Gotta love these WSDOT videos. When does SR520 have this traffic volume? 2AM?
Since gas taxes must be used for roads, a project that mainly improves seismic robustness and extends the HOV lane across the bridge is a particularly attractive use. However, gas taxes will cover only about half the cost of a new SR520 bridge. The rest will come out of a different revenue source, one that could potentially be used for light rail expansion or other worthy transit projects. More after the jump.
If more ambitious plans were covered by a higher gas tax, we’d be more willing to consider them. With that apparently off the table, A+ has the virtue of being just about funded if tolls are assessed on SR520 and I-90. Obviously, we’d prefer if toll revenue were saved for transit, but using tolling to pay for highways is the least bad option and one that taps a source politically difficult to use for public transportation.
The other official options involve some form of a direct connection from the bridge to the Husky Stadium parking lot using a new crossing of the Montlake cut. These don’t meet any sort of transit-oriented cost-benefit test. First of all, the new crossing would be open to general purpose traffic, making the time advantage for buses debatable. Second, as we’ve argued before, using the UW Link station to connect from the Eastside to downtown Seattle (and vice versa) will largely be an off-peak activity. Spending well over $1 billion more, and assuming substantial technical risk, on a bus tunnel that slightly enhances service for a small number of off-peak travelers is not a sensible use of potential transit dollars.
We’re glad the bridge is being designed to accomodate later light rail expansion, but it’s premature to think that any highway configuration makes light rail over 520 likely in the near future. No funding exists to build such a line. There is no agreement that, should significant funding authority become available, 520 should be a priority for the North King or East King subareas. There is no consensus on where it would go once it reached the Eastside, nor is there any evidence that Eastsiders would be interested in collecting the revenue necessary for their share. Making the questionable assumption that the relevant agencies can kick autos out of a new Montlake crossing, you still have the rail capacity issues at UW Station unless you extend the line further, incurring further costs in a rail segment that is frankly a lower priority than other segments on both sides of the lake.
The Stranger suggests Seattle leaders think big about citywide tolling to fund a better connection. We applaud this kind of creative attempt to acquire money for more transit-friendly solutions. However, a citywide revenue program deserves to fund the City of Seattle’s highest priorities, which should not be enhancing bus trips to and from the Eastside. There are too many unmet needs, most obviously accelerating Northgate and getting high-quality light rail from Ballard to West Seattle through a new transit tunnel downtown.
We certainly don’t mean to suggest that there are no optimizations that can be made to the A+ design. The most important objective is to ensure rapid movement of buses through the Montlake corridor, probably at the expense of cars. For example, we could use the additional capacity provided by the second bascule bridge as a business access and transit (BAT) lane, allowing rapid connections to the light rail station when the drawbridge is down. We also support an HOV or transit-only Montlake exit, although we doubt that would be acceptable to other stakeholders.
Regardless, the K, L, and M options should be dismissed, as A+ is the lowest-cost “official” option that preserves funding authority for higher transit priorities.