By Clark Elster
Recent published letters have sought to discredit any informed opposition to Shoreline’s $31 million per mile Aurora Corridor Improvement plan as ill considered and have mislabeled opponents such as Concerned Citizens for Shoreline (CCFS) and the Shoreline Merchants Association (SMA) as misguided self-serving obstructionists – opposed to any changes on Aurora Ave.
Nothing is further from the truth.
CCFS and the SMA do not oppose making improvements to Aurora Ave. They are only seeking changes that make economical and environmental sense and that do not destroy businesses and neighborhoods or jeopardize Shoreline’s tax base. They have offered ideas that would improve safety, ease congestion, beautify the highway and greatly reduce public expense. For starters, reduce the speed limit to 35mph and install better street lighting.
Many who have read these orchestrated condemnations in defense of the city’s Aurora Corridor plan have never read the full texts of the City’s grandiose plans for the redevelopment of SR99 into a so-called pedestrian friendly, beautiful and safe urban boulevard. If they had, they would realize that: (1.) the city did not fairly consider all design options, (2.) the city and the state Department of Transportation (DOT) resorted to false statements to federal authorities in a failed attempt to avoid the EIS process, (3.) the city has continued to resort to deceptive and distorted data to justify the spending of an inordinate sum of money for a “pork” inflated project that looks suspiciously like “Urban Renewal” (4.) the city has tried to conceal the true cost of the project, (5.) the city plan will result in increased truck traffic on adjacent residential streets, and (6.) the city and project proponents have misrepresented public opposition to the project as “self interest obstructionists” who do not want change – which is furthest from the truth.
SR99 is a Class IV highway. Edmonds and Lynnwood have just completed improving their segments of SR99 for about $4 – $5 million per mile within existing right—of-ways without condemning private property. Shoreline rejected this option and has instead opted to condemn a strip of private property nearly 3 miles long – to widen the highway right-of-way in order to create 4 general traffic lanes; two bus lanes and a 15” wide raised landscaped median plus 11’ 6” wide sidewalks planted with trees for just under $30 million per mile with no appreciable reduction in congestion. Aurora Ave. will still be a highway – but one that will now provide shade for drivers stuck in congested traffic.
In filing their Determination of Non Significance (DNS), stating that there were no adverse environmental impacts with The SR99 Aurora Corridor project, the City falsely claimed that the City had contacted and informed all of the businesses on Aurora about the project and no objections were voiced. In fact, the City had virtually contacted no businesses and had not studied the social and economic impacts of the project and merchant opposition had already formed.
A delegation of businessmen organized as the Aurora Improvement Council (AIC) and citizens drove to Olympia during the 2002 Session and protested the false statements in the DNS and expressed their concerns to the Governor’s staff, to a number of legislators, to the Transportation Commission, and to Federal authorities. The AIC presented documented evidence substantiating the false submissions made by the City. That resulted in the Federal Authorities rejecting the City’s DNS and requiring an EIS be made by the City.
From the very beginning of this process, The City staff steered the design process to widen Aurora Ave and replace the center two-way left-turn lane with a wide, raised, landscaped center median despite protests from the Aurora Improvement Council, later to be renamed the “Shoreline Merchants Association” (SMA). The City’s response was “that the center median was a State DOT requirement” and that their hands were tied. In subsequent AIC meetings with DOT officials, asking why the project in Edmonds and Lynnwood SR99 design could not be replicated in Shoreline, DOT stated that the median was requested by the City and that the State was flexible on the subject should the City ask.
Later, the State subsequently recanted and said that their highway design standards had been updated and revised and that raised medians were now required. In truth, by WAC regulations medians are not required on Class IV highways such as SR99.
Lastly, during the years long process, the City promised to conduct their EIS study of the entire 3 mile length of the project to assuage concerns about the cumulative impacts but would construct the project in segments. In fact, the City has done just the opposite and has conducted and submitted the EIS for only the southern most (and the easiest) segment of the project, breaking faith with the impacted business community. The net result of the City’s actions will be to place a cloud of uncertainty over every business property along the full 3 mile length of the project that negatively impacts the value of every property for the life of the project.
The City of Shoreline plan will adversely impact and put many businesses out of business. To conceal the project’s true costs, the City Council has just adopted a revised plan for the first mile at a cost of just under $20 million instead of the $31 million that the city originally stated. But hold on! As footnoted in the plan, the separate cost of utility under-grounding is now to be paid by Seattle City Light. Guess what? The added $11 million utility under-grounding costs will then be transferred to Shoreline ratepayers in the form of higher monthly utility rate fees. total cost? $30 million! The Hey Shoreline! Is anybody awake out there?
Clark Elster is vice president of Concerned Citizens of Shoreline and a member of the Shoreline Merchants Association.