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.