Emergency needs take priority on waterfront access

By Paul Archipley | Dec 18, 2013

The death of a man last month when a train struck him in Edmonds, leading to a complete cutoff of the waterfront for four hours, created a sense of urgency to find a way to provide emergency access in the event of future shutdowns.

On Tuesday, the City Council directed staff to make emergency access a priority as it works on an alternatives analysis for waterfront access, with an eye toward seeking state funding for a $2 million study of the issue.

The study covers four interlocking components: emergency access; at grade conflicts where Main and Dayton streets intersect the railroad tracks; pedestrian/bicycle access; and options to the Edmonds Crossing Multimodal Terminal project.

Some councilmembers wanted to extract the emergency access component and direct staff to put all of its effort into that issue.

“I’ve heard a lot of comments from citizens over the last year and a half from folks who are concerned about emergency access,” Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said.

“I’d would feel more comfortable if we could separate it out. We are talking about life and death.”

Councilmember Joan Bloom echoed that concern, suggesting that the overall study was ill-defined and could drag out the process too long.

“What happens if you have an emergency, a heart attack at Anthony’s, and you can’t get there?” Bloom asked. “We have no emergency access in our comprehensive plan.

“Yet we have this enormous study that is poorly defined.”

But staff warned that isolating the emergency access component would decrease the odds that the City could win state funding for its study.

Councilmember Strom Peterson emphasized that point.

If the City asks the state to fund a project that benefits only Edmonds, it wouldn’t likely find a sympathetic hearing in Olympia, he said.

“We have to make sure this is appealing and can get broad support,” Peterson said, “that we’re looking at this more globally.

“Transportation is never about one city. We can’t think they’re going to fund us just because we have a very real need.”

Councilmember Frank Yamamoto agreed.

“This is a business decision,” he said. “We don’t have the money.

“I’m all for emergency access. But to do that, we have to put together several items. Without us doing that, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

In addition, Acting Development Services Director Rob Chave said focusing on only one component could limit options for the others.

“The study itself isn’t necessarily a long time in coming,” Chave said. “My worry is you potentially lose opportunities by focusing on one narrow part.”

Public Works Director Phil Williams agreed.

“If you pick an emergency vehicle access-only project, it may obviate other problems,” Williams said. “It could make very difficult other projects that may solve more of the problems.”

Council President Lora Petso expressed concern that including other issues, such as options to the Edmonds Crossing Multimodal Project, could open the door to the state taking over planning, to the detriment of Edmonds’ needs.

But Williams said the state can assert its “statutory authority” at any time to ensure its needs – such as movement of ferry traffic – are met.

He recommended the City remain engaged in all waterfront access aspects to ensure its priorities also are considered.

“I would think you would want your local agency to have as much say in that process as possible,” Williams said. The best way to do that, he said, was to take the lead.

“I think we’d want to hang onto that as long as we could,” he said.

In the end, the council compromised, keeping all four elements of the study in play, but emphasizing that emergency access was the priority.

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