SDOT has gained permit approval to build the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail, though the project is not out of the woods yet. Litigation is ongoing and will continue into 2023. But the Shoreline Permit brings the trail one more step closer, and the official timeline calls for construction in the middle of 2023 if legal challenges are resolved in time. That is one of the longest-running “ifs” in Seattle transportation project history, as the city has been trying to build this connection for at least two decades.
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed 2023–24 budget includes $2.5 million for the redesign work needed for the new trail concept.
The permit (PDF) is a big deal because the Department of Construction and Inspections has confirmed SDOT’s assertion that the redesigned trail design is exempt from the State Environmental Policy Act and is legal under all other relevant development policies such as the Shoreline Management Act. The revamped design is a scaled back version of previous ambitious and high-budget designs, which have been held up in court for many years. By reducing the amount of space that is being repaved and significantly modified, SDOT says the project is no longer big enough to require environmental review under state law, which project appellants have successfully used to delay the project in court.
You can see details of the new design in our previous story. In short, the new design does not move the train tracks, does not restore two-way car traffic on NW 45th Street, and is a bit skinnier along Shilshole. It also trades some planned traffic signals for crosswalks. While some of those trade-offs are bummers, they are worth it if it finally gets the thing built.
But the legal fighting is not over. Appellants have 21 days from October 11 to appeal the decision to the State Shorelines Hearings Board, which we can pretty much assume will happen. There is also an ongoing case in King County Superior Court that is currently scheduled for trial March 20 (though these things have a way of getting pushed back). Hopefully the city’s arguments hold firm this time and we can finally build this damn trail already.
Meanwhile, people continue to crash on the unfinished section and get seriously injured. The longer this delay continues, the more people will be injured.