By CommunityMattersWeb.com team
In fairness to the countless Lakewood residents who will inevitably live with the consequences, should the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) get its way – forcing as many as 14 high speed trains per day through well-established neighborhoods in Lakewood and DuPont – indeed, there is a great deal about high speed rail that is not being told.
Case in point, WSDOT’s review of their most recent promotion.
Over 100 concerned residents of the DuPont, Tillicum, Nyanza Park, Tyee, and Cochise communities attended the meeting on January 6th. Media Relations Manager for the Cascades High Speed Rail Program, Melanie Coon, rationalized the rerouting of trains through Lakewood’s busy streets based on the heavily congested freight traffic which Amtrak must contend with on its current route, and reassuringly refers Lakewood residents to the WSDOT website for more information.
However, many important facts are conveniently omitted on the Point Defiance Bypass web-site. You will not read a train official’s admission that, “No amount of fencing,” will keep kids off the tracks. You will not read that one person is hit by a train every 115 minutes in our country. You will not read of 600 lives lost annually attempting to beat the crossing-arms, and another 700 lives lost just walking along the track. Amtrak’s current route may be congested with freight traffic, but our Lakewood neighborhoods are congested with life; children, youth, families, and we want to keep it that way!
At WSDOT’s website you will not find saving Amtrak listed among the inevitable along with death and taxes. Instead, Lakewood residents at Community Matters offer you the facts: Amtrak loses $32 on average for every passenger. “Taxpayers,” researchers declare, “cover that $32 per rider loss through federal government subsidies – $1.3 billion in direct payments in 2008.” The study further found that “only three of Amtrak’s 44 lines made a profit in 2008, despite it being the railroad’s second-best-ever year for ridership.”
What else has been forgotten in the rush down the track? Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz reported on the January 6th meeting that WSDOT officials are drafting an Environmental Assessment (EA) due out next summer. The whole truth be told however, the EA is WSDOT’s short-cut by which to avoid the more thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As most EAs result in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), WSDOT’s plan to get by with the minimal required is likely to mean the agency will continue merrily on with the proposed action once the EA report is issued.
But such has been WSDOT’s track-record to date. Following WSDOT’s 2006 initiation of its plan to relocate Amtrak trains, reducing the Seattle-to-Portland run by 5.9 miles, the Lakewood City Council received a briefing in November of that year. In 2007, WSDOT considered abandonment of the EA under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Federal Highway Administration, along with the Federal Railroad Administration, went along with WSDOT and issued a Categorical Exclusion.
Earlier this past year when Lakewood objected to the lack of a detailed traffic study by WSDOT, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond – despite previously calling such a study unnecessary – finally acquiesced stating, “We will all benefit from a deliberate, thorough and transparent process.” (TNT, May 12, 2010).
Neiditz also pointed out that “WSDOT currently has no grade-separation projects planned at any of the Lakewood rail crossings.” The reason, Project Manager David Smelser rationalized, was that such safety measures often became graffiti-magnates, and the underside gang-hangouts. Let’s throw safety to the wind Mr. Smelser!
The research team at www.CommunityMattersWeb.com found the following excerpt: RCW 81.53.010, “All railroads and extensions of railroads hereafter constructed shall cross existing railroads and highways by passing either over or under the same, when practicable, and shall in no instance cross any railroad or highway at grade without authority first being obtained from the commission to do so.”
However, given WSDOT’s track record – dragging their feet with regards traffic studies; declining to perform environmental due diligence – their expected response is likely to be similar regarding grade-separations: ‘Not necessary and not practical.’
On the evening of Jan. 6th, disgruntled Lakewood residents lined up to voice displeasure with WSDOT’s plan to run high speed rail through our congested neighborhoods. When asked how WSDOT would spell success, in other words, ‘What was the number one outcome measurement of the program’, Smelser replied, “Service reliability and on-time performance.” This appears to be at Lakewood’s expense!
Perhaps a better question would have been, ‘How does WSDOT spell community?’
In the interest of making responsible, educated and well-informed decisions regarding high speed rail through Lakewood and more, please visit: www.CommunityMattersWeb.com continuously updating and addressing, “Your Lakewood Community Matters.”