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Friday, September 15, 2006

520 bridge update: neighborhood relations crumbling as fast as bridge itself

Posted by on September 15 at 9:00 AM

The Viaduct is such a media whore. Three miles away, the 520 floating bridge is detoriorating under the weight of Eastside SUV-clogged traffic jams and stress of several earthquakes, neighborhood councils and the city are in disagreement over what massive, expensive construction should replace it (four lanes? six lanes? aerial interchange? tunnel? Does this sound familiar, Viaduct junkies?) and a major move in the replacement debate gets but a puny mention in the P.I.

Last week, we printed a rundown of the pros and cons of the four 520 replacement options, but last Thursday the City Council committee on the bridge narrowed the options to two: a six-lane base replacement and a six-lane replacement with the Pacific Street Interchange. The committee also decided to keep the four-lane option lingering on the sidelines like that unpopular kid in grade school kickball games — to be used only as a possible backup.

Neighborhood groups are incorporated into the 520 planning process via the Stakeholders Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from nine neighborhood associations, the UW, the board of parks comissioners and the arboretum. In addition to the four-lane/six-lane options, the city also did a tunnel feasibilty study back in June that came up negative, but some groups think the study is biased and want a new, independent study.

Currently, the most controversial design is the Pacific Interchange, which moves the onramp/offramp part of the freeway from where it currently squats on Montlake to out over the water near the arboretum. Here’s a rendering:

520 psi.jpg
That picture is looking toward Seattle, with the UW stadium on the right. The Interchange option is estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The other option still in the running, the 6 lane base, will cost $2.8 billion and not move the onramp/offramp part of the 520, though it will (like the Pacific Interchange) add bike lanes.

The Stakeholders met on August 8th, here’s how they lined up:

Eastlake: “Opposes the so-called Pacific Stret Interchange proposal”
Laurelhurst: ditto.
Broadmoor: “Seattle did not grow up around the Freeway. The Freeway came right through our homes like a scar! Now WSDOT wants to build a COLOSAL VIADUCT the size of several KINGDOMES … isn’t our City, our Community, our Arboretum, our University… worth a $70,000 Engineering Tunnel Feasibilty Study?! … Broadmoor opposes any further action towards a Pacific Interchange, 6 Lane Option or 4 Lane Option until and Independent Engineering Study is completed.”
U-District: Opposes all designs, “could accept four lanes plus transit only lanes, but NOT HOV lanes.”
Portage Bay/Roanoke: Opposes all designs, though “could support a better designed alternative which has a smaller footprint and includes mass transit.” Also wants a tunnel study.
Ravenna-Bryant: Opposed to Pacific Interchange. Want the (now dismissed) 2nd Montlake Bridge option.
Madison Park: Opposed to Pacific Interchange. “We want to protect the arboretum.”
Board of Parks: Opposes the Pacific Interchange and support the four lane.
Arboretum: Opposes the Pacific Interchange.
UW: Opposes Pacific Interchange because of impacts on Arboretum and increased traffic along Montlake and neighoring streets, plus its “financial impacts” to the medical center and athletics during construction.

phew, that’s a lot of negativity for this early in the morning. Let’s hear some happy voices:

Montlake: “Controversy on SR 520 is not a new thing. What’s different this time is that there is one option, the Pacific Interchange, that a lot of people really like. It accomplishes a lot of our objectives.”
North Capitol Hill: “We overwhelmingly support the Pacific Interchange. It eliminates the Montlake bottleneck, narrows the freeway through Montlake and Capitol Hill, makes transit options and reconnects neighborhoods via lids.”

CommentsRSS icon

how about banning eastside commuters from entering the city.

problem solved.

By the time the neighborhoods are down with it, the new 520 bridge is going to be a bike path.

Is there a copy editor in the house? Hello?
Not once, but twice?

Well, Steinbrueck doesn't own any buildings (or stands to inherit) which the 520 bridge passes over, does he?

Are we all on the same page that many of those "Oh, so charming" Pioneer Square buildings were snatched up for a song by Daddy Steinbrueck after he, with the help of a few "hippies" back in the days of yore (as the camp-fire legend all Seattle school children are required to recite), saved the district from the wrecking-ball way back when?

You better believe he has a self interest in surface design of the waterfront. A self interest that does not extend to the "new money" side of town.

I think we should just have a toll on the bridge - if you live on the Eastside we charge you $10 each trip - if you live in Seattle we charge you $5 each trip - all transit and bike riders are free.

But, in the end, they killed the eight-lane versions, and all the major players are agreed that if it's six lanes two of them will be transit-only (and could be upgraded to lightrail/monorail at a later point).

Hearings this Monday at MOHAI 4-7pm, 2700 24th Ave E on this.

I demand the no-replacement option. It's time that we get people out of their cars and into surface row boats.

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.


Those lanes are HOV, not transit-only. As you are probably aware, there's a big difference (as in, they can always change HOV lanes to toll lanes for SOV's, or restripe the bridge to add another lane on each side, or....). And with regard to future conversion to rail, the I-90 replacement (and the bus tunnel) were also supposed to be rail-compatible with minimal work/cost, and look how that worked out....

...and Phenics, I don't think Vic (or Peter) Steinbrueck owned/owns any of the Pioneer Square buildings you allege they do. I don't agree w/Peter on the proposed teardown w/o replacing the AWV, but I also don't think he has any material interest in the outcome.

OTOH, one developer who did do a lot of the purchasing and renovation after the preservation initiative of the early '70s was actually our former Mayor Paul Schell...

"Eastside commuters" -- yeah, right. The reverse commute is now much heavier, as Seattle continues to shed jobs to the exurbs and turn into a bedroom community for the likes of Microsoft. Seriously, try it sometime: drive from Montlake to Redmond and back starting at 5:30 PM. The return will take you four times as long.

Typically, it's not the bridge that's the backup, it's the approaches. And that's exactly what all of these plans leave out: WHAT HAPPENS TO THE TRAFFIC?

I-5 and I-405 can't take it; those links are already full well beyond capacity in both directions. The street grid at either end can't take it. They could make the bridge 100 lanes wide, and it won't matter. In fact, the increased capacity will only cause bigger backups.

Understanding traffic is remarkably similar to fluid dynamics. You can't get more water out of your hose by fitting a giant valve in the middle of it. Actually, using fluid dynamic principles, you could greatly increase capacity by using giant electromagnets to retard the progress of the cars and keep them from bunching up. It's the bunching up that causes the jams, but hundreds of thousands of leadfoots determined to squeeze out every centimeter of advantage slow down the overall flow.

I can't believe the naked self interest of the Montlake folks.

Hey, you decided to buy or stay in property on an existing freeway offramp. It's not like this is something new.

Now you want to ruin other neighborhoods or the Arboretum to restore your own.

Can't Microsoft build its own fucking bridge/ parkway to its Redmond campus? Maybe it could just buy 520 from the state, which I guess is selling off responsibility for its parks anyway? Maybe they could just pay 50 percent or so, or pay for the extension of light rail along 520 to the Redmond campus, since the route is going to go to the UW stadium anyway?

Naked self interest of Montlake? The Pacific Interchange plan is derailing the most likely rebuild option--WSDOT's "Base 6" plan. Under the base 6, the Arboretum would get a 3 level series of ramps; N Cap Hill and Roanoke Park would get a 9 lane viaduct through their neighborhoods and across Portage Bay; and we'd be stuck with the idiocy of building two multi-billion dollar transportation projects (Sound Transit and SR 520) without connecting them. The Pacific Interchange is the only option that offers real transit conenctivity, and reduces the god-aweful Montlake Blvd. back-ups for folks living in NE Seattle or traveling from Children's/UW/U Villiage.

So I ride the ST 545 every day, like thousands of other MS employees, and I stare as the bus passes by hundreds of jammed single-passenger cars, and I wonder, who in their right mind drives alone in a car across 520 during rush hour? I think the existing infrastructure, rebuilt to repair structural damage of course, is the way it ought to stay. Let's change two lanes to HOV/transit-only and the other two to toll lanes for idiot single-passenger car types who can afford the toll anyway. There just needs to be a P&R somewhere in the Montlake vicinity and about 50% more 545 busses - problem solved.

surely no microsoft employee would ever drive in a SOV!

The Seattle "broken record" continues... Over-inclusiveness in the decision-making process... Indeciseveness from elected offials... Taxpayer reluctance to pay for services... "We'll do another study"... etc. etc.

Drivers will be driving on the 520 P.O.S. for the next 10 years while nothing gets decided, let alone done. And the "power" neighborhoods will be oh so happy.

If 520 won a super bowl and threatened to move to L.A., it might actually get built.

P.S. I love how everyone here thinks that keeping the 520 bridge is actually an option. For those of you who take the bus, I ask: do you realize there's no HOV lane on the 520 bridge?

Another fine example of the seattle process at work. The pacific st interchange is the only way that traffic on the surface streets will actually improve. What is with these community groups?

For one, I can't believe laurelhurst & ravenna aren't on board with pacific street. I've been in backups all the way back at burgermaster waiting to get down to montlake. I don't see how it affects eastlake, except to move more traffic through the montlake corridor instead.

No, instead we'll all push for different options that have been taken off the table for good reasons. Broadmoor, especially, can suck it. When we have an income tax to pay for it, you rich whiners can have your tunnel.

I'm especially pissed at the UW. Protecting parking spaces in their sprawling surface lots seems to be more important than improving the commute for anyone who comes by bus or car from the eastside and will have to navigate the choked drawbridge instead?

So we'll end up with the least controversial option that keeps the status quo and misses the opportunity to unsnarl the biggest surface street knot in eastern seattle.

You're not going to unsnarl that knot by adding more traffic to it, period. It's a fantasy.

I agree with Slip Mahoney.

The no-replacement option is the only environmentally responsible one. It's time that we get people out of their cars and into surface row boats.

It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

No, you can unsnarl the knot by REPLACING the extra vehicles with ones that carry more people.

So, for example:

1 lane SOV (toll $20) each way - free for motorbikes
1 lane HOV (toll $5 for 4+,$10 for 3, $15 for 2 total adults)
1 lane transit (upgradeable) (no toll)

each way.

Short. Simple. To the point.

You can drive by yourself, just bring a lot of cash and enjoy the long wait while the bus swooshes by you for free.

There has got to be some way to overcome the power of these idiotic neighborhood councils. Especially those that oppose all options - the 520 bridge is crumbling, and they sit there whining they don't like anything? It's like a child who is starving and turns up their nose at what's put in front of them.

There is a problem with the Pacific Interchange that should be considered, though. At the same time Sound Transit is going to be building their UW station in the parking lot next to Husky Stadium, this proposal would have WSDOT building a major offramp in that exact same spot at the exact same time. I'm not sure how that is supposed to be resolved.

The PacInt option does make the most sense from a traffic flow standpoint, but this conflict should be considered.

And the NIMBYs should simply be ignored, or laughed at, whatever you choose.

I'll buy it except for the "free for motorbikes" bit.

We need to develop and impose systemwide dynamic tolling on all the limited access highways. the mega projects should all be sized with dynamic tolling's affect on demand, the limited fiscal capacity of the region, and global warming in mind. both the AWV replacement and the SR-520 projects should be both tolled and reduced in capacity to make them affordable and greener. if the entire highway if free flow due to tolling, why is an HOV lane necessary? If I-5, I-405, and the arterials are full of stalled traffic, why build an expensive floating and bridged car storage lanes? Does the one-tenth sales tax make the RTID 2007 ballot measure fatally flawed? should the 2007 Legislature change that package again?

LOL North Capitol Hill is the only dissenter.

I knew the backlash to the Pacific Interchange would be huge, but even I didn't realize it would be unanimous.

Putting more elevated highways through the Arboretum is just begging for gay men to have more sex there.

North Capitol Hill always gets right on the power dick. Look at how they vote on council and initiatives, you'd think you were looking at Broadmoor/Madison Park. Seattleites successfully fought a freeway through the Arboretum in the 60s. If this new Arboretum freeway doesn't get trounced, us thirty-somethings will have to give in to the claim that surrounded and suffocated us in our teens and twenties: that the Boomers were better than us. This city is doomed. To suck.

Um, how is this a new freeway through the park? Looking at the plans,

Footprint Comparison

the 4 lane, 6 lane, and pacific st options all end at the same point on the south. they all are one lane each way towards the arboretum. The pacific option just melds the on and off ramps into one structure and puts it up higher. it takes less parkland.

What would suck would be dooming "express" bus riders from the eastside to perpetual gridlock trying to get across the montlake cut to the UW. Not to mention forever having to make a U turn to get to I-5 from montlake.

Um, I'm usually one to call out Cogswell, but he makes a good point. To build the Pac Interchange, they would basically have to obliterate the entire arborteum. It's not just the completed roadway, but all the construction equipment and materials that needs to come in there. They'd have to tear much of it to shreds in order to work.

Just a hunch, but I think this is what's generating the steep resistance.

Erm, mild addendum: "entire arborteum" only refers to the portion on Montlake Bay. The portion on dry land, obviously, would be spared.

Without the EIS out yet, it's hard to say, but I'd imagine those impacts are going to be signifigant no matter what. Those old RH Thompson ramps have to go either way, and I'd imagine there is signifigant rehab planned on the ramps that would stay without pacific.

The pacific option calls for using all the parking south of husky stadium for staging. If they build the pacific leg first, they could bring in precast sections from there and install them with a gantry, as they're doing along 518 with Link.

Hi, I'm the co-founder of, along with Rob Wilkinson. We are citizens like you who came up with what became the Pacific Interchange option to connect bus and rail transit, fix the Montlake Bridge bottleneck, and create a continuous greenbelt from Portage Bay to Union Bay. To our great delight, WSDOT listened. As WSDOT's studies show, Pacific Interchange completely relieves the backups on the Montlake corridor from University Village to SR 520. A 28 minute trip on the Blvd. in 2030 would be only 7 minutes with this plan. This is done without leading to a tsunami of traffic into neighborhoods -- only a 1% increase in traffic volume at 5 corners in Laurelhurst, and only 2% at 25th Ave. and 65th St. The UW campus will be improved, albeit with some construction impacts. The Parks impacts of Pacific Interchange are comparable to the original base 6 lane proposal, whereas the mitigation opportunities are much, much greater. Pacific Interchange actually has fewer columns, and smaller impacts to many parks, compared with even the 4 lane alternative. I would say at least 9 out of 10 citizens we speak to are positive on the plan once we have the opportnity to explain it and compare it with the other options on the table. There are a few holdouts from some individuals who are active in some neighborhood councils; this is but an echo of the outrage that accompanied the original base 6 lane plan. We appreciate all the support from Pacific Interchange supporters, and I would happily explain any aspect of this plan to anyone who is interested. Don't forget to write a public comment! The city and state need to hear from us right now on this vital issue.

Mind-fucking. Someone in Seattle is actually *thinking* about *traffic*.

What's next, ACTION?? Don't think me heart could take it.

P.S. While at it, change 45th and 50th to one-ways running east and west.

"Putting more elevated highways through the Arboretum is just begging for gay men to have more sex there."

Notice you didn't say "MORE GAY MEN to have sex," you said "gay men to have MORE SEX."

I think you have seriously overestimated the number of gay men who get off on BRIDGE KINK.

Interesting, Jonathan. This sheds some good light on the idea behind the Interchange. Some useful questions:

Timetable on completion? And how would the contractors go about moving equipment into and out of the Bay? Also, how specifically is the Arborteum affected?

P.S. to JOLLY R.:

At the Troll tonight.

This thread has grown pretty dark, but to answer the question posed by Gomez:

Timetable on completion: About 8 years after construction starts, which could be as soon as 2009.

I'm frankly not sure what the construction staging plan is; I think it hasn't really been worked out to a great extent. WSDOT is well aware that construction staging and construction impacts (e.g. traffic restrictions, lane/ramp closures, noise, truck traffic, etc.) are all important issues.

Regarding Arboretum impacts, this is a rather complex story. The draft study document (over 3000 pages including all the technical appendices) details this. In summary, there is both good and bad news for the Arboretum. Oily stormwater runoff will be treated rather than being dumped into the lake. Noise will be mitigated. Some land is covered by highway that is not covered now, but generally it will be covered at a greater height, letting more light in and allowing people and wildlife to travel underneath. All 6 lane options for SR 520 have a pretty big impact in the Arboretum, unfortunately, but this impact can largely (and perhaps entirely) be mitigated. For instance, new wetlands or wetland buffer can be created on what is today WSDOT property, and that can be donated to the Arboretum. Traffic impacts to the Arboretum of the various alternatives are really pretty minimal, despite a meaningful increase at the ramp terminus at Lake Washington Blvd. (most of this new traffic is heading to Montlake Blvd. and not through the Arboretum, and even that may be something we can mitigate.)

Rob Wilkinson and I cooked up an idea to put a toll surcharge on the Arboretum ramps to mitigate traffic and to fund the Arboretum Master Plan (about $60 million) at the same time.

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