By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Back in November 2017, the Junction Neighborhood Organization hosted a briefing with Sound Transit, at which a top ST manager promised “an interesting year and a half” ahead.
That year and a half is almost over; May is when the ST Board will decide which routing/station locations for West Seattle light rail will go into environmental studies. But as another JuNO briefing with ST showed last night, some local residents are just starting to sit up and take notice, especially since multiple locations are now in play for the Junction station.
An upstairs meeting room at the Senior Center/Sisson Building in The Junction filled to overflow capacity for last night’s briefing and Q&A. ST’s Leda Chahim reassured them that “this is a really good time to be engaging,” though the “scoping period” for public comment ends one week from today.
First – here’s the slide deck Chahim and other ST reps used to recap where things stand.
The light-rail system’s extensions to West Seattle and Ballard are being planned concurrently, though WS is scheduled to open five years sooner than Ballard (2030 and 2035 respectively). ST’s West Seattle lead is Stephen Mak, who briefly but briskly went through what had happened in the first two levels of filtering (this final pre-environmental-impact phase is Level 3).
Though the briefing hadn’t arrived at the Q&A stage yet, one attendee called out, “Who expressed concerns about the cost?” regarding the potential options that were no longer at center stage.
“Public feedback,” Chahim replied.
Someone thenn asked for clarity on who had made the recommendations of what went forward and what did not. Reply: The Elected Leadership Group. “Who elected them?” was the response, to rippling laughter.
(If you’re new to the light-rail discussion, the ELG is the advisory group that will make a recommendation to the ST Board; the feedback its members are to consider includes that of the other advisory committee created for this process, the Stakeholder Advisory Group. The ELG’s members are listed here; the SAG’s members are listed here.)
Mak also went through a fast review of the dozens of criteria that were set for reviewing the possibilities, with these at the top level:
That list brought one person to wonder aloud where “neighborhood” came in; Chahim noted these were just one level of “many, many” evaluation factors.
Though some cost estimates have been issued – primarily how much “extra” tunneling would cost – actual numbers won’t be known until the final design and budget, due in 2024.
The recap then went through the “key considerations” and “key differentiators” between the West Seattle segments of the three “end-to-end alternatives” currently in play – the original “representative project” (red), an elevated alternative (yellow/orange), an alternative with some tunneling (blue). Keep in mind, though, while ST didn’t make this point at the briefing, they are not “all or nothing” options – they are compilations of features that ST put together. The Stakeholder Advisory Group has been told repeatedly that “mix and match” is possible.
The “comparison summary” slide included some potential displacement numbers, as well as the “how much extra?” estimates. Yes, some would be displaced even if there was tunneling, it was verified.
“But if you do this, you’re going to have to stop in The Junction, because (extending any further south from The Junction) you’d have to take out 1,000 (residences),” said an incredulous man.
Put that in your scoping comments, urged Chahim, reinforced by JuNO director Amanda Sawyer.
He had, verified the attendee, “but I don’t even know why we’ve let it get this far, this is ridiculous.”
Back to the cost. The orange and red are comparable costs, and would likely be around what’s already budgeted, said Mak.
One attendee wanted to know about “disruption” estimates – “what (does it) mean to homeowners specifically?” There’s nothing online, said Chahim. What about offline? There wasn’t an answer for that, except “we don’t have that level of detail.”
Chahim repeated that the alternatives have continued to change, and that’s why they “sent a postcard’ in January. She also reiterated that the public-involvement process they’ve been going through this past yea is earlier than they’re usually going through it.
She also noted that since theres so much interested in tunneling, they’re suggesting looking at at two alternatives, including one that would rquire extra funding and one that would not.
They also quickly showed a slide with toplines of the acquisition/relocation process:
Bottom line, though, with environmental studies and other review ahead, “We won’t know the project we’re going to build until 2022.” (The most detailed discussion of the acquisition/relocation process that we’ve covered is in this coverage of a January meeting with ST organized by Youngstown-area residents who are in the path of a potential Delridge station location.)
After the presentation, it was Q&A time. Sawyer suggested that some of what JuNO’s been talking about is how an elevated track would not just displace existing residents but also take land that could be used for denser housing and affordable housing. Any means of construction wlll have impact, of course, she said.
One resident asked for advice on crafting a “thoughtful scoping comment.” Chahim said the project team needs to understand commenters’ “why” because that might help them synch with a goal even if the specific request isn’t possible.
Sawyer stressed that getting involved in shaping the neighborhood’s future beyond light rail is vital too (a rep from OPCD was scheduled to be present tonight talking about the upcoming neighborhood-planning process but had to cancel so will be rescheduled for May).
Is JuNO going to be submitting comments? Yes, it has, and has more planned, said Sawyer.
Another question: Did you make 3-D visualizations and share them with the public and stakeholders? Yes, there are visualizations, said Chahim. (See them here.)
Next: Wasn’t it just days ago that West Seattle rezoning was approved by the council? Sawyer explained that the single-family zoning in The Junction is now going to be Residential Small Lot – so the attendee urged everyone to point out that not only might their house be taken out, but the possibility of three residences.
Who’s on the ELG? (Here again, as also linked above, is the list.) It was noted that reps from Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Joe McDermott‘s staffs were at the meeting.
Since some ELG members are not running for re-election (City Councilmembers Rob Johnson and Bruce Harrell, for starters), what happens to those positions? The ELG only is scheduled to exist through its April recommendation, and after that, elected officials will be engaged on a wider basis, Chahim said.
Someone asked about construction staging area (mentioned at last week’s SAG meeting, as we reported here) – that’s not included in what they’re talking about at this phase, Mak said, while suggesting that those concerned go take a look at currently under-construction sites.
One person said it’s a mixed message to hear West Seattle reps say they support a tunnel but also want to come in on time and under budget. (The McDermott rep repeated a short time later that her “boss” is all for tunneling.)
Another person said people were surprised when they knocked on their doors to find out. “All the printed information said it was going to The Junction. … We’re all saying, I don’t care if it takes you 10 years to get here, do it right.”
“Write that down,” Sawyer urged.
An attendee said something was missing in the criteria – “quality of life.”
Suggestions included taking the line to 35th or Delridge, more natural pathways to points south such as White Center and Burien.
How did other neighborhoods convince ST to tunnel – Capitol Hill? Beacon Hill?
Chahim and Mak said they didn’t have that information, which led to skeptical murmurs. “It’s your job,” said attendees.
“Why do we get shafted?” someone said.
“Why don’t we get shafted?” added another voice.
Sawyer suggested ST should organize a walking tour of the “orange line.”
There was a “driving tour,” someone noted.
Why was this even brought up, when it wasn’t in the ballot measure? asked someone.
So the ultimate goal of it pointing south is to go to Burien? Yes, affirmed ST.
Another woman from the side of the room urged everyone to focus their comments – especially on “loss of land” – “if we make (the point) that a tunnel is so much more sensible to the environment, the economy, everything – that’s probably where Capitol Hill, Bellevue were successful – we have to focus on what makes sense from a total environment, total community.”
Another attendee: We can comment until we’re blue in the face, but the Elected Leadership Group shouldn’t be able to wake up in the night and come up with something totally new. She also said that this is just more validation that “West Seattle is the stepchild of the city,” which drew scattered applause.
One woman worried about ridership and said this only “passed by what, 51 percent?” (The actual ST3 vote in Seattle was more than two-thirds in favor.)
Someone else brought up West Seattle representation on the Stakeholders Advisory Group – 6 members, Sawyer noted – and mentioned again the staging-area size concern. That would be part of the EIS, said Mak.
Another attendee asked for clarification about displacement that a tunnel could result in. Too early to say, was the basic area. “We need soil sampling, we need information,” said Mak.
“But you’re making a decision in – six weeks.”
“Of what to study,” was the clarifying reiteration.
Another attendee pointed out that the ST reps here are just the public spokespeople so be sure to direct your comments in the official channels.
How will all this affect bus routes? was another question.
Yet another person said there’s no guarantee that just because this ends in The Junction doesn’t mean that’s the starting point for a line to White Center and Burien – that could be channeled down Delridge instead.
Delridge is a logical alignment, said another person.
Another person voiced skepticism. “This is a done deal. These guys have their minds made up.”
“It is NOT a done deal,” insisted Chahim.
Another person on the side said that it might be important to engage directly with ELG members – with a message like, “We need you guys to save us” – because “they have the ability outside the scoping comments to come up with something creative.”
Shortly after, the meeting wrapped up. Those present were invited to write comments on the spot that would be received as part of the planning process. Also noted:
-The Elected Leadership Group meetings include public-comment periods. Next one is this Friday, 9 am-noon, at the Sound Transit board room (401 S. Jackson). After that, the ELG’s April 26th meeting and the ST Board’s May 9th/23rd meetings have public-comment periods too.
-The “online open house” continues, with commenting options, through April 2nd (find it here).
-The Southwest District Council‘s April 3rd meeting (6:30 pm, also at the Senior Center/Sisson Building) also will include ST reps, confirmed JuNO director Sawyer, who co-chairs SWDC.