From Terminal 5’s ‘quiet zone’ to light rail $, and more, @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s first meeting of the year included two guests – one expected, one not. We start with the latter:

T-5 ‘QUIET ZONE’ & OTHER RAILROAD-RELATED ISSUES: The surprise guest was West Seattle residient Megan McIntyre from BNSF. She covers 11 states.

First, she noted, SDOT‘s Lander grade separation – to get Lander Street in SODO up over the tracks – is expected to wrap up in July.

Next: More details on the Terminal 5 “quiet zone.”

It was initiated by the Port of Seattle as part of T-5’s modernization project. McIntyre said the Quiet Zone will cover five crossings, so they had to meet at each one to work out how it could be safe without train horns. She said they’re numbered 1 through 5, west to east, with the 5th is closest to the drawbridge over the Duwamish River; they considered closing that crossing but the property owner and tenant did not want to do that. According to McIntyre, “that’s been the biggest holdup.” They’re working through issues that should be wrapped up within a few months; then they’ll sign contracts with the city and that “starts the clock for final engineering.” What’ll be installed will vary from crossing to crossing, but it will be accompanied by conversations with train crews as well as signage. She expects it’ll be done in 2021, but lots of process remains between now and then. One note: The crossings further south along West Marginal Way are NOT part of the “quiet zone” – so you will still hear some train horns in West Seattle. McIntyre also talked a bit about light-rail planning, saying BNSF has met with Sound Transit and have “already looked at engineering plans.” Does BNSF have a strong preference for routing? Not really, said McIntyre. Its main issues are with how guideways will affect their track structure.

KING COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER JOE McDERMOTT: McDermott not only represents West Seattle and vicinity (including White Center and Vashon/Maury Islands) on the council, he also is a vice chair, and he’s on the Sound Transit Board.

WSTC had provided a list of questions/issues, and McDermott began by addressing I-976 effects. Many questions are hanging unanswered pending the court case, but a preliminary decision is expected next month, he said. “What conversation IS taking place right now is a new valuation schedule for car tabs.” Earlier that day, he added, State Sen. Marco Liias introduced legislation for that. “Not Kelley Blue Book (because) that’s a private company and we shouldn’t be setting public policy on a private company’s (decision).” McDermott also said that “what Tim Eyman hasn’t talked about” is that the widely criticized valuation actually eventually undervalues vehicles. Upholding 976 wouldn’t just affect Sound Transit – Metro has a grant program that could be affected, but the transit agency is proceeding right now as if it will not. Would the new valuation schedule raise the same amount of money? McDermott said he hadn’t read the bill yet so he’s not certain.

On to light rail: “Not much more to report” since the most-recent ST forum. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement process continues, as does station planning. Chris Arkills from King County said two more workshops for West Seattle are expected in spring. McDermott stressed that property-acquisition needs won’t be clear until after the final DEIS is out in 2022, but the agency continues engaging with property owners, in “preliminary conversations.” McDermott also recapped the new accelerated process ST’s been using and how they’ve been “learning” from that. So he stresses that people whose property MIGHT be affected should take advantage of the chance to talk to ST real-estate staff. Two participants who live in the Youngstown area noted that redevelopment and property sales continue and not everyone seems to be aware of the future light-rail line. WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd suggested it’s disingenuous of real-estate agents not to bring this up with their clients, since he’s noticed they seem more than ready to tout other upcoming features such as the RapidRide H Line conversion. “I want to underscore that Sound Transit buys (at a price that would enable) you to buy a comparable house in a comparable area – they won’t give you a price that would buy (for example) a slightly smaller house, (far away).”

Re: third-party funding, for, say, a tunnel into The Junction – McDermott noted that the third-party funding would have to be identified by 2022. “We don’t know what that (needed) dollar amount is right now,” but the DEIS will give a better idea of what it would be. Board member Deb Barker circulated copies of the City Council Statement of Legislative Intent about the third-party issue, requiring a report on its status to the Transportation Committee by this July. What potential sources are you looking at? McDermott was asked. Primarily city and port, he replied. (Board member Mark Jacobs suggested a fare surcharge paid by people who board in WS.) McDermott then suggested that tunnel supporters who don’t love whatever tax source is proposed “think twice about speaking against it. …It’s going to be really hard to fund a tunnel into the West Seatttle Junction” if there’s vocal opposition to whatever source is proposed. Also: The idea of dropping a station is pretty much a non-starter, McDermott said, because of the way the ST3 ballot measure was worded.

Attendee Mike Hatchett then asked McDermott about the NB 99 bus lane and what “justifies” it. “Have you seen time saved?” he asked. So far he’s made public-disclosure requests and hasn’t found that evidence yet. Arkills stepped in to answer questions, noting that the lane was originally there from 2013 until contractors “accident(ally)” took it out. “Metro and others fought for the lane. …. It does increase speed for buses, and more importantly, it increases reliability – whether (bus commuters) can get there reliably. Hatchett countered that the lane has backed up traffic and quoted a WSDOT memo saying that traffic moved faster when the lane was taken out. “I think it’s ridiculous to attribute every traffic problem in West Seattle to the bus lane, but” it’s made things worse. Arkills said that he would get Metro data to examine that further (Hatchett had requested data from WSDOT). Another attendee said there should be some mitigation for the assumption that everyone in West Seattle is going downtown, because they’re not. Bottom line, McDermott said he wanted to be clear, he supports a bus lane on 99N – he’s willing to look at data and consider “small tweaks” but overall he’s adamant that the bus lane increases reliability. Hatchett said there’s no backup into downtown so there’s no reason to be worried about reliability. Another problem he noted: There’s no lead agency on the decision. Arkills said ultimately though it’s a state highway, SDOT has jurisdiction over that stretch of road. Taylor-Judd recalled similar grousing when the West Seattle Bridge bus lane went in.

He then brought up the next issue, the plan to situate a RapidRide H Line stop at Findlay instead of what the community’s been asking for, keeping it at the existing stop at Brandon, where there’s already signa and a crosswalk and pathways to the area. The discussion with Councilmember McDermott wrapped up shortly afterward.

NEW BOARD MEMBERS: They’re still seeking more.But they have a new one to add: Ethan Wyatt, Chief Sealth International High School student, would be the board’s second student member. He’s a freshman at CSIHS, interested in doing this “for general knowledge … (and to) get more information on the city’s infrastructure.”

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets fourth Thursdays, 6:30 pm, at Neighborhood House High Point (6400 Sylvan Way SW).

23 Replies to "From Terminal 5's 'quiet zone' to light rail $, and more, @ West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • Matt P January 26, 2020 (11:03 pm)

    The only reason the bus is faster than the traffic is because the traffic is backed up due to the bus lane.  In the two weeks where there was no bus lane and Alaska had been opened to 2 lanes, traffic moved faster than it does now.    

  • Airwolf January 27, 2020 (7:26 am)

    Sears and Office Max are going in next to the Starbucks building? splendid  

  • Peter January 27, 2020 (9:00 am)

    It’s long past time to drop the tunnel to the Junction idea. Considering the cuts ST will likely be facing under any political scenario, the focus of the ST board should be 100% on building what was approved in ST3, and the tunnel is just an unfeasible distraction to that imperative. In addition, tunneling to the Junction will not only make the West Seattle extension much more expensive and take much longer to build, it will also make any future expansion much more expensive and take much longer to build, which greatly reduces the chances of any future expansion ever being built. Tunneling to the Junction is a terrible idea any way you look at it. Just drop it already. 

    • Shaun January 27, 2020 (12:18 pm)

      Well said. I hope common sense prevails. 

    • wscommuter January 27, 2020 (3:27 pm)

      I have to respectfully disagree with you.  The goal shouldn’t be to build the cheapest thing; it should be to build the smartest thing, which of course includes accounting for the cost differential between tunneling and at grade/elevated tracks.  Running light rail into the Junction at grade or elevated will be a blight on our neighborhood.  I recognize that the funding may not be there, so my point may be moot.  But as one taxpayer, I’d vote to pay more taxes for tunneling because the end result will be better for my community.  

      • WS Guy January 27, 2020 (5:12 pm)

        Concrete pylons and noisy rail would destroy the area, just as the viaduct once did.  Build it right or take the bus. 

      • Aerial Observer January 27, 2020 (6:17 pm)

        Running light rail into the Junction at grade or elevated will be a blight on our neighborhood.  […] But as one taxpayer, I’d vote to pay more taxes for tunneling because the end result will be better for my community.” Well said. Running a rail line up a huge hill, instead of tunneling straight into the hill, seems like a serious case of “pennywise and pound-foolish.” Also, the street-level view of both the Olympics and the Cascades makes The Junction one of the most magical places in the city. Blocking that view because we’re too cheap to build properly would indeed blight The Junction for generations to come. If it works at B’way & John, it will work even better at The Junction. Let’s get creative and obtain funding for a real transit line into West Seattle.

        • KM January 28, 2020 (8:46 am)

          I think the reason it worked on Broadway/Capitol Hill is because it would have been extremely cost prohibitive to take even more land for lightrail, therefore tunneling was less of a cost difference than it would be in West Seattle. As much as we all love the Junction, it’s not nearly as valuable of real estate as those parts of the city, and we have far less to displace above ground than they would have.

  • Bob Lang January 27, 2020 (10:42 am)

    Finally a little common sense.  I am already overtaxed. 

  • Elton January 27, 2020 (11:19 am)

    I’m looking forward to the data Mike digs up. I ride the 56/57 route on a regular basis and am pretty  confident that the bus lane has increased my commute time on  the bus.

  • Data? January 27, 2020 (12:16 pm)

    So, Joe is adamant that the bus lane increases reliability in one breathe, but willing to look at the data in another. I am skeptical of anyone who is adamant about anything before they even look at the data. 

    • Kyle January 27, 2020 (1:18 pm)

      Lol agreed. Found it funny that the reasoning was basically “It was there before” and he’s adamant that the lane is needed, even though he hasn’t looked at any data. Also, talking about the bus lane that was restriped a few months ago forcing awkward merging for all involved, the bus lane on the Dearborn off ramp, is needed and a good use of space. The only time the Dearborn off ramp backed up was when Alaskan was down to one lane.

  • Bronson January 27, 2020 (2:16 pm)

    Is there any information for the map location(s) related to this statement:“One note: The crossings further south along West Marginal Way are NOT part of the “quiet zone” – so you will still hear some train horns in West Seattle.”

  • Dawson January 27, 2020 (3:16 pm)

    Terminate light rail at Alaska and 35th. Good north south alignment that would allow for future expansion along a central corridor. 

    • Jon Wright January 28, 2020 (10:17 am)

      There is nothing at Alaska and 35th and further, that location is constrained to the east. The idea is to put stations where there is existing density and the opportunity for future transit-oriented development.

  • Dl January 27, 2020 (8:08 pm)

    As a homeowner I would be willing to pay more tax so we could get a tunnel for West Seattle.

  • dsa January 27, 2020 (8:51 pm)

    Capital Hill, U district, downtown, all got tunnels.  Think of what it looks like where there is no tunnel.  Can’t remember?  That’s because you don’t go there.  This is why Sound Transit never provided decent renderings very early on.  Just stop being in such a hurry to get just “anything” done.  Make them do it right.

    • KM January 28, 2020 (10:29 am)

      Is your argument that nobody goes to Columbia City or the airport because they don’t have a tunnel? That’s wild.

      • CMT January 28, 2020 (11:25 am)

        The areas around the underground light rail are vastly more appealing when it is not elevated or at grade.   Beacon Hill is a great example where (in my opinion) the physical station entrance leading to the underground station actually adds to the appeal of the area.  Contrast that with hulking concrete pillars and shrieking brakes.  

    • alkimark January 29, 2020 (10:57 am)

      Agreed.  Why should WS get the short end of the stick?  Lets go tunnel or not at all.

  • Scubafrog January 28, 2020 (4:32 pm)

    :O   W Seattle won’t have light rail until 2030??

    • WSB January 28, 2020 (4:42 pm)

      Yes, that’s been the date since before the ST3 vote. Actually a few years earlier than originally planned.

  • the admiral January 28, 2020 (4:48 pm)

    I don’t get what buildings we plan to tear down in Alaska Junction to build above ground rail… half the new apartment towers they just finished building? If this were the proposal 20 years ago, sure. And the thing about requiring three stations because of ballot wording is ridiculous. It was clear the proposal was preliminary with details TBD. The three stations are redundant – look how far apart all other stations are. Why is WS rail being so poorly executed?

Sorry, comment time is over.