By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Who’s working on that?”
That’s one of the questions asked toward the end of the Junction Neighborhood Organization‘s meeting Monday night, a reference to the “third-party funding” that Sound Transit says would be required to build some of the options proposed for parts of the West Seattle to Ballard light-rail extension.
The question followed a briefing by reps of Sound Transit, whose System Extension Committee is likely to decide at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday, October 10th) whether to recommend adding certain alternatives to environmental studies for the route. Two West Seattle possibilities – Yancy/Andover Elevated and Pigeon Point Tunnel – are under consideration (in addition to what the ST Board has already decided to study.
The briefing itself went over the “initial assessments” of the alternatives, as first presented to that committee four weeks ago (WSB coverage here). Here’s the slide deck used Monday night by ST’s Leda Chahim, Stephen Mak, and Lauren Swift:
Some questions along the way included wondering why the Junction and Avalon stations are potentially so close together – answer, those general locations were outlined in the original ballot measure – and whether Seattle Public Schools still owns the Jefferson Square site (sort of).
The Environmental Impact Statement process was explained; the Draft EIS is due in late 2020, the “preferred alternative” for the West Seattle to Ballard route will be confirmed or modified in early 2021, then the final EIS will be pursued, and then the official decision on what to build will be made after that.
JuNO director Amanda Sawyer pointed out that once the Draft EIS – which will be a comprehensive document – is out, that might be something that can be tackled by various members volunteering to read various sections of it. There will be a 45-day comment period. Could that be extended? an attendee asked. That would need federal approval, Swift said.
The rest of the timeline includes: Middle of next year, station workshops are planned, as a community engagement opportunity. Also middle of next year, some initial reaching out to possibly affected prpperty owners (who, Chahim stressed, are welcome to contact ST at any time). Sawyer also pointed out that the city plans some neighborhood-planning updates related to the light-rail project.
Another attendee comment: ST has shown lots of maps with lines on them but never “what a 200-foot station will look like … people really don’t know what they are … supporting” without something more visual.
In response, Chahim showed the rough “visualization” that had been done for the Delridge station area. But “you already know what a 200-foot station looks like – you have them all over – you coud superimpose that (on a neighborhood image) to scale,” the attendee contended.
“Scale is important,” reinforced Sawyer.
And then came what another attendee called “the elephant in the room.” the third-party funding it would take for a tunneling option – hundreds of millions of dollars. “Who’s working on that?” he asked.
Chahim said, “It’s not something that at a staff level we’re able to engage in – it’s at a higher level,” such as elected officials. In other words, finding 3rd-party funding is not ST staff’s job. It would be up to the board to tackle. The board, meantime, already has said it wants to know where 3rd-party funding would come from. So, the question was rephrased, who would be providing that information? Whoever that funding is coming from, Chahim said. “We can’t choose a project without knowing where the money’s coming from.”
“If (ST staff) is not part of the process, then they’re just giving us false hope,” someone then said.
“I can’t have enough bake sales to cover (millions),” another person semi-joked.
We subsequently took the question to one of the elected officials that represents our area, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, when we saw her at an (unrelated) meeting Tuesday. She says that to her knowledge, no one is “working on” the funding issue right now, but time’s ticking. As for where the “third-party” money might come from, she said she’s still in favor of spending the Center City Connector streetcar funding for light rail instead, at least to “seed” the search for more (as that eight-digit sum wouldn’t cover any of the nine-digit extras.
Back to Monday’s meeting, some discussion of who’s on the board ensued. (Members include two West Seattleites – County Executive Dow Constantine and County Councilmember Joe McDermott.)
Sawyer said it’s important to reach out to elected officials now and ask them what they’re doing.
WHAT’S NEXT: The System Expansion Committee meeting tomorrow (agenda and other documents here) is at 1:30 pm, including a public-comment period. Same goes for the October 24th board meeting at which there’ll be a final decision on whether to include those alternatives in environmental studies. Both meetings will be at the ST board room, 401 S. Jackson.
ALSO AT JuNO: We’ll recap the renters-rights discussion – and JuNO’s future – in a separate report.