Commenter cjh has a fair point:

[STB is] 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…

For the record, I think the deep-bore tunnel is very likely to happen, given its deep political support.  If anything kills it, it’s likely to be the design spiraling out of control, or some sort of Brightwater-style engineering catastrophe.  Given the fact that there is, in my view, a superior surface/transit option, that also happens to cost considerably less, I’ll take my opportunities to point out that I think that the project is, at its core, unnecessary, and the highly questionable specifics of the viaduct deal.

I also think the current WSDOT plan for 520  is likely to proceed with at most mild alterations to the West side.  I think some simple changes, mentioned repeatedly, could greatly improve transit access.  On the other hand, the larger changes that Mayor McGinn has implied aren’t tied to any specific plan for the bridge.

That’s not a shot at the Mayor, who’s been in office for just over 3 months, has few planning resources, and whose first task is to blow up the coalition that has coalesced around the current plan.  At different times, though, he’s hinted at light rail on the bridge immediately, tracks laid in the lanes, structural changes  to allow for rail, and reduction of the Portage Bay crossing to four lanes.  More after the jump.

I can’t speak for Ben or John, but there are 520 plans that I would strongly support.  If Speaker Chopp, supposed McGinn ally, came out with a plan to fund the needed structural improvements with gas tax money, or even increase tolling revenue to fund Sound Transit to plan and build light rail in the 520 corridor, I think you’ll find most or all of us advocating for it nonstop.  At the other extreme, if the City has to use its taxing authority — which will barely be able to fund rail to Ballard and West Seattle, if that — to merely maintain the possibility of 520 light rail many decades in the future, that would be an awful trade.

In reality, if a concrete alternative emerges it’ll be somewhere between those scenarios.  I can’t tell you how I’d come down on a plan whose basic contours haven’t been established, but I will commit to try to keep an open mind.

34 Replies to “Yesterday’s Comment of the Day: the DBT and 520”

  1. I think it’s reasonably fair to say that rejigging the 520 at this point is a poor idea, considering it will cost hundreds of millions and it won’t ever happen. If light rail over the 520 happened, it would happen in 50 years and we’ll probably need a new bridge by then anyway.

    1. This is really kind of an awesome argument- the highway department went ahead and designed what they wanted to design, and they tell us it would be very expensive to change now, so we might as well just give in to their desires. After all, we never wanted that light rail anyway.

      In fact, its so awesome that people have used it for centuries, occasionally referencing a fox and some grapes as they do so.

      1. Well, that’s my argument. We keep forgetting, over and over: Highways are a bad place for transit. If we’re going to build new transit, put it where transit should go – why would we spend a billion dollars making a UW-520 connection when we could get to Magnuson Park and serve part of Seattle that needs transit?

      2. Highways are generally bad places for transit, but when you have a major geographic barrier it can be efficient for transit and roads to cross the barrier together. NYC subway lines (and formerly streetcar lines) crossed to Brooklyn and Queens on bridges shared with roads, and similar sharing goes on elsewhere – even train lines in Japan do this on bridges.

        I don’t see another Lake crossing being constructed in the next 75 years. So it is either use the 520 crossing or stick with buses and I-90 Link.

      3. Why? ‘Cause Magnason “Park” is a “Park” and if highways are a bad choice for transit, Parks are even worse.

        Besides there is no way there is ever going to be third bridge built across Lake Washington, not even a a migrating path for endangered species.

      4. Oh, just knock the 520 down already. You did all right for decades with ferries; put one back in and see how you do for a few years. You can spend the intervening years designing a *good* bridge.

  2. The state legislature set accommodating light rail and bus rapid transit as design criteria for the new 520 bridge back in 2007. See RWC 47.01.405 . “The bridge shall also be designed to accommodate light rail in the future and to support a bus rapid transit system.” IMHO McGinn has made a good point by actually commissioning a study of the feasibility of light rail on the bridge. The engineers who are designing the new bridge should have met all of the design criteria that were set out by the legislature. So why does the current design not include either light rail or BRT?

      1. And their report says we’d need a hell of a lot of money we don’t have. McGinn’s response is “hey state, come up with something.” He isn’t putting forward a plan.

      2. He is trying to forces concessions. At the very least better design for peds/bike/transit per the other report by Nelson/Nygaard.

  3. It’s interesting to point out that almost 5 years ago, WSDOT introduced the Pacific Street Interchange option because of Montlake backlash at expanding the Montlake Interchange, but fast forward five years, WSDOT has went back to the expanding Montlake Interchange option.

    Nice to see we’ve made some real progress. WSDOT seriously should’ve done some more preparation for light rail along SR 520, such as an environmental assessment or something.

    1. It’s ST that is tasked with light rail planning. Why should WSDOT, which has no funding authority to build light rail study something which would likely be at odds with ST’s long range plans? If ST had come forth and said our vision for light rail in the Seattle metro area includes light rail over 520 in the next 10, 20 or 30 years then it would be worth while to at least look at bridge options to accommodate it and ST has a pretty full plate for the next 30 years.

    2. WSDOT has no idea what ST wants because ST hasn’t asked for it. Probably because they don’t want to build there.

      I think WSDOT went back to expanding the interchange because they couldn’t avoid expanding the Montlake interchange without some real money that we don’t have.

  4. I have to disagree. AWV and SR-520 are very different projects I think it is simplistic to say that STB is somehow hypocritical.

  5. If lightrail isn’t in place on the 520 bridge by completion, then the state has procrastinated an assignment given to them. If you procrastinate, then you are putting something off leading to many disaters (which most people have experienced in high school and college/univerity). As you may know, procrastination is a terrible habit.

    In 2050, when Greater Seattle’s population is 6+million, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t procrastinated. You’ll be wishing you’d had built that lightrail from Day-1. I’m wishing Seattle had built that subway long ago when an underground subway was propsed in the 1920’s.

    It’s now or never people.

    1. Greater Seattle will never reach six million people. Where would they work doing what? The Green River valley is already filled up with workplaces and the ugly truth is that most of us white collar workers are going to be surplus in ten to twenty years. Either computers or Indians with better accents will be doing our jobs.

      Retirees other than those from San Francisco and New York can’t afford to move to a coastal area, except maybe trailers in the Florida panhandle.

      These even onward growth projections that we use in the Pacific Northwest are whishful hooey!

      1. Excuse me, but the Seattle area will probably hit six million by 2060, if we track the way we have been. Depending on what you count as greater seattle.

        And there are a lot of parking lots that can be 50 story buildings.

      2. As cities mature it’s the norm that population increases will level out. The “new” cities on the west coast have ballooned because of all the cheap undeveloped land around them. If you look at New York it’s population was flat from 1950-1990. Only in the go-go 90’s did it see a growth rate approaching 10%. New York and London are the two major banking and business centers of the world. The Seattle metro economy is based largely on Boeing and high tech (yes, shipping but that’s no longer a labor intensive job and tourism but that’s largely seasonal). Boeing has already moved it’s headquarters and is steadily moving production away from the region. High tech is even easier to relocate. The irony is that if the folks clamoring for more stringent emigration and foreign worker status get their way it will only accelerate the shift to India and China where the emerging markets are. Even if there are 6M in Puget Sound by 2050 it won’t be any more centralized than it is today. The population of Seattle hasn’t contributed to the rise in the regional population over the last 50 years. The job centers are expanding outward to the Kent Valley, Mill Creek, etc. There may surface lots in Seattle that can be built up but you need a much larger foot print than a Diamond lot to build a skyscraper. Tacoma and Everett would see a large portion of the growth if the NW economy is robust for the next 50 years. More likely we’ll continue with a roller coaster pattern of level population for a decade followed by ~10% growth and then another bust.

      3. Of course it will support more people. They won’t be filling existing jobs, but will be filling new jobs, which automatically are created as the world’s and region’s populations increase. 40 years ago, the whole Seattle area was under 2m, so it has almost doubled since then. It’s almost certain to do so again.

      4. People are still moving here. The population of the US and the world is still going up. If Boeing is still alive in five years, it will still have some production here, simply to avoid putting all its eggs into one basket. The region’s “creative talent” is good at creating new jobs and new industries. People still move here for the climate, the openness (especially if you come from a religiously intolerant town or fast-paced city), etc. It’s still an immigration portal. People are still having kids. It’s still cheaper than California, our state government isn’t such a disaster, and there’s no income tax. All of these point to higher population.

        Against that would be the number of people leaving for better jobs elsewhere. But which other region is likely to have a mass of better jobs to move to? Some unemployed will leave if they have family elsewhere, but most will stay put. So it’s hard to imagine the population shrinking.

        Marysville to Tumwater is 3.2 million, so 6 million is less than doubling. And it’s over 40 years. The population did double in the last 40 or 50 years. Still, I’d say we’re more likely to add 1 to 2 million people than 3 million. But even with 1 million, if King County gets a third of that, and half move to Seattle and half to the suburbs, that’s 167K more people in Seattle, or three times the population of Capitol Hill/First Hill/Belltown/Queen Anne.

      5. The extra millions will work in Portland or Vancouver, BC and commute on Amtrak Cascades. :-) They’ll live in Seattle because it has the best sex parties. ;-)

    2. Well you’re assuming the bridge will even be finished by 2050. Given the number of parties unhappy with the current bridge plan I’d say there is a fair chance this will end up getting dragged out like the completion of I-90. There is also the small matter that the project isn’t completely funded even once the more likely tolling plans are factored in.

      1. The current bridge won’t last until 2050.

        The whole program isn’t completely funded, but the replacement floating bridge is funded.

      2. Exactly. The State is already building the bridge. I think even the eastside portion of the highway is funded but the lids are an “extra” rolled into the $2 billion or so of pork. I can think of one great place to save some bucks; just don’t rebuild the ramps through the arboretum. If they run out of money before they can do that… awe, what a shame.

  6. RE:520

    Hard to believe ten extra feet- meaning five on each side- is a killer problem.

    Question: how close is present plan to being convertible for real bus rapid transit- meaning fully reserved transit lanes, dedicated ramps, and station stops.

    I still haven’t heard a good answer to the argument that Sand Point-to-Kirkland wouldn’t make a better light-rail alignment than 520.

    Something else to think about: in a couple of decades, there’ll probably be advances in materials and motors that’ll make lighter trains possible. Maybe we’ll decide to convert the whole bridge to rail.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Sand Point to Kirkland wouldn’t be good for the very high-ridership UW-Bellevue route, while it would also spend a huge amount of money when there’s an existing bridge just waiting to be retrofitted for light rail. Also, it would tear up a part of one of the great parks in Seattle, and who knows what in Kirkland, and it probably wouldn’t result in time savings vs 520 for anyone, except the couple places in Seattle on the way to there.

  7. I LOLed. All of a sudden, it’s a problem that McGinn doesn’t have a specific plan? Wow, when did that happen- or perhaps more to the point, how do I get my special decoder ring?

    The simple fact is McGinn is right. The 520 process only went forward with the specific injunction that the design shall accommodate light rail, but the designs presented today clearly do not.

    And that would be my reply to Bernie as well. “Why should WSDOT, which has no funding authority to build light rail study something which would likely be at odds with ST’s long range plans?” Because they are required by law to do so. Honestly, Bernie, ST is an agency, like all other agencies, limited in their remit and requiring close supervision lest they fall into bad ways. I can’t imagine a less persuasive argument than baldly stating that ST isn’t planning to do that right now.

    I’d say McGinn has showed a lot of spirit and judgment in his actions to date about this bridge. Seattle should make it plain the new bridge isn’t going forward until the city gets some answers they like on these questions.

    1. Did you just miss that in 2008, the Governor said the bridge would not be built for light rail? I even linked to it.

    2. WSDOT was required to figure out how light rail could be added to the floating bridge. They did that. They didn’t figure how it light rail would get to or from the bridge or where it would go beyond the bridge, let alone if it should even be built on the bridge in the first place. And really, would you even want them to? That is Sound Transit’s job. They already looked at this question and came to the conclusion that light rail should go in the I-90 corridor first and that would be plenty of capacity for many years to come.

      Ultimately, I think McGinn is going at this backwards. It isn’t clear to me that light rail should ever be in the SR 520 corridor. Nor is it clear to me that, even if WSDOT did everything he wants them to do to accommodate light rail on SR 520, that light rail would even be a feasible and prudent thing to do there. I think the report he commissioned understates the challenges associated with getting a light rail line across the Ship Canal. Building through the Points communities (Medina, Hunts Point, Yarrow Point, Clyde Hill) would also be a challenge. I can’t believe that, if SR 520 wasn’t already in place, that anyone would stand on Foster Island looking towards Medina and think, “boy, this would be a great place for a light rail line.” SR 520 could make extending a second light rail line across the lake somewhat easier, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it good.

      After reading through the consultant’s report commissioned by the mayor, I did not see any convincing argument for why modifying the proposed bridge as currently designed would impractical in the future. Basically, it is so because they say so. Furthermore, their conclusion that a gap should be left in SR 520 at Foster Island is based on a lot of assumptions that may not pan out if someone really sits down to seriously plan and design a light rail line on SR 520. I found the whole thing hard to take seriously.

Comments are closed.