I have to admit that I’m a bit conflicted about the McGinn position. In the largest sense, he’s right: 520 will still basically be new car-oriented infrastructure and we ought to have incorporated light rail in the bridge in the first place. His recognition of the fundamental shifts needed in transportation are perhaps 10 years ahead of Olympia’s. On the other hand, he is (through no fault of his own) very late to this party, and there is a safety issue in the meantime. Moreover, although everyone likes to wrap themselves in the transit flag it seems that lots of stakeholders* really have other interests at heart. To call out one example, if Speaker Chopp is fired up about getting rail across the lake he has a funny way of showing it.
There are also some technical concerns. I’ll focus on those below the jump:
- Link over 520 is not ready for prime time. No one has done serious planning studies for rail in this corridor, and the $150,000 Mr. McGinn offered is a drop in the bucket. For starters, there is absolutely no consensus on where Link should go on either side of the bridge, how much it will cost, and how it might be paid for. The last item, in particular, would essentially require replacing half the legislature.
- I don’t believe WSDOT has seriously looked at the option of transit-only lanes. Does HOV 3+ seriously impair transit? Does kicking HOVs into general purpose lanes actually increase volume of cars by discouraging carpools? People have their suspicions but nobody knows.
- The need for a direct connection between 520 and U-Link has become a sort of totem. This really is an inevitable outcome of building a highway to get cars and buses from the Eastside to downtown. If we were primarily interested in connecting to UW station we would have built a bridge that ended there and saved a lot of money. Connecting to both might cost $1 billion more, money that could be used much more effectively on other transit projects.**
- There are lots of small-bore things transit advocates can fight for that could improve things like the connection to U-Link, but also don’t blow everything up: a transit lane on Montlake Blvd. between the interchange and Husky Stadium; Bernie’s idea of eliminating the general-purpose exit on Montlake; Ben’s idea of making it clear in the legislation that gas tax money is not paying for the rail right-of-way; and, even though I don’t think it’s a big deal, the Montlake Flyer stop.
* In this phrase I emphasize I don’t mean McGinn.
** All the direct-connection WSDOT alternatives had general purpose exits into the Husky Stadium parking lot.