In a meeting last Friday, Seattle and King County elected officials rejected the most expensive West Seattle Link alignment, endorsed a tunnel under the Lake Washington Ship Canal from Interbay to Ballard, and urged Sound Transit to significantly revamp plans for the Chinatown/International District (CID) station.
The rejection of CID plans, so far the most controversial of the ongoing process, came after pointed criticism from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and members of the Seattle City Council.
The October 5 meeting marked the end of the Level 2 analysis for the new Seattle Link extensions, meaning the advisory group process is two thirds finished. The group of elected officials voted on the recommendations of the stakeholder advisory groups that have met throughout 2018.
The endorsements are strictly advisory, but are intended to guide the planning work of Sound Transit’s project staff. The votes don’t carry the force of law: the Sound Transit board will ultimately decide whether to approve or reject the results of the months long advisory process in 2019. In the meantime, agency staff will study the elected official-endorsed alignments further, and present more developed Level 3 plans to the advisory groups.
Seattle & King County criticize Chinatown plans
In pointed comments, several Seattle officials, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and County Councilmember Joe McDermott reiterated a growing consensus against a 5th Avenue South alignment. CID and Pioneer Square leaders have rallied against a 5th Avenue line.
McDermott and Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González placed the concerns of the neighborhood in the context of a long history of disruptive infrastructure projects.
“This segment is where maybe the most work and thought needs to go on,” McDermott said. “I think all of us in the room are aware of the historic elements that have affected the community, from the railroad, to I-5, to the multiple stadiums and arenas, and I think we need to be very mindful of that and the history of the community we’re affecting.”
“There has been a historical negative impact in this neighborhood, as a result of infrastructure projects, that have really resulted in perpetuating generations and years of racism and discrimination and exclusion in this particular part of our city,” said Gonzalez. “I think this is one of the segments where we’re probably going to end up in a place where we are adding more to the table, as opposed to paring it down.”
Durkan, Constantine, and City Council members Mike O’Brien and Bruce Harrell also cited the history of racism and segregation in the CID in their remarks about the Level 2 alternatives.
Constantine said that Sound Transit needs to do its part to “get the most out of one of the most important transportation nodes in the entire Pacific Northwest.” He criticized a mined station under 4th Avenue South on those grounds, saying that a deep station—Sound Transit officials have estimated such a station would have to be 150 feet below the surface—would make wayfinding and the transfer environment more complicated.
Constantine also reminded the group that Metro’s Ryerson bus base will have to be demolished or diminished for every proposed CID alignment. Those remarks drew out an interesting offer from Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman, who suggested that the Port could provide Metro with land for a bus base during construction.
Port & City support a Ship Canal tunnel
Bowman and city officials opposed a movable bridge over the ship canal, and favored a tunnel aligned around 14th or 15th Avenue West over a high bridge.
Bowman’s remarks echoed the objections of the Port of Seattle’s executives to any bridge. Bowman said that some of the bridge alignments could obstruct access to wharves at Fisherman’s Terminal—not just disrupt normal operations during construction. O’Brien and Bagshaw, who represent either end of the crossing, also mentioned those concerns.
O’Brien voiced support for placing the downtown Ballard station on either 14th or 15th Avenue Northwest, citing the area’s potential for transit oriented development. O’Brien also said that any underground station on 14th should have an entrance on 15th.
Pigeon Ridge out
In West Seattle, the expensive Pigeon Ridge alignment—which would have required an extra deep bore tunnel—seems to be ruled out. However, West Seattle Councilmember Lisa Herbold did mention some of the features that made Pigeon Ridge popular during outreach meetings in the neighborhood.
Herbold cited several benefits to Delridge that would come from the Pigeon Ridge’s east-west alignment, particularly the high TOD potential, and ease of transfer from buses traveling on Delridge Way. West Seattle resident and Metro boss Constantine reiterated both points later. Herbold also cited Pigeon Ridge’s support from transit advocacy groups, including Transportation Choices Coalition, Futurewise, and the Transit Riders’ Union. However, the group came to a consensus that the favored golf course alignment offered similar benefits, at a much more palatable cost.
Meanwhile, Bowman made a sharp case against a crossing north of the West Seattle bridge, and invited the other elected officials to tour the area. She expressed concerns that such a line would hamstring improvements to the Harbor Island terminal.
Snohomish county fiscal hawks
Snohomish County Executive and ST Board Chair Dave Somers continued to voice fiscal hawkishness towards Seattle projects—and Durkan noticed.
“We’re over a billion dollars, minimum, of adds that we’re going to be doing,” the mayor said. “I think it is worth it, because transit is one of the most important things that we can do for this region.”
“But I just want to tell my good friend Dave Somers, and my friends at the Port: this is not something that Seattle alone will have to bear as we make these alignments. Every improvement that we make to this spine, in Seattle, benefits the Port and benefits the region. We know we’re going to need some third party funding, but I’m going to be pushing hard at the table to make sure people understand it’s not just [coming from] the City of Seattle.”