by VIRGINIA GUNBY
Our SR 520 Westside Design A+ is the transit friendly, financially affordable option and was recommended by the SR 520 State Legislative Workgroup by a vote of 12 to 2 (opposed by Reps. Chopp and Pedersen of the 43rd District). A+ is supported by Metro Transit, King County, the University of Washington, five major Eastside cities, the Eastside Transportation Partnership, and many north end Seattle Community Councils. We worked to reduce A+ costs by retaining the current interchange at Montlake Blvd and saving $100 million on the replacement of the Portage Bay Bridge.
One remaining decision is replacement of the Lake Washington Blvd. ramps at a cost of $98m. Information on the overall impacts of the ramps, in or out, will be included in the WSDOT SR 520 Supplemental EIS, which will be available for Public Review after the first of the year. We need a city-wide public debate on how to make this a “Win/Win” for both improving the future Arboretum and SR 520 inter-modal Transit services. More after the jump…
At a cost of $4.53 billion, our A+ option is under the legislatively set maximum project budget of $4.65 billion. The original Westside 520 2 year mediation proposed the 3 designs A, K and L. Option K (a tunnel under the cut) was $2 billion over budget and L, a diagonal bridge over the cut, was canceled when environmental review agencies said they would not be permitted. K was also rejected because it jammed traffic into a 4-lane tunnel 1500’ long and 150’ wide, with a sharp curve and 8% grade, with transit stuck in mixed traffic. The tunnel ended 20 feet under the Montlake Blvd. NE/Pacific St. NE intersection. It became a peak-hour jam of vehicles stalled out on the 520 mainline waiting to enter one lane into the tunnel. Mixed traffic from 520 emerges from 20 feet underground on sloping arterials, which at peak hour today are at Level of Service “F”. After the permits were rejected, K was revised to an M option with a Tube Tunnel, with dredging in the Montlake Cut, and is unlikely to be permitted. Option M is $1.2 billion over the project cost limit.
At the 11/24 Seattle City Council SR 520 Hearing, the “M” supporters reported that they now want a SR 520 retrofit for the unsafe portions of the corridor and bridge. They argued there was not the money to build any SR 520 option, after 12 years of SR 520 design and financing studies. What the Montlake community supports is delaying until more project money is available. With less driving and revenue from state and federal gas taxes, the delay would increase overall SR 520 Westside project costs. It also would increase the danger of damage from storms or an earthquake to a nearly 50 year old bridge, with leaking pontoons and support columns that were not built to modern earthquake construction standards.
The King County Council supports compensating Metro with an ongoing operating subsidy for the loss of direct service to the University District from the two flyer stops to be removed. The flyer stops would have added 70’ to the corridor width/footprint. The rebuilt SR 520 will have two-way center HOV lanes and HOV on and off ramps to and from the Eastside at Montlake, and a direct reversible ramp to the I-5 express lanes. A new 520 East/West bicycle/pedestrian lane will be built on the north side of the bridge. All designs allow for adding width/capacity to the pontoons in the future, if needed, for the addition of light rail. Sound Transit is planning a transfer point at the Pacific Place NE “Triangle” area for bus passengers traveling to and from the proposed UW Link Station.
The Arboretum Foundation supports the removal of the Arboretum ramps. Metro is opposed to their removal because they claim it would slow northbound transit trips on Montlake Blvd. up to 8 minutes, because auto trips from the south that use the ramps would be diverted to use 23rdE./Montlake Blvd E. and the Montlake Blvd E. 520 entrances. However, A+ transit times would still beat the former K and former L’s design’s projected transit performance with the ramps. I also believe that these concerns can be better and more cheaply addressed by transit priority through the interchange area, while reducing impacts on the Arboretum.
WSDOT appears to support HOV-3 lanes plus HOT lanes across the bridge to increase the revenue to pay off the 520 bonds and cover a $2.37B deficit on the $4.65B project. Tolling is estimated at $3.50 per trip with transponders. It would increase transit use and reduce SOV trips about 15%. To prevent diversion of trips from SR 520, tolling is needed on I-90. WSDOT could use part of the toll revenue on both bridges to pay off any debt, and help subsidize planned Metro and Sound Transit operations on SR 520. The tolling decision would be made by the State Transportation Commission. They will need public involvement to make that toll decision correctly.
As with any major transportation decision around Seattle, there is ongoing politics, since the Westside SR 520 project is located in the House Speaker’s district. Chopp and his constituents haven’t given up promoting the financially costly tunnel in hopes of removing traffic from the Montlake Community (except it won’t). They would build a new 520 freeway interchange east to McCurdy park property, and north of the Ship Canal into U of W property that was deeded for “educational purposes”. If the Westside SR 520 Design choice for A+ is made on time, at the 2010 session, it will be below or on budget. I urge your support for A+ and restoration of the Arboretum by removing the 520 ramps during review of the SR 520 SDEIS.
The author was a Washington State Transportation Commissioner from 1973-79, member of the SR520 Translake Study group from 1997-2002, and represented the Ravenna and Bryant neighborhoods in SR520 mediation from 2007-08.
The Legislative workgroup covenes to make its final recommendation at 10 am today in the Sound Transit boardroom.