West Seattle, Washington
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).
The flyer from Sound Transit shows the next location their crew will be drilling for soil testing – 22nd SW on Pigeon Point. The flyer shows a map of the location, where work could start as soon as Wednesday. In the meantime, they’re working further east. Also a reminder that Sound Transit has a neighborhood-forum meeting coming up in West Seattle, 6 pm November 21st at the Alki Masonic Center (4736 40th SW).
As Sound Transit‘s environmental studies for West Seattle light rail continue, it’s announced the next round of drilling for soii tests:
Starting as early as Thursday, Oct. 31, Sound Transit plans to begin drilling to collect soil samples for analysis near the 19th Ave SW and SW Charlestown St intersection … This work will inform our analysis of the alternatives along the north slope of Pigeon Point that we are studying in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Additional borings in this area will occur in the coming months; we will keep you informed as that work is scheduled.
See the full flyer here (PDF) or below:
Sound Transit has already done some testing on Pigeon Point.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The only tunneling possibility to be studied for Sound Transit light rail in West Seattle will be in The Junction, now that the possibility of also considering the Pigeon Point Tunnel alternative is dead.
That’s the result of a Sound Transit Board vote this afternoon. But the other alternative proposed for addition to environmental studies, Yancy/Andover Elevated, remains alive.
That one will be added to the route/station options already approved for studying.
Starting with the committee recommendation made October 10th to add the Yancy/Andover Elevated alternative to studies, board members also added a proposed SODO alternative. But they rejected King County Councilmember (and West Seattleite) Joe McDermott‘s proposal to add the ~$200 million-third-party-funding-required Pigeon Point Tunnel alternative, with 6 board members voting yes, 9 voting no.
In the face of one board member (Dave Earling of Edmonds) flatly declaring he’s against anything requiring third-party funding, McDermott countered that they’re just voting on studies now, no commitment beyond that. But board member Kent Keel of University Place pointed out that the Pigeon Point tunnel would likely have to connect to a ~$700 million Junction tunnel and “that makes my eyes roll up in my head.” Paul Roberts of Everett said the more is added to the studies, the more is added to the timeline. Claudia BalducciBruce Dammeier of Pierce County said that – using a “meal” analogy that others had deployed in discussion – the Pigeon Point Tunnel looked like “dessert” when other areas were just looking for “a basic meal.” McDermott disputed that, saying third-party funding would not be taking basic funding out of anybody else’s mouth.
ST staff noted that any required third-party funding “would have to be well-defined” by the end of next year, and “in hand” by 2022. (The Yancy/Andover Elevated alternative is not expected to carry additional cost, but Junction tunneling possibilities that are already planned for study would.)
Before the discussion and vote, executive corridor director Cathal Ridge recapped staff assessments and public comment, concluding with a reminder that adding alternatives means the draft EIS would be out in the first quarter of 2021 rather than at the end of 2020. Here’s the slide deck:
An hour-plus of public comment started the meeting. West Seattle-related comments included a resident supporting the Pigeon Point Tunnel. “A viaduct [-style guideway] slicing through our neighborhood and taking our park is a forever loss,” she said … A group from North Delridge’s Youngstown neighborhood spoke in favor of both – suggesting Yancy/Andover be redesignated as the preferred alternative – because “the two preferred alternatives end up decimating our neighborhood.” There are areas near their densely developed/redeveloped neighborhood that could be used. “It’s a neighborhood that should be served by light rail, not destroyed by light rail” …. Deb Barker, who served on the Stakeholder Advisory Group earlier in the process, said studying Pigeon Point would be doing “the right thing for West Seattle”… Marty Westerman of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition said the group supports studying both (and sent a letter to that effect earlier this week).
WHAT’S NEXT: Environmental studies continue. Once the draft report comes out, another round of public comment will ensue, then a final report, and the board would decide in 2022 the final route and station locations, with construction to start in 2025 in order to meet the target start date of 2030. Before all this, as announced earlier this week, two “neighborhood forums” with updates and station-location discussions are planned in West Seattle November 21st and December 7th.
While Sound Transit continues environmental work – including soil sampling on Harbor Island (thanks to those who have sent photos recently, including the one above) – they’re also continuing community conversation about West Seattle light rail. Next step: Two “neighborhood forums” just announced. ST says these are “to learn more about the alternatives we’ll be studying in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, what happens next in the environmental review process and how you can stay engaged” as well as “opportunities to participate in small group activities to discuss how the vision and values of your neighborhood relate to future light rail stations.” The dates/locations:
Station areas include Delridge, Avalon and Alaska Junction
Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019 | 6 – 8 p.m.
Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th Avenue SW
Delridge station only
Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 | 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Delridge Community Center (Gym), 4501 Delridge Way SW, Seattle
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.
Before these, the ST Board is due to decide this Thursday (1:30 pm October 24, downtown boardroom) whether the environmental studies will include either or both of two additional West Seattle alternatives, Yancy/Andover Elevated and Pigeon Point Tunnel. As reported here earlier this month, a board committee recommended including the former and leaving it up to the full board to discuss the latter.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Sound Transit Board’s System Expansion Committee gave its support this afternoon to adding one West Seattle alternative to environmental studies – but didn’t rule out the other one.
The Board recommended inclusion of the Yancy/Andover Elevated option, because, said committee chair Claudia Balducci of Bellevue, it would have a lesser impact on the Youngstown residential neighborhood, and is likely to be comparable in cost to the project’s originally roughed-out routing.(Here’s the motion they approved [PDF].)
Discussion of and a decision on whether to study the Pigeon Point Tunnel will be left to the full board. It would require an estimated $200 million third-party funding and would likely be paired wth a Junction tunnel costing $700 million additional third-party documents – and as we reported earlier this week, no one seems to be working yet on what that “third party funding” might be.
Here’s the slide deck (PDF) shown at the meeting. We have a bit more to add later, but first, highlights of the discussion:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Who’s working on that?”
That’s one of the questions asked toward the end of the Junction Neighborhood Organization‘s meeting Monday night, a reference to the “third-party funding” that Sound Transit says would be required to build some of the options proposed for parts of the West Seattle to Ballard light-rail extension.
The question followed a briefing by reps of Sound Transit, whose System Extension Committee is likely to decide at a meeting tomorrow (Thursday, October 10th) whether to recommend adding certain alternatives to environmental studies for the route. Two West Seattle possibilities – Yancy/Andover Elevated and Pigeon Point Tunnel – are under consideration (in addition to what the ST Board has already decided to study.
The briefing itself went over the “initial assessments” of the alternatives, as first presented to that committee four weeks ago (WSB coverage here). Here’s the slide deck used Monday night by ST’s Leda Chahim, Stephen Mak, and Lauren Swift:
Some questions along the way included wondering why the Junction and Avalon stations are potentially so close together – answer, those general locations were outlined in the original ballot measure – and whether Seattle Public Schools still owns the Jefferson Square site (sort of).
The yellow dots on that map mark locations at the office/marina complex on the south end of Harbor Island [map] where soil sampling is about to start as Sound Transit continues studying potential routes for West Seattle light rail. The full flyer is here (PDF). It says that once sampling starts – as soon as tomorrow – “Work … will occur during nights, from 6:00 pm – 7:00 am. Each boring will take approximately 5-7 days and will be filled and patched with a flush-mounted monument surface when work is complete.” The drilling will all be done in parking lots/driveways, ST says.
SIDE NOTE: If you have questions about this or any other aspect of West Seattle light-rail planning, a reminder – ST reps are on the agenda at tonight’s Junction Neighborhood Organization meeting. And two upcoming ST board meetings will determine whether two West Seattle options are included in environmental studies – the System Expansion Committee this Thursday, and the full board on October 24th.
Got a question or comment about the latest information on West Seattle light-rail planning, the “initial assessments” of two more options that might be added to the first round of environmental studies? (Here’s our coverage from earlier this month.) You can talk with Sound Transit reps right now, as they are boothing at today’s West Seattle Farmers’ Market (until 2 pm). The ST Board will decide next month whether to study either or both, a required step toward any further consideration. Until next Friday (October 4th), you can review the alternatives and comment via this “online open house” – choose the tabs for Yancy/Andover Elevated and Pigeon Point Tunnel.
As we reported Thursday, Sound Transit has gone public with “assessments” of potential light-rail options, including two for the West Seattle extension. It’ll be up to the Sound Transit Board to decide whether to include either or both in studies for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the next of 3 more steps before they finalize the route “alignment” in 2022. Before that board vote in October, they’re also taking public comment – you can do that (and review the new info) by going here. Deadline: October 4th.
P.S. If you have questions, you can also talk to ST reps in person at the West Seattle Farmers’ Market on September 29th.