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Big legal decision supports finishing the Burke-Gilman Missing Link

The conclusion from the Hearing Examiner’s decision (PDF)

The Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail won a huge legal decision today, with the Seattle Hearing Examiner deciding that SDOT’s environmental study and findings was adequate.

After completion of an enormous environmental impact study for the short stretch of missing trail, the legal path for trail opponents was already tough. This decision affirms that trail opponents have all but exhausted their legal arguments after 20 years of planning, debate and court battles.

While I am still waiting for the first shovel to hit the ground before celebrating, today is a big day and the result of an enormous amount of work and advocacy by a lot of people. It’s also a big day for the hundreds of people who have crashed and been significantly injured while trying to navigate the missing section.

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The city’s current trail design is the result of a compromise design process that included businesses concerned about the trail, an attempt to avoid further legal action and finally build this section. Even though some businesses sued to stop the trail anyway, the city continued with the compromise design process, anyway. The result of that process, which addresses many of the freight movement worries voiced by opponents, is still the city’s plan.

The day we can finally stop arguing about the Missing Link may have just gotten a lot closer.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien, Chair of the Transportation Committee and longtime supporter of the trail, praised the decision in a statement and said he hopes to see Mayor Jenny Durkan and SDOT take “quick action” to begin construction:

“At last we can move forward to complete the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail.  I’m excited to finally see this project through to fruition with an alignment that makes sense for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and trucks.  I look forward to Mayor Durkan and SDOT taking quick action to complete the Burke-Gilman, providing a safer pedestrian and bicycle connector between Fremont and the Ballard Locks.”

Cascade Bicycle Club, which has been a major force behind the trail for many years, sent this press release:

Press release at a glance:

  • Decision affirms the extensive, multiyear Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that received over 4,500 public comments, of which 77% of the respondents supported building the Burke-Gilman Trail on the City’s preferred route.
  • With this decision the City of Seattle has the authority to move forward and complete the Missing Link.
  • The vision to complete the trail in time for the 50th anniversary of the start of the Burke-Gilman Trail moves forward with strong Ballard community support.
  • With designs for the Missing Link nearly complete, Cascade Bicycle Club and our Ballard partners call on Mayor Durkan and City Council to move forward on construction in early 2018 for completion of the Missing Link by 2019.

SEATTLE, Wash. January 31, 2018 – Cascade Bicycle Club releases its statement on today’s Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision affirming the adequacy of the Missing Link Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

“Today’s decision affirms decades of hard work, dedication and compromise from an incredible variety of community members. Now more than ever we have a clear path forward to realize a 50-year vision of a completed Burke-Gilman Trail,” said Richard Smith, executive director of Cascade Bicycle Club.

Many, including Friends of the Burke-Gilman Trail, Ballard landowners and businesses, the Ballard Farmers Market, as well as a host of Ballard industrial businesses have come together in a commitment to design and build a trail that is safe and predictable for everyone. Over the past 18 months, thousands of caring neighbors and businesses weighed in on the EIS and subsequent design process saying they want to ‘Complete the Missing Link.’ During the EIS comment process alone, 77 percent of the 4,500 respondents indicated a preference to locate along the preferred alternative, which runs along NW 45th St., Shilshole Ave. NW and NW Market St.

For almost two decades the process has been held up by a minority of businesses located on a small section of Shilshole Ave. NW. These businesses have sought to delay the process by using money to delay and then delay more. In 2009 and 2012, these few businesses sought the city to conduct an EIS process. After a series of lengthy and costly appeals, the city agreed to conduct a full EIS in 2013. Since the EIS’s publication in May 2017, a small number of parties appealed the EIS. Today’s decision ends this pattern of delay.

“My family has lived and worked in the fishing industry in Ballard since the 1920s, and I live on the Burke-Gilman Trail next to the railroad tracks,” said fisherman and Ballard business owner Jim Riggle. “The public safety improvements that will be made when the trail is completed will not just benefit trail users, they will benefit everyone, including those businesses, their drivers and their customers.”

This dangerous corridor has suffered from a lack of safety improvements for decades. The results are conditions that from 2014 to 2016 resulted in an average of two Seattle Fire Department emergency responses each month, and untold additional unreported crashes and injuries (Missing Link EIS, Transportation Discipline Report, p. 4-38).

“In August 2014 I crashed on the Ballard Terminal Railroad tracks along the Missing Link and broke my wrist, which has resulted in multiple costly surgeries,” said Jessica Dickinson. “I’ve dealt with chronic pain for two years, and the ongoing care has cost me thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. The experience was traumatic and I avoid the Missing Link at all costs. I can’t understand why others oppose making the Missing Link safer.”

The Missing Link project investments proposed by the City of Seattle now include design features that go beyond the trail’s construction. Consider the following:

  • Benefits all users. At the January 19 City Council Transportation briefing, Interim SDOT Director, Goran Sparrman, who has been away from this project for several years, commented to City Council that he is impressed how the project now incorporates design elements that benefits all users, including walkers, trucks, bicycles, and cars. This includes a newly redesigned intersection for NW 54th St so that freight and business access is improved. It also includes the construction of at least three new traffic signals to reduce intersection delays and make safer crossings for all users.
  • Improves conditions for old and new Ballard. Seattle and its neighborhoods are growing. With more people moving into Ballard, investments in safe transportation options are needed. In addition to serving one of the most-used active transportation corridors in the region, the project is now designed to improve driveways and intersections for trucks and cars.

This decision clears the way for implementing this long overdue project. Mayor Durkan has overwhelming support from Ballard businesses and neighbors for this investment in the Ballard neighborhood that will improve freight mobility, safety and access for people walking and biking.

Ballard neighbors and businesses want to move forward on completing the Missing Link. Cascade Bicycle Club and our many partners call on Mayor Durkan and City Council to move forward on construction of the Missing Link in early 2018 so that it can open in 2019.

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18 responses to “Big legal decision supports finishing the Burke-Gilman Missing Link”

  1. Damon

    Oh, thank goodness.

    At the Peddler event last week, there were a few very vocal opponents of the Shilshole route. Now we’ll see what they do, and what Durkan does.

    I’ve been commuting on the Missing Link for 8 years. I’ll be changing jobs a year from now. I’d appreciate the humor if I’m no longer making that commute in a year, and the opponents stalled it just long enough that I get to experience the construction pain but not then the commute benefit.

  2. Kirk

    Oh, we’ve been here before. Several times, right? Won’t the Ballard Obstructionists still appeal the hearing examiner’s ruling? Why is it assumed this isn’t headed to King County Superior Court? I’m pretty sure that’s the next step, as we have learned oh so many times over the last two decades. I’m curious why no one discussed this aspect. Is it not an option this time?

    1. Law Abider

      IANAL, but I’m pretty sure once the EIS process is complete, lawsuits regarding environmental impacts pretty much are null and void (that’s a major the point in SEPA/NEPA/EIS).

      Sure the Obstructionists could sue for something else, but unless they pull something unique out of their back pocket, the lawsuits would probably get dismissed before going to court.

      1. Kirk

        They’re going to appeal to Superior Court the hearing examiner’s finding that the EIS was adequate. Hopefully that will be the end of the line, as long as the KCSC judge rules in favor of the city. Then the EIS process will be complete. It sounds like the city is so confident that they would win in SC that they are going to proceed before that happens.

      2. Law Abider

        Having worked on SEPAs and EISs (EIS is a more intense study mandated by SEPA), I’m under the impression that once the environmental document is complete, there has been ample time (120 days) and multiple rounds (2 rounds for simple SEPA, not sure for EIS) for comments and challenges.

        Once they have been deemed complete, the process is over. The process is very well codified, so challenging that the document and its process is inadequate is a nonstarter (again, IANAL and the challenging process is less clear to me because I’ve never had a completed SEPA/EIS challenged).

        Note that they CAN still challenge it after the fact, but the cost is pushed to the challenger and it is NOT cheap (thousands of dollars) and the chance of success is slim to none, especially with the arguments they are likely to present.

        From what I understand, the only valid challenges are that not all available information or evidence was available or considered in making the determination of non-significance. I’m pretty sure Seattle did its due diligence in considering everything there was to consider.

        Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t get a clueless judge similar to the one that forced the full EIS in the first place…

      3. Kirk

        What’s being “celebrated” by this blog post is the winning of the first round of the challenge to the EIS. The EIS WAS challenged AFTER it was completed. That’s what this is all about.

        The hearing examiner ruled in favor of the city, essentially saying the EIS was sound. Any hearing examiner ruling can be appealed to superior court. That’s the next step and one that the Ballard Obstructionists have already promised to take.

  3. Jort

    Much in the same way that the Mariners were purposefully designed to never go to the World Series, I worry that, so too, will there never be completion of the Burke Gilman trail Missing Link.

    For the life of me, I don’t understand why Seattle is so fundamentally attached to their “Seattle Process” for every single civic action.

    You know what Seattle politician I would vote for? The one that gets a backhoe and starts constructing the trial IMMEDIATELY, and then deals with the fallout later.

    Other cities around the world have managed to find ways to streamline public projects so that a small, isolated, tiny, crybaby whiny child group of 10 or 12 people can’t fucking stall every single project that hurts their god damn feelings. When is Seattle going to grow up and be a big boy city that can just get these simple things FUCKING DONE.

    God this shit is just unbelievably fucking infuriating. Just go out and BUILD IT NOW. JUST FUCKING DO IT.

    1. Dylan

      That’s this country, sadly. If people don’t like something, they just sue everyone involved. Then nothing gets done and huge amounts of money go down the drain

  4. Dave

    I was excited – until I saw the accompanying related post link “Hearing Examiner approves ‘Missing Link’ completion yet again” – from 2011. That decision was of course appealed to King County Court.

    1. Kirk

      Ah, I miss those good ole days back in 2011 when the route was going to follow the rail line on 54th. And I miss the good ole days way back in *1996* when the Missing Link was finally about to be completed.

  5. Ballard Resident

    On what basis can a court stop the city from improving streets, parking and sidewalks? The city should start building it now. Isn’t the design at %100?

    1. Kirk

      Ballard Resident, you can catch up here on the three decades of obstruction.

      Essentially a small group has sued on various grounds regarding “safety” of the project and the process of the project.
      In this case they will appeal the hearing examiners ruling to the King County Superior Court. They will argue that the hearing examiner was incorrect in finding the EIS was sufficient. It is their last hope, unless of course the judge at the KCSC rules in their favor and overturns the hearing examiner. Then the cycle starts all over again. This has been going on for years.

      1. Ballard Resident

        I know the history. At this point what court action would stop the project? Cities have a duty to provide safe streets and sidewalks. The examiner acknowledged the current conditions are not safe. There was a recent court case in which a bicyclist sued a city of Port Orchard and the city settled after appellate judges ruled the city has a duty to maintain road, even for cyclists.

        The businesses can sue but the city could move forward unless there was an injunction. What basis do they have?


      2. Kirk

        In this case they will appeal the hearing examiners ruling to the King County Superior Court. They will argue that the hearing examiner was incorrect in finding the EIS was sufficient

  6. […] Stranger, Seattle Bike Blog, Curbed and Erica C. Barnett report on the Hearing Examiner’s decision yesterday affirming […]

  7. Law Abider

    “Even though some businesses sued to stop the trail anyway, the city continued with the compromise design process, anyway.”

    Am I missing something?

    The Obstructionists and Seattle reached a compromise, which would have resulted in a sub-optimal route, but avoided a lawsuit. The Obstructionists backed out of the compromise, and despite the fact that Seattle has now checked all the legal boxes to go back to building the original path, Seattle is STILL going forward with the sub-optimal route?

    1. Kirk

      Yes, exactly. The city should build on 54th.

  8. Justin Hansen

    I’m disappointed to see the construction timeline get pushed back per this document on the SDOT missing link webpage: https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/BikeProgram/BGT/BGT_DAC9_Presentation_2018-0201_FINAL_WEB.PDF
    I haven’t seen any discussion as to why construction isn’t scheduled to begin until October. Anyone know what’s driving this?

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