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Friday, April 18, 2008

Sierra Club Pushes for 520 Changes

posted by on April 18 at 13:59 PM

Under pressure from Sierra Club activists who refused to sign off on the agency’s latest transit plan unless it met certain conditions, Sound Transit just agreed to replace the parking garages in the plan with more flexible “station access funds”; agreed to fund a first-of-its-kind greenhouse-gas analysis of the project; and agreed in principle to leave a future rail line across 520 on the table.

Fresh from that major victory, the Sierra Club is trying to bring the same pressure to bear on the city, state, and federal governments.

In a letter earlier this month, the Sierra Club’s Mike O’Brien and Tim Gould urged Gov. Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and WSDOT and Federal Highway Administration officials to “correct [the] deficiencies” in the current, six-lane plan for replacing 520 during the upcoming environmental review. Among other things, the Sierra Club wants the plan to include a greenhouse-gas analysis; update 520’s traffic models to account for changes in traffic patterns due to tolls; reserve two of the six lanes as “transit only,” and build the bridge to accommodate light rail in the future, instead of retrofitting it later; and continue evaluating a “reasonable” four-lane alternative. “Past assumptions and practices concerning our transportation system will no longer serve us in a changing world,” Gould and O’Brien’s letter says. “We know that our future will bring us climate change impacts and rising energy costs, the only question is how rapidly. … The objectives that all these alternatives seek to achieve must emphasize moving people and goods rather than vehicles.

It’s unclear how receptive city and state leaders will be to the Sierra Club’s request this time around. Because the Club’s (extremely vocal) opposition helped sink last year’s roads and transit ballot measure, Sound Transit came into this year’s discussions about a possible 2008 ballot measure with a strong incentive to get them on board. This time around, though, there’s no vote to give the Sierra Club political leverage over the state. Without that leverage, it’s hard to see a cautious governor and a so-far-disinterested mayor pushing for measures (like the greenhouse gas analysis) that are sure to be controversial with voters outside the Puget Sound region—including those who might support Gregoire’s road-happy opponent Dino Rossi.

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This isn't a new request, it's just following up on what was already talked about - the Sierra Club has been fairly straightforward that, in the end, we need global warming (greenhouse gas) emissions net data for all new highways, transit, and other packages presented to the voters.


Look, the cold hard reality is that when you ask the voters to pay to build a new bridge or highway, it will take 20-50 years for construction and operation, and that we here need to be meeting and EXCEEDING the Kyoto and subsequent accords that all call for DRASTIC REDUCTIONS in emissions.

Which, around here, comes mostly from roads, bridges, tunnels, transit, and highways.

It's only prudent. And fiscally forward looking.

Otherwise, we will happily kill it. Even if you put nice green signs on it and call it Super Duper Highway of Greenness.

It's the 21st Century - not the 20th.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 18, 2008 2:11 PM

What is the estimated cost of a greenouse gas analysis for a 520 bridge replacement? Does it cost a ton of money? Same question regarding building the bridge to accommodate future light rail expansion - how much more expensive would it make the project? Obviously, budget concerns will be the main source of controversy, as it is with any other public project.

Posted by Hernandez | April 18, 2008 2:52 PM

I'm also curious about the cost of the greenhouse gas analysis. Will the results actually change anything?

This is an innocent question -- I just want to know if a study will produce useful advice or just tell us what we already know: Construction and more traffic will probably increase Co2 emissions.

Posted by Dawgson | April 18, 2008 3:07 PM

Construction is actually a major contributor to the total lifespan greenhouse emissions of any bridge and highway (based on all the economics and environmental analyses from China, Europe, Brazil, and Mexico I read). That and total input of construction materials.

Take sugar cane ethanol for example - you have to look at pesticides, slash burn, loss of agrarian land, usage for competitive land use (e.g. a forest is better than cattle grazing and cane fields are between those), water usage, and many other factors - usually around 8 to 10 major measures in most analysis.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 18, 2008 3:25 PM

The Siera Club is absolutely right in one glaring point.

It is absolutely the height of stupidity to build a brand new bridge without light rail being part of it. If we know that eventually we want to build light rail to the east side, it is cheaper by far to build it while you are building the new bridge. Retrofitting it later to either bridge (I-90 or 520) would cost many times more. We'd save SO much money if we incorporate it into the new bridge design.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | April 18, 2008 3:35 PM

There's no point of a green-house gas analysis on a road.

Here's the analysis: Construction shit ton of CO2, maintance fuck ton of CO2, use fuck ton of shit tons of CO2.

Posted by Andrew | April 18, 2008 3:35 PM

@6 - major roads in most countries have greenhouse gas analyses done on them - just because the US is full of slackers doesn't mean the industry doesn't know how to hire an independent analysis firm, since there are tons that do this work.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 18, 2008 4:36 PM

I'd like to see The Stranger and ECB write about the Sierra Club in the way she writes about anybody who delays light rail transit indefinitely.

And, making the light rail stations more inaccessible by not including parking garages encourages people not to use them, and to use street parking instead.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | April 18, 2008 4:44 PM

Hey Erica, I recently read somewhere that Northwest gas consumption is at its lowest level since 1966, this despite massive levels of road building in the interning period.

I think we are still going to need more roads to drive our solar powered cars on in the future. At least until we all have hover-crafts...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | April 18, 2008 4:46 PM

"intervening" not "interning"...

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | April 18, 2008 4:50 PM

For a political advocacy organization to really make a difference, they need two qualities. Two qualities that are not necessarily competing or contradictory:

  1. Vision and the ability to drive the debate.
  2. Pragmatism and the ability to compromise.

This may be a function of the nature of these organizations. But the local Sierra Club chapter has been strong lately on #1 but weak on #2. On the other hand, a mainstream organization like Transportation Choices Coalition has been strong lately on #2 but weak on #1.

If things went down the way Erica describes them, then I have to give credit to Sierra Club for squeezing concessions out of Sound Transit like not committing to parking garages. It's concessions like this I wish groups like TCC had wrangled out of Sound Transit rather than just being (or appearing to be) cheerleaders for whatever light rail plan Sound Transit puts out there.

With 520 replacement, Sierra Club's proposal to "build the bridge to accommodate light rail in the future, instead of retrofitting it later" comes across to me as #1 vision. However, if they decide to make a four-lane alternative a sticking point, then that comes across to me as a lack of #2 pragmatism.

So far in 2008, the Sierra Club has been a real force for good in local transportation politics. The real test for them is going to be, on issues like ST2 and the 520 bridge, whether they're able to ultimately compromise and get behind a good plan, even if it's not the plan they would have come up with if they ruled the world.

Posted by cressona | April 18, 2008 5:50 PM

Aw, cressona, we know you love us. You just hate that when we say we will kill something, we succeed at doing it.

Got roads?

Not any more. Just fix what we have.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 19, 2008 2:20 AM

@12: Will, just shut the motherfucking fuck up. Please. When the Sierra Club successfully sponsors a project that gets passed, then you can crow. Until then, you're just another armchair transportation planner, like every other goddamn resident of this state.

Posted by Greg | April 19, 2008 10:04 AM

Asking for 520 changes is a little excessive and burdensom. You may just as well ask them to re-do the whole project.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | April 19, 2008 1:38 PM

Yes Will, you guys are excellent at killing things, the good as well as the bad.

What a record of accomplishment.

Posted by Donolectic | April 21, 2008 5:09 PM

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