MAKING IT WORK
May 3, 2004, Volume VI, Issue 4
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
NORTHGATE NEXT STEPS
REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION ISSUES
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
On Monday, May 3, the Council began taking Committee votes on the proposed alignment for the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP), although a final vote will not be taken until June. The SMP Board approved the alignment only five weeks ago. While the Council has been devoting an extraordinary amount of time to reviewing this project, moving at this pace does not allow enough time to fully evaluate the impact of this $1.5 billion, 14-mile long project on Seattle’s communities, and crucial issues may be overlooked.
The Council has been asked to take a more rigorous look at the alignment by the Seattle Planning Commission, the Monorail Review Panel, and by numerous community organizations and individuals around the city. Most recently, a letter signed by the four past Seattle Mayors urged the Council to move carefully and cautiously. It is hard to imagine any other development, especially of this scope, magnitude, and potential impact, that would move through Council review with such precipitate speed.
The monorail is being planned and constructed by the Seattle Monorail Project, which is an independent governing agency, not under the authority of the City of Seattle. The SMP Board also makes the decisions about station locations and route.
The City Council has areas of both authority and responsibility over the construction of the monorail. As steward of the public trust in City right-of-way, the City has an opportunity and obligation to ensure that the plan is workable and effective before granting the SMP authority to use the right-of-way. The City also owns the Seattle Center and other property, and has the sole discretion to determine whether to allow that land to be used for monorail purposes.
The core interests of the City are to ensure that the monorail is well-integrated with other transportation modes to allow people to access the monorail and make connections; to ensure that the monorail is fully-funded prior to allowing construction to commence; to ensure that the route and stations appropriately match the land use and character of the communities they impact; and to ensure that there is appropriate mitigation for adverse impacts that the monorail might cause.
I voted against running the monorail through the Seattle Center, but regretfully the Council voted 5 to 4 to approve it. The Council also voted 6 to 3 to mandate that the monorail be at least 14 feet from buildings on Second Avenue, and indicated that it will look at applying similar distance requirements on other portions of the alignment. I support ensuring that the monorail runs at a reasonable distance from buildings and private property lines, and requiring that the monorail runs entirely in the existing street right-of-way and not occupy any current sidewalk space.
I will also support amendments to the alignment ordinance that would condition any final approval on approval of the mitigation agreement and the financial plan, and that would void the approval of the ordinance if the EIS is ruled inadequate.
There are major questions on a number of areas of the alignment, including the 15th Avenue NW portion in Ballard, the Second Avenue segment through downtown, and the Fauntleroy area and California Avenue alignments in West Seattle. The proposed Elliott and Mercer station does not appear to have pedestrian connections to the area it is designed to serve and is not supported by the surrounding community. All three property owners in the area, King County, the Washington Department of Transportation, and BNSF Railroad, have questioned the alignment around the King Street Station. Since the SMP does not have the power to proceed without their approval, there seems little point in approving that alignment segment. I will support holding these portions of the alignment until questions have been resolved.
The SMP is already in litigation on the adequacy of its Environmental Impact Statement, and there are groups all along the line that are expressing frustration and concern. Many of these concerns can be effectively addressed through thoughtful consideration and careful design. However, failing to address them will turn concern into litigation and action. A project that was approved by an 877 vote margin does not have a large reservoir of good will as backup. Presumably this is why the SMP will spend $7 million on advertising this year, an expenditure that has raised many questions, especially given the project’s financial shortfalls.
As the letter from the four Mayors noted, it is the City’s responsibility to “safeguard the well-being of Seattle and its citizens by ensuring that the Monorail can be built within its fixed budget, that it keeps its promises to voters, that it pays for its impacts, and that taxpayers aren’t burdened with unforeseen cost overruns or a project that can’t be completed.” I take those responsibilities seriously.
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NORTHGATE NEXT STEPS
The City is making progress on implementing the Northgate package negotiated between the Mayor and Council last December. The new Stakeholders Group has been formed and held its first meeting in March. Lorig Associates has developed a joint design in cooperation with the Thornton Creek Legal Defense Fund for development on the South Lot that includes Thornton Creek. We expect the Mayor's Office to present their plan and an evaluation by Seattle Public Utilities of the impacts on drainage of this and other alternatives in late May or early June.
The Planning Commission has held a workshop to begin developing a pedestrian circulation plan, and the Executive is working on implementing the Coordinated Transportation Investment Plan. In June, the Council will review the proposals for the South Lot, make a decision as to which alternative to support, and determine whether the City will exercise its option to buy 2.7 acres of the South Lot. More work on the other plan elements is scheduled to take place throughout 2004 and into the future.
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REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION ISSUES
Two major regional transportation issues are reaching key decision points in May. On Monday, April 19, the Council unanimously adopted resolutions expressing preferences for the North Link Light Rail route and for priority transportation projects to be included in the proposed Regional Transportation Investment District (RTID). While the Sound Transit Board began its work with decisions on April 22 that were compatible with the Council resolutions, the RTID Executive Committee voted a package on April 29 that would not effectively meet the needs of the region. If this package is not changed prior to final adoption, it is likely that the Sound Transit Board will decline to join the RTID, and that Mayor Nickels will not support it. I would also recommend that the Council not support the RTID in its present form.
In both resolutions, the Council called for better high-capacity transit service for population centers of the City and the County. Regional and local transportation needs are interrelated because of the mixed interests and destinations of County residents. The reality is that people may choose to ride the bus one day, take light rail the next and drive the day after that, all based on their own day-to-day priorities. The core philosophy behind the Council's resolutions was to provide choices in traveling from point A to point B.
Resolution 30657 calls for a North Link Light Rail route through First Hill after leaving downtown before continuing through Capitol Hill on to the University District. After emerging from under the Montlake cut near Husky Stadium, the Council's preferred route would veer west to a station on Brooklyn Avenue, either north or south of 45th Street NE in the University District.
From there, the route would travel north on 12th Avenue NE to an underground station in the Roosevelt neighborhood near 12th Avenue NE and NE 65th and then to Northgate, with the Council calling for seamless pedestrian access connecting the light rail station with the Northgate Transit Center, park-and-ride garage, shopping areas and other nearby activities.
Traveling to First Hill serves a large population of residents and people who work at the hospitals and other businesses in that area, providing a key connection for residents of Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley to reach employment and education opportunities. The Capitol Hill, Montlake, University, and Roosevelt routes serve key population centers with good transit linkages. The Montlake station could link to future high capacity transit over 520.
On Thursday, April 22, the Sound Transit Board agreed with the Council on the First Hill, Capitol Hill, and University area alignments, but deferred a decision on serving the Roosevelt neighborhood. I am sending a letter to the Board reiterating the importance of the 12th Avenue alignment through Roosevelt, and hope that the Board will agree when it adopts a final alignment on May. After approval of this final alignment, Sound Transit will begin detailed engineering and assembling the resources necessary for construction.
The Council's RTID resolution calls for a balanced package of transit and road improvements, and identifies the Alaskan Way Viaduct/Seawall project and replacement of the SR 520 Bridge as the highest regional priorities for RTID funding, noting that failure of those facilities would have devastating effects on the region's economy. The Council also stated its support for improvements on SR 167 and Interstate 405, and for completing SR 509 to enhance freight mobility, as well as some smaller projects around King County.
Polling on a regional package indicates that Puget Sound residents support a mix of road improvements and transit options, and have a clear sense that the Viaduct and 520 are key priorities.
Regretfully, the RTID Board adopted a tentative package on April 29 that reduces the funds for transit and adds funds for expanding 405. This package is unlikely to be successful, and does not effectively meet the needs of the region. The Sound Transit Board, which must partner with the RTID in order to include light rail in the package, may turn the package down at its May 20 meeting, in which case the RTID must either revise the package or decide to defer a vote to next year.
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"For children to live only in contact with concrete and steel and wires and wheels and machines and computers and plastics, to seldom experience any primordial reality or even to see the stars at night, is a soul deprivation that diminishes the deepest of their human experiences."
-- Thomas Berry
"Researchers have already cast much darkness on the subject, and if they continue their investigations we shall soon know nothing at all about it."
-- Mark Twain
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