Our area’s two biggest transportation topics were at centerstage as the Junction Neighborhood Organization met last night. First, light rail:
SOUND TRANSIT UPDATE: Stephen Mak, the project’s West Seattle lead, provided background, including where on the timeline the project is – with planning continuing until 2022. But the most distinctive part of the briefing he led with Andrea Burnett was the Q&A, with a heavy focus on questions from people wondering if they would lose their homes to light-rail construction.
Mak also recapped how the process got to where it stands. We recorded this on video but the house lights weren’t brought down, so the graphics aren’t all that visible, so it’s mostly usable as audio – the slide deck is above.
The presentation included a quick look at the three “end-to-end alternatives” with which the third round of route review has begun (unveiled at the Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting we covered two weeks ago).
There are variables within each of these options, as Mak recapped; for example, the one that would tunnel to The Junction includes three potential tunnel locations.
And there’s the possibility of crossing the Duwamish River north of the West Seattle Bridge instead of south of it; that would include the rail bridge crossing over the West Seattle Bridge’s Delridge ramps, Mak said in response to a question.
The third end-to-end alternative, which would be elevated going into The Junction, envisions an elevated station at 41st. “I think it would be helpful for you to give (people) the elevation,” an attendee said. “Isn’t it true that it would be 140 feet?” Mak said he didn’t have that information. Does an elevated track go over houses? No, the houses would be demolished “to clear a path,” someone else responded. Another person said, “Is there a Ballard tunnel option? If Ballard gets a tunnel, West Seattle is going to want a tunnel.” Other questions included, what does ST mean by “exploring tradeoffs” in certain locations?
Also: Is there any option that would mean no one would lose their homes?
Pretty much, no. But as this goes on they will be determining where that would happen. JuNO director Amanda Sawyer stressed the importance of staying engaged with the process, to get new information and to offer questions.
What about parking for the station? They’re not permitted for stations in the city limits, said ST’s Burnett.
Another person urged the ST reps to label Genesee on the map they’re showing. She added, “When ST comes through here they’re going to take a LOT of houses. They’re going to have a BIG construction area.” She urged people to see what the construction area in Bellevue looks like right now. When people hear their neighborhood will be “impacted,” she said she doesn’t think people have any idea how much impact. She urged people to consider whether they want to sell and get out now. Also: “There’s going to be an immense amount of dust and noise and general disgustingness” – how she saw it, despite characterizing herself as a fan of light rail. She says it’s vital for people to pay attention to the process.
The next person identified herself as a north West Seattle resident, pointing out that area has been “left out of the whole WS transportation plan,” both past (RapidRide) and future (light rail). Burnett said that ST is working with Metro to figure out “how to get people to the station.” Input now can affect station design, Mak noted.
Another question had to do about the footprint of the guideway.
And back to the topic of “when will we know who will be affected?” Answer: Before the draft Environmental Impact Statement comes out – that’ll be sometime around 2020 – potentially affected property owners will get notification. But Burnett said she would be happy to have conversations NOW with people who are concerned about their property and how the process will work (you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org).
What if you are for example across the street from the guideway – how would that affect your home? Mak said he doesn’t have the “buffer width” handy but said that people in the “buffer” will be notified. What is the compensation strategy? the questioner wanted to know. Burnett said that your property has to be affected for compensation to be offered.
Next question: When does the actual acquisition process begin – when does Sound Transit notify you by putting something in the system regarding the title? Burnett promised to find out
Then: Orienting the route for future expansion – would that be north as well as south? Mak said the current thinking is more south.
With a tunnel costing extra, where would that money come from? That’s a conversation we’re going to have to keep having, said Burnett.
Sawyer invited anyone with more questions to contact her as well as ST. Burnett said the next comment period would be in January, when the next “scoping period” begins.
They were also urged to return with more “what would it look like” type information and visuals.
Now, to the viaduct/tunnel-transition-and-more briefing, which we also recorded:
GETTING AROUND: Heather Marx from SDOT, Chris Arkills from King County, and Amy Turner from WSDOT led this briefing. Marx is the downtown mobility director for SDOT. Things are going to be “pretty terrible for a little while” but then it’s going to be “beautiful,” she said.
Turner noted that the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program actually is the sum of 30 projects. She was focusing on the transition. Right now a lot of “smart systems” are being tested. January 4th is the start of things – when the southbound 99 ramp to the stadium zone closes. Then on January 11th, the Viaduct shuts down forever for the realignment – the “detour” we’ve been using for years is “in the way” of the permanent configuration. The tunnel will open sometime in February but then there’ll be another week or two of work to finish the northbound ramp into the downtown. You can see it in its incomplete state right now.
Once that’s done, the Viaduct must be demolished, the Battery Street Tunnel must be closed and filled, and there’s one more bit of work near the North Portal.
Why does the BSTunnel have to be closed? It’s also seismically vulnerable, among other reasons, said Turner.
Marx said it’s imperative for people to understand (if they don’t already) that the Seneca offramp and Columbia onramp “will not exist any more.” So how do you get into downtown from the north end of the tunnel? There’s a new offramp at Republican Street, for one, said Turner. She also said they’re “working on a tool” that you will be able to use to visualize exactly how it will work. How do I get to Magnolia to see clients? asked one attendee. You’ll take Dearborn to Alaskan Way and travel along the waterfront, said Turner.
Asked about what happens in times of traffic crunch, Marx explained something she said during the multi-agency briefing we covered last week near the tunnel’s south portal – they have made it possible to change traffic-signal timing from SDOT HQ, so “if we see something backing up in an unusual way” they can make “an adjustment in the signal timing that’ll help flush cars through.”
Yes, the waterfront is going to stay open through demolition, the reps confirmed in response to a request for clarification. Turner reminded people that they have moved traffic “out from under the Viaduct” already. They are hosting drop-in information sessions downtown in December about how people will be kept safe during demolition. Turner also reminded people that the city will “build a new Alaskan Way” after the Viaduct has been taken down, and that will open in 2021, and it’s part of what’s meant to handle traffic. “It’s a pretty big street,” Marx noted.
Turner went on to explain tolling, with rates now set at $1 to $2.25, and tolling not set to start until next summer sometime. She also mentioned the grand-opening events that were announced recently for February 2-3 (more info at 99stepforward.com).
Arkills picked up the transit piece of the puzzle. He went through the transit routes during the closure, post-closure, and then permanent. During the closure, buses won’t stop on the SODO busway, but uniformed police will monitor its crossing at Spokane Street to be sure there’s no delays. In the interim time, the city’s building a new bus lane on Cherry Street to get eastbound to 3rd Avenue, and will use Columbia outbound headed west. The permanent bus pathway will include usage of the new Alaskan Way with “uninterrupted bus lanes.”
Arkills reiterated that while they’ll add an extra Water Taxi vessel during the closure, with runs every 20 minutes or so, and adding shuttle buses and 200 Pier 2 parking spots with a shuttle of their own, there won’t be weekend service.
Where will the RapidRide stop before the heart of downtown? That hasn’t been worked out just yet.
What happens if the buses are all full? They’ll plug in more buses, said Arkills.
How long will a bus ride downtown take during the closure period? Arkills said he’s personally allotting at least 10 more minutes. Marx said she’d plan on 15 more minutes. (Both of them are West Seattleites, by the way.) And she reminded people that they won’t be stuck on the ramp to 99 during that time, so that’ll save some time.
Responding to another question, Arkills acknowledged that commute peak times already are elongating so they will be analyzing things during this time.
An attendee asked if the length of service would be extended in other areas of West Seattle. Not in the plan but they can talk about it, said Arkills.
Marx added a few more things, including that construction impacts on downtown roads will be “pulled back” during the closure. The city is starting a flexible work-hours program and working with major downtown employers. If you can shift your work hours, please do, because some people absolutely can’t. Her overarching point was, again, “we’re entering a new normal.” She also hit the five-year time frame that has recently been stressed – this all will be “a lot” through 2022.
Another question: What about box-blocking during that “period of maximum constraint” – will law enforcement be applied? Yes, said Marx, though that’s not a panacea since pulling someone over will cause further trouble. So don’t do it, tell your friends not to do it, etc., she implored.
Other points discussed included east-west crossings in SODO and bicycle access (WSDOT has a separate map for that – we’ll be obtaining that too).
In summary – as the meeting was running well overtime – Marx said, if you’re thinking of using a different route or mode, try it long BEFORE the closure. And use all the tools they’ve come up with to help you get information.
ALSO: JuNO director Sawyer presented a few other updates:
RPZ: As reported here last month, SDOT will have a formal Restricted Parking Zone proposal for The Junction in January, and Sawyer expects a representative at that month’s JuNO meeting.
40TH SW PARK: The city is close to 65 percent design on this new park, but isn’t sure when in 2019 construction will begin.
HALA/MHA UPZONING APPEALS: Carl Guess from the JuNO Land Use Committee provided an update on the appeals of the Environmental Impact Statement for Mandatory Housing Affordability, a plan for upzoning in exchange for requiring developers/builders to include “affordable” housing or pay the city fees to have it built elsewhere. “It’s been a disappointing process … we had high hopes a lot of affordable housing would be built in West Seattle,” but the current plan would provide nine in exchange for upzoning 400 single-family parcels. As he noted, JuNO is one of the community groups that has participated in the appeal process launched a year ago – both via its own appeal and via participation in the citywide coalition that’s filed one – and he refuted the notion that it’s “just a bunch of neighbors walking in complaining.” He cited issues of concern including bridge traffic and tree-canopy coverage.
Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil‘s ruling on the appeals is still expected on Wednesday (November 21st). Guess says he’s speculating it’ll come down to one of three things: “The Hearing Examiner agrees with us and tells the city it has to do something to fix the EIS” or the HE says “your appeal is not valid” or the HE could say “this isn’t the right venue” for their concerns and could “kick it … to a Growth Management Act hearing.” What JuNO does next depends on what the ruling turns out to be.
Guess took a few questions. The first person asked for clarification on “who the Hearing Examiner is,” and Guess and Sawyer explained that “he is part of a legitimate formal process” but not necessarily the last word – his decisions can be taken to court. Answering another question, Guess said that he expects the HE will rule “narrowly rather than broadly” and that could open the door for mediation and discussion with the City Council, whose HALA MHA legislation has been awaiting results of the appeal.
As noted by Sawyer and Guess, all the documents in the case – as well as audio of the hearings, spread out over nine weeks – can be read/heard here.