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Neighbors say light rail plans threaten Chinatown-International District's future

Sound Transit is accepting public comment online until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 28.

SEATTLE — A $54 billion dollar project to expand link light rail from West Seattle to Ballard is receiving backlash from a neighborhood caught in the middle – Chinatown-International District.

Sound Transit is accepting public comment online until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 28.

Neighbors say there is a fight to preserve Chinatown-International District.

“This Chinatown has become the nexus of the Asian American community together with Japantown and Little Saigon,” said Betty Lau, co-founder of Transit Equity for All.

Lau and Brien Chow say right now so much is at stake because of the voter-approved Sound Transit link light rail expansion.

"You know, we're not against quick transit. And that's why we're saying move forward on Fourth. But don't even touch Fifth,” said Chow who is also with Transit Equity for All.

Sound Transit's Draft Environmental Impact Statement lists options about where the tunnel could go under the Chinatown International District. One plan has the construction happening on Fourth Avenue South, the neighborhood's edge. Another plan has construction on Fifth Avenue South, the neighborhood's hub, according to Chow.

"If they get it done here on Fifth Avenue, there is going to be no Chinatown at all,” said Chow.

Transit Equity for All, a grassroots group, has been digging into Sound Transit's documents and notifying neighbors.

"The information that people really are interested in is hidden in a 2000-page draft environmental impact statement,” said Lau.

Among their concerns is heavy construction.

"You'd have ten years of construction that is scheduled if they pick the Fifth Avenue choice,” said Chow.

Lau adds that if Fifth Avenue is chosen, buildings would need to be demolished.

"The estimates depending on the exact alternative range from 19 to 27 [buildings],” she said. "There's an estimated 230 low-wage earners who are going to lose their jobs."

Wing Luke Museum raises another concern too if small businesses are displaced. The museum released a letter, writing that if Fifth Avenue is chosen it "will irreversibly change the neighborhood."

John and Binko Bisbee, owners of KOBO Gallery & Shop at Higo sent Sound Transit a letter opposing all proposed options, writing in part, "there has been inadequate transparency in how these proposals were developed and why other locations farther south such as in SODO, or areas near the stadiums were not presented as options for consideration."

Sound Transit says public input is an essential element of the process before a final design decision is made next year.

“My biggest hope is that the city of Seattle and Sound Transit will do the right thing,” said Chow.


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