Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Neighbors and Sound Transit staff gathered Thursday night for a “neighborhood forum” at the Alki Masonic Center to talk about the West Seattle expansion of light rail, and what it means for the community.
It was a busy couple of days for light rail discussions. Earlier that same day, the ST Board gathered downtown for its regular meeting, focused on a discussion/briefing about the outcomes and effects of Initiative 976 (full WSB coverage here). The night before, ST held a neighborhood forum in downtown Seattle at the Central Library. Coming up the week after Thanksgiving, ST is holding additional forums in Chinatown-International District, Interbay/Ballard and right here in Delridge (info here).
The well-attended 2-hour forum began with an “open house” format, followed by a Sound Transit presentation and then an hour of individual table discussions. As attendees arrived, they were able to view informational materials and share input centered around two key questions: 1) What do you value about your community? and 2) How could a light rail station best serve your community?
Sound Transit staff and consultants then gave a presentation (see the complete slideshow in the PDF below) providing an update on the latest light rail plans.
Helping to kick off the meeting was King County Councilmember Joe McDermott (pictured below), who has been deeply involved with light rail expansion as an ST board member and co-chair of the Elected Leadership Group. He thanked attendees for coming, calling these forums “the kickoff of the DEIS public process” and said “we’re here to be informed by West Seattleites about what works in this community.”
- Dennis Sandstrom provided an overall update on current status and timeline, with the design process happening until 2025 and the West Seattle expansion complete in 2030 (Ballard in 2035).
- Stephen Mak talked about route alternatives for West Seattle, most notably the Yancy/Andover elevated option that was added at the late-October ST board meeting (WSB coverage here).
- Lauren Swift gave an update on the process of developing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), due to be published in early 2021 followed by a public comment period, with the final EIS published in 2022. The ST board will then select the final project to begin construction in 2025. We reported last week on soil-sampling work being done at 39th SW and SW Genesee, which is part of the environmental study process (35th and Avalon testing is up next).
- Sloan Dawson focused on station planning, and the partnership between Sound Transit and the City of Seattle as it relates to the design and placement of the light rail stations. He offered an example of current station work being done in Redmond, and how the process works. “We’ve learned that if we engage in this work up-front,” he said, “we can solve design issues early” with the ultimate goal of getting the stations permitted and operational.
Sandstrom then wrapped up the presentation by quickly outlining 3 “FAQs” that the ST team has been hearing from the public:
- Q: What is ST hearing from people in the community about the impact of the light rail? A: That’s what ST is really looking closely at, as part of the DEIS process. We don’t have answers tonight, but the DEIS process will give the community many opportunities to learn about plans and comment on them.
- Q: What happens to these plans now that Initiative 976 has passed? A: The ST board met earlier today and talked about it, so it’s all very new and evolving. After that meeting, ST released this statement from John Marchione, who chairs the ST board. Sandstrom then read from a “hot off the press” prepared statement that summarizes the ST board’s position:
- “Under 976, ST can continue to collect the car tab tax passed by voters in its district to service outstanding bonds. If fully implemented, I-976 would increase borrowing costs and construction costs for voter-approved projects and lead to delays. We will be monitoring existing litigation against the measure and will act as required to comply as we learn more.”
- Q: With regard to the route alternatives, how could 3rd-party funding play a part? A: The 3rd-party funding would be additional funding above-and-beyond the budgeted cost required to pay for the preferred route and its stations. Those 3rd-party sources would need to be identified by 2021, with agreement by 2022 about what the funds are being used for.
The final hour of the event was then dedicated to table discussions, with attendees and ST representatives sharing ideas about how the light rail would be used and what the community impacts would be. All of the tables on the downstairs level of the Masonic Center were focused on the Alaska Junction station area:
Meanwhile, the tables upstairs were dedicated to the Delridge and Avalon station areas. ST staff members like Leda Chahim helped facilitate the discussions:
Participants also included local transportation advocates like Deb Barker, who served on the ST Stakeholder Advisory Group earlier in the process, and community leaders like David Hancock, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association:
How should West Seattleites continue to stay involved with light rail discussions? ST public information officer David Jackson told us that neighbors should continue to learn and share feedback via the WS/Ballard link extension website, and in particular at the next ST event happening in our area: The neighborhood forum at Delridge Community Center on Saturday, Decemer 7, from 10 am-noon (WSB calendar listing here). Jackson added that ST will be doing outreach next year, “out at the Farmers Markets during the summer,” presenting plans and updates.