An artist’s conception of the proposed Edmonds waterfront connector. (City of Edmonds)

An artist’s conception of the proposed Edmonds waterfront connector. (City of Edmonds)

Editorial: Edmonds should reconsider waterfront overpass

Rejecting the project does nothing to resolve a public safety problem for emergency vehicle access.

By The Herald Editorial Board

You can’t say that a majority on the Edmonds City Council, who voted Tuesday to scrap a design contract for the proposed Waterfront Connector, wasn’t being responsive.

Maybe just a little too responsive.

In the face of an online petition with 7,200 signatures and emails opposing the project — and an overflow crowd of residents waiting to weigh in during the council’s Tuesday meeting — a 4-3 majority voted against the $27.5 million connector project that was intended to provide access for emergency vehicles as well as pedestrians and bicycles to Edmonds’ bustling waterfront.

This is a waterfront with only two roads leading in and out — Dayton Street and Main Street — both of which can be blocked simultaneously by scores of trains each day. Throw into the mix an accident or other complication and all access can be blocked for hours — at best — and threatens to delay timely response in an emergency.

This is certain because it’s already happened. In April 2016, a fatal accident involving a pedestrian and a train blocked both streets’ access to the waterfront for three hours. While that was an inconvenience for ferry traffic and anyone stuck on either side of the tracks, two medical emergencies occurred while access was blocked: one for a pregnant woman in labor; another for an injured child.

Currently about 40 trains a day travel the Burlington Northern Sante Fe tracks that separate the waterfront from downtown. City officials have estimated that train trips could increase to between 70 and 100 a day within the next 15 years.

Vehicle and pedestrian traffic into the waterfront area is constant and growing with public and private development that includes the state ferry terminal, public parks, marinas, restaurants, shops and the city’s senior center.

Incidents where access is blocked for lengthy periods will only occur more frequently.

Both Mayor Dave Earling and city fire department officials have made clear that access to and from the waterfront is a matter of public safety, which was why a public process to examine alternatives and propose a solution was started about seven years ago.

That process examined about 50 ideas, studying 11 proposals in detail, most rejected because of cost, impacts and timeline — including moving the ferry terminal south, tunneling under the rail line or digging a trench for the tracks.

What the city council stopped Tuesday was a $2.3 million contract and design process that would taken the design to about 60 percent completion, including a public environmental impact study.

During discussion, an amendment was rejected that would have allowed the process to continue to 30 percent completion, along with the environmental study. The council should reconsider its decision Tuesday and approve that or a similar option.

No doubt, that will anger many who made their opposition to the project clear.

Opponents’ concerns for cost, environmental effects and loss of views should be considered, but in the interests of public safety — and out of respect for the public process that led to this point — the council should give further consideration to the overpass idea and seek possible alternatives to the overpass’ design and scale.

One of the things that may have driven the recent Save Edmonds Beach campaign was an illustration that showed what the overpass road could look like. Opinions will differ on whether the design shown in the most recent image is “bulky” or aesthetically pleasing. But earlier artwork released by the city appears to show an access road of more limited scale, and one with support pillars closer to the tracks and that would not have intruded onto the beach itself.

Allowing the process to continue with the environmental study could allow a look at alternatives for the overpass that more residents might see as a protecting public safety as well as the beach and its public enjoyment.

In fact, that’s a point made in one comment about the project on a social media app: “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.”

For good or ill, the controversy cropped up as campaigns have begun for Edmonds mayor and its city council, with four council seats on the ballot and three council members running for the open mayor’s seat.

Whether they are running for office or not, however, Edmonds City Council members need to balance responsiveness to their constituents with what’s best for the city now and going forward.

Saying no and walking away resolves nothing.

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