West Seattle, Washington
Will the light-rail plan for West Seattle be delayed or even downsized? The Sound Transit board is planning to make that decision in July, along with deciding the future of other not-yet-under-construction projects. Right now, they’re in the process of deciding how to decide. The board spent three hours in a workshop Thursday centered on what one member described as “brainstorming.” Here’s the video:
The board was planning on realignment even before seeing those recent numbers that showed a sharp increase in cost estimates for upcoming projects including the West Seattle light-rail extension (which is currently projected to open in 2031, one year later than the original plan that voters approved in 2016). As with most if not all public entities, ST’s revenue is suffering from the COVID crunch, and that makes realignment mandatory. Discussion topics at the workshop included not just options for making up some of that lost funding, but also for cutting costs without slashing projects, as shown in the slide deck (below and here):
Potential options are many – reduce the scope, suspend, or even delete projects, or increase revenue via raising fares and fees, raising the car-rental tax or raising their debt capacity, although that would require voters’ approval. Board member Claudia Balducci, current chair of the King County Council, argued that it seems way too early in the process to start deliberating potential tax increases’ merits or lack of them. She suggested the board might be “rushing to a solution … when we haven’t defined the problem.” The idea of possibly dropping projects got strong voices of opposition, as the board’s vice chair, King County Executive Dow Constantine, noted the “overwhelming” voter support for the full plan. He also noted that ST has reason to hope for more federal funding, given that a pro-transit administration has just taken over the White House. And board member Jenny Durkan, mayor of Seattle, urged her colleagues to keep their eyes on how our region will look 10, 20 years from now, as ST continues working to deliver “the entire network.”
WHAT’S NEXT: At the board’s monthly meeting, 1:30 pm this Thursday, they’ll talk with the consultant who’s going to review the cost-increase estimates. The agenda includes information on how to watch/comment. Meantime, your role in the realignment decision is currently scheduled to happen in April, when ST will ask for public feedback.
One week after revealing new, sharply higher cost estimates for expanding light rail to West Seattle and Ballard (WSB coverage here), Sound Transit went public with another set of numbers, showing that the cost of tunneling into The Junction is suddenly a lot closer to the cost of the default elevated line. These numbers were presented to ST’s System Expansion Committee on Thursday, along with the revised cost estimates first shown to the Executive Committee last week; Thursday’s meeting video is above, and the full slide deck is here. Here are the new West Seattle tunnel-related numbers that were presented:
Those numbers reflect the estimated cost of the entire West Seattle segment, not just the station itself. The new estimate showing as little as $100 million difference between running elevated or tunneling to the heart of The Junction is a big change – previously, the difference was projected to be about $700 million, as shown in this slide from a 2019 presentation:
Whatever the cost differential is, it would require “third-party funding,” but Seattle Mayor and ST board member Jenny Durkan said during the Thursday presentation that she was “heartened” to see the new estimates, observing that they now had a better idea of what extra funding would be needed.
The biggest looming issue, though, remains the gap between ST’s pandemic-shrunken revenues and even the original price tags of the West Seattle-Ballard extension and other projects approved by voters in the ST3 ballot measure. So ST remains on a path to “realignment” of its plans, with a decision due later this year; board members have a workshop planned this Thursday. ST also is proceeding with an independent review of the new cost estimates, expected to be complete in April.
WHAT ELSE IS NEXT: The West Seattle-Ballard project remains in the environmental-study phase, with its Draft Environmental Impact Statement now expected in the middle of this year, opening a new public-comment period. Final routing and station-location decisions are expected in 2023. The extension’s projected launch date already has been pushed back a year to 2031, a date that the upcoming “realignment” could move further down the track.
P.S. You can catch up on what’s proposed, what’s being studied, and how the process works by checking out ST’s “online open house.”
Even as Sound Transit figures out how to deal with a revenue shortfall, it’s warning that future projects such as West Seattle to Ballard light rail will cost a lot more than originally expected. The ST Board’s Executive Committee was told today about what board chair Kent Keel described as “unprecedented cost increases”: Among them, the cost estimate for the West Seattle-Ballard light-rail extension have risen by more than 50 percent – it’s now estimated to cost more than $12 billion, up from $7 billion when the ST3 ballot measure went to voters. The numbers were part of a presentation to the committee about revised estimates for multiple projects. Here’s the slide deck:
The West Seattle-Ballard project overall is becoming “more complex,” ST’s Don Billen told the board; his part of the presentation starts 49 minutes into the meeting video. (You can read the accompanying memo to the board here.) These are still rough estimates, since the project remains relatively early in the planning process, but the increase is attributed mostly to the increased cost of property acquisition – since development has continued on the potentially needed parcels – and construction.
As an example of the former, the presentation cited the potential need for right-of-way on the Fauntleroy/Alaska corner, including the site of the two-building Legacy Partners project that’s now under construction, if that site were chosen for the Junction station (sites further west drew more attention during the public-comment process). The cost of that site, if needed, was previously estimated at $76 million – and now estimated at $252 million. (Board member Dow Constantine, the West Seattle-residing King County Executive, inferred underground development may look more attractive as a result of numbers like that.)
“While these numbers are sobering, they’re not catastrophic,” said CEO Peter Rogoff, promising that ST is still committed to all the projects. But overall, the increased cost estimate for West Seattle-Ballard (which includes a new downtown tunnel) and other ST projects is so dramatic that ST plans to hire a consultant for an “independent cost review” to be complete before April – as ST continues its “realignment” process, to decide how projects’ schedules will have to change because of the funding gap. (The West Seattle completion date already has been pushed back one year to 2031.) Board members are expected to get a closer look at the “affordability gap” when they meet for a workshop on realignment two weeks from today (January 21st). In the meantime, ST is still working on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the West Seattle-Ballard project, due out later this year.
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.
Sound Transit now says its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for West Seattle/Ballard light rail will be out “mid-2021.” That’s the next big comment period, and the next step toward firming up details of the route, but in the meantime, ST has just launched an “online open house” website to let you know where things stand. Here’s what’s in it:
The updated site features an overview of our environmental review process along with detailed maps, elevation profiles and descriptions of each alternative currently being studied. Additionally, we have new maps for each proposed station and cross-sections for all elevated stations, along with information about how people could walk, roll, bike, or take transit to potential station locations.
The map above, with accompanying cross-section, is just one of those featured, as are station cross-sections like this (click through the dots beneath each station map):
The maps and descriptions outline the possible routing under consideration, including the potential guideway elevations, as well as the possible station locations.
Planning for the voter-approved light-rail extension continues even though a delay is possible – it is scheduled to open in 2030, but ST has been hit by the pandemic economic crunch, and its board will decide within a few months whether to push back the timelines on projects like this that aren’t yet under construction.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though Sound Transit‘s planned-for-2030 West Seattle light rail was the announced spotlight topic of this month’s West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting, the discussion traveled over many roads.
More than 40 people had called/clicked in by the time Thursday night’s meeting got going, announced WSTC chair Michael Taylor-Judd. Here’s the WSTC recording of the meeting:
First guest: ST board member and King County Executive Dow Constantine, who got the leadoff spot because of time constraints. Veering beyond the stated topic, he noted the overall transit challenges posed by the “lousy revenue system” and “god-awful tax system.”
We have a great lineup of guests on tap this month:
King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott, Seattle Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan, and representatives from Sound Transit will be joining us to discuss the current state of Sound Transit 3 to West Seattle.
Heather Marx from Seattle Department Of Transportation will also be on hand with a West Seattle Bridge update.
Zoom Meeting ID 831 5795 4582
On the web: us02web.zoom.us/j/83157954582
Via phone: +12532158782,,83157954582#
You can check out the past few meetings via the WSTC YouTube channel. You’re also invited to save the date for their August 27th meeting, with our area’s U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal scheduled to talk about federal funding for the West Seattle Bridge.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Eight months after the Sound Transit Board decided to add the “Yancy/Andover Elevated” route to the list of possibilities, some of the West Seattleites who might be in its path are just learning about it.
A group of neighbors in the area west of Avalon Way, including 32nd SW, is meeting weekly to talk about it, and more than 50 of them had an online meeting with Sound Transit reps this past Monday night. We were invited to cover it.
They’re not trying to derail light rail – but they want to understand this potential alignment, how it would affect their neighborhood, and how best to get involved in the review process.
The Sound Transit board won’t decide on potentially delaying projects until July 2021.
That follows discussions at recent committee meetings, during which some board members had voiced alarm that “realignment” decisions with decades-long ramifications might be made too soon, too hastily.
At the board’s monthly meeting this afternoon, they agreed to a timeline (see it here) that would keep all planning of Sound Transit 3 (and remaining ST2) projects moving forward for now. As she had done at an Executive Committee meeting, CFO Tracy Butler reminded the board that current financial projections have ST coffers falling as much as $12 billion short through the life of Sound Transit 3’s plan (which has some projects in the 2040s, with West Seattle light rail currently scheduled to open in 2030).
The board also was reminded that if they chose, for example, to add a 5-year delay to all in-planning projects, that would be “affordable” within current reduced-revenue estimates. But planning director Don Billen also reiterated that a one-size-fits-all approach like that might not be wise, so the agency will embark on a more-nuanced process, including “public engagement” early next year, before finalizing a realigned plan next summer. (You can see the criteria they’ll use in the slide deck from the meeting.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The coronavirus-crisis money crunch could force Sound Transit to delay and/or cut some of its upcoming projects – and everything’s on the table, including the plan to bring light rail to West Seattle in 2030.
Potential scenarios for funding gaps, and potential ways to address them, were presented to the ST Board at a Wednesday afternoon workshop. We watched it online. Here’s the slide deck (also, here in PDF):
Chief Financial Officer Tracy Butler started with the grim numbers. When you look at them, keep in mind that sales tax provides a big chunk of ST’s funding. And since sales are way down, sales tax is too. Projecting out to the end of ST3 in 2041, they could be down $8 billion in a “moderate” recession, $12 billion in a “severe” one.
They can’t just borrow their way out of it, because they project costs would start exceeding theirc combined debt limit around 2028. So that’s when their current plan starts becoming “unaffordable.”
One way to tackle that might be to increase their debt limit – which would require supermajority voter approval. Also, they could try to raise revenue to increasing rental-car taxes and fares (both dicey propositions right now since the virus has squashed travel and transit use).
Or – they could cut costs by scaling down, stretching out, or delaying projects. “The choice doesn’t need to be IF you’re going to do a given project, but WHEN,” said Don Billen, ST’s executive director of planning.
ST has 10 projects in the pipeline for 2025-2041 completion, including the West Seattle branch in 2030. No specific projects were proposed for changes or delays in this discussion, but it was suggested that, for example, any given project could be stretched out or even built in segments, as has happened in South King County.
Where the West Seattle extension starts to look a bit endangered is in the potential criteria for suggesting changes, such as whether the project advances the system “spine” (no), whether it must “be completed for other projects to happen” (no), and whether “communities the project serves have other transit options” (yes).
No specific projects were discussed at the workshop, and no decisions were made. Next step is a discussion of the decision-making criteria at the board’s next Executive Committee meeting (originally planned for today but postponed until sometime next week), followed by a broader discussion at the full board meeting June 23, and decisions sometime this summer.
In the meantime, the West Seattle light-rail line – one of the projects in the 2016 ST3 ballot measure – remains in the environmental-study phase, with the next milestone currently scheduled to be the draft Environmental Impact Statement’s release early next year. ST spokesperson David Jackson tells WSB, “Work continues on the West Seattle-Ballard project, but plans and timelines of all projects not currently under contract or in construction are subject to change as part of our realignment process.”
(Sound Transit map of what’s being studied – see full-size version here in PDF)
The planning for West Seattle’s light-rail line, due to launch in 2030, continues. Two notes:
‘GUIDING PRINCIPLES” SURVEY: The city Department of Neighborhoods has been helping Sound Transit with “outreach” related to parts of the planning process. We just discovered (while scanning the Cascade Bicycle Club‘s email newsletter) that the city has a survey open, to find out if you agree with the “guiding principles” it’s developed. Go here to participate.
LINE NAMES: In case you missed the announcement in April (we did), ST is renaming its lines with numbers, including yet-to-be-built lines like West Seattle to Ballard, which will become “the 3-Line.”
P.S. Sound Transit’s board continues its regular meetings, online – next one is Thursday (May 28th) afternoon; here’s the agenda.
One week after Metro buses went to a reduced schedule, more Sound Transit buses will be doing the same as of Monday (March 30th), including the West Seattle-serving Route 560. See the new timetable here (PDF).
Sound Transit and city reps are making the rounds of community meetings with updates on where the light-rail-planning process stands. We’ve covered a few of them already; this past Thursday, the Junction Neighborhood Organization hosted one, so we recorded it on video. Here’s the slide deck that was used by Sound Transit’s Leda Chahim and Jason Hampton:
(Or, see it here in PDF.) While ST reps recapped where the process stands – with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement due out early next year – city reps talked about station development and criteria through which planning will be run, including race and social equity. Questions included how the I-976 situation is affecting planning; so far, it’s proceeding unchanged, while the court action continues to play out.
P.S. If you’re hoping to catch one of these updates/briefings in person, ST is expected to be at the next West Seattle Transportation Coalition meeting (March 26th, more details to come).
Though the next major milestone in planning West Seattle light rail isn’t until next year, there’s still lots going on, and your next chance to catch up with where things stand is just days away. The Junction Neighborhood Organization is having its winter gathering on Thursday (February 27th), and that’s the major agenda item. 6:30 pm at the Senior Center/Sisson Building (4217 SW Oregon), bring questions and feedback for Sound Transit and the city reps who are helping ensure neighborhoods stay in the loop.
We are studying multiple route alternatives, which include a new rail-only bridge across Salmon Bay, either east or west of the existing Ballard Bridge and a new rail-only bridge across the Duwamish Waterway, either north or south of the existing West Seattle Bridge.
Sound Transit is collecting data on vessels that utilize these waterways and facilities that service vessels to help inform the environmental review analysis and support coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard regarding any potential bridge permits.
How can you help? Please share information about your vessel(s) or ones that you pilot by completing this survey by March 17, 2020.
You can do that by going here.
For the first time since Sound Transit dropped the potential Pigeon Point tunnel from consideration, ST had reps at the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council meeting on Monday night.
As with every appearance, they recapped how the project got to this particular point – that’s part of the slide deck above (also here in PDF). Many questions followed.
If you received Sound Transit‘s recent email update, that’s the newest map showing what potential routing/station options are being studied for West Seattle light rail. ST is still a year away from going public with a draft Environmental Impact Statement, and continues various types of studies as part of putting it together. Today ST spokesperson David Jackson sent word of what’s next, including “in-water” work:
There will be crews working beneath the West Seattle bridge along the Pigeon Point slope area over the next three days to analyze soil conditions.
The surface analysis on the Pigeon Point slopes will entail crews walking through the area to collect samples at several locations. Crews will be digging a series of hand dug test holes to evaluate the subsurface conditions. In addition to the hand dug test hole, steel probes may be used to measure the thickness of surface soils. Following the testing, the hand dug test holes will be back filled, soils tamped in-place and the ground surface smoothed.
Also in-water work in the Duwamish Waterway is set to begin next week. Please see the attached flyer.
Continuing in the New Year – Sound Transit environmental studies for West Seattle light rail are expected to last all year, with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement due out in early 2021. As part of the studies, soil testing continues, and the flyer above announces the next site, near the southwest end of the West Seattle Bridge, expected to start next week. (If you can’t read it above, here’s the same flyer in PDF.)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The location of Sound Transit‘s future Delridge light-rail station – first stop after the future extension crosses the Duwamish River – won’t be finalized until 2022, but planning it starts now.
That’s what ST reps said as they convened another West Seattle “neighborhood forum” on Saturday, focused specifically on the Delridge station. But it wasn’t as much of a planning exercise as a chance for the ~40 participants to acquaint ST reps with where they go in the neighborhood and how they get there.
After an open-house-style chance to wander the Delridge Community Center gym, looking at maps and bullet points on easels, it was time for the update, via this slide deck projected onto the gym’s concrete-block wall:
four project-team reps tag-teamed the presentation, starting with Dennis Sandstrom recapping the process.
Stephen Mak reviewed the routing/station locations currently being studied, including the Yancy/Andover option recently added. Then Alisa Swank went into details of what the current environmental review is about, working first toward a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. That’s expected to be made public in early 2021 – pushed back from the original “late 2020,” as was warned in the recent round of adding alternatives to be studied.
With I-976-related funding uncertainty in the background, planning proceeds for West Seattle light rail. Two notes today:
(WSB photo from November forum)
DELRIDGE FORUM SATURDAY: 10 am-noon tomorrow at Delridge Community Center (4501 Delridge Way SW), Sound Transit‘s next “neighborhood forum” will focus on Delridge station-area planning. As announced by ST, “This event focuses on the Delridge station and builds upon the community engagement and collaboration approach outlined in the Racial Equity Toolkit. Spanish and Vietnamese interpreters will be available.” (Here’s our coverage of last month’s West Seattle forum.)
MORE DRILLING: Meantime, as part of the environmental studies along the potential routing alternatives, drilling continues for soil testing. ST is circulating flyers for the next two locations, both along SW Genesee, near 30th SW for five days starting as soon as Monday (PDF flyer here), and near 31st SW, same duration/time frame (PDF flyer here).
Story and photos by Jason Grotelueschen
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Neighbors and Sound Transit staff gathered Thursday night for a “neighborhood forum” at the Alki Masonic Center to talk about the West Seattle expansion of light rail, and what it means for the community.
It was a busy couple of days for light rail discussions. Earlier that same day, the ST Board gathered downtown for its regular meeting, focused on a discussion/briefing about the outcomes and effects of Initiative 976 (full WSB coverage here). The night before, ST held a neighborhood forum in downtown Seattle at the Central Library. Coming up the week after Thanksgiving, ST is holding additional forums in Chinatown-International District, Interbay/Ballard and right here in Delridge (info here).
The well-attended 2-hour forum began with an “open house” format, followed by a Sound Transit presentation and then an hour of individual table discussions. As attendees arrived, they were able to view informational materials and share input centered around two key questions: 1) What do you value about your community? and 2) How could a light rail station best serve your community?
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Just a few hours before tonight’s Sound Transit “neighborhood forum” in West Seattle (6 pm, Alki Masonic Center), the ST Board‘s regular meeting centered on a briefing/discussion about the effects of Initiative 976:
We were downtown for the meeting, which – after an occasionally raucous public-comment period – began with ST staffers briefing the board. First – “where we are” in terms of ST’s current timeline for expansion programs. If revenue were cut, the projects through 2024, the board was told, would be the “last places” they’d cut. But the projects starting with 2030 – projected opening date for the West Seattle extension – potentially different story.
General counsel Desmond Brown then opened with toplines on “what 976 says and does.” … “The provisions repealing our taxes do not take effect at this time,” but rather once $2.3 billion in outstanding bonds and debt are paid off – and it’s up to the board when those debts/bonds will be retired.
(Added – from the slide-deck printout, the relevant ballot-pamphlet language:)
The outstanding bond contracts provide for motor-vehicle-excise taxes and rental-car rates staying at the current rates until those are paid off. Brown said. He also noted that the initiative is now being challenged in court, and if it stands, there will probably be an ensuing lawsuit about when that debt has to be retired. Could ST be forced to retire it sooner? There’s legal precedent on that, Brown said.
CEO Peter Rogoff pointed out that other agencies “that feed passengers to Sound Transit” – such as Metro – are nonetheless facing “very serious” challenges because of 976. Other transit agencies face a “devastating” loss of revenue, and service to their users. “Sound Transit cares deeply about what happens to all our partners,” Rogoff said.
Chief Financial Officer Tracy Butler picked up from there. If the bonds were “defeased,” it would mean $7.2 billion less in revenue through 2041, and the agency could run out of “financial capacity as early as 2029” – which means ST could have to cancel or delay projects and/or reduce services.
But delaying wouldn’t be much of a solution, Butler said. Say, projects are delayed by five years – that could cost $6 billion more in capital costs, %16 billion in added interest through 2061, and could delay a “tax rollback” for 12 years, costing taxpayers $25 billion more in additional taxes through 2061 “to fund a delayed voter-approved program.”
Board chair John Marchione said the reason voters approved ST3 was a recognition that transit expansion was long overdue. “This is our region’s transportation catch-up plan” and the investments require a tax investment. “The only available sources are the sales tax, property tax, and MVET. Nobody loves writing a big check for (vehicle renewals)” but he believes voters spoke loudly with ST3 – and that was louder than the margin, in the ST district, spoke with 976:
After a closed-door executive session, the board emerged to discuss its “response to 976.” It was first announced that ST won’t take any of its own legal action right now – they have to keep reviewing the “legal issues” and monitoring the other litigation. So individual board members were invited to speak. Only two did, neither from Seattle/King County. The first warned that the board had best not just focus on its “district” but should pay attention to the “frustration” elsewhere in the region and state. And he said the valuation discrepancy that led to the taxation rate made that frustration worse. “We have got to get this resolved – people need to believe they’re paying car tabs based on an accurate valuation of their vehicle.” Another board member said it’s important to keep the pressure on the Legislature.
So bottom line remains “too soon to say” what happens next, but there’s a chance West Seattle light rail could be delayed or even canceled as part of a worst-case scenario.
Earlier in the meeting:
PUBLIC COMMENT: In this section of the meeting, before the 976 discussion, Youngstown property owner Dennis Noland spoke first, thanking the board for agreeing to include the Andover/Yancy alternative in environmental studies. He was followed by Tim Eyman, author of 976, who called his initiative an “overwhelming repudiation” of ST. “People outside Seattle have no voice any more.” Eyman then declared he was running for governor next year and at that point got booted from the microphone, with an explanation that “campaigning” isn’t allowed. Someone briefly chanted “let him talk” while someone counter-chanted “No campaigning.” … Other speakers were both pro and con 976. Two speakers in particular called out the effects that 976 could have on people with disabilities.
TONIGHT’S MEETING: Again, if you see this before 6 pm, that’s when ST’s West Seattle “neighborhood forum” begins – all welcome – Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th SW.
ADDED: Post-board meeting, ST published this statement from board chair Marchione.
Thanks to Paul for the photo and the tip. Sound Transit has moved westward for its next rounds of soil sampling as environmental studies for West Seattle light rail continue. We hadn’t received advance notice this time, unlike previous rounds of drilling in other areas, but subsequently requested and received them from Sound Transit. First, the drilling shown above, under way at 39th SW and SW Genesee:
After that concludes next week, as this notice shows, they’re scheduled to move on to 35th/Avalon:
If you have questions about this – or anything else about the process, next week’s West Seattle neighborhood forum is a good time to ask – it’s at 6 pm Thursday (November 21st) at Alki Masonic Center (4736 40th SW). Earlier that day, the Sound Transit Board is scheduled to discuss I-976 (here’s the agenda).