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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

McGinn 520 Report: State Plan Creates Insurmountable Obstacles for Ever Building Light Rail on Bridge, but, by Adjusting Plans Now, "Light Rail Could Be a Reality"

Posted by on Tue, Apr 6, 2010 at 3:28 PM

mcginn_report_light_rail.jpg
  • Nelson/Nygaard

The powers that be in Olympia say it’s too late to draw new lines on the state’s blueprint for a replacement 520 bridge. Instead, after 14 years of planning that Seattle officials mostly ignored, state lawmakers and transportation engineers are ready to begin pouring concrete for a $4.65 billion highway from Bellevue to I-5 that would widen the floating span across Lake Washington from four lanes to six lanes, but lacks any dedicated lanes for transit. It’s slated to be done by 2014. This late in the game, according to state lawmakers who chair transportation committees in the state house and state senate, there’s no room for a new Seattle mayor to jam light rail into those plans.

But Mayor Mike McGinn thinks that conclusion is wrong—and he’s got a report, he says, that proves it.

Consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard issued the report today. It found that demand for light rail will increase in the next 20 years, and that going ahead with the state’s design now will likely prevent us from ever building light rail on the bridge in the future. McGinn adds that, according to this report, planning for light rail could be done for the same amount of money the state has committed to spending on the current bridge design, and that it could possibly be done faster.

Consultants wrote that if officials make changes now "light rail could be a reality"; however, “current plans for SR 520 remain unaltered, there are significant, perhaps insurmountable obstacles, to building light rail in the corridor, even if formal planning efforts identify light rail as the preferred option.”

More after the jump

But McGinn faces opponents—including state legislators, the governor, and city council members—who say this vision is a nonstarter. First, the state never studied plans for light rail; beginning that kind of study now would take 18 to 24 additional months, according to governor Chris Gregoire. That’s time we don’t have, she argues, because the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says the dilapidated bridge could sink in high winds or an earthquake, taking lives with it. Moreover, light rail costs money—money that the impoverished state, city, and county governments don’t have.

The challenge for the pro-transit side is in making the counterpoints, which the study and McGinn are now outlining.

The Demand: First, consultants found that transit ridership across the 520 corridor was about 15,000 riders a day in 2008. They found that “daily transit ridership on the corridor will reach more than 27,500 trips per day by 2030.” McGinn says that proves it makes sense to build light rail—or at least plan for it.

The Logistics: McGinn, among various potential alignments on the table, is pushing the idea that two of the six lanes should be dedicated from the outset to transit (like buses) but be readily convertible to light rail once we can afford to lay the track and purchase the trains. To do this, the report finds the state would have to modify its plans in three ways: include a gap between the east and west portions of the bridge near the arboretum to allow light rail to veer north toward the future Husky Stadium light-rail station, widen that same portion of the freeway slightly to accommodate the larger train cars, and build floating pontoons with sufficient buoyancy to hold up the heavier trains. In one of the scenarios, light rail and transit would have dedicated access on a bridge across the Montlake cut.

mcginn_report_light_rail_exit.jpg
  • Nelson/Nygaard

The Urgency: Failing to build this way essentially precludes light rail in the future. Attempting to convert the bridge and Montlake interchange’s current design to hold light rail in the future—instead of planning for it now—is “financially impractical” and “environmentally challenging,” Nelson/Nygaard found. Moreover, it would likely entail expanding 520 into an eight-lane bridge, which “from a policy perspective, is unacceptable to the city of Seattle.”

The Time: This plan would require the center lanes be dedicated for transit, which the state never studied, and would delay construction by up to two years. Critics of light-rail say building a new bridge is a public-safety emergency. But McGinn points out the widespread support of light rail and a set of neighborhood groups contemplating a lawsuit against the present bridge plans. Going forward with the current design “may lead to litigation delay,” McGinn says. “So if we can come up with a proposal that has more popular support, because it meets our vision of light rail, protecting parkland, and not bringing more cars into Seattle that gridlock local streets and I-5, we can get this done faster.”

The Money: Only $2 billion of the $4.65 billion bridge’s estimated cost is accounted for, the report found. “Given this shortfall and the urgency of addressing the public safety issues associated with the floating bridge,” the report says, “it is highly likely that the project will be constructed in phases.” Those phases should include making sure it can include light rail, McGinn says.

 

Comments (17) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Going to be interesting hearing about this tonight at City Hall.

I recommend we name the phases after Chihulhy.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on April 6, 2010 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 2

I've become convince that the Common Wisdom around here is extremely Wrong. Therefore, I've created a breakthrough Masterplan for Washington State that is being explored here:

http://masterplan2100.blogspot.com

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://www.you-read-it-here-first.com on April 6, 2010 at 3:57 PM · Report this
3
"This late in the game, according to state lawmakers who chair transportation committees in the state house and state senate, there’s no room for a new Seattle mayor to jam light rail into those plans."

The chair of the House Transportation Committee is Eastside representative Judy Clibborn, who took large campaign donations in 2008 from, among others: Street Pavers PAC, Trucking Action Committee, Washington Asphalt Pavement Assn PAC, Washington State Auto Dealers PAC, Washington Aggregates and Concrete Assn PAC, and more. Gee, wonder why she's trying to put the brakes on transit options in favor of more roads?

Posted by Mason on April 6, 2010 at 4:13 PM · Report this
4
"This late in the game, according to state lawmakers who chair transportation committees in the state house and state senate, there’s no room for a new Seattle mayor to jam light rail into those plans."

The chair of the House Transportation Committee is Eastside representative Judy Clibborn, who took large campaign donations in 2008 from, among others: Street Pavers PAC, Trucking Action Committee, Washington Asphalt Pavement Assn PAC, Washington State Auto Dealers PAC, Washington Aggregates and Concrete Assn PAC, and more. Gee, wonder why she's trying to put the brakes on transit options in favor of more roads?
Posted by Mason on April 6, 2010 at 4:15 PM · Report this
Tingleyfeeln 5
Why does it have to be light rail on the new 520? The space on the bridge for rail could also be used for Bus Rapid Transit. If space is dedicated strictly for BRT, there could be the flexible transit options more compatible with the Eastsides residential patterns, while still being separate from general traffic.
Or there is monorail technology, which would at least be good for a downtown to Microsoft route. It would not only be separate from traffic, it would be above it, and could be done in a way that would decrease the width of the bridge, or leave room for HOV lanes, as well as pedestrian lanes.
Posted by Tingleyfeeln on April 6, 2010 at 4:25 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 6
@5: we're already busy building a light rail system here.
Posted by Max Solomon on April 6, 2010 at 4:29 PM · Report this
laterite 7
If this tack doesn't work and light rail doesn't make it onto the new bridge, I would like to see McGinn instead pick up the mantle of promoting telecommuting. Why does anyone working for Microsoft, Amazon, AT&T, Google, etc., still need to congregate at a separate physical location other than their homes to "work"? What an outmoded concept. That would sure make the demand for a 6-lane freeway over the lake plunge like a rock (sorry).
Posted by laterite on April 6, 2010 at 4:32 PM · Report this
8
http://has520sunkyet.com/

now with rss feed!
Posted by Cale on April 6, 2010 at 4:59 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
@5, @6 - and as part of the light rail, most people have suggested we run BRT mixed with vanpools (HOV-6) in the lane until the light rail is installed.

Well, except for the anti-tax roads-only people, but they're nutters.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on April 6, 2010 at 5:25 PM · Report this
10
@5: Because people hate riding the bus. The train is more comfortable (smoother, less vibration, more legroom) and is frankly less stigmatized as being for society's unmentionables. It's also cleaner because it results in fewer point sources of pollution. Use BRT until we can build the trains, fine... but ultimately, if we're going to build a strong intracounty transit system, rail is the way to go.
Posted by pheeeew!crack!boom! on April 6, 2010 at 5:44 PM · Report this
11
I thought the train was running across I90....you want another line on the 520?

You people are fucking morons.
Posted by Keep your ass in your seat on April 6, 2010 at 6:26 PM · Report this
12
The eastside doesn't want their rich white shopping mall culture polluted by the kind of people who take transit. That's what White Center's for.
Posted by codswallower on April 6, 2010 at 6:39 PM · Report this
13
What amazes more than anything is the "we'll let the next guy worry about that" band-aid mentality running through the state right now. I understand the desire to move quickly on a 520 bridge replacement in terms of the concern for the structural integrity of the bridge. But that shouldn't be the only driving thought behind bridge replacement. It's why we're getting a massive, car only replacement that does nothing to address the transit issues, nor the current montlake gridlock. There's a chance here to actually do something right on the first try so that we DON'T have to go back and fix it in 20 years when population has made bridge traffic crawl to a standstill. Why wouldn't they take advantage of that?
Posted by j.lee on April 6, 2010 at 7:16 PM · Report this
Cornichon 14
Let's see ... not even the Downtown Transit Tunnel was originally built for light rail, was it? They had to shut it down for two years for a light rail retrofit.
Posted by Cornichon http://cornichon.org on April 6, 2010 at 8:04 PM · Report this
mrbombit 15
McMayor= Epic fail. It is almost funny that mcmayor thinks anyone is going to listen to him. This is the problem with being an outsider left wing nut job. First, your base alienates a majority of voters. and second you are not networked with other local law makers who have, and will continue to be, on the scene a lot longer than mcmayor.
Posted by mrbombit on April 6, 2010 at 10:55 PM · Report this
Telsa Grills 16
@14: The downtown transit tunnels was originally planned for rail transit at some point. They were not, however, outfitted for any particular light rail system, so a retrofit for the light rail was required — one that co-ordinated with existing bus service.

The BRT advocates are spot-on. Now that light rail is established and we do know what standards to use for that service, outfitting the bridge for future light rail as monies are secured to cover capital costs is a lot less of a guessing game than it was for the tunnels. The preliminary electrical connections, for example, can be integrated into the original design for a lot less than an after-the-fact retrofit.

BRT, meanwhile, is extremely cost-effective to initiate and, at the end of its service life, can be phased down or even re-deployed as rolling stock elsewhere for another BRT line (which too could upgrade to LRT when the time is ready). It's all about ridership thresholds.

And hate to boil it down to this as an I-told-you-so, but if people know they can halve the commute time between Seattle and Bellevue guaranteed without buses or cars being log-jammed at rush hour, then do the math: people pay for saving time.
Posted by Telsa Grills on April 7, 2010 at 5:55 AM · Report this
17
There are a few problems with McGinn's last minute ideas:

1. It would be far more efficient to serve the corridor with more buses than light rail any time in the next 20 years. perhaps longer. Want more people out of their cars in the corridor to reduce carbon emissions? Better to go with more buses that deliver people to dispersed job centers on the Eastside and Seattle.

2. No one believes that doing what the Seattle Mayor wants will prevent a lawsuit from the Montlake Area crowd. The same people crowing about light rail now have a track record of delay tactics that have already produced enormous cost increases for the project. Why give them more time to raise money to rack up bills for the rest of us - better to focus the money and resource to deliver light rail from Ballard to West Seattle, for instance.

3. McGinn has not cultivated relationships with other political leaders in the region, which is necessary to be an effective Mayor. He has communicated hostility to the interests of other places, as opposed to mutual respect. For all his faults, Mayor Nickels demonstrated how to lead effectively in the region by delivering light rail to more places a couple of years ago. McGinn is no match. I could care less what any politician is FOR. The true test is their ability to DELIVER. Otherwise, why waste time and resource?

4. The McGinn plan is for a larger bridge, 10 feet wider. That's risky for the environment and needs a lot more study. Plus, once you make the bridge wider, you open up the possibility for more highway lanes. Better to keep the width limits in place in the law right now. (You might need a special session of the legislature to change things, and McGinn has demonstrated zero effectiveness in Olympia, so good luck.)

5. These new bridges McGinn is proposing to and through the UW and over the shop canal and go through environmentally sensitive areas and would likely kill birds and fish.

6. Giving an ineffective Mayor more time to become more effective endangers getting a new bike and pedestrian trail across the lake, a 25% increase in transit on the corridor next year, faster and far more attractive transit, vanpool and carpools across the bridge by removing today's bottlenecks, oh, and the bridge is in really bad shape. The Mayor is also calling for continued pollution of Lake Washington from continued runoff from a badly designed bridge - the new bridge will make for a cleaner Lake.

There's more. It would be nice to see some reporting that is comprehensive on about such major investment. What we're getting seems to be written by PR agents and regurgitated as reporting, on all sides of the issue. It would be great to see some real hard nosed examination of all this stuff.

More...
Posted by CarbonBuster on April 7, 2010 at 8:06 AM · Report this

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