The crushing progress of Lynnwood Light Rail

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

As for Woodruff, she feels the most logical option is to get an apartment in a senior complex, but doesn’t really want to — and worries about finding a place willing to accommodate her two dogs.

“They don’t have yards, no outdoor space. You have people above and below you. I’m just not quite ready for that.”

Maybe the lack of outcry is because it feels pointless. This massive steel creature, backed by a city that voted yes, seems an insurmountable foe.

“Three generations have lived here. Hundreds of parties, years of holidays,” Woodruff said. “I feel sad about it, but I can't stop it. I know it has to happen. I just accept it.”

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