Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island
Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island

Ever since Sound Transit chose Interstate 90 as the preferred alignment for East Link light rail, a concerted effort to “protect” I-90 from the project has come from a few legislators – but mostly the office of Representative Judy Clibborn (41st, Mercer Island), chair of the House Transportation Committee.

I’ve written about this a little in the past, but it seems time to lay out a framework of her sustained attack on transit. She has repeatedly spoken in favor of transit as an idea – but not any of the transit that comes to her district. For a representative whose district voted over 55% for Sound Transit 2, her opposition seems misplaced.

As much as I pay attention to all this, I’m still not sure when her opposition started actively, but the first thing I see in law is a proviso from her in the 2007 transportation budget, ESHB 1094. This proviso requires that an ‘access plan’ be created to allow Mercer Island residents to use the new HOV lanes in single occupancy vehicles after the center lanes are closed to traffic:

“Expenditure of the funds on construction is contingent upon revising the access plan for Mercer Island traffic such that Mercer Island traffic will have access to the outer roadway high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes during the period of operating of such lanes following the removal of Mercer Island traffic from the center roadway and prior to conversion of the outer roadway HOV lanes to high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Sound transit may only have access to the center lanes when alternative R-8A is complete.

The same year, she moved some R8A funding out from the 2007-2009 budget, as mentioned previously on the blog, to 2017 and beyond. Remember that this was early in the year before Roads and Transit came in November – this was almost a pre-emptive strike in case R&T passed.

Clibborn also pushed for an “Independent Review Team” to (hopefully) bolster her claim that light rail over I-90 was like the “Big Dig”. When that IRT released their report, essentially giving light rail a thumbs up from an engineering perspective, she told attendees of the hearing that they should be ready to hear about a “show-stopper.” Sounds like that was wishful thinking.

With light rail seeing support that just won’t quit, and that likely to be bolstered by Link opening this year, she’s exercising a ‘nuclear option’ now. Not only has she defunded R8A, it sounds like the state plans to hold light rail over I-90 hostage. Today’s transportation plan halts negotiations for the I-90 express lanes between WSDOT and ST, pending yet another review from a panel that House Transportation appoints. Oh, goody.

Frank Chopp, D-Capitol Hill, Wallingford
Frank Chopp, D-Capitol Hill, Wallingford

What’s worse, sources tell me that Speaker Frank Chopp (43rd, my district, went over 80% for ST2, also note he appointed Clibborn) wants Sound Transit to fund $1 billion, yes, that’s $1,000,000,000, of SR-520 replacement as payment for the I-90 lanes. Apparently that’s what those express lanes are worth to him, even though they were over 90% federally funded (yes, really!) – and the federal government (the GAO) says that states can’t use the proceeds from air rights sales on interstate highways (PDF, page 5). Here’s the excerpt:

“The statute states simply that any federal share in the net proceeds, which a state receives as a result of the sale, use, lease or lease renewal of such property, is to be applied to other eligible title 23 projects. Logically, the use of the term “federal share” indicates that the federal share retains its character as federal funds. Furthermore, by providing in § 156(a) that states must dispose of real property at fair market value, unless the Secretary grants an exception for a social, environmental, or economic purpose, the statutory text evidences a strong and on-going federal interest in any revenues generated from such disposal. In our view, this is a clear indication that the federal share of these proceeds should continue to be treated as federal rather than state funds.”

Don’t these people realize we’re paying attention now? Sound Transit is not your personal ATM, Mr. Speaker.

120 Replies to “Clibborn (and Chopp) vs. East Link”

  1. So, let me get this straight: the state legislature is forming another commission to assess the value of the I-90 bridge. But a certain Speaker of the House has already decided that bridge is worth $1 billion?

  2. Oh gosh! The state is only 8 or 9 BILLION dollars short for things like, oh you know education, food stamps, etc, and running things like the only level 1 trauma center in the region (harborview) and look like something got cut that has a chance of being funded via Federal dollars…. what a crisis! Call the papers..oh yeah one down and one to go…

    If ST didn’t get East Link started this year because some funding got cut it’s not the end of the world as we know it.

    Ben relax. You’ve got a senior Senator (Murray) and a mid Senator (Cantwell) on Washington’s side. You are looking at an economic crisis that is as bad as the early ’40s and looks like it might get a lot worse before it gets better. One set of tracks more or less “on time” isn’t going to matter. With fewer people working there is less pressure on the commute anyway.

    1. 8 or 9 billion dollars short, and yet they managed to find $1,500 million for HOV lanes in Tacoma, and $3,140 million for a tunnel we voted against. Then they can’t come up with $24 million for a project that frees up $4,500 billion in funding we’ve approved?

      Not a chance. This is not about money – not when these legislators manage to fund GIANT pet projects in the same breath. $24 million to hold up $4,500 million is absolutely indefensible.

      1. I’d vote for you! Even if you don’t win, every vote for you is an unmistakable message that Chopp’s obstructionism against transit is unacceptable and his job would be in real jeopardy from a credible pro-transit candidate (as well as signalling to such a pro-transit candidate to step forward). Heck, if I were to run it’d be an even more unmistakable message!

      2. There are a number of groups who are massively pissed at Chopp. Not just pro-transit people. Anyone taking him on could probably get SEIU support for instance.

    2. Gary, how does forming another commission to study light rail over I-90 solve budget problems? How does delaying a massive infrastructure program (i.e. jobs) over $24m in the budget help the economy? How is charging Sound Transit, i.e. the taxpayers, $1bn to use something the taxpayers already own an act of good policy?

      Just because things are bad doesn’t mean that we should delay East Link with another blue ribbon commission, we should hold off creating thousands of new jobs, and we should no longer hold policies accountable on their merits.

    3. It’s not about money in this case, it’s about political capital. Whoever can wrangle the legislature wins, basically.

      You have agencies willing to pay, but legislators are blocking it politically.

      Sen. Murray should step in.

  3. Gary – I think you’re not getting the point… You seem very focused on current and short-term situations. Certainly the economy will rebound and traffic will be just as bad or worse by the time East Link will have originally been built. Years and years might be tacked on if we keep letting these politicians with their own agendas get in the way.

    I just sent Clibborn an email. I honestly don’t think most of her district (or the region) know what she’s up to. When it’s time, we need to vote her OUT. Is the mercer island and bellevue reporters on the story??

    1. I haven’t contacted them, I’m a little swamped. This would be a great time for a letter to the editor or an op-ed, though!

      Thank you very much for your email to Clibborn. :)

  4. http://www.seattlepi.com/local/6420ap_wa_xgr_budget_summary_box.html?source=mypi

    9 BILLION….that’s not some small shortfall in taxes. Teachers pay is going to get cut, parks are going to close, things that we all want are not going to happen as soon as we’d like them to.

    And yes Chopp and Clibborn are playing politics. It’s the same way that a school always cuts the Football team first when the local school levee doesn’t pass.

    Eventually all this economic mess will pass. However it may not be in the next couple of years, or it may, no one really knows. In which case funding will ease up for all kinds of things. Meantime ST can go farther South or North and just delay the East link. It’s not like there isn’t something to build that needs building.

    Meantime take a look at the BIG picture. You cut 9 Billion from the budget and not hurt families who no longer have jobs then come tell me that a rail line to the Eastside is still the most important thing to fund. It’s not even close.

    1. The money for east link does not come from the state budget, therefore it won’t affect any of the cuts you are so worried about.

      1. Right, it’s gas tax money, which under the state constitution cannot go to teachers or parks, or whatever else is getting cut.

    2. Whoa, as BurienBen and Andrew point out, education funding and transportation funding come from completely different places.

    3. There are people who’ve wanted to kill Sound Transit since day 1.

      Rep. Chopp has shown by a number of his actions that he is owned by the paving and sprawl lobbies.

      This isn’t about the larger budget this is about killing Sound Transit and raiding their piggy bank.

    4. Meantime ST can go farther South or North and just delay the East link. It’s not like there isn’t something to build that needs building.

      This ignores the fact that eastside sub area equity money can not go to those things. It also ignores the fact that now is the best time for the money already collected to be put to use. This is very different than “a school always cuts the Football team first when the local school levee doesn’t pass.” This is more like closing the school after the levy passes.

      I’m not a blind supporter of East Link or ST. I think that if ST truly had the interests of eastside tax payers in mind they would have had alternative solutions already on the table. My problem with the legislature are two fold. First the project and funding were already agreed upon. Second, they have no alternate proposal. The do nothing budget ends up costing Washington billions in lost matching funds and deferred future fixes.

      1. Oh, and on the topic of problems with the legislature… add the item they were able to come up with billions for the deep bore tunnel (2 mile 4 lane road) that didn’t even “surface” until a few months ago and money for the “Love Boat” to BC which actually could be used to fund education.

      2. Exactly. The only plan WSDOT has for increased mobility on the Eastside is an extra lane on I-405, a project that is about a third or half completed. The only plan they have for increased cross-lake mobility is a new 520 bridge with an additional HOV lane and a bike path. Neither of these projects is fully funded.

        The GMA and other growth guidelines have a ton of new people and employment slated to go into that area. How are those people going to get around? How are they going to get to work? Do Judy Clibborn, Frank Chopp et al realise they are putting the very livability and economic competitiveness of the state on the line with this stunt?

      3. Damn, I’d forgotten about the bike path on the new 520. We have tons of excess capacity even during peak on the 520 bike path. Everyone riding their bikes will dramatically drop GHG emisions and solve the health care crises. Add in the vehicle license fees we can add to bicycles and the whole state budget gap becomes a surplus. Dang, I apologize for thinking our State Legislature wasn’t seeing the big picture.

      4. Uh, Bernie, Andrew didn’t imply that the bike path was a solution — in fact he stated the exact opposite. He’s saying that we need transit alternatives on the Eastside. You know, like the light rail that voters approved.

      5. I think Bernie was being sarcastic (doesn’t translate well over the internet I’ve learned).

      6. I got that he was being sarcastic but I think I misread the context. His sarcasm was directed at the legislature and not you!

      7. Yes, it was directed at legislature

        Dang, I apologize for thinking our State Legislature wasn’t seeing the big picture.

        Sorry for any confusion.

    5. Cutting now $24 million now will end up costing a far more in just inflation. We in the ST taxing district approved this measure and WSDOT had our backs until the Legislature pulled the carpet out from under us. And how are new HOV lanes a bad thing? They’re relieve traffic and make the bus commute better even without Link. Seems like you’re forgetting the big picture.

      1. I like reversible lanes–DC even uses them on city arterial streets. But we really need HOV lanes on these highways; I-5 north of downtown and I-90. ST is adding lots of express bus service on I-5 north of Seattle; why should those buses be stuck in traffic b/c the road lacks HOV lanes?

  5. Ben,

    three points for patience:

    the obvious answer to the Clibborn 2007 proviso is to toll all lanes on I-90; MI drivers would pay as all users would; MI could have free access on and off the island via the East Channel Bridge;

    even if the WSDOT share for R8A is put off many years due to their transportation budget issues, ST2 funds could pay for the state share and it could be implemented quickly; WSDOT could pay ST back later;

    as ST2 was finalized in summer 2008, ST reached agreement with the Executive branch of state government, respresnted by Secretary Hammond; but the Legislative branch has to have its chance to weigh in; both branches are needed to make law and budgets; we can see this point in the AWV and SR-520 projects as well; the three executives say the AWV will be replaced by a deep bore, leaving to the legislative branches the heavy lifting of funding the program; the Seattle share is about $1 bilion. the state wants to be very sure that the bridge is used well and will not be damaged; (they have had plenty of trouble with their bridges sinking or falling down).

    Speaker Chopp did a great service in holding out for public bonding of the Narrows bridge; that saved many millions.

    1. Hi Eddie!

      The Governor didn’t even ASK for the funding she agreed to, nor has she brought it up as an issue now that both houses have removed it entirely.

      The deep bore tunnel has been voted against by Seattle, and if need be, we will vote against it again. It’s unlikely that they even have the money.

      This isn’t just the $24 million – and no, ST can’t just pay for it, they’ve got a revenue shortfall as well. The state just told WSDOT to stop working with ST on the air rights to the express lanes.

      1. The deep bore tunnel has been voted against by Seattle, and if need be, we will vote against it again.

        Like the stadium.. oh, wait. Bad example.

        This isn’t just the $24 million – and no, ST can’t just pay for it, they’ve got a revenue shortfall as well. The state just told WSDOT to stop working with ST on the air rights to the express lanes.

        Yes, this and the “no sign” clause on the EIS has me thinking at least 2 year setback. The $24 was posturing for money. The house budget has some serious teeth in it’s raise the draw bridge tactic of derailing Link.

        Another delay, another vote, another coulda woulda shoulda…

      2. uh, Seattle voted against a cut an cover tunnel. That’s the tunnel that was on the ballot. It was and still is stupid. The deep bore tunnel avoids many of the construction issues that the cut and cover one had but as been noted here, has many of it’s own problems.

      3. And it’s no less stupid than the cut and cover. Few in Seattle knew the difference, they just didn’t want a tunnel.

    2. eddiew usually has some interesting information to share.

      But keep in mind: he’s been fighting light rail across I-90 for about as many years as Chopp and Clibborn have.

    3. The whole issue of tolling on I90 has been blown way out of proportion. 1st, by law it can only be used to fund maintenance and improvements on I90. Users of I90 don’t want maintenance and improvements? 2nd, tolling all lanes was never on the table. The feds have control over tolling I90 (the right to say no) and the only proposal on the table is turning HOV lanes into HOT lanes. Anybody using any mode for free today has that same choice if tolling is implemented. Car pool now, no extra charge. Use the GP lanes now, no extra charge. It only gives SOV drivers who’s time is worth the toll the option to pay it. Often called Lexus Lanes because the perception is just fat cat rich people would be the only ones to use it try to think about time equals money. If you’re say Joe the plumber that charges $75 an hour, does it pay to shell out $3 to save 5 minutes (hmmm, $75/hr=$1.25/min… you do the math).

      Instead of arguing that money from tolling I90 can be diverted from state funds that would have been spent there (would have been except they don’t exist) the discussion should point to the increased revenue on 520 because diverted traffic that would otherwise have made the I90 commute worse got the 520 project finished sooner meaning at a lower total cost leaving more for everything else in the State that needs to be done.

      1. OK, bad example. $3 to save 5 minutes would only be worth $36 dollars/hour. So on the way to a job it might be worth it. On the way home; depends on if dinner is waiting. Maybe the toll when the HOT lanes saves 5 minutes should be $6.25 but the idea is you have a variable rate to help maximize usage and nobody is forced to pay a toll. If anything GP lane uses have the greatest “no cost” benefit because any traffic diverted to the HOT lanes decreases congestion in the GP lanes.

      2. It’s not necessarily about saving a fixed amount of time, either – you might have the possibility of saving 20 minutes.

      3. Bernie what I90 maintenance and improvements are you talking about?

        The gas tax should be going to maintenance and I don’t see any improvements ever happening… If there is a toll of course it should go to other projects, hopefully transit ones.

      4. The toll has to go to I90. That’s the stipulation by the feds to allow tolls. Maintenance on all bridges is high. The replacement expansion joints are a huge project but for the entire life of the bridge they’ve been constantly welded back together because the design was flawed from the outset. Of course the first improvement I90 tolls could be put toward is the gap in R8A funding.

        Money from tolls would offset gas tax revenues which can then be used elsewhere in the State.

      5. Bernie,
        Are you sure you have that right? I thought the feds were requiring a toll on I-90 as a condition of federal funding for 520?

      6. I’m pretty sure it has to go to the “corridor.” Which could mean transit, could mean 520, etc. Correct me if I’m wrong, Bernie.

      7. It does have to go to “the corridor”. How far you can stretch that is open but I think the Feds made it clear that it could not be accounted for as a dedicated source of funding for SR520. I90 is a federal highway, SR520 is a State highway. It’s pretty clear that the intent of the federal restrictions it to help people paying the toll by improving the “corridor” on which the tolls are collected.

        Possibly you could stretch “corridor” to fund I-90 improvements on Snoqualmie Pass but I doubt it. I’m pretty sure the lines for “the corridor” would be drawn at the I5 and I405 interchanges. It can be used to fund transit oriented improvements like additional HOV lanes (R8A), and part of the money would definitely go to the tolling infrastructure. I don’t think you can stretch it to cover operational costs of transit.

        Of course money collected that would otherwise have come from the State’s transportation budget would help elsewhere but everything from SR520, to the Viaduct to guardrails in Omak are vying for those same dollars. So, the amount of additional money available for SR520 is pretty small. First funds from tolls on I90 may well go to projects which simply would not have been funded without that dedicated revenue (no help to SR520 or anything else). If some money is saved from the transportation budget then the contribution to SR520 is really the amount saved divided by the total transportation budget funding times the amount of transportation budget funding for SR520.

        Transportation budget is $100. $1 of toll revenue from I90 replaces $1 of the transportation budget, 1%. $5 of the transportation budget is allocated to SR520. 1% of that $5 is from the “savings” on I90. There’s your nickle back from a gallon of gas.

      8. You’re saying that you could effectively use I-90 tolls to “help” constructing the new 520 since the state would be generating more revenue than without tolls.

        I’ve never heard about tolls on I-90 not being allowed to be applied directly to SR-520. Do you have a letter or something that states this? The build520 site with all the tolling scenarios never mentioned it.

      9. I believe the Federal authorization agreement to place tolls on I90 was referenced in the study on the different tolling scenarios. Let me do some digging.

        Apparently WSDOT originally asked for tolls on I-90 to directly fund SR520:


        This has a lot more in depth talk about the Federal regulations. Apparently “excess” toll revenue (however that is defined) can be used for other projects within certain parameters. Transit operational costs can also be paid from tolls but only if said transit is an integral part of the project being funded.


        So, it really depends on how the specifics of the request to FHWA

        Here’s the tolling study details:


        Looks like the biggest win as far as SR520 funding comes from the reduction in diverted traffic (12% instead of 30%). The net revenue jumps from more than that. I guess because there’s a substantial fixed cost of tolling which doesn’t increase and the time variable rate structure. Looks like it could be as much as a 30% more in revenue on 520 when both bridges are tolled

        I wish I could find info on the latest federal funding offer that kicked in among other things money for passenger only ferry service to Vashon if the State implemented variable rate tolling on both bridges. Evidently the US Congress thinks traffic demand management through variable rate tolling is an idea that needs to be jump started and is willing to throw in all sorts of freebies to give States an added incentive to make it happen. That also included a description of what allowable uses of I90 tolls had been approved.

      10. So, it appears that if you dig through the mountains of regulation regarding federal authority to toll an Interstate that with the right justification and a sympathetic bureaucrat or powerful political representation you could earmark the revenue for clowns on unicycles. Realistically it’s much easier to get the authority if the funds are going directly to the portion of the highway being tolled but since 520 is a parallel corridor and ST is a regional authority it’s not too much of a stretch to assume the feds would listen to a proposal that used some portion of the money for 520 construction, transit infrastructure or even operations.

        The real obstacle is a State law passed last session. E2SHB 1773 (originally sponsored by Representatives Clibborn and Jarrett) says in part:

        All revenue from an eligible toll facility must be used only to improve, preserve, maintain, manage, or operate the eligible toll facility on or in which the revenue is collected. Toll revenues may be spent only to: cover operating costs, including maintenance, preservation, administration, and toll enforcement by public law enforcement; meet obligations for the payment of debt; meet any other funding obligations for projects or operations on the eligible toll facility; provide for the operation of conveyances of people or goods; and fund improvements to the eligible toll facility.

  6. “mercer island and bellevue reporters on the story??”

    That would have been the Eastside desk at the PI, or the King County Journal… bought a dead tree paper lately? Going…going….gone!

    1. The Times is still around, as is the DJC. I hope Margie Slovan has something.

  7. The RTID backers are just pissed that “transit” passed without “roads”. Besides a number of people have seen ST as some magical new source of funding for highway funding, voters be damned. The biggest problem in their minds is how to find a legal way to transfer the tax money.

  8. Chopp’s up for re-election this year, so we need to do what we can do give him hell.

    1. Given his other actions such as pushing the great wall of chopp, killing the homebuyer rights bill, gutting the renewable energy initiative, etc. I’d say he is in need of a credible opponent.

      1. Well, they weren’t wrong compared to the college Republican who ran against him. :)

        But I don’t recall what the primary was like.

      2. Sadly, no one else ran against him (86% that time), though it’s worth noting the other state Representative in that district ran completely unopposed.

      3. I like Jamie Pedersen, I don’t see any reason to go after him.

        I’m surprised nobody ran against Chopp in the primary, though.

      4. Sadly it is pretty common in partisan races for nobody from the same party to challenge an incumbent. To challenge someone from your own party is to risk pissing off the local powers that be.

        The republicans are a bit better at going after incumbents from their own party who annoy the base. See Club for Growth and similar groups. Unfortunately Democrats are willing to let a tool of the BIAW hold a seat in the most liberal/green district in the state.

        In any case the new top two primary system changes the dynamics of challenging incumbents in supposedly “safe” districts a bit.

      5. Oh I’d also like to point out that as a legislative district it is entirely possible to knock on every door in the district during the course of the campaign. This doesn’t work quite as well in the 43rd due to the large number of multifamily residences compared to say Rep. Clibborn’s district but it still can be done.

        Anyone taking on Rep. Chopp could probably count on a bit of free media from The Stranger especially if they are seen as being friendlier on the issues the Stranger has attacked Chopp on.

        Viral marketing and small donor fund raising would be key though. A challenger wouldn’t likely get any support from any of the traditional kingmakers until late in the game.

      6. Chopp definitely needs a strong challenge. But I think the more realistic way to get him out of his seat is to give him a higher office. Like something in the Obama Administration, a statewide elected office, or Jim McDermott’s seat if he were to retire. That’s how we’re finally getting rid of Ron Sims…

      7. A strong challenge even if unsuccessful can scare a politician into changing their political stripes some. Especially if that challenge comes from their own side.

        Look at the success the Club For Growth has had in driving Republican Moderates to the right with primary challenges.

        I’m thinking we need something similar on the left so Democratic politicians will stop selling out on labor and environmental issues.

    2. YES, vote GOP. No way he’s going to lose but dropping his percentage to under 80% might send a message… Well, no… never mind.

      1. With top two there just needs to be a credible challenger running as a democrat or green.

      2. Oh my god, I didn’t even realize that. You’d just have to come in 2nd in the primary.

      3. I believe you’d have to keep the incumbent below 50% to make it to the general.

      4. That only applies to non-partisan races. Top two advance in all partisan offices.

      5. Yeah, that was a key basis of Larry Phillips’ challenge to Sims before he got nominated to HUD. You can primary someone and not worry about losing the seat to a Republican. I’ve been tempted to put my own name on the ballot against various people under top-two.

  9. Ben,

    Seattle voted against two AWV replacement options: a four-lane cut-and-cover tunnel with shoulders used in the peak periods and a six-lane replacement viaduct. the deep bore was not on the Seattle ballot. The ballot was advisory, as no funding was attached.

    1. Seattle would likely happily vote against allowing permitting for this tunnel next year.

      1. If we can get it to a vote, given the Mayor was always for it (even when he said he was against it) and I don’t see a lot of leadership on Council on the issue. Initiative?

      2. Initiative. I think that’s the only way. But I don’t think they have the money anyhow.

      3. I would totally support an initiative that would prohibit permits for any elevated or tunneled replacement to the viaduct until R8A was fully funded and arrangements were made to turn the center lanes of I-90 over to Sound Transit. If Chopp, Clibborn, Jarret, et al, are going to take hostages, we should too. Also, the initiative should prohibit permanantly the construction of any elevated park along the waterfront south of the Victor Steinbruek park. Only Chopp thinks that’s a good idea.

        Where do I sign?

      4. The fact that only Chopp thinks it’s a good idea is enough to kill it. I would want such an initiative to be pretty simple.

      5. No, the fact that only Chopp thinks it’s a good idea and everyone in Seattle has heard of the “Great Wall of Chopp” and hates it is enough to get our initiative to pass. ;-)

        If this initiative were to work at all, it would be by taking hostage pet projects that the legislators causing the problems hold dear, forcing them to either give up their projects or let Link move forward. Ideally it would convince them to take preemptive action to make the initiative unnecessary. Hence specifically targeting Frank Chopp’s plan. It would be even better if we could target Mercer Island SOV commuters or propose a toll on I-90 to pay for this project until the state came up with the funding, but I think anything like that would have to be done at the state level.

  10. No, Chopp isn’t up for re-election this year; he just got overwhelmingly re-elected last November. And the challenger who could knock him off in the 43rd hasn’t been invented yet.

    What Rep. Clibborn and other eastside legislators should remember is, the 1976 memorandum agreement among the local cities, Metro Transit, the Highway Department, and the federal gov’t. specifically identified the center lanes of I-90 as the corridor for future “high capacity” transit. High capacity being the euphemism of the time for rail transit. Had that proviso not been included, the agreement would not have moved forward.

    All this mumbo-jumbo now, about technical doubts, financial shenanigans, and so forth is all just so much smoke designed to obscure the original commitment: the I-90 center roadway was conceived for rail transit, it was engineered for rail transit, and it was constructed for rail transit, and dammitall, it WILL have rails built on it in time for East Link to open on schedule.

    We do need to keep reminding people of the original commitment, or perhaps I should say COMMITMENT. To go back on that commitment now would make liars out of too many people, and it would destroy the confidence that citizens need to have in their public agencies (“if they go back on a commitment of this magnitude, then how can we believe them on any other commitment they propose in the future?”)

    Oh, and I do know whereof I speak — I was around in 1976 and active in the transit civic groups of the time. I’ve been a Transit Voter in Seattle for a VERY long time, and I have a very long memory.

    1. The Freeway From Factoria to Idaho State Line was finished by the end of the 1960s, but because it involved cutting through Mercer Island and Mt. Baker, building a new bridge, rehabilitating the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge(which later sank under mysterious circumstances during a heavy storm(unsealed inspection holes flooded)the rest was not finished until 1994! I saw the old one after the pontoons that had not sank had been quickly beached along the shore of Lake Washington Boulevard, they had a few 2X4s for cover over the holes. I remember at the time, some conspiracy theorists were saying that it was a deliberate action to get a new bridge built.


      1. I remember moving to Washington in 1965 and the ramps to nowhere at I90 and I5. Then there were the other ramps to nowhere at the west end of the Albert D. Roselline Floating Bridge. It’s not just rail that has a history of abortive starts in the State.

      2. The Seattle Voters pulled the money for it, and ironically, the ramps to nowhere at Montlake, are for a freeway that was to be named after the city engineer who started the policy of doing whatever it takes, even moving mountains to get things done, R. H. Thompson. Although the dirt from the Denny Regrade did fill in the tideflats, and helped make a big island at the mouth of the Duwamish.

      3. I saw an old photo at Town Hall (not “the Seattle City Hall, the old Christian Science church turn concert hall) that showed the Denny Regrade being literally blasted away by water pressure. I got the impression the slurry was just left to run out to Elliot Bay.

      4. The Freeway From Factoria to Idaho State Line was finished by the end of the 1960s?

        I remember there was a stoplight on I-90 in North Bend in the late 1970s.

      5. EvergreenRailfan, re your “I saw the old one after the pontoons that had not sank had been quickly beached along the shore of Lake Washington Boulevard, they had a few 2X4s for cover over the holes. I remember at the time, some conspiracy theorists were saying that it was a deliberate action to get a new bridge built.”

        The old original I-90 floating bridge sank AFTER the new bridge was built just to the north. In fact, it came down on the cables that hold the new bridge in place, and threatened the new bridge. WSDOT called in some tugboats to put tension on the cables on the south side of the new bridge, to hold it in place until they could be refastened on the lake bottom. The sinking of the old bridge was an accident brought about by some questionable decisions of the contractor in charge of rehabbing the old structure — most decidedly NOT due to some “deliberate action”

      6. Just something I remembered hearing at the time. As for the bridge, me and my parents crossed the new one in the middle of the night coming home from visiting my brother in college in Montana, the night before. The next morning we hear on the news that the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge was sinking, and saw the mess. The contractors were allegedly using a hydrodemolition process to blast the old pavement off of it, and the water was being stored in the pontoons. Now I remember they used to use water ballast in the pontoons of the Roselinini Bridge, but switched to something heavier, so I can understand the storing of that water in the pontoons.

        Now as for a stoplight on I-90, I remember one in the early 1990s, in Wallace, Idaho. In fact, I think it was just finished there in my brother’s final year in College around 1992/93. Now I do not know why Idaho took so long, whether it was economic conditions, or that since it ran through Northern Idaho, it was not Boise’s priority. North Idaho had always had some problems with the rest of the state since statehood.

      7. I think the problem in Idaho had more to do with Wallace being in a narrow canyon more than anything else. There wasn’t a “cheap” way to get through town without obliterating it entirely. The residents weren’t too keen on that especially once the historic value of the old buildings there was recognized.

    2. Rep. Chopp shouldn’t feel too comfortable. His election victories have more to do with a lack of credible opponents than anything else. Anyone who can garner backing from environmental groups or labor would at the very least give him a real scare.

      1. He gets right wing Republicans who run against him. Who never have a chance. With the new top-two primary, a Democrat or Independent could actually make their way into the general election.

  11. Transportation is not a good plank to use against Speaker Chopp, especially since his own district is getting quite a lot of LRT and improvements. Moreover, his shifting stance on the AWV is a non-starter since the main problem in the city itself is the fact that nothing was being done about it and that’s what’s happening, for better or worse.

    He’s handed his district enough goodies that I’m guessing the next election will see a similar sweep, even if Shiva himself came down to run for the position against him.

    If you force this into an issue, however, by having the conversation and gaining allies, it’s certain at some point something will give. Threatening a politician with the prospect of being voted against will not change their conduct. See Mayor Adams in Portland who is getting threatened with a recall vote, or Mayor Nickels who has been attacked for years and is still trucking along (although he seems a bit bored with the Mayor job, he seems to have more fun and say in agencies like ST).

    Sen. Murray is fireproof enough that she could trot over to D.C. and say she supports suspending federal funding for XYZ if it interferes with voter-approved capital projects. Or something similarly blockbusting.

    1. (Also, not a dig on Mayor Adams, just pointing out that he keeps doin’ what he’s doin’, like the MLS thing, even though every public hearing has someone threatening him and saying “stop this, you’re finished, the recall is in July”. Heck, he still went for a 12-lane CRC, but probably because he wouldn’t have gotten LRT to Vancouver otherwise)

      1. Running against someone and losing is a good step toward running against someone else and winning. You get name recognition and followers.

      2. He was running against a popular and awesome incumbent, versus the “D vs. R” race of 2004. ;)

      3. I think the idea is given more weight lately by things like Mayor Nickels’ handling of the Snowpocalypse and Mayor Adams’ post-Scandal handling of major issues. Nothing changed in their policy stances beyond token concessions (“we’ll use salt, I guess” and “Lents, you’ll totally make money if we put a baseball stadium there at some point!”), the kind of talking points that they can take home for a little more currency and to keep people from hounding them.

        In terms of the legislature, though, there’s not even the need to have talking points to take home since they often run unopposed or they are kept in office by general sentiment (district trends and party line votes). This is why “XX% in their district voted for ST2.1!” is hard to use– sadly, they just don’t care in so many cases, especially if they’re compelled by others not to care. They’re humans– everyone has a different priority.

        I think it’s far more prudent to find other avenues to get this taken care of. Perhaps a federally funded project in the district loses the backing of a key Senator in Washington or maybe the Dept. of Commerce says that having a Census office on the Eastside would be an unwise investment since having a 50-year office in an area that may be far too congested in the future to base operations out of would end up losing them money, especially considering how cash-strapped they are now and may be in the future if the next administration pulls funding.

        Better to make allies than enemies, especially at the point when one door closes.

    2. Broader environmental issues are a wedge against Rep. Chopp. He’s killed a number of bills in the legislature at the behest of his pro-sprawl masters (BIAW). Helping gut the renewable energy initiative doesn’t help either. He’s also pissed off a number of labor and social service groups. The SEIU hates his guts for the way he keeps crapping on home health care workers for instance.

      1. So, SEIU might be an ally. Can you point me to any of that? Email, please? :)

    3. What’s ironic is that Patty Murray’s staff run shit-scared for the entire 2 years she’s “in cycle”. It’s a common problem among congressional Democrats; many function largely on fear regardless of the facts (I spent 6 years working in and lobbying Congress). Notwithstanding the fact that she’s won election easily 3 times, has strong approval ratings, and the latest polls show her easily beating McKenna, Reichert, or anyone else the GOP could put up against her.

      1. I do wish Sen. Murray had spent more time building an in-state political machine like Sen. Magnuson had. Identify promising people, get them jobs where they can learn the ropes, encourage them to run for office, help them raise funds, get them support from people who owe you a favor, etc. pretty soon you have people at all levels of government who are willing to help you with your issues.

        Sadly I think Sen. Gorton was the last politician in this state who had much in the way of a political machine.

  12. Ben

    I am actually going to be seeing Judy Clibburn next Monday – do you want me to raise these issues in my 15 minutes I am seeing her for?

    We need to simplify this one I think. As I understand it, you are saying that Frank Chopp wants Sound Transit to help fund the 520 bridge in exchange for Light Rail on the I-90?

    Also, according to a recent interview in the Seattle Times, Chopp apparently might now be in favor of a deep bore tunnel as a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. An initiative to stop this is not a good idea in my view as there have been too many of these damn things and I am fed up with them. Also with all the voting. We voted for ST2 and we need to keep everyone focused on this as the long term goal – everything else is a distraction. ST has allowed for 12 years to build ST2 and hopefully this recession will be long over by then – who knows but there will probably be another by then. I suggested in a post a few weeks ago that ST needs to provide two scenarious to work on when they present to voters – a best case and a worst case scenario and if voters still like the worst case for how to spend their tax dollars, how much better it will be if ST actually gets the funds to build the bigger one.

    This wretched recession will end at some point and then the coffers will fill up again. ST can perhaps accelerate some parts of ST2 and then reallocate manpower in a greater way to East Link. They can of course start will building out towards Mercer Island from Overlake and then save the bridge till last. I seem to remember that bridging the I-90 was the last ever stretch of the I-90 built from Boston to Seattle. It would seem to be par for the course that Mercer Island should delay Light Rail.

    Anyway, like I said, send me your questions for Judy Clbburn and I’ll try to get to them on Monday.


  13. It’s time to stop trying to put light rail on I-90 and put it on the new 520 bridge where is should be. The demand will be better served and the total project is less expensive.

    1. Read Why Link Will Cross I-90 First.

      The short answer is there still is no solid time line for building the 520 replacement. The funding for the project still isn’t in place and a final decision on how to handle the Montlake area hasn’t been made.

      Trying to put rail on 520 at this point would almost certainly require a larger bridge which would cost more than using the I-90 center roadway.

      There is also the problem of how to tie East Link into the rest of the Link system. Connecting into the tunnels for U link would be both difficult and expensive.

      Finally a 520 alignment makes it very difficult to serve Downtown Bellevue which is roughly 1/3 of East Link ridership.

  14. I contacted Rep. Clibborn to voice my frustration over her actions and the effect that unnecessary delays and “more studies” might have in the completion of the I-90 HOV lanes, which would also delay construction of Light Link to the Eastside.

    Her reply to me indicates that she really does want to see the State hold the Federal Government hostage. She seems to ignore the Federal money that has already been committed and wants to wring more money out of the feds when they have already committed billions to the project.

    I’m far more interested in bringing real mass transit to the Puget Sound and creating local jobs now, and not haggling interminably for months or years over some hypothetical value of I-90 HOV on ramps! Here is what Rep. Clibborn replied to me.

    From: “Rep. Judy Clibborn”
    Sent: Thursday, April 2, 2009
    Subject: RE: I-90 Bridge and Light Rail

    The R8A ramp will be built by 2014 and my budget includes $10 million this biennium for preliminary engineering that’s needed to meet the 2014 completion date. We also need to ascertain the value of the center lanes that Sound Transit will take over. This bridge was built with federal funds, and the federal government requires us to get a fair value for these lanes. Some have suggested the lanes are not worth any money, while others have suggested they’re worth $2.8 billion. It’s going to be somewhere in between, and I think the answer will be much closer to the lower end of the range. The study will give us the answer to this question. Once we know the value of the center lanes, we will be able to negotiate a final agreement to turn them over to Sound Transit to put light rail across the I-90 bridge.

    Judy Clibborn

    “Once we know the value of the center lanes, we will be able to negotiate a final agreement to turn them over to Sound Transit”?!? Is she for real? Why are we wasting time, money, and giving away jobs to this narrow minded view?

  15. Oh yes, it’s for real. The irony is that even though the pro-road/no rail contingent want R8A; they’re willing to spend millions more in the hope that delay will result in abandonment of rail across I-90. Bottom line; East Link fails which offsets the cost of saving it.

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