By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two-plus years after the Sound Transit 3 vote planted light rail firmly in West Seattle’s future, a major decision nears:
Which “preferred alternative(s)” will go into formal environmental study?
With the Sound Transit board set to make that decision in May, the last major public-comment period – aka “scoping” – is under way now. And it’s bringing together groups of neighbors focused on what the decision could mean not only to their neighborhoods, but to the rest of West Seattle – and beyond.
We sat down the other day with five people who are part of the newly organized East Alaska Junction Neighborhood Coalition. They support tunneling light rail into The Junction.
Some of their homes would be in the path of an elevated line and station. That’s far from their only concern.
They started talking, explained neighbor Brooke, while out with their kids playing in the February snow. The light-rail-planning process has been on their radar – they’ve seen flyers, for exampe – but nothing had previously called to their attention that the station could wind up in their neighborhood.
They’re not interested in stopping it, added neighbor Aimee. They are excited about better transit serving their neighborhood.
Neighbor Charlie explained that he had been “following it since the Level 1 (review stage)” and then discovered a “drastic shift” in the routes under consideration. He met other concerned residents at the recent open house, and they’ve since launched a website and online discussion to “share and clarify information with community members.”
Neighbor Paul wondered why Sound Transit’s scoping materials don’t seem “to give much credence to the tunnel option,” not even showing a rendering of what the undergrounded possibility would look like (here’s the “visualizations” PDF, showing only the elevated possibilities). Charlie noted that an architect reviewing the ST materials said it felt as if “the tunnel seems off the table.”
The group is also wondering why the West Seattle proposal has two stations relatively close to each other, the Avalon and Junction stations. Paul said those two would be a shorter distance apart than any other two stations in the Link light-rail system, while it would seem more sensible to have a station around the Fauntleroy/Alaska vicinity – “near Trader Joe’s” – and focus more on the first/last-mile systems to get people there (buses, shuttles, etc.) from all directions.
Another major issue is one this group thinks should be of interest to many far beyond their area: Choosing a location with a particular north/south alignment seems to set the stage for a particular path if/when light rail is extended southward later, they note. “If you put up an elevated station on 41st, you’re setting up that you would have to extend south on 41st,” Charlie says. “They should make that clear to the community. … The tunnel makes the most sense.”
Another argument in favor of a tunnel: Less loss of redevelopable land. Their neighborhood could hold more homes in the future, they point out, but elevated light rail will take a swath of land out of the picture. “This is valuable real estate for the community,” Charlie observes. “I hope Sound Transit looks at the long-term effects,” adds Brooke. “(In addition to) displacing 90 to 120 families, all this dense-housing-potential land will be off the table forever.”
Aimee underscores that. “We moved here because we knew it would change. A lot of us, we’re OK with evolution, with living next door to (taller, denser housing).”
Paul – who got involved even though his home wouldn’t be directly affected – believes that undergrounding light rail, coupled with the on-hold-awaiting-a-routing-decision Fauntleroy Boulevard improvements, could “make this a fantastic multimodal, pedestrian-friendly, safe corridor that sets the tone for what West Seattle is.”
Yes, they’re well aware that Sound Transit says tunneling would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost. Paul wonders whether one less station would save enough money to pay for it. The group wonders if “walkshed” criteria for the three stations were applied properly, including how the stations would interact/intersect with other transit.
“It seems like the design has not been thought through,” Aimee observes.
Charlie adds that he understands why this process has been compressed, with the stated goal of delivering the light-rail service sooner, “but they went down to so few options so quickly … so many (were) taken off the table before full community outreach.” He too wonders if the extra-cost numbers are “really realistic,” particularly “if you look at how much tax revenue (would be) lost” with land taken out of the potential development mix.
“It’s a generational decision,” Aimee declares. And a regional one, possibly setting a precedent of interest even outside King County, since Sound Transit also serves Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
And it’s a decision that ties into other things, adds Charlie, mentioning the recent City Council-initiated amendments to HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability, tying some Junction planning to the light-rail-planning process. A community conversation about that needs to be held, and city planners need to address the big picture, he adds.
Since none is currently happening, these neighbors are hoping to ignite one. They want others to look at the big picture, and they’re also hoping to organize a walking tour with some of the decisionmakers. (ST had one last July in advance of a design charrette, but it was not announced to the community at large.)
What else they’re doing: Trying to “tailor comments (for) the scoping period,” to clearly articulate their concerns. They’re sharing documents via their website, and having a meeting next Thursday (6 pm March 14th at the Senior Center/Sisson Building, 4217 SW Oregon). Now that the scoping period has been extended two weeks – as reported here last week – that gives them more time to refine their advocacy for the tunnel, and “well-planned light-rail transit that supports and improves the neighborhood with an eye toward the future.”
Before our conversation concludes, they reiterate the same thing we’ve heard from other groups and individuals, as well as from Sound Transit: “Get involved,” urges Aimee. “… Even if you’re not directly on the route.”
“We need to do something that we’re proud to pass on,” adds Paul.
P.S. In addition to the East Junction group’s meeting, two other meetings in West Seattle this week address the light-rail plan, though both are for neighborhoods close to the Delridge station – the information’s here. Regardless of whether you’re going to a meeting, you can comment through April 2nd by using the “online open house” here.