(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.