West Seattle light rail extension progress report: Dark tunnel looking like a bright option
By Gwen Davis
To tunnel or not to tunnel?
Sound Transit plans to extend light rail service to West Seattle by 2035, and currently community activists are debating the pros and cons of a particular alternative: putting in a tunnel.
Seattle residents are familiar with tunnels. In 2011, voters decided to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct in favor of a tunnel. This will allow Seattle's waterfront to be more urban living friendly, complete with beaches and attractions, so people can enjoy the waterfront without the noise and eyesore that SR 99 created.
Tomas Biernacki member of the Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), said that a tunnel will enable strong light rail service, with minimal impact to residents during and after construction.
"Think about the past five-plus years of constant above ground construction on Alaska and Fauntleroy," he said. "How will we handle the traffic nightmare during that time? One of the non-tunnel alternatives places the light rail station smack in the middle of the Fauntleroy highway on ramp to the bridge. How will Sound Transit build a station there without cutting off access to the West Seattle bridge?”
Biernacki said that the light rail extension will be a huge, multi-year long project. We must keep quality of life high throughout and after this period.
"Once built above ground, you lose a lane of traffic because the columns are about 10 feet wide," he said. This can make it troublesome for streets to accomodate bike lanes and pedestrians, which can lead to saftey concerns.
Biernacki also noted that that if the rail is built above ground, that could displace housing developments.
"The other day, I counted close to 80 residences (single family homes and condos) that will be 'eminent domained' by Sound Transit to build the project above ground," he said. Those homes will need to be evacuated. "In times when housing is in critical need, wiping 80 residences from the face of West Seattle seems very counterproductive.”
Even after construction, without the tunnel, quality of life might suffer, he stated.
"There would be countless more affected later by the train operational noise," he said. "Think of all the rental units at the Whitaker or the Spruce. The train would run 40-50 feet in the air right along these units, every six minutes. Think of all the residential homes along Oregon or Genesee. This would change the character and quality of life in West Seattle for thousands of people forever."
If the extention is put below ground, however, the tunnel construction "will only affect a handful of homes that will be needed by Sound Transit," he said. "I think a tunnel represents a more eloquent approach and addresses all the concerns much better than the above ground options."
Biernacki added that the major drawback to the tunnel is cost, and currently there is no projected price tag.
"However, if one takes a more holistic look at the project, I believe the additional costs of the tunnel can be justified if the tunnel successfully addresses the above issues," he said. "I feel the risk is worth the long term reward for our neighborhood.”
Chas Redmond, member of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC) agrees that there are many pros to putting in a tunnel, including saving above-ground streetscape, and potentially making it easier to extend light rail further south. It could also serve to lower the guideway through Delridge, which now is as high as 150 feet. Additionally, many people have expressed preference for a tunnel.
However, Redmond said that regardless of which alternative becomes the winner, the light rail extension project will enhance the lives of millions.
"The light rail system and the stations proposed for West Seattle and Ballard will be useful for everyone in both those neighborhoods and throughout the city,” he said. “Whether it's elevated or underground, that does not alter the convenience of the station.”
Interested in getting involved and making your voice heard? Contact Sound Transit to offer your input at 206-903-7229 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, consider joining the West Seattle Transportation Coalition — visit westseattletc.org or https://www.facebook.com/westseattletc.
NOTE:If you have any questions specifically regarding these renderings please feel free to contact Tomasz Biernacki at 707-339-1144 or email@example.com. These are unofficial images, not associated with Sound Transit. The images are based on the latest (April 16th 2018) drawings from ST that identify the 5 alternatives. The drawings available from Sound Transit are not very detailed and are a work in progress making it hard to produce a perfect simulation at this point. Our attempts to acquire higher resolution drawings or CAD from ST have not been successful.