‘Once-in-a-century investment’: Tunnel-money talk and more with Dow Constantine @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Are you the “third party” who might help finance the extra cost of running West Seattle’s light-rail line underground?

That was part of the discussion as King County Executive Dow Constantine – a member of the Sound Transit board – guested last night at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s first meeting of 2019.

Also there, leaders from the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse, who are hoping for community support as they seek a city grant for a pedestrian-safety project on West Marginal Way SW as their headquarters gets ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary

First, the conversation with Constantine, who addressed a variety of topics, including the Viaduct-to-tunnel transition. He also noted at the start that he would be participating in the Point In Time count hours after the meeting. Then he tackled the Highway 99 transition, observing that traffic “is just atrocious” as he headed to the meeting (at Neighborhood House High Point) and that it was earlier in the day, too. As for the bright spots in the two weeks since the Viaduct’s shutdown – almost a decade after he stood with other regional leaders at the Seattle Aquarium as then-Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the tunnel-creating bill into law – he cited the Water Taxi, for one – a service he has long championed – citing its 200 percent increase in ridership these two weeks. Metro is deploying extra coaches, as we’ve noted, with C Line and E Line RapidRide services benefiting from them.

He also reminded everyone that the new exit ramp from NB 99, south of the tunnel, won’t be ready for use until a week or so after the tunnel’s projected February 4th opening. “The moment has shown again that at least for a period we can adjust.” He said it’s also a reminder that contingency plans need to be in place for transportation – say, for example, a disaster put the bridge(s) out of commission and boats had to play a larger role in getting people around. “We’re constantly planning, improving our coordination.”

Then came the Sound Transit light-rail update – with a reminder that the Stakeholders’ Advisory Group will make its “preferred alternative” (stations recommendation March 21st, the Elected Leadership Group (of which he’s a member) March 29th.

Constantine said he is a “strong advocate for a tunnel in the West Seattle Junction area – I am not willing to accept the elevated rail coming in and taking out either a bunch of existing buildings or development potential.” He also wants to see the line’s end north/south-oriented so that it can extend later to Morgan Junction and White Center. He acknowledged that the push for tunneling will “continue to be a challenge because it costs more to tunnel, same thing in Ballard (whose light-rail extension is being planned concurrently with West Seattle), but these are 100-year decisions” and they have to figure out how to get it done. By the April decision, they’ll have to have a “clear agreement that we will produce a third-party agreement” and he says they’re working with the city right now to figure that out. He also admitted to feeling as if a lot of transportation issues he’ve worked on have been “playing catchup.”

Then he took questions.

Could a LID (local improvement district) be considered to finance the undergrounding? asked WSTC board member Chas Redmond. Constantine replied, “A lot of things are possible – could it be a general tax across the entire city of Seattle, or tax-increment financing … those are conversations we really are engaged (in) with the city of Seattle … I don’t think it’s gone down (to) a specific funding source yet but trying to get people oriented to the idea that this is a once-in-a-century investment and it doesn’t make sense to not do it right.”

WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd brought up the concern for the neighborhood that would be “destroyed” by getting to a tunnel for The Junction. “As we move forward we seem to have alternatives that look basically the same … I’m wondering, for you, are you looking at those impacts, are there alternatives that can get us a tunnel that are perhaps sight variations to what’s currently on the table?”

Constantine noted that another option, tunneling through Pigeon (Point), turned out to be “prohibitively expensive” and said he’s “not clear that having an elevated structure behind the bowling alley and through that whole area” would be destructive to the area.

Taylor-Judd moved back to the Seattle Squeeze, wondering about the county’s bus-lane enforcement. He deferred to an assistant who had an update on the proposed camera-enforcement bill in Olympia; she noted that the bill, with the city of Seattle “taking the lead,” is likely to be introduced next week.

Constantine said that he has noticed the bus-lane cheaters while sitting on buses and said he was happy to see the police up on the Spokane Street Viaduct (eastern half of the high-level West Seattle Bridge) earlier in the day – “I really think having some video enorcment will be a deterrent and get the worst ofenders to pay some attention.” Also, he said, they are in constant talks about opening more right-of-way for transit, “and it’s a political struggle everywhere” because “there’s so little right of way, everything is so constrained … I understand the concern but if you can move a lot more folks more reliably in the city, it’s going to be better for everyone,” including car drivers.

WSTC board member Mark Jacobs brought up the dearth of bus service in Admiral. Constantine said he’s all too familiar since that’s his neighborhood too. He said restoring/adding service is being studied – including Admiral/Alki. King County’s Chris Arkills said Metro agrees “that we need to take a general look at those areas” afresh. “You should expect that in the next couple years we’ll be going back out to the public talking about better service.”

Taylor-Judd read e-mail from an Arbor Heights resident concerned about the sparse bus service there. Constantine said the 21 is well-used but the 22 “is underperforming.” (Not noted, we should say as residents of the 22 service area, its route was downsized years ago, to a circulator, whereas it used to go downtown.) Arkills said that increasing service to Arbor Heights could be considered, but “we have to weigh that against … other needs.”

(WSB photo, taken at Seacrest)

Constantine noted that “developing alternative transit” is also something they’ve been trying, such as the Ride2 semi-shuttle, “trying to fill in the gaps … where it’s hard to justify a full-size bus on a fixed route … and I think we’re making a lot of progress on that.” To the email writer’s concern, Arkills noted that Ride2 doesn’t currently serve AH though it does go into Highland Park. He said he’s used it and gotten to the Water Taxi in a reasonable time. “It’s a pilot, and the kind of thing we could” expand, he added.

Taylor-Judd said some have suggested another Ride2-type model be implemented around Westwood Village. “That’s a fabulous idea I will take back,” said Arkills. He said they are limited in area right now because they have to guarantee that “linked trips” can be made in reasonable time.

Duwamish Longhouse consultant Dr. Jeffery Perkins Jr. then noted that the Longhouse was successful in getting itself included in Ride2’s service area, but he noted some flaws with it, including that its morning service period ends at the time the Longhouse opens – with a four and a half hour gap until service resumes. He evangelized the missed opportunity to get visitors to the Longhouse, and showed photos including Constantine participating in the groundbreaking. He invited everyone to the 10th anniversary celebration Saturday.

An attendee asked, “Why doesn’t West Seattle have a bus that goes directly to the east side? We’re all single-passenger cars stuck on the bridge.” He declared that nobody is thinking about bicyclist safety, mentioning the incomplete intersection beneath the bridge, the bike paths “in shoddy condition” on East Marginal, and another trail “that’s great, but once you get off it, where do you go?” He wonders “when the city is going to finalize the changes for cyclists?” Constantine said that while the county’s work is preliminary on a regional basis, he is aware how hazardous it is getting to the city by bicycle. “It’s something we really should take on regionally because … we need to have a regional transportation entity that can take these things on,” multimodally. “Like homelessness,” this is caught up in too many jurisdictions.

Arkills said he rides out of West Seattle and that the East Marginal rebuild needs to include “adequate bike facilities.”

The attendee pressed for “when,” but since the specifics right now are city rather than county, the county team didn’t have an answer. One person at the table did have some city info about the Spokane/Harbor/Avalon intersection completion. She said, “They’re waiting on a no-right-turn-on-red light when the cyclist pushes the button – that’s going to be about 60 days.”

Back to the bus-routing question: “Seattle as a region has evolved to where there are a lot more people going to the east side now, which didn’t used to be the case,” Constantine observed. He said that the light-rail connection to be made to the Eastside “in a few years” should help a lot. Arkills said that Metro is trying to build out a network and while you might not be able to go directly from West Seattle to the east side, you should be able to make a quick transfer “from the C Line to the 550” eventually.

And then back to ST3 routing: Dennis Noland – who organized the Youngstown meeting we covered last week – brought up that area of “about 75 homes … I would like to take it from being a line on a map to being, people’s homes.” He noted that 37 homes have been built in that area in recent years and more are on the drawing board, even with the possibility that the ST route/station might go right through that area. He brought up the scrapped “golf course” (purple line) route and asked that it be reconsidered. Arkills noted the federal rules regarding what circumstances are required before park land could be taken for a project like this. Constantine asked for a refresher, and WSTC board member Deb Barker (who is also on the light-rail Stakeholder Advisory Group) offered it.

Barker had one last point about ST3: She asked Constantine to talk with ST about the constant shortchanging of West Seattle-related discussion at its meetings, with it being rushed and compressed in the final minutes.

Wrapping up, he tied transportation to the issue that would be on the front burner for him on the streets hours later: Homelessness. “We’ve got a lot of good work queued up now that may allow us to finally get ahead of this crisis,” and “access to transportation mobility is critical …” for people to be able to get ahead. Having to move far away so you can afford housing, makes it harder to get and keep a job … transportation is about a “social agenda.”

SPEAKING OF LIGHT RAIL: After Constantine left, Barker briefed WSTC about the status of the review. The “environmental impact (study) process is going to be starting in February,” she said, and wanted to be sure everyone realizes that everything that’s been commented on previously does NOT carry forward – “you have to turn in your comments all over again.” That includes potentially throwing back in the “alternative routes” that might already have been scrapped. Also, making sure everything is in writing is vital, she said – saying that even comments ST accepts by phone will have to be transcribed.

Whether the routing should go north of the West Seattle Bridge or south of the West Seattle Bridge is still up for discussion, Barker said. She noted our earlier report that soil sampling has resumed. Then there are Delridge station-location options at Delridge/Genesee, or south of Genesee, or up Genesee Hill, “with a couple different variables about how high those things are.” Avalon has options, either tunneling or “shoot up Genesee Street 160 feet in the air and end up on Genesee by 35th.” The Junction has below-grade options as well as the “representative alignment” still in play. She also said that suddenly there a “brand new option on the table for an above-ground station ending at 41st but running above ground on Genesee, Oregon, Alaska, through residential areas.” And the end of the Junction line has multiple options. Again, the scoping (comment) period doesn’t have a set start date yet – the federal shutdown (since this is a federally regulated process involving federal funding) has it in limbo.

WSTC is considering taking a stand on the potential displacement of dozens of residents in the Youngstown area, as brought up during Constantine’s visit by Dennis Noland.

DUWAMISH LONGHOUSE REQUEST: Longhouse director Joleen Haas told the WSTC about the push to get a Safe Streets project funded through the Neighborhood Street Fund. They were long aware of the safety issues at the location but are finally hoping to get them addressed now; community prioritization of proposed projects including theirs starts next week.

“If you’ve ever been to the Longhouse and tried to get in and out of the parking lot, it’s like taking your life into your own hands,” Haas observed, adding that a city meeting’s coming up on February 2nd for community prioritization (more on that later – the city website for it appears to not be working as we get ready to publish this report). They’re working on an aerial view that will be available in a few days. “A lot of folks are really excited to push for this project,” assured Taylor-Judd. Even if you can’t make it to the meeting, January 28th is when online voting begins.

ROUNDABOUT: Briefly discussed – the recent announcement that the state has again denied funding for a Highland Park Way/SW Holden roundabout. It needs a political push, was the consensus. Taylor-Judd brought up the Camp Second Chance renewal vs. relocation discussions (covered here and here), pointing out Highland Park advocates’ concern about a lack of city investment – maybe a commitment to this would be a show of good faith on the city’s part.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays most months, 6:30 pm at Neighborhood House High Point.

11 Replies to "'Once-in-a-century investment': Tunnel-money talk and more with Dow Constantine @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • dunnkld January 26, 2019 (10:44 am)

    I have been pushing for a safe crossing between the Duwamish Longhouse and Herring’s House Park/West Duwamish Trail for years. But I am concerned if they are only considering a slowdown signal  for pedestrians to cross West Marginal Way. I think the slowdown signal on Avalon Way and Yancy works very well because there is only really a single general traffic lane each direction on Avalon. West Marginal Way, on the other hand, is two lanes each direction with pretty much no shoulders. I believe this crossing should be a pedestrian activated full stop because it is a long distance to cross, it’s a corridor where there is a lot of speeding and a lot of crashes and a major heavy commercial vehicle route. I will have to see the SDOT design plans to be convinced that a pedestrian “slow down” signal will be safe enough at this location.

  • dsa January 26, 2019 (11:00 am)

    In case someone missed what one of the decision makers Dow said:  “…Constantine noted that another option, tunneling through Pigeon (Point),
    turned out to be “prohibitively expensive” and said he’s “not clear
    that having an elevated structure behind the bowling alley and through
    that whole area” would be destructive to the area…”

  • dunnkld January 26, 2019 (11:06 am)

    P.S. Thank you WSB for the great coverage of this meeting.

  • East Coast Cynic January 26, 2019 (11:44 am)

    Dow, if you want a tunnel, where are you going to get the $$$$$$ for it?  From what I understand, there was barely enough money for ST to squeeze West Seattle and Ballard into the link plans provided we went with the elevated options.

    • Low bridge January 29, 2019 (11:46 am)

      Dow will get the money by running elevated over two port terminals, he thinks. Like his arena idea, he doesn’t factor the cost of mitigation. It’s almost like he doesn’t believe the port exists. 

  • milthorst January 26, 2019 (1:32 pm)

    Regarding Chris Arkills’ comment that the 22 “is underperforming,” he obviously hasn’t been on it when its full of Sealth students.  Its also the only way for those of us who live in the so-called “Arbor Heights loop” to get home outside of the limited times when the 21 Express is running. Its importance will only increase as downtown Seattle becomes more car-unfriendly.

    • KM January 26, 2019 (3:24 pm)

      The 22 definitely is a part of my “drive less whenever possible” toolkit and I really really hope they don’t cut service yet again. It’s also a great resource for Sealth/Denny students access to the Southwest Community Center to and from Morgan and Alaska Junctions.

  • pdid January 26, 2019 (7:15 pm)

    Anyone ask about that Mariner’s money? Public subsidy was a huge departure and shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

  • anonyme January 28, 2019 (7:14 am)

    I suspect the email in reference to Arbor Heights service was mine.  Interesting, as when I tried to follow up, I was told it had never been received.  Anyway, it’s ridiculous that the Route #22 would be characterized as “underperforming”.  Firstly, it’s a shuttle – not a full run.  Secondly, it’s the ONLY bus option for Arbor Heights residents during off-peak hours.  The route actually made more sense when it ran back north on 35th rather than taking the detour through Shorewood.   Either way, it’s an essential lifeline for a large – though oft-forgotten – area of West Seattle.  I am also concerned about the increasing number of no-shows on this route lately (which Metro denies, falsely claiming that the bus was merely a few minutes late).   And the infrequent service often means having to pay twice for a single, continuous trip due to the cut in transfer time.

  • Joe January 29, 2019 (11:01 am)

    Is the $300 million for a tunnel just going to appear out of thin air? Of course not. Has anyone gone to ask the city council to leverage a property tax increase on West Seattle to pay for the tunnel? They just passed one on the waterfront. For ~$10,000 per household there could be a tunnel that provides zero added benefit to light rail riders. Look at the map of soil sampling locations (both recently and 2018). They haven’t even bothered to sample the soil where the Junction tunnel would supposedly go. It’s just political posturing. There has never been any serious attempt to build a tunnel. There has never been any serious attempt to raise the $300 million required. 

    • WSB January 29, 2019 (11:30 am)

      That’s what part of the story is about. He mentioned several possibilities and said that discussions are under way.

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