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Thursday, February 4, 2010

City Council Caves to Suburban Pressure on 520 Bridge

Posted by on Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 2:08 PM

Judy Clibborn, Chair of the Transportation Committee in the State House
  • Judy Clibborn, Chair of the Transportation Committee in the State House
A quorum of the Seattle City Council stood side-by-side with Eastside legislators and suburban officials this morning to demand that the 520 bridge project move forward.

“It is time to put over a decade of planning behind us,” said Bellevue City Council Member Grant Degginger. “It is time to begin construction.” Richard Conlin, the president of Seattle’s city council, concurred.

But critics say that beginning construction on the east side of the bridge would commit Seattle to an unworkable plan for the west side. The state recommended in November that we replace the four-lane span with a six-lane bridge and build a second drawbridge across the nearby Montlake cut to handle all the extra traffic. The two new lanes would hold carpools and buses. This is called Option A+. (Problems with this arrangement and alternatives are described here.)

“It will lock us into to a six-lane highway and not getting the transit we should,” said Mayor Mike McGinn, reached by phone after the press conference. “The council says they oppose this A+ option, but today they are standing with people who support A+.”

In other words, the council is forming a coalition with forces that will make the council's goals—Seattle's goals—impossible.

"We have endorsed the A+option," said Lee Newgent, Executive Secretary of the Seattle Building and Trades council, flanked by the Seattle City Council. "We think that is the best option."

That plan is widely detested by Seattle representatives who weren't at the press conference. A huge group of citizen leaders and elected officials, Coalition for a Sustainable 520, announced a campaign on Monday to oppose the state's plan because it would dump more cars into an already-congested choke point in Montlake. They called for light rail to be built in the two new lanes and for the west side to be integrated with transit. Building light rail may not be possible this late in the game—but the city can get a west-side interchange that connects with the planned light-rail station at Husky Stadium and change parts of the bridge design.

All five of the council members at the press conference (Conlin, Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, and Tim Burgess) oppose the state's preferred option, too—at least in theory—saying that the west side of the bridge needs to connect to transit and be completely reconfigured. They simply believe that Seattle can still influence the bridge's design after construction starts.

However, the council's past position seems to conflict with realistic outcomes if construction begins.

After the jump: Conlin and State Rep. Clibborn don't know how to pay for the changes Seattle wants.

In a letter sent by the council last week, they requested “reducing the height of the crosslake bridge structure from the thirty feet in the current plans” and “optimizing transit connectivity and functionality across the entire SR 520 corridor, along Montlake boulevard, and the vicinity of the Multimodal Center on the University of Washington campus”

And on his blog last week, Burgess said, “I personally believe that the two additional lanes—lanes five and six—should be limited to transit only from the start.”

But this raises two questions:

1: How can the council achieve design changes to “transit connectivity and functionality across the entire SR 520 corridor” or reducing the height of the bridge after breaking ground? (State House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn says construction could begin “tomorrow.”) Logically, changes to the entire span would be impossible after it’s already being built. By saying we should begin construction now—before Seattle’s issue are resolved—the council is essentially giving up on those two requests.

2: How does the city change the dysfunctional west side interchange while staying within the project’s budget? The state has capped the whole project's budget at $4.65 billion; the west side at $2 billion. Other options studied by the state—such as the one preferred by Conlin—are $2.5 billion or more.

How could Seattle’s accomplish its more expensive goals for the west side—mitigating traffic, connecting to the light rail station, etc.—with less money than estimates say we need?

“We are not sure,” says Conlin. And how does state transportation chair Clibborn think the Seattle side of the bridge could be worked out given the money we have? “I don’t have an answer,” she says.

In lieu of an explanation about where money would come from to change the design in Seattle--or any ability to change the rest of the design--Seattle's council leaders would realistically forgo any influence over the project. If the council gets its way, the state will get what it wants, and Seattle will be stuck with a wider freeway.

"I think all the supporters of A+ are pushing to begin construction now because they want to lock in the design," says McGinn. He says the council members "need to decide whether they are supporting an expanded highway or supporting transit."

 

Comments (38) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
What a dickweed Burgess is.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 4, 2010 at 2:16 PM · Report this
2
I always thought all the Council's talk of "Regionalism" was so much hot air and buzzspeak. Regionalism does extend beyond Seattle's borders and the influnce of Council stops well short of those boundries.
Posted by Zander on February 4, 2010 at 2:18 PM · Report this
gwhayduke 3
Ugh. So do we citizens have any recourse? It sounds like McGinn is representing my interests. I'm no expert, and won't delve into the details, but in general, we need less cars, less roads, and infrastructure that provides for immediate light rail + BRT with plenty of room for expansion.
Posted by gwhayduke http://www.farmsanctuary.org/videos/celebrity-ambassadors/ellen-degeneres-shares-why-she-supports-farm-sanctuary/ on February 4, 2010 at 2:19 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
This is actually a political loss in a fight that goes back FIFTY YEARS. See that onramp from nowhere that joins 520 eastbound right after Montlake? That's the remnant of a planned onramp that was going to wipe out the Arboretum, that was shut down by residents. Now, all these years later, they're going to get it anyways. Nice work, guys.

It's like the preservationist, anti-freeway battles of the 60s and 70s were never fought. Will they be flattening Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square next?
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 4, 2010 at 2:24 PM · Report this
5
I think I'm going to work on a new project…

Let's give a "Silver Medal" to elected officials who really, really like transit, and will build it, as soon as they're done building roads!

We have a lot of faux-transit support in Seattle and Olympia. At least Clibborn is honest in her disdain for anything other than roads. But, for those officials who claim to love transit and transit-oriented development, and yet, can never quite find the fortitude to actually support good projects, we need to recognize their valiant efforts.

Moderation is the enemy of progress.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 2:27 PM · Report this
emor 6
I hope they build the planned freeway from the Arboretum south to the 90. Wipe out everything between 26th and MLK. Who needs it?
Posted by emor on February 4, 2010 at 2:30 PM · Report this
7
In fact, do you all know how LONG it takes to get from Madison Park to Ballard? Well, do you? Those poor souls are marooned, with no easy path to get there. I think we ought to build them a Viaduct!!!, or wait…a Tunnel!!! so that they can shave a good 5 minutes off of their trip. And, of course, doing this will be GOOD FOR TRANSIT by opening up New and better urban development opportunities.

Just think, we CAN have our cake and eat it too.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Baconcat 9
Isn't Sally Clark up for reelection this year?
Posted by Baconcat on February 4, 2010 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 11
More lanes for cars. Good thinking and planning ahead. We all know petroleum is cheap and abundant and always will be forever and nations that have the rudeness to have it under their soil America has managed to make enemies of. Good thinking Seattle.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on February 4, 2010 at 2:52 PM · Report this
cressona 13
If there was ever a time for Seattle's political leadership to come together over an issue, and post-haste, that time is now, and that issue is the west end of the 520 bridge.

There's just not that much daylight between what each Seattle side in these dueling press conferences wants, especially when our new shadow mayor Tim Burgess writes things like: “I personally believe that the two additional lanes—lanes five and six—should be limited to transit only from the start.”

And can't everybody in Seattle agree that the key transit stop in the Montlake area for 520 has to be within a reasonable walking distance of the Husky Stadium light rail station? We all know that, if an east-west light rail line eventually does get built over 520, it's not going to be able to feed into Central Link. But people will still need to transfer. And whether it's light rail or express buses or BRT, it would be remarkably shortsighted to make it a pain in the ass for people to transfer to Central Link.

This just seems like the kind of thing that McGinn, council, Gregoire, Chopp, Murray, WSDOT, and even (as much as I despise her) Judy Clibborn should be able to work out without throwing a monkey wrench into the works. And it doesn't behoove any of these parties to stall this project.
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 3:07 PM · Report this
Dougsf 14
Landing in the murky Arboretum water below the "bridge to nowhere" was always a little sketchy. It'll be so much more fun to be able to dive out into the middle of Lake Washington instead. Too bad you'll have to take I-90 to get there.

Jesus Christ Eastsiders, I know some of you don't get further down Montlake than Husky Stadium, but where the fuck are two Montlake bridges worth of cars supposed to go, exactly?
Posted by Dougsf on February 4, 2010 at 3:10 PM · Report this
cressona 15
I don't quite get the point the following critics make: "But critics say that beginning construction on the east side of the bridge would commit Seattle to an unworkable plan for the west side." It doesn't seem that the choice between what McGinn, Chopp, and company want and what the A+ offers makes any real difference on how the route looks on the Eastside.

If the viaduct replacement project can be divided up into three or four major sub-projects operating on their own timelines, why not this one? Doesn't it serve the people who are fighting for a better westside 520 solution to make it clear that they're not holding up the entire project?
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 3:11 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 16
Well, cressona, they've never heard of staging.

Even if it's been part of large projects since ... before WW II.

All this because they're peeved their precious Billionaires Tunnel doesn't have popular support from the actual voters in Seattle ... so they take it out on the 520 bridge.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 4, 2010 at 3:15 PM · Report this
17
Cressona…the problem seems to be insincerity on the part of some who claim that they want TRANSIT while supporting projects that explicitly kill opportunities for transit.

My fear is that Burgess is playing this game; saying one thing but specifically meaning another. So, while I agree that what he said looks like it's in line with McGinn, Murray, Pedersen and Chopp, he chose to stand with Clibborn et al rather than with the Seattle coalition.

It's troubling.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 3:16 PM · Report this
18
Another thing, I don't think the public yet understands how big the project is, and what it means.

For example, how many of you understand that the new bridge will no longer float on the water, but will be elevated 30 feet above the Water? That's a dramatic change in the water skyline.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 3:20 PM · Report this
cressona 19
Timothy @17, your answer as to what Burgess is up to sounds as plausible as any. This is where McGinn has to call his bluff and try to get City Council and our legislative delegation to come together to commit to some kind of proposal on the west end of 520. Goodness knows, with these super-short legislative sessions, there's hardly any time.

Just imagine how boneheaded it would be to spend $4.65 billion on a bridge, dedicate one-third of the lanes on that bridge to transit (whether mixed with cars or not), and then not bother making it easy to get to the nearest light rail station. I suppose some people are so determined to cripple transit in this region that they don't mind crippling this region's economic viability--and wasting taxpayer money--in the process.
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 3:30 PM · Report this
20
Asking to reduce pontoon height (ie - volume) and preserve the capability of the floating structure to support future light rail are somewhat exclusive. The pontoon design was spec'd originally to support additional LR or BRT lanes that could be 'bolted on' later.

Changing the number of lanes causes problems with the Eastside alignment; changing pontoon height would require minor changes to the highrise design.

My two cents: McGinn & Council need to pull their head out of asses on pontoon height and undesigned LR alignments. Focus on integration with LR at Husky Stadium, lack of direct transit access to HOV lanes eastbound from Montlake, and unfuck the Arboretum design. Jeebus...
Posted by Action Slacks on February 4, 2010 at 3:30 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 21
Well, to be quite frank, a portion of the current bridge is elevated too. The main problem has been that people seem to not get that if you replace a bridge you don't magically do it in the same space as the old bridge, you have to build a new bridge next to it, and the staging space for the construction - which works out to a minimum of 2.5 times the original bridge width just for a replacement.

You only remove the old bridge after the new one is in service.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 4, 2010 at 3:31 PM · Report this
cressona 22
Timothy @17, your answer as to what Burgess is up to sounds as plausible as any. This is where McGinn has to call his bluff and try to get City Council and our legislative delegation to come together to commit to some kind of proposal on the west end of 520. Goodness knows, with these super-short legislative sessions, there's hardly any time.

Just imagine how boneheaded it would be to spend $4.65 billion on a bridge, dedicate one-third of the lanes on that bridge to transit (whether mixed with cars or not), and then not bother making it easy to get to the nearest light rail station. I suppose some people are so determined to cripple transit in this region that they don't mind crippling this region's economic viability--and wasting taxpayer money--in the process.
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 3:31 PM · Report this
Fnarf 23
@18, is that correct -- thirty feet in the air all the way across?
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on February 4, 2010 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Dominic Holden 25
@ 23) Yup. Three stories high from Foster Island to Medina.
Posted by Dominic Holden on February 4, 2010 at 3:47 PM · Report this
TVDinner 26
@25: You're kidding. That's stunning. What the fuck?
Posted by TVDinner http:// on February 4, 2010 at 3:55 PM · Report this
27
I'm SO bummed by this. I thought that with Nickels out of office, Seattle would stop becoming more and more like Bellevue [since all of his efforts seem to have that end result - taking away the color, the grit, the uniqueness, and the life of the city (City!) at every turn]. But, now, it's the Council picking up the baton.....

It's time to have the council members come from specific districts and be accountable to those people and those people only. Under the current scheme, they are beholden to any neighborhood with economic clout, no matter how small - or whatever group is causing a stir. And, it is a mess. There should be some level of "populism." but it should be because all geographical interests, and the specific needs that each one has ('cause they are different on this side of the lake), are taken into account on a decision. The days of decisions without consequence are over. [Seriously, what neighborhood/district would elect Jean Godden to represent it? 'nuff said.]

And, if Bellevue wants to invest in car-favorable-only "transit" options, that is its prerogative. And, it's prerogative stops at the water (or somewhere within it). Wanna stick with roads? Then, widen 405 because that is Your Road, Eastside, and it can get you north, south, and west (eventually). Otherwise, you might want to look into a water taxi for when that bridge ends in the middle of the lake.

For those of you who want Seattle to be like Bellevue, (flat, wide, bland), there is already a city and infrastructure waiting for you on the other side, don't let the water hit you on the ass on the way out.
Posted by lawgeek on February 4, 2010 at 3:57 PM · Report this
michael strangeways 29
Trust dumb fuck suburbanites to fuck up OUR streets so they can spend the next 50 years bitching and moaning about the shitty traffic in the City and how it's such a pain to get to Taste of Seattle or a Husky game...

Fuck them.
Posted by michael strangeways http://www.seattlegayscene.com/ on February 4, 2010 at 4:32 PM · Report this
Baconcat 31
@28: As you no doubt have seen already, Dominic wrote a clear and critical piece on Bushnell for Slog and had long since finished an interview with McGinn by the time you commented.

And it doesn't matter what the people in City Hall think of the Mayor, we voted for him, not City Hall. He's not an appointed position, he's elected. Of course, your "in" with City Hall amounts to reporting you scrape from Pubicola, whereas most in City Hall are professional enough to understand what a new mayor's burn-in period is like unless they're under the gun for a future pink slip.

You know who else is elected? City Councilmembers. You know who is going to take heat for all this by standing front and center? City Councilmembers.

Oh, poo.
Posted by Baconcat on February 4, 2010 at 4:42 PM · Report this
Cascadian 32
According to the documents I can find, it's 25 feet above Lake Washington, compared to 10 feet today: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/B50…

That's one part of the EIS at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Br…. It was produced more than 3 years ago. But I think it's still valid, and in any case I couldn't find any newer docs that showed a 30 feet profile.

Twenty-five feet is bad enough. Apparently, between the greater width, the goal of supporting eventual rail connections, and the requirement to build to more exacting standards, the pontoons have to be higher.

I'm beginning to come around to the "don't build it at all" point of view. I was already upset enough that it was taking a bigger footprint in a neighborhood that can't handle the capacity.

Anyone know how tall I-90 is?
Posted by Cascadian on February 4, 2010 at 4:56 PM · Report this
33
This is about the most misleading reporting I have ever witnessed. It reads like a dream press release from the yacht club gang on Portage Bay and their rich counterparts in Montlake.

This crowd is trying to hijack better transit for everyone by making the 520 all about them. How is it that people don't get this. The group of Montlake interests who had a news conference on Monday with the Mayor have zero interest in the environment or transit. They are real newcomers to the topic. Their sole focus has been on their neighborhood and their yacht clubs.

Until Monday, they had been promoting an alternative that cost $2 billion more than the one selected and was far worse for transit and far worse for the Lake Washington ecosystem than any other. And they wanted everyone else to pay for it.

Someone writing these articles has not been paying attention or has been smoking way too much weed.

Montlake is not the only neighborhood in Seattle. A small part of the 43rd district along the waterfront is not Seattle. The Seattle Council has not caved to anyone. It has stood up to rich special interests who had previously hamstrung anything happening.

Posted by BetterTransitNow on February 4, 2010 at 4:57 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 34
@33 - turns out a group of people with fat wallets that do live near the 520 bridge are going to sue.

Deep pockets.

VERY deep pockets.

Guess the pro-roads anti-transit suburbanites bit off a bit more than they can chew with this one.

Should have backed down ...
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 4, 2010 at 5:00 PM · Report this
36
McGinn needs to enlist somebody with proven experience forcing revisions to a bloated juggernaut project: somebody get him Jeannie Hale's number STAT.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 4, 2010 at 6:27 PM · Report this
Baconcat 37
@33: There won't be any quality transit. The biggest users of transit on 520 are getting carved out of the equation. The Flyer stop will be removed completely and the road between the UW Campus bus stops and the Husky Stadium Link Station is going to be widened.

If you want to get to the east side from the north end on the bus, you're screwed.

And the arboretum ramps? Oh yeah, that's another great development.
Posted by Baconcat on February 4, 2010 at 6:29 PM · Report this
38
Regarding the claim of a 30-foot tall Evergreen Floating Bridge, the best place I've found so far is in a sub-document to the EIS that discusses visual impacts.

PDF Document can be found here.

On page 19 of the PDF (page 11 according to document pagination), it says:


Floating Bridge
The floating span would be located approximately 190 feet north of the existing bridge at the west end and 160 feet north at the east end (Exhibit 5). Rows of three 10-foot-tall concrete columns would support the roadway above the pontoons, and the new spans would be approximately 22 feet higher than the existing bridge. A 14-foot-wide bicycle/pedestrian path would be located on the north side of the bridge.


The existing bridge is 10 feet above water. This claims the new span would be 22 feet taller than that, for a grand total of 32 feet taller.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 6:31 PM · Report this
39
…um, grand total of 32 feet, not 32 feet taller.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 4, 2010 at 6:40 PM · Report this
cressona 40
BetterTransitNow @33:
This is about the most misleading reporting I have ever witnessed. It reads like a dream press release from the yacht club gang on Portage Bay and their rich counterparts in Montlake.

This crowd is trying to hijack better transit for everyone by making the 520 all about them. How is it that people don't get this. The group of Montlake interests who had a news conference on Monday with the Mayor have zero interest in the environment or transit.

So BetterTransitNow, you've pretty much accused these folks of mounting a disinformation campaign. But your post could just as well be its own little disinformation campaign--because nowhere do you address the facts involved. All you do is (A) question their motives and (B) play the elitist special interest card.

As far as I'm concerned (and as far as you claim to be concerned), the issue at hand is what kind of effect these plans would have on transit riders. So let me ask you, with the A+ option, what kind of experience would transit riders on 520 face to try to connect to the Husky Stadium light rail station?
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 7:43 PM · Report this
mrbombit 42
Awwwwwww.....I love the sound of crying liberals in the morning.
Posted by mrbombit on February 4, 2010 at 8:46 PM · Report this
43
Cressona, bearing in mind that Eastside-UW bus routes get riders to and from the Husky Stadium light rail station, Ben Schiendelman suggests a permanent transit revenue source from the legislature is the only way to make it livable to remove the flyer stop, and now's the time to get it while the state folks are wigged out from the last-minute yelling at them:

Point two: We should keep the Montlake flyer stop. That said, if we have to lose it, the midday and nighttime service that people currently use there needs to be replaced. We need UW-Redmond, UW-Kirkland, and UW-Bellevue service to keep us from screwing UW students, faculty, and staff – not to mention patients and game-fans. That means Sound Transit’s new route 542 would need to run from 5am to 11pm seven days a week. The 540 would have to run on weekends and late at night. If the legislature is choosing to remove the flyer stop, they need to mitigate the loss with dedicated transit funding.

I think the other debates about transit on the bridge are distracting us from these two immediate issues.


http://seattletransitblog.com/2010/02/02…
Posted by gloomy gus on February 4, 2010 at 8:50 PM · Report this
cressona 44
Gloomy Gus @43, thanks for the knowledge. My concern isn't so much with preserving the so-called Montlake flyer stop. My concern is with making sure 520 transit is integrated with Central Link light rail. You'd think the Husky Stadium light rail station deserves to be a transit hub.

I'm trying to visualize, but isn't it a bit of a hike from the Montlake flyer stop to the Husky Stadium station? So that stop is not going to help much in terms of connectivity for transit riders.

For me, the question comes down to this. For those bus routes running on 520 for which it makes sense, how easy is it going to be for them to get to that light rail station? Imagine a situation where the moment the bus gets off the HOV lane, it's stuck in the traffic jam in Montlake with everyone else.
Posted by cressona on February 4, 2010 at 9:15 PM · Report this
45
Cressona, it looks like the plan intends to add a second Montlake bridge across the Cut to make three lanes going each way. I believe (based on limited reading) that instead of all westbound buses stopping at the flyer for anyone who wants to head to UW/Link etc., you board (or transfer at Evergreen Point) to a UW-bound bus that goes right to Link. Hm. Here's the PDF:
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/partners/sr520le…
Posted by gloomy gus on February 4, 2010 at 9:45 PM · Report this
47
Erin O'Connor…nice point.
Posted by Timothy http://www.moreperfect.org on February 5, 2010 at 4:27 AM · Report this

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