
Mike Stewart, Ballard Alliance
Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation & Development
Bryce Yadon, Futurewise
They hope to ultimately have representation from fourteen different emphasis areas. Asked what kind of geographic balance is it supposed to have, Ridge replied that it’s supposed to have the interest of the entire corridor at heart, replied Ridge.
Mayor Durkan said that while the list so far looks fairly geographically balanced, it appears to need more people of color. Councilmember Harrell said he hopes there is enough millennial representation.
-Now through January 22nd
-Five to seven seats open
-Applications to be reviewed
Want to apply? Here’s all the info you need, including the link.
Wrapping up the meeting, co-chair McDermott said, “We want to get this done well, not just quickly.” Co-chair O’Brien added that it’s an “exciting process. … we hear from all our communities that they want light rail, and they want it soon.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The aforementioned Stakeholders Advisory Group will have its first meeting after its membership is finalized. Watch for the first community open house, too. Both of those events are expected to happen in February.
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE: All of Sound Transit’s info about planning the West Seattle to Ballard is here, including who to contact with questions/comments.