Sound Transit kicks off West Seattle/Ballard light rail extension with a bang; But critics say alternatives to the plan are needed
By Gwen Davis
The anticipated West Seattle/Ballard light rail extension open house took place Tuesday evening and was packed. Sound Transit is currently in the process of acquiring public input for the projects, and this event was one of the first to kick off the process.
“Thank you all for coming this evening to our very first open house for the West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions,” Sound Transit's facilitator began. “We are very happy to have you.”
Next week begins early scoping for the project, she said. Comments for this first round will be received until March 5.
“During early scoping, we want to hear your voice on a few things,” she said. “First, we’re going to kick [tonight] off with a presentation."
Additionally, many Sound Transit staffers were available to answer participants’ questions afterwards, she told the crowd.
Attendees were also very much encouraged to write and submit written comments, she said.
“I want to give you an overview of our overall plan,” the director of the project began, which includes three counties and three million residents. "When we opened in 2009 our ridership was 18.8 million and it went up to 42.2 million by 2016."
Over the next 20 years, the public will see light rail extensions up to all over the greater Seattle area, including Northgate, Bellevue, Federal Way and Lynwood.
“By 2040 we’ll have 116 miles of light rail,” he said.
The light rail expansion has already been advancing a few years ahead of schedule, he said. Even though 2030 -- when the light rail extension is slated to be complete -- is many years away, that’s actually sooner than originally planned, he explained to the crowed.
“We want to engage heavily with you to identify the preferred alternative,” he said. Additionally, if the preferred alternative is identified before the environmental review process, the project can be carried out sooner.
“Basic point is, please engage heavily in the next year, and maybe we can get this done on the timeline we are all hoping for,” he stated.
The length of the West Seattle and Ballard extensions will be 4.7 miles long.
West Seattle will open by 2030, while Ballard will open by 2035.
However, many West Seattle transportation activists have been critical about parts of the plan, and have proposed alternatives.
As Westside Seattle previously reported, SDOT has planned for the light rail extension to stretch from the Junction neighborhood to downtown Seattle, primarily on an elevated guideway. It would connect to the existing light rail underground in downtown Seattle.
But members of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC) have suggested that the light rail extension should crisscross the northern section of the West Seattle Golf Club.
“Going over the golf course would allow for a straighter path from the Delridge station to the Avalon station,” said Chas Redmond, board member of the WSTC.
Redmond and others have additionally argued that putting the light rail over the golf course would displace fewer people, and would not impact low-income housing.
“It was thought that such a path over the golf course would be preferable to a path closer to the steel mill as the steel mill route looked like it might cause some properties along that path to be condemned by eminent domain action, so the golf course path seemed less impactful,” he wrote in an email to Westside Seattle. “The pylons through the golf course would, of course, constitute a new ‘hazard’ for whatever holes they impacted.”
But since no golf course players were at any of the presentations, their opinions are unknown at this time, he added.
Additionally, this past week, there have been questions about funding reductions for the project, based on the change in license tabs.
However, Redmond said that any reduction wouldn’t affect this part of the long-term development.
“Sound Transit representatives both this week and during previous meetings with the WSTC have said the [license tab changes] would not change the planning or construction schedule for any existing projects and would not impact the West Seattle and Ballard planning efforts,” he stated.
You can participate in an online version of the open house at https://wsblink.participate.online.