Possible routes for light rail expansion released; advisory group weighs public comments

SEATTLE – The first round of public comments has closed for input on Sound Transit’s Light Rail Expansion Project.  About 2,000 people showed up at community forums and another 5,000 submitted comments online.

Wednesday night, the Stakeholder Advisory Group met to consider those comments and to go over the new potential light rail routes recently released.  A group of about 30 people will work together to figure out exactly where the future routes should go in that massive $54 billion expansion project.

By foot, by bus, or by train, it’s obvious the need for public transportation is only growing in the Puget Sound.

“Obviously, it’s not going to be convenient for everyone to have the construction, or even the sight of it, but the reality is that Seattle is a modern thriving metropolis,” West Seattle resident William Kutscher said.

That’s why Kutscher supports light rail expansion.

For the first time, he’s getting a look at newly released possible routes in his area of West Seattle.  All of the possible routes for downtown Seattle, West Seattle, Interbay/Ballard, and the Sodo district were drawn up after Sound Transit gathered public input last month.

“Take all the various ideas that are out there in the universe and then analyze them from an engineering and project planning standpoint to figure out what’s affordable and what’s doable,” Sound Transit Senior Public Information Officer Kimberly Reason said.

Take Interbay/Ballard for instance.  One plan would put the light rail on 15th Avenue West and another route would move it to 20th Avenue and create an underground station at Market Street.

A group of about 30 community members make up a Stakeholder Advisory Group -- people "that represent businesses, that represent community organizations, entities that really care about transportation and transit in the region,” Reason said.

With public input, analysis, and other factors, they’ll ultimately make recommendations to the Sound Transit Board.

“Light rail is really not all that great because it’s never really on time,” Light Rail rider Nicholas Anderson said.

Take a page out of  Anderson’s playbook -- don’t hold back on how you feel about it.

“There’s no room for it to expand,” said Anderson.

Be sure to tell the stakeholders in your area who are on the Stakeholders Advisory Group.  Members like Mike Stewart with the Ballard Alliance and Katie Garrow from the Martin Luther King Labor Council.  They’re here to be your voice.

“You hope those people have been put in place and are the most qualified to make those decisions,” said Kutscher.

Later this month, a new round of neighborhood forums will begin.  That is just one of three rounds of six neighborhood forums starting later next month and there will be a community update in the fall and another round of open houses next year.

Ultimately, the Stakeholder Advisory Group will send its recommended routes to the Sound Transit Board.  The board will then make a final decision by next year.  After that, there will be a four- to five-year environmental impact phase.