SR-520 Alternative A+
SR-520 Alternative A+

Well none of us were able to make it to the press conference this morning but here are some news clippings.  [Update from Sherwin 5:34pm: The Seattle Channel has full video coverage of the event here.]

From what I have gathered it was an interesting showing of elected officials from all level of government, something very unusual. It appears that there are divergent opinions among those advocating for something besides the A+, i.e. better transit connections for some, narrower footprint for others, less traffic for others, but the fact that House Speaker Chopp, Senator Murray, Rep. Pedersen, Mayor McGinn and City Council members Licata and O’Brien were all in attendance is interesting never-the-less.  Stay tuned.

Coverage from those that actually get paid to report below the jump.


But behind the scenes, supporters of the plan acknowledged that it was unlikely to get off the ground. And state House transportation chair Judy Clibborn said flatly that she would oppose any effort to jettison the state’s preferred option to replace the bridge.

This morning, Seattle neighborhood groups and legislators—including City Council members Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien, all three representatives of the 43rd legislative district (Reps. Frank Chopp and Jamie Pedersen and Sen. Ed Murray), Mayor Mike McGinn, and representatives of the neighborhoods surrounding the west side of the bridge—came out in favor of a six-lane bridge replacement with smaller on-ramps than the state option, less impact on the Arboretum, and two lanes dedicated exclusively to high-capacity transit (bus-rapid transit now, rails installed now for light rail later).

…However, Clibborn was adamant this afternoon that the proposal “can’t go forward.” First, she said, a new bridge design would require the state to do an entirely new environmental review, setting the project back two years or more. Second, she said the new option would be more expensive than the state’s current preferred alignment, particularly because “there’s no money for rail” across 520. Finally, she said, “you can’t stop this project at this point without losing huge amounts of time, which is money and jobs.”

Seattle Times

Seattle has taken an important political step in the effort to find a greener design for the Highway 520 replacement bridge, House Speaker Frank Chopp said in a brief speech Monday morning.

Unlike many earlier years, Seattle has both a new mayor, Mike McGinn, and a city council that are engaged, he said.

“The mayor and the council now stand united against the current plan,” Chopp said.

Chopp was among about 100 people gathered in a green space next to the highway, with marshes and abandoned road ramps in the foreground and the roar of morning traffic over the lake.

Seattle PI

Gregoire: “We have heard that some may wish to revisit the legislative direction regarding the use of the two additional lanes for high occupancy vehicles (HOV)… Changing the configuration now would require a new environmental process. The office of the Attorney General tells us that revisiting these decisions from several years ago would set the project back at least 18 to 24 months. Our commitment to ensuring public safety does not allow that kind of delay.”

(Side note: Funny how she cares about the environmental review process for SR-520 but not the Viaduct. Does this bode well for the lawsuit again WSDOT for the deep bore tunnel?)

Seattle PI

According to polling commissioned by private groups the new transit focus is popular. People were asked:

Transportation department plans call for a six lane bridge, with two new H-O-V lanes. Others want the new lanes dedicated to transit, carrying light rail and buses.

Which approach do you prefer?

  • 16 percent prefer H-O-V lanes.
  • 69 percent prefer light rail and bus lanes.
  • 15 percent unsure.

The survey of 1,852 people in Seattle plus the 41st, 45th and 48th legislative districts east of the lake was taken Jan. 22-24. The margin of error was 2.7 percent for Seattle and 3.85 percent for the Eastside. The pollster was Constituent Dynamics, which is run by Bill Broadhead, who was one of McGinn’s key advisors during the recent mayoral race.

49 Replies to “SR-520 News Roundup”

    1. Well I don’t want to speak for everyone, I don’t know where everyone stands, but I’m kind of ho-hum about them all.

      K and L were very unrealistic so A was the only viable “choice” in my opinion, but then if it is the only viable option that isn’t much of a choice is it? I don’t think that enough thought has been put into how transit will operate between Downtown, UW and the Eastside. If for example a percent of the toll revenues were set aside for improved transit service I would probably be more on board but again, there just isn’t a consistent and funded idea of what will happen to transit.

    2. We liked A+ best of the official WSDOT options. We haven’t stated a position on this latest gambit besides my random thoughts on Friday.

  1. Never mind options K and L; they’re not happening. The state’s current plan is to build the “A+” option which has no dedicated right of way for transit, removes popular transit stops in Montlake, adds 20,000 additional cars to the Arboretum, major transit arterials (e.g. carrying the 43/48) and I-5, requires a 1200 foot walk across two streets carrying a total of 60,000 vehicles a day when transferring from bus to rail at the UW, and forces us to rebuild the corridor yet again if we want to add light rail later, while spending money on infrastructure that doesn’t really help transit that could be spend on real transit solutions now.

    This 20,000 number is a real issue. Imagine if everyone who took the bus on 520 today drove solo instead. That would have less traffic impact than the A+ plan. 20,000 is greater than current Link ridership.

    Furthermore there is no guarantee that the proposed HOV lanes will remain HOV lanes. They are one Tim Eyman initiative away from being GP lanes. GP lanes would totally overload the system and so would HOT lanes on this corridor. There is no room for all these extra cars.

    As a bonus, the plan offers a crossing of Portage Bay about two and a half times as wide as the current one (with a total of 7 lanes), and a lid in Montlake with highway ramps running through the middle of it. The design is out of a time capsule from 1959.

    Most of the carpool benefit is already available via the queue bypass lane on the Eastside, which can remain. Once you’re on the bridge the traffic flows better because the bottleneck meters the bridge. All we can do is move that bottleneck to the west because the demand for driving on the corridor exceeds our ability to accept additional cars on either end, without widening I-5 and I-405, and that isn’t happening.

    The question is not which dysfunctional plan we’re going to pick, the question is, what should we be building here for the rest of the 21st century? Should it be 6 lanes for cars, or something else? We believe it must be optimized for transit and should leverage the other transit investments we are making to the greatest possible extent.

    1. Well said. And in response to Judy Clibborn’s “time is money” quote, a poor design that does not invest for the future is also money. It’s lost money leading to even more money down the road (pardon the pun).

    2. Jonathan, you need to go back and look at the SDEIS a little more carefully.

      Yes, with Option A/A+ or any of the other 6-Lane alternatives, there would be about 20,000 more vehicles/day on SR 520 in 2030 compared to today. However, if nothing was done and SR 520 somehow managed to stay intact until 2030 (aka No Build), SR 520 would still have about 20,000 more vehicles per day. The extra 20,000 vehicles/day is due to regional growth, not the configuration of SR 520.

      From Chapter 5 of the Transportation Discipline Report, page 5-7:
      “With the 6-Lane Alternative, the person demand for HOV (carpool and bus) would increase by approximately 25,000 (or up to 38 percent) compared to the No Build Alternative. General-purpose vehicle demand would decrease between approximately 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day (7 to 8 percent) for all of the Build Alternative options compared to the No Build Alternative. This is because the toll, improved HOV reliability, and reduced HOV travel times would increase the incentive to carpool or take the bus.”

      So no, the 20,000 number is not a real issue. Try again.

      1. A great portion of the improved HOV reliability in the westbound direction will be delivered by the HOV changes on the eastside. It is likely possible to deliver a similar benefit in the other direction by establishing a bypass lane that merges after any onramps. The shift to transit will be greatly influenced by the toll levels and transit service delivered. So a very similar result can be delivered by either a 4-lane bridge with transit improvements at the approaches, or 4 general purpose lanes plus 2 lanes dedicated to transit.

  2. I like just how in favor of transit Seattle has become. Even Portland hasn’t passed a transit only measure, considered another transit expansion measure within two years, and then supported light rail or a bus way overwhelmingly.

    If we keep this up, Seattle will be a leader in public transit not too far down the road.

    1. I’m no fan of Transportation Committee Chairwoman Clibborn, but what I like about this blog is that facts are encouraged and sniping at politicians tends to get deleted.

      1. Yes good point but I certainly think that progressives in Washington State are becoming more and more disillusioned with the Democratic supermajority in Olympia. I for one would like to fee a further left coalition (it could even just be democrats that what to push the rest of the party) to at least call democrats out of their behavior and also to challenge the Democratic party when they are selling out.

  3. If the HOV lanes are designed as transit only lanes today (i.e. buses), when Light Rail is proposed on the bridge, doesn’t that relegate cross-lake buses to the GP lanes and therefore, higher delays?

    1. But most people crossing the bridge will be using light rail anyway. We don’t want too much duplicate service.

      1. If you had light rail on both bridges, with East Link heading directly downtown over I-90, it is fair to ask what bus routes would remain.

        I read in the East Link planning documents that Sound Transit envisions canceling the 545 when East Link reaches downtown Redmond. The forthcoming 542 and other routes heading to UW could be served by light rail. There’s Kirkland to downtown Seattle (Metro 255) and a lot of peak period service to downtown Seattle from park and rides and other areas. I wonder how much of this could be effectively replaced by light rail if it went over both bridges.

        In the future, transit patterns may change. Downtown Seattle is huge, but it’s not the only destination. It’s the chief transit destination today in part because parking is expensive and limited, traffic is heavy and transit access is great. That will be true of more areas in the future, especially when tolling is implemented on both bridges, which realistically it will have to be to pay for this project.

      2. Uh, where did you read anything about cancelling the 545? Please cite that – BRT in the 520 corridor is its own project, and that’s the 545.

      3. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where light rail replaces ALL transit bus service on a floating bridge. On I-90, for instance, even with full Link build-out to downtown Redmond, there will still be buses on the bridge serving the Issaquah/I-90 corridor. I expect the same principle would be at work with light rail on SR-520.

      4. Actually, if there is an efficient transfer station built, passengers could transfer from buses to light rail. Once built, light rail is much cheaper to operate than running buses to downtown. Eventually there should be a Link branch to Eastgate and Issaquah.

      5. Yes, I-90/Issaquah corridor riders COULD transfer at S. Bellevue P&R but current scenarios are that they won’t be REQUIRED to do so. With bi-directional HOV lanes on I-90 all the way to the Downtown Seattele Transit Tunnel, there would be little time savings, if any, in transferring at S. Bellevue.

        I expect the future bus routings will offer riders a choice: some I-90 buses stopping at S. Bellevue P&R, some continuing non-stop to the Downtown Transit Tunnel. Let riders vote with their feet (or their seats, or their fares, whatever you choose to call it.

    2. Great question. Ideally a transit lane could be barrier-separated and designed to be shared (like today’s tunnel in downtown Seattle) but I suspect there would be some operational limitations at highway speeds. Another option is to carry HOV lanes plus separate light rail all the way to the west high rise and then have a lower-speed shared transit lane just through the Arboretum until light rail diverges from the mainline and heads for UW. There are surely other options still.

      Does anyone know what it would actually take to share a lane? This is being done in the DSTT today, obviously, albeit at lower speeds.

      1. It can’t be. We wouldn’t know what would be “correct” until we designed the system.

      2. He means that the bus tunnel originally had tracks put in for rail when it was built in the ’80s. When they finally got around to putting the light rail on forementioned tracks, they decided they had installed the wrong track and had to rip everything out and put in new track (which is why the bus tunnel was closed for a year last year)

  4. Imagine a Lake Washington free of the 520 bridge!

    I5 traffic north from Seattle is no longer hamstrung.

    I90 doesn’t empty into backed up traffic.

    The I405/I90 interchange starts to work again.

    Get rid of the 520 bridge!

    1. North Seattle/U District-the Eastside is a hugely important corridor in general, and especially for buses. Everyone going along that corridor would have to go way out of their way to get to their destination, increasing traffic greatly and increasing travel times for transit. We need this bridge, we just need to build it right.

      1. You know, I don’t think it *would* increase traffic that much. I think people would take East Link (assuming we pushed off closing 520 until it was open).

      2. The I-90 crossing is geographically far out of the way for trips from Kirkland or Redmond to the UW and even downtown Seattle.

      3. UW to Microsoft via light rail over I-90 would include stops at:

        1. Capitol Hill
        2. Westlake
        3. University St.
        4. Pioneer Square
        5. International District
        6. I-90 / Rainier
        7. Mercer Island
        8. South Bellevue
        9. SE 8th or thereabouts (options here)
        10. East Main or thereabouts
        11. Bellevue Transit Center (hopefully)
        12. Ashwood
        13. 124th
        14. 130th
        15. Overlake Village

        and then on to Overlake Transit Center. I think I got that right… I believe the scheduled trip time is 42 minutes.

        If there were a bike lane on 520 I could easily beat that. It takes 12 minutes to drive when there’s no traffic.

        None of that is to say there’s something “wrong” with East Link. It’s just a very indirect route from North Seattle to the Eastside.

  5. I am strongly opposed to the removal of the R.H. Thomson Expressway ramps!

    Why is this even being proposed?

    It is short-sighted and wrong to remove infrastructure already in place for future expansion of the Freeway system.

    The fact is that I-5 through downtown was designed with the small capacity and lane system it has due the planned future construction of R.H. Thompson. I-5 cannot be widened, but R.H. Thompson CAN still be built someday, hopefully soon.

    It is imperative that the Seattle area increases its available corridors and impervious surfaces, and that after the 520 bridge is replaced, a third cross-Lake Washington corridor be identified connecting Madison Park and Kirkland, a cross-Puget Sound Bridge be planned, using the soon-to-be-redundant Battery Street Tunnel, and the draining and paving of the entire Lake Washington be commenced.

    And in the meantime, these ramps can be used as a diversion for out-of-towners looking to move to Seattle.

    1. I agree. Keep the R.H. Thompson Expressway Ramps. They are a unique art piece and a reminder of our success at overcoming a frighteningly misguided mindset. Plus, jumping off them is like a teenage rite of passage.

      1. A large interchange around the end of Madison where the R.H. Thompson will meet the new bridge that continues Madison to downtown Kirkland (which itself will interchange with the 520-see below) should do it.

        Later Madison will be upgraded to freeway standards right to Colman dock.

        And then we can plan the U-Village to Medina bridge, which will also have an interchange with 520 and the Madison-Park-Kirkland bridge in the middle of the lake. It will connect over to NE8th Street in Bellevue allowing easy access to Kemper Freman properties from Laurelhurst.

    2. Think bigger, Gris. How about a big LID over Lk Washington, and reconnect all the missing links of the street grid. Or maybe just a big free for all for cars traveling on the lid.
      The Hydros could be put on skates, and really get some speed.

  6. After watching the press conference sponsored by a few neighborhood groups around Montlake, it is clear to me that there should be a deal cut: all those neighborhoods should agree to major up zones to make their neighborhoods far more dense to support all the transit they want.

    The single family houses are nice, but if the homes were raised to build new condos and apartments, a lot more people would have access to the parks and waterfront all the rest of us are paying for in these parts of the city.

    It is also very fun to watch all the environmentalists stand side-by-side to preserve the the yacht clubs that park all those dirty diesel boats that foul all the air over the water.

    Let’s get this right. As the press conference indicated this morning, this new plan isn’t about the environment or better transit for all the rest of us, it is only about increasing property values for a few rich people in Montlake and parts.

    1. How about we upzone Evergreen and Yarrow Point? They get transit stops in the A+ plan, but Montlake does not.

      I used to live on Evergreen Point. It’s a nice place as it is… I’m not being serious :)

      1. We tried to get them to add housing to the new Montlake Library, but SPL wouldn’t pursue it. There’s neighborhood commercial property for sale right now on 24th and Boston.

        I do think we ought to upzone the heck out of Northgate and the U District around the light rail stations, and maybe even allow some “pin towers” if they were well designed in various districts where they’d sort of fit in. (Now there’s going to be one across the street from my house…) And is there a good reason not to upzone the heck out of the immediate area around the light rail stations in the Rainier Valley, at least where it isn’t currently residential? (I have a weakness for nice old single family housing stock.)

      2. Yarrow Point and Medina aren’t being hypocritical by using transit and the environment writ large to delay things until death and cost all the rest of us millions.

        If you really want better transit, more access to all the great parks and waterfront, and a better environment, you really ought to support a major up zone in your neighborhood.

        But you don’t.

        Yesterday your group announced that it had been wrong for the past ten years, asking the wrong question. How much did you being wrong cost the rest of us? And given the track record, why should anyone believe that people who have been wrong all these years, are right now?

        Most people think the fastest way to better transit and a better environment is to clear the field to get that in 2011 in Olympia. Moving past a decades old neighborhood dispute on the 520 is one way to do that.

      3. “Given the track record, why should anyone believe that people who have been wrong all these years, are right now?”

        I’m not going to recap the entire history of this project in this space. I’ll save it for my book. There are many twists and turns. In the meantime, here’s a link from the better part of a decade ago in which I make a case almost identical to the one I was a part of making yesterday:

        The case for HCT + 4 lanes on SR-520

        May 30, 2002

      4. That’s funny. Every time I change buses or ride through there I imagine a huge development to take advantage of the excellent transit service, especially during peak hours.

      5. Yeah talk about TOD potential. If only there weren’t well to do single family neighborhoods around it.

  7. The Gov and Clibborn’s “environmental review” comments are clearly talking points and they’re disappointing red herrings, if not utterly disingenuous. The point of the environmental review process in both NEPA and SEPA is to provide for a well-informed agency decisionmaker through analysis, publication, and addressing the fruits of publication (public and expert comment). The result of the environmental review process is almost always adjustment in the proposed action to take into account the comments of experts and others with a stake in the agency decision on the underlying proposed action. Those adjustments are expected and do not promote continuing duty for further environmental review. That’s the point of preparing final EISs and then Records of Decision.

    The one thing clear in the State’s stance on this and other similar “mega” projects is that the State acts as both decisionmaker AND stakeholder when there are clearly far more accute stakeholders for each of these projects. And it bothers the crap out of me seeing State decision makers and polticians treating “Seattle” as a meta-entity with little authentic stake in these actions.

    1. Thomson it is. Thanks, and thanks for the link as I was not aware of the proposed Bothell Freeway!

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