4th and 5th Avenues South in Chinatown. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt.

Yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan petitioned the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to extend the environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping period for the West Seattle-Ballard Link extension by 15 days, in order to solicit more comment on the planned second Chinatown/International District (CID) station.

Durkan’s request is a result of lobbying from CID community leaders. Under present plans, the EIS scoping period will end on March 18.

“We are supportive of the request by residents, civic, and business leaders of the Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square neighborhoods for a scoping extension for gathering comments for the [West Seattle-Ballard] project,” Durkan wrote in a letter to the FTA’s regional administrator, Linda Gehrke.

“It is my belief that gathering extensive scoping comments now will result in a thorough review of alternatives, opportunities, impacts and can help build a strong foundation for the planned expansion of Light Rail in Seattle. These neighborhoods have large populations of communities of color and low-income residents who have not historically had the opportunity to fully participate in past FTA scoping processes.”

The CID station has, so far, been the most controversial of the planned West Seattle-Ballard extension. Some CID community members oppose constructing the neighborhood’s second Link station on 5th Avenue South, the alignment that Sound Transit seems to prefer.

After a presentation by ST staff on the latest West Seattle-Ballard planning at yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting, Durkan’s Board colleagues Rob Johnson and Joe McDermott also expressed a desire to hear more comments on the station from community members. All three have advocated for the CID position in the past.

“We’re down to having kind of a station area planning discussion on just two stations, CID and Delridge,” Johnson said. “These are complicated stations, don’t get me wrong, but we could have been having this kind of level discussion about all 15 or 20 different stations. We still have a lot of work left to go, but compliments to the staff for getting us this far along.”

In comments at the Board meeting, McDermott expressed similar concerns about those stations. Both stations are in his district.

“Those are two areas along the alignment that really are calling out for more work, and more ingenuity on everybody’s part,” McDermott said.

According to Sound Transit’s most recent analysis, moving the CID station from 5th to 4th Avenue South would be expensive. And Board members from Snohomish and Pierce County are worried that Seattle markups will cripple projects in the areas they represent.

In response to the same presentation about Level 3 analysis, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers suggested that the specter of a recession, and the latest anti-light rail Tim Eyman initiative, could prevent or delay construction of lines to Everett and Tacoma—even if Seattle’s emerging wish list doesn’t add billions to the overall project cost. As Brent wrote yesterday, a separate Olympia bill could also endanger project delivery.

“Looking at the financial model it’s very clear that are risks in front of us, risks even to projects that are at the level of the representative alignment that was passed in the package,” Somers said.

“From recession, if the initiative passes in this fall, all bets are off. The whole ST3 package falls apart,” Somers added. “As we go out in time, there’s more opportunity for risk. So I’m nervous.”

Somers asked Sound Transit staff, and Board members, to advance plans for third-party funding for Seattle’s add-ons. So far, third-party funding for West Seattle-Ballard construction has been the stuff of rumor. The City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, and King County have all been mentioned as possible funders by various transit stakeholders.

Under current plans, the Board will formally approve alignments to enter the official, multi-year EIS process on May 23, after a committee meeting about the same topic on May 9. The Board will submit at least two plans for consideration. One would rely on third-party funding, and one could be paid for with Sound Transit’s bonding authority. Sound Transit will hold “Community Workshops” in Delridge and the CID on March 12 and 13, respectively.

25 Replies to “Durkan asks FTA for Chinatown/International District comment extension”

  1. I don’t think any amount of community comment will change the fact that:

    A) building either 4th or 5th as a mined station results in a TERRIBLE rider experience. 200′ underground at the ID station where thousands of people need to transfer everyday and then 250′ down at Midtown station, the busiest one on the line? C’mon, man. That’s totally unacceptable when there’s a perfectly good alternative.

    B) building cut and cover on 4th requires tearing up the 4th South viaduct. That’s going to be expensive and close one of the major access roads to the ID for years/divert a lot of traffic through the community. Is that really an improvement over closing 5th? Plus it requires tearing down the King County admin building, which while fairly ugly is perfectly functional.

    Shallow tunnel on 5th, cut and cover station and mitigation money for affected businesses is the only thing that makes sense.

    1. I agree. Similarly, it makes sense to go with a 15th Avenue elevated station and just have mitigation money for the port. If we are going to tunnel in Ballard, then the station should be at 20th or Leary. In other words, if we are going to spend more, then we should build something that substantially adds ridership or improves the ridership experience.

      1. Since the Port is apparently a State agency, the City, being junior, can’t force it to accept mitigation.

      2. The city isn’t building the thing, so that is irrelevant. Can the port force Sound Transit to build elsewhere? In other words, what if the port says no? Isn’t ST within its rights to simply take the land, give the port due compensation, and call it a day? Extra mitigation is just a way to assuage the folks involved, the same way that it would be used in the I. D.

      3. Ross, you’re right about the City; they aren’t building it so being “junior” doesn’t matter.

        And, indeed, Sound Transit is also a State agency slotting in at a rather similar level. So it may be able to appeal to the legislature to force the Port to accept mitigation. But since it (the Port) is a “State” level organization, neither the City nor the County can force it to accept mitigation. The State can’t invoke “eminent domain” against itself. It has to sort out the bureaucratic battles, and I expect that legislature would have to make a determination which agency was “superior”.

        Or it may already have implicitly in the enabling legislation for the two agencies.

        At any rate, the mitigation can’t be stuffed down the throat of the Port. They have a say.

      4. That’s not correct; the port is not a state agency. Rather, in Washington state, port districts are classified as special purpose districts and as such have all legal standing as any other municipal corporation. In other words, such districts are not junior to other subdivisions of the state, such as a city or county, in this regard.

        “Can the port force Sound Transit to build elsewhere?”

        The answer to that question is not so straightforward, based on recent WA State Supreme Court jurisprudence. This is where things get messy…..and litigious….because of the wording contained in RCW 81.112.080(2) that requires the “consent” of the public agency in the capacity as the condemnee. In last year’s WA State Supreme Court decision in Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority v. WR-SRI 120th North LLC et al (with City of Seattle as appellant), the court overcame the aforementioned statutory argument and affirmed Sound Transit’s condemnation authority, in this case with regard to electrical transmission line easements.

        However, then comes the important issue of “prior public use doctrine” that court was required to address. The court in this decision writes:

        “Even if Sound Transit has broad authority to condemn public property, its authority is still constrained by other applicable doctrines, such as the prior public use doctrine. The prior public use doctrine bars the condemnation of property that is
        already being put to a public use unless both uses are compatible.”

        Because of contradictory evidence by the parties on the issue of compatibility of the intended uses/needs, the court ultimately remanded the issue of the prior public use doctrine back to the trial court.

        If you really want to get into the weeds on this, here’s a direct link to the case referenced:

        https://law.justia.com/cases/washington/supreme-court/2018/94255-2.html

      5. So Sound Transit is another of this “special purpose district” classification? Because it’s not an arm of any County, spanning multiple ones as it does. So it must be defined at the State level.

        I apologize for not knowing the exact wording, but the upshot is that Sound Transit is not “superior” (nor obviously “inferior”) to The Port of Seattle. ST can’t just apply eminent domain to Port land.

      6. Thanks Tlsgwm. This makes sense, and suggests that ST could just settle with the port to avoid a lengthy court battle (that they might win or might lose based on the other case). They did settle with Mercer Island to avoid a delay, and have settled with various home owners, so it really is nothing new. Moving to 14th would cost more for construction, and might lead to lawsuits as well. Homeowners (on the Queen Anne side) could sue, since it wasn’t what was originally planned. I don’t know if they would have a good case, but it seems like they would have enough to go to court, which is often enough to warrant a settlement.

    2. Don’t people understand that there will be a cover over the station box after the excavation gets six or eight feet down? Yes, there will be severe impacts on the businesses along the east side of Fifth Avenue South for six to twelve weeks perhaps in each of the three-and-a-half blocks affected. But then when the lid is closed over that block those impacts will be greatly mitigated. People will be able to walk on the sidewalks safely and cars will be able to drive on the street. The station box does not have to remain open to the sky.

      Yes, there will still be noise from the hole, but it will be greatly reduced. It costs more to work under a falsework lid, but not as much more as would tearing down the Fourth South causeway.

      This is “Cut-and-Cover 101”.

      1. “Viaduct”, not “causeway”, at least not until that big Antarctic ice sheet lets go.

      2. The problem isn’t that they don’t understand that, the problem is that they got majorly burned with the reworking of Jackson for the First Hill line. A lot of businesses suffered during the rebuilding of the road, after they’d been assured impacts would be minimal. So they’re wary of any major building project that involves any disruption whatsoever.

    3. I agree.

      5th cut-and-cover is the only realistic and practical option. I can’t even imagine how the fire marshal would feel about a deep Station there (also way under sea level to boot).

      I find it ironic that we have Ballard and West Seattle folk angry they aren’t getting tunnels but seemingly ok with the years of construction disruption and delay that comes with that, while C-ID folk aren’t ok. Don’t they realize that that ST3 did C-ID a huge favor by going underground in the first place?

      Where’s the gratitude, C-ID?

      1. See the fallout of the Jackson rebuild for the FHSC. Why should they be wary of a major infrastructure project just a few years after a major infrastructure project caused tons of problems for them, you ask?

      2. The Jackson project, constructed by SDOT, is no reason to look a gift horse in the mouth!

        ST could have portales the line a few blocks north of Jackson and saved probably at least a billion dollars. Getting a tunnel from us via ST3 is a huge gift already!

        Besides, a giant hole is going to be needed no matter how deep the tracks are. That’s because it’s a station location.

      3. It’s like winning a new car at the casino and complaining about how to get it home.

        If they don’t want the disruption of a tunnel, build it as aerial and give the tunnel to Ballard or West Seattle!

      4. Al, where could the line go into the hillside? Fifth Avenue is lined with buildings north of Main Street.

      5. Heck that’s easy. Use the firehouse property at the NE corner of 4th and Washington for the portal, and move the firehouse to the SW corner above the tracks. Then run the. Tracks over 4th.

        The larger issue is the station. Cut and cover tracks can be done by SEM like what they did in Bellevue. It took just a year. However, a station is more complex. The thing is a Station will require years of disruption — and a deep station would seem to take more time because ST would have to dig a much deeper hole and make it waterproof because it’s far underneath sea level. The deep tunnel doesn’t seem to save much impact and a much more massive earth removal.

  2. I’m having a hard time figuring out why the request for the extension. It seems obvious that 15 more days isn’t really needed for more comment. I mean what is someone going to say on March 20 that they couldn’t say on March 15.

    Either 1. they are working on something behind the scenes, or 2. The cynic in me says the politicians are covering their asses so that in the future they can say they did everything they could to keep the disruption the Internation District to a minimum, but big bad Sound Transit simply barrelled on through and built the cut and cover tunnell over their objections.

    1. The cynic in me says the politicians are covering their asses so that in the future they can say they did everything they could to keep the disruption the International District to a minimum…

      Yup. This is Durkan doing the typical political hand waving so she can say “See, I’m a people person. I care about people! And businesses too, to boot! Pay no attention to my empty list of accomplishments behind the curtain over there!”

      This is no different than the 35th bike lanes, The Missing Link, etc, just on a much grander scale.

  3. ““We’re down to having kind of a station area planning discussion on just two stations, CID and Delridge,” Johnson said”

    15th! 15th! 15th!

    Johnson said this? He really seems to have turned around from his earlycommitment to good transit and urbanism. He’s walked back from both this and the full HALA implementation and the complete streets on NE 65th Street and 35th Ave NE.

    1. In fact wasn’t there a transit blog podcast where they interviewed Rob Johnson and he said he thought that the station in Ballard was going to end up at an even better place than 15th?

      I may be misremembering, but I”m pretty sure there was someone interviewed on a podcast who said this. if it wasn’t Johnson maybe Kubly… hmm.. .

  4. It seems to me that the issue of Salmon Bay, if ST insists on the Fifteenth Avenue mid-level bridge, will come to the Governor and the Legislature. Barring some sort of language in the enabling legislation for both organizations that specifically allows eminent domain takings from other agencies, that “prior public use” doctrine is going to be controlling.

    So, if ST really wants the 15th Avenue Bridge they’re going to have to get the Gov and/or the Leg to state that it has the right to take the land.

  5. the construction impacts for both 4th and 5th avenues would be immense. the station should be shallow to minimize access and transfer times for ever. could the alignment shift to 6th Avenue South and still be close enough for good transfers?

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