(Slide deck for JuNO tunnel proposal)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
To tunnel or not to tunnel.
Sound Transit‘s draft plan for light rail to West Seattle, opening in 2030, is all elevated.
But here in the midst of its “early scoping” period soliciting comments and ideas, the idea of finding a way to put it underground, at least into The Junction, has some loud voices of support.
At last night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, not only did Junction Neighborhood Organization reps present their tunnel-to-The-Junction proposal – the one previewed here on Wednesday – but County Councilmember Joe McDermott declared that he also envisions light rail getting to The Junction underground. His voice is a significant one, given that he is on the Sound Transit board – which has the final say – and co-chairing the Elected Leadership Group that will recommend a “preferred alignment” to the board next year.
McDermott also offered something of a primer of the upcoming transportation changes and challenges that peninsula residents do, and will, face getting to and through downtown in the next few years.
But first – JuNO’s presentation:
JuNO’S PROPOSAL FOR TUNNELING TO THE JUNCTION: Rich Koehler, with whom we talked for the preview published here on Wednesday, presented it, with slide deck (see above). Here’s our video:
The proposal would drop the 35th/Avalon station and redirect savings into tunneling. Koehler added during the WSTC presentation that the envisioned site of that station isn’t particularly accessible anyway – it’s blocked on one side by the entrance to the West Seattle Bridge, and on the other by densely developed residential buildings. It also, as envisioned, would take out some houses. Undergrounding the Junction station would solve various problems, JuNO’s proposal suggests, including disruption of the heart of The Junction at California/Alaska – two landmarked buildings, festivals, the Farmers’ Market, parades, etc. Koehler stressed that the “representative alignment” is a “baseline” – and that new ideas need to get to Sound Transit during the “early scoping” period through March 5th.
WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd noted that the elevated track in the Delridge area might not be so high in the air if it was headed for a tunnel. He also said some in Delridge would like to see the station move further south.
WSTC vice chair Marty Westerman brought up the idea of having the new bridge over the Duwamish River for light rail be built to carry buses too. Koehler said he had talked with Sound Transit engineering and they believe even building the narrow light-rail-only bridge is going to be a challenge.
Could the bridge across the river be lower than the current high bridge, which it’s currently expected to more or less match in elevation? asked WSTC’s Mark Jacobs. Koehler said they hadn’t talked about that but it’s certainly something that could be suggested at this point in the process.
Tunneling seems reasonable given ST’s track record of success with it, one attendee suggested.
WSTC’s Chas Redmond said that if the Avalon station were jettisoned, there would have to be a plan for handling riders such as those who currently take Route 21, which comes down 35th to Avalon.
Westerman brought up another funding question that led McDermott to remind everyone that the Legislature is moving toward cutting the car-tab taxes that are funding ST3. He says it’s too early to start coming up with contingency plans in case those cuts happen, though – if such plans are made now, the Legislature might decide it could cut even more, he warns.
Taylor-Judd asked about the next steps for JuNO’s plan – how will they submit it, are they looking for people to show support, or … Koehler said, “If you like what you saw, there’s an e-mail address for feedback to Sound Transit … send an e-mail there to say you support the tunnel alternative.” Leda Chahim from Sound Transit spoke up from the side of the room at that point to provide the address – email@example.com – and suggested that those who plan to comment in support of it include why they like it so that Sound Transit will have context.
McDermott said at that point that his vision is to have a tunnel serving The Junction – but where, how, how to pay for it, all has to be worked out. And he underscored the importance of speaking up now, whatever you think/support/want to see. (The final page of the “online open house” also includes an online form, as well as a postal-mail address.)
Here’s what he said during his presentation earlier in the meeting:
COUNTY COUNCIL PRESIDENT JOE McDERMOTT: He focused on transportation. “We live in a gem of a neighborhood but the tough part about living in West Seattle is getting in and out.” And he detailed why that isn’t going to get any easier any time soon – here’s our video:
He ran down all the big projects ahead, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s permanent closure, expected in September. And he talked about the changes that will result for West Seattle bus routes using the Viaduct – plus the changes when Metro Route 120 becomes the RapidRide H Line. He says Metro has invested money to make sure there are the same amount of departures. And he says they’re looking for feedback.
He talked about the Water Taxi, and various events that were a boon to sampling – from the Super Bowl parade to Viaduct closures – as well as its ridership increase, and the March 1st fare increase. They’re negotiating a new lease for Seacrest – it would be five years plus five 1-year extensions. He also had an update on the construction of the Water Taxi’s new downtown dock. And he noted the WT has sustainable funding because of action taken last year.
Segueing to light rail, he said more than 300 people attended the Sound Transit open house in West Seattle last week. And he mentioned his role co-chairing the Elected Leadership Group, which includes three other West Seattle-residing politicians – City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzålez and Lisa Herbold and County Executive Dow Constantine. And he reiterated that they are tasked with recommending a “preferred alternative” in a year.
Also on the light-rail subject:
STAKEHOLDERS ADVISORY GROUP: Deb Barker from the WSTC board is on it and noted that its next meeting is March 14th (here’s our coverage of its first meeting). That is when the group will get summaries of the “early scoping” comments that are due March 5th. Taylor-Judd said he’ll be very interested to hear how the comments are captured and “reported back.” He was also concerned that some of the ST staffers at the recent open house did not seem to have a full grasp of the project. And he wondered how ST could possibly turn around all the feedback between March 5th and March 14th: “That’s a rather quick turnaround.” Barker said they had yet to hear anything more about the “neighborhood forums” that ST has said will start in late March.
MEETING WITH MAYORAL REP: Chair Taylor-Judd, vice chair Westerman, and Barker had a meeting at the mayor’s office earlier in the day. It ran about half an hour, with them talking about “who are we, who are our priorities” – including WSTC’s longstanding legislative priorities.
NEXT MONTH: The WSTC March meeting topics are expected to include the city’s bike-share program. The mobility forum that’s been in the works, inspired by this one last year, is likely to happen in May.
The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays, 6:30 pm at Neighborhood House High Point.