The large, polite and well-informed crowd that gathered at Seattle Central Community College last week made it abundantly clear that Sound Transit is more than a rhetorical concern.
While light rail is still years away from being up and running on Broadway, tangible steps are under way that will dramatically alter life along the Hill's busiest business corridor. Such steps are taking place as Sound Transit's initial light-rail segment, which will run from Downtown to Sea-Tac airport, nears its 2009 opening.
Roughly 120 people attended what was the transit agency's first public meeting on Capitol Hill in 18 months. The meeting was co-sponsored by the Capitol Hill Stewardship Council and the new Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, both of which pledged to keep a watchful eye on transit-related developments.
"We are well aware of what's going on in our neighborhood and the challenges they represent," said Michael Wells, speaking as a Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce board member. "Sound Transit will be a major part of Broadway's future."
The light-rail segment under discussion is the 3.15-mile line running from Downtown to the University of Washington. As most people are aware, the line-dubbed University Link by Sound Transit-includes a station on Broadway. Sound Transit estimates 14,000 daily boardings at the Broadway station by the year 2030. The total cost for the segment is $1.5 billion.
Sound Transit presented its most recent timetable, one that did not differ substantially from benchmark dates presented in recent years. Sound Transit plans to complete design and engineering work for University Link by the end of 2008. Six years of construction work will follow, then a period of testing. Sound Transit plans to have Broadway's light-rail station up and running in 2016.
When completed, Broadway's light-rail station will have three entrances. The north entrance, projected to be the station's busiest, will be at the southeast corner of Broadway and East Olive Way. The station's south entrance will be at Nagle Place East and East Denny, immediately west of Cal Anderson Park.
A third entrance on the west side of Broadway will be north of Seattle Central Community College, where Chang's Mongolian Grill used to be. The station itself will be built under Nagle Place. Construction will not, the audience was told, impact Cal Anderson Park.
On a more immediate level, Sound Transit is in the process of acquiring the property it needs for the project. Nineteen separate parcels will need to be acquired. Appraisals have been completed for all 19, and offers are being made. Sound Transit program manager Ron Endlich said the agency expects to have all transactions completed by end of summer 2008. Property demolition could begin by the end of that year.
Sound Transit said the agency would manage the properties prior to demolition, and a mitigation plan will be developed by Sound Transit. That some properties may be vacant for up to a year before being torn down struck a nerve with the audience.
"You will need to increase your vigilance on these properties," said one man speaking from the back of the room. "And we will be watching."
Chuck Weinstock, speaking on behalf of the Capitol Hill Stewardship Council, said it is hoped Sound Transit will acknowledge certain development principals while the station is under construction. Included among these is to design the station locations and entrances to create successful, quality retail spaces; design the station to support desirable public and private sector development; encourage the development of affordable housing on the station sites; and make sure the station's design fits in with the surrounding neighborhood.
Not surprisingly, the issue of mitigation during construction loomed large. Concern over the impacts of nearly six years of construction has long weighed heavy on the neighborhood.
"An affirmative plan for Broadway businesses is needed, more than signs on both ends of Broadway saying that businesses are open," Weinstock said. "The businesses that were here before construction should be here at the end."
Questions following the presentations additionally focused on what redevelopment will take place after Sound Transit finishes construction. While a large number of buildings are being torn down, the actual stations will occupy a small footprint. Most of the land is needed in order to stage the construction work.
There was great concern regarding the kinds of developers who would be buying the properties once Sound Transit is finished with them, as well as the kinds of businesses and residential units that would be built on those parcels.
"Sound Transit buys the land and has a financial interest in selling it responsibly," said Endlich in response to one such question.
"We need to envision now what this development should be like," said Weinstock, adding that they also need to make sure that the process ensures that neighborhood goals are met.
Other concerns were raised over the route that large dump trucks will take once loaded with dirt excavated from the construction site. The trucks will travel along Olive Way to Interstate 5.
Sound Transit will hold additional public meetings as the design and engineering work moves ahead. Meetings are planned for September of this year, in spring 2008 and in the fall 2008.
Perhaps summing up a sentiment of concern over the coming of light rail, Weinstock addressed Sound Transit as much as the audience when he said: "We support light rail. Our hope is to survive the process. We hope it builds on Broadway and builds upon the neighborhood's strength and character. This station will have a 100-year impact on the neighborhood."
Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor @capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.[[In-content Ad]]