Mayor makes case to council for hybrid Waterfront Connector design

Declaring it’s the city’s “paramount duty” to protect and ensure the safety of its residents, businesses and visitors, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling Tuesday night made a case for a hybrid alternative design for the proposed overpass aimed at providing emergency access to the city’s waterfront.

The mayor delivered his remarks to the city council after city staff and consultants presented a summary of the revised design, which is a blend of the two finalist alternatives for the proposed project– the Landbridge and the Promenade. Presenters said the goal was to address several concerns aired by citizens and councilmembers during previous meetings about project, including costs and environmental impacts to the beach.

For two years, the city has been working on a plan to address emergency access to the waterfront when both the Main Street and Dayton Street at-grade rail crossings are blocked. This included a 14-month study by a task force of public officials and citizens that examined 51 different options to address the problem. The current waterfront connector concept was approved by the city council in 2017, and the city signed a contract with consultant TetraTech to begin developing a range of pre-design alternatives for it.

In addition to providing emergency access when needed, the connector would offer ongoing pedestrian and bicycle access from Edmonds Street to the beach, and would also allow for emergency ferry unloading in case of train blockage.

The proposed hybrid design includes the following changes:

– Reduces the width of the landbridge across the railroad tracks from 49 feet to 31 feet.

– Removes the extended cantilever overlook and reduces the number of columns from three to two.

-Simplifies the bridge cross section, from a round to a trapezoidal, for the bridge west of the railroad tracks.

-Creates a new, raised plaza at the bridge landing with more direct access between the restrooms at Brackett’s Landing and the beach, to enhance safety and security and shorten the travel path for pedestrians.

– Moves the bridge landing north and east, which is closer to the railroad tracks, relocates the cul-de-sac to the south, and restripes the parking lot — resulting a net loss of two or fewer spaces.

The hybrid project still will accommodate the required clearances for the BNSF railroad’s planned second track.

Revised costs for the hybrid design include $2.4 million in savings.

Public Works Director Phil Williams told the council that the hybrid design would reduce the project cost by an estimated $2.4 million, from $29.9 million to $27.5 million in today’s dollars.

Addressing the council directly about the need for the Waterfront Connector project, Earling said that hundreds of people visit the waterfront daily, thousands weekly and millions yearly. In addition, beyond the cumulative land value, the waterfront’s buildings and improvements are valued at “upwards of $50 million,” he said.

People, buildings, boats and equipment are at risk daily with the at-grade railroad crossings that can interrupt emergency response vehicles due to passing or stalled trains, the mayor added. The risk will increase further in future years when BNSF installs its planned second track, doubling the number of daily trains from 40 to 80 or more.

“It’s not about how many incidents we have to date. It’s not about how many incidents we have this year. it’s about the future,” Earling said. “We plan for the future in everything we do, and the Waterfront Connector is precisely that — a project for the future of the city.”

The mayor then pointed to several possible scenarios that could occur — a major kitchen fire at a waterfront restaurant, a boat fire at the marina, a diver at the Edmonds dive park suffering an embolism — and passing trains prevented emergency crews from responding in a timely manner.

Noting that the Waterfront Connector plan was first presented to the council in 2016 and was unanimously approved by the council, Earling said the plan has now been streamlined and costs have been reduced. Funding is being acquired — including $1.7 million from the state of Washington, with an additional contribution of $6 million from the state that is forthcoming.

The mayor also discounted statements made by some critics that Waterfront Connector funding could be better used for streets and sidewalks, stating that the overpass would be funded via state and federal grants specifically designated for infrastructure projects. “These funds we all pay into as taxpayers and then go to infrastructure projects across the state and the nation,” he said. “No one will pay more in taxes in support of this project. No one will pay less in taxes, even if you cancel the project. The money will simply go elsewhere.”

Tuesday night’s presentation on the updated proposal was for information only, so no decision was made on the project’s future. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she was still worried about the connector’s impact on the beach, and reiterated her belief that a less-costly solution could be developed to address emergency access. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson thanked the staff and consultants for addressing several of her concerns in the revised design.

The Waterfront Connector was one of several major items on Tuesday night’s council agenda. Another one was a discussion regarding a citywide ban on Styrofoam in food packaging, proposed by Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. After hearing a presentation by City Recycling Coordinator Steve Fisher on the issue, councilmembers expressed support for the ban, although the logistics of implementation are yet to be determined. One likely scenario is that it would be timed to coincide with the city’s ban on plastic straws, stir sticks and cutlery, which is scheduled to become effective in January 2020.

The council also received from the City’s Diversity Commission a detailed set of five policy recommendations, which we will summarize in a separate story to be published soon.

In addition, the council — after a closed record review of the Planning Board’s recommendation — voted unanimously to approve an application for rezone at 9111 and 9107 — 236th St. SW. from single-family to mult-family residential. And it heard the first of several department presentations on the 2019 budget — this one from the Public Works Department. Due to the full agenda and the lateness of the hour, Council President Mike Nelson assured the council he would allow for additional questions regarding the public works budget during the next council meeting.

— By Teresa Wippel



4 Replies to “Mayor makes case to council for hybrid Waterfront Connector design”

  1. We moved here recently from Seattle. I grew up in Seattle and have seen the process of resolving City of Seattle/Kng County development/funding/and the focus of messaging `details’ to the public regarding what is best for the `greater good’.
    It was not long ago that there was petitioning in Edmonds to declare that there should be no extensive expansion of the railways for commercial shipping of coal or other fossil fuels through the community. It was a very strong and determined group. It appears that the development of the new access is partly being funded for the very solid reason of providing more expedient methods of safety, but I was surprised to hear of the future doubling of trains running through the town of Edmonds. That will impact the stability of safety and the unstable hiil sides more than anything. How this came to be accepted is a stunning question to me. The BNSF is mostly owned by Warren/Buffet and extremely wealthy person who has worked hard to achieve his wealth, but why is this route being magnified right through the main access to the waterfront, and how is it being secured? I suggest that most of this money is Federal gov. providing funds to supplement the access of the burgeoning train system. What are these trains transporting and how does that impact the Northwest Community as well as Edmonds. ??


    1. Bottom line here is that BNSF has an exclusive right to the rail easement through Edmonds (as well as most everywhere else it operates). These right-of-ways go way back and no governments seem ready to challenge them. Heck, the rail line should be going through a trench (ref. previous studies reported here) but the railroad said no – we accept no impact to us – and no one or no entity challenged them.

      Do you think the federal government today is going to challenge the legacy of rich early American white guys (some say railroad barons)?

      Now I don’t necessarily challenge the railroad’s approach here but that’s the way it is.

      I’d like to not have to wait for loading and unloading of the ferry when I cross the ramp lanes as a pedestrian – why does the ferry system have priority over tax paying citizens of Edmonds? Does the City receive compensation from the ferry system for negative impacts? I guess that’s the way it is……


  2. I am sure there is a litany of records that show how diverging minds have danced around the subject of the Ferry Terminal and the railroad lines. I will not ramble about eminent domain since land grabs by the Federal government have been challenged in court and I am not a lawyer. Consensus should be for the best solution to difficult questions. I have not spent hours listening to bias and trying to reach consensus, but I know it can be an arduous process, which can result in advancing projects forward and later determining that significant issues were not resolved but would be address during the process; and that can be a very problematic approach which means delay, and more costs, without resolving the critical issues of safety. The current news cycle is focused on politics and devastating storms and the havoc that follows. There was a time not long ago that there was focus on the train cars that exploded and damaged communities and caused a great deal of disruption, and the fact that many railroad lines in many parts of the country are not in the best shape. Perhaps the BNSF representatives have given assurance about what their plans are, and perhaps the government entity that evaluates the engineering, safety and oversight of the railroads will provide the proper evaluation that should be done to determine how to proceed forward with the train system that effects all of Edmonds.


  3. The mayor nailed it. It makes little sense to look at the past to predict future needs because conditions are changing rapidly. Growth is bringing more people, more trains, and more traffic, so all will increase the risk of hazards due to railroad blockages. The access bridge is preemptive good planning for future needs. It is expensive yes, but the city is only footing a fraction of the costs. This is vital infrastructure that will serve the city for decades. Amortized over that time period and its well worth the price. It’s precisely the kind of visionary project the city should do.

    The city thought it wise to pass a firearms storage law, even though Edmonds doesn’t have a particular problem with firearms. I can only surmise that the council believed it wise to act now to reduce the risk of tragedies in the future. They were proactive instead of reactive. They are fulfilling their role of addressing public safety needs now and in the future. The waterfront bridge should be no different. Lets not let hatred of the railroad system, the bridge design or the price tag obscure our view of a legitimate public safety need.


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