Hybrid Approach Salvaging Timelines for Sound Transit 3 Projects Could Solve Realignment Woes


A hybrid approach that could partially or fully salvage Sound Transit 3 (ST3) project delivery timelines may become the preferred realignment plan. On Thursday, King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci unveiled the plan with Kent Keel, Chair of the Sound Transit Board of Directors, at the monthly board meeting. The hybrid approach is described as a “tightrope with a safety net” that could keep many projects on their voter-approved timelines, except where “planning delays” and other factors might still require pushing delivery dates backward. New amendments proposed by boardmembers were also released ahead of the meeting, which would mostly be better for riders — though one amendment would decidedly hurt them.

Where the plan could be headed

The realignment process could wrap up on Thursday, August 5th when the next meeting on the effort is scheduled. It’s possible that Keel’s base realignment plan — which immediately establishes delays for projects ranging from a few years to decades — could be picked if boardmembers decided to do so, but Keel and Balducci seemed to have reached agreement on the hybrid approach. Either realignment plan approach could solve Sound Transit’s $6.5 billion affordability gap, which shrank this month from the previous $7.9 billion estimate in April. Further reductions to the affordability gap could come in the months and years ahead as project savings and additional revenues are identified.

“I believe this hybrid combines the best of my approach and the best of [Balducci’s] approach that she’s been working,” Keel said at the meeting. “So the three things that lead me to that includes the agency’s clear expectation that we will work aggressively to deliver on most every project on-time. It also includes [Balducci’s] process through which we will work to close each project’s affordability gap so that we can deliver them on-time.” Continuing, Keel said: “And like I’ve been saying all along, it also makes clear to the public what financial constraints that we have right now before us and when we can realistically deliver the projects if we cannot close the affordability gap.”

Balducci also weighed in on the hybrid realignment plan that she’s poured some time and effort into over the past several months.

“The fundamental concept behind this hybrid… is that it enables us to state as a board our commitment, our strong commitment, to deliver these projects on-time,” Balducci said. “And on-time means when we promised them to the voters in the ST3 ballot measure. It’s been said that some of the projects have already experienced what we’re calling ‘planning delays;’ there is language in the proposed resolution that talks about trying to pull those back and try to deliver projects on-time, but we set ourselves to that mission.”

A key piece of the hybrid realignment plan that Balducci also emphasized is an ad-hoc technical advisory committee (TAC). The TAC would advise on ways that the ST3 schedule could be accelerated. She seemed point to a recent Vox article that touched on the sluggish pace of American transit agencies to build projects while in peer nations the pace is faster and projects are much cheaper.

Peter Steinbrueck 2021 Questionnaire – Seattle Port Commission Pos. 4

Peter Steinbrueck is running for Seattle Port Commission Seat 4. (Courtesy of campaign)

Peter Steinbrueck is seeking his second term on the Seattle Port Commission Position 4. Steinbrueck was a Seattle City Council member from 1997 to 2007. An architect by training, he founded a consulting firm in 2008 and has worked on some high-profile appeals of housing projects. Steinbrueck’s father Victor was a prominent architect and historic preservationist credited with saving Pike Place Market from demolition. Check out Steinbrueck’s campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee followed up on our questionnaires with Zoom interviews to fill in the gaps. We released our Primary Endorsements in late June. Since Steinbrueck faces only one challenger, both automatically advance to the general election and the race isn’t on the primary ballot. Primary ballots should have arrived in your mailbox and must be postmarked August 3rd. No stamp needed as postage is included. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Peter Steinbrueck’s questionnaire responses. 

The Port itself is set to meet its carbon reduction targets earlier than anticipated, but the region as a whole is stagnating. How can the Port do more to address stagnating emissions levels around the region? 

Even though Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the first airport in North America to be certified for reducing carbon emissions by a world-wide independent program, air transportation (including King County and Sea-Tac) is major source of greenhouse gases.  Much of the air travel demand at Sea-Tac is domestic, making it feasible for clean electric propulsion for shorter commuter runs. Several companies are developing such electric powered commercial jets. Another promising long-term strategy is to reduce air travel demand by investing more in regional fast train infrastructure between west coast cities.  Cascadia Rail is a new organization advocating for such a system, and with the Biden administration’s big plans to invest trillions in clean energies and infrastructure, there is more hope. Other strategies include developing production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) with conventional jet fuel, which could have a big impact in reducing carbon emissions when blended with conventional jet fuel. I am working with King County on a feasibility to develop municipal solid waste to biofuel program, that could be a real game changer, given the 300 million tons per year of MSW that is transported to landfills annually.

What strategies would you push at the Port of Seattle to develop more alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips for Port employees and visitors? 

We need more aggressive strategies to reduce scope three emissions from people driving their private vehicles airport, from both air travelers and employee commute trips. What other major airport in the world is not well served by fast rail or transit to urban centers?!  The mode split at Sea-Tac is over 90 percent by private automobile.  With over 50 million passengers per year (2019) and over 20,000 daily commute trips by employees working at Sea-Tac, we need to dramatically increase the mode split to high-capacity transit such as light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) Yet Sound Transit ridership share to Sea-tac station is only about 6%. My goal is to get it to at least 30 percent by 2030 by improving light rail service (how about a daily express train or two from Bellevue and downtown Seattle?) and adding BRT service from the regional urban centers that feed into Sea-Tac. Under my Ground Transportation Access Plan for Sea-Tac, I want all employers to form a Transportation Management Association with aggressive commute trip reduction strategies. Commute trips by Port employees is a tiny fraction of total daily commute trips generated by port related activities.

Toshiko Grace Hasegawa 2021 Questionnaire – Seattle Port Commission Pos. 4

Toshiko Grace Hasegawa is running for the Seattle Port Commission. (Courtesy of Hasegawa campaign)

Toshiko Grace Hasegawa is running for Seattle Port Commission Position 4 against incumbent Peter Steinbrueck. Governor Jay Inslee appointed Hasegawa as Executive Director of the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, in 2018. “Part of that work has involved coordinating with our Port on contract opportunities for women and minority owned businesses, and helping to expand awareness and legislation addressing human trafficking,” her website notes. One thing that struck us in her questionnaire and interview is that Hasegawa is a big supporter of high speed rail and has creative ideas to leverage Port resources to make it happen. As the daughter of State Senator Bob Hasegawa, Toshiko has close ties to the labor community. She lives on Beacon Hill. Check out Hasegawa’s campaign website for more info.

The Urbanist Election Committee has followed up on our questionnaires with Zoom interviews to fill in the gaps. We released our Primary Endorsements in late June and endorsed Hasegawa. Since she is the only challenger she automatically advanced to the general election and isn’t on the primary ballot. Primary ballots should have arrived in your mailbox and must be postmarked August 3rd. No stamp needed as postage is included. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Toshiko Grace Hasegawa’s questionnaire responses. 

The Port itself is set to meet its carbon reduction targets earlier than anticipated, but the region as a whole is stagnating. How can the Port do more to address stagnating emissions levels around the region? 

The Port has a huge role to play in reducing pollution and more quickly reaching our environmental goals. I believe there are some immediate actions we can take to systematically address regional issues with pollution.

First, we should invest in large-scale green infrastructure projects, including the construction of high speed rail. This will reduce the number of short trips airplanes take out of SeaTac to nearby destinations like Portland and Bellingham, which will effectively reduce carbon emissions impacting airport cities and neighborhoods, as well as reduce noise pollution. High speed rail will move both passengers and cargo, and will also address issues of mobility and congestion around the port to the benefit of travelers, workers and residents alike. Other large-scale infrastructure projects that help the region to more quickly move away from the fossil fuel paradigm and towards sustainable infrastructure including: the electrification of the port; off-shore wind; implementation of solar panels; and ensuring all new buildings constructed at or by the Port are green. 

I also believe the Port can incentivize commercial and recreational boaters to transition to electric engines by implementing a “Clean Boats Program”, which would subsidize the cost to go green. 

What strategies would you push at the Port of Seattle to develop more alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle trips for Port employees and visitors? 

High speed rail will be a great option for folks to move about the region without driving to and from the airport and then taking a plane to get to where they’re going. Currently, the waterfront is backed up with truckers trying to drop their loads; and passengers trying to get to and from the airport. High speed rail will reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips at both the Seatac and the Waterfront.

Commuters driving to work every day also add to pollution and congestion. Catching the ferry is a great alternative to driving to work every day. We should continue to invest in greening our ferry fleets as part of a sustainable blue economy. I also believe that the Port can use some of its land to develop workforce housing, so workers can live close to where the jobs are at. This not only will reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips, but will help address the growing housing crisis. 

Finally, the Port can collaborate with the City to implement the Seattle Master Bike Plan. SODO is notoriously unfriendly to pedestrians and bikers with light rail, train tracks, and transit corridors criss-crossing the region. Creating safe bike lanes is a priority.

The Port Commission backed a low carbon fuel standard at the state legislature this session. What statewide policy priorities will you focus on?

I was proud to work with the legislature and advocates to help pass the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in my official role as Executive Director of Washington State’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. As a Port Commissioner, I will continue to track issues in Olympia and lend my voice towards legislation that will help us effectively and equitably meet our environmental and sustainability goals.

Green River Trail Extension Would Fully Set Up South Park for a Regional Bike Connection

South Park's connections to the Green River Trail leave much to be desired. (Photo by Ryan Packer)

The Green River Trail is one of the longest regional trails in Washington, covering more than 19 miles through south King County through cities like Kent and Tukwila. It also connects directly with the south line of the regional Interurban Trail, allowing trail users to access places like Auburn, Pacific, and Algona. The Green River Trail’s north end gets tantalizingly close to Seattle, but currently accessing the trail from the north requires dealing with W Marginal Place, a frontage road to State Route 99, where freight traffic can be heavy and there is no separated facility for bikes.

King County is currently designing a trail extension that would build a new section of trail all the way to S Director Street and 14th Ave S — Seattle’s city limit in South Park. Currently it’s hard to even find the route to the Green River Trail from that spot, with a narrow sidewalk running alongside a highway on-ramp not intuitive as a trail connection. Extending a standard-width trail all the way to Director Street should make the trail much more accessible and visible from the heart of South Park.

The planned Green River Trail extension will connect all the way to South Park at S Director Street and 14th Ave S. (King County)

West Marginal Place, alongside West Marginal Way, aka SR-99 in this segment, is a two lane frontage road with no shoulder, and to access the trail from South Park riders have to use this road for about a mile. The design for the trail extension will actually eliminate the northbound lane of West Marginal Place for one half of a mile, between S 102nd and S 96th Street.

Metro Outlines Bus Service Restorations in October and Beyond


King County Metro is continuing to boost bus service via three rounds of service restorations. Changes coming in October and March will bring the agency back very close to pre-pandemic levels. A final round of service restorations is expected in September 2022. Metro also appears poised to stave off — or at least continue to forestall — a fiscal cliff that would otherwise require deep service cuts in the years ahead and could begin to focus on more targeted investments in the bus system.

Despite a pessimistic outlook last fall when Metro thought additional service cuts would be required, the financial picture has vastly improved with federal assistance coming through and tax revenues rebounding.

The agency was able to make significant service restorations in March of this year and made targeted service additions on routes where demand remained high during the pandemic. Those targeted service additions were meant to deal with crowding — due in part to lower capacity limits — on routes serving racially diverse and lower-income communities in Seattle and South King County; those service additions will remain in place going forward. Metro has also been able to make modest restorations to some Eastside bus routes — which was accomplished in June — and restored all transit vehicles to full passenger capacity on July 3rd.

Routes that are suspended fully or partially and may be fully or partially restored in the fall. (King County)
Routes that are suspended fully or partially and may be fully or partially restored in the fall. (King County)

Right now, Metro has 19 routes that are fully suspended and 49 routes that are operating with partially reduced service. The agency has committed to restoring at least some service on 32 of those routes in the fall with more to come in subsequent service change rounds in 2022.

Environmental Advocates Condemn the Return of Cruise Ships to Seattle

Advocates are calling on the Port of Seattle to "envision a cruise-free Salish Sea." Organizers 350 Seattle, Cruise Control Seattle, and Extinction Rebellion oppose the cruise industry's pollution, health hazards, and exploitative labor practices. (Credit: Neal Anderson)

Rally for a “Cruise-Free Salish Sea” 1pm to 3pm Friday, July 23rd at Pier 66.

Set against the backdrop of massive cruise ships idling in Elliott Bay, speakers from environmental advocacy groups 350 Seattle, Seattle Cruise Control, and Extinction Rebellion called on the Port of Seattle to limit the presence of cruise ships in the Salish Sea.

“It’s painfully ironic to see the Port of Seattle’s theme for the 2020-2021 season be called ‘cruise healthy,'” said Stacy Oaks, a community organizer for 350 Seattle and one of the event’s organizers. “Along with the cruise industry’s practices being unhealthy for our waters, marine life, and communities, we know they are horrendously unhealthy for the climate.”

Protestors go out on the water on kayaks to criticize the return of cruise ships to the Port of Seattle. (Credit: Michael Renaissance)

Environmentalists have been decrying the damages caused by cruise ships for years. However, when the Port of Seattle first floated building a third cruise ship terminal on Seattle’s downtown waterfront near Pioneer Square, concerned activists launched Seattle Cruise Control in opposition to the proposed $200 million project, half of which would be funded by private investment. Although, the plans for the terminal were halted in July of 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, opponents worry that recent glowing remarks about the return of cruise industry to Seattle from Port executive director Steve Metruck and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan could mean the terminal may resurface in the future. Additionally, even if a third cruise terminal is never constructed, many see returning to the status quo as unacceptable while the City of Seattle continues to fail to meet its own targeted greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Shocking levels of air and water pollution

While the speakers took to the podium, the first of 83 planned cruise voyages departing this 2021 cruise season from the Port of Seattle boarded passengers onto Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Sea. While 2021 cruise season will be far shorter than average — in 2020, for example, the Port of Seattle had planned for 233 cruise voyages — each departure is viewed by activists as inflicting unnecessary harm on people and the environment. “Cruises burn the dirtiest fuels, not for essential services but for luxury,” said Rachel McDonald, a 350 Seattle boardmember, during the rally.

Midweek Video: US Streets Are Dangerous, We Can Fix Them


Why are American streets so dangerous and what can we do about them? PBS looks at the growing American epidemic of dangerously designed streets and visits Atlanta on what can be done.

Will Electorate Blame Mayor Durkan for Four Years of Mismanagement?

Mayor Durkan in an orange vest and SDOT hard hat at a West Seattle Bridge presser.
Mayor Durkan stands next to SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe to take questions on West Seattle Bridge. (City of Seattle)

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. The Urbanist has been highlighting the blunders of the Durkan administration from the campaign to year one to her recent fall from grace over violating public records law while botching the City’s response to police brutality protests. Recent polling suggests Seattle voters are quite convinced the city is on the wrong track — by a historic margin, in fact. What they’re less decisive about — surprisingly — is who to blame.

Polling done by a Washington Research Group, a firm connected to mayoral candidate Colleen Echohawk, suggests that 84% of respondents believe the city is on the wrong track. Sixty-seven percent of them also place the most blame on the city council rather than Mayor Durkan, who got just 9%. Some of this may relate to the fact Mayor Durkan is not running for reelection, so she makes a less salient target for scorn. The city council containing nine very different members, running the gambit from fire-breathing socialist Kshama Sawant to milquetoast conservative concernmongerer Alex Pedersen, could also make it easier to find something to dislike.

For the general public who gets their information from the nightly news rather than more critical publications like The Urbanist, the many knocks against Durkan don’t seem to have clicked, at least not as much as criticisms of the council have. Mayor Durkan’s penchant for torturing decisions, delaying projects time and again, creating a hostile workplace, and shilling for corporations has clearly undermined her administration, but like Mr. Magoo she keeps somehow hovering above the mayhem just enough for the anvil to drop on someone else. And that someone apparently is the Seattle City Council.

If voters were to identify Mayor Durkan as the source of the dysfunction over the past four years, then Council President M. Lorena González would be able to make a strong case that she can clean up the mess and mend relations between the executive and legislative branches that have been frayed by Durkan’s abrasive dictatorial style. If voters see the council as just as much (if not more so) to blame than the Mayor, then councilmembers are in a less enviable position in the race. Historically, this has largely been the case. A city councilmember has not won a race for mayor since Norm Rice over three decades ago.

On a recent appearance on Crystal Fincher’s excellent Hacks and Wonks podcast, former Mayor Mike McGinn (who endorsed Echohawk) testified to the fact voters tend to tar both Council and Mayor with the same brush when there’s dysfunction. McGinn had the more progressive vision, but since the more conservative council of the early aughts stonewalled him, he ended up taking the blame and losing a close race for reelection to Ed Murray.

Unfortunately, the polling suggests voters aren’t focusing blame on Jenny Durkan. To be fair, the Mayor didn’t get high marks either, with just 2% of respondents rating her 5 out of 5 for job performance compared to 30% who rated her 1 — the lowest rating –, 22% who rated her 2, and 30% who gave a her a 3 or the meh rating. The González campaign could persuade voters of the council’s strengths and the Mayor’s ineptitude, but the poll indicates they’re starting in a deficit.