By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
With 10 weeks left for your comment(s) on West Seattle light-rail options, some neighborhoods are organizing their own briefings and reviews of Sound Transit‘s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the extension.
Wednesday night, the Avalon-area neighbors who first organized in 2020 invited ST for another presentation and Q&A. What they asked, and suggested, might help you if you haven’t already commented (which you can do via the ongoing “online open house”).
The ST team – led by facilitator Leda Chahim and West Seattle/Duwamish segment manager Jason Hampton – opened with a presentation almost identical to what they showed the Community Advisory Group last week (WSB coverage here). That included select pairings of Junction and Delridge station alternatives – the location of the Avalon station, closest to where most of Wednesday night’s participants live, depends on what’s chosen for those two ends of the WS extension. Here’s the full slide deck from the meeting:
(You can also see it here.)
Because the presentation was mostly a rerun (actually a little shorter – the Duwamish-crossing alternatives weren’t reviewed), we won’t recap it here. The slide deck includes the comparison information – factors such as how many households would be displaced, how many could be added (in “transit-oriented development” near stations), the cost, the height, whether park land would be affected, whether other key facilities such as social-service providers would be affected.
The meat of the meeting came when it was opened for Q&A. One big question that has also surfaced at previous briefings is whether the Avalon station is really needed. The idea of building the West Seattle line with just the Delridge and Junction stations was not studied in the DEIS, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be suggested in comments. The concerns voiced both here and elsewhere are that it’s not worth the money, given how close it would be to both other stations, and how relatively low the projections are for boardings at Avalon – 1,200, less than a fourth of either other station. (See page 16 of the slide deck.) Chahim did note that one longer-tunnel option was thrown out in the alternatives-development process because it didn’t have an Avalon station. But if there’s now an increasing sentiment toward the possibility of dropping it, could ST still go back and reconsider? “We will do what the board directs us to do,” Chahim said.
Another point that’s been made by attendees at all briefings: A reminder that the West Seattle line will end at SODO for the first five years after it launches in 2032, and everyone headed beyond that will have to transfer. That factors into projected travel times; the ST team only showed travel-time savings as expected in 2042, a full 10 years after West Seattle is built. Metro has promised to keep downtown bus service from Delridge going for at least those first five years, it was repeated.
Other questions: When will cost-saving possibilities be made public? Early April, so there’ll still be time for them to factor into comments before the April 28th deadline. But if you have cost-saving suggestions, ST says, don’t hold back to see if they’re included – go ahead and suggest them in your comments now.
Could other routing possibilities be studied at this point? “If you have ideas about refinement, put them in your comments,” Chahim replied.
The ridership estimates drew some scrutiny. One attendee asked when those estimates were developed, given the change in travel patterns these past two years, ST’s lower ridership, and changing work/commute patterns. Chahim said they’re trying to look ahead 10 years and acknowledged they don’t really have a way to “guess how to adjust.” There was also a question about factors that didn’t seem to have factored into the comparisons – such as, might higher-elevation stations draw lower ridership because of the extra time/difficulty to get up to the platform? When ST’s reps said they didn’t have information on that, the attendee suggested it should be analyzed. Also pointed out: The boarding numbers don’t necessarily translate to an equivalent number of “cars off the road” – those people might currently be bus riders, for example. Overall, skepticism was voiced about the accuracy of all the numbers on which the alternatives are being scored, as well as the methodology. For commenting purposes, Chahim said, perspectives matter a lot, in addition to data, so she urged people to share theirs when commenting. As for why they’re focusing on these factors, Hampton said the ones in the presentation were chosen based on previously expressed community interest, but if attendees would like to see other factors featured, ST reps can come back with a focus on other aspects.
Honing in on one set of numbers – residential displacements – another attendee asked how solid are those estimates?. Hampton said they’re from (corrected) “a parcel count based on the early design” and anticipated needs both for the project and for construction staging. The DEIS contains visualizations, but one commenter suggested they’re misleading; also noted, the fact that only certain areas were visualized. Hampton said “representative areas along the route” with “sensitive receivers” were chosen – “the executive summary has one for each alternative – the visual/aesthetics/technical report has quite a few more.” But the ST reps stressed that “even though we didn’t develop visualizations for every possible vantage point,” the potential impacts are being evaluated. It was then pointed out that what’s shown in summaries – most notably the DEIS’s “executive summary” – can’t help but carry more weight with people who might not go into all the detailed documents. They’re looking for fair comparisons – if one alternative is “shown at its worst point, then all should be shown at their worst points.” Hampton urged inclusion of this observation as a formal comment too.
Another reminder: People should be aware that the formal comments they submit now will be addressed in the final EIS, due out next year, which is the last stop before the ST Board finalizes exact routing and station locations. Is it better to comment individually or as a neighborhood? Both are good, Chahim said, as long as they’re clear. In order to comment effectively, one attendee suggested, it would be helpful to know why a certain route, for example, was not considered, before suggesting now that it should be considered. For those who didn’t participate in/monitor the alternatives-development phase a few years back, Hampton said, much was considered.
As the meeting concluded, community point person M Miller noted that the meeting’s text-chat box had many more questions that were answered and promised to send it around. For the record, representatives of two West Seattle elected officials, County Councilmember Joe McDermott (who is an ST Board member) and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, were there too.
WHAT’S NEXT: Again, you can comment at any time before April 28th via the “online open house.” Sound Transit has meetings coming up next month (dates/times are here). A member of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition who attended the Wednesday night Avalon meeting, Deb Barker, reminded everyone that WSTC will have its own March 24th workshop on the DEIS, “a little bit more folksy” – the WSTC has been working for years to shine more light on the longrunning process of getting light rail to WS.