Seattle loses battle over Burke-Gilman Trail’s ‘missing link’ as project funds sunset

May 24, 2022, 11:31 AM | Updated: 12:51 pm


Burke-Gilman Trail (Flickr Creative Commons/ Seattle Parks and Recreation)

(Flickr Creative Commons/ Seattle Parks and Recreation)

Completion of the Burke-Gilman Trail, the backbone of Seattle’s network of bicycling and pedestrian trails that connects Ballard with Bothell, is on a rapidly expiring clock, and a spate of legal challenges over the 1.4 mile stretch along the Salmon Bay/Lake Washington Canal, dubbed the “missing link,” have jeopardized that completion.

The Seattle Department of Transportation stands at odds with the Ballard Terminal Railroad Company (BTRC), which primarily services Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel. The railroad operates a track from 11th NW to the Ballard Locks, delivering concrete for use in hundreds of daily truck shipments through that area.

The Levy to Move Seattle, the fund that the missing link project leverages, expires in 2024. Friday, the public comment period for the redesign lapsed, and the project is scheduled to begin construction in 2023.

Ahead of that construction, SDOT and community stakeholders face a series of lawsuits that complicate its final design. Original plans for the missing link involved the removal of BTRC’s track along NW 45th St. and Shilshole Ave. NW, a section of temporary trail that has caused enough crashes that at least eight cyclists are suing the City of Seattle for damages.

New lawsuit opens old wounds over the ‘Missing Link’ of the Burke-Gilman Trail

That removal was vehemently opposed by the BTRC — in conjunction with unions and businesses under the umbrella moniker of the Ballard Coalition (BC).

The City proactively scaled down the missing link design — removing its aspects that called for the relocation of the BTRC’s line through the missing link. In May, a Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in the BTRC’s favor, deeming that the City does not have the authority to relocate the track.

In justification, the court cited an operating agreement the city has with the BTRC. While the city technically owns the railroad line, in 1997 the BTRC franchised the line for 30 years. Federal laws pertaining to railroad operations preclude the city from moving the line, according to the court.

People Power created Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail

“We are disappointed with the recent ruling, but it does not affect the current Burke-Gilman Trail ‘Missing Link’ project because we already refined the design to eliminate the need to relocate railroad tracks on Shilshole Ave NW and NW 45th St,” Ethan Bergerson, SDOT spokesperson, wrote to MyNorthwest.

While the city had preempted that court loss with its revised project designs, the Ballard Coalition has outstanding litigation with SDOT. Late in 2021, the BC challenged SDOT’s design in King County Superior Court, claiming that the city failed to comply with an allegedly requisite environmental review process (SEPA), from which the city argues they are exempt.

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Seattle loses battle over Burke-Gilman Trail’s ‘missing link’ as project funds sunset