Task Force recommends options to address growing train traffic; council suspends sign code

Updated Nov. 8 to include additional information, clarification from a city press release:

Thirteen months after its first meeting, the 10-member advisory task force appointed by Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling to study alternatives for at-grade railroad crossings at Dayton and Main Streets made its official recommendations to the Edmonds City Council Monday night.

Using public input obtained during a series of four open houses, as well as online surveys, the task force narrowed a list of 51 possible alternatives to 11. After further review, the group on Monday recommended three types of alternatives, ranging from a least-cost, smallest project to a most-cost, largest project, said Patrick Doherty, the city’s Director of Economic Development and Community Services.

Each of them is aimed at providing better access to and from the waterfront with increasing train traffic. Because each of those options will require significant capital dollars that will take time to acquire, the group also identified four “immediate recommendations” — from crosswalk improvements to an emergency evacuation plan –that could be implemented to address safety concerns.

“The task force considered every conceivable way to get across those tracks,” said Edmonds City Councilmember Mike Nelson, who co-chaired the group along with Edmonds Port Commissioner Jim Orvis. “Over, under and practically through it. Every foot was looked at along the waterfront for a possible crossing point. We look at the structural design challenges, the amount of land we had to work with, environmental challenges…as well as community challenges.”

With the goal of mitigating the expected growth in train, ferry and “all modes of local traffic,” the city council has been asked to decide which of three projects  — each in a different cost range — to pursue, Doherty said. They include:

The least-cost option: A midblock pedestrian overpass located near the Amtrak/Sounder train station and the Edmonds Senior Center. Consultant Rick Schaefer noted that this option would provide safe pedestrian access to both sides of the railroad tracks, and would best serve commuters, who would be the primary users for making rail, bus and ferry connections. This option is estimated to cost $6 million. While this project would provide access during train blockages for pedestrians and emergency personnel, no emergency vehicle access would be possible, and it also would not help ferry terminal access. In addition, given that Sound Transit — which operates commuter rail on the tracks — would require a similar structure in the future once a second rail track is built by the BNSF railroad, the task force believes this alternative may be best left for Sound Transit to implement.

The middle-cost option: Emergency vehicle access to the waterfront through an emergency access overpass at Edmonds Street and Sunset Avenue. The task force identified this, dubbed as the Edmonds Waterfront Street Connector, as their preferred alternative. The overpass, which is easily accessible from Edmonds police and fire stations, would provides immediate access to respond to waterfront emergencies. The ramp would also provide a full-time pedestrian and bicycle connection from Sunset Avenue to Brackett’s Landing Park and the waterfront trail system, which would enhance walkability of the waterfront. When there is an emergency shutdown of either rail crossing, the ramp could be used to offload vehicles  from the ferry. Cost is estimated to be $24 million.

The highest-cost option: Edmonds Crossing. Under its longer-term recommendation, the task force concluded in its report that grade separation for vehicles accessing ferries is necessary to resolve the growing conflicts between rail traffic and vehicles loading and offloading the ferries. As a result, it recommended that the city continue to support the eventual implementation of the Edmonds Crossing project. That state-proposed project, involving relocation of Edmonds ferry operations to a new terminal located at the current Unocal property, is currently on hold due to lack of state funding, but may be reintroduced at some point in the future. If such a terminal relocation occurs, the task force also recommended that the project incorporate an emergency vehicle access point at the waterfront’s south end.

Earling said he fully supports the task force preferred alternative recommendation, calling it “the most prudent, financially feasible and most beneficial solution to the growing safety and emergency-access issues associated with growing train volumes through Edmonds.” He also urged the city council to move quickly to approve the preferred concept. The city has an opportunity to apply for a federal grant, due in December, and will also need to start talking with both federal and state legislators about possible funding opportunities, he said.

Citizens will have an opportunity to offer their feedback on the alternatives at the Tuesday, Nov. 15 council meeting.

You can view the complete task force report here.

In other action, the council:

– Unanimously approved a resolution proposed by Councilmember Nelson to temporarily suspend certain portions of the city’s newly passed sign code. The suspension, which will last for 120 days, is designed to give city staff time to work with downtown businesses to address their concerns about the new code passed by the council Aug. 2, which implements requirements on size and location. City Development Director Shane Hope said she welcomes an opportunity to meet with businesses “to deal with some of the specific issues that have come up.”

– Began its deliberations regarding the mayor’s proposed 2017 budget. While public comment was scheduled on the topic, no citizens offered testimony. However, councilmembers spent a fair amount of time discussing the best ways to go about adding their own priorities into the budget. It was agreed to further explore the matter during the next few council meetings. The budget must be approved by the end of 2016.

– Heard the 2016 annual report from the city’s public defender.

– Referred to next week’s council consent calendar approval of a revised interlocal agreement with Olympic View Water and Sewer District to fund minor utility relocations for the Madrona Elementary Walkway Project and a right-of-way dedication for the Select Homes short plat at 8721 218th St. S.W.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Would it not make sense to create a design for the new ferry terminal and then build the part that would provide only waterfront access now? I don’t see why clean-up of the property would prevent a road and bridge from crossing it.

    1. I think the issue with that idea is that Edmonds Crossing is under the state’s purview and there are no guarantees about the future of that project — whether it will happen at all or when. At a minimum it could be 20 years before anything happens.

      1. True but if the waterfront access bridge can be built with future improvements in mind, why not? Even if it takes 20 years to finishing the ferry terminal, or even if it never gets finished, the bridge can be a solution to the access problem as good as any other. So let the state help us out, that’s why we keep electing them. 🙂

  2. And don’t forget the Edmonds Crossing project came at a huge price of nearly $200,000,000…but more importantly to Edmonds, it would hide the ferries from the view of most of the Bowl…hidden behind Union Oil Hill.

  3. In order to save money and avoid visual pollution, I think we should give all concerned citizens complimentary classes on how to cross a street and a train track without getting hurt. The rest of the world seems to manage this just fine. Orange flags and overpasses are not as effective as pedestrians learning to wait until there’s a nice, safe break in the traffic. That break always comes within a few moments. Then, you look both directions… and cross.

    1. It’s more than just simply getting people across the tracks. The tracks are completely blocked for many hours per day due to trains. During those times, it’s impossible for people, cars, fire engines, etc. to get across the tracks.

      I attended a couple of the open houses the working group held. They did a really impressive job gathering community inputs and ranking the choices. A very open and collaborative process I thought. It’s a super hard job that will never make everyone happy. They deserve credit for doing a good job.

    2. Thanks Rick, for your common sense. A simple affordable solution. What I see in the concept drawing is an ugly concrete viaduct. Visual pollution indeed. If the goal is to get emergency vehicle access (big firetrucks) down there, put an access ramp out of sight, but accessible down by the old Unocal road.

      Maybe Seattle will give us their viaduct, and we can barge it up to Edmonds on the Kalakala. Mercy.

  4. Yikes, this plan is extremely ugly and ruins the natural beauty of one of the most prominent spots on our waterfront. They need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to route under the train tracks rather than over. Moreover, keep the change in a less visible spot such as where the tracks cross at Dayton Ave.

    1. Both of those were considered but it’s very hard to go deep under the tracks and it’s super expensive. It’s a “Bertha-like” tunneling project in wet soil. An overpass at Dayton for all traffic has some problems too.

      The proposed overpass off Sunset is for emergency vehicles, bikes and pedestrians I believe. This allows the design and construction (lane widths, max weights) to be much simpler than one that has to meet all codes for all vehicles.

      One thing I learned is the railroad has complete authority to reject any plan that goes over or under the tracks based on railroad right of way laws that date back to the 1800s. There is no legal way to force the railroad to accept a solution if they don’t like it. That kills many of the ideas like a trench to bury the tracks which personally I like a lot for noise abatement as well.

  5. The proposed path is not visible from above and adds a nice outlook for pedestrians and bicyclers.
    Emergency vehicles could use it but those times will be infrequent. It could also be used for vehicles with traffic control in the case of access being blocked. Again, the time for emergencies will be infrequent but it’s good good to have alternatives. The construction of such a route will not require the tunneling, will not disrupt the area near the ferry and other spots on the waterfront and will be much less expensive to build.

  6. People seem to be forgetting that the overpass option is next to a marine protected area and bird sanctuary.

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