When riders reach the northern end of the light rail line in 20 years, they could be closer to downtown, Broadway or Everett Station.
Sound Transit is evaluating those options. But Everett Station District Alliance, a group representing some property owners around the transit hub, wants Sound Transit to look at a new possibility their members call Alternative X.
The alliance envisions the station platform northeast of the existing Everett Station building. Putting it there means the light rail line must cross the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad tracks north of 41st Street, then run parallel east of them to Pacific Avenue.
All of the other alignments likely would cut through existing businesses, alliance executive director Brock Howell said. Alternative X only goes through two once it gets east of the train tracks, and the east properties it would displace are an undeveloped “brown field” and Sound Transit parking.
“It’s an affordable option that has less impact,” Howell said.
But the tracks already there — and used by Amtrak, freight and weekday Sounder commuter trains — present a problem for Sound Transit.
Early in its station location screening process, Sound Transit staff considered three other sites east of the BNSF line. Stations are evaluated for access, cost potential, equity, existing transit integration and feasibility.
All three sites east of Everett Station scored low for transit integration and access to downtown. A major drawback was their “constructability risk” of crossing an active freight and rail line, spokesperson John Gallagher said.
“The existing rail line is a major barrier to access the west where most of the businesses in downtown Everett are,” Gallagher said.
Building an elevated track across a rail line can add cost and more than double the length of those concrete spans to about 250 feet, Gallagher said.
The alliance thinks its Alternative X could work as an elevated station above the Sound Transit parking lot east of the train tracks, and under the Pacific Avenue overpass.
A “lid” on top of the platform could have a park and trail that leads west over the train tracks to Smith Avenue. That also could offer another entrance on the north side of Pacific for people to head downtown.
In this scenario, the right lanes in each direction of Pacific Avenue would be bus and turn only lanes, turning the road into a high frequency transfer stop.
“The neighborhood is pretty bisected by the tracks. This would definitely help,” Howell said.
But Everett’s preliminary preference is a light rail station between Broadway and McDougall. City leaders think a tall station straddling those roads could help riders get between transit options and to downtown.
The city’s Metro Everett plan for the area around downtown envisions both lanes of McDougall Avenue as a bus-only street between 33rd Street and Pacific.
Everett also could elevate Pacific Avenue west of the Smith Avenue ramp so it extends flush with Broadway, instead of dipping to McDougall then rising to Brodway.
“Bringing that center of gravity a little closer to downtown, where a lot of the events and destinations where people want to be” is a goal for city leaders, planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda said.
A small parking garage built along the Smith Avenue ramp could help support the transit hub, too.
Alternative X’s location puts it closer to a potential swath of property that can be redeveloped into tall, dense housing. A study done for the alliance looked at development potential around Everett Station.
Two properties within 1/4-mile of the Alternative X location stood out.
Just two streets east is the city’s public works and transit campus along Pine Street between Pacific and 33rd Street. That land’s current zoning allows for buildings between seven and 11 stories tall and represents over 2 million gross square feet.
One street north of the Alternative X station is the Lowe’s home improvement store. Its property is zoned for 12 to 25 stories, which is about 3.8 million gross square feet.
“Really the catalytic area is that walking distance,” Howell said.
Displacing businesses and residents for the light rail line and for construction staging is on city leaders’ radar, economic development director Dan Eernissee said.
“It’s obviously one of the negatives that you’re trying to avoid,” Eernissee said. “It’s a list of compromises.”
The city wants to minimize market pressure on real estate, especially housing, by spurring construction across prices, Stevens-Wajda said.
“We’re hopeful none of these options result in a ton of displacements and teardowns,” Stevens-Wajda said.
City and Sound Transit staff share concerns about where the light rail line could go from its northern end if it ran parallel to the BNSF railroad. So far there are no plans to build light rail north or east from Everett, both of which would require expensive bridges across the Snohomish River and its delta.
But the line will at least need a tail track, essentially train car parking off the main line.
Alternative X is an idea, and not an engineer’s report on the structural and technical feasibility of the station option. But the alliance hopes it can be evaluated in the next phase with the other alternatives.
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