By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though Sound Transit‘s planned-for-2030 West Seattle light rail was the announced spotlight topic of this month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, the discussion traveled over many roads.
More than 40 people had called/clicked in by the time Thursday night’s meeting got going, announced WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd. Here’s the WSTC recording of the meeting:
First guest: ST board member and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who got the leadoff spot because of time constraints. Veering beyond the stated topic, he noted the overall transit challenges posed by the “lousy revenue system” and “god-awful tax system.”
But, he said, Metro is working to build back: “We are intent on providing the transportation people need.” (Whatever transit you’re riding, he exhorted, “Please wear your damn mask!”)
Back to ST, as it grapples with “realignment” because of revenue shortfall, Constantine said the case for federal funding is clear, for jobs, for sustainability, as well as transportation. “I’m going to be pushing very hard to be sure we’re not settling for what this lousy economy (and) tax system hands us.” He says ST will eventually have the money it needs to build everything promised – the issue is when – and he vows to push for getting West Seattle light rail done on time or sooner. “This is a place where we need to be at the head of the line” for federal dollars, the bridge too, he says.
Q&A: Can anything be done about the Metro service shortage in Arbor Heights? Constantine said he’s aware of the problem but not of any currently proposed solutions. Metro’s Chris Arkills noted that the 21X is coming back though didn’t know if there’s any plan for the 22.
What about combining the West Seattle Bridge’s potential replacement with the new bridge that ST is supposed to build to cross the Duwamish River? Constantine said ST has raised some caution flags but he saw the potential for synergy going back to the start of the bridge closure. While the closure is a “moment of crisis,” it is also “a moment of opportunity,” he said.
Don Billen, a planner for ST, picked up from there. He talked about ST’s systemwide recent priorities, including resuming construction after a stopdown in the spring. He also showed just how “dramatic” ST’s ridership drop has been:
He also showed the current service levels:
And he recapped the financial curveball that the recession has thrown to ST, necessitating the current “realignment” discussions (here’s our most-recent coverage). Through 2041 – the scheduled end of what ST3 calls for – they could fall $12 billion short.
They’re still working on planning projects such as West Seattle-Ballard, with the draft Environmental Impact statement now due in the “first half of next year.” Then a realignment decision is expected next summer, by which time, Billen observed, the financial picture may be clearer.
Next, County Council Vice Chair and ST board member Joe McDermott talked more about the West Seattle-Ballard planning process, reminding everyone that additional third-party funding would be needed for some things that are under study (such as a Junction tunnel). He also noted the consideration of whether ST and the West Seattle Bridge process could be synergized. He doesn’t think it “seems plausible” that the two Duwamish-crossing projects could be combined, but their plans would have to “integrate and work together.”
Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan, sitting in for Mayor Durkan – who had just led the West Seattle “town hall” an hour earlier – said she was reiterating Durkan’s “strong support” for transit. She brought up the West Seattle specifics planned for the Transportation Benefit District tax renewal that will go to voters in November (provided the City Council finalizes it Monday). The money raised could pay for additional Water Taxi service, she said.
Q&A: Pigeon Point community advocate Pete Spalding wonders how continung development and rising property values are factoring into ST’s alignment decision. McDermott noted that this is the first line ST is developing in already-dense neighborhoods.
Might the realignment process consider dropping the Avalon station to save money? Sure, that COULD be an option, said McDermott, but he cautioned that moving too fast to offer suggestions like that isn’t in West Seattle’s best interest – “don’t negotiate against ourselves so quickly,” because the offer might be accepted AND more could be “taken from us.” Ranganathan added that “these are 100-year decisions” and the “vision” needs to be maintained.
Can light rail to West Seattle be accelerated? Ranganathan said there’s some advantages to trying for that, such as making sure it’s “shovel-ready” and therefore eligible for funding that sometimes focuses on projects with that status.
Should multifamily development in West Seattle be halted because of the bridge closure and general mobility issues? Ranganathan said it’s a “fair question” but didn’t clearly answer it – she noted that they’re trying not to make any major decisions right now – multifamily for example is permitted around transit areas, and they need to continue working toward that goal. Ultimately, she said, an answer might depend on what the bridge solution turns out to be.
BRIDGE UPDATE: SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe and bridge project leader Heather Marx tag-teamed (due to technical trouble), and repeated some of what was said during the Town Hall before this meeting. More specifics on the next raising of work platforms – early Monday (July 27th) morning. He also went through the six scenarios that the Community Task Force was told Wednesday will be addressed by the Cost-Benefit Analysis. He also recapped the low-bridge’s status. Marx recapped Reconnect West Seattle – survey deadline, July 31st – and stressed that its mode-shift aspirations are “for those who are able” to make a change, while reiterating that the city is well-aware not everyone’s able.
As she had told the Community Task Force, they’ve received more than 10,000 general surveys so far, and 1,000 of the neighborhood-specific.
Q&A – detour signage on SB I-5 is incomplete, not making the bridge closure clear – Marx said that’s because that section of the bridge (the east, aka Spokane Street Viaduct) isn’t closed but they’ll look for a better way to communicate about the closure.
West Marginal Way – is SDOT monitoring traffic conditions? Marx said speed info would be available soon. (We’ll be requesting it.) She said overall multiple constituencies have requests for the corridor and they have to “find a way to make it safe for everybody and accessible for everybody” – even as traffic on the road has doubled.
Re: Sylvan Way (an area mentioned by a resident as plagued by speeding and crashes as bridge-detour traffic has increased), Marx said radar-feedback speed-limit signs have been ordered and should be ready to install in about five weeks. (We noticed this one on SW Holden west of 35th SW the next day:)
The road’s arterial status and steep hill pose unique traffic-calming challenges but engineers are working on it, she said.
NEXT MEETING: 6:30 pm August 27th, with expected guest U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal “to discuss Federal aid for West Seattle Bridge.”