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Originally published Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 9:11 PM

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Burke-Gilman Trail's 'missing link' to get full environmental review

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the city fully expects another challenge to the completed Environmental Impact Statement but that going forward with a full assessment is better than a partial analysis ordered by a city hearing examiner for the stretch in Ballard.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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City leaders Thursday said they would conduct a full environmental review of the missing portion of the Burke-Gilman Trail through Ballard in hopes of advancing a project that's been repeatedly delayed by legal challenges.

In the meantime, the city will make roadway improvements to the stretch between the Ballard Fred Meyer and the Hiram Chittenden Locks, where the popular bicycle and walking trail has yet to be constructed.

About 45 bicycle crashes were reported along the unfinished portion between 2008 and 2011, according to city records.

"The goal of all these changes is to reduce the conflicts and reduce the accidents," said Mayor Mike McGinn at an afternoon news conference near where the unfinished trail route passes under the Ballard Bridge.

McGinn said the city fully expects another challenge to the completed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), but that going forward with a full assessment is better than a partial analysis ordered by a city hearing examiner earlier this year.

Maritime businesses that have previously sued to block the route through Ballard say they haven't changed their minds about its jeopardizing one of the city's last industrial areas.

"You can have an industrial area there or you can have a recreational trail, but you can't have both. If you put people and bicycles on a major truck street, you're going to have injuries," said Warren Aakervik, owner of Ballard Oil, which is along the planned route.

Aakervik said the businesses have proposed alternate routes, such as along Leary Way Northwest, but the city has argued that the route along Northwest 45th Street and Shilshole Avenue Northwest is the best one.

Aakervik also questioned why the city would push ahead with the "missing link" when it still hasn't conducted a freight master plan to guide decisions about transportation corridors and future development. Aakervik is chairman of the freight board, which has asked for the plan to move forward.

An update of the 2007 bicycle master plan is expected to be delivered to the city council this spring.

Aakervik said the planned EIS should ask, 'is the route safe, does it have economic impacts and are there viable alternatives?'

McGinn didn't address the industrial uses of the route during the news conference, but Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who also attended, said the project should "ensure the industrial community can continue to operate in this neighborhood."

Rasmussen said the city has litigated "inch-by-inch" with neighborhoods along the Burke-Gilman Trail from Kenmore to Golden Gardens, but that the trail has proved immensely popular and is being widened along some stretches to accommodate heavy use.

In 2003, the city adopted a plan to close the missing link, but opponents repeatedly challenged the plan.

In 2008, the city conducted a limited environmental review that concluded the project didn't have significant environmental impacts.

That determination was challenged by the maritime businesses.

A hearing examiner in August ordered the city to review the potential traffic hazards in the segment along Shilshole Avenue Northwest between 17th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Vernon Street.

That's when the city decided to undertake a full environmental review, including alternate routes. The mayor included $300,000 for the assessment in the 2013 budget.

Craig Benjamin, with the Cascade Bicycle Club, said the city evaluated the possible routes through Ballard in 2003 and concluded the current one was the best.

"We know it's the best corridor. We know it will work. Trails and industry coexist all over the world," Benjamin said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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