LAKE FOREST PARK — Neighbors along Bothell Way Northeast are making last-ditch attempts to protect their green hillsides from a Sound Transit bus lane project, which they say will make traffic even noisier.
The big agency will excavate a wider roadbed to support its Stride S3 line from Woodinville to Bothell, Kenmore and Lake Forest Park, connecting to light-rail next to I-5, at the Shoreline South/148th Station. The $250 million project, approved by voters in 2016, is expected to open in 2027.
“This will remove 490 trees, deforesting Bothell Way in the city. Also it will widen the road, shifting it west, cutting into the properties of 110 residents,” says the neighborhood group LFP CORE.
The exclusive 1.2-mile bus lane through Lake Forest Park should save two minutes and 20 seconds per northbound trip on average, and 10 minutes in severe congestion, transit staff say. A southbound bus lane already exists.
Transit board member David Baker of neighboring Kenmore considers the debate closed.
“There was full disclosure on this. I can’t tell you how many meetings Sound Transit has had with Lake Forest Park. And for a group of homeowners to now, this far in, to start with these complaints is pretty amazing,” Baker said.
Residents say it was Sound Transit who changed the project midstream.
In late 2020, the agency flipped its land condemnation strategy. Instead of expanding the east lakefront side of the roadway, requiring nine full property buyouts, officials decided to carve the west uphill side of the highway. This takes narrow strips from many residential lots, which will be girded by concrete retaining walls.
“This will destroy the character of Lake Forest Park, turning our city entry into a concrete corridor,” said resident Vicki Scuri, a leading critic.
Neighbors picked an unlucky time to fight Sound Transit. Its 18-member governing board was lectured in March by outside experts that they should reject requests by local cities more often in the interest of keeping megaprojects on time and on budget.
On the other hand, tree-protection is a celebrated cause as climate studies extol the health benefits of shade, and highlight its absence within lower-income ethnic neighborhoods. Sound Transit withstood an uproar in 2019 over plans to fell 5,400 trees along the Northgate-Lynnwood light-rail corridor, to be replaced by 21,000 younger or smaller trees.
Sound Transit denied Lake Forest Park’s request in December for a 90-day pause to rethink the design. Yet in March, the board granted Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s request for 60 days more to weigh South Lake Union train-station sites that would either block traffic, or encroach on buried fiber-optic lines.
Lake Forest Park Mayor Jeff Johnson said the so-called West Shift was unveiled during the pandemic, which hindered public knowledge and feedback until recently. “It’s finally hitting, that it does affect Lake Forest Park more than other communities. People get shocked.”
He said the city supports transit and the bus lane construction is inevitable. “Can we make it better? For everyone.”
Continuous bus lane
Neighbors say Sound Transit should reduce its footprint by canceling the full bus lane along Bothell Way, also known as state Highway 522, in favor of short “queue jump” pockets, where buses leapfrog clogged intersections and get a green light before other traffic.
Stride passengers would still reap two-thirds of the average 2.3-minute time savings of a full bus lane, the group says.
The agency replies the whole S3 project is projected to reduce transit travel times more than 15 minutes from Shoreline to Bothell. “Each improvement along the 9-mile corridor contributes to performance of this regional high capacity transit project,” said spokesperson John Gallagher.
Sound Transit isn’t pursuing any bus-lane widening on Northeast 145th Street, which runs east-west along the Seattle-Shoreline border, because that requires buying and demolishing too many houses, , Baker said.
In Lake Forest Park, where median household incomes are near $140,000, detractors say the S3 plan is a breach of equity.
“It’s the only area that’s primarily single-family homes. That’s the big difference,” said Scuri. “If you go north to Kenmore and Bothell, it’s more commercial and retail. So they already have large parking lots, and there’s very little acquisition going on there.”
Paula Goode, owner of historic Sheridan Market and Roadhouse, said though she’s on the lakeshore side, construction would block one of her two driveways. She worries that work along a potential 25-foot strip may cause catastrophic soil slides behind the building, where a ravine surrounds Bsche’tla Creek, next to Lake Washington.
Can’t drive 35 mph
A fallback option would be to lower the 40 mph speed limit to 35, neighborhood advocates say. Doing so might enable the Washington State Department of Transportation to approve 10-foot general traffic lanes instead of the planned 11-foot lanes, and maybe thinner shoulders.
“You’re saving about 4 feet,” said Phillip Hill, city administrator.
WSDOT did agree to 35 mph for Highway 522 in Kenmore, following a speed-data study in late 2022. Portions of Aurora Avenue North, another joint state-city thoroughfare, also operate at 35 mph or even 30 mph to carry out Seattle’s road-safety initiative.
Lake Forest Park hasn’t made a formal speed-lowering request. The corridor’s limited driveways and side streets, and high prevailing speeds, are factors that discourage changing the 40 mph limit, said WSDOT spokesperson James Poling.
As Sound Transit approaches 90% design completion in June, the city is rushing to draft a retaining wall design ordinance to tame S3’s concrete slabs as high as 16 feet.
“This thing is going to have graffiti on it, by the time the concrete cures,” resident Al Horn said at a public hearing last week. For proof, look at the mess inside WSDOT’s exit tunnel from I-5 to Highway 522 a few miles away, he said.
One benefit of cutting the west hillside is it makes space for 10 feet of sidewalks and plantings on the northbound side of the road. The stroll will be noisy. During a midday walk, Goode’s sound meter flashed 80 decibels, and she says sometimes it hits 85 to 90 dB, an unhealthy level.
“The sound is awful,” Scuri said. “But what they’re doing with putting in the wall is make a big reflector, so there’s going to be more sound, for everybody.” A new noise study is needed, she said.
Scuri knows the territory. Her profession is to artistically design transportation walls across the country, including the rope motif and geometric patterns along I-5 in Tacoma, as well as colorful panels to dampen train noise at Sound Transit’s elevated South Bellevue Station.
Lake Forest Park is now grasping at vines, hoping that a layer of foliage can deter sound waves and spray paint.
The city asks for native, drought–tolerant species that do not require irrigation, and climb fast enough to cover 30% of walls within three years.
Sound Transit replies that there is no Pacific Northwest vine species which can survive this “urban application” along the roadside, though Boston ivy or Carolina creeper may work.
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