Sound Transit makes a move north
New line from Northgate to Lynnwood will follow I-5
In 2008, voters approved a plan and funding for Sound Transit’s North Corridor Transit Project, which would extend light rail from Northgate into Lynnwood.
Later, the line would continue north to Everett and eventually could connect Snohomish County riders south to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport or over to the University of Washington.
So why isn’t anything being built yet?
“I get that question all the time,” said Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray. “ ‘Why does it takes so long to get these things moving?’ ”
The project is moving, according to Gray. But the progress that is being made isn’t of the construction variety. There are a lot of steps to complete before turning that first shovelful of earth.
Currently, the project is wrapping up the first stage of development. This “alternatives analysis” stage is the most important part of the project. It gave the public a chance to weigh in on the location of the future light-rail route, which is required to qualify for potential Federal Transit Administration funding.
The recession reduced Sound Transit’s projected revenues over the next several years by about 25 percent, leaving a significant funding gap even when accounting for the sales-tax increase that voters approved in 2008. Without federal funding, it’s possible the long-awaited project could take longer yet to start.
The alternatives analysis explored potential variables and created a preliminary environmental review.
Scoping was completed in order to form an environment impact statement that met governmental guidelines.
Under scoping, Sound Transit officials met with the public, identifying social, economic and environmental issues and identifying alternative routes for the draft stage. The scoping process was recently completed and a capital committee made its recommendations to the Sound Transit board Dec. 8, 2011.
Of the route alternatives that were considered, only two were found to have serious merit. These were a route directly up the I-5 corridor between Northgate and the Lynnwood park-and-ride or an elevated rail line following Highway 99 between Shoreline and Edmonds.
Different routes away from those commuter corridors were eliminated early because it wasn’t clear if those areas could attract enough riders or if right-of-way could be established.
Ultimately, the the capital committee unanimously endorsed I-5 alternative. A route on Highway 99 would have been more expensive because the line would require elevation to separate it from cross traffic. Private property would have to be acquired for rights-of-way and there would have been more construction impact on local neighborhoods.
Route length and travel time also played a role. The I-5 route will cover 8.5 miles with four new stations while the Highway 99 route would cover 10.2 miles and require five new stations. The longer route would extend travel time between Northgate and Lynnwood by about four minutes.
The scoping process also projected more potential riders, perhaps up to 4,000 more, along I-5 compared to Highway 99 within the next 20 years.
Both routes raised some environmental concerns. The I-5 route will pass through some wetlands. On the Highway 99 route, the environmental impacts would have been limited to noise abatement and visual issues created by the elevated line.
Now that scoping for the project is complete, the Sound Transit board will begin to prepare a draft environment impact statement for public comment. After that, preliminary engineering on the project can begin.
After engineering reports, the Sound Transit board will issue a final environmental impact statement and make further decisions about the project.
This review and preliminary engineering stage is scheduled to be completed by 2014 and Snohomish County residents still won’t see any visual progress by the end of that phase.
In 2015, the project should be ready for final design. Permits will be in place and rights-of-way will be established. The final step before construction is to apply for and secure Federal Transit Administration grants to make up for Sound Transit’s funding shortage. This should be completed by 2017 if everything stays on schedule, Gray said.
“The goal here is to get into construction on the north link by 2018 and have it open by 2023,” he said.
Once completed, the project will add about nine miles of reliable commuter rail to the Sound Transit system. More importantly, it will connect Snohomish County to the greater transit hub to the south and take a large number of commuter vehicles off the road.
Public feedback during the scoping process has been fairly positive, Gray said. Only one respondent thought the project was unnecessary. Most people who responded, either at public meetings or by mail, phone or email, supported the concept of light rail, as did several state and local agencies.
The main concerns that citizens voiced about the route had to do with the location of the rail line, parking, where the stations would be located and how well connections would work between the stations and other forms of public transportation.
The cities of Lynnwood, Shoreline and Edmonds and the Muckleshoot Tribe expressed concern about possible environmental impacts while the City of Lynnwood specifically had concerns about traffic.
Although the scoping process is complete, the need for local involvement continues.
Gray said he hopes more citizens will get involved with the planning process. More public involvement and feedback in the early stages will mean fewer surprises down the road when construction finally begins, he said.
“Contact us,” Gray said. “Get on our mailing list, get on our email update list then they can keep up-to-speed on it all the way along.”
On the Web
Learn more about Sound Transit’s North Corridor Transit Project online at www.soundtransit.org.