By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
With the West Seattle-to-Ballard light-rail project still projected to have a nearly $2 billion “affordability gap,” Sound Transit has floated some cost-cutting ideas – including axing the Avalon station.
Those ideas were presented very briefly, in the last 15 minutes of tonight’s two-hour Community Advisory Group meeting for the West Seattle/Duwamish section of the project.
This is the second-to-last meeting for the advisory group. The meeting began with a quick recap of what the group has done since it was convened last fall. Then the CAG members were separated into three breakout groups for ~40 minutes of discussion on “issues, tradeoffs, opportunities” with the routing/station alternatives that were studied for the Draft Environnmental Impact Statement, which is open for comment until April 28th. And they heard from city reps about where the city’s going with its official comments on the DEIS. But the cost-cutting possibilities were the biggest news of the night, so we’ll start there.
POSSIBLE COST SAVINGS/REFINEMENTS: ST’s Cathal Ridge presented the ideas. The West Seattle to Ballard project still has a projected $1.8 billion “affordability gap,” he said, so in the “realignment” process last year, the ST Board told staff to look for potential savings. Now they’re offering a few possibilities. Ridge noted that none of these ideas are part of the Draft EIS, just possibilities that are being surfaced separately. It’s up to the board to decide whether to even study any of these ideas – “it’s very preliminary,” he stressed.
Two of the five ideas are in West Seattle – eliminating the Avalon station, and moving the Fauntleroy Way station alternative a bit
Shifting the Fauntleroy station would save $200 million, mostly via avoiding tearing down the new mixed-use development at 4722 Fauntleroy Way SW:
Doing that and eliminating the Avalon station – which has come up often in community discussion, given its lower ridership projection and relative proximity to the other two WS stations – would save $325 million:
Or, eliminating the Avalon station and building the “medium tunnel/41st SW” version of the Junction station could save %60 million.
Other possible points of “refinement: included one in West Seattle, related the Andover option for the Delridge station – changing access by building a pedestrian bridge, possibly closing or rerouting 32nd SW, or shifting the station location further south. “This would facilitate a lower guideway and station,” Ridge said.
CAG member Willard Brown wondered how the cost-savings projections are being assessed. Ridge said they were being measured by “the costs available in the Draft EIS” – that’s 2019 dollars. CAG member Agape Moon asked if the Avalon station could be dropped now but added later. Ridge said this concept is to simply eliminate it forever; to allow for it to be built later would require a lot of infrastructure and less savings.
CAG member Deb Barker said she supports the idea of removing the Avalon station but observed that the Andover refinements seem like “lipstick on a pig,” and the entirety of the Andover/Avalon routing remains “unsustainable.” CAG member M Miller seconded what Barker said, and said it’s important that West Seattle doesn’t “lose a station with nothing to gain for it.”
Again, these ideas go nowhere unless the board directs staff to study them. (Here’s tonight’s full slide deck, if you’re interested in a few more details.)
CITY COMMENTS: Nicole Kistler from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and consultant Kokila Lochan gave a look into the city review of the DEIS and the resulting draft of city comments on the project. West Seattle to Ballard light rail is the “biggest infrastructure project in the city’s history,” Kochan said. The “draft comments” are being sharec for community feedback. Here’s what the city is seeking to answer:
Here’s a summary of the comments they’re drafting so far:
The city reps stressed that the city is a “strong supporter” of the project but just wants to be sure all those issues are thoroughly addressed as it moves forward. “Ultimately we want the best project.” This will also be discussed at a City Council committee meeting one week from today, on April 19th. In May or June, the city will formally adopt a resolution with its official position and preferred alternative. Here’s the full list of city “next steps”:
CAG member David Bestock suggested a stronger focus on finding out who would be affected by displacement – right now, numbers of residences have been cited, but not who lives there. CAG member Inaki Longa said it’s important to convey a positive message about increased density. CAG member Moon said that as a tenant, what’s vital is not just to be given money and told to go find someplace to live, but to be given “a lease,” stressing the importance of housing security. CAG member Pete Spalding asked about what community outreach had been done to collect what’s gone into the comments that city reps have drafted. The answer boiled down to “nothing much” aside from, for example, participation in meetings like this one. Spalding then said that was concerning, that the city’s not bringing residents into development of its vision for the project. CAG member Brown said he’s not clear on how the city and ST are working together regarding the project’s potential effects on Longfellow Creek. Kistler promised followup on specifics.
BREAKOUT DISCUSSION: At the start of the meeting, CAG members were split into three “breakout groups” to discuss their overall thoughts on the routing/station-location alternatives. (Note that while the Avalon-station removal hadn’t yet been formally presented before this portion of the meeting, the CAG members got advance looks at the slide deck, so they knew it was being suggested.) The first group expressed “a lot of interest in the Junction tunneled stations,” particularly reducing displacement, getting close as possible to The Junction and its dense neighborhoods. The 42nd SW version would have more business effects, 41st would be less costly and less displacement. They also discussed how that might feed into southward expansion beyond ST3. For the Avalon station, there was interest in a tunnel, options for station access, and what the “walkshed” looks like, as well as whether the station is needed at all. For the Delridge station, the tradeoffs they discussed included the importance of Longfellow Creek and how it might be affected, the benefits of a lower guideway, and how the Dakota station site might offer more Transit-Oriented Development opportunities. The Andover option would have less residential displacement but they wondered how it would affect Nucor operations. They also expressed interested in the north Duwamish River crossing for less effects on wildlife as well as staying away from the Pigeon Point north slope.
The second group also expressed preference for an underground Junction station. For Avalon, they noted many topographical challenges as well as congestion from normal traffic flow in that area, but the group also was “open to the idea” of dropping that station entirely. For Delridge, the group liked the Dakota Street 30′ platform alternative. They felt the alternatives further north might not be as transit-accessible. Most of this group did not prefer the north Duwamish crossing because, among other reasons, it would affect the port and maritime businesses.
The third group talked about costs and human impacts of the Junction alternatives, and supported tunneling there. Consequences were more of a concern than costs. “The more tunnel, the better,” one group member was quoted as saying. For Avalon, they talked about whether it might be needed later even if it’s not built at the start. For Delridge, they wanted to see the option that did the least damage to the area. For the Duwamish crossing, this group had “an overwhelming desire for the north crossing.”
NEXT MEETING: “Consolidating feedback” is the theme for the advisory group’s May 10th meeting, 5 pm online – watch this page for a viewing link.
YOUR CHANCE TO COMMENT: If you haven’t yet commented on the proposed routing/station-location alternatives that are in the DEIS, you have until April 28th – here are your options.