Blood boils as West Seattle residents, businesses clash with Sound Transit on light rail options: tunnel vs. elevated rail
By Gwen Davis
Light rail will open its doors in West Seattle by 2030, barring any delays or serious cost overruns. Although that’s 11 years away, Sound Transit (ST), residents and businesses are in the process of planning the details now.
Recently, ST unveiled that a tunnel option – the option that most residents and businesses have preferred over the past year – would cost roughly $700 million more than elevated tracks.
At the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO) meeting on Monday, where ST gave an updated presentation on the ongoing plans, people were angry. Although nothing has been decided – public comments are still being received, environmental impact studies still need to be done, and ST won’t decide on the preferred alternatives until later this year – the packed room of people expressed frustration.
Amanda Sawyer, director of JuNO, said an elevated rail would hurt the neighborhood.
“We oppose building an elevated line through our already dense neighborhood,” she said in a statement to Westside Seattle. She compared the situation to downtown Seattle: “It did not make sense to split Seattle from its downtown waterfront by rebuilding a large, noisy, concrete viaduct, and for the same reasons, it makes no sense to split the West Seattle Junction in half with an elevated rail line.”
Businesses and residents would suffer, she said.
“An elevated rail structure would cause unquantifiable costs by destroying homes, hurting businesses, visitors and residents, and consuming valuable land with track instead of multi-family housing,” she stated.
Deb Barker, board member of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC), said an elevated rail would “destroy” the neighborhood.
“[The tunnel option] would eliminate the majority of all the proposed impacts that the rail would impact,” she said. “That quantification of not destroying a neighborhood – I personally think that’s a higher goal.”
However, ST made clear that nothing has been finalized, and the process is still ongoing.
“We understand people being discombobulated and highly invested in this project, but we’re not proposing anything,” said senior public information officer with ST, Kimberly Reason. “For the past two years, we’ve been engaged in a robust community engagement process, and this is just the start of the project.”
Much more work still needs to be done before any decisions are made, she said.
“This has been a narrowing down process all along, that that is something we communicated to folks very clearly from the start,” she said. “Staff needs to evaluate the options and see what’s possible.”
Furthermore, Reason said that some of the accusatory comments claiming that West Seattle is being treated differently than other neighborhoods have been based off false information. For instance, people claimed that West Seattle is the only area where ST is considering putting rail through a residential community, which is not true.
“There are certainly examples of rail going through dense, residential neighborhoods, such as Beacon Hill,” she said.
How did we get here?
Chas Redmond, board member at WSTC explained the history of the current tunnel-rail debate.
“West Seattle and Ballard have always been under consideration for surface rail with above-ground stations,” he said. “It is only in the past 18 or so months that everyone, I believe even Sound Transit, actually came to a realization of what a surface station would look like once the line went past a Delridge station.”
That new understanding changed people’s opinions.
“Once the realization of how high the pylons would be, and how high above the Junction area the station would be, and how far west the tail-track would be, that’s when everyone including county and city officials started calling for an underground station,” he continued. “For the past year and more, many folks have been calling for an underground station and a re-analysis of available options.”
However, since a tunnel costs $700 million or more in unsecured funds, ST is a little at loss.
“Doing [the project] right may mean we have to create a special levy district for West Seattle, and that question has not yet been pondered or answered,” he said. “An underground station is [the option] most of the residents in West Seattle have expressed they support, and it’s certainly the option the business community organizations support,” he said.
At the end of the day, Redmond said this is a complicated issue and there are no easy answers.
“We are all going to have to await the next decision point from the ST board and the stakeholder groups,” he said.
The scoping period is still underway -- submit comments to Sound Transit by Tuesday, April 2, 2019. This is the last opportunity for the community to weigh in on route and station placement, as well as what ST should study in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
i dont want either its a waste money they have already destroyed west seattle with all the apts if anything have a station on harbor island or pier 5 area and run shuttles back and forth from the junction and westwood village much cheaper and done alot faster
Elevated tracks do nothing to destroy a community. In fact, they strengthen them. Passengers, including visitors to the area are able to ride the trains, and see for themselves, the kinds of community gems along the train route. This may include parks and recreation options, and attractive community businesses that will get visitors and people unfamiliar to the area to open their wallets. It's exactly what I do when I visit New York and I'm trying to choose where to eat. Speaking of New York, residents of some communities are still lamenting the loss of certain elevated lines, a loss that happened decades ago. And nobody's complaining in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington DC. Sure, the trains can be loud, but what the NIMBYs are forgetting is that that the loud sound of a passing el train is more like an audio confirmation that the area's economic future remains bright. We can't let a few NIMBYs who don't like noise derail (pun intended) the Seattle area's bright economic future. Those NIMBYs can go live in the woods, where it's quiet. Urban areas are supposed to be full of life. And noise. And stuff to see.