Possible design alternatives unveiled for Waterfront Connector project

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    A crowd of more than 60 interested citizens gathered in the Edmonds Library Plaza Room on Wednesday evening for the first glimpse of possible design alternatives for the Waterfront Connector project, whose goal is to provide reliable emergency access to the Edmonds waterfront independent of blockages and delays on the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.

    Originally called the Waterfront At-Grade Crossings Alternatives Analysis, the project has been in the making since 2015. An initial public meeting outlined the project goals, and collected a wide range of citizen and stakeholder input that resulted in 51 possible alternatives, running the gamut from the simple to the complex, budget-friendly to budget-busting. They included various combinations of overpasses, underpasses, raising, lowering and relocating the tracks, and more.

    The list was ultimately narrowed to 11 alternatives, guided by input from a series of public meetings supplemented by online open houses, in which citizens, stakeholders and others provided opinion and comments. Subsequent citizen meetings developed a set of secondary criteria to further narrow the list, and evaluated designs based on these alternatives.

    Application of these criteria left one alternative that best met the project goals, design and cost: a single-lane bridge connecting Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to the Brackett’s Landing North parking area. Dubbed the Edmonds Waterfront Connector, the plan was approved in late 2017 by the Edmonds City Council.

    With the basic approach at last finalized, the consultant team went to work developing a range of design alternatives. These were formally presented at Thursday’s public meeting.

    “We’re at the very beginning,” said Rick Schaefer of project consultant Tetra Tech as he opened the meeting. “No decisions have been made yet. Tonight we want your input; we want to know your issues, what’s important to you, what you like and what you don’t.”

    Schaefer was joined at the podium by Eric Birkhauser of the project design staff, who presented six alternate approaches to the project. These included a range of concepts, materials and engineering solutions, each providing differing potential approaches that address the issue of waterfront access within a design that reflects community values, complements the physical and aesthetic environment, and reflects the natural forms of the existing slope and beach.

    “None of these designs is in anything like final form,” he told the audience. “Rather they provide a wide range of possibilities, and we’re hoping you can help us pick the best ideas from each so we can come back with more refined concepts for your further comment and evaluation.”

    All designs call for crossing the tracks at sufficient height to allow train traffic to pass, while including the necessary engineering to keep the Sunset Avenue entrance at grade and not force pedestrians to climb stairs to cross this section of the connector. While regulations require that the track crossing include 10-foot throw barrier on either side, the rest of the span leading down to the beach will need only a 52-inch protective railing, and the various alternatives presented provided a range of approaches to meeting this safety need.

    All six alternatives consider creating a sense of arrival at the Edmonds Street entrance while providing safe traffic and pedestrian circulation, integrating the required 10-foot throw barrier in the section the crosses the tracks, aligning with the slope and beach, creating overlooks, and integrating the lower landing area seamlessly with Brackett’s Landing Park. A quick overview of the six alternatives is available online here .

    After the formal presentation, the team took questions from the audience. Citizens expressed concern about increased traffic in the area, impacts on the views from Sunset Avenue, and several took issue with the cost of the project versus the benefits, with one citizen pointedly questioning why the city chose a $30 million solution, maintaining that the $6 million single pedestrian bridge at Railroad Avenue would adequately address the problem.

    “We residents of Edmonds only care about benefits to the city,” said Nives Dolsak, Edmonds resident and UW professor of public policy. “I am willing to pay for improved emergency response on the west side of the railroad tracks, but I do not want to pay for reducing ferry loading delay. This is not my problem; this is the DOT’s problem.”

    For more in-depth and interactive participation in the project, the team has provided an online open house where citizens, stakeholders and others can see the various alternatives and make their views and preferences known. The Waterfront Connector Online Open House provides project background including the evaluation criteria that led to the current approved concept; the various alternative bridge components including style, alignment and roadway design; details on the six initial concepts; and the opportunity to provide comments and feedback to the design team.

    Next steps are for the project team to incorporate feedback received this evening and via the online open house into a secondary set of alternatives, and present these at the next public meeting scheduled for this June. Input from the June meeting will be used to select the preferred design alternative in the third quarter of 2018. Preliminary design, council briefings, and environmental documentation will follow through the first half of 2019.

    — Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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