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.
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).