WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Timeline refresher, federal-shutdown effects, and more @ Stakeholder Advisory Group

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Take your mind off Viaduct-less-ness for a moment by thinking ahead to West Seattle light rail.

Though its target start date of 2030 is 11 years away, we’re now just a few months away from determining which “preferred” route/station-location plan Sound Transit will study. And your next key input point could be only weeks away – if the federal shutdown doesn’t bring the process to a semi-halt.

The Stakeholder Advisory Group that’s playing a key role in the process met last night, first meeting of 2019, third-to-last scheduled meeting. The intent was to recap where things stand and offer a chance for group members to ask questions as they ponder what they will be recommending toward the end of the third and final evaluation level in a matter of weeks. Here’s the timeline:

That’s from the slide deck for the meeting.

It includes the three “end-to-end” alternatives that were presented to the stakeholders back in November (WSB coverage here), and reviewed by the Elected Leadership Group. They are not all-or-nothing plans – components of them could be mixed-and-matched to determine the alternative ST studies.

One particular point of interest in other parts of the slide deck: In response to questions received from members of the public, ST said, it provided information on timelines for contacting owners of property that might have to be purchased for construction. (See pages 36-39 in the slide deck.)

The main points:

-Potentially affected property owners will hear from ST before the draft Environmental Impact Statement is published (mid-2020), so you would get a very early heads-up if you MIGHT be in the path of the route

-Board selects project to be built – early 2022

-Timeline for property acquisition 2022-2026

ST has to offer fair-market value. Asked if this wouldn’t be a case of “take our offer or else we’ll take your property anyway” – e.g. eminent domain – ST says it does have the power to do that but contends “it’s pretty rare” that they have had to do that. More often, ST says, they “negotiate.”

Another point of interest: The current federal-government shutdown could throw a curve at the timetable. Since federal funding would be involved, the “scoping” process has federal involvement, and that’s where the public would next get involved, with solicitation of opinion on what the environmental studies should look at, etc. Here’s how last night’s slide deck summarizes scoping:

If the federal government isn’t back in business by next month, that could be delayed. We asked ST spokesperson Kimberly Reason to explain:

As a Federal grantee, Sound Transit is very concerned with the government shutdown and hopes it ends immediately. We cannot receive reimbursements of Federally eligible expenditures while the government is shut down. Moreover, Sound Transit will be stymied in advancing its Federally funded expansion projects if FTA staff are not available to review documentation and provide necessary approvals. While we have not yet endured these negative impacts, a lengthy shutdown could have very real consequences for our mission and progress.

For now, in hopes that will be resolved, the process chugs on. Much of last night’s meeting was spent in small-group gatherings, with ST staffers focused on certain segments of the project holding court at their own tables to answer questions. During our observation of the West Seattle table, these were largely clarifying questions, such as, how big is a station? (Answer: Big enough to hold a 4-car train, which is about 400 feet long.) Questions also focused on the height of the stations and/or elevated tracks (some in triple digits); for a bit of a refresher, here are the visualizations released by ST last September.

WHAT’S NEXT: As shown above, the stakeholders meet again January 30th, 5-8 pm in the ST board room. The public is welcome, but there’s no open comment period – next month’s “scoping” should bring that. (If, that is, the federal situation is resolved.)

13 Replies to "WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Timeline refresher, federal-shutdown effects, and more @ Stakeholder Advisory Group"

  • Jeff January 10, 2019 (11:29 pm)

    The only viable route was nixed back in April, when ST only allowed 5 minutes per Alternative. Members of the SAG not affiliated with large corporations even spoke up a couple times during that meeting to tell the group they felt pushed into prematurely eliminating options that could be viable alternates.Anyone who goes to these meetings can tell they’re a sham. ST has their agenda. They already know which route they’ll choose. ST only goes through the motions of these meetings to appease officials, check a box, and make it look like they’re open to public opinion and needs.The route along the West Seattle Bridge was cheaper than the base option, had a great location for buses and transfers at the Delridge station under the bridge, had the least impact to traffic during construction, displaced almost zero families, and kept that eyesore out of public view along the bridge. And a 4f Review would not be required (ST will need a 4f Review to run the route along the north side of Delridge Park and the Golf Course).Although some spoke up to say they felt bullied, no one on the SAG actually stood their ground. Those sheeple are not doing the public any service. So the wolves on the ELG will do want they want anyway. Afterall, at the end of the day, all the SAG does is provide a suggestion.

    • Pridge Wessea January 11, 2019 (8:31 am)

      Lol “eyesore”You don’t care if it works or if it’s efficient, you just want it cheap and hidden and no impact to your commute or you personally. No wonder you’re not into any of the alternatives. Cute manufactured narrative you’ve constructed though; all those words to say so little. 

    • chemist January 11, 2019 (9:59 am)

      I will admit to being slightly confused about when some options seem to be eliminated and then re-incarnated with tweaks, but I’m not sure how your plan was expressly viable or a leader.  I’ve also heard that light rail is somewhat constrained about how much of a slope it can climb/brake so I’m not sure a station under the bridge is really viable with steel rails unless it’s entering a pretty deep tunnel..

  • HS January 11, 2019 (7:50 am)

    I know, I know, so much to do but… e-l-e-v-e-n years (lays forehead on desk).

    • Will S. January 11, 2019 (9:59 am)

      I hate to say this, but it’s worse than 11 years. According to ST’s plans, in 2030 we’ll be able to ride light rail from West Seattle to Sodo–but our train will terminate there, and we’ll have to squeeze onto a different train that will be filled up with people traveling from as far south as (believe it or not) Tacoma Dome. Eventually, the track between Sodo and downtown will be completed, we’ll have a straight shot to downtown (and beyond), and only then will our light rail extension fulfill its promise.However one chooses to evaluate the merits of elevated vs tunnel connections to the Junction, I don’t think the quicker construction of elevated track is all that much of a plus. I’m in the take-your-time/do-it-right camp: dig the tunnel.

      • Jon Wright January 11, 2019 (11:44 am)

        I think the problem is, from a technical standpoint, tunneling is not necessarily “doing it right.” An elevated line can be put pretty much anywhere and would operate just fine. The biggest concerns that tunneling addresses are the aesthetics of a 50 to 150′-tall guideway, ambient noise, and fewer properties condemned. How do you quantify that? Is it worth spending $300M (less any reduction in property acquisition) extra for a tunnel to eliminate those issues?

        • CAM January 11, 2019 (11:43 pm)

          It’s actually worse than that because ST has actually said that in many instances they have to purchase the property above the tunnel anyway. You weren’t saving any more houses from demolition by tunneling, just different houses. 

  • pdid January 11, 2019 (11:07 am)

    Agree on the take your time, do it right comment. The congestion is not going to be a short-term problem so let’s make sure solutions allow ideal optionality for future generations/ needs to come. The viaduct is a primary example of a limited optionality solution. 

    • WS Guy January 11, 2019 (7:17 pm)

      Agree on take your time do it right.  I don’t know why we’d tear down a viaduct to open up a waterfront and then rebuild it over our homes and businesses. 

      • Canton January 11, 2019 (10:20 pm)

        Great analogy. Funny how with downtown, it’s aesthetics vs function. In the residential area, no one considers the same noise, visual aspect. Function vs tourists.

      • CAM January 11, 2019 (11:44 pm)

        The viaduct isn’t being torn down to open access to the waterfront or for aesthetic reasons. It is being torn down because it is structurally unsound and people could die. 

  • Joe Z January 11, 2019 (12:46 pm)

    The proper way to ‘do it right’ means making decisions that are optimal for the highest ridership possible even if the short-term impacts (construction impacts, property acquisition) are more severe. That means the criteria should be:1) Travel time2) Walkshed3) Efficient bus transfers4) Future expansionElevated vs. tunnel: does not affect the above criteria–go with the cheaper elevated option. 

    • CAM January 11, 2019 (11:45 pm)

      Agreed on all points!

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