West Seattle Blog… | WEST SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL: Avalon-area neighbors walk the (potential) line

(Rendered Sound Transit, possible routing to Genesee east to Avalon)

By Tracy Records
West Seattle Blog Editor

If you haven’t decided what you want/need to say yet during the last major comment period before sound transit locks in the West Seattle Light Rail route and station locations, a community workshop on Thursday might help you provide feedback on the Draft environmental impact statement. (More on that later.)

Some neighborhoods in the potential light rail route have independently studied the proposal extensively almost every step of the way. Among them are Avalon-area residents, some of whom may be forced from their homes depending on where the train travels between the Duwamish River and Seattle’s West Junction. They’ve had several meetings with ST, including one last Thursday night dedicated just to Q&A. Hours prior, they accompanied ST representatives on a walk through the neighborhood, from the potential location of the westernmost Avalon station eastward along potential routing paths. We covered both events and recounted some of their other discussions, dating back almost two years to this one, shortly after learning that the ST council had decided to study a route through their neighborhood.

Thursday’s walking tour aimed to be a first-hand look at where the station could go and how trains would get there. Neighbors and representatives of ST, plus a representative of King County Council Member and ST Board Member Joe McDermott, first brought together by Avalon Starbucks and Taco Time. ST representatives included Jason Hampton, currently responsible for the West Seattle extension. It had been long enough in the works that ST had brought the paper equivalent of a slide presentation, customized for this tour.

After the introductions, it’s off to the first stop on the north side of Pecos pit (WSB sponsor) at 35th/Genesee, which would be at the west end of an elevated Avalon station, with a 55′ high platform – or just northeast of a tunnel station dropping down to 90′.

What Avalon gets depends on what the council chooses for Delridge and Junction stations, primarily the latter. And in turn, getting to an Avalon station by tunnel would mean a tunnel starting at the top of the SW Genesee/Avalon hill, around where the Golden Tee Apartments are now.

“How long would it take to descend” to the 90-foot-deep underground station? asks a participant. It’s not in the DEIS, apparently. Neighbors also wondered about parking, since none of the stations will have any. Hampton said an RPZ would be one possibility to ensure street spaces don’t all disappear for “hide-and-seek” drivers. They also discussed where transit-oriented development housing could go once the line opens – it could replace Starbucks and Taco Time, for example.

Walking toward 32nd and Genesee, the heart of the residential neighborhood, neighbors had many questions about which homes would remain and which would have to go. They’re far from a final design, Hampton reminded everyone. But as they talked about the possibilities studied, one thing was clear: the stations have a considerable footprint. When commenting out the DEIS you will want to be very specific about the station option you want to see and the Junction and Delridge options that go with it.

The neighbors weren’t just trying to imagine the stations and guideways; like Kim Schwarzkopf, who coordinated the tour, described it, “we’re trying to imagine what life will be like during construction.” Also comment on construction issues, Hampton informed neighbors when this came up in conversation. The neighbors tried to extract as much detail as possible – how fast were the trains going? Hampton said they could travel up to 55 mph on elevated tracks, but on the West Seattle Extension that would likely only cross the Duwamish (a rail-only bridge whose route has no been settled either).

The group continued to 32nd/Andover – noting that this is a popular bike path, connecting to the recently reinforced bridge at the west end of the West Seattle Bridge – then to Avalon/Yancy/ Andover, where an elevated runway would be 80 feet – eight stories high.

There, the tour is over. Less than eight hours later, the Q&A session began online. It was just a chat, no presentation – Avalon’s neighbors have been through a lot. The questions began with travel-related issues. For some properties, they might work on mitigation rather than acquisition, ST said. The same goes for properties potentially affected by construction activities – too late to refine the exact effects, so ST will “continue to talk” with the community as we learn more.

One person asked what led to the choice of routing alternatives studied for DEIS – she would like to see a tunnel that is not on the list of possibilities, and she wonders why. Hampton noted that Annex M of the DEIS deals with the process during which the alternatives were developed. Even at this point in the process, ST reps said, you can suggest “improvements,” but people should realize that exploring new options could stretch the timeline. The higher costs that led to the recent “realignment” were also highlighted. “That doesn’t mean you can’t argue” for something different, but keep that in mind. Something similar was considered at first, but was rejected for several reasons, including the fact that it would only result in two stations and voters approved three. (This is briefly summarized on page 15 of Appendix M.) Also noted: Not only is building tunnels expensive, but so is burying stations.

At this point, the suggestion to drop the Avalon station resurfacing – maybe that would allow more tunnels to be dug? The discussion also turned to station and routing pairings – not everything is compatible.

Question: Where in the DEIS can I find information on construction stages? To respond: Appendix J. Page 48 was shown as an example, showing storm water installations, electrical installations, “signal bungalows” and other things beyond guideways. They were asked to show something with the Avalon station; page 73 was displayed. Looking at these drawings, they again asked for clarification on what properties would be acquired – the black dotted line, for example, is the staging area boundary, and if a property is potentially affected, you will find that in Annex L.

Then the question arose again: would it be easy (or not) to drop the Avalon station in the plan? In the past, ST has clearly skipped a station or postponed/delayed it for various reasons, observed one participant, and added that people have been discussing dropping or at least postponing it for a long time. It is stipulated that Subway planned to serve Delridge and Junction stations by transit, not Avalon. ST responded that Metro will serve the Avalon station, “but not with many routes”. Also, ST is certainly figuring out how to close the “affordability gap”. ST will come up with ideas and expect them from the public.

Asked to explain the 0.06 acres of potential impacts to the golf course, ST explained that this is space that would be permanently removed from the park, not part of the construction zone. What could be done under the guideway would depend on various factors. The alignment of the north side of Genesee would still have effects on the houses. They might need to use “saddle folds” – columns on both sides of the road – rather than just concrete columns in the middle.

What about companies like Nucor, or the potential displacement of transitional resources… what kind of awareness do they receive? ST Leda Chahim recognized that some businesses/facilities would be particularly difficult to relocate. They’re just trying to explain “how to engage in the process now” and “emphasize the opportunity to share with our board.” She said ST is trying to find out more about the unique organizations and institutions in the region.

Ultimately, a neighbor observed, you’re running a train through a developed area.

Beyond West Seattle’s planned light rail launch in 2032, what about ST4? asked one participant. Would he go to the White Center, and what happens beyond that? Answer: The ST3 measure called for long-term studies, but they have not yet been carried out. Following this, one participant asked if what was done at The Junction would determine how it would go south – if it ends in a tunnel, does that mean the tunnel would follow to go south? Answer: Potentially.

It was mooted at the time that Metro said the long-term vision for the H line could be a route through West Seattle. Ella Williams from Joe McDermott’s office advised to examine Metro’s long-term plan.

Finally, ST reiterated that all feedback received on the DEIS will need to be addressed in the final EIS, which will be followed by board members who will decide what will be built, “end of 2023”. Although a “preferred alternative” is “confirmed or modified” before the final EIA, this is not the final word. ST has characterized what happens from here, it is for each step of the process to refine a little more.

READY TO WRITE YOUR COMMENT? Even if the light rail line doesn’t pass near or through your neighborhood, your input matters: what route, whether tunnel or elevated, how public transit connects to the station you are likely to use; whatever you want to say, understand the most effective way to say it is what the West Seattle Transportation CoalitionThe Thursday evening workshop (April 7) covers everything. Between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., you can either go to American Legion Post 160 (3618 SW Alaska) in person, or watch/enter online – our schedule listing has the link. April 28 is the deadline for commenting – your options are here.

Jose P. Rogers