Update 3/31 @ 11:20am: The governor’s office tells us that this veto just affects the “legislative intent” section of the bill, not the underlying contents which still directs a work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge. However, the underlying legislation — with the “intent” section vetoed — does not direct “any final design of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program accommodate effective connections for transit, including high capacity transit, including, but not limited to, effective connections for transit to the university link light rail line” as the intent section did. I don’t know if other legislation has this provision.

And while the legislation does direct a King County work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge, it does not require the bridge accommodate any plans from that group. However, we now understand what the governor’s office meant when it defined a section as “vague;” unfortunately, that section had a stronger requirement for high-capacity transit than the rest of the bill, on my reading.

The Seattle PI report we link to below has not been changed as of this writing.

Original report: The Seattle PI reports on another of today’s vetoes, this time not so transit-friendly.

The governor also vetoed a section of the bill [authorizing the 520 bridge replacement] that directed planners to come up with a final design that could handle both carpool lanes and light rail. However Shelton said the governor still supported ultimately seeing whether the replacement span that connects Seattle with its Eastside suburbs could ultimately accommodate high-capacity transit. She felt the language in the bill first section was “vague.”

“We still have work groups addressing those issues,” [a Gregoire spokesman] said. “The work is still going to get done.”

Light rail across SR-520 is a long time away from being seriously considered. Even in the long haul, though, it would be an up-hill lift to build light rail across the bridge if it meant removing capacity — even if that capacity were just HOV lanes. I think if we were to add light rail to the bridge, it should be done in addition to the HOV lanes on the bridge. So that section of the legislation made sense to me; what’s possibly vague about it?

48 Replies to “Gregoire Vetoes 520 Light Rail Planning”

    1. I think she is just facing reality, Martin. As of now, there is no plan for Light Rail on either side of the bridge outside of McGinn’s poll book and desire to annoy and otherwise frustrate most folks who have worked hard on these things at all levels for years.

      I suggest we step back from this cause at the moment and concentrate on getting what has been decided upon built. Later on down the road, we can think about Light Rail but it seems needlessly futile to add all of these additional diversions and projects into the mix.

      1. This planning is not for right now; this is about light rail well in the future. If we do build light rail across the 520, will we be able to *add* light rail to the bridge or will we have to take HOV lanes to provide the space for trains?

      2. Now the planning is for now – doesn’t McGinn want Light Rail tracks on the bridge deck now not in the future? The impact in terms of no one knowing where it would go at either end in my view nullifies raising it at this stage of the proceedings. ST doesn’t know how light rail would merge into University Link and East Link planning is under way so there is no plan for 520 Link either east or west of the bridge that I am aware of or that has been voted on.

        Light Rail is laudable down the road for the 520 but should be part of a ST3 or ST4 package. Hopefully ST3 which will cover the years 2020 to 2040.

      3. What McGinn wants versus what the legislature wrote into the bill are different things, though. This is about how we’d modify the already-build bridge to support light rail, not how we would build the bridge with it.

      4. I didn’t realize that – I thought McGinn actually wanted to build the tracks. If you are saying that he wants capacity on the bridge for adding rail in the future whilst keeping those lanes as HOV lanes in the interim, this could be a good option, but then again, it might not be because where would HOV lanes go in the future?

    2. Yoy don’t like Governor Gregoire all that much I can tell, but would things have been so much better with Rossi if he had won then? I think you would be asking different questions but be even more angry than you are now with Mrs. Gregoire.

      She is not great on mass transit, I agree with you there, but she is does reflect Democrat values in most areas of her governance of Washington State and she does face massive unemployment in this state and she wants to get these projects moving beyond endless process to shovel ready status so she can start hiring construction workers not armchair thinkers. Think of the pressures she must be under? The worse unemployment since the 1930s. Some of us out here have been unemployed for well over a year now – 67 weeks in my case alone – and we all need jobs, not more idle process and decision making. This dovetails into my thinking on both the viaduct replacement as well as the 520 on the road side of things and East Link and more ST2 projects on the mass transit side.

      1. Yes I agree with you, but now that we have Dems in control at all levels of the government (but sadly not that of Attorney General!) I don’t see that we can get too far with becoming de facto tea baggers of the left.

      2. The election is over. We judge Gregoire on her own actions, not Rossi’s potential actions.

      3. That’s a fair point and Governor Gregoire probably doesn’t offer the best style of leadership in times of deep economic crisis. She is really more a leader for prosperous times as she clearly hates her own policies and the decisions she is forced by economic necessity to make. Republicans enjoy running government far more in times of distress because there nihilist view of government in general dovetails nicely with how little government can be funded at these times. Mrs. Gregoire by contrast hates this recession because she can’t get the ideas and plans funded she wants to and politically as well as personally, she appears loath to stand up and tell us what is really needed to bring state revenues and expenditures into balance = such as additional revenue sources. She is depression averse it seems to me, but in fairness to her, I am sure we will look back on her time and suggest that she could have been a great governor were it not for the recession that bedevilled her time in power. This recession is not her fault and it is making her miserable because she can’t do what she wants to do. She makes her decisions in this context and some of them don’t favor our goals on this Blog.

      4. You can’t blame the recession for the governor going out of her way to prevent transit from being funded. In order for transit to move forward, we need a different governor.

      5. Did you have anyone in mind?

        I think we need a different mayor in Seattle but I guess we are both going to have to wait a few more years to have a chance at either!

      6. Jay Inslee is thrown around a lot as a candidate. I haven’t heard him talk a lot about transit but he is big on climate change and there’s certainly a lot of room for him to run to the left of Gregoire on transportation.

      7. Yes, let’s hope so. I do agree with you that Governor Gregoire doesn’t seem all that interested in mass transit but she is constrained by the economy and the need to kick start the economic misery. She is going to be attracted to projects that are shovel ready and not arm chair ready.

      8. In answer to Mike – the candidate Seattle marginally got rid of in the primaries was the one msot effective on mass transit. We mustn’t confuse being ‘pro-transit’ with an equivalent effectiveness on the subject. Greg Nickels was way more effective as mayor than McGinn has been so far. McGinn is doubtless more pro-transit than the rest of his candidates but has certainly not used that support effectively in the current environment. If he waits his time, his time will come but right now, we are still engaged in what has been approved, worked on and decided but there will be plenty of future opportunities to work on things he is interested in. I know this sounds condescending and it is not meant to be – I am just trying to work through a way to make things effective for all concerned – both the mayor and the city.

      9. Mayor Nickels was very effective in getting the state to partially fund a car tunnel under downtown with the city paying the rest with a blank check. That’s the sort of effectiveness we need less of.

  1. By the time we’re ready to seriously consider light rail on 520, the dynamics of the highways v. transit debate will likely be much different than they are today. We’re talking at least 20 years out, probably 30 to 40. The only way that light rail would be seriously considered sooner than that is if there were a radical change in the political environment, and if that is the case, none of the plans we make today would matter.

    Quite simply, light rail over 520 is simply not worth the bandwidth. We should be working on a good BRT solution, possibly including transit only lanes. That would be a real possibility if the transit / environmental community would stop wasting time with a light rail pipe dream and actually focus on a winnable campaign.

    Disclaimer: I am staunchly pro light rail. I support spending $20 billion on new light rail past ST2 within the next 20 years and raising taxes enough to pay for it. It’s just that there are a dozen other lines that are a higher priority than 520 that we should focus on first.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Focusing on transit only lanes instead of HOV lanes is still a winnable goal in my mind, and one that fits nicely with future implementation of light rail.

      We just need to avoid a design that greatly hinders putting light rail on this bridge in the future, so I’m glad to read she’s still showing interest in that arena.

    2. I also agree that any circumstances that would make rail viable across the 520 corridor would make todays plans obsolete. WSDOT supposedly had a plan to “unzip” the bridge down the center and add width. Sounds like a prescription for sinking another bridge to me. The new bridge is going to be moored 100′ north of the existing alignment. If you need a railroad bridge at some point in the future you could A) build a real bridge or B) float in some more pontoons and raft them up next to the other bridge just like they did for I-90.

  2. The Governor and UW are making some good decisions that I can live with.

    I am for an aggressive building of light rail.

    I am against overpriced and redundant projects like a rebuilt 520 or a viaduct tunnel. We have two really good ways to get from Seattle to Bellevue — I-90 and going around the south end of Lake Washington through Renton.

    I am not against all spending, but would like to see us drive on the core products and pump as much money into what works and what will deliver value from the construction rather than just working on money pits.

    1. So you wouldn’t rebuild either the 520 bridge or replace the viaduct then? Light Rail works on many corridors in our region but not on all. SR99 is not one because it is essentially a freight corridor and a vehicular alternate to the I-5 corridor.

    2. John, the existing 520 bridge paid for itself with tolls faster than expected back when there was not much but blueberry farms in Bellevue. The new Tacoma Narrows was funded with tolling. A new 520 could be funded entirely with tolling but the fear is the spill over traffic from too high a toll would result in gridlock on the alternate routes (I-90 and north of the lake (Renton is not an alternate to 520). There are no light rail projects that will pay for themselves with fares so it’s not really fare to label the bridges as money pits. As for core products the highway system is the core of our transportation system. Without it there is no economic tax base to support frills like light rail.

      1. Although it’s frustrating when people forget that adding bridge capacity, even when the actual bridges may pay for themselves, has a negative ripple effect on local roads and neighborhoods. Light rail is hardly a “frill” when it has the ability to move more people more efficiently, more safely, and with much more positive effects on local roads and neighborhoods.

      2. That can certainly happen but the current backups on 520 405 have that same effect of encouraging people to find “cut through” routes. I think part of the answer lies in keeping “limited access” limited. On 520 I’d favor no new on/off ramps. In fact I’d favor removal of the Arboretum ramps and making Montlake time controlled HOV. Certainly some work would need to be done on arterials but that would be cheaper than adding new exits and thoroughfares.

      3. I agree but Bernie made a lot more ridiculous mistakes than that. I find his claim that the project can be paid for with tolls but in reality only one fourth of the money will come from tolls to be the most annoying.

  3. So she vetoed the 20-foot height provision because the language was too strict, and she vetoed the light rail planning provision because the language was too vague. Sounds like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

  4. I have no problem with this. LR across 520 was really just McGinn’s way of mucking up the works. This is as much about putting McGinn in his place as anything.

    And there really isn’t any need for LR across 520 anyhow. Not now, not in ST3, and probably not even in ST4. I’d focus on getting a good bus/HOV design for the bridge and call it good.

    1. A good bus design would have a Montlake stop – one of the highest ridership stops outside downtown Seattle – and just gone, poof

      1. That is exactly my point. If McGinn cared at all about “transit”, he’d work to improve the HOV and bus design of the current 520 replacement plan. An improved bus/HOV design is definitely achievable – if he cared he would focus on that.

        Me thinks McGinn is just using LR as a tool to muck up the works on other projects that he disagrees with ideologically. The Gov called him out.

      2. I’m on record as saying that a lot of the players in this fight don’t really have transit’s interests at heart, but Mayor McGinn’s position on this has been consistent from the beginning, going back to the campaign: light rail on 520, no new highway capacity.

      3. Martin you have a very rosy view of McGinn – thus far he has been a disaster for Seattle and it just burns me up how much of a one.

        I agree with Lazarus that he is just mucking up the works here as he is trying to do on a host of other issues he hates or cares differently about. We have said this between us countless times now, and I do not believe he has a mandate to screw up all of these policies, many of which have been worked on for years now and are almost shovel ready for the most part.

        Once these projects get underway, then he can have offer his other great ideas on Light Rail between West Seattle and Ballard, but he needs to get on board with what has been decided for a long while now. I’d like to see him more involved with ST3 and ST4 projects and not with ST2 which has already been decided upon by voters and agency and sadly defunct ideas such as the Seattle Monorail Project. He just wasn’t in charge during those years and I don’t think he can revisit them effectively.

        I accept you have a different view of McGinn but out of sheer pragmatism if nothing else this seems like the best way forward for him and for Seattle. He’s get his chance to shape things in the future and we’ll welcome those ideas I am sure when they come about.

      4. Martin,

        I agree – many of the players on the 520 replacement do not have the best interests of transit at heart — but that is exactly why what McGinn is doing is so counter productive.

        If you are a lamb among lions (as McGinn is), then there is a lot more to be gained by working quietly for a small victory as opposed to trying to through your weight around and out muscle the lions.

        McGinn should be working quietly in an attempt to improve the HOV/bus/transit portion of the existing plan. This is a small victory that is within reach. His bellicose and uncoordinated agitations for LR on 520 are not going to produce any positive results for LR or any form of transit on SR520 – he is going to get steamrolled.

        Of course, once McGinn gets steamrolled he is likely to resort to the courts, which is where this whole thing is probably heading anyhow. (unfortunately). But a legal challenged based on the LR issue will go nowhere, he will need different grounds.

      5. Tim,

        Not a lot has happened yet, so I’m not sure how you get that McGinn has been a “disaster” for Seattle. He has staked out some positions on issues that most of the political class disagrees with him on, and his opposition seems not to have made a difference.

        I really don’t see what concrete impact that has made for Seattle residents one way or the other, or how any other set of mayoral actions would have changed the outcome.

      6. Well maybe ‘disaster’ was too strong a word, but thus far, he has managed to annoy just about everyone from the City Council to the staff and the city at large. I don’t see a lot of difference between his tactics and those of the irritating tea baggers and/or Sarah Palin and just as ineffective and fringe like to be honest. We don’t save the government by bringing down the government. Contrary to the beliefs of the tea baggers, government in this country is not at risk of imminent collapse and in President Obama’s hands, nor should it be. We are not anarchists here!!

      7. I seem to remember that a certain previous Mayor was quite effective without being exactly beloved by Council, legislature, and so on.

      8. I don’t think they liked him in Olympia but the City Council was Ok with him I guess.

        I guess the best way of putting it for me at any rate is that making an analogy to the UK, I am often struck by the difference in the way that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have been perceived. Tony Blair was a strong leader who strutted and fretted his way across the world’s stage whereas Gordon Brown, it seems to me, has often floundered his way across the same and does not have the same cache with world opinion that Tony Blair had. I am not necessarily referring to their policies but more to their impact for better or for worse. If Tony Blair was not always effective or well received by others, he was still a strong leader who got his points across well and often did good things because he had effective leadership power. I have long believed that terrible though the Iraq War was as a decision and in its execution, it would have been even worse without Blair on board to make it a tadd less of an American war. George Bush unbound would have been even worse than lightly bound as he was by having the UK armed forces on board besides the Americans. If the war failed as I am sure most of us here believe that it did, at least it was a failure of not just the Americans but also of the British, thereby making the need to fight on less of a face saving measure for the Americans than it would otherwise have been if the UK armed forces had not been involved as well to share in the failure.

        Mr Brown by contrast does not appear to have had the same stage effectiveness or response whether his policies are good or bad. It is no coincidence that the British Prime Ministers, most Americans have heard of – Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have all been strong and effective spokespersons for the UK as a whole and within the UK domestically. Mayor McGinn would do better I think if he carried his policies more effectively and placed Seattle more in the forefront of effective change. Greg Nickels was often at his best representing Seattle’s interests to a wider audience. Sometimes that was a national one but he could bring everything back home when it mattered on the big stake projects such as Light Rail (even if everyone and their dog has taken credit for it). At the moment, I do not see Mike McGinn effectively representing Seattle’s interests either to itself or to a wider audience. It could come in time but he needs to let the work of his predecessors and other state agencies run its course.

  5. Just as the current 520 bridge became outdated in less than 50 years, so will this new monstrosity – I only hope I can live to be 100 to see the 2nd bridge be torn out.

  6. I agree with Rep. Eddy that light rail is more likely to head across from Sandpoint to Kirkland some day. The destinations it could serve make more sense, anyway.

    But I also agree with Council Member O’Brien that it is unlikely that once 3-person HOVs get access to a lane and clog it, that the political will will be there to unclog it (by raising the car occupancy requirement). The lane doesn’t need to be transit only, but it does need a plan to guarantee bus travel time dependability. Otherwise, people won’t ride the buses, and the bridge will get even more clogged.

    1. I agree with Rep. Eddy that light rail is more likely to head across from Sandpoint to Kirkland some day.

      Any bets on when “some day” might be?

      1. Re: SandPoint to Kirkland:

        That’s nuts. There is no way that we’ll ever build another cross lake bridge. The economics of it stink!

        As for rail across 520, if/when Microsoft ever wakes up to the advantages of rail it could be done in a heartbeat. Key is having bridge pontoons that can support the weight the track/with concrete between the rails for BRT. That way we don’t give up the bus connections if want to.

        As for me, I’m just going to be happy that there will be a Northern cross lake bicycle bridge.

  7. is adding light rail to a bridge and taking away car lanes ‘removing capacity’ or ‘adding capacity’?

  8. I don’t necessarily agree with the mayor’s methods, but he is right on this one. Sound Transit wanted to start studying LR over 520 in 2016. They’ve had 15 years (or whatever) to fold that study into the rebuild and haven’t done it. Last second ain’t ideal, but is infinitely better than two minutes after the fact. All the problems everyone repeatedly cites are problems SDOT/WSDOT/ST would eventually have to confront anyway, they would just have to deal with the additional engineering challenges involved in retrofitting a brand-new bridge and the political difficulties of “stealing” existing lanes for rail.

  9. Do we have a better plan for the Montlake-to-Husky-Stadium transit connection than the awful plan the state has on the table?

    Let’s assume we don’t get our transit lane. Can we still get transit-only entrances and exits? Would a second, transit-only, bascule bridge make a difference?

    Also, is it too late to nudge the tunnel under the campus for the bulk of daily riders, instead of on the stadium side of Montlake, which is of use about six out of every 365 days?

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