Herbold: Elected Leadership Group recommendations for Light Rail EIS alternatives in West Seattle
District 1 Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold shared information drawn from the Sound Transit Elected Leadership Group meeting on Friday May 3.
By Lisa Herbold
Last Friday the Sound Transit Elected Leadership Group (ELG) made recommendations for what options to study in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for ST3 light rail to West Seattle and Ballard.
The recommendations go to the Sound Transit Board, which is scheduled to decide which options to study on May 23rd. Their decision will be informed by coordination with the Federal Transit Administration.
After the Board selects options to study, work on the EIS will begin. The Draft EIS is scheduled to be published in late 2020; conceptual engineering and station planning work will take place as well. When the Draft EIS is published, there will be a public comment period; the Board can then confirm or modify options. The Final EIS is scheduled for 2022, after which the Sound Transit Board will select the option to be built.
I requested that Sound Transit release the public scoping comments to provide adequate time for review; I thank them for doing that; having the public comments was helpful. Thanks to everyone who took the time to do that.
Sound Transit expressed interest to the ELG in having two options for study in the EIS: one that would require additional resources beyond the baseline budget included in the ballot measure, and one that met the project budget.
The format Sound Transit used for the ELG meeting was to seek recommendations by consensus, rather than voting. During the meeting I spoke to themes in the comment letter I submitted to Sound Transit.
For the West Seattle options, the ELG’s recommendations were similar to recommendations made by the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG), with some modifications. The West Seattle recommendations were in three separate areas: the Alaska Junction, Delridge, and the Duwamish crossing.
The ELG recommended removing the “yellow” line from consideration. This line would have traveled through the East Alaska Junction residential neighborhood and resulted in significant residential displacement. I strongly supported removing this option; thanks to the residents who helped demonstrate the potential impact.
Additional resources option: The ELG recommended moving forward the “blue” tunnel option, with a tunnel stations at Avalon, and one on Alaska at 41st/42ndas recommended by the SAG, though not limited to those areas.
Current budget option: The ELG also recommended moving forward, as an option that is at the current budget, the red “representative” alignment. This option has little support, due to the impacts on residents and businesses. Going through a developed residential neighborhood with an elevated alignment in an Urban Village would be unique in Seattle. Urban Villages are designated to accommodate growth in Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, which implements the State Growth Management Act. Removing opportunities for housing would be counterproductive.
Current budget option: The ELG recommended the “blue” line, which has a lower station and guideway than the other options, and a station further to the south. This option has significant residential impacts, however.
Additional resources option: To address this I encouraged Sound Transit to include study of the purple line, as I did last year. The Level 2 Racial Equity Toolkit analysis noted this option was best for avoiding residential displacement and for ensuring good transfers for the communities to the south with higher concentration of people of color. While this option has additional costs, I noted that the costs combine the cost for a tunnel in Delridge and for a tunnel in the Alaska Junction. I believe in examining the cost of the purple line we should isolate the costs of the tunnel in Delridge ($500 million) and not conflate them with the costs of a tunnel in the Junction ($700 million).
The County Executive also spoke to further examination of a potential option like the Yancy Street alignment included for consideration earlier, but with a station in the Youngstown neighborhood, in advance of the May 23rd Board meeting. This option would also minimize residential impact in Youngstown.
DUWAMMISH RIVER CROSSING
Current budget option: The ELG favored crossing the Duwamish to the south of the West Seattle Bridge, due to lower costs. Sound Transit indicated that both north and south crossings will be studied, as for environmental review they need to have alternative to address environmental impacts to the Pigeon Point neighborhood.
Additional resources option: I encouraged Sound Transit to include study of a Duwamish crossing to the Delridge station at Genesee, suggested by community members as a modification from the earlier Purple line Duwamish crossing version. The earlier version proceeded south in SODO and crossed from east to west over the Duwamish, then through a tunnel to the Delridge station at Genesee. Tribal government had concerns about this crossing due to potential impact on fishing rights; they support a crossing close to the West Seattle Bridge. Some industrial businesses also opposed the original purple line due to the impacts to their operations.
In response to these concerns, the modified version would have a crossing closer to the West Seattle Bridge, and cross diagonally to the Delridge station at Genesee. Going a little further south over Harbor Island could also reduce the impact on the Port and maritime businesses; the Longshoreman Union also suggested a similar Duwamish crossing.
Finally, a word about cost estimates and funding.
Groups such as the JuNO and the East Alaska Junction Coalition suggested studying the elimination of the Avalon Station, in order to save money to help fund a tunnel. When I raised this with Sound Transit, they were reluctant to consider this, in part due to legal concerns.
Understanding their legal concerns, I encouraged them to study in the EIS the cost and ridership impacts of not building the Avalon station. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition letter noted, “Would building only two stations severely impact ridership or would ridership adjust itself?” The Avalon and Junction stations are closer together than stations in other neighborhoods outside of Downtown, so I believe it’s worth studying.
The cost estimates we have to date are based on very early design. The current cost estimate for the blue line tunnel in the Alaska Junction is $700 million above the baseline, and $500 million for the purple line tunnel through Pigeon Ridge in Delridge.
For previous rail lines, detailed study has shown that tunnels cost less than originally estimated. In Bellevue, early cost estimates for a tunnel in 2009 were in the range of an additional $600 million, $700 million, to as much as $900 million higher than an above-ground line. After engineering study, the estimate was reduced to under $300 million, which allowed Bellevue and Sound Transit to reach an agreement in 2011 on how to split additional costs.
In the Roosevelt neighborhood, study reduced the estimated cost of a tunnel as well, compared to an elevated line. In both cases, the Sound Transit Board approved a tunnel, when above-ground rail had been originally planned.
Sound Transit has focused on “third party” funding for additional costs beyond the baseline earlier than usual in their processes. Part of the reason for this is that they are using an accelerated process, designed to deliver light rail faster than usual. They made this decision in response to community pressure. Below is their slide that compares this process with the process for ST2, and how it’s different: