West Seattle, Washington
4:52 PM: The Sound Transit Board‘s meeting has just concluded. As we learned shortly before the meeting, West Seattle “areas of further study” results for ideas such as scrapping the Avalon station were not part of today’s presentation after all, but will be included when the board’s System Expansion Committee meets at 1 pm Thursday, February 9th. The slide deck for this afternoon’s presentation by ST’s Cathal Ridge nonetheless included two dates of note:
Those dates: The vote to finalize the route and station locations is now expected on November 16th. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released at some point before that. According to the new timeline, the West Seattle project schedule has slid two months; the line is expected to open in the final quarter of 2032. One more note: While a new survey for the West Seattle/Ballard extensions mostly focuses on the unsettled areas, there is an open-ended option for providing West Seattle feedback; you can go here to do that before February 17th.
6:54 PM: The project website does recap some of what’s been found about the proposed West Seattle “areas of further study,” even though it wasn’t discussed today. Go here and scroll to where you can expand the West Seattle Link Extension section. From what you’ll find there:
Delridge access, integration and alignment refinement shifts alignment south towards SW Yancy Steet to improve passenger access and transit integration and reduce effects to organizations serving low-income and communities of color.
14 fewer residential and 3 additional business displacements
Eliminates potential passenger and freight conflicts
Permanent closure of 32nd Ave
Cost delta compared to realigned financial plan: + $50 million
Eliminate Avalon Station eliminates station and optimizes alignment to reduce costs. Assumes shifting alignment south towards SW Yancy St.
48 fewer residential displacements and 3 fewer business displacements
Longer travel times for passengers closer to DEIS Avalon Station
No expected decrease in project ridership
Reduces temporary and permanent roadway closures
Cost delta compared to realigned financial plan: – $80 million
Alaska Junction station access refinement shifts station entrance 42nd Avenue SW to improve passenger access.
90 additional equitable transit oriented development housing units
Eliminates need for pedestrian crossing of 41st Ave SW
39 fewer residential and 32 additional business displacements
Cost delta compared to realigned financial plan: + $80 million
ORIGINAL WEDNESDAY REPORT: When the Sound Transit Board meets Thursday afternoon, it’s scheduled to hear a report on some as-yet-undecided aspects of the West Seattle light-rail project, the “Areas of Further Study,” which most notably included the possibility of scrapping the Avalon station. The “areas” were recapped in a presentation at a board-committee meeting back in November – this is a slide section showing the West Seattle study subjects:
(The full slide deck from the November meeting includes closer looks at each “area.”) Some residents close to the proposed light-rail route have received a flyer mentioning the presentation planned tomorrow – we heard from one resident near 32nd/Genesee who said a printed copy was hung on her front gate. The flyer also says the “further study” results will be discussed when the board’s System Expansion Committee meets February 9th. Here’s the 1:30 pm meeting’s agenda (including how to comment); we’ve requested the report in advance but it hasn’t been made available yet.
One other West Seattle light-rail-related note: ST is now doing more field work, involving “noise monitoring at several properties near the West Seattle Link Extension corridor” as part of the work toward the Final Environmental Impact Statement’s publication later this year. This flyer, forwarded to us by another community member, has gone out to residents who agreed to allow monitoring devices on their property. The flyer, among other things, says they’re not recording actual sound, just decibel levels. We have several followup questions out to ST, including asking which areas these studies are being conducted in.
ADDED 12:13 PM THURSDAY: As noted below, we have finally obtained some advance information on today’s discussion, and are told it will NOT include West Seattle results, but will focus on other areas of the project, particularly Ballard. West Seattle will get a closer look at the February 9th System Expansion Committee meeting, we’re told.
Before this year is out, the Sound Transit Board of Directors is expected to take a final vote on exactly where West Seattle’s light-rail extension will run, and stop. That decision will set in motion a wave of changes for multiple neighborhoods. Some people will have to move their homes and businesses. Some are looking forward to access to more transit. Local writer Marie McKinsey is launching a site to collect community opinions and information, after seeing how some light-rail-related posts on her personal website – such as this one – draw a lot of interest. She explains further:
The response to blog posts like this one has shown me that there are deep concerns in the neighborhood about this project. I’m not sure it would pass if presented to voters today.
I was talking to some friends about this recently. They are frustrated with this project and believe others are, too. They just don’t have a way to connect with them.
It occurred to me that it might help if there was a single website that could show the Big Picture of public sentiment. One that gives people a place to share their DEIS comments, their experiences with Sound Transit, and stories about how this project will affect them. Maybe that will lead to connections between people across the various micro-neighborhoods affected.
So I created a blog that people can contribute to. I will add separate pages if needed to accommodate community organizations, like Pigeon Point, Delridge, etc. It’s a Blogger site, so there are no expenses for any of us. Here’s the URL: westseattleneighbors.blogspot.com
I’d like for people to know they can send me information and I will post it. I have no idea where this will go. I’m just going to put it out there and see who shows up.
Her email address is on the site. Right now, Sound Transit is working on the final Environmental Impact Statement for the extension, which has to respond to concerns raised after the Draft EIS went public before last July’s “semi-final” routing/station location vote. ST’s current estimate for Final EIS release is “late” this year; 2032 is the estimated date for the West Seattle light-rail extension to start running.
A West Seattle resident will be presiding over the Sound Transit Board when the final decision about West Seattle routing is made next year. King County Executive Dow Constantine was elected this afternoon as the board’s new chair, a role he held 2014-2016. He’ll become chair in January, succeeding Kent Keel, a city councilmember from University Place in Pierce County, who has chaired the ST Board for the past three years. Keel and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers will serve as vice chairs. As explained here, “The board includes three members from Snohomish County, ten from King County, four from Pierce County and the secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation.” The current King County members include one other West Seattleite, County Councilmember Joe McDermott. ST is currently working on the final Environmental Impact Statement for the West Seattle extension, due out next year, with a final routing/stations decision to follow. Latest timeline is for West Seattle to SODO light rail to open in 2032.
As Mayor Bruce Harrell said in his budget speech, the city intends to be closely involved in planning for the West Seattle/Ballard Extensions of Sound Transit light rail – and one of the city entities keeping an eye on the project will be touring part of the planned route tomorrow (Thursday, October 6). Thanks to West Seattle community advocate Deb Barker for the tip on the Seattle Design Commission‘s plan to spend its regular meeting on this tour. The SDC is an advisory group and its meetings are open to the public. From the agenda:
SDC WSBLE Tour of Delridge, Avalon, and Alaska Junction Light Rail Station locations
Alaska Junction Station Location
Location: SE corner of SW Alaska St and 42nd Ave SW
Location: 35th Ave SW and SW Dakota St (one block north of station location)
Location: Corner of SW Yancy, SW Andover, and 32nd Ave SW
Location: NW corner of Delridge Way SW and SW Andover St
You can catch up with them at one or more of the stops.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
While the region was dealing with transportation troubles by sea and by land this afternoon, the Sound Transit Board of Directors took what you could call it semifinal vote on routing and station locations for West Seattle’s future light rail.
Without much discussion, despite an at-times-emotional last round of public comment, board members unanimously approved final environmental-impact studies for the “preferred alternative” recommended by a board committee two weeks ago, with these locations and possible modifications:
See the full slide deck here. For engineering concept diagrams, you can see this appendix of the Draft Environmental Impact Report; for lists of potentially affected parcels, see this section of the DEIS. (ADDED) For summaries of the chosen options, see this document – page 41 explains the Junction station and the “retained cut” Avalon station that goes with it (unless dropped later), while page 36 explains the Andover station, and page 26 summarizes the “preferred” Duwamish River crossing.
Almost all of the West Seattle-related comments in the hour and a half of public comment that opened the meeting had to do with opposition to the Delridge station option the board is supporting, DEL-6, particularly because of its potential impacts on Transitional Resources, which provides supportive housing and other services to people living with behavioral/mental-health issues, many of whom were formerly homeless, about half of whom TR says are BIPOC. TR’s CEO Darcell Slovek-Walker broke down in tears while speaking to the board today, recounting how she had to tell clients that “their homes are at risk.” TR clients past and present spoke as well; one asked, “how can you even think about tearing it down?” A current resident said, “There’s nothing transitional about (it) … please don’t destroy our homes.” Another, who said TR saved their life 10 years ago, added, “I was given a home that surrounded me with love and support” after leaving a hospital … “the irony is that TR taught me how to use Seattle transit, including light rail, for my independence.” And a TR supporter said that what the organization provides “cannot be replicated” and “serves the most marginalized people in our community.” Almost all the non-WS comments at the meeting were about the Chinatown-ID station south of downtown, which will be studied for at least a few more months before the board votes on a “preferred alternative.”
At least one board member said they were moved by the Transitional Resources stories and pledged to do what they could to find a way to lessen the project’s impact. ST executive Cathal Ridge, while presenting the motion’s key points, said that the modifications to be studied – perhaps shifting the Andover station-related route a bit – could work toward that end.
WHAT’S NEXT: ST staff now works on the final Environmental Impact Statement, which among other things will respond to all the concerns and issues raised in relation to the Draft EIS. The FEIS is due out sometime next year; after that, the board would take a final vote on routing and station locations. If nothing else affects the timeline, West Seattle light rail is still expected to open in 2032.
It won’t be the final decision on West Seattle light-rail routing and station locations – but it’s close. Tomorrow (Thursday, July 28th) the Sound Transit Board is expected to vote on the “preferred alternative” to send into final environmental studies, which would then be followed by a final vote next year on what/where to build. Two weeks ago (WSB coverage here), a board committee recommended passage of a motion that included the 41st SW “medium tunnel” alternative for The Junction, the Andover alternative for Delridge, and a south-crossing alternative for a new light-rail-only bridge across the Duwamish River. Much of the rest of the light-rail extensions , from the International District to Ballard, is still mired in enough controversy that the West Seattle/Duwamish section may be the only part advancing for now. The meeting is scheduled for 1:30 to 5 pm Thursday at Sound Transit’s downtown board room and online; public comments are accepted both ways, and the agenda includes information on how to offer your opinion.
This afternoon, the Sound Transit Board‘s System Expansion Committee gave its unanimous support to a recommendation for the light-rail “preferred alternative” from West Seattle to SODO. As for the rest of the West Seattle/Ballard stretch, various studies will push back that part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, so West Seattle to SODO will basically have its own FEIS. The “preferred alternative” supported by the committee today includes the same options in the “example” shown to another board committee one week ago (WSB coverage here) – these two slides (here’s the full deck) tell the story:
Support for the DEL-6 option comes despite the Seattle City Council passing a resolution saying it can’t support any of the Delridge options, Meantime, the proposal (read it in full here) that received committee support today also keeps in play possible modifications including a Junction-station entrance at 42nd and removal of the Avalon station:
While removing the Avalon station could save $60 million, that savings is not needed for the West Seattle segment to remain “affordable,’ ST staff clarified at the request of West Seattle-residing board member Joe McDermott of the King County Council. McDermott also asked the board to reiterate that this decision still sends all the previously studied alternatives ahead in the Final EIS – the others just wouldn’t have the same level of engineering study as the “preferred alternative.” That was as he voiced concerns about the two organizations that say they and their clients would be displaced by the Andover station option, mental-health/supportive-housing provider Transitional Resources and child-care provider Alki Beach Academy. McDermott expressed hope that some sort of design modification might be possible to spare them.
WHAT’S NEXT: Today’s vote was a recommendation to the full board, which meets on July 28th. They will decide on the “preferred alternative” to send into final environmental studies, which would be followed by a decision next year on what to build. The West Seattle segment is projected for completion in 2032.
As of minutes ago, the City Council is now officially on the record as supporting a West Seattle Junction tunnel station for Sound Transit light rail, and taking no position on a Delridge station/routing option. The unanimous vote was for the same resolution amended and passed by the Transportation and Utilities Committee last week (WSB coverage here). From the resolution as passed today, here’s what the city goes on record as saying about the West Seattle segment:
A. West Seattle Junction Segment (Avalon and Alaska Junction stations): Preference for WSJ-5, medium tunnel to Alaska Junction station at 41st Street SW with retained cut Avalon station.
B. Delridge Segment (Delridge station): The City is not able to state a preference given the inadequate DEIS analysis of impacted social resources in this segment. The DEIS did not identify the Alki Beach Academy as a potentially impacted social resource, and therefore did not fully analyze the project’s impact on child-care services. The DEIS identified potential impacts to Transitional Resources, which relies on co-located services and housing to provide comprehensive transitional housing services. The City’s future support for DEL-6 is conditioned on avoidance or mitigation of impacts, or relocation, of impacted child-care and transitional housing service providers. The City encourages additional refinements to optimize transit integration and user experience for commuters arriving from Racial Equity Toolkit (RET)-identified communities including South Delridge and White Center. The additional refinements should include the creation of a transit access study for areas further south in the corridor that will access the new station by bus, include protections for Longfellow Creek, and minimize potential conflicts between pedestrians and freight movements.
C. Duwamish Crossing Segment: Preference for DUW-1a, South crossing, conditioned on adequate mitigation of impacts to parks, recreational areas, and natural habitat at Pigeon Point and the West Duwamish Greenbelt.
The next step for the Sound Transit Board is its System Expansion Committee meeting this Thursday (July 14th) at 1:30 pm – here’s the agenda. Last week, ST staff presented a board committee with an “example” to start discussing (WSB coverage here); it too has the tunneled Junction but also proposes the DEL-6 “lower height Andover” station alternative.
As the Sound Transit Board gets closer to choosing a West Seattle/Ballard light rail “modified preferred alternative” for the final phase of environmental study, its Executive Committee just got its first look at an “example” drawn up by staff. You can see it in its entirety in the full slide deck; here’s the slide with the West Seattle section:
The “example” includes the West Seattle Junction “medium tunnel” (41st SW) option that the city is also supporting (as reported here earlier this week). While a Junction tunnel previously was expected to require “third-party funding,” this is now considered to be comparable in cost to an elevated option. As for Delridge, the “example” proposes the Andover lower-height option, aka DEL-6, which has been at the center of a lot of discussion lately because its displacement would include Transitional Resources, which provides supportive housing and behavioral-health services, and the Alki Beach Academy child-care center. TR’s CEO Darcell Slovek-Walker was among the speakers at the meeting-opening public-comment period, saying, “Not all displacements are created equal,” saying DEL-6 would take out two of their buildings housing formerly homeless people living with mental illness, as well as their headquarters.
Meantime, ST’s Cathal Ridge, while presenting the “example,” also made note of previously presented modifications that are still in play for cost-saving consideration, including eliminating the Avalon station, which he said could save $60 million:
Board chair Kent Keel took pains to stress that the “example” is a starting point for board discussion, not a fully shaped proposal awaiting approval or rejection. Some discussion ensued at today’s meeting, but rather than opinions on specific sections, it focused on the fact the board probably needs extra time before making a decision – so that may not happen at their July 28th meeting after all. Next discussion will be one week from today, when the board’s System Expansion Committee meets (1:30 pm July 14th). Whatever “modified preferred alignment” the board settles on, that still won’t be the final decision – that would follow the final Environmental Impact Statement next year.
One month after a City Council committee got its first look at which West Seattle/Ballard light-rail routing/station alternatives were proposed for official city support – as covered here – there’s been a big change. At its meeting this morning, the Transportation and Utilities Committee voted unanimously for amended city-supported recommendations – including no preference for the Delridge station location.
(Light-rail discussion starts 33 minutes in)
As we reported last month, the draft recommendations included support for the alternative known as DEL-6, which was a late addition to what Sound Transit decided to study in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Much recent concern centered on two specific facilities that DEL-6 could take out – the Alki Beach Academy child-care center in the business park off SW Andover, and Transitional Resources supportive housing for people living with mental illness, most of whom had previously been homeless. The amended resolution passed today says the city can’t support a “preferred alternative” for the Delridge station because of inadequate study of those effects. Bottom line, there’s “no clear community consensus” for a Delridge option, West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold said during this morning’s meeting. Here’s the Delridge-related language in the amendment:
The resolution did not change the other two alternatives recommended for city support in this leg of ST light rail (currently expected to open in 2032) – the WSJ-5 “medium tunnel” option for The Junction, with an underground 41st SW station and a “retained cut” Avalon station, and a south Duwamish River crossing (DUW-1a). However, as pointed out during the meeting, the city recommendations are just recommendations – the decision on which alternatives to pursue for the final EIS and then the construction decision are wholly up to the Sound Transit Board. Its next vote is expected on July 28th, and board committees will talk about it before then, including the ST Executive Committee this Thursday (July 7th), 10:30 am. It’s a hybrid meeting; the agenda explains how to sign up for public comment, either online or in-person.
The Sound Transit Board‘s June meeting just wrapped up less than an hour ago – last one before it’s tasked with “confirming or modifying” a “preferred alignment” for West Seattle/Ballard light rail. ST staff is working on a proposal for that, board members were told, and will present it at the Executive Committee‘s meeting in two weeks. The board in the meantime were presented an overview today of the 5,195 comments received regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement between January 28th and April 28th. You can see them all here. Today’s meeting also featured a substantial amount of public comment from people in West Seattle, primarily expressing opposition to the DEL-6 station location/alignment (see page 10) for its prospective displacement of Transitional Resources – which provides supportive housing and mental-health services – and Alki Beach Academy.
Board chair Kent Keel insisted that when staff presents its draft alignment, that will not be “the final say” – the board will consider it over the course of three meetings, with a vote expected during the full board meeting on July 28th (for which the ending time has been potentially stretched to 5 pm, an extra hour). The two committee meetings at which this will be discussed before then are the Executive Committee meeting at 10:30 am July 7th and the System Expansion Committee meeting at 1:30 pm July 14th. ST has moved to hybrid meetings, so you can attend online or in the board room at Union Station downtown. One other thing to watch in the meantime: The city is drafting its official recommendations for the routing and station locations – which, when previewed earlier this month, included DEL-6.
Next Tuesday morning, the City Council’s Transportation and Utilities Committee will get a look at what West Seattle/Ballard light-rail routing and station-location alternatives the city is proposing supporting, before the Sound Transit Board settles on its “preferred alternative” recommendation next month. You don’t have to wait until the meeting for a look – the slide deck is already published along with the agenda (which explains how to comment at the meeting).
To come up with these recommendations, the city presentation notes, “Nearly 100 subject matter experts from 15+ City departments reviewed and commented on the 8000+ pages of (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) analysis.” They submitted more than 1,500 “technical comments” before the deadline a month ago; now, the biggest comments of all – which routing/station options the city wants to officially support. First, for The Junction:
The slide deck goes into more detail about why the city’s behind each option in the draft recommendations. Next, for Delridge:
And for the new bridge to get light rail across the Duwamish River, here’s the city’s choice:
The city support doesn’t carry an official weight – the final decisions on routing and station locations are in the hands of the Sound Transit Board, whose members include City Council President Debora Juarez and Mayor Bruce Harrell. They’re expected to settle on a “preferred alternative” at their July 28th meeting, though the absolute final word isn’t due until next year.
P.S. The board has made a big decision in the meantime – they’ve settled on a potential new CEO, Julie Timm from Richmond, Virginia – here’s the announcement made today.
In case you didn’t get to watch it on Friday afternoon, that video shows the two-hour workshop held for the Sound Transit Board‘s System Extension Committee, looking ahead to July’s decisions on the West Seattle/Ballard expansion project. We watched it in real time; it was mostly an overview of the potential routing and station locations studied in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, as well as a brief mention of the possible cost-saving measures recently presented to the Community Advisory Groups. (Here’s the slide deck.)
We heard one noteworthy point during the workshop – when the topic of rising costs arose, particularly real estate, Sound Transit staff noted that they’re likely to propose “early property acquisition” after the board locks in on a “preferred alternative” in July. We immediately asked ST a followup question for more details on that, and finally got an answer this evening:
Potential early acquisitions would be reviewed and considered following the Board’s action to confirm or modify a preferred alternative later this year. There are a number of factors that the Board would consider before authorizing early acquisitions and potential acquisitions would likely be limited to a small subset of critical properties. Sound Transit would also require approval from the Federal Transit Administration prior to pursuing early acquisitions and would be required to follow all standard procedures.
The aforementioned board action is expected to happen at their July 28th meeting, but that’s still not the final decision on what will be built – the timeframe for that is now described as “late 2023,” after the final EIS is out. Key things to watch for before the July meeting include a summary of the 5,000+ public comments received on the DEIS; board members were told to look for that in June. Also, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell – an ST Board member – said at Friday’s meeting that the city soon will finalize its position on the preferred alternative (City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, said today that could come to his committee in early June).
The Community Advisory Group convened by Sound Transit for the most-recent planning phase of West Seattle light rail has met for the final time. The meeting this past week was for feedback from the group members, on their preferred routing and station locations as well as on the possible cost-saving ideas ST proposed at their previous meeting. Here’s the recording:
Since the meeting was about feedback, not presentation of proposals, there wasn’t much to the slide deck, but you can see that here. In general, regarding routing and station locations, most participants spoke in favor of as much tunneling as possible, particularly into The Junction. For the Delridge station location, feedback was more mixed, including a few calls for reviving the previously discarded option nicknamed the “purple line” (which would tunnel through Pigeon Point).
Regarding the cost-saving ideas – the idea of saving money by moving the Fauntleroy elevated station option east, avoiding the newly built 4754 Fauntleroy Way SW complex, did not get much traction, mostly because many group members didn’t like the elevated Fauntleroy option regardless of where it would be built. The other big cost-saving idea was potentially dropping the Avalon station. Several reiterated that removing a station should only be an option if West Seattle had something to gain from doing it – like “smart design,” one group member suggested.
WHAT’S NEXT: The ST board members who comprise the System Expansion Committee have a workshop focused on the West Seattle/Ballard extensions 1-3:30 pm Friday (May 20th). Then in July, they and the full board meet about confirming or modifying a “preferred alternative” before going into the final environmental-impact process – the committee on July 14th, the full board on July 28th. The board’s final decision on routing and station locations is expected in what ST now describes as “late 2023.”
Three quick notes about what’s next for the West Seattle (and beyond) Sound Transit light-rail project – scheduled to launch service in 2032 – after last Thursday’s end to the three-month comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
HOW MANY COMMENTS? We asked ST about the final tally. More than 5,000, according to spokesperson Rachelle Cunningham. ST now has to respond to them in the final EIS, expected next year.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW? While ST had been saying the board was likely to decide in June what to send into the final EIS studies, its email update today says the board “is expected to confirm or modify the preferred alternative and station locations in July.” If that’s at the regular board meeting (usually the fourth Thursday of the month), the date would be July 28th.
ONE MORE MEETING: The Community Advisory Groups for the project have one more meeting scheduled. The group for the West Seattle/Duwamish segment will meet online at 5 pm next Tuesday (May 10th) – you’ll be able to watch here. (Here’s our coverage of the CAG’s previous meeting, at which ST said possible cost-saving measures could include dropping the Avalon station.)
It’s not necessarily your final chance to comment on Sound Transit‘s West Seattle light-rail plan, but it’s arguably the most important, and you now have one day left to get your comment in. Tomorrow (Thursday, April 28th) is the deadline for commenting on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement – which examines the potential station locations and routing proposed for West Seattle light rail to get across the Duwamish River and through the North Delridge and Avalon areas on its way to The Junction. The DEIS has been out for three months, with more than 1,000 comments received as of our last check earlier this month. If you haven’t read a word of it, you can at least go through the Executive Summary. (All our coverage is archived here.) Once you’re ready to comment, here’s how. All the comments received by tomorrow will have to be addressed in the final EIS, expected to be ready next year, before the Sound Transit Board makes a final decision on what to build.
That’s the Seattle Channel video of this morning’s City Council Transportation and Public Utilities Committee meeting, almost two hours of which was spent on the West Seattle to Ballard light-rail plan, starting about 36 minutes in. The time was divided between two presentations – first, city staff explaining how they’re drafting official city comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, so they can get those in before the April 28th deadline. Much of this presentation was given to the West Seattle/Duwamish segment’s Community Advisory Group last week (WSB coverage here). Here’s the slide deck that the city’s Calvin Chow, Marshall Foster, and Sara Maxana used today:
One major area of concern in what they’re drafting so far – they want ST to better address potential BIPOC displacement in Delridge, “more truth-checking with the community,” as Maxana described it. In council comments, West Seattle/South Park Councilmember Lisa Herbold underscored a point made that “scope reductions” – like dropping a station – should be discouraged unless there’s a very clear benefit in return.
That came up again in the second discussion, which also was partly a rerun from last week’s Community Advisory Group meeting – ST’s view of possible cost-saving measures, including possibly dropping the Avalon station. This presentation was given by ST’s Cathal Ridge. Here’s the slide deck he used:
In this discussion, Herbold reiterated that dropping Avalon would require a clear benefit such as more tunneling. She also stressed that no matter what, tunneling should be the preference for the West Seattle Junction end of the line, as elevated rail through “the heart of” The Junction would be undesirable. She voiced one other concern about dropping the Avalon station, wondering where its projected 1,200 riders would go, and wondering if that would make light rail less accessible for residents coming down 35th from areas such as High Point. Ridge said they projected that half the Avalon ridership would come to the station by bus, and they would likely ride to the Junction station instead.
WHAT’S NEXT: City staff will return to this committee May 17th; their comments on the DEIS, though, like everyone else’s, are due by April 28th and will be submitted by then. (Here’s how to comment.)
A week and a half after Sound Transit released its feasibility report about whether gondola service could replace light rail for West Seattle, the organization proposing it has released its response. West Seattle SkyLink sent the eight-page response to us last night – read it here or below:
West Seattle SkyLink says the Sound Transit report was no substitute for a “technical engineering study by gondola experts.” They say, “The Feasibility Report was prepared in-house without any analysis by an engineering firm that has experience with gondola technology, design, or construction as is usually the case. There are several US firms qualified to undertake a feasibility study for an urban gondola feeder.” The response also says, “Another glaring deficiency in the Sound Transit Report is the lack of a review of current urban gondola projects … most of these urban gondola projects are being considered as feeders or connectors to a light rail or rapid bus system, just like an urban gondola would be for West Seattle.” The projects they cite range from Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit, for which a Draft Environmental Impact Report is due out this summer, to the “cable-car” aerial line that just went into operation a week ago in Haifa, Israel. Much closer to home, SkyLink also notes that Kirkland looked into using gondolas for a connection to a Sound Transit station (the city’s website says a feasibility study was done in 2018 but the gondola alternative was not included in recent environmental analysis).
Overall, the SkyLink response concludes, “The Sound Transit Report did its best to throw as much dirt as it could on urban gondolas as a feeder to its light rail system without noting the many other public transportation agencies, both domestic and foreign, that have found an urban gondola feeder is exactly the appropriate complement to their bus and light rail systems.” Their contention continues to be that a gondola line could be built more quickly and inexpensively, with much less residence and business displacement, but as for how much money and time it would take, that would be up to a “properly produced study” to determine.
Will such a study be commissioned? Sound Transit staff repeated last week, in a presentation to the 34th District Democrats, that it would be up to the board to order it. ST’s Carrie Avila-Mooney added during the 34th DDs’ meeting Q&A that the agency “has no voter-approved money” to study it. The board’s next meeting is Thursday, April 28th, and it will include a public-comment period; watch for the agenda here.
As of today, Sound Transit has received almost 1,000 comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the West Seattle-to-Ballard light-rail project. The DEIS was published three months ago, analyzing the routing/station-location alternatives the ST Board chose for studying. This is arguably the most-important comment period before board members lock in next year on what to build, and you have 10 more days to comment until the official deadline on April 28th. Here’s how. And if you are still looking for particular information in the DEIS or have questions about it, ST is offering four more blocks of “virtual office hours” for you to book a spot to get your questions answered – the info is all in their latest email update.
Among the many entities commenting on the DEIS is the City of Seattle, and two city meetings are on this week’s schedule. Tomorrow morning at 9:30 am, the City Council’s Transportation and Public Utilities Committee will get briefed both on the city’s commenting plans and the ST cost-savings proposals, both of which were presented to the West Seattle/Duwamish Community Advisory Group last week. The agenda includes information on watching and commenting. The cost-saving proposals also will be presented to the Seattle Design Commission on Thursday morning (April 21st), at 9 am. Here’s how to register to watch the meeting.
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.
6:01 PM: Just under way, both in-person and online, the West Seattle Transportation Coalition‘s workshop to help you with the process of commenting on West Seattle light-rail routing and station locations, as detailed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement – a process that ends in three weeks. This is in part a drop-in event – the full agenda is here and below:
6:00 Doors Open
6:30 Welcome and Introductions
6:45 Overview of Light Rail Proposal
7:00 The EIS Process
7:15 Making Comments on the Draft EIS
7:45 Examples of Public Comments
8:15 Write your public comment
8:30 Thank you and wrap-up
6:30 PM: Update – WSTC says this is the new Zoom link. (We’re changing the link in our calendar listing too.)
8:33 PM: We recorded the heart of the meeting on video and will add that here when we have it uploaded later. (Added – here it is:)
All the ways you can comment are here.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When we first reported in early 2021 on the West Seattle SkyLink campaign – people advocating for a gondola (aerial tram) system between West Seattle and downtown instead of light rail – they suggested a feasibility study, for starters.
It was officially released during the board’s monthly Executive Committee meeting, but without even an agenda item of its own – ST CEO Peter Rogoff announced its completion during the regular “CEO Report” item.
We got a pre-meeting briefing with Matt Shelden, the ST deputy executive director of planning and integration, who led the team that worked on the report; he also provided a very quick topline summary at this morning’s meeting. Rogoff offered a “more detaiiled briefing” to any board member who wanted one, and then moved on to other items; the board member who requested the report, West Seattle-residing King County Executive Dow Constantine, was not in attendance at this morning’s meeting.
In our pre-meeting briefing, Shelden said the staff received the request at the end of January, so the report has taken about two months. It reaches the same conclusion that ST had before the 2016 ST3 ballot measure that set the stage for light rail – that in ST’s view, a gondola system is not suitable as “high-capacity transit” – what ST is supposed to deliver – to get people between West Seattle and downtown.
The study reaches this conclusion on three main points, as summarized by Shelden:
First, ST says gondola technology would not “integrate well” with the existing (and planned) ST system, and would not necessarily be expandable to points south, as the West Seattle light rail is supposed to be. The integration also refers to the West Seattle to Everett trains – after full buildout – providing capacity through downtown, as well as to/from WS, capacity that the agency says would be lost if they instead substituted a gondola system for the West Seattle to downtown leg.
Second, they don’t believe a gondola system could reach the passenger capacity that they believe would be needed – up to 3,000 passengers per hour. While West Seattle SkyLink proponents believe the gondola cars could take off every 10 seconds, ST says even that pace would be likely to max out at 2,000 people per hour.
Third, “legal considerations” – Shelden says they believe the language of the ST3 ballot measure locks the agency into light rail, so “changing the (transit) mode would likely require voter approval.”
The report also says ST staff could not verify the SkyLink claims that the gondola system could be built more quickly and cheaply than light rail.
It also contains a few positive points, such as noting that an aerial system would not contribute to ground congestion, and that fare compliance would likely be easier to achieve than with trains.
We are seeking comment from SkyLink proponents and will add that to the story when we get it. Prior to the report’s release, they submitted these written comments saying they were unaware the feasibility study was in progress until the CEO mentioned it two weeks ago. Shelden said during the pre-meeting briefing with WSB that the study’s findings are based on staffers’ “review of other gondola systems, existing or planned,” as well as information from the SkyLink website and “a briefing last year” (which is mentioned in the SkyLink comment document).
So what happens now? ST continues with the light-rail plan unless directed otherwise by the board, which could call for a more extensive independent study, or, as Rogoff said at this morning’s meeting, independent briefings.
ADDED 3:21 PM: Here’s what we heard back from Constantine’s office, responding to our request for comment:
The Executive is looking forward to reviewing and understanding the outcomes and analysis contained within the Aerial Gondola Feasibility study he requested Sound Transit produce, based on requests from a group of community advocates in West Seattle. The Executive has publicly voiced concerns about both the legality and equity impacts of the aerial gondola proposal to replace the West Seattle portion of the voter-approved West Seattle to Ballard Link Extension, and will seek further understanding from the feasibility report and interested parties. At this time, our office has not been briefed on any planned further discussion amongst the board on this issue and would defer to agency leadership regarding any plans for continued discussion.