Walls? Tunnel? Closure? New phase for push to end Highway 99’s division of South Park

(Map from Reconnect South Park website, showing focus area and alternate routes)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

What sounded like an impossible dream a few years ago is rolling down the road toward potential reality.

A planning effort, with state money and city assistance, is looking at whether 1.4 miles of Highway 99 that divide and pollute South Park neighborhoods could be removed, buried, boulevardized, or at least mitigated.

An event Saturday afternoon at Concord International Elementary School – barely a block west of 99 – was the onramp to the next phase of that work, under the Reconnect South Park banner: Developing a “community vision plan.” The open-house-style gathering in the school’s lunchroom offered information on possibilities as well as opportunities for feedback.

Maria Ramirez, project director, explained in brief remarks, “We know we have options; we don’t know where we’re going to end up. We have a year to come up with a vision.”

When put into numbers, what the highway did to South Park is stark – 22 of the neighborhood’s streets are dead ends because of it, Ramirez noted, and only two places to cross over it.

The storymap on the Reconnect South Park website tells the story of how this stretch of highway, built in the late 1950s, was intended to be part of converting all of the South Park area to industrial use; the community stopped the total rezoning, but the highway bisecting the neighborhood remained.

Can that be fixed? That’s what Reconnect South Park is all about. Some early concepts have been sketched out for starters.

The most dramatic of the “potential futures for Highway 99” shown on Saturday would remove it entirely, sending the traffic elsewhere – 509, for example, runs in parallel a relatively short distance west. 44 acres of land now used as a highway could be redirected to “community-supportive uses, such as affordable housing, businesses, and green space,” and the street grid could be reconnected, remedying most if not all of those 22 dead ends. Some of that also would be possible under two other “potential futures” – undergrounding this stretch of 99 as a tunnel (perhaps with a “lid park” over it) or converting it to a boulevard/arterial through South Park, narrower than the current highway. The other possibility – and the least dramatic of the four – would be “mitigation,” such as more sound walls and vegetation as buffers, and “new or improved bridges across the highway.”

At this point, they’re doing everything they can to find out what community members think of those possibilities – or whether they have other ideas. That goes for community members of all ages – particularly youth who are most likely to see something come to fruition, as it’s seen as a “generational” project – something that likely will take many years to plan, fund, and built. But South Park is not alone in pursuing an idea like this – as also shown during Saturday’s event, there’s a nationwide trend toward removing highways that split or otherwise disrupted communities in this way.

So why do it at all? Several reasons, as Ramirez explained “To reverse the socioeconomic harm of planning mistakes (long ago) …” That would include “reparations” for the displacement caused by building the highway through South Park. And the potential health benefits almost go without saying, as there’s been so many revelations in recent years about air pollution in the Duwamish Valley and its effects on the life expectancy of the people who live there.

People who attended on Saturday were invited to point out their homes on a tabletop model of the neighborhood, placing little markers:

There was also information about synergizing with other efforts – the Duwamish Valley Resilience District, for one, as the riverside neighborhoods plan ahead for possible effects of climate change. The city Office of Planning and Community Development is working with Reconnect South Park, administering the grant that’s funding these early efforts, but those involved are trying to keep it as community-led as they can.

WHAT’S NEXT: They’ll be collecting more ideas and feedback through a survey linked on the reconnectsouthpark.org website. Another gathering like the one on Saturday will be scheduled in a few months, too. And the “potential futures” will be analyzed in the meantime. Beyond that – still a long road, as there’d be a lot of governmental involvement, search for funding, etc. But as Ramirez reminded those on hand, “Think deeply about the future – this is going to take a generation to realize. We’re doing this so people can live in an area where they can thrive and be healthy.”

23 Replies to "Walls? Tunnel? Closure? New phase for push to end Highway 99's division of South Park"

  • KM November 21, 2023 (3:38 pm)

    Walls are not enough. The goal should be reconnecting the neighborhood, not making this slightly less bad.

  • Actually Mike November 21, 2023 (4:56 pm)

    There are worse things than living on a dead-end street. Mitigation–slowing traffic on 99, enforcing a “No Compression Braking” rule for big trucks, and walling the roadway off from surrounding neighborhoods–seems more realistic and more affordable (hence: more likely to happen) than the dream that everybody will be one  big happy family if we pretend that the freeway never happened.And if you’re serious about improving life in South Park? Do something about the bloody awful Third Runway flight path from SeaTac that roars just overhead, day and night. Good luck with that part, too.

  • Admiral-2009 November 21, 2023 (5:25 pm)

    The SR – 99/599 corridor is a significant truck route serving the Port of Seattle!  

    • Charles Burlingame November 21, 2023 (6:12 pm)

      They can use 509.

      • 1994 November 21, 2023 (10:25 pm)

        The First Ave S bridge maybe can’t handle all the increased freight traffic? Plus, First Ave S bridge opens for marine traffic….time is money.  The 509 would be a detour, first up hill and then down hill which is bad juju for trucks, for most freight traffic looking to hook up to I-5.

        • bill November 22, 2023 (7:34 am)

          Not bad juju for all trucks. By the time this happens, if it does, 509 will be connected to I-5 near Angle Lake.

  • MyThruppence November 21, 2023 (6:31 pm)

    No more road diets.

  • Rob November 21, 2023 (7:40 pm)

    How  about reconnect  99 along the base of queen Ann hill.or reconnect all the cross streets along I5 

    • Robert RSP November 22, 2023 (10:04 am)

      This is a great question, and SDOT has a separate unrelated project underway to assess the 99 north of the tunnel! Check out their site, not sure if it’s released yet, still in early stages.

  • Optimist November 21, 2023 (7:49 pm)

    Couple of questions to the West Seattle blog:  how many cars travel on 99 daily?…. how many cars travel on 509 daily?  Where would those cars go? If 99 is cut off/ended?  What would that impact be on the other main roads or people that will simply drive through the neighborhood anyway?  What is a comprehensive look at this? Did anyone pull greater geographic area that actually drives those routes?

  • WS Guy November 21, 2023 (9:13 pm)

    And 50 years from now we will repeat this process for the people of North Delridge as concrete rail structures carve up their neighborhood. 

    • KBear November 21, 2023 (9:29 pm)

      Invalid comparison, WS Guy. Nice try, though. 

    • Joe Z November 22, 2023 (9:04 am)

      You do bring up a good point, the approach highway to the West Seattle high bridge is another potential candidate for removal. Especially after light rail is completed and the high bridge can be replaced with a smaller alternative. 

  • IHeartBPP November 21, 2023 (10:05 pm)

    Ugh..gahd…another feel good proposal that will have the opposite effect on the marginalized community that the virtue signalers envision.  So, let’s game this out.  First, the county and state will spend millions in construction costs to dismantle and redirect traffic, causing slow downs, gridlock and environmental damage.  Second, the land will be opened up to the highest bidders who will use their influence and capital to put in $900K townhomes while paying a pittance KCHA.  This proposal will actually ACCELERATE gentrification in the area.  I know South Park, I spend lots of time there.  What the community needs is direct investment in the businesses and people in the area, not this ridiculous white-guilt, white-centered red herring of a plan.   

    • Waaaaahmbulance Chaser November 21, 2023 (10:38 pm)

      Well, well, well……What have we here?  Someone playing the non-sequitur race card.By all means:  “Let’s do nothing to reconnect a neighborhood so it’s a community, because my insufferable cynicism tells me to, and that’s good enough for me”.KK, thanks.

    • Ice November 22, 2023 (1:31 am)

      This post reads to me as “those people in South Park don’t need something that will address one of their neighborhoods biggest challenges (air pollution), instead they need some abstract, imaginary thing (“direct investment in the people and businesses of the area”), I know, I once drove through there and met some of the locals”So yes, let’s game this thing out.the county and state will spend millions of dollars maintaining the highway anyways. Tearing it down would probably save them money fairly quickly. Traffic is also “elastic” so while there maybe some displacement of cars, it won’t be nearly as bad as you describe. Spend some time looking at traffic studies. Also saying that replacing a giant piece of asphalt with a tree lined boulevard will cause environment damage just sounds disingenuous. You should also look at who I actually pushing this initiative rather than putting words in the mouth of an entire neighborhood and saying “I understand the the people who live there, I know one.” Your whole post is just misinformed virtue signaling.

  • Robert RSP November 22, 2023 (10:17 am)

    Our team really appreciates any and all engagement towards building an alternative future for this stretch of SR99. Capturing this is critical to the Community Vision Plan, so please visit the website and place your thoughts in the survey – otherwise it may be lost to the infinite threads of the internet…and please remember, this project is not necessarily for you, it is so today’s youth and the next generation of residents & neighbors, can escape highway injustice and create a more vibrant & equitable Duwamish Valley!

    • Canton November 22, 2023 (1:03 pm)

      Robert, who would own the 40 acres of land if that highway portion was removed? Would that land be eventually owned by a neighborhood controlled land trust?

      • RobertRSP November 23, 2023 (9:57 am)

        The answer at this point in uncertain, given how early we are in developing an alternative future for up to 44 acres. While existing utility easements, street Right-of-ways, and critical environment determine much of the development strategy, the remainder is up to advocacy and engagement by our community – this includes invites ideas and expertise around formation of Land Trusts, Land Restitution, and of course financing the actual development. For now, a great place to start is connecting with our team, and familiarizing with the Duwamish Valley Resilience District (a different community program led by the City). Everyone on our team shares these same concerns of gentrification/displacement and unfettered real estate profiteering, but it will take many voices to address this loud and large problem!

  • Elle November 22, 2023 (1:07 pm)

    South Park also desperately needs a good grocery store! I’d love to see city money help subsidize that, for the residents. 

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