VIDEO: An end that’s also a beginning, along the path of planning Sound Transit light rail for West Seattle

(Added Monday: ST-created slide summarizing what ELG recommends – from this PDF doc)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Though County Councilmember Joe McDermott reiterated “This is just the beginning” of the West Seattle to Ballard Sound Transit light-rail planning process, Friday’s meeting of the Elected Leadership Group that he co-chaired was part of the end of the opening act of that process.

It comes after almost a year and a half of meetings, including the one on Friday, as well as a variety of public engagement and feedback that all wraps up with two meetings next month that are to result in the Sound Transit Board officially deciding what routing/station possibilities should be studied for the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Five of the 11 ELG members (roster here) are also on the ST Board (roster here) – McDermott, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, plus Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez (replacing recently resigned CM Rob Johnson). Before the board makes a final “what to study” decision at its May 23rd meeting (1:30 pm, ST board room downtown), its System Expansion Committee – which has no ELG membership overlap – will talk about the project at its May 9th (1:30 pm, ST board room)

On Friday, co-chair City Councilmember Mike O’Brien remarked that “it seems like yesterday” when the ELG first met 16 months ago (WSB coverage here).

ST CEO Peter Rogoff reiterated that the ELG decisions, and those to be made by the ST Board next month, are not decisions about what to be built, but “alternatives to be studied.”

In the 2-plus hours that followed, one other major issue came up repeatedly – money. But first, the ELG’s final meeting began with public comment, which ran for about half an hour and starts at nine minutes into our first clip (following introductory discussion):

WHAT COMMENTERS TOLD THE ELG: Each speaker was allowed 1 1/2
Our toplines – first, West Seattleite Kevin Freitas. He says he supports light rail but voted against ST3 because elevated rail is “table scraps.” He brought his photos putting life-size cutouts in context against elevated guideways. Second commenter talked about Ballard. Third was Mark Johnson from the Seattle Design Commission, hitting a couple points primarily about Pioneer Square and Chinatown/International District. Fourth, Dennis Noland, Youngstown property owner, who advocated for both the “Pigeon Ridge” and Andover/Yancy options, to minimize neighborhood effects.

Fifth commenter described himself as an advocate for property owners on both ends of the extension, including warehouse property adjacent to Terminal 5, saying that the idea of crossing the Duwamish River north of the West Seattle Bridge should be eliminated from consideration. Sixth expressed opposition to the “orange line.” Seventh was perennial government critic/candidate (this year running for City Council District 5) Alex Tsimerman. Eighth and ninth were ELG members repeating the request for all Chinatown-International District options to be studied, Maiko Winkler-Chin and Savitha Reddy Pathi. Tenth, also speaking to that segment: Kathleen Barry Johnson from Historic South Downtown. 11th was another SAG member, Ballard Alliance‘s Mike Stewart, followed by the 12th speaker, Lisa Howard, executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

Thirteenth to speak was Barry Blanton, describing himself as representing Pioneer Square, Chinatown-ID, and Ballard interests. 14th: Jordan Royer on behalf of maritime interests, expressing concern about the prospect of a north Duwamish crossing. 15th and 16th were West Seattleites from the East Alaska Junction Neighborhood Coalition: Aimee and Tighe, reiterating that group’s concerns, which we first reported last month, in particular advocating against the “orange line.” The 17th and final speaker voiced the importance of addressing environmental and sustainability goals as well as family-wage jobs.

RECAP PRESENTATION: Sound Transit’s Cathal Ridge recapped how the process got to that point – here’s the slide deck:

And here’s our video:

The recap ran up to the SAG recommendations made last week (WSB coverage here).

As it was last week, scoping feedback was again summarized, including tunnel interest for the greater Junction area, mixed opinions on crossing the Duwamish and resurgent interest in the “Pigeon Ridge” option.

The Racial Equity Toolkit recap included key issues regarding the Delridge station planning.

Recapping the SAG meeting, first, what they supported if extra third-party funding is found:

And here’s the recap of what the SAG supported if third-party money is NOT available:

Also recapped, a summary of general concerns from the SAG:

Then, on to:

DISCUSSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS: The discussion moved north to south. Here’s the video (as previously published in our quick-take update on Friday afternoon):

After a while, it became clear that the group was not – unlike the SAG – being asked to make with/without-extra-money options. No one asked why until West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold brought it up.

Around that point, Mayor Durkan offered her opinion that it was too soon to identify any “preferred alternative,” period.

Executive Somers said he thought this group too should come up with extra-funding/no-extra-funding options.

ST facilitator Adams finally settled it by saying they’re “integrating cost concerns in the discussion today.”

Though the meeting was supposed to wrap at 11:30, it ran long – the group didn’t get to the West Seattle discussion until 11:22. Seattle Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said one big argument in favor of crossing the Duwamish River south of the existing bridges is the investment that’s about to be made in Terminal 5 – almost half a billion public and private dollars in the first phase alone. ST’s Ridge noted that the north crossing will have to be studied, regardless. Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said the south crossing is “so much preferred” and she wants to be sure that’s clarified.

Continuing discussion of this side of the river, Herbold said the “purple line” in general (which she had supported at the end of the second level of review but which a majority of the ELG tossed out) minimized impacts. She said there’s a community-proposed alternative that would alleviate some of the concerns about the crossing that arose from previous discussions, including tribal concerns about fishing rights. Ridge warned that the modifications still sparked “engineering concerns” including the steep slope and greenbelt on Pigeon Point as well as the cost of a second tunnel. Somers hoped more information would be available before the ST Board meets.

Heading on toward Delridge, McDermott and Constantine spoke up, generally favoring the blue line “with refinements”; Constantine said he’s asked for refinement both in reducing costs and reducing community impacts regarding Delridge and Avalon stations. Also, “revisiting Andover/Yancy alignment” is important “for us to give further thought to.” He wants to keep the Avalon station and said – as he has before – that light rail needs to “arrive at an underground alignment” (tunnel) in The Junction, He said other pivoting to tunnels in the Link system has been possible because ST “thought harder and foud a way to do it.” “We need to leave ourselves the latitude” to make decisions.

The prospects of a high-rise guideway in West Seattle have been decried by some residents who say it’s ironic that would be considered when so much has been made of tearing down The Viaduct, an elevated transportation pathway. Durkan made a similar remark in the ELG discussion and urged considering not just costs but also community impacts.

Durkan says it’s ironic that we’re tearing down the Viaduct but looking at this … consder not just costs but impact on a community. Bagshaw agreed.

On to The Junction – Somers and O’Brien both resurfaced the issue of potential cost, and what would happen if they could only afford an elevated option? The red one, in The Junction, “approaching 41st/42nd,” suggested McDermott, adding that mobility and access were vital to consider.

The SAG recommended studying two options, also including one ending at Fauntleroy to take into account a possible southward route for later expansion. Herbold said she wanted to be sure the potential benefit of Junction/Avalon station consolidation was considered. And then the money question came up again; Bowman said – as she had before – that there could be a way the port would contribute, if not money, maybe land, and it would be happy to convene a conversation.

Durkan said in her view it’s “premature” to talk about where the money might come from when they don’t have more concrete information about costs. “We really have to know what we’re pricing before we say what the money is coming from.”

Bowman noted that the port “tend(s) to look at things differently” because its projects require return on investment.

Finally, the discussion wound down (as summarized here).

WHAT’S NEXT: After the two May ST meetings mentioned above, here’s how the environmental-review process goes:

The next major public-comment period will be in late 2020, after the environmental review.

ADDED MONDAY: ST has now created this recap (PDF) of what the ELG decided/discussed Friday.

15 Replies to "VIDEO: An end that's also a beginning, along the path of planning Sound Transit light rail for West Seattle"

  • Jeff April 28, 2019 (9:32 pm)

    Yancy/Andover route, yes!!! Everything else destroys the very homes that this out dated technology would serve… As one person in the video asked, “is this FOR the community, or TO a community?” Still won’t ever ride it. All buses in Seattle will be electric 5 years before these bumbling idiots are scheduled to finish.

    • Rando April 28, 2019 (11:58 pm)

      Go the past of least resistance…dont go through neighboods ….make more people happy……. get votes people will pay the taxes.

      • Rick April 29, 2019 (7:20 am)

        They already do. And do. And do. For exactly what?

  • CAM April 28, 2019 (11:55 pm)

    Oh for goodness sake. Stop planning for something that works for the population right now. Start thinking about the needs of the population 10, 20, 50, and 100 years from now. There is no way that 2 stations will meet the needs of that population, I don’t even think it meets the needs of the current population. You can’t move that many people through a confined area that quickly. If everyone in WS using light rail is going to be passing through two stations it’s going to be a cluster****. The more stations, the larger the capacity that the system can handle. That doesn’t even take into account the traffic nightmares of having all buses (which there will be more of by the time this thing is built) terminate at 2 points in the neighborhood. Just the buses by themselves will create block long log jams near the stations. Head to 3rd avenue anytime during rush hour to get a good picture of this. When something is a public utility you don’t sacrifice efficiency and effectiveness for a prettier option. 

    • Gene April 29, 2019 (7:25 am)

      This will be effective & efficient-saving homes & neighborhoods is the right option-& it has nothing to do with being “pretty”.

    • Matt P April 29, 2019 (2:41 pm)

      Trains are confined by the number of cars that are available and how frequently they run, not by the number of stations. Stations can’t be convenient for everyone otherwise we’d have many stations, too many stops and trains so slow, no one would ride then. Eliminating that station will not inconvenience that many people and will make the trips much faster.

      • CAM April 30, 2019 (1:39 am)

        If the number of stations had nothing to do with capacity or efficiency than why do large stadiums build so many gates for entry? Why does fire code require that a building have multiple exits? Why then is it so frowned upon to scream fire in a crowded room? What you are not taking into account is frequently referred to as “dwell time,” or the amount of time the train needs to spend at each station to load passengers. If you ride the bus you know that during rush hour it takes a lot longer to board or get off the bus at each stop than it would at less busy times. If we force everyone to load through two stations we are looking at the same kind of problem. The more crowded the station or platform, the longer it takes to load or unload the train. Having riders more dispersed over a larger number of stations promotes more efficient boarding and unloading, particularly during peak commute times. This will help the trains run faster and less erratically, lead to less delays between stations, and enable the trains to run as frequently as possible. All of that influences capacity and the ability of the system to operate at peak efficiency. It also enables future increases in the capacity of the line by adding more frequent trains in the future. 

        • Mickymse May 1, 2019 (11:45 am)

          Because stadium events, concerts letting out, and fire emergencies all involve literally thousands of people trying to exit or enter an area ALL AT THE SAME TIME and because when there is an emergency or public safety concern you want to move people as quickly and safely as possible. That is most certainly not the case with West Seattle light rail stations, which currently have ridership estimates of around 4,200 riders per day. We will not come close to overwhelming the stations any time in the foreseeable future because they can move more than a few thousand riders per hour at conservative estimates.

  • Wsresident April 29, 2019 (8:13 am)

    every time I read about this project, I think to myself “yeah in twenty years” so feel like it won’t even apply to me, I’ll be retired by then. I always wonder why we don’t utilize our waters for transport from West Seattle to other areas like Ballard. Seems far less invasive, expensive, and would be way faster likely move more people. 

  • Shepherd Siegel April 29, 2019 (8:20 am)

    Hey West Seattle Bloggers . . . . THANK YOU for the great and thorough reporting on this very important initiative, for building and informing citizen awareness of new transit and how it is likely to affect us. I for one expect to be a frequent user of light rail to get from West Seattle to points east, north, southeast and eventually south. Ouroboros!, my toast to an end that’s also a beginning!

  • WSB April 29, 2019 (2:54 pm)

    For those tracking this story, in addition to adding the link above (and likely a separate story later today), ST has now created a visual recap of what the ELG decided/discussed:

  • East Coast Cynic April 29, 2019 (8:13 pm)

    41/42nd combined????  People coming up 35th from Arbor Heights, Highpoint, and Gatewood will have much more of a time consuming commute getting to that station.  What are commuters those supposed to do, take another bus after they get off at Avalon and travel east before they travel west and to the north, to downtown and areas beyond?  It’s kind of a**backwards to make those commuters go eastbound then west, and this would be a significant commuter demographic that would be inconvenienced.  A selfish proposal by the pro-tunnel people imho.If you all in the Junction so hate the idea of a tunnel, why not propose truncating the elevated portion at Avalon and then people in and around the Junction can bus to Avalon, west to east?Pro-tunnel people, politicians and non-politicians are dancing around the realpolitik that people will have to pay more money out of their pockets to get a tunnel, but would rather clutch at the straws of the Port making up the funding shortage or even go so far as to selfishly shortchange commuters coming to Avalon from the South.

    • WS Guy April 29, 2019 (10:05 pm)

      Buses nowadays are equipped with wheels that can be turned, causing the bus to move in different directions.   After building a station at 41st, buses coming up 35th can turn left on Alaska St rather than hurtling headlong toward Avalon.   The buses will traverse the same number of traffic lights and nearly the same distance. 

  • UrbanVillager April 30, 2019 (8:29 am)

    WSB, so does the difference between the two slides re potential blue line junction stations indicate that the 44th St option is no longer going forward? Thanks 

    • WSB April 30, 2019 (9:14 am)

      Well, nothing’s final for years. But neither of the two recommending groups supported 44th.

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