Delridge light rail planning highlights trip risks along entire line

Alki Beach Academy has ceased to maintain an official waiting list for any child older than an infant. So many families in West Seattle sought out daycare there that the staff could no longer promise an opening before the children reached kindergarten.

If Sound Transit pursues its preferred location for a station in the Delridge neighborhood, all of those daycares could disappear, said Jordan Crawley, the academy’s administrative director. The French fries trade center, where the academy is located, would make way for elevated tracks and a station just west of the West Seattle Bridge. The daycare would be one of at least 20 businesses uprooted, along with supportive housing for those struggling with homelessness.

Of the options presented to the Sound Transit board for building a stop at Delridge – with service planned to begin in 2032 – analyzes show that the “Delridge 6” option by the Mall, west of Delridge Way Southwest near Southwest Avalon Way, would displace the least amount of residents while seeding good opportunities for new development. It would also be much cheaper than extending a planned tunnel further into West Seattle, as some neighborhood advocates have demanded.

But the picture on the ground turned out to be more complicated and sensitive than what appears on paper. Childcare and affordable housing for those struggling with homelessness are at the heart of some of the city’s most pressing crises and a station that could shave both has struck a chord.

“How can you, Sound Transit board, choose a route that destroys a child care center and an agency that serves people with disabilities?” resident Lucy Barefoot asked a recent meeting. “It’s the same people you build this light [rail] train for.”

The conflict at Delridge repeats itself to varying degrees with each new station Sound Transit plans on its nearly 12-mile, $14 billion line from West Seattle to Ballard. It is the natural result of building a mass transit system in an already built city. The balance is between providing as many benefits to a community with as few drawbacks as possible.

“There are so — so many different places where we have to make these decisions,” said Claudia Balducci, Metropolitan King County Council member and chair of Sound Transit’s system expansion committee. “It was quite difficult. There are not, in many places, very simple ways to do everything we would like and avoid all the impacts we would like.

Weigh the alternatives

Sound Transit’s board considered eight options for Delridge, some with only slight variations from each other. All eight enter the neighborhood toward the West Seattle Bridge, then follow Delridge Way before turning west on Southwest Genesee Street, immediately turning west on Southwest Andover Street, or splitting the two roads to Avalon Way.

It’s not official policy, but Balducci said she and other board members tended to avoid evicting people from their homes when considering placing new stations.

“It can be very difficult for people to have their lives displaced,” she said.

The option near the mall would force the fewest number of residents out, at 48, according to the draft environmental impact statement on the West Seattle-Ballard line, and would cost the least, at $400 million. Other options would run through nearby Youngstown, uprooting nearly 200 people and cost up to $700 million.

The shutdown is estimated at 5,600 runners per day.

There’s nothing glorious about the mall, consisting of flat-walled buildings with tinted windows. Many offices remain vacant.

Nevertheless, the option would affect 20 companies, most of the alternatives considered by the council.

Among them is the Alki Beach Academy, although the environmental study never mentions it by name. The relative emptiness of the surrounding buildings is what has allowed the daycare to grow with demand. An outdoor playground extends into the parking lot, and the sound of kids brings the suburban campus to life.

According to Sound Transit Racial Equity Toolkit ReportPlacing a station there could create up to 260,000 square feet of new commercial space and 160 new residences, but zoning regulations and nearby industry complicate development.

Transit access could also be trickier – current designs have riders crossing busy Andover Street and walking near Nucor Steel, creating potentially hazardous conditions.

Nowhere to go

Many Transitional Resources clients struggle with years of addiction and serious untreated mental illness, such as schizophrenia. CEO Darcell Slovek-Walker said the organization places great importance on placing housing close to services, so customers can access them on short notice.

Near Avalon, Transitional Resources has supportive housing, assisted living facilities, outpatient behavioral health offices and administrative offices. Sound Transit’s preferred option would require the demolition of the organization’s main office, on-site supportive housing, and an adjacent apartment building under the organization’s control.

“Thirty-one people would be homeless, and they can’t be housed anywhere,” Slovek-Walker said. “This whole concept of pairing housing with services, they would lose it. It’s not easy to find accommodation for 31 people.

Down the street, Alki Beach Academy can currently accommodate 174 children, a capacity it has built over years of slow growth in neighboring spaces. Crawley said the center is planning another expansion that will increase admissions to 300. That would make it one of the biggest in the city, if not the biggest.

“It’s impossible to find child care,” said mother Tiffany Jones. “You are on waiting list after waiting list. I have friends starting here next month, and they drove to Burien from North Admiral and back every day because it was the closest daycare.

There’s no room in the city for 300 children, Crawley said. And moving the operations of the academy is not so simple. The landlord charges the center $1.50 per square foot, which is half or a third of the other spaces Crawley has seen. Moving would probably mean looking for space in South Park, Georgetown or even Burien.

“We are looking at a minimum of two years, but likely closer to three years, for a full renovation of new space, as there is not 20,000 square feet of educational space already identified as educational space available. anywhere,” Crawley said.

Exhausting all options

Although the Sound Transit card vote for the Frye Commerce Center option, which launches a longer and more in-depth study period, this support has come with some coverage, as advocacy on behalf of Alki Beach Academy and Transitional Resources has found traction. ground. Council asked Sound Transit staff to study how to improve access and reduce travel.

Joe McDermott, a board member of Sound Transit, which represents West Seattle on the King Metropolitan County Council, said he needs safer connections to public transit and a plan to help Transitional Resources continue to support Delridge 6. But of the options, it has the best rail alignment as the train enters West Seattle, he said.

Conflict is inevitable, he said, and other options near Southwest Dakota Street have caused a similar uproar in the community.

“This is the toughest line Sound Transit has built in our history and that’s because we’re already building in an urban environment,” he said. The agency does not have the option of following a pre-existing highway.

The Seattle City Council also backed away from its support for the station’s location, changing its non-binding endorsements at the last minute to state “no preference” for Delridge. Future board support of Delridge Option 6 is dependent on support from Transitional Resources and the Alki Beach Academy.

When asked if she was confident that the Delridge 6 option was the best, Balducci replied, “No, actually, I’m not confident.”

“Is there a way to do Del-6 and avoid taking those two buildings?” she says. “Is there a way to thread this needle?” I don’t know if that’s the case, but I want to make sure we’ve exhausted all options before making a decision.

No easy choices

When acquiring properties, Sound Transit requires a fair market value appraisal before making a purchase. This could be an option for Transitional Resources.

For tenants of a property, such as Alki Beach Academy, the agency has fewer obligations. Sound Transit offers relocation assistance, in the form of moving expenses and assistance in finding a new property. But “ultimately, it is up to the displaced business owner to find a suitable replacement site,” according to Sound Transit. moving manual.

Crawley estimates it would cost around $2 million to move. Working on the list recently with Sound Transit staff, he thinks $1 million of that amount could be classified as moving expenses.

“It’s not like we can turn around in the next three years, raise over a million dollars, and prepare to move somewhere else, probably not into the community,” he said.

In written and public comments, some have lobbied for Sound Transit to swing the tracks further west and extend the short tunnel planned for Seattle’s West Junction.

“It hurt my heart to hear people say, ‘It’s just another half mile [tunnel]’ because another half-mile tunnel in Bellevue cost us over $200 million,” Balducci said.

The final Station Options Environmental Impact Study will be released in 2023 before the board makes its final decisions on building the West Seattle to Ballard line. Service is expected to begin in West Seattle in 2032.

In a vacuum, Balducci can understand the push to spend more on a given station. But repeated throughout the city — in the international district of Chinatown and Ballard, for example — it adds up.

“We’re going to have to prioritize, we’re going to have to think about where we stretch, because we can’t afford to stretch in every place, where every interest wants us to stretch,” Balducci said. “It would be really unaffordable.”

Jose P. Rogers