The previous blog debunked Sound Transit claim that bus rapid transit (BRT) would not meet their transit requirements for I-90 Bridge. This post identifies problems with the way they’ve dealt with the environmental aspects of their East Link program.
Sound Transits attitude regarding East Link environment damage is typified by their FEIS response to my question, EL530-1, concerning their failure to consider options that would have eliminated environmental damage along the route: “Your opposition to the East Link Project has been noted”.
Part of their approach probably stems from the fact that ST, not the state EPA, decides whether East Link meets the state environmental protection agency (SEPA) requirements. However, ST has to comply with federal environmental law that protects parks, recreational areas, waterfowl and wildlife refuges. It states such properties cannot be adversely affected unless (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative, and (2) the project minimizes the impacts as much as possible. Note the law requires project satisfy not (1) or (2) but both. Thus potential environmental damage only becomes a factor if there is no “feasible” and “prudent” alternative that avoids the damage.
A bus rapid transit system (BRT) is a feasible and prudent alternative for East Link that would have negligible environmental impact. The fact ST never seriously considered BRT for East Link should be sufficient grounds to deny them federal environmental approval.
Regarding the BBB tunnel alternative, the criteria the Inter-Agency Team ST used to “ scope” the various alternatives for further studies didn’t even include any assessment of the potential environmental impact of the various alternatives (Lines 7- 12 on page 4). Thus, It’s no surprise the “tunnel alternative”, the Segment B alternative that eliminated the environmental devastation from South P&R through Bellevue, was not “advanced to the board”. It also raises the question as to how ST concluded the tunnel alternative wasn’t “prudent” if the board had never studied it.
ST complains the Plaintiffs “did not comment on the draft EIS and did not advance a tunnel alternative in Segment B”, and “did not use the comment process to present any evidence or facts as to why a tunnel alternative should be considered”. However, during that period the Plaintiffs were hoping alternative surface route B7 or B7R which would have eliminated their concerns would be selected. Once those alternatives were eliminated the Plaintiffs only option was to advocate for the “tunnel” (or BRT) to protect their neighborhood.
It isn’t clear if ST is using the delay in the BBB filing as a basis to deny their claim. ST does attempt to exclude the tunnel because “voter-approved financing for East Link did not include a tunnel for any portion of the corridor”. However, ST recently decided to use a tunnel for the Central Link extension from the University Station to Northgate that also wasn’t included in voter approved funding. This decision would seem to negate both ST claims and raise questions about their other “tunnel” concerns.
The ST filing makes a major point that federal environmental law (NEPA) only requires them to (1) provide “detailed information concerning significant environmental impacts when it makes its decisions; and (2) to guarantee that this information will be available to a larger audience.” Presumably ST Environmental Impact Statements (DEIS and FEIS) was their attempt to meet those requirements. Typical of ST, both documents were, to put it mildly, “deficient”.
The 7/15 post, “East Link’s Real Environmental Impact” details the environmental damage resulting from current ST proposal. The post explains how East Link will result in several billion being spent on a transportation system which will devastate the area along the route into Bellevue, eventually result in gridlock on the I-90 Bridge, and do absolutely nothing to ease congestion on 405 and I-90 corridor.
The post concludes: Only an organization so oblivious to environmental reality as Sound Transit would put the following claim in their EIS: "The East Link Project would also offer environmental improvements over the No Build Alternative".
In conclusion, during my 36 years as a Boeing engineer I was involved in hundreds of studies involving various solutions to sometimes very complex problems. In engineering parlance, this would be a “no-brainer”. Hopefully lawyers will come to the same conclusion.