The 4.7 mile Link extension isn’t scheduled to reach West Seattle for at least another 13 years, but residents aren’t wasting any time preparing for light rail expansion.
Not wanting to wait for Sound Transit to launch the formal public process scheduled to begin in early 2018, on Wednesday the Junction Neighborhood Organization hosted the transit agency to discuss the project which includes three new stations (plus the expansion of two existing stations) and a rail-only fixed span bridge crossing the Duwamish River.
To speed up the project timeline Sound Transit wants the preferred alternative identified by early 2019, before the environmental review process is completed. Construction is anticipated to start in 2027.
Focusing on the current stage, the planning process, Cathal Ridge, project director for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension, told the large crowd gathered at the Senior Center of West Seattle that Sound Transit plans on setting up three groups to facilitate engagement for both the West Seattle and Ballard extension projects: an elected leadership group, a stakeholder group and an interagency group.
The elected leadership group will be comprised of elected officials, mostly coming from the ST board, and will meet at key project milestones. That group will appoint about 20 transit riders, residents, business owners, etc. to a stakeholder group, which will meet every two months. The stakeholder group will make recommendations to the elected leadership group, which will then, in turn, make recommendations to the full Sound Transit board.
The interagency group will include staff from Sound Transit, Seattle, King County and transit agencies charged with examining and tackling technical issues.
“I really want to stress this again. Many people look at this project and say, ‘West Seattle 2030 that’s a long way off. I’m not going to get worried about that until 2029,’” Ridge said. “But by early 2019, we really want to have a very good idea of what we are building. And it will be to your benefit to get engaged in the process over the next year and to be able to influence what is ultimately built.”
Leading the discussion in the community is the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC). The group hosted a community open house in June to gather feedback on the current representational alignment.
The WSTC launched four years ago in response to a threat of budget cuts to King County Metro Transit and now the group is focusing on shaping light rail as it comes to West Seattle. The group endorsed ST3 and says the community overwhelmingly supports the project.
According to feedback from the June workshop, the community is pushing for an underground line for both aesthetic and practical reasons. And many residents wanted park-and-ride structures built near the stations.
However, the ST3 vote assumes an elevated line, not a tunnel, will be built, and current city policy prohibits publicly-funded commuter parking.
Some residents expressed concerns, including right-of-way acquisitions impacting homeowners and businesses, which is still years off, and the location of a station in a single-family neighborhood.