An update on plans to build a single-lane bridge for emergency access to the Edmonds waterfront when train tracks are blocked generated many questions from Edmonds City councilmembers Tuesday night.
Much of what was presented regarding the project, which aims to connect Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to the Brackett’s Landing North parking area, was a repeat of what had been revealed during an open house for the public in late February. City project manager Ed Sibrel reminded the council of the need for an emergency solution to ensure crews can get over the tracks when they are impassable. From 2010-2015, for example, fire crews responded to 277 emergency 911 calls on the waterfront, with 171 of those requiring basic life support response and 72 advanced life support, plus 14 fires and eight water rescues.
“This is first and foremost a public safety project,” Sibrel said.
The connector would also allow, in some cases, the ability of ferry traffic to unload or load during a blockage.
Sibrel noted that the connector, estimated at $30 million, would be the largest public works project the city has ever undertaken. The city received $6 million in funding from the state Legislature during its recently-concluded session. That follows an additional approximately $2 million received earlier from the state and other sources. With a funding gap of $22 million, the city is now seeking grants for the remainder.
Rick Schaefer of project consultant Tetra Tech unveiled drawings of six alternate approaches involving a range of concepts, materials and engineering solution, with the goal of gaining citizen feedback on those designs both during in-person meetings and online. The hope is to have a final recommendation on a design this summer, he said.
Councilmembers Kristiana Johnson and Diane Buckshnis asked whether planning a bridge that accommodates both emergency vehicles and pedestrians was necessary. Buckshnis questioned whether the idea goes beyond the original intent of the project, which was to get pedestrians across the tracks. Both councilmembers said they would like to see a cost breakdown between a pedestrian-only bridge and one that also accommodates emergency vehicles.
Buckshnis noted that in the public comments received so far, “there are a lot of people who are not in support of this. I was not in support of this because I felt we could do something cheaper on the other side rather than $30 million.” Buckshnis also suggested that the city should be asking for financial assistance from both BNSF Railroad and the Washington State Ferries, “because we will be helping them.”
Public Works Director Phil Williams said there is an expectation that BNSF will participate in funding, but it’s unclear exactly how much that will be. As for the ferry system, the city just received $6 million from the state and it’s certain that part of that was recognition that the project would benefit the ferry system, Williams added.
Councilmember Dave Teitzel asked if the bridge would be able to accommodate pedestrians, including those in wheelchairs, if a fire truck were dispatched. Schaefer said the project would include installation of some pedestrian landings as well as advanced warning of pending aid vehicles before pedestrians get on the bridge.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and others also brought up other scenarios related to logistics of bridge use and conflicts, and Councilmember Neil Tibbott suggested that a policy eventually be developed to address those issues.
Fraley-Monillas also asked that the council schedule a public hearing prior to any decisions being made on the final bridge design
In another point of concern, both Buckshnis and Johnson expressed surprise following a statement by Williams that the bridge connector would also be available for 24/7 emergency vehicle use even if there wasn’t a train blockage.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard that,” Johnson said. “The expectation that this is a 24/7 lights-and-siren access for the other side of the road may not be compatible with community values.”
“It was never the city council’s intention that this be full-time emergency access,” Johnson said. All the project expectations need to be written down so that staff, consultants and the city are clear in their intent, to avoid bumps down the road, she added.
“We were never told it was going to be 24/7 emergency vehicles,” Buckshnis added. “Those poor people on Sunset and 2nd Avenue and all those people who have had to put up with what has gone on recently. We should get things more detailed and planned out so the council is made aware of things like this rather than be surprised like tonight.”
Councilmember Tom Mesaros said it would be helpful to have someone from South Snohomish Fire & Rescue come to a council meeting to discuss their emergency process and how it might work with the new bridge.
In other action Tuesday night, the council spent close to an hour listening to public comments from citizens on two topics: the importance of supporting the upcoming Sno-Isle Libraries levy and support for a future ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery in Edmonds.
Starting off the comment period was Luke Distelhorst, president of the Friends of the Edmonds Library, who expressed disappointment in recent comments by city officials who have been “spreading confusion in the minds of Edmonds voters” regarding the library levy.”
Distelhorst was referring to questions raised by City Councilmember Dave Teitzel and City Finance Director Scott James regarding how much Edmonds taxpayers contribute compared to other cities in the Sno-Isle system — due to higher home valuations — and how much the library system reinvests in the Edmonds Library.
Distelhorst started out by saying that Sno-Isle, which provides library services in 23 cities in Snohomish and Island counties, is a system that permits use and sharing of materials among all member libraries. He went on to describe how libraries support people from all walks of life and in all financial circumstances. Noting that the library levy has been endorsed by several other local mayors and Snohomish County Councilmembers, along with Congressman Rick Larsen, Distelhorst said he found the silence of city officials on the issue “troubling” and asked them to publicly express their support.
Following Distelhorst was commentary from Edmonds resident Tom Mayer, who said that “the public library is a great example of promoting the public welfare,” as stated in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
“If my tax dollars are helping children in Darrington to learn to love books and reading at their library’s preschool story hours, then I’m all for it,” he said.
Several commenters also expressed support for another concept that is likely to come before the council soon: a potential ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery in Edmonds being spearheaded by Councilmember Teitzel. Later in the meeting, Councilmember Buckshnis, who is also working on the project, said the ban would be phased in over a long period, to give those affected plenty of time to comply with it.
The council also:
— Approved a measure aimed at giving nonprofit groups more flexibility when removing vegetation from critical areas for the purpose of habitat restoration.
— Received an annual report from the Edmonds Cemetery Board.
— Heard a presentation regarding a feasibility analysis for future redevelopment in the Five Corners area. The council directed staff to look into this idea further, although it was recognized that it will be several months before work can begin.
— By Teresa Wippel