West Seattle light rail extension update: ups, downs and everything in between
By Gwen Davis
What’s your opinion of the West Seattle light rail project?
The West Seattle ST3 light rail extension project – which has become quite heated in recent months and won’t be in service until an estimated 2030 – has swept the attention and emotion of many West Seattle residents.
Last week, the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) gave an overview of the West Seattle light rail extension process at the monthly Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO) meeting. The event took place at the West Seattle Senior Center.
Lauren Flemister, community planning manager at OPCD, facilitated the city’s presentation. While going through the timeline, she discussed how her office will work closely with Sound Transit (ST) and how there will be many opportunities for public input.
Emotions ran high during the meeting, and Flemister fielded multiple emotionally charged comments from participants. Ever since ST revealed that a tunnel option would cost roughly $700 million more than elevated tracks – potentially putting the tunnel option at risk – public light rail meetings have been impassioned.
However, Chas Redmond, board member at the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC) and West Seattle resident, said that he’s pleased about where the project currently stands.
“I’m reasonably satisfied that ST administration and the ST board have listened to and responded to the majority of comments about the ST3 West Seattle link,” he said. “[The] action by the ST3 board to move forward with the two options to include costing and other impacts is actually a very good move for West Seattle, as we will finally get an estimate for the costs of tunneling and the other impacts.”
Redmond said he’s eager to explore local and citywide funding options for the West Seattle and Ballard extension projects, given the likely need for additional revenue.
“We’ve always stated that this is infrastructure investment for at least the next 50 to 100 years, so a careful and thorough analysis of the options is appropriate,” he said. “I’m pleased and happy with the current ST3 situation.”
However, others aren’t as optimistic about the city’s prowess.
“It's keenly important that the city do much more community outreach than they did with the MHA code changes,” said Deb barker, board member at WSTC and West Seattle resident, referring to another recent city project.
“Also, the city should also not try to recreate the light-rail wheel, but work in partnership with ST who has done an enormous amount of West Seattle outreach to date,” she said. “The city should use that as a springboard for planning.”
Still, others question the wisdom of using current light rail technology, regardless of whether the rail is underground or elevated. Some have raised the prospect that by the time light rail is here in 2030, autonomous vehicles and other future transportation systems will be in use, negating the need for old-school technology like trains.
However, Scott Thompson, public information officer at ST, said the agency and partnering organizations continue to consider such scenarios, and ensure that they’re ahead of the game.
“Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is leading a robust effort to understand the future impact of autonomous vehicles on transportation networks and infrastructure, and ST is actively engaged in those efforts,” Thompson said in a statement to Westside Seattle.
To that end, ST designs its fixed physical infrastructure “to integrate transit with current and future mobility options including shared, autonomous and smart/connected automobiles,” Thompson stated.
Where we are now
Currently, ST is developing a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that will help determine the nature and route of the light rail extension. It will be complete by 2020. The ST board will then confirm or modify the preferred alternative. The final environmental impact statement (EIS) will then be made, and finally, the board will select the project it wishes to build.
Design is expected to begin in 2022 and be completed in 2025. Finally, construction and testing will begin in 2025 and be completed in 2030 to 2035.
Sound Transit will have ample revenues available to it to spend in the North King subarea that the board could allocate to the costs of tunneling to West Seattle. Everyone would be able to see the truth about that if Sound Transit started complying with the ST3 voter-approved financial policies: https://st32.blob.core.windows.net/media/Default/Document%20Library%20F… See the requirement there for a Financial Plan? Sound Transit is not producing the required form of Financial Plan, so nobody can see how much revenues and debt capacity the North King subarea will have for the board to spend prior to the tax rollback. Demand that Sound Transit comply with the financial policies the voters approved as part of ST3!!