By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two guests from SDOT headlined the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s monthly meeting last night, and the first provided a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the department’sis in transition mode,
The meeting was led by WSTC board member Deb Barker, in the absence of chair Michael Taylor-Judd and vice chair Marty Westerman.
SDOT LEADERSHIP: Genesee Adkins, chief of staff for acting SDOT director Goran Sparrman, spoke in his place – he had to be at the concurrent meeting of the Levy to Move Seattle Oversight Committee, given the recent disclosures about that levy going somewhat off the rails. She first reminded everyone that the mayor is looking for public input in the search for a permanent director (as noted here, including a survey you’re invited to answer). She said Sparrman had come out of retirement to help out with SDOT’s transition before and now after ex-director Scott Kubly and has been tasked with taking a hard look.”We want to be headed in an altered direction and have some good momentum when the new director comes.” Finding “someone to run a 1,000-person agency” is a big task, Adkins noted. She said that the agency is still getting to know Mayor Jenny Durkan, her style, her priorities, where she wants to push the envelope.
Right now, the department is taking an “internal view” and “can speak freely” about things that have not gone well, for an assessment that Adkins says should be done within a few weeks.
“It’ll be concrete and will have a lot of action steps.” It’ll go to the mayor first and then there’ll be “some kind of public release at some point.”
Speaking of Move Seattle, Adkins said they’ve been “working diligently” on assessing it. Last year, department staff and the Oversight Committee observed that something seemed awry – “how can we be checking off all the deliverables yet not drawing down the balance” at a comparable pace? That led to the discovery that they weren’t on track to meeting goals. For one, SDOT “rolled over a large chunk of money” from the preceding levy (Bridging the Gap) when Move Seattle (“almost three times the size” of its predecessor) began. For two, an assumption that MS would spend the same amount of money each year turned out to be wrong – a lot of planning and designing needed to be done. So they hired a consultant to audit the levy.
They’re now talking with advisory boards and others about where things stand. 23 of the levy’s programs “are looking good”; eight “need a harder look.” In particular, Adkins said, three – new sidewalk construction, bicycle facilities, and multimodal corridors – are going to have a gap. The sidewalk situation is being affected by the consent decree requiring construction of 1,250 curb ramps a year, she noted. Earlier in the week, they talked with the Transit Advisory Board about the multimodal situation (that would include new RapidRide corridors such as Delridge’s H Line), which they thought would reap “a tremendous amount of federal dollars.” The federal-funding process is taking much longer than it used to, she said. “The new administration has really shifted priorities … they’ve prioritized grants to rural areas … across the board.” So among other things, that has thrown schedules for such projects into some degree of chaos.
So right now, SDOT is “putting all our cards on the table,” trying to be honest about where things stand.
Another topic was the on-hold Fauntleroy Boulevard project. It is “obviously at 100 percent design,” Adkins said, and they’re hoping to hear more at month’s end about whether Sound Transit light rail is still pursuing a route that might conflict with it. Short term, in consultation with Councilmember Lisa Herbold, they’re “going to try to make some critical investments … to improve safety for all uses to buy us time until we know what Sound Transit is going to do. … what can we do on the surface, what can we do for pedestrians and bicyclists …” She continued, “The sliver of potential good news here is that Sound Transit may give us a renewed chance to (figure out) what makes sense.”
How will those short-term plans be released? “We’re just developing those right now,” Adkins said, working with Herbold’s office, and talking about what to do with the balance of the Fauntleroy Boulevard funding.
Might some of that go toward the Highland Park roundabout? Barker asked. “It could,” said Adkins, recapping what the Highland Park Action Committee heard Wednesday night – that SDOT is applying for another state grant, and doesn’t expect to hear until December.
Q&A included how SDOT is prioritizing curb-ramp locations, and the Magnolia Bridge situation (SDOT doesn’t have funding to replace the 90-year-old bridge, which is safe, but “not in good shape”). SDOT is looking at three alternatives. Also: An attendee wondered about SDOT’s plans for the Viaduct closure pre-tunnel opening. “It’s going to be a challenging stretch here,” acknowledged Adkins, who said they’re “negotiating with the state now about when that’s going to be – probably sometime in October.” They’ll be focused on incident management and encouraging commute alternatives. Asked if it could happen sooner, Adkins said the state is not likely to be ready – but they do hope this will happen before the weather turns, and the time changes, and so on.
“First Avenue will still be off-limits?” asked Redmond. “That’s all utility work,” noted Adkins, “mostly water main and a little sewer.” And since the related streetcar work is on hold TFN “until we get our house in order,” it’s expected to be done by October 1st.
How are Sound Transit and SDOT coordinating? asked Barker (who is also a member of the West Seattle/Ballard light-rail Stakeholder Advisory Group). Adkins said it’s challenging from the city’s point of view because ST wants to “narrow the scope” as it goes forward. “We have to really have our act together and get it right.” On the good side, interim director Sparrman had been Bellevue’s transportation director and so has experience in figuring out how the city and agency can “co-own” this collaboration – so the city’s approach is being re-shaped, to be both “collaborative and aggressive” – or at least, “not passive.” Now there’s a new Sound Transit division inside SDOT, for example.
Another question, from West Seattle High School senior WSTC board member Sam Cleary, was about project funding such as levies. Adkins deflected that into an observation that Mayor Durkan is data-driven. There could be other ways to fund for example mobility improvements -such as congestion pricing, which the mayor has asked be studied. (They just put out a call for bids on that study a few weeks ago, Adkins said. She also said Sparrman attended a congestion-pricing seminar in Vancouver last week.)
WEST SEATTLE NEIGHBORHOOD GREENWAY: Summer Jawson from SDOT brought an update, noting that this greenway starts construction this summer, since they have accelerated the south end – speed humps, some paving improvements, some sidewalk improvements, curb ramps at two intersections. By the end of this month, they’ll be at 60 percent on Phase 2, from High Point to The Junction. Community feedback shaped it – “everybody really really wanted to go to The Junction” – Jawson explained. For Phase 3, she said, the Bicycle Advisory Board offered some feedback on additional walking and biking connections – so now they’re working on the North Admiral Connection (as we’ve reported previously). “What we’re looking at is how to get from 42nd and Edmunds to North Admiral.” 42nd is the only non-arterial involved in The Junction at that spot – “but it’s not a typical greenway route – it’s going to be an urban village enhanced street.” It carries a lot of traffic including when California is closed for the West Seattle Farmers’ Market. She explained that for example, the angled parking by Holy Rosary would have to be replaced by parallel parking under one option. An attendee thought that was a bad idea. Jawson said they’re still looking for comments on route preferences – this survey appears to still be open, but Jawson said it’s supposed to be closed, so if you have comments, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asked how they survey traffic, Jawson said they use the double tubing, which measures both volume and speed, and she said they survey at different times of year, while they’re aware they can’t capture “all the dynamics.” She said SDOT hopes to be back out in West Seattle in July/August to talk about “what we heard.” Barker invited her to return to WSTC for an update then.
BOARD ELECTIONS: One potential candidate, Kate Wells, was present at the meeting. She’s a multi-modal mom of 2. “I like to really imagine the future and plan for future needs and sustainability as opposed to the ways of getting around right now.” Board elections will be held next month.
WHAT’S NEXT: WSTC only takes off August, so otherwise, you’re invited to fourth Thursdays next month, in July, and in fall and beyond, 6:30 pm, at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way SW).