More than 80 interested citizens packed the City Hall Brackett Room Thursday evening to learn more about the latest design options for the Waterfront Connector project.
City of Edmonds Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams welcomed the group to the project’s second community open house, expressing his appreciation for everyone showing up and for providing input on the project over the months.
“We’ve got it narrowed down to a couple of generalized approaches about how to do this, and we’re really excited to get your comments on these,” he said. “The input you’ve given us over the past months has helped shape these options, and we’re looking forward to your continued input as move closer to a final design.”
Williams then introduced project lead Rick Schaefer of Tetra Tech.
Schaefer began by reviewing the major issue driving the project: emergency access to the waterfront when both the Main Street and Dayton Street at-grade crossings are blocked.
“This happens every time a train passes,” he explained, “and with projected increases in rail traffic it will only get worse. And at those times when trains become disabled on the tracks, the blockages can last for several hours.”
After a 14-month review of possible options, the current waterfront connector concept was approved by the Edmonds City Council in 2017 as the best alternative to address this issue.
It calls for a 16-foot wide, single-lane roadway linking Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing Park. The roadway must be sufficient to support the largest fire vehicles and provide a 6-foot refuge for pedestrians when these vehicles pass. It must be pedestrian, bicycle and ADA accessible, and must be able to serve as an emergency offload route for ferries. It was noted that this would only occur for ferries en route at the time of an at-grade crossing emergency, as the ferry system would stop loading vehicles at Kingston immediately when notified of such a blockage.
The city council subsequently authorized Mayor Dave Earling to sign a professional services agreement with a consultant to move the project forward.
“This is the second open house during the pre-design phase of the project,” Schaefer explained. “We shared six initial concepts at the first meeting in February, and the public comments and input on these have been very fruitful.
“We wanted to know what you liked, what you didn’t like and what else you’d like to see,” Schaefer said. “We got great input, and have taken your top choices, comments and suggestions and incorporated them into the two design alternatives presented tonight. Again, we’re not looking for you to vote. It’s not an either/or. These cakes aren’t baked yet. What we do want are your reactions, ideas and opinions to help us further modify these two basic approaches as we move closer to a final design.”
Dubbed the Land Bridge and the Promenade, the two concepts embody different design approaches, materials and construction methods. Both were designed to have minimal impact on views and to complement and blend with the beach environment. Both provide the mandated 10-foot “throw barrier” over the railroad tracks, which are meant to prevent anything being thrown onto the tracks and will be constructed of “see-through” materials chosen for minimal visual impact.
The Land Bridge design is based on the highest-ranking concept presented at the February meeting. It employs a wide walkway across the tracks that would feature plants and benches to encourage walkers to pause and enjoy the ambiance. Once across the tracks, walkers would have the option to turn right and enjoy a viewpoint framing Mount Baker, or turn left and continue down a long, straight bridge to the beach.
The Promenade design is more organic, offering a sweeping, curved alignment reflecting the natural contours of the beach landscape. After crossing the tracks walkers would encounter a drop-bench area where they could sit and view the Sound and mountains. This drop-bench would also allow a slightly lower safety barrier along this section of the bridge. Sculpted columns beneath the bridge would evoke the natural erosion patterns of waves on rock formations, providing more of an “experiential quality.”
Project staff also introduced some ideas for employing artistic elements into the final design, including Native American elements, pavement inlays, integrating the landscape with the structure, and incorporating “elements of discovery.”
To help illustrate these two approaches, the consultants provided numerous drawings and renderings, a 3-D model, and virtual-reality animated “tours” of each design concept. You can take the Land Bridge Tour here and the Promenade Tour here.
The project timeline calls for selecting a preferred design alternative by the end of this year, finalizing both funding and design in the 2019-2020 time frame, and construction in 2021-2023.
Questions from the audience included a request for more detail on the throw barrier materials, and whether they would have adverse impact on views. The project team responded that two proposed materials — cable net and arched metal — are both robust, durable, and are designed to be semi-transparent having minimal impact on views.
Another audience member asked about how high the bridge must be above the tracks to allow for train passage, and whether this would put it above grade on Sunset Avenue. According to the project team, the clearance required by BNSF is 23.5 feet. While this would put the walkway approximately 6 inches above the current roadway on Sunset and Edmonds Street, it would be accommodated by carrying the level of the walkway across the intersection, which would have the added benefit of providing traffic calming.
Project staff were also asked to provide clarification and more detail about the forked roadway design of the Promenade concept. They explained that because the bridge section crosses the tracks at an angle, the part that descends to the beach would need to land further south in order to conform to the project design standards for walkway slope. The second roadway would be for vehicular use, is not constrained by these standards, and could land further north. Pedestrians however would be free to use it if they wish. Staff reiterated that this design is not set in stone, and the Promenade could be redesigned with a single walkway for both pedestrians and vehicles.
One questioner asked if money could be saved by eliminating the cantilevered Mount Baker viewpoint. Staff said they couldn’t give an estimate but would look into it.
Other questions concerned impacts on neighborhood parking, views from Sunset Avenue homes adjacent to the new bridge, guard rail safety for vehicles that must use the bridge, and nighttime lighting.
Additional information on the project, including how the two designs presented this evening evolved from the earlier concepts presented in February, project schedule and funding are available in the PowerPoint presented at the meeting.
More illustrations, plans and information are available at the Project website, where through Aug. 9 you can also participate in the online open house and provide your input, questions and comments to the project team.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel