VIDEO: Now, it’s study time, after Sound Transit board decides what West Seattle-to-Ballard light-rail routing deserves a closer look

(Added Friday morning: Sound Transit’s meeting video)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After an intense year and a half of discussion – capped by a four-and-a-half-hour meeting – potential routing/station locations for Sound Transit‘s West Seattle-to-Ballard light rail are heading into the environmental-study process.

The Sound Transit Board finalized a list of “preferred alternatives” and other possibilities to study – after an extended debate that included two votes on whether to use the word “preferred” in describing the ones that would require third-party funding.

But first – from the motion that won final approval (PDF here) – the language that spells out what will be studied for the West Seattle end:

West Seattle (Avalon and Junction) Preferred Alternative

Elevated stations – Avalon station in vicinity of SW Genesee Street, SW Avalon Way and 35th Avenue SW. Turns southwest on Fauntleroy Way SW with both elevated Alaska Junction station options oriented north/south and staying east of the Alaska Junction on Fauntleroy and in the vicinity of 41st/42nd Avenue SW.

Preferred Alternative with Third Party Funding

Tunnel station – Avalon station in vicinity of SW Genesee Street, SW Avalon Way and 35th Avenue SW. Turns southwest with both tunnel Alaska Junction station options oriented north-south in the vicinity of 41st Avenue SW and 42nd Avenue SW. Based on current information, these alternatives would require additional third-party funding.

Additionally, the Board directs staff to evaluate potential cost savings opportunities and look for opportunities to minimize community impacts and create a high quality transfer environment for both the Avalon and Alaska Junction station locations.

West Seattle (Delridge) Preferred Alternative

N of Genesee station – Elevated guideway runs south adjacent to Delridge Way SW to an elevated Delridge station on a diagonal between Delridge Way SW and 26th Avenue SW north of SW Genesee Street. Continues west on an elevated guideway along SW Genesee Street.

Additionally, the Board directs staff to explore refining the Delridge station location, prioritizing a further south location and looking for opportunities to minimize potential residential impacts, create a high quality transfer environment, optimize transit-oriented development (TOD) potential and reduce costs.

Other DEIS alternatives

S of Andover station – Elevated guideway follows Delridge Way SW south to an elevated Delridge station south of SW Andover Street. Continues south along Delridge Way SW and then runs west along SW Genesee Street.

The Board directs staff to conduct an initial assessment of the following alternatives, which were suggested during the scoping period, to establish whether further detailed study in the Draft EIS is appropriate:

Yancy/Andover alignment – An alignment along the Yancy/Andover corridor with a Delridge Station serving Youngstown.

Pigeon Point Tunnel – A refinement of the Pigeon Ridge Tunnel alignment that was previously evaluated in Level 1 and Level 2 screening. This alignment would include a refined Duwamish crossing location that includes a tunnel through Pigeon Point with a further south Delridge station location. Based on current information, this alternative would require additional third-party funding.

The assessment and recommendation for further study shall be brought back to the Sound Transit Board for review and potential action.

Duwamish Crossing Preferred Alternative

South crossing – Elevated guideway crosses over the Spokane Street Viaduct, curves west and parallels the West Seattle Bridge on the south side. Crosses over the Duwamish Waterway on a high-level fixed bridge on the south side of the existing bridge, then rounds Pigeon Point and heads south along Delridge Way SW.

Other DEIS alternatives

North crossing – Elevated guideway curves west and parallels the existing West Seattle Bridge on the north side. Spans the Duwamish Waterway on a high-level, fixed bridge on the north side of the existing bridge, then crosses over the West Seattle bridge ramp, passes over the Nucor Steel property and runs south along Delridge Way SW.

The Board directs staff to conduct an initial assessment of the following alternative, which was suggested during the scoping period, to establish whether further detailed study in the Draft EIS is appropriate:

Pigeon Point Tunnel – A refinement of the Pigeon Ridge Tunnel alignment that was previously evaluated in Level 1 and Level 2 screening. This alignment would include a refined Duwamish crossing location that includes a tunnel through Pigeon Point with a further south Delridge station location. Based on current information, this alternative would require additional third-party funding.

The assessment and recommendation for further study shall be brought back to the Sound Transit Board for review and potential action.

Ahead, the rest of the story:

The discussion preceding the vote didn’t focus on the merits of any particular routing/station location, or lack of them. It was almost entirely big-picture.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers voiced concern that “quite a number” of alternatives remain “on the table” and so “we’re not out of the woods” regarding streamlining the decisionmaking process. “The decisions we make going forward .. affect the rest of the system” and he said assessing the “extra funding” alternatives would be difficult wthout “very clear direction on (that) funding.” He said the with-and-without-funding options can’t be considered as equal “if we could just find the funding.”

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott of West Seattle recalled that he co-chaired the planning process’s Elected Leadership Group as it met over the past year and went through three levels of screening. He reiterated that he’s heard willingness from other partners such as the city and port to have those potential third-party-funding conversations. He noted that the motion sets a clear expectation for when that has to happen.

Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts said he was concerned that the proposed “if third-party funding” alternatives don’t meet any of ST’s “core priorities” such as connecting centers or increasing ridership.

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier said he was concerned about how the process had gotten here since people were allowed to make suggestions that might need extra funding. “It doesn’t surprise me that communities want the tunnels,” but he’s worried that “all we’re doing is … kicking the can down the path for more pain.” He says “we don’t want to dither .. we want to deliver the service.” So he wanted to call the alternatives “alternative with third-party funding” minus the word “preferred.” He clarified, “We’re going to still study them, but try to bring expectations in some degree to reality.”

Eastside King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci said the word “preferred” was meant to reflect that community members had put a lot into the process and that’s what they preferred. “I hope we would not get too hung up on that nomenclature.”

McDermott argued for “preferred,” saying it won’t mean any more study. But the amendment passed 10-7.

Then King County Executive Dow Constantine took issue, saying that Eastside light rail had started with 19 potential alternatives and here we’re looking at “maybe two.” He thinks “the amendment [removing the word] is a grave error” because it “says to the public that we’re going to build what’s cheapest .. the board has decided to poke in the eye residents who’ve been advocating for the best … option.” He suggested they’re running the risk of repeating past mistakes such as “not building stations that we’re [now] going back and retrofitting into the system.” Cost “is a consideration, but so is quality.”

University Place Mayor Kent Keel countered by saying he didn’t think they were saying no to anything but that they had to state that “solid” third-party funding would be needed for the alternatives requiring it.

And yet others said that they’re trying to “look out” for not only people around the region but also riders of the future.

So then they reconsidered the motion about excising the word “preferred” from the extra-funding alternatives, and this time it flipped, 7-10.

Speeches continued.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said that if there is a gap, we will address the gap. She says she doesn’t agree with all the verbiage but in general she’ll support it.

Constantine said he believes in a transit system that “knits together the region” but the board has to work coherently, not just as individuals with specific interests. “I want us to focus now on a system that is affordable and what we can do to accelerate the building of the system – north, south, and east – that we should have had not 10 years ago but 50 years ago.”

Balducci sought to bring it all home and noted that the environmental-study process “gives us 18 months, 2 years” to figure out the third-party funding piece as necessary.

Dammeier reiterated that he’s concerned that they’re starting to depart from a plan that serves the entire region. He voted no, as did Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling, Keel, Roberts, abd Somers. Final vote, 12-5. Here’s the entire motion if you didn’t already read it above:

Earlier, there was a bit of awkward history, when it was asked, what is the precedent for stipulating that they could consider alternatives that might cost third-party funding? Bellevue, was the reply. Balducci – that city’s former mayor – elaborated on that, saying the city decided to “contribute in things of value … the city wound up dedicating more than $100 million of property, services,” and other things. She shortly thereafter said she “wouldn’t hold up (that) process” as an example, warning against “high-level comparisons of the situation.” Another board member underscored, “that became the poster child for how we did not want to do the rest of the alignments.” So when would they have to have a third-party funding agreement if required later in the proces? That’s a “board decision” but “publication of the final EIS” would be a good milestone – mid-2022.

One key reminder as the discussion began: “We are not selecting the project to be built today” said board chair Redmond Mayor John Marchione.

STAFF BRIEFING: Before the discussion and vote, ST’s corridor director Cathal Ridge made the presentation, using this deck.

His presentation ran through “what happens next.” Nothing new, but if you want to leaf through “what led up to this point,” that’s one way.

At the meeting’s start, more than 40 people were signed up to comment on agenda items including this one. We took notes on the WS-related speakers:

PUBLIC COMMENT: First West Seattle comment was from the second of 47 people signed up to speak, Dennis Noland, who organized Youngstown residents to oppose the idea of building a station that would take out homes in their homes. “Our standalone two-square-block neighborhood is unique” and areas nearby could be used for a station instead. “Include the Pigeon Ridge tunnel and the Andover/Yancy route in the Draft EIS for study. These routes make sense. … This is a neighborhood that should be served by light rail, not destroyed by light rail.” …

(WSB photo. 3 Junction residents speak to board during public-comment period)

At 2:19 pm, the next West Seattle speakers, three from the East Alaska Junction Neighborhood Coalition, neighbors “distraught and dismayed” that Sound Transit would consider “wiping out” their neighborhoods, as Aimee Riordan put it. They’ve worked for many hours and days to try to prevent ST from making that mistake. They want to ensure that the orange/yellow “diagonal line” stays “off the table now and in the future” and, she said, they hope ST will find a way to tunnel into The Junction. Charlie Able said the orange/yellow line has been “vehemently opposed” by other West Seattle groups and “explicitly rejected” by the SAG and ELG. He said that exploring 41st/42nd station siting needs to be clarified as not including the residential areas. As an architect, he said he was passing on advice he had received: “Budget and schedule will heal wth time, but bad design is forever.” Tighe Aurelius said he’s concerned about the Youngstown neighborhood: “These neighbors deserve a complete EIS process” and he also voiced concern about the possibility of an 80-100′ guideway in that area. Overall. “The benefits of a tunnel are vast” including the Junction area.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said that while she understands crossing the Duwamish River on the north side – “that would detrimentally affect our terminals” – might have to be in the Draft EIS, it shouldn’t go any farther.

A representative of Centerpoint Properties – which has warehouse properties north of the bridge – spoke in opposition of a north crossing. He also asked ST to be sure that “requiring third-party funding” alternatives would get as much consideration and review during environmenal studies as those that do not.

Another speaker, Peter Mason of West Seattle, encouraged the board to keep the orange/yellow line out of consideration. Deb Barker of Morgan Junction, who served on the Stakeholder Advisory Group for the planning process, said: “We want Sound Transit to succeed … I want to leave you with a very important word, ‘tunnel’. … Please think a hundred years from now … You’re not going to be here but your kids will be … Tunnel into West Seattle.” Another West Seattleite speaking after her echoed “tunnel, tunnel, tunnel.” Regarding Delridge, “I don’t think it makes sense to destroy the neighborhood you’re supposed to serve.”

WHAT’S NEXT? The studies now set in motion will result in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement due by the end of next year. That will touch off a new round of public comment. Feedback will be part of a Final EIS expected in 2022; that’s when the board will decide on final routing and station locations. After design, construction would start in 2025, and West Seattle light rail would open in 2030. (Here’s the full projected timeline and milestones.)

27 Replies to "VIDEO: Now, it's study time, after Sound Transit board decides what West Seattle-to-Ballard light-rail routing deserves a closer look"

  • Mike May 23, 2019 (9:55 pm)

    This isn’t very clear yet, is the preferred alternative for West Seattle Avalon / Juntion the yellow/orange line that had all the local and committe opposition?

    • Will S. May 24, 2019 (9:13 am)

      No. At this point, I feel comfortable saying that ST has killed the highly controversial yellow/orange line (or more specifically, the portion running elevated through existing residential blocks between Avalon and Alaska Junction). The SAG and ELG recommended against it, and ST’s board decided not to consider it in the draft EIS. Instead, ST will study an elevated track running above Fauntleroy and Alaska (in addition to studying a tunnel route that is expected to cost more). If anyone sees this differently, please share your view.

      • CAM May 24, 2019 (1:05 pm)

        I believe I was told by ST at one meeting that you can’t achieve a north/south alignment if you run the line up Fauntleroy to Alaska. So I think that while they didn’t specifically say so, the elevated line going to be studied further is the orange line. 

        • Will S. May 24, 2019 (1:44 pm)

          Good point, CAM. On further reflection, I’m now convinced that ST’s preferred alternative is nonsense. From Avalon, it “[t]urns southwest on Fauntleroy Way SW with both elevated Alaska Junction
          station options oriented north/south and staying east of the Alaska
          Junction on Fauntleroy and in the vicinity of 41st/42nd Avenue SW.” The yellow/orange line never turns southwest on Fauntleroy. But the red representative alignment never orients its stations north/south. In their comments, Chemist and Joe Z guess that ST is talking about an entirely new route which never has been mapped before, featuring a sharp curve (practically 90 degrees) to achieve the north/south station alignment. And that curve would seem to bump the location of the Junction station entirely south of Alaska. Given that a new mix-and-match route never was mentioned, I’m not at all convinced that this result is what ST’s board intended. After literally years of consideration building up to this decision, the conceptual sloppiness is alarming.

          • Joe Z May 24, 2019 (3:06 pm)

            Relative to past projects this is actually an accelerated approval process which is proving to be difficult because the cost estimates are too vague. Nobody really knows how much the various alignments are going to cost, especially with the mixing and matching. So it’s really politics that are dictating the current alignment–although in this case they did the smart thing and pushed multiple options through to the EIS.

  • Jeff May 23, 2019 (10:01 pm)

    Yes to the Yancy/Andover alignment! Don’t destroy the neighborhood this is meant to serve. 

  • WS Realtor May 24, 2019 (9:14 am)

    How would the Junction Station stay on Fauntleroy (which is effectively 39th) and end up in the vicinity of 41st or 42nd going north/south?

    • chemist May 24, 2019 (10:05 am)

      I don’t think they’d be able to do that without building taller than new apartment buildings or, perhaps, using the Bank of America property to turn to the south.  I’m not getting warm fuzzy feelings about having worked on options for years as public input only to have entirely different things rise up so late in the process.  .Here’s the last set of visualizations for these lines

      • S May 24, 2019 (11:48 am)

        But we’re Seattleites, that’s what we do! ;)

      • KM May 24, 2019 (12:55 pm)

        I really think the BoA is the best option here. I know people have mentioned it here, but has anyone heard ST considering that future southern connections to White Center or Burien could extend from elsewhere, such as the Delridge (or Avalon) station? Maybe this will be discussed further in the process, making considerations for the Junction’s station alignment a much simpler issue.  Seems like future extensions down Delridge would be cheaper and likely serve a bigger walkshed (and historically underserved neighborhood with a college). 

        • Dakota Andover May 24, 2019 (4:56 pm)

          I’ve asked about the option to run a future extension  south from Delridge and the answer hinged on the interval of trains and service time to downtown.  If forget exactly, but I believe, and for sake of argument, ST wants to provide train service from WS to downtown every 8 minutes and then continue on through the regional system.  If we split the West Seattle line to accommodate that, it would mean that the line from the Junction would then come every 16 minutes and the same for the line running south from say the Delridge stop.  The two merging lines would be staggered at the 8-minute interval in order maintain that 8-minute arrival downtown.  It would also complicate the trip from downtown to WS.  You would need to make sure you are on the correct train, either the one that heads to the Junction, or the one that may at some point in the future head to White Center or wherever it would run, depending on your destination.

  • WS Guy May 24, 2019 (9:42 am)

    So, “study all the options” is the outcome.  That seems reasonable. The posturing in the meeting is disappointing though.  It’s the result of the unholy mixed charter of ST LR.  On the one hand it is supposed to connect cities (to Seattle, really) and on the other hand it’s supposed to be a local transit option (for Seattle, really).  As a longer haul option the stations can be sited in low density areas and upzoned.  As a local transit option they have to be sited in currently dense areas which, yes, are expensive to integrate into the already-built neighborhoods.  The reps from other cities of course will pretend it’s only the former, to connect their cities to Seattle, which serves their interests.  This local branch in Seattle does nothing for them so they could care less.  ST3 might turn out to be a loser if we get the worst of both – an elevated fiasco that destroys the areas is supposedly serves with local transit. 

    • sw May 24, 2019 (10:44 am)

      This is the best take on the situation that I’ve read to date.  Thanks, WS Guy.

    • HappyCamper May 24, 2019 (12:19 pm)

      Well put. 

  • Pem May 24, 2019 (9:43 am)

    For west seattle how the junction elevated line/station going to be south/north facing ? The only alternative satisfying this was the orange line. The ST3 representative station was east/west facing 

    • Joe Z May 24, 2019 (12:26 pm)

      It will likely end up as a ‘mix and match’ configuration with the track along Fauntleroy and a sharp turn south along 41st or 42nd. A tunnel would probably have a smoother curve. My biggest concern is the ‘cost saving options’ to get a tunnel which might include terminating the Avalon Station. That would be a grave error given the amount of density and TOD potential in that area that would not be within walking distance of the other two West Seattle stations.

  • chemist May 24, 2019 (12:40 pm)

    After that NTSB Amtrack/Sound Transit investigation board meeting earlier this week, I’m not exactly gung-ho about elevated rail with sharp turns at the moment.

  • Jethro Marx May 24, 2019 (2:31 pm)

    Here’s an idea: remove all of the decision-makers and give authority to a half dozen engineers, then give them a map and a few pitchers of beer. We could be breaking ground in a month!

  • nf May 24, 2019 (2:45 pm)

    <snark>Well, that certainly cleared things up.</snark>

  • TEU May 24, 2019 (3:03 pm)

    The elevated option that is being studied came out of the Stakeholder Advisory Group and is shown on page 39 of the slide deck in this story. It runs along Fauntleroy and studies two alternatives for one Alaska station.

    • The first is at the intersection of Fauntleroy/Alaska/39th and would orient future expansion southward along Fauntleroy. The second option would continue the line up Alaska and take a tight turn into the area of Jefferson Square and orient the southward expansion between 41st and 42nd. The tight turn isn’t ST’s favorite thing to do but it is technically feasible due to its proximity to the station — meaning the train will already be moving slowly. This is similar to the existing tight turn at Westlake.

    A caveat, at this stage these are very simplified instructions for ST staff and can/will evolve, no doubt.

    • Dakota Andover May 24, 2019 (4:40 pm)

      Related to Jefferson Square, I’ll add an interesting note about land ownership of that site.  Jefferson Square is the location of the old Jefferson Middle School and obviously how the site got its name.  I’ve worked with developers on that site before and Seattle Public Schools still owns the land there, and have a 99-year lease for the current development which has separate leases for the both the office/retail and residential components.  With the school district being part of the city,  Seattle technically owns that site.  I know we’d be displacing office and residential space, but for a 100 year benefit look-ahead, why not consider putting a station there and that might help ease potential curve being discussed to head north-south.  Great place for a park above too if a tunnel is chosen.

  • BJG May 24, 2019 (7:52 pm)

    Small correction here. The Jefferson School was our local elementary school. I doubt that the land it is up for grabs. It was shortsighted to let a much needed public school facility go. We are rapidly growing denser.

  • dsa May 24, 2019 (10:57 pm)

    I’ve never heard of handicapping an alternative going into the draft eis.  We always kept an open mind when evaluating alternatives.  None of us knew which one would “win”.

    • WSB May 24, 2019 (11:51 pm)

      This was intended to be a faster process because of the clamor for getting light rail here sooner and identifying a “preferred alternative” pre-EIS was a key component.

      • dsa May 25, 2019 (12:09 am)

        You can’t evaluate the  alternatives until the discipline studies are completed for *all* the alternatives.  Significant impacts, and costly project delaying fatal flaws can come up later by not being doing the homework first.  

        • william curtin May 25, 2019 (3:47 pm)

          Didn’t we do all this with the Monorail 20 years ago!!!!?? So sad so sad I’m outta here!!

  • Also John May 29, 2019 (1:07 pm)

    I’ve been out of the Country and am catching up…  This is not good news for those that live on 41st or 42nd.  An elevated light rail facing north/south will eventually continue south down one of those streets as an elevated light rail.  Not good news for them.  It’ll also divide the east/west neighborhood.  

Sorry, comment time is over.