By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The in-person open houses are over. The online open house continues. You have less than two weeks to get your opinion(s) into the wide-open “early scoping” period for West Seattle’s Sound Transit light-rail line.
Your comments can be small and simple, or big and complex. Toward that last description, members of the Junction Neighborhood Organization Land Use Committee has drafted a detailed proposal. They’ll be presenting it at tomorrow night’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting and offered us a preview. So we sat down with Rich Koehler of the JuNO LUC to take a look. The group says their goal is “to provide the community with information and thought-provoking ideas so that we can get the best possible set of ideas in to ST by the 3/5 deadline.”
Sound Transit, as you likely know, has put forth a “starting point” known as the “representative alignment” – a draft of how and where the route and stations would go. We’ve featured it in a variety of forms, from the very rough draft in this June story to, most recently, charts/maps and video shown at the three open houses held in the past week.
JuNO’s proposal would be an alternative covering what happens west of the suggested Delridge/Andover station. And the presentation they’ll give Thursday night at the WSTC meeting will “help people understand more about The Junction and provide context,” Koehler explained.
And in turn, the plan’s context includes the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Seattle 2035, as well as the West Seattle Junction’s Design Guidelines. “We think we need a community-based vision for what the Junction needs to be, that’s consistent with Seattle 2035.” JuNO has been asking the city “to fund a fresh neighborhood plan for the Junction,” Koehler continued, given how much has changed since the one from the ’90s, but since that is not expected to happen any time soon, “We’re at least trying to tie in the design standards that actually are on the record.”
While the slide deck to be shown Thursday night won’t be finalized until just before the meeting, so we don’t have a publishable version, we previewed a draft while talking with Koehler. The background and overview maps of the area include the envisioned “pedestrian connectivity” of the area and how this would fit in.
The JuNO vision proposes tunneling, beginning at some point west of the Delridge station, with four possible routes and three entrance possibilities. The shortest tunnel would start below Rotary Viewpoint Park (35th/Alaska), with two ways to get there. Another option could have an entrance in the West Seattle Golf Course area. And the longest potential tunnel could start somewhere in the industrial/maritime area along northeast West Seattle – Koehler explains that this one would address the potential “engineering challenge” that ST would face in getting around Pigeon Point from the planned elevated bridge south of the West Seattle Bridge, but would require having the new elevated across-the-Duwamish bridge go north of the existing bridge instead.
Whichever route a tunnel took, it could be more easily oriented to later extend the line south in an eventual Sound Transit 4, JuNO’s plan suggests.
Yes, tunneling is expensive, it’s often pointed out. To make it financially feasible, the JuNO plan would cut out the Avalon station – envisioned in the 35th/Fauntleroy/Avalon area – so the route would go from Delridge to The Junction. Going underground, JuNO believes, would also save many millions that would be spent to buy dozens of properties along the elevated route, as well as money that would be have to spent on related environmental and legal issues.
Other reasons the Avalon station could be omitted, in JuNO’s view: It has a small “walkshed”; it’s not designated as a “transit connector” in the ST3 plan; steep slopes; pedestrian access bisected by arterials; the Junction station would be less than half a mile away.
In JuNO’s proposal, The Junction would have an underground station and above-ground park on Alaska in the area where there are now single-story commercial buildings, between 40th and 41st. This, Koehler says, supports the design-guidelines vision for SW Alaska, to be an “extension of mixed use district with a continuous pedestrian scale and high level of comfort at the street level,” which that area certainly does not have now. They also see the potential park atop an underground station as helping address the Junction’s shortage of open space. SW Alaska could also be improved with trees and other features enhancing the pedestrian experience. This could also relieve some of the pressure that growth continues to place on the Fauntleroy/Alaska intersection, it’s suggested. There might even be the chance for multiple entrances to the underground station area, as is done with underground transit in other cities – maybe, Koehler suggests, an entrance as distant as what’s currently the Les Schwab corner of Fauntleroy/Alaska.
The station area also would need to connect to other transit, so it would include bus-pullout areas.
He says they see many potential benefits, including increasing the appeal of the area as a potential job center. Ideally, he notes, the light-rail line will be bringing people here in the morning too, not just making round trips to continue to carry people out. The Junction not only has less open space than envisioned by now, it has fewer jobs, while the residential development has gone beyond projections, JuNO points out.
Got questions? Be at the WSTC meeting. The date is not yet set for a JuNO meeting that also will feature the presentation, which will include a few of the renderings created by “Avalon Tom,” some of which were first published on WSB last month, based on the original “representative alignment” specs that were obtained from Sound Transit, although Koehler points out that ST has since changed that a bit to show the elevated Junction station “a little further east” (not as far east as where the JuNO LUC proposal would put it, though).
He says their draft proposal has already been shown to our area’s City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. She is a member of the Elected Leadership Group that is part of the process to shape the West Seattle (and Ballard) light rail “preferred alignment,” as is our area’s County Councilmember (and council president) Joe McDermott, who is also speaking at Thursday’s WSTC meeting. And JuNO will eventually officially submit it before the Sound Transit “early scoping” ends March 5th, so it’s on the record as a suggestion. “We want to be working together with them” in this intensive one-year-plus period during which the “preferred alignment” will be shaped, Koehler says.
ABOUT THE WEST SEATTLE TRANSPORTATION COALITION MEETING: 6:30 pm Thursday (February 22nd) at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way SW), all welcome.