On a trip to Central Washington a few years ago, King County Council member Joe McDermott learned something about freight, the Port of Seattle and its busy SoDo neighborhood during a conversation with a hay grower.
The farmer told McDermott that when he makes plans to truck his loads of hay to the port, he first checks the Mariners home schedule.
“He also considers potential attendance when he times his deliveries,” McDermott said by phone Tuesday. “That told me all I needed to know.
“The potential arena is not bringing us anything we didn’t know. But it’s time for these concerns to be addressed.”
Imagine if the Mariners ever became good again: Grazing animals around the world could go hungry. Maybe there’s a reason to keep Chone Figgins on the roster, after all.
Regarding the congestion problems around the site of a $490 million basketball/hockey arena proposed by Chris Hansen, it’s hard to know who or what to believe among the competing studies and anecdotes. The release last week of a traffic analysis, a four-week quickie done by an outside firm hired by the city and paid for by Hansen, said the vast majority of arena events would have little impact on the district’s problems already afoot and, well, a-car.
Predictably, the report was met by a hardy-har-har by the numerous parties opposing the location.
The study “doesn’t pass the straight-faced test,” said Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council. “I think this (arena proposal) was announced as a done deal by the mayor and the county executive. It would probably be way more surprising to see them come up with information now that casts doubt on their original conclusions.”
The question isn’t whether SoDo traffic isn’t often a mess. It’s how much worse it may become with an arena in use for 120-140 events a year. The answer isn’t as simple as saying that that the Port of Seattle closes most of its gates by 4:30 p.m., and most of the arena activity would be nights and weekends.
Ask the hay farmer. On 7 p.m. game nights, he probably wants his trucks in and out of Seattle by 2 p.m. That puts his trucks on Seattle streets earlier in the day, along with many other freight haulers packing a Mariners pocket schedule. The head-on conflicts aren’t the freighters’ problem; it’s the avoidance of head-on conflicts that gets them to town early and fills up streets, including the only quick east-west way to I-5 available to trucks: Atlantic Street/Edgar Martinez Way, Safeco Field’s southern boundary.
Here’s another little story about life in SoDo NoGo: Did you know that Metro buses no longer serve First Avenue South between Columbia and Lander streets, which is the front door of the stadiums?
Bus service was ended last fall because the preparations for the deep-bore tunnel dig that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct made traffic too difficult, according to Metro spokesperson Linda Thielke. The bus route was moved to Fourth Avenue, which isn’t terrible — unless you are walking in a downpour during autumn darkness.
Once the tunnel is operating in 2017 late 2015, the First Avenue route will return. In theory. The re-routing is called at the county “long-term temporary,” Thielke said. Isn’t that what is often said about increased health-care premiums?
These are the sorts of things that need to be handled with more than a cursory four-week study. Much as I want to see the return of the NBA, many of the arena advocates are presumptively dismissive of the potential headaches. I’m reminded of the TV commercials for beef jerky, “Messin’ With Sasquatch”: Mockery of some big fellas in this discussion can make them a tad obstinate.
Even Hansen told me in a recent interview that the traffic study he funded, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the mandatory full-blown environmental impact work, “is about a three.”
Which is, unfortunately, not nearly enough in the pursuit of facts that must come after the arena location was declared.
That’s why it was encouraging to see that McDermott, as chair of the county budget committee, appears to be serious in wanting more. McDermott announced Tuesday the names of what the county called “an independent panel of experts” who will take at least a couple of months to probably tell us a lot of what we know about SoDo, and maybe some things we have to know.
“These are professionals with a lot of experience in transportation, finance, real estate development and labor,” he said. “Everyone involved in this project is going to benefit from their review.”
The panelists were chosen from a field of people who were asked, among other things, if they might have a dog in the SoDo arena hunt.
“Some of those I approached said they or their firms might be involved, and could too easily be seen to have a conflict of interest,” McDermott said. “These people won’t have that problem. I’m very happy to have them.”
The seven panelists, all of whom are volunteering:
- Justin Marlowe, professor at the University of Washingtons Evans School who specializes in public financial management
- Steve Orser, urban developer
- Bill Beyers, UW geography professor
- Dick Conway, longtime local economist
- Tracey Thompson, secretary treasurer of Teamsters local 117
- Charlie Howard, transportation planning director for the Puget Sound Regional Council
- Doug MacDonald, former state secretary of transportation
Check out the links. Seems that the group has some comprehensive street cred when it comes to streets and all that is associated with them.
I know. Nobody wants to read more studies. Sorry. Can’t be helped. Hansen chose the site first, then asked permission. This is part of the deal, and he knows it.
To not give honest, objective consideration to all parties is to ram the project down throats, which just about guarantees the worst possible outcome — lawsuits.
Don’t want to see this project Sasquatched.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this column misstated the estimated date of the opening of the waterfront tunnel.