Courtesy of SDOT.
SDOT ruled out the two other alternative routes that followed Leary Avenue and Ballard Avenue.

Industrial heavies speak out against SDOT dropping alternative BGT routes, City responds

Steps toward a decision for how the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail will evolve were made last week with the Seattle Department of Transportation narrowing the route choice to Shilshole Avenue in Ballard.

The move was made in a presentation on Feb. 15 to City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee. SDOT ruled out the two other alternative routes that followed Leary Avenue and Ballard Avenue.

Members of the council committee include Mike O'Brien, Rob Johnson, Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold.

“When we started this EIS process, we embarked with four different alternatives, and what you’ll see today is that we are taking two of those alternatives off the table because they don’t meet the purpose and need of the EIS or the project as well as the other two alternatives,” said Scott Kubly, Director of SDOT

“It comes down to the fact that the Shilshole alignment serves the purpose and need of the project. … It’s the flattest, most direct route, least number of intersection crossings,” said Mark Mazzola, SDOT’s environmental manager.

However, they have not quite finalized the plan. SDOT needs to decide between two paths along Shilshole Avenue — the north or south side of the street. Both routes would border businesses.

The Burke-Gilman Trail is a 10 to 12 foot path that extends from the north end of Lake Washington for 18 miles into Ballard. The missing link is a one-and-a-half mile gap in the trail that extends from 11th Avenue N.W. and N.W. 45th Street to 30th Avenue N.W. at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

The missing link dates back to the 1990s with industrial businesses later taking legal action to stop the trail from following Shilshole Avenue. The city initially planned the Shilshole route with the idea that it's the most direct and simplest. However, the route veins through the heart of Ballard’s industrial sector and businesses like Ballard Oil and Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel contend that people would be at risk of being hit by large trucks moving through the area.

After years of appeals a judge ordered a deeper analysis of the route and to draft an environmental impact statement. It was published in June 2016.

In 2015 SDOT cited safety as the leading concern about the project in comment letters from the public. However, Eugene Wasserman, President of the North Seattle Industrial Association, argues that safety was not addressed in the DEIS.

“We are disappointed that the City continues to point to that route like they have done historically. This is an issue of safety, and we seem to be the only ones with that interest,” said Wasserman.

Wasserman argued that the Leary route was the safest and most practical place for the trail and that both Shilshole routes put pedestrians at risk. In order to prevent the Shilshole route from being constructed Wasserman says his industrial constituents would appeal the adequacy of the final EIS once it’s published, which would stall the completion of the trial.

“We will continue to do this until SDOT actually looks at safety. It’s not a political reason. …There’s no safety analysis in the EIS, and they are still taking pictures of the trucks moving through there. They have no methodology for the safety of this route and no safety protocols to base their decision on.”

Warren Aakervik (Ret.) of Ballard Oil shared a similar opinion.

“The two more viable options were thrown off the table and that decision is based on a flawed EIS and lack of analysis. … The drafted EIS is dramatically flawed and they are rewriting it,” said Aakervik.

Aakervik argued that that the large trucks coming and going across the trail would cause seriously risks for pedestrians and cyclists, and he elaborated on the difficulty driver already have seeing pedestrians and that building a bicycle path in a high traffic truck area is “ridiculous.”

“We’ve spent time and money to keep people from getting killed. If I’m wrong the most that would happen is an inconvenience for some bikers. If they’re (SDOT) wrong, people die. … Look at the basics. If it's a recreational trail than why is it going through an industrial area with high truck traffic? When you do that you put people in conflict, and it’s not worth it.”

So what about safety?

At an open house meeting in June of 2015, the most prevalent topic of concern from public comments was safety. SDOT reported that there were over 1000 comments with concern for safety. The second most prevalent concern was “keep the industrial corridor” with 121 comments.

The drafted EIS focuses on these major environmental impacts: geology, soil, hazardous materials, fish, wildlife, vegetation, land use, economics, recreation, utilities, transportation, parking, cultural resources, air quality and greenhouse gases.

There is no special section devoted to safety, however, Mazzola, pointed out that it is still addressed.

“While ‘safety’ isn’t a specific element of the environment, it is discussed as part of our transportation analysis. For example, in our analysis we discuss the fact that there may be sight distance concerns at certain driveway or intersection crossings along any of the four alignments, and we provide ideas on how to mitigate those concerns. Similarly, we discuss the number of driveway and intersection crossings for each of the alternatives, and acknowledge that vehicles pulling out of driveways may block the trail and that vehicles entering driveways or intersections may have to wait for trail users,” wrote Mazzola.

He went on to detail that the Environmental Policy Act requires the City to examine the impacts of projects to the natural and built environment, not specifically safety, but addressing safety is inherently involved in SDOT plans for projects.

“It is important to understand that safety concerns are embedded into the design guidelines that we follow when developing transportation facilities, particularly facilities for people walking, running, or biking. As we go through our design process, we will continually evaluate how trail users would interact with motor vehicle traffic, so that we can ensure predictability and safety for folks using the trail as well as driving.”

The missing link is expected to cost $14 million and to be completed in 2019.

In the presentation last week, Kubly said that they would be taking approximately a week to talk with appellants on both sides of Shilshole before moving forward.

“The goal is to not explore for very long so neither alternative is going to prevent us from being under construction in 2018 and that’s the commitment that the department is making.”

According to SDOT the final EIS will be published sometime this year and with a recommendation for a route to complete the missing link.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien did not respond to inquiries pertaining to this article.

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