EDMONDS — A proposed roadway known as the connector isn’t exactly uniting folks around here.
The idea behind Edmonds’ Waterfront Connector was to provide an emergency route over the railroad tracks, when stopped trains cut off the bustling ferry terminal, beaches and marina. That can be a life-or-death matter when police or firefighters need to reach the area in a hurry.
The city has spent at least seven years pondering the dilemma. To date, 50 ideas have been discarded, for cost, aesthetics or practicality. By 2017, city leaders had launched initial design work on a possible solution: a one-lane elevated road that would link Sunset Avenue to Brackett’s Landing North, the popular diving destination next to the ferry terminal.
Years into the planning process, people have swarmed to the internet to express their outrage. An online petition opposing the concrete overpass claimed more than 7,200 signatures as of Monday afternoon. On the Nextdoor social media app, locals have been sounding off.
“That is hideous … and outrageously expensive,” read one comment.
Or this: “It looks like a freeway — we have to reject this proposal.”
Another tried to stake out middle ground.
“The bottom line here is that it is not enough to simply oppose a proposed solution here, we also need to be thinking about viable alternatives and find the answer that, umm, does the least harm.”
Other concerns include impacts to shoreline habitat, obstructed views and spillover onto scenic Sunset Avenue. Some elected officials have suggested that city dollars and efforts to attract grant money would be better spent on other parts of Edmonds, such as Highway 99, with their own sets of safety challenges.
With the mayor’s job and four of seven City Council seats on the line in this year’s elections, the connector has become political fodder.
This week’s city council meeting could determine the future of the project. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the council is set to consider a $2.3 million contract with engineering consultant Parametrix. The work is expected to take 11 months and bring the design to the 60 percent completion stage with the goal of starting construction in 2021. The new contract would add to an earlier phase of design and environmental studies approved in late 2017.
Opponents are promising to show up en masse, to encourage councilmembers to shut down the project.
The connector’s total cost is estimated at $27.5 million. The state of Washington has offered to cover more than $8 million, with the Port of Edmonds, BNSF Railway and regional transit agencies also pledging financial support.
Edmonds public works director Phil Williams said the proposal is cheaper and less imposing than some of the discarded concepts, which included street tunnels and a train trench.
One of the alternatives studied — moving the ferry terminal farther south — could have cost a quarter-billion dollars or more.
A Main Street overpass to the ferry dock was shelved because of costs and the potential to become an eyesore.
“You could also put an overpass on Main — nobody liked it. Right on that beautiful view corridor,” Williams said.
The current design would tie into Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street, a high point that Williams said would minimize street-level visual impacts. The connector would jut west over the railroad tracks, then travel south about 600 feet to the area around the existing Brackett’s Landing restrooms, which would be replaced.
“You go over the tracks and hang one left — it’s really a simple concept,” Williams said.
In a pinch, ferry traffic could use the connector when trains block Main and Dayton streets.
When not in use, the connector would just be another way to reach the beach.
“Maybe the best way, because now to get to the beach you have to walk through the bees nest of activity at Main Street,” Williams said.
Cam Tripp started the Save Edmonds Beach web page and online petition.
“Once I started posting pictures on social media and people saw what was going to happen, they had a visceral reaction and the whole thing went viral,” Tripp said.
The leadership development consultant, who moved to the city in 2011, said he’s against the connector, but open to other ideas. More than just appearance, he’s worried about the environmental impact of the connector extending into Puget Sound at high tide.
As one alternative, Tripp and other opponents have suggested a so-called mid-block option, a footbridge from the railroad station to the area near the Edmonds Senior Center. That idea was studied and ruled out earlier in the process.
At $6 million, Tripp said the footbridge would be at least $20 million cheaper than the connector. Williams said it doesn’t address the main safety concerns that prompted the discussion in the first place. It wouldn’t allow fire trucks or police cars to reach the waterfront.
Tripp said that the millions of dollars in savings could be used to buy a surplus ladder truck or other equipment that could be positioned near the water.
South County Fire, which provides fire and EMS service to Edmonds, supports the connector, though.
“Currently there are only two access points to the waterfront on the west side of the railroad tracks; Main and Dayton streets,” interim Fire Chief Doug Dahl wrote to the City Council earlier this month. “In the event of a train blockage, emergency vehicles have NO access to the waterfront. As an emergency service provider this is a major concern.”
City officials have said first-responders are called to an average of one emergency situation west of the tracks each week. Edmonds’ marine rescue unit, which is based at the marina, also gets called out about once per week, on average.
Emergency personnel are worried about the kinds of tie-ups that happened in April of 2016. After a pedestrian died from running onto the tracks ahead of an approaching train, the train was stationary for nearly three hours and blocked both streets. During that time, there were two medical emergencies, a woman about to deliver a baby and an injured child who needed medical attention.
Increasing train traffic complicates the picture. An estimated 40 or more trains pass through town on a typical day. City officials have estimated that number could increase to 70 or even 100 per day within 15 years.
Edmonds Waterfront Connector meeting
The Edmonds City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday to consider a $2.3 million contract for design and environmental studies of the Waterfront Connector, a proposed emergency access road to the beach.
The council meets at 250 Fifth Ave. N., Edmonds.