Additional pontoons for light rail in orange.

WSDOT has (basically) responded to McGinn’s report concerning the feasibility of light rail across the new bridge 520. McGinn’s report showed that unless the current design is modified, light rail will probably never be feasible across the bridge, but WSDOT says that light rail is possible across the span:

Will the new SR 520 floating bridge be able to accommodate light rail?

Yes. WSDOT engineers have designed the new SR 520 floating bridge so that additional supplemental pontoons could be added in the future to support the weight of light rail.

That response really seems, well, not true. The opening “yes” has little to do with the rest of the statement, because even without changes to the pontoons, the current design will effectively preclude light rail. (That’s the difference between “physically being able to carry trains” and “accommodating light rail.”) Additional pontoons are just one issue that McGinn’s report called out; it also spoke to two other concerns that would be significantly harder to accomplish with a retrofit. As we wrote earlier this week:

  • The west approach (meaning through the arboretum) would have to be at least 10 feet wider than the current A+ alternative to accommodate light rail without having to significantly modify the structure later.
  • Through the arboretum, the bridge must be wider (or have a gap) to allow light rail to enter and exit the center HOV lanes and diverge from the freeway.

While these changes would be difficult to add during a retrofit, we have no clue how much they would cost to accomplish if we do things “right” from the beginning. The difference is important: if voters choose to put light rail across 520 and the only marginal cost is adding more pontoons and installing rail infrastructure, we could be save hundreds of millions of dollars compared to retrofitting more difficult design changes. The cost and disruption would be so great that a retrofit of these changes is practically infeasible, meaning that light rail would never cross 520 even if all of the transportation experts said it should. (Which is a big assumption, since right now no single 520 alignment looks very useful.)

More after the jump…

If one thinks we should allow for the possibility of rail on the new 520 bridge, one should focus on the two design changes above and ignore McGinn’s pontoons recommendation which allow WSDOT to drive up the cost of estimates. For example, WSDOT writes:

First there is the cost of time. The state Attorney General’s office and the Federal Highway Administration estimate that an additional two years of time would be necessary to conduct the required environmental analysis. This would be essential since the current analysis assumes the four general-purpose and two transit/HOV lane configuration and does not address light rail.

Secondly, it would cost between $150 million and $200 million to construct the 30 additional pontoons and to install them on the floating bridge, along with the 77 pontoons required for the six-lane alternative. There would be other costs associated with the bridge deck expansion and other infrastructure, including rail lines.

While WSDOT argues about the cost of pontoons, it doesn’t mention any costs associated with the two design changes listed above. Since few are arguing for light rail across the bridge now, the first argument makes little sense. However, according to City Council analysis released yesterday, there may need to be an additional environmental review would need to be conducted if pontoons are built. Publicola reports:

Finally, the analysis found that although the state wouldn’t have to do additional environmental studies to widen the gap between eastbound and westbound 520 lanes over Foster Island to accommodate rail, adding pontoons would require a new environmental impact statement, and cost the state between $150 and $200 million.

WSDOT’s cost estimates and the impact of delay leads us to a conclusion: it doesn’t makes sense to build pontoons for light rail right now when adding them later is feasible.

But WSDOT is majorly wrong in its other statements. It’s misleading to say that light rail is feasible without McGinn’s other recommendations or some other design changes; WSDOT should not mislead the public. The region has to make a choice: allow for the possibility of light rail on 520 by changing the design slightly, or keep current design choices that will prevent light rail from ever crossing the bridge. WSDOT does not present these alternatives accurately.

Some transit supporters, like Ben, think that any light rail across 520 will be an ineffective waste of money; others, like Martin, think that allowing for the possibility of light rail makes sense if the cost is right. WSDOT has a duty to Seattle to present estimates for McGinn’s design recommendations, because if the marginal cost of construction is below the subjective marginal benefit of the possibility of rail then we should know. Just like rail advocates shouldn’t push for tracks that will go unused for decades, they should back off of the pontoons.

520 rail supporters — McGinn included — would be smart to admit that building extra pontoons before light rail is being put across the bridge might not make sense. That admission will allow advocates to point out the holes in WSDOT’s claims and could focus efforts on the two design changes above, as well as political arguments such as how to price the HOV lanes if they’re ever given to Sound Transit.

By keeping the pontoons in play, McGinn is allowing WSDOT to point out that just one of his recommendations would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and delay the project by years, without even studying his other, potentially reasonable recommendations.

60 Replies to “520 Rail Advocates Should Forget the Pontoons”

  1. If they figured out in WWII how to make tanks that float, why not “Amphibious LRT” vehicles – or swimming rail.
    It’s the best of all worlds :)

    1. I always thought they should look at contracting out to Ride the Ducks for some cross-lake service.

  2. If the pontoon bridge is to carry LRT, it should be designed to from the onset and not retrofitted. What is important is not vehicle weight, rather axle weight and if the right sort of cars used, the axle weight should be only a wee bit greater than a bus or a commercial vehicle.

    The incremental cost for LRT should be all not that much compared to a $2 billion+ tunnel option.

    There is always an amphibious bus option!

    1. Not only that but laying track on top of the pontoons, or grinding off a layer of cement, laying track and replacing the cement so that both buses and LR can use the same lanes would be ideal. Especially since LR headways are at a minimum 3 minutes and a bus can easily have a 30 second headway allowing for a mix of use.

      In any case it’s not trival to “just add track” and go. The whole thing is essentially a boat and it needs to be balanced. Hence McGinn is right, either put track on it from day 1 or skip it for the life of the bridge. Since we are nearing or past peak oil, I vote to put the track on at day one.

    2. Oh my god that’s awesome! There’s places with amphibious buses for their actual public transit!

  3. The pontoons involve sunk costs for building a factory and destroying a wetland. Making the decision now to get more pontoons means they will be in place as the bridge gets built, rather than having to tear apart the bridge to slip more pontoons under it.

    It may also keep another factory from being built and another wetland (not counting Sandpoint or wherever a future rail landing would be built in Kirkland) from being destroyed if this can be done as a contractual change order rather than a public rebid.

    Adding more pontoons later is a significant rebuild, not a slip-it-under retrofit.

    1. Shorter version of the original post: pontoons require a new EIS and $200 million dollars. They are not going to happen.

      1. And you would have to probably double that cost if you didn’t build the new pontoons today. That’s the point Brent was likely trying to get across. So if you’re really serious about efficiencies, build the extra pontoons now.

      2. Gern & Brent-

        Building new pontoons and delaying the bridge by years would not be efficient if light rail were never to cross the bridge. Why are we discounting this outcome, when it is by far the most likely scenario? In this likely outcome, the marginal cost is high while the marginal benefit is nothing.

        And if light rail were to someday cross the bridge, a transit agency would pay for the pontoons which is probably appropriate.

      3. Gern, the whole point here is that we don’t have the OPTION of doing this now. It’s way too late.

        And as I think I made clear, there are much bigger and much more expensive obstacles to putting rail over 520 that make other options likely more attractive – and certainly more functional.

      4. Why would additional pontoons (as shown in the drawing) require a new EIS?

        It must be dramatically less expensive to build and install additional pontoons now, rather than add the later. In addition to manufacturing inefficiency of completing production and then restarting, to insert new pontoons would likely require repeated bridge closures and greater complexity than simply building the bridge with sufficient weight=bearing capacity from the get go.

    2. The additional pontoons would be attached to the sides of the pontoons supporting the bridge. They would not slip under anything and the bridge would not need to be ripped apart to add them.

  4. I believe the study assumes the HOV lanes will continue to I-5. If the HOV lanes become transit-only exits, emptying directly into Husky Stadium Station, then the space for the diverging between continuing lanes and exiting transit lanes becomes unnecessary, as does a billion or so dollars of rebuilding 520 through Portage Bay, just to add HOV lanes that won’t have any buses in six years.

    I’m not sure if the wider footprint would still be needed to convert the HOV lanes to rail lanes, but I don’t understand why it would. Is it the electric wiring that causes that wider footprint?

    1. Who is planning on making the HOV lanes into transit-only exits? And what about buses continuing to downtown?

      1. If we build the Montlake interchange wrong, and create a 10-minute crawl for buses to get to the station, then, yeah, there will be buses continuing to downtown because they’ll be faster than transferring to U-Link, and we’ll be having to run two different bus lines from each eastside point of origin.

        If we build the second bascule bridge correctly, for transit only, with no intersections between 520 and the rail station, then transferring will be faster, and there will be no reason for buses to continue to downtown, nor expensive splitting of 520 routes between those going to UW and those going downtown.

        ST and Metro are a long way from coming to this realization, but the economics is straightforward.

        If we get behind the right kind of interchange, instead of accepting the crumbs off of WSDOT’s plate (HOV lanes on a second general-traffic bascule bridge, with two SOV lanes in the way of pulling into the station), then this is technically feasible. Taking out a chunk of the MoHI parking lot instead of a few mansions should be quite appealing to the neighbors.

        It is politically feasible if we make our preferences known to the city council immediately.

        But I do not believe Ben and others have looked at any blueprints for how HOV inside lanes on a pair of bascule bridges would help. My guess is that buses going northbound will ignore the HOV lane and instead stay in the right lane. Buses going south from the station could use the HOV lane, but the only buses I can foresee doing that would be the 43 and the 48. Buses going downtown aren’t going to make a 5-10 minute crawl to the station, and then turn around and make another 5-10 minute crawl back to 520 to head west to then finally head downtown.

      2. But you said “six years later” these lanes are going to be light rail only. (Light rail and buses don’t operate together at >25 mph according to McGinn’s report.) What happens then? We force all Eastside bus riders to transfer to light rail on 520, and then transfer again to go Downtown?

      3. The 520 HCT plan from 2008 is worth review. It was authored by WSDOT, Sound Transit and KC Metro with UW.

        520 is designated as a future HCT corridor. 5 BRT lines are planned over 520. The routes essentially resemble routes that exist today; these would be all-day 7 day a week frequent service.

        DT Seattle — Kirkland (like Metro 255)
        DT Seattle — Redmond (like ST 545)
        UW — Kirkland (like ST 540)
        UW — Redmond (like ST 542)
        UW — Bellevue (like Metro 271)

        The report says, “When the East Link light rail line is completed to Overlake in 2021 and ultimately to Redmond, it is expected to divert trips from some of the SR 520 bus rapid transit lines. The diversion will most likely occur from SR 520 bus rapid transit lines linking Overlake or Redmond to downtown Seattle. Service to the University District and on bus rapid transit lines between some areas of downtown Seattle and Kirkland and other areas along I-405 north of SR 520 would still offer benefits to riders after East Link is in operation.”

        So the one BRT route over 520 serving downtown Seattle that is envisioned to continue after light rail gets to Redmond is the one that serves Kirkland. What we are very likely to continue seeing on 520 for many years out is peak-period commuter bus service from outlying areas to downtown Seattle, as we have today. This service benefits from an express-lane connection to I-5, unlike the all-day BRT service that would get stuck on I-5 (and downtown streets) in the “reverse commute” direction.

        So, given light rail over I-90 all the way to downtown Redmond (someday) and very frequent (and someday, hopefully reliable) transit service from the Eastside to UW, it’s not clear that we’re going to have very many buses on 520 between downtown and the Eastside in the “reverse commute” direction. And given congestion on I-5 and downtown streets, there aren’t too many non-peak period trips from, say, Kirkland to downtown Seattle that would really be faster than transferring to Link at UW. If you’re headed to Westlake, you might want to just stay on the bus, but if you’re headed to the International District, you’re probably better off on Link. In the non-peak periods there’s presumably a bit of spare capacity on Link even in the long term, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

        So in summary, independent of the fascinating issues related to pontoons, etc., — I think we should, in general, focus on the UW transit connection part of this project. Downtown Seattle bus service should work better than today with any of these plans, except for getting kicked out of the tunnel downtown (no choice there) and not being able to get on-and-off in Montlake anymore (which we still may be able to solve.)

      4. So in summary, independent of the fascinating issues related to pontoons, etc., — I think we should, in general, focus on the UW transit connection part of this project. Downtown Seattle bus service should work better than today with any of these plans, except for getting kicked out of the tunnel downtown (no choice there) and not being able to get on-and-off in Montlake anymore (which we still may be able to solve.)

        I agree with Jonathan almost entirely. In a previous post I suggested a transit lane on Montlake Blvd., and I endorse Bernie’s idea of making the Montlake exit HOV only during peak hours. That not only reduces the footprint of the highway but largely solves the link-connectivity problems (aside from drawbridge openings).

        Of course that’ll probably mean you’ll have to have the second bascule bridge, which Jonathan opposes.

      5. Actually if we moved to HOV-only ramps in Montlake during peak hours, the Montlake traffic would probably be a dream, but there would be significant impacts elsewhere. I believe WSDOT has been formally asked to study this before though I have heard the idea suggested numerous times. That option is not in the DSEIS. Sounds like a good public comment (due April 15.)

        I and my community and the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 do oppose the second bascule bridge, but care passionately about the UW transit connectivity issue. How can this be?

        One way to say it is that the cost of WSDOT’s proposed second drawbridge exceeds its benefits.

        The costs are pretty clear. It’s $81 million to build and comes with noise, visual, property and environmental and construction impacts. It forever changes the views of and from two city landmarks (Montlake Bridge, ship canal) in a historic district attached to one of Seattle’s historic Olmsted boulevards. It introduces a new navigational impediment and it will take longer to operate two bridges than it will to operate one. The east sidewalk of the current bridge would be a no-man’s land. It turns one of Seattle’s signature water views into a sea of traffic.

        Meanwhile, the benefits are not as clear. The basic strategy of this bridge, as the consultant from Nelson\Nygaard explained to City Council, is to slightly increase general purpose capacity in the corridor and thus slightly help the transit that runs on that corridor. However, the net +2 lanes introduced by the second drawbridge are not even used to their full capacity because the two-bridge configuration overloads intersections on both sides of the drawbridges — even with the arterial widening WSDOT proposes. We’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. You can’t cram much more traffic through these Montlake intersections no matter how wide you make them. There’s already a huge volume of it… 55% of the traffic on 520 uses the Montlake interchange.

        With WSDOT’s second drawbridge, significant congestion remains on Montlake Blvd. from U Village heading south and there is no reliable route transit or any other HOV or emergency vehicles heading to or from the hospitals in the area, to bypass this congestion (such as, say, a southbound HOV 3+ lane on Montlake Blvd. from U Village to UW station.)

        When the bridge itself backs up at all today, the proximal cause is that there’s too much traffic for the intersections on the far side to accept; the drawbridge does not back up because there are too few vehicles crossing the drawbridge. Even so, as long as the bridge doesn’t go up, the actual time a bus spends on the drawbridge itself today – once the bus gets to the drawbridge — is minimal. What’s really needed is a queue bypass on either side of the bridge. We have one now heading towards the Montlake Bridge on Pacific St. We should look at creating more bypass opportunities like this approaching the Montlake Bridge and evaluate that before we jump to spending $81 million we don’t have on something that a whole lot of communities oppose.

        While we are at it, the second drawbridge proposed by WSDOT can never be used for light rail. Whether or not one things rail is likely or desirable on 520, I don’t think it’s wise to be building any new crossings of the ship canal that can never carry light rail.

        Building more general purpose capacity on city arterials is not the preferred way to move more people in Seattle. There are many tools available including transit investments and $81 million could buy us a number of different things. We should look at building a second drawbridge as the last option to address this problem, not the first.

      6. Point taken, if the drawbridge adds two GP lanes. But if it were BAT or at least HOV, and at least as far as the station, it addresses concerns about a direct connection from 520 to the Link station, leaving aside drawbridge openings.

      7. I don’t even need to look at the bridge plans to know that at every off-ramp WSDOT is overloading the street system. Lake Washington Boulevard, in addition to being a historical and scenic place, is simply not suited to carry heavy traffic. 23rd is already overloaded and it’s the best route for a rail connection from U of W to the east side of Capital Hill. You can go right around the compass circle and every street is already overloaded, and leads to another place even less suited for more traffic.

        *Fortunately*, Seattleites will be doing a lot less driving in the near future. Unfortunately, the money that would pay for transit, to make that a good experience, seems likely to be wasted trying to build more roads to meet the induced demand of the expanded bridge.

      8. The problem with the HOV lanes on the current bridge and in the WSDOT proposals is location. For the HOV lanes to help the rail station at all, the northbound HOV lane needs to be the eastern, outside lane. The southbound HOV lane needs to be on the eastern, inside lane, with a stoplight to allow all the buses to make the turns across the northbound lanes of Montlake.

        The second bascule bridge’s purpose right now is to accomodate more SOV traffic. That purpose needs to change to accomodating bus traffic before a useful second bridge can be designed. I’ll take just the current bridge, with both HOV lanes shifted to the eastern lane, over flooding Montlake Blvd with SOV traffic.

        Given that 55% of 520 traffic that passes by Montlake Blvd uses Montlake Blvd, I have to seriously question the justification for the extra new lanes on 520 between Montlake and I-5. As ST’s report indicates, we’d likely have just one peak-hour route taking advantage of the lane. Though the report doesn’t state it, I expect that peak-hour line would end at the rail station if we can just whittle a few minutes off of the connection time over the cut.

        No faster bus access to the rail station? No second bascule bridge.

      9. John Jensen,

        I never said the HOV/transit lanes would become light rail only.

        We’re really just talking about how riders get between Kirkland/Juanita and downtown Seattle, right? Bellevue and Redmond riders will already have a one-seat ride or a short neighborhood bus connection to East Link.

        If light rail is not on the 520 bridge, then riders from Kirkland and Juanita will have frequent service to UW, with a quick transfer to U-Link and a really fast ride to the DSTT, *if* WSDOT doesn’t obstruct bus access between 520 and UW Station. What service is like for Kirkland and Juanita riders if 520 rail happens depends on where the rail line goes. Since nobody outside of Mayor McGinn’s office is calling for a 520 light rail line to be up and running this decade, serving Kirkland commuters would probably a chief aim of Northeast Link.

        Again, the light rail debate is about keeping options open. Once Sandpoint Link is compared to 520 Link head-to-head, we’ll know better which way to serve Kirkland.

      10. Actually if we moved to HOV-only ramps in Montlake during peak hours, the Montlake traffic would probably be a dream, but there would be significant impacts elsewhere.

        Elsewhere you don’t have the Montlake Cut to deal with, the prospect of taking only historic single family homes (all of which are older than the 520 bridge) and trying to add major arterial capacity through the UW campus.

        Another way to look at it is if the exit at Montlake was HOV only during peak hours (which is 7am to 7pm for HOV purposes) you would actually get more vehicles through the area because traffic moving at 35mph is a lot more efficient than traffic moving at 5-10mph. So, more vehicles and a much higher occupancy rate per vehicle. How does this in any way reduce capacity? All it does is reduce the perceived convenience of a few SOV owners. And I say perceived because all they’re really getting is a longer wait stuck in traffic.

    2. Because of how 520 is funded, it would not be constitutional for those lanes to be transit only.

      1. Not to argue that point one way or another — I just want to note that the constitution in question is a state one, and many federal laws also apply to this project, which is, in part, federally funded.

    3. No, not the electric wiring. It’s just that the trains are long, and if they break down, or there is an emergency, it is essential to get the folks off without them having to hop over the barriers and take their chances strolling down the freeway itself.

  5. John, one comment caught my attention in your report:

    WSDOT should not mislead voters

    I actually think this very line is misleading voters because no one is being asked to vote on the 520 and in all honesty, I don’t think they need to at this point in time.

    It seems clear to me that setting this up to take Light Rail from the get go is likely to create a much wider footprint across the lake and through the Arboretum area than it otherwise would do.

    Also, in all reports I have read, McGinn does want Light Rail on the bridge deck when it opens. I think you mislead me in an earlier post when you said he didn’t.

    1. I changed it to say “mislead the public,” but WSDOT is an executive agency that is accountable to voters. WSDOT employees serve under the direction of the Governor.

      If you’re implying that WSDOT was not misleading when they said that the bridge can ‘accommodate light rail,’ then why do you write that the bridge design would be different if it were set “up to take Light Rail from the get go”?

      Also, in all reports I have read, McGinn does want Light Rail on the bridge deck when it opens. I think you mislead me in an earlier post when you said he didn’t.

      I have never wrote about McGinn and 520 light rail before.

    2. McGinn has not stated recently that he wants light rail on the bridge when it opens. He appears to have dropped at least that part.

      1. Yeah, I’m glad to see him drop that distracting issue from his talking points. It turns out he and the city council are mostly in agreement on making 520 light-rail-capable–they just argue about details like bridge width. McGinn’s talk of opening the bridge with light rail was just a distraction, since we all know that would be ST4 or ST5 at best. I think the big fight now will be connections for transit to the UW station and whether the extra lanes on the bridge will be HOV or transit-only. I think we need to make the argument that through better transit reliability with transit-only lanes plus the impact of tolling, it will be fine to stick with 4 general-purpose lanes. The point of this bridge should not be to increase SOV capacity.

  6. I tend to agree with Ben’s previous posts about 520 — this is neither the time nor the corridor to waste valuable transit dollars. We should focus our planning efforts on Seattle’s population centers (downtown, Ballard, West Seattle, etc.) before evaluating a SECOND line to the east side that likely wouldn’t be constructed for several decades.

    Furthermore, HOV lanes are the most cost-effective option for mass transit on SR 520. Everyone seems to conveniently forget that SR 520 is going to be tolled in less than a year, and will be tolled for at least for the next thirty years while the debt is paid off. As a result of tolling, people will either 1) choose to drive on another route, 2) stop driving altogether, 3) use an alternative method for transportation, or 4) travel at a different time of day. Bottom line, there will be fewer drivers on SR 520 than there are today, which will open up capacity for buses in the HOV lanes. As a result, HOV lanes will provide more than enough capacity for buses to operate reliably in the corridor, and without further capital investment and delay.

    Light rail looks pretty and it’s Seattle’s new shiny toy, but it’s not the best solution for mass transit on SR 520.

    1. Yes, again, let’s consider “What’s the most effective transit for the most people?”, not “How can we use 520 because it’s there?” Kirkland-Seattle trips have been in 520 gridlock since 1980, and they knew or should have known that when they bought their houses there. More people would benefit from a Northgate-Lake City-Bothell route, and Kirklanders would benefit from a Bellevue-Kirkland-Bothell line. That would give them two Link routes to Seattle (I-90 and Bothell). Not as zippy as 520, but again they chose to live in a transit-inconvenient location.

      I doubt think a Sand Point-Kirkland rail line is feasable, but it can be considered after the higher-density lines are done. But a Sand Point-Kirkland water taxi would be popular with those who have time on their hands.

      1. I think a Sand Point to Kirkland water taxi is not a crazy notion by any stretch, especially if it connected to frequent bus service down Sand Point Way to Children’s, U Village, and the UW. It’s about the same distance as the Elliott Bay crossing, 2 miles, so it would take about 10 minutes to cross the lake. And it doesn’t require a single pontoon!

        The Burke-Gilman trail runs by Magnuson Park. Might be a great thing to have going during the messy years of 520 construction!

        The other wacky idea I had was a water taxi from the tip of Madison Park to UW… where you could then catch a bus to the Eastside. Either that or direct commuter bus service from Madison Park to the Eastside, but that couldn’t go through the Arboretum; it would have to run down Madison to John, then 23rd Ave. If we had some better transit options, maybe we wouldn’t have so many thousands of people driving SOV’s through the Arboretum to commute to the Eastside via 520.

      2. One of the possibilities for King County Ferry District demonstration routes was the Kirkland-UW route, which I think they should look at again when the economy gets better. It seems to me that that’s the perfect corridor for a water taxi: Downtown Kirkland is right on the water, and UW Link Station is just a couple hundred yards from where the water taxi would probably stop near Husky Stadium; that corridor is currently heavily congested in both directions at many hours of the day; and it would be very competitive time-wise with driving or busing, especially at peak times, to take the water taxi to Link to Downtown.

      3. I’ve always been amazed they aren’t planning to start Kirkland-UW water taxi service to start in 2016. Can some Seattle and Kirkland people get together on this? I know the ferry district is hurting right now, but if the political will is there this route is the one that should be done.

      4. Why? The PSRC study had this as one of the worst performing routes out of an all star cast of stinkers. It was around $50 per person each way. Not too many professors or UW students that can afford to live in DT Kirkland Condos. A better route might be DT Kirkland to the Seahawks training center on the East Channel. Then again, they probably have their own boats.

      5. One fundamental problem with any water taxi direct to the UW is the no-wake speed limit in the ship canal. It then takes about 10 minutes just to get from Webster Point (near the 520 highrise) to Husky stadium. If you want to land at south campus on Portage Bay, then you’ve made the low-speed section even longer. This might beat 520 traffic coming from the eastside, but not circling around the Arboretum from Madison Park.

        A less fundamental issue is that the facilities at the UW docks get a lot of small craft use, but are in no way capable of supporting ferry service.

    2. Matt,

      Will you support raising the HOV passenger requirement if the HOV lanes get too clogged for dependable bus travel time?

  7. What many commentators seem to be missing is that this blog has been opposed to LRT across 520 since the dawn of time. They’re willing to go to the barricades to fight and delay other “done deals” (e.g. the execrable Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel plan), which delays will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. However, they will accept the decision of the powers that be in this case because it is agreeable to their pre-existing position. The money issue is a little ex post facto considering that, previously, they have made the same “pay less now or more later” argument for their favored routes and developments.

    This is especially silly because LRT across 520 is not being used as a stalking horse by the usual east county suspects to delay I-90/Bel-Red LRT development but is being championed by the pro-transit mayor of Seattle. This blog’s opposition does have rational and real reasons (the congestion at Montlake being a big one), but the strength of it is tied to irrational reasons: a. past history of this route being a wedge issue (even though this time it’s not) and b. disdain for the pro-transit outsider who beat their favored pro-transit insider.

    1. This blog has opposed having our first, main Seattle-Eastside corridor go over 520, because of Link capacity issues between UW Station and Downtown. However, 520 light rail would not serve the same market as East Link, as it would mostly be Bellevue/Redmond-UW, and probably Kirkland-Downtown as well.

      1. Also the thinking now is that some kind of crosstown Ballard-UW light rail tunnel would be the one to cross 520, so the two lines would cross perpendicularly and require a transfer (which is okay, people, they do it in other cities all the time). The mini-debate on this blog has been whether that crosstown line should cross 520 or go over the lake at Sand Point–I think there are good arguments for both. In any case, let’s make the bridge convertible to rail and start running BRT now in dedicated lanes. Sound Transit can analyze these other options in the future.

  8. Well, gosh, if we get to talk about wacky ideas today, here’s one- find the shortest route using ROW the public already owns between the U of W and Microsoft. I cheated and looked at a map- it’s the 520 bridge and on out east. But hey, who would want to go that way when they could ride downtown, out across Mercer Island, back up through Bellevue, and finally head east again? That would be like missing all the fun!

    Gotta say, all my BS detectors are ringing like fire bells at some of what I’m hearing. A $100 million EIS to add pontoons? What are we studying here- the amount of shade the pontoon casts on the algae growth in the lake? I lived on the water for more than 20 years and for the life of me I can’t figure out what you would study about this. The salmon didn’t stop coming because of the shipyards in Houghton or the creosote plant at the south end of the lake, they stopped when tens of thousands of acres were covered with suburban homes. If you want to decrease the environmental impact of the bridge, you don’t build it to carry more cars.

    The same goes for building the pontoons. They’re ferro-concrete boxes. The state needed an extra-large space to build some for the Hood Canal Bridge, and now they have an extra-large space in which they can build them. You don’t need to build a new space every time you build a new pontoon.

    The state almost doubled the width of the bridge, from 60 feet to 115 feet in the new design. Once you’ve swallowed this elephant, the gnat of an extra 10 or 20 feet oughta go down easily enough.

    What I’m seeing here is an extraordinary amount of bad faith on the part of WSDOT. Legislators and citizens asked that the bridge be designed to accommodate light rail in the future, and the state said they did that, but apparently they really haven’t. The state says they held meetings and nobody came, the City Council says they’ve passed a number of resolutions demanding mitigation measures and the state ignored them.

    The state has designed a bridge that will be obsolete before it wears out, certainly a first for the WSDOT, but nothing to be proud of. Aside from the little factor of peak oil, the middle of the road climatologists say the US needs to be zero-emissions by 2050 if we hope to stabilize at 450 ppm. If this is all Greek to you, it’s time to crack a book.

    John is right that the whole pontoon issue is a non-starter. The real issue from my POV is ensuring that light rail can enter and leave the bridge at Montlake. I’m not worried about whether the trains can continue south on Link. There’s lots of subway stations in NY where you go up and down stairs or along a corridor to transfer.

    But building the bridge without the ability to add light rail would be incredibly short-sighted.

    1. Just for the record, the pontoons for the 6-lane alternative in the Draft EIS were big enough to accommodate LRT as designed. They’ve been made smaller since then and now accommodate means attaching additional ‘flanker’ pontoons.

    2. I agree with all of this. I feel like, despite the common perception that Seattle controls state politics, it’s actually the opposite. Seattle doesn’t want the viaduct-replacement tunnel (but because it’s something that’s finally going forward and it will greatly improve the waterfront, I grudgingly support it), the State is making the unprecedented move of forcing Seattle to pay for cost overruns on a state project that has a high chance of getting cost overruns and that it doesn’t want, and now the state refuses to even listen to Seattle’s wishes for a bridge that goes right through Seattle… What’s the deal?

      1. There’s a common perception that Seattle controls state politics??? I don’t know who could possibly believe that. Pretty much every state has this dynamic, where the major city and the state government are constantly in opposition. The question is who holds the upper hand, and Seattle consistently fails to get its way in the state legislature. We need to work more on electing good leaders, holding our legislators accountable, and presenting a unified lobbying force.

      2. As an example of who thinks that, the Rossi campaign put up billboards around Eastern Washington during his campaign saying “Don’t let Seattle steal the next election.” And lots of Seattle Times commenters seem to think that Seattle is super powerful in the state legislature too.

  9. Could someone please explain to me why it has to be a FLOATING bridge? Why couldn’t you just drive the pillars and beams straight into the bottom of the lake?

    And what’s with all this “environmental study and protection” craziness… a future rail/subway infrastrucure will take hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each day, and they’re worried about every sq. inch of the arboretum! Don’t get me wrong… I recycle, I frequently take the bus (since there’s no subway), I use eco-friendly products, … but there is a point to when environmentalists become so picky, that counterproductivity takes place.

    I always thought Seattle was this “environmental” city… until I saw a government that denies to put rail on a heavily-traveled bridge.

    1. Could someone please explain to me why it has to be a FLOATING bridge?

      Because WA does everything on the cheap… even if it costs more. WSDOT’s own numbers show a real bridge would have been about the same cost (and last twice as long) but pouring concrete is what they do. For years WSDOT was lying about the depth of the lake to try and make their point. Even after that was corrected they neglect to point out that it’s only a hole that doesn’t really affect a different design. The propaganda must remain that because of our “unique” geology the “innovative” floating bridge design must prevail. The second Narrows bridge worked because it was monkey see monkey do… and they had a private partnership that was willing to step in.

      1. I never understood why the state didn’t hold a design competition for the 520 and viaduct replacements. Most modern countries have a competition to get concepts from the leading engineering firms in the world when it’s time to build a major bridge or infrastructure project. It seems like doing so may have lead to a better or more innovative solution for both of these projects, instead of letting the interns at WSDOT design them.

      2. How exactly does WSDOT “lie” about the depth of the lake? It has been fairly well surveyed and documented.

        In any case Lake Washington isn’t exactly an easy body of water to build a bridge across, it is fairly deep and has a deep muddy bottom. AFAIK a more conventional bridge structure would cost considerably more due to the technical challenges involved.

    2. As noted above, I believe in this case the WSDOT is using the inflated estimates of costs for environmental studies as a reason not to reconsider the bridge design.

      The most expensive part of environmental studies is gathering the data. In this case that’s been done. To determine the effect of widening the bridge at some point you just change the model you crank the data through.

      Agencies like WSDOT love to showcase their concern for a few dandelions while ignoring the long-term effects of continually increasing road traffic.

    3. Could someone please explain to me why it has to be a FLOATING bridge? Why couldn’t you just drive the pillars and beams straight into the bottom of the lake?

      Lake Washington is a very deep lake with a deep muddy bottom. Building a conventional bridge across it would be a non-trivial engineering challenge to say the least. I think estimates run somewhere in the neighborhood of double what a floating bridge would cost.

      And what’s with all this “environmental study and protection” craziness… a future rail/subway infrastrucure will take hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each day, and they’re worried about every sq. inch of the arboretum! Don’t get me wrong… I recycle, I frequently take the bus (since there’s no subway), I use eco-friendly products, … but there is a point to when environmentalists become so picky, that counterproductivity takes place.

      The Arboretum is a sensitive wetland and provides habitat for several endangered and threatened species. For example there is a pair of bald eagles nesting within sight of 520. Any substantial change to the construction plans will require a SEIS because the impacts will be different. Like it or not NEPA, SEPA, the Shoreline Management Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and a host of other statutes are the law and need to be followed. In fact even with all of the environmental review I won’t be surprised if there are some problems with the required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and National Marine Fisheries Service. After all doubling the width of the roadway through the Arboretum is going to have a fairly large impact.

      I always thought Seattle was this “environmental” city… until I saw a government that denies to put rail on a heavily-traveled bridge.

      Dropping light rail from 520 was a decision by WSDOT, the 520 legislative working group, and the Governor. This after years of promising it would be a design feature. The neighborhoods near the bridge and the City are protesting this rather short sighted decision.

    4. The lake is a left over holding pond from when glaciers overran the region. The depths vary quite a bit, but the bottom is anywhere from 40 to 200 feet deep, and covered with 25 to 100 feet of silt. The bottom is soft. All the years of run off from the hills surrounding the lake, etc. It is why they have pulled up some great old aircraft from the Sand Point Navy days with almost no rust… the muck has very little oxygen, and the cold preserved the crashed aircraft, sunken boats, coal cars, and occasional autos that drove off the bridges. The estimate I recall is almost a dozen planes, 77 rail cars and a dozen ships…

      As a kid I remember watching a tow truck in the center of the buldge on the old bridge fish out a car from a few hundred feet down.

      The span is too costly to compare a suspension bridge to a floating one…

      That said, what I have often wondered is why not build underwater tubes the way BART did the bay area, and run them across the more shallow parts, or even the deeper ones. I have a map from 1910 that shows a proposed Subway UNDER the lake connecting Kirkland with Madison Park.

      Instead of seeing how many lanes we can add to 405, imagine a tube tunnel entering the lake at Renton, and exiting at Kenmore… Or from Madison Park to Kirkland… or perhaps at 95th by Mathews Beach and exiting near the Marina in Kirkland… or Leshi to Meydenbauer…

      Maybe JUST Light Rail ONLY… ala BART. Segments were precast on land, lowered into place, attached, sealed, then the water pumped out. And thelake has no tidel and salt water corrosion issues.

      Just wondering.

  10. Suspension bridge at twice cost would have what lifetime? Compare to the “lifetime” we’ve gotten out of the current floaters.

    I’m thinking a structure like the Oakland bridge or GoldenGate. Build to last. Double deck. Several ‘lanes’ for trains.

    Seriously, it’s all makebelieve/outlandish/intangible money amounts we’re all talking about anyway: Might as well do it right / go long.

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