EVERETT — Some Snohomish County leaders rejected calls to study Highway 99 and I-5 light rail options that would skip the Boeing and Paine Field area in a Sound Transit group meeting Wednesday.
Prior public comment and the Everett Link community advisory group had asked for those options to be studied. They cited concerns about displacement and gentrification through southwest Everett, development and ridership potential, as well as getting light rail built earlier than the projected start in 2037 or 2041.
“It makes sense to consider the alternatives now,” Everett resident and community advisory group member Gauhar Serikbayeva told The Daily Herald. “It’s a major infrastructure project. We need to have those informed alternatives to choose from.”
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, who are also Sound Transit board and elected leadership group members, said their primary reason to not study the so-called Highway 99 and I-5 alignments is because they weren’t what voters approved.
Erik Ashlie-Vinke, government and community relations manager at Sound Transit, said the agency took an early look at three alignment options before putting the tax package called ST3 to voters in 2016. Extending the line west from I-5, across Highway 99 and toward Paine Field and Boeing, was a priority, Somers said.
The Sound Transit board, at the time, chose an alignment that extends north from the Lynnwood Transit Center to Alderwood mall, 164th Street SW, Ash Way and 128th Street SW, then west along Airport Road to the Southwest Everett Industrial Center that includes Boeing and Paine Field. From there, it would go east toward Highway 99, back along I-5 and toward downtown Everett.
“The voters were sold on the idea of this going out to the industrial center,” Frizzell said.
Sound Transit staff analysis of the Highway 99 and I-5 alignments showed lower current populations, projected populations and jobs for both, compared to the alignment that runs west toward Paine Field, north corridor development director Eric Widstrand said Wednesday. They both also had limited site options for the operations and maintenance facility that needs to be on the Snohomish County section of the light rail line.
“Every other elected leadership group meeting I’ve been part of has spent its time trying to figure out how to enhance its system,” Somers said. “We’re talking about butchering ours.”
Franklin has supported a Southwest Everett Industrial Center station that can serve both people who live and work in that area. She also has promoted a rail alignment adjacent to Highway 526 instead of Casino Road to minimize displacement.
Snohomish County Council member Megan Dunn, who recently replaced Stephanie Wright on the elected group after she resigned her council position, wanted to keep the Highway 99 and I-5 options for further study. Concerns about gentrification from people who live in the area persuaded her, Dunn said.
But removing the Southwest Everett Industrial Center station and line wouldn’t entirely prevent the forces that can squeeze out residents, Franklin said.
“We are already struggling with gentrification,” Franklin said.
The city’s land use decisions can leverage Sound Transit’s investment for more dense housing construction in that area.
“Our goal is to invest in the community, not to displace the community,” Franklin said.