By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Even before its “realignment” decision, Sound Transit has slid West Seattle-Ballard light rail back a year, telling the Avalon Neighborhood Group that WS is now set to open in 2031 instead of 2030, Ballard in 2036 instead of 2035.
This neighborhood group has been meeting regularly with ST, and invited us to cover its online meeting last night. We previously reported on the group in July, when they held a fact-finding meeting to learn more about the Yancy/Andover Elevated option added relatively late to the list of options being studied.
Last night’s meeting began with a status report from ST’s Zack Ambrose, going through where the planning process stands. In addition to the pushed-back launch date – pending “realignment” decisions for the entire ST3 plan next year – they’re saying that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) won’t be released until mid-2021, and the final EIS won’t be out until 2023.
One attendee asked if the timeline always had called for two years between the DEIS and final EIS; ST said yes, but past presentations we’ve covered (such as this one in February) suggested otherwise, with the DEIS due in 2021 and the final EIS in 2022.
Meantime, the meeting also included a city rep, Sam Stork, who explained their current involvement – trying to “identify issues early and craft solutions.”
ST explained the geographic focus of segments of the West Seattle-Ballard extension – Jason Hampton said the Avalon and Junction stations are both part of the “West Seattle Junction segment.” Geographic segments are how the DEIS document will be broken down.
The release of the DEIS next year will open an important public-comment period. So – how will it be circulated?
“We’re still trying to think abut all the different ways to reach people,” ST’s Leda Chahim said. They’ll also be developoing a “reader’s guide to the DEIS” as well as different ways for people to comment. They offered some tips on commenting – facts, references, observations if you see something that’s wrong – “that’s the point of the draft.”
In the meantime, the ST reps stressed, it’s important to explore the updated online open house, first announced last month. It includes new maps, cross-sections, and stats – such as potential guideway heights – of what’s being studied in the DEIS.
Ambrose went through several alternatives for the Delridge to Avalon route – both route alignments and station locations/heights – pointing out that the Delridge station would be 60′ to 110′ up, and then the guideway along Genesee would be up to 150′. The DEIS will include more renderings, Ambrose noted.
Asked about third-party funding, which would be required for tunneling – “we’re not picky about where (it) comes from,” Chahim said. (There’s been no recent public talk about this, and local/regional governments are more strapped than ever because of pandemic-caused revenue shortfalls.)
Station-height projections, such as those on the right side of the slide above, drew significant comment/concern, as residents pointed out it’s of great interest to them. Updated cost information was another subject of questioning, but that is awaiting the draft DEIS publication.
What would be realistic when commenting on the DEIS? Explain why you’re making a suggestion, Chahim offered.
Could a gondola be suggested at this stage of planning? they were asked. The mode of the system is part of what voters approved in 2016, Chahim explained, after ST looked at a variety of modes including gondolas, and arrived on light rail, so that’s why light rail is the plan and not, say, a gondola. Nonetheless, when you are commenting on the DEIS – “Give us the ‘why’ and explain what it is you’re trying to accomplish,” Chahim said.
Another attendee offered that it’s important for neighbors to focus on what they can realistically recommend.
“We look at what the board tells us to look at,” said Chahim, while pointing out that they’ve already gone through a lot of “process and analysis” to get to this point.
Yet another area of interest for the group: What’s next for property-acquisition engagement? They’ll talk about that more when ST comes back to the group in January. And before the DEIS is published mid-next year, they’ll notify potentially affected property owners.
Various other questions were generally met with a reiteration of “comment when the DEIS comes out.” But that won’t necessarily be an opportunity to suggest entirely different routing options, for example – the DEIS to EIS evolution is more likely to be a modification of what’s currently being studied, Chahim clarified.
One attendee countered that it would be better for the board to listen to concerns/additions now, when that’s likely to be less disruptive, with more delays likely in the process. Chahim attempted to explain that the multitude of options being studied now were already the result of community input.
The discussion then moved on to station planning. A rendering of the Redmond station’s plan was shown as an example:
That level of detail should be available now for proposed West Seattle station locations, it was suggested by an attendee.
Some of that type of detail is actually in the new “online open house,” Chahim pointed out: Station cross-sections, context, height, etc. And: “The level of detail is going to increase as we have more information and more engagement.”
Concerns persisted about, for example, a 50-foot-high Avalon station. A tunnel is really all that makes sense, one attendee said, voicing concerns about construction choking off traffic.
Once the DEIS is out, ST will review the comments, for which you’ll have a 45-day period. The final EIS will have the final preferred route and station locations, with the board then charged with finalizing their decision.
One attendee wondered about the noise studies’ accuracy, and whether the current shutdown of the West Seattle Bridge would affect that. Chahim noted that a lot of studies were done before the bridge closure. “The DEIS will look at the noise as if the West Seattle Bridge was (open),” said Ambrose.
WHAT’S NEXT: ST will meet with the group again next month. It’s likely to appear before the West Seattle Transportation Coalition soon, too. But if you have questions. you can email any time – email@example.com – they promise prompt replies.
P.S. Here’s the full slide deck from the meeting (including the frames shown above).