The crushing progress of Lynnwood Light Rail

A childhood home is ground up in the teeth of Sound Transit's beautiful beast.
The author's grandmother, Linda Woodruff.

The author's grandmother, Linda Woodruff. Photo: Ashley Bergeson

The author's childhood home sits cozily along the I-5 corridor.

The author's childhood home sits cozily along the I-5 corridor. Photo: Ashley Bergeson

At long last, the city notorious for thick-as-peanut-butter traffic is getting a streamlined train to transport folks along the 1-5 corridor. Reactions range from elation to outrage; the discussion on both sides seeming to center on cost, timeline, and traffic relief.

But what of those who stand, quite literally, in the way?

Like, my family. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not against it. As a fourth-generation native, I have a deep love for my city, and want its arterials to be the best they can be. It’s just — they are taking our house.

The home I grew up in will be demolished by order of the city; chewed by heavy machinery and left for dead, to make room for the lauded light rail.

I remember the day we got the news. A soil surveyor was poking around with his tools a few yards west of our house, a narrow strip of land that separates us from the ever-humming interstate. It is overrun with blackberry brambles and ivy, tangled around a handful of tree trunks.

My grandmother, Linda Woodruff, who currently owns and inhabits the property, assumed he was a city maintenance worker, there to trim back the overgrowth. When she went out to thank him for thus, he corrected her.

“No, ma’am, I’m here for the light rail — we’re testing the soil. It’s going to be coming through here,” he said.

She repeated the words to me, later that day, while I pulled weeds in her spacious backyard. We’re both avid gardeners, and her yard is a 40-year work of art in progress. I responded with optimism – maybe had she misunderstood, or perhaps the rail track could fit between her 3-story 1950’s-era brick house and the edge of the highway.

But no amount of wishful thinking made a dent in the facts: In three years, my family’s physical embodiment of home will be gone. And not only ours, but a slew of other houses, apartments, churches and businesses – all in the name of progress.

It’s not the first time that the city of Seattle has felt growing pains such as these. When Interstate 5 came through, residents in the way became familiar with the terms ‘eminent domain’ and ‘property acquisition.’

Oddly, however, an archive search of news via the Seattle Times yielded no articles relating to the relocation of the hundreds of families who had the unlucky lot of being in the corridor path. It seems to be much the same with the Link Light Rail.

Most articles center on the tax increases, politics and how it will change the way the city gets around. But as the track will run along the 1-5 corridor, one of the most populated parts of the city, it stands to affect hundreds upon hundreds of citizens and businesses.

On the city’s designated Light Link Rail website, a tiny link will take you to “Lifecycle of a Typical Project,” which gives readers an idea of how a project of this size is tackled by those who plan and execute it.

An even tinier bubble of text, in the “Final Stages” section, says “Obtain Permits. Acquire Property.” Four words that, for most, are as trivial and trite as “system testing” or “groundbreaking.” We all have an idea of these terms, but for the percentage of us who purchased houses in the wrong line, it has a gut-wrenching effect.

Nearby neighbors Fred and Anne Thompson, whose personal property will not be materially affected, say they worry about how the nearby massive transit expansion will change the value of their home. Next-door inhabitants Bobbi and Jerry Zimmerman are less adaptable.

“When construction starts, we’re moving,” said Bobbi Zimmerman, who has shared the house just east of my family’s for the last 35 years. As the city plans to take two or three yards of their property, on an already modest-sized lot, it is likely the house will remain uninhabited after the project is underway.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 6:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Interesting article, Ashley.

A few things I am curious about:
Do you feel adequately compensated for the property? Would you care to divulge how much they paid?

The neighbors who are worried about "nearby massive transit expansion (that) will change the value of their home" do realize they currently live next to I-5, don't they? I could not imagine the property value being more adversely affected than that.
In fact a nearby light-rail station would probably increase the property value.

How long was this house actually in your family (you say you are fourth generation, but that house looks like a 50's rambler maybe).
Even saying you 'grew up in the house' does not give any real indication since you could be rather young (as evidenced by your grandma who also looks to be only in her 50's).

Personally I can see this working out to the benefit of all. Your family could find a quieter place to live (assuming fair compensation), and your grandmother's garden would not be subject to all the nasty air pollution along the I-5 corridor. Make sure you help her move those plants!

jeffro

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

The article says the house is a 50's era brick house, but so what? Your question seems to suggest that the writer lies (how long was this house actually in your family (you say you are fourth generations, but that house looks like a 50's rambler maybe). You guess at the grandma's age, yet you probably saw it on a computer screen and really could have no clue from that. And these comments seem to suggest that it's no big deal if those people lose the home 4 generations have enjoyed and a garden that's a 40 year work of art.

You chirpily decide for them, with no input from them and ignoring quote from grandma, that they will benefit by losing this property because they could find a quieter place to live--what if they don't want one and are happy where they are? And the garden won't be subject to all the nasty air pollution? Are you kidding? Perhaps you are unaware that gardens, especially trees, are instrumental in cleaning our air of pollution, and it sounds like the garden may be destroyed, not preserved. Furthermore, it's expensive and sometimes not possible to move long- and well-established plants.

This rail line, like the horrible train in south Seattle, will create a noisy (noisier) wasteland where once people enjoyed their homes. Rah, rah, rah.

mspat

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate


In fact a nearby light-rail station would probably increase the property value.

Don't you read the news? The data from the King County assessor’s office show residential properties within several blocks of light rail stations have not risen due to light rail. Indeed, they've done worse than elsewhere in the city.

Here are three residences within four blocks of the Othello St. light rail station. Those properties’ values now only are at about the same level as they were in 2005, which is three years before light rail began operating there:

4421 S FRONTENAC ST -- it is worth less than in 2004

4609 S ORCHARD ST-- it is worth less than in 2005

4614 S GARDEN ST -- it is worth less than in 2005

In contrast, residential property values in other parts of the region that are nowhere near light rail stations have done far better than that over the same period.

Maybe you only are referring to how large commercial property developers get even richer when light rail stations are put in proximate to their holdings? Sound Transit's financing plan is based on sales of mountains of long-term debt, secured by intergenerational impositions of heavy sales taxes. Wallace Properties, Kemper Development Company, Wright Runstad – their shareholders get richer from Sound Transit's undertakings, not homeowners.

crossrip

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 11:24 a.m. Inappropriate

I do not think you could compare a house that is already adjacent to an extremely loud major arterial (I-5) to one that was in a quieter neighborhood to begin with.
While I appreciate your examples, they are not really good comparisons.

jeffro

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 9:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Wonderful article Ashley! There is a possibility that you could actually move the house - this was done quite often in the late 1950s to early 1960s when the freeway came through Seattle.

A May 26th 1957 article from the Seattle Times; written by Ross Cunningham, Associate Editor; stated that "$45,000,000 worth of property" was to be acquired for the construction of the "Tacoma-Seattle-Everett freeway." This involved 3,873 parcels of real estate, then the largest "property-acquisition program, dollarwise," undertaken in the state. The article goes on to detail the procedure for condemnation. Things moved faster then, but the process is probably not very different.

It looks as though there were meetings on the Northgate Light Rail Extension in May of 2013. Here is a link to those documents: http://www.soundtransit.org/Projects-and-Plans/Northgate-Link-Extension/Northgate-Link-Extension-document-archive

I certainly hope that your grandmother received notification of these meetings. It seems that maybe notification from Sound Transit wasn't very clear. No one should have to find out that their house is at risk by happenstance.

Good luck to your family.

Tracy Tallman

lacquer

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

The west side of Mercer Island has many homes that were moved there in the 1960's from Seattle when I-5 was being built. It's called "East Seattle".

House moving companies exist today, and houses can be moved by truck bed or even by boat. It's actually kind of romantic to see a house on a barge moving up the lake or the Sound ...

Posted Thu, Jan 9, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course, it was called East Seattle long before I-5...

Posted Thu, Jan 9, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Sure, and East Seattle even had ferry service and a resort. None of that is there any more, which also illustrates that change happens.

My grandparents former home in Bellevue is surrounded by condos and apartments. The house still stands, but believe me, I have no nostalgia for it, since the "it" that was their life there really doesn't exist any more.

Time marches on, and changes happen. We can't hold still.

Making great memories are part of how we deal with change, right?

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Great writing Ashley. I would like to point out a few things though. You mention "lack of outcry is because it feels pointless". Sound Transit has had several community meetings at this point, You couldn't miss the notices. I was at some of them, they were well attended. And your Grandmother has been contacted in writing about what's going on hasen't she? I do live in the area, and I find it hard to imagine any of this being a surprise to anyone.

And, the entire project is "dependent on future funding" (both local and Fed), and we all know what happens there LOL.

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Hell Ashley, the house I grew up in in Bellevue was torn down years ago to become a high rise. It didn't make me cry or whine, it was just a fact, and a reflection of Bellevue growing up and becoming a city instead of a bunch of strawberry farmers.

Life changes. Seattle and surrounding areas have grown exponentially in the last 60 years, which means many more job opportunities for the 3rd, 4th, 5th generations. Just be glad you can stay in the area close to your family to walk your way thru this world -- it wasn't always so in the Seattle region.

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 5:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit has condemned (or purchased after threats to condemn) several thousand properties. These acquisitions took those properties off the county tax rolls, pushing up taxes on the rest of the county's homeowners.

That's a hidden tax cost Sound Transit's activities are causing.

How much higher are the taxes this year on the average King County residential property due to those Sound Transit acquisitions?

crossrip

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 6:59 p.m. Inappropriate

People moved houses all the time in the 1930's, but a garden, that's something else. It sounds like a labor of love: beautiful and something shared as a family activity over time. So Ashley's sadness is appropriate and shouldn't be characterized as "whining".

And "crossrip" with a predictable and pointless tax rant, businesses spring up around rail lines, services locate at rail stops. Tax income will grow. Save the "outraged" huffing and puffing, it's annoying.

pslfp

Posted Mon, Jan 6, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Tax income will grow.

Scratching my head over this one . . . anyone think they can explain it?

Maybe that assertion just is meant to suggest the unaccountable board intends to grow its tax revenue confiscation plans as time goes by. Lord knows staff hasn't yet disclosed the extent of the preliminary tax revenue confiscation plans.

businesses spring up around rail lines, services locate at rail stops

Obviously posted by someone who doesn't want to acknowledge what can be seen by riding light rail here and looking out the windows.

The quarter-mile zones around all the stations south of Chinatown are some of the lowest property value, lowest rent, and lowest economic-activity areas in the city. Light rail activities have hurt those zones; they now are desolate.

Sound Transit's apologists are easy to spot. They refuse to acknowledge the very real negative externalities and they uniformly play stupid about even basic aspects of the aberrant financing plan.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh come on. You have no evidence that light rail caused any problems in Chinatown. You cite literally zero. You're just saying that. How about Beacon Hill... what's happening there? Columbia City? Othello?

Do you even ride light rail? I do, every single week, many times at multiple times of day. I see development at or near all the stations I mentioned. I see new businesses opening. And staying open. I see private developers adding apartments and condos and townhomes. Columbia City is riddled with them. Beacon Hill has them sprinkled all around. There's a new strip of businesses on Beacon Ave and more foot traffic on the surrounding streets. All happened with the introduction of light rail, rezones to accompany mass transit, etc. I know the owners of at least 2 businesses that benefit from the light rail, and explicitly use it as a selling point for their product (one, coffee, the other, houses)

nullbull

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4:32 p.m. Inappropriate

More graffiti and more crime too.

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 7:31 a.m. Inappropriate

This massive steel creature, backed by a city that voted yes, seems an insurmountable foe.

Completely wrong.

Nobody voted "yes" to the siting of any of Sound Transit's rail lines or stations. Nobody voted "yes" to the financing plan. Nobody voted "yes" for the concept of light rail instead of buses up by Lynnwood. Nobody voted "yes" on who would be on Sound Transit's board setting those legal policies -- and all others -- for that municipality.

The Sound Transit ballot propositions were referenced in three counties' voters guides. Apparently UW Journalism students aren't selected for reading comprehension skills.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Progress happens in fits and starts, it has trade-offs and costs, it has benefits, and it is always accompanied by some Risk. That's life.

I like reading about and talking to people who engage in this process. I don't like arguments against change that come unaccompanied by alternatives. There is always a reasonable-sounding reason to do nothing, but few people challenge skeptics with a simple question -

Compared to what?

Is there a way to build the light rail that does not involve demolishing some existing properties? How much does that cost? Should we simply do nothing and hope that the traffic will just go away. How about expanding I-5? How many houses will that destroy? How much more noise and pollution and property devaluation will that bring? Zero?

In my neighborhood we're getting some more density. It's been great, but then suddenly a rash of property was sold, much more than we initially thought, and now 600+ additional units are planned within 2 blocks of my house.

I don't know what this will bring. Will my property be devalued? Will there be enough parking? Will my street become a major thoroughfare?

But then... compared to what? Compared to the one-story business surrounded by ACRES of asphalt that is one of the sites? Or compared to the vacant lot littered with trash that was one of the others? I can't argue that the plan is much better than the current reality, and change is inevitable.

nullbull

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 12:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Well let's look at some of these inane questions:

"Is there a way to build the light rail that does not involve demolishing some existing properties?"

There is no good reason to build out the light rail line as it is being designed by Sound Transit's unelected board. Disagree? Try justifying it, in light of the tax costs and the negligible benefits it provides to 99% of the people forced to pay those tax costs.

"Should we simply do nothing and hope that the traffic will just go away."

Transit and light rail do not reduce traffic congestion. The most congested metropolitan area in the United States is Washington D.C., followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/02/05/worst_traffic_congestion_cities_in_america_dc_la_san_francisco_new_york.html

All have higher transit rider percentages than Seattle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._cities_with_high_transit_ridership

"How about expanding I-5? How many houses will that destroy?"

Nice straw-man argument. I-5 does not need to be expanded. Its capacity can be maximized by imposing modest tolls during rush hour, so users pay for the privilege. That would eliminate congestion by eliminating the trips drivers could make at other times. Near and under the state convention center the roadway could be re-striped to provide an additional lane. Government jobs should have staggered start times, as rush hour congestion around Seattle is disproportionately caused by public employees. Many state, federal and local government offices should be moved to Kent, Auburn, Burien, Federal Way, and Tukwila.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 1:36 p.m. Inappropriate

"Transit and light rail do not reduce traffic congestion. The most congested metropolitan area in the United States is Washington D.C., followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Boston."

So if there was no mass-transit or light-rail, the congestion in these cities would be the same if the population was unchanged?
That is the a very illogical argument at best.

jeffro

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 2:48 p.m. Inappropriate

It's an opinion. Just not one based on any reality.

Treker

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4:36 p.m. Inappropriate

No, transit doesn't reduce traffic congestion, in fact, by preventing new roads from being built, the transit agencies definitely have a hand in making traffic for vehicles worse.

More roads does equal more cars. But it also equals more people getting to and from work in a timely fashion, and the economic growth and diversity of those working people.

The rider cost per mile for Sound Transit is something like $44 per mile -- that is per person, each way. How is that acceptable to anyone?

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 3:55 p.m. Inappropriate

You're right, that's a total straw man to expand I-5. On the other hand where you implement tolling based on congestion and require all government jobs to arbitrarily relocate and change their work days to fit an easier commute... THAT'S a real argument?

I'm happy to justify in light of the costs and the benefits - we voted on it. Many times now. The parts that are being planned and built passed by a vote. That's my justification. More people thought it was a good idea than thought it was a bad idea.

nullbull

Posted Wed, Jan 8, 7:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm happy to justify in light of the costs and the benefits - we voted on it. Many times now.

The tax costs were not disclosed, or even hinted at. Moreover, the financing plan being developed is completely out of line with how the peers finance light rail. Let me guess -- you can't link to any Sound Transit document estimating the tax cost of securing the bonds. Am I right?

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Municipalities, states, feds have been building for a long time and using eminent domain. Nothing new here. We'll see how the light rail works out but my guess is that it will be a plus and folks will be glad it's available.

Things change - yea, yea. Get over it.

Voting on any alternative route? This idea that we need the public to vote on every friggin' decision made by government bodies is stupid. That's why we have representative government. Sheesh.

Treker

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 12:38 p.m. Inappropriate

We'll see how the light rail works out

Sound Transit is an unmitigated financial debacle. The unaccountable board of that powerful municipality is using abusive financing techniques designed to harm those with the least means the most. The routes those political appointees sited were meant to enrich a few urban property speculators (primarily three of them on the east side of the lake), and they provide little or no benefit to 99% of the individuals and entities targeted by the excessive regressive taxing.

The key problems with Sound Transit are the financing plan and the absence of enough density to justify the capital costs. Sound Transit relies on grossly excessive regressive taxing, and the long-term debt selling backed by heavy sales taxes is unlike any of the peers' methods for paying for buses and trains. Moreover, not nearly enough people both live and work within a couple of blocks of the few dozen light rail stations that would be part of this system.

Go ahead -- try justifying it in terms of the tax costs. Feel free to try identifying tangible benefits it might provide to the population here in whatever terms you want to quantify: economic, social, environmental, aesthetic . . . your choice. I double-dog dare you.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Holy crap. The benefit of any mass transportation system is simply that it would be worse without one. Yea, yea, Sound Transit can't be supported by ridership - no duh. Neither can Metro, the NYC subway system, or any other urban mas transit system. So what to do? What do you think would happen if NYC decided to eliminate their subway system for such juvenile logic?

Similarly Seattle is growing. Because of our geography there is no way to build more roads, and if you did they would fill up instantly and we're back to where we started. Does mass transportation solve all social, economic, and transportation ills - of course not. But the alternative is what exactly. Do nothing I suppose. Or I know, build the cut and cover - which is the unifying theory of transportation. Good grief.

Treker

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

No, no Trekker. Building bigger highways is just a "straw-man" according to crossrip. He has a real solution - arbitrarily change the location and schedule of every public employee in the region so that there are fewer cars on the road. Also tolling. We should move them all to South King County because apparently there's loads of open road out there.

nullbull

Posted Wed, Jan 8, 7:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Nobody's suggesting NYC should get rid of its subways. That's a ridiculous argument.

NYC didn't finance its subway system the way Sound Transit is paying for its capital costs. The bus and trains services operator there is the MTA. It does no taxing; the tax subsidies it receives don't impact people there heavily and they are set by elected representatives in Albany. Here a bunch of political appointees slam the lower middle class with heavy sales taxes and car tab taxes. Plus, NYC is easily dense enough to justify urban rail (unlike here).

Again, Sound Transit's apologists conveniently ignore realities and play stupid about its abusive financing plan.

Note how "Treker" failed to even attempt an estimate of the tax costs, and failed to try quantifying any benefits to the public subjected to this unprecedented and abusive regressive taxing.

Not sure exactly what "it" means in the first sentence there -- "traffic congestion during rush hour" maybe? There are ways of mitigating that, including tolling, staggering start hours of large employers, locating large public sector employers outside the downtown core, etc. that would be effective.

The "we need Sound Transit just as it is or we have to build more roads" meme is nonsense.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Jan 9, 4:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course it's a ridiculous argument. On par with locating public employees, where? Renton?

Oh - so if you are not as dense as NYC then rail makes no sense. Hmmmm. I think we should wait until Seattle gets as dense as Tokyo before thinking about rail transport. These are silly ideas - hey - how about Long-Term Planning as a concept.

Why the hell would you move public sector employees OUT of the downtown core where mass transportation works best??? That would mean even more cars on the road.

Sounds like you just don't like ST and like to rail about rails.

Lily32

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 2:15 p.m. Inappropriate

its called bottomless pit

salmonjim

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

name 5 transit projects under budget in our state.

salmonjim

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4:37 p.m. Inappropriate

They were all done before 1965. Back when responsibility and pride of work were the norm.

Posted Tue, Jan 7, 4:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Ashley, thank you for telling your story here. Very human.

n8

Posted Tue, Jan 14, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

I had these thoughts as I read the excellent article:

1. If the voters had the foresight to pass rail back in 1968, there would have been far less displacement, far lower costs, faster trains (see the Bay Area Rapid Transit for what could’ve been here), and perhaps a wider range of service, decades earlier, such as Bellingham to Olympia Rapid Transit, BORT. But, like politicians often do, they wait until a crisis before acting.

2. The “highway crowd” seemingly always wants more highway lanes. However, their homes aren’t typically in the path of where the extra lanes would go, and there are high costs in adding those lanes, which quickly fill up as soon as they’re built. It would sure be nice if an expert would publish what adding the equivalent highway lanes would cost so as to give us all a great comparison.

3. The media also never pushes the envelope to compare what was promised – and by who – vs. what was delivered and why the two are out of whack. For instance, Link is costing far more, we’re getting less than what was promised, and ridership is below the rosy estimates, but adding specificity – and what the higher costs are the equivalent of. Re: the “who voted for it,” they’re never held accountable, but it would be nice to “name names.” Chances are, most are in higher office or retired. And, naming the staff who analyzed and produced the proposal would be helpful, though chances are they’ve moved on, perhaps even retired. They’re smart enough to know that if your projections look rosy enough – and the politicians feast on “ridership,” even though it’s almost as inexact a science as “the economy” – the proposal will get approved by them as well as the voters, as nobody seriously revisits “the plan” to see how accurate it was. In fact, I’ve noticed that many in our society have lost any interest in debating issues, as head-nodding is far less controversial. When’s the last time, for instance, that we saw some contention challenged in a board meeting?

4. I feel for the people who are losing their homes and their pasts. They’re right, it is pointless to disagree, as public comment tends to be seen as an obligation on a checklist vs. something to take under consideration. That’s why there’s typically only 2 minutes to share one’s thoughts, not enough to make any solid points and not worth the trip to a daytime meeting. A public meeting is a bit less, but that’s an academic exercise (to wit: the results of one of the “preferred site” surveys of one re: this project weren’t mentioned by any official, as it countered their preferred station location…also, a viable option to rail – elevated busway – was ignored). An email dramatically lowers the cost, but how many public officials read those comments and take them under consideration? I’ve rarely heard a politician refer to a specific comment they received, usually it’s “in aggregate,” such as “we’ve received a lot of emails on the subject.” Lastly, the politicians of the applicable jurisdiction carry more weight than a member of the public does. I’ve rarely seen a board disagree with what a city wants or requests, even if the backing for those aren’t factual or are missing key details (aren’t objective). This was certainly true with this segment, where at least one jurisdiction skillfully did this to get their way. To this viewer, what resulted resembles backslapping at its finest and further soured my view of “the process.”

I wish you luck, Ashley!

bricsa

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »