A group of Ballard businesses and unions has been working to complete the “Missing Link” section of the Burke-Gilman Trail (BGT) on a sensible and safe route for over 20 years.
The effort to complete the Missing Link in a safe and sensible location started in 1996 when the City Council adopted a Resolution (the Manning Resolution) locating the Missing Link on Leary Way Avenue to NW Market Street. This route connected the BGT from its current terminus at the intersection of 11th Avenue NW and NW 45th Street (on the east) with its last segment that begins again 30th Avenue NW at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (on the west) and runs to its terminus at Golden Gardens. The City Council unanimously (9-0) adopted the Manning Resolution.
Despite having broad consensus for locating the Missing Link on Leary and Market Street, a community group, the Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail (FoBG), started lobbying the City in 2001 to move it to Shilshole Avenue NW, thereby putting this recreational trail through the heart of Ballard’s working waterfront and maritime and industrial center. After years of intense lobbying efforts by the FoBG and over the opposition of labor, union and environmental groups alike, in 2003 the City Council, in a split vote (7-2), adopted another Resolution, moving the Missing Link to NW 45th Street and Shilshole Avenue NW.
Over the next several years, we have worked with the City Council to put the Missing Link back to its original location. Despite these efforts, in 2008, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) issued an environmental determination under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) indicating its decision to build the Missing Link on NW 45th Street and Shilshole Avenue NW. Beginning in 2008 and continuing through today, BBUG successfully challenged SDOT’s SEPA determination in multiple trials and hearings before the City’s Hearing Examiner and in King County Superior Court. In all of these actions, BBUG argued the Missing Link would be extremely unsafe if it is built on NW 45th Street and Shilshole Avenue. In 2012, the Hearing Examiner overwhelming agreed with BBUG and issued an Order directing SDOT to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to study whether it could safely build and locate the Missing Link in this location.
It took SDOT 4 years to complete the EIS, which it issued in the spring of 2016. Despite having spent so much time working on the EIS, SDOT completely failed to adequately study safety. The EIS contains only a single page dedicated to safety. The EIS also fails to study or discuss alternative designs to the Missing Link including protected bike facilities like the City is building throughout Seattle, including on Second Avenue downtown and on Westlake along Lake Union.
SDOT’s plan to building the Missing Link on Shilshole is extremely dangerous. The Missing Link in this area is an unprotected recreational sidepath. There are 55 industrial driveways along this portion of Shilshole Avenue NW – or one every 144 feet. Users of the trail will be subjected to unsafe conditions on a street with daily heavy industrial traffic and long delays as large trucks cross the trail. SDOT will remove many loading docks and driveways that the maritime and industrial businesses located along Shilshole Avenue NW depend on and thousands of union and family wage jobs will be threatened.
In addition to threatening public safety and jobs, SDOT’s proposal project to complete the Missing Link is ridiculously expensive: The City’s 2017 budget includes $31 million for this 1.5 mile recreational bike trail project. That is $20.6 million per mile. SDOT builds protected bicycle facilities, like the Westlake Cycle Track, for $1.3 to $1.6 million per mile. SDOT could build up to 24 miles of protected bicycle facilities elsewhere in the City for the same amount of money that it proposes to spend on the Missing Link.
This exorbitant investment in 1.5 miles of recreational bicycle trail in North Seattle exacerbates SDOT’s pattern of excessive spending on bicycle infrastructure that favors predominately white areas while largely ignoring communities of color. SDOT failed to apply the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative to the Missing Link project, even though it is intended to end institutionalized racism and race-based gaps in City government programs and spending.
As a practical matter, SDOT will not be able to construct the trail on Shilshole Avenue NW until at least 2025 because Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has already started building the combined sewer overflow (CSO) project to prevent sewage from overflowing into the Ship Canal during heavy rain in the exact same location SDOT proposes to construct the Missing Link. SPU has to build the CSO project under a consent decree with the US EPA. Construction on the CSO project will begin shortly and continue through 2025. If SDOT constructs the trail here, SPU will tear it out during the course of the CSO project, wasting millions of dollars.
The Leary Avenue and NW Market Street option will reduce the trail’s impact on working families, enhance safety for trail users, and save millions of dollars.