Sound Transit investigates discrimination complaint against U-Link tunnel contractor

Image: Sound Transit Flickr feed

Thursday’s Sound Transit Board Meeting included unscheduled public testimony from NAACP and labor advocates detailing discriminatory employment practices against U-Link tunnel contractor Traylor/ Frontier-Kemper (TFK) working between UW and Capitol Hill.

Sound Transit executives became aware of the claims in early 2011 and continued to receive complaints of discriminatory hiring and a hostile work environment through September, when an internal investigation was ordered. CEO Joni Earl said that despite contractor records showing compliance with equal opportunity laws, “significant issues and discrepancies were uncovered” in TFK’s hiring practices and that the investigation report would be made public before the next Board meeting on July 26th.

To bring attention to Sound Transit’s 10-month long investigation, several dozen activists attended the Board meeting, some carrying signs of protest. Despite not formally being listed on the meeting agenda, three speakers were allowed to publicly address the Board on the issue. Details of their testimony included:

  • African American workers being told “we don’t need any more people that look like you on this shift.”
  • Union qualified African American workers being rejected as unqualified and replaced with workers from outside the region.
  • Intimidation of workers of color by a construction supervisor with a swastika tattoo on his hand.

Full disclosure and a discussion of an action plan in response to the investigation is expected at the next Board meeting. Video of Thursday’s meeting and testimony is here.

NBA Congrats to Washington Husky Terrance Ross and Garfield Bulldog Tony Wroten

Tony Wroten as a sophomore at Garfield in 2009. Image: The Seattle Times

Congratulations are in order to Washington Huskies Terrance Ross and Tony Wroten for their selections in the first round of today’s NBA draft. Ross was selected 8th overall by the Toronto Raptors and Tony Wroten, better known locally for his four years at Garfield High School than his one year at UW, was selected 25th by the Memphis Grizzlies. Best of luck to both! Details at The Seattle Times.

Sound Transit purchases high-compliance fasteners for U-Link light rail track noise and vibration

Image: Montlaker

The Sound Transit Board of Directors passed today a $2.1 billion budget and schedule for extending light rail from UW to Northgate by 2021. Included in the budget are measures for improving walkability to Northgate Station and a pedestrian bridge over I-5. Passing below the radar of this news, however, is the purchase of steel rails and high-compliance fasteners for the U-Link line under Capitol Hill and Montlake. This is an important step toward mitigating sound and vibration issues discovered during tunnel mining last fall.

The fasteners are part of a $7.1 million railway hardware purchase that had to be expedited to allow for increased lead time due to high demand. Sound Transit recently conducted real-world operation studies in the Beacon Hill Tunnel and determined that high-compliance fasteners would help U-Link stay below federal guidelines for noise and vibration.

“Basically, they have a much higher rubber content than normal fasteners and are specifically designed to reduce noise and vibration from the rails,” says Sound Transit spokesman, Bruce Gray. “Our experience during mining operations played a big part in the decision. That gave us concrete data about noise and vibration interaction with the underground conditions along the alignment.”

The operations track design is very different from the temporary supply track used to haul tunnel spoils during mining and excavation of the cross-passages. “The rails will sit on a new concrete bed along the length of the tunnel and the rails themselves will be new, continuously welded rail along the entire alignment. No clackety joints,” says Gray.

A community meeting at Miller Community Center has been scheduled for July 11th from 6-8pm to discuss expected noise and vibration levels during operations.

WSDOT offers 520 Bridge construction tours Saturday July 14th

Image: WSDOT Flickr pool

The next weekend closure of the 520 Bridge is 11pm Friday, July 13th until 5am Monday, July 16th. During the bridge closure WSDOT will offer public tours of the eastside floating bridge and lid construction:

We’re doing something special during that weekend’s closure as a thank you to local residents and commuters. We’re opening up sections of the SR 520 bridge and highway for special guided tours beginning at 11 and 11:30 a.m., Saturday, July 14.

We hope you can join Eastside and SR 520 Floating Bridge and Landings project staff for a special behind-the-scenes bus tour of the Eastside lids and the floating bridge under construction. You’ll get a chance to walk around the new lids, view the floating bridge construction, and get a better sense of just what the contractors are building.

If you’re interested in attending, just send an email to sr520bridge@wsdot.wa.gov to reserve your place on the tour. Let us know if you prefer the 11 or 11:30 a.m. tour and we will try to accommodate your request. Registration is limited, on a first-come, first-serve basis, and must be received by July 11.

Cool! More details from WSDOT here and proof that dreams can come true here. Preview recent construction at WSDOT’s excellent Flickr pool here.

Image: WSDOT Flickr pool

“Our Food, Our Right” dinner auction to promote local food, Saturday July 14th

The Community Alliance for Global Justice will celebrate the second edition of its book, Our Food, Our Right: Recipes for Food Justice at its 6th annual fundraising dinner. The event brings together over 400 local food advocates for an evening of music, dinner, a silent auction and guest speakers:

The Keynote will feature two contributors to the book, Valerie Segrest and Elise Krohn from the Northwest Indian College Traditional Plants and Foods Program. Valerie also founded the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project. Through their work on health and social justice, Valerie and Elise aim to reintroduce traditional foods into the diets of native people in the Pacific Northwest.

The event is July 14th at Saint Demetrios Church, 5-9:30pm, dinner at 6:30. This is a great way to meet people and learn more about local food systems. More details here with sliding scale tickets starting at $40 purchased here.


Junuary 2012 Marsh Island trail report

Image: Montlaker

With Lake Washington swollen with spring thaw and an especially wet month of June (rainfall has already more than doubled the monthly average), the always soggy Marsh Island is more swamp than island right now. This is all the more reason to strap on the boots and go for it – the marsh is alive with life – except for the human kind not suited to muddy shoes.

Image: Montlaker

Image: Montlaker

A good hiking stick might help. And yes, MOHAI really is gone.

Image: Montlaker

Union Bay Watch: Is that Albert or Eva? How to tell the 520 eagles apart

Image: © Larry Hubbell / unionbaywatch.com

With eaglets in the nest, Albert and Eva have been busy hunting out on Union Bay and bringing home food to feed their family of four. One of the pair is often spotted on a 520 lamp post, waiting for the right moment to dive for fish — or other birds. A new Union Bay Watch post offers tips on how to tell the couple apart (hint: Eva is much bigger and Albert has skinny legs). Lots more details for sharpening your eagle eyes, plus some great pictures of a Waxwing eating serviceberries, here.

Also, polls are still open for naming the eaglets. Vote here.

Montlake Lid community design review: High vs low ramps & usable park space

Area of the future 520 Montlake Lid in Seattle. Image: Montlaker

WSDOT has one last public meeting for the Montlake Lid next month (details TBA) before it wraps up its community design process and confirms its design intention to Olympia. Why is this important? WSDOT has applied for a $320 million federal loan to construct half of the west approach from the new floating bridge to Montlake Blvd, starting in 2014. The baby steps approach to replacing $4.65 billion worth of 520 highway means that whatever concrete is poured in 2014 will be the first stone cast in an overall plan that may take many years to fund and build, but that is being decided upon right now. 

Even for those who agree that WSDOT’s Montlake Lid design is a veiled reincarnation of the R.H. Thomson Arboretum Interchange (image here), reality requires informed community involvement in the design process to get the best results. So here goes.

The most critical issue affecting the Montlake Lid is the configuration of the access ramps on its east side. The “Baseline” plan has them ramping up and landing on top of the lid, as seen in this perspective view:

Baseline plan with ramps landing high on the lid. Image: WSDOT

Doing this creates four ramp lanes running along the entire north side of the lid, resulting in two open spaces separated by 24th Ave (used for both freeway and McCurdy Park access). Here is the plan view:

“Baseline” plan with eastern ramps landing high on lid and continuing along its north side. Image: WSDOT

A second “Option A” plan keeps these access ramps down low when they meet the east Montlake portal. This is the Option A perspective view:

Option A plan with low ramps meeting the eastern portal. Image: WSDOT

The Option A result for the east shoreline is an improved view above, but more shadowed dark space under the freeway. The bigger impact however is on top of the lid: keeping the ramps low means they slope up in a trench toward 24th that carves the eastern half in two, creating a horseshoe of open space. Here is the plan view:

Montlake Lid “Option A” plan. Image: WSDOT

The resulting eastern horseshoe is awkward from a usability standpoint, with narrow bands of space separated by a freeway trench. Note that a second trench emerges between 24th and Montlake Blvd for westbound traffic going north toward the Montlake Bridge. A positive effect is the northeastern corner would look out over the general purpose off-ramps (held low) for an improved view to the north. This plan also precludes access to McCurdy Park (and the planned stormwater facility) from 24th Ave, which instead would be along Hamlin and Shelby Streets.

These are two very different designs with big impacts on the character and usability of the lid. This is a start, but there are many other pros and cons to understand. The Community Club has arranged for WSDOT’s large presentation drawings to be put on display at Montlake Community Center this Tuesday and Thursday, 7-9pm. MCC Board members will be available to answer questions, gather feedback and relay to WSDOT’s design team the ideas that work best for the neighborhood.

Sound Transit to drill more tunnel wells into the deep

Image: Montlaker

Sound Transit will be drilling more tunnel wells, this time along 20th Ave E, north of McGraw. In addition to pumping out water that settles in the low point of the tunnel below, they will also pump out groundwater to lower the water table during cross passage construction. The work will close the street to through traffic for one to two weeks. From ST:

Parking restrictions are necessary during construction, but parking will be restored when installation is complete and the wells begin operation.

After installation the well system will be mostly underground, and traffic and parking will return to normal. On the surface, a water tank will be located on the planting strip on 20th Ave. A generator and pump control facility will be located on the planting strip on McGraw.

The pumps will operate 24/7 until the water table has been lowered sufficiently and the underground work is complete. When dewatering is no longer needed, all the above-ground equipment will be removed.

For more info, contact ST Community Outreach — Rhonda Dixon at ulink@soundtransit.org or (206) 391-3966.

Montlake Lid: Reconnecting a divided neighborhood or RH Thomson revisited?

SR 520 Arboretum interchange and the R.H. Thomson ramps-to-nowhere. Image: Montlaker

For better or worse, Montlake’s name is tied to Seattle’s Freeway Revolt and the long, slow death of the R.H. Thomson Expressway. Motivated to stop a massive interchange in the Arboretum (and the demolition of 1000+ homes in Lake City, Wedgwood, Ravenna, the Central District, Rainier Valley — and Montlake), residents here organized with other community leaders to defeat the project. In no small part, their work set the precedent for future freeways to include landscaped lids through residential areas. After building lids for Mercer Island, Mount Baker and now Medina, WSDOT is giving Montlake the fruits of its own activism — a new lid over 520.

With the Seattle community design process well under way and a neighborhood design meeting next week, it’s worth having a look at the other freeway lids around the region: Mercer Island, Mount Baker and Medina.

I-90 Mercer Island Lid (~2800 feet). Image: Google Earth

I-90 Mount Baker Lid (~2200 feet). Image: Google Earth

S.R. 520 Evergreen Point Lid (~500 feet long), now under construction in Medina. Image: WSDOT

The 520 Evergreen Point Lid is one of three ~500-foot-long lids (also at 84th & 92nd NE) currently under construction on the Eastside. These new lids follow the precedent of those on I-90: they reconnect severed residential areas with open space and local roads, and they buffer noise and pollution from the freeway. Done right, lids can perform urban alchemy, turning a freeway liability into a neighborhood asset.

Can the same be said of WSDOT’s design for the Montlake Lid? Here are the two options currently under consideration, the “Baseline” plan and “Option A.”

Montlake Lid “Baseline” plan. Image: WSDOT

Montlake Lid “Option A” plan. Image: WSDOT

For comparison, the Montlake lid would be 1400 feet long — shorter than Mercer Island and Mount Baker but close to the combined length of the new Eastside lids (~1500 feet). However, the plan for Montlake is different because the lid (in both options) is surrounded with freeway ramps on its three accessible sides. While Mercer Island, Mount Baker and Medina are crossed by a few local streets, the Montlake Lid functions as a massive interchange.

There is concern in Seattle that WSDOT’s plan for Montlake creates an open space that is difficult to get to and isolated by a moat of heavy traffic – not unlike the UW Triangle between the hospital and Husky Stadium. As Jane Jacobs pointed out during the era of the Thomson Expressway, residential parks surrounded by out-of-scale roads will inevitably fail. People are not likely to cross all those lanes of freeway ramps to play between the traffic.

If the point of capping 520 is to reconnect severed neighborhoods, WSDOT’s design process has so far failed to produce a successful plan. Even if the goal is just to create a usable park – this lid still falls short. Lacking bold ideas and a willingness to think big, we will have returned to the 1960s vision of the Thomson interchange in the Arboretum – just with more expensive grass between the ramps:

Photomontage of the R.H. Thomson / S.R. 520 interchange in the Washington Park Arboretum (never built). Image: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW9161.

If all parties can look past their failures — WSDOT’s unusable lid design, Montlake’s fight against “extraordinary gigantism,” and the City’s blind eye to both — we might still find the energy needed for urban alchemy.