SR 520 Portage Bay Bridge Cable Stay design concept - Roanoke Neighborhood and Bridge from Montlake Boulevard E

WSDOT has added a flickr set containing illustrations of the design alternatives of the Portage Bay section of the 520 bridge replacement. They’ve also put up the meeting materials from last week’s Seattle Design Meeting. WSDOT is exploring cable-stayed and typical viaduct-style replacements. The Seattle Times has a write-up on the different designs and the obvious community reaction.

What do you think?

73 Replies to “520 Portage Bay Replacement Drawings”

  1. I think that, as is always true in these cases, these watercolors are lying sacks of fertilizer. They’ve even managed to shade the PAVEMENT in green! It’s practically a garden setting! And the perspective is false — it conspicuously narrows the roadway in the distance. The view will never look even remotely like this.

    1. By definition, perspective drawing is narrower (smaller) in the distance. It’s not false, it’s exactly what’s on the tin. Actually, if anything, they don’t continue narrowing the road consistently at the far end — it’s wider here than it would be.

      What you’re looking for is an isometric drawing. But that’s not the view you would get while driving towards the bridge.

      1. Make the pavement grey and dirty and fill it with large numbers of pollution-belching cars, and cover the trees with a thin layer of soot, and you might have a plausible picture.

    2. Yes, you’ve got a very good point. I think it will look crappy no matter what. If the real reason to put a cable-stayed bridge there is to help boats get under, I say forget it: not worth a penny extra to do that.

      1. Yes, we should all pay millions extra so the Yacht club can have an easier time.

      2. It’s got nothing to do with getting a boat under the bridge, unless maybe its a canoe. The water is too shallow for the draft of any sailboat with a mast that tall. Queen City is north of the highway ROW and it’s mostly covered moorage for power boats. SYC is way north of 520. The cable stay design opens up the shoreline; much of which is public space.

      3. Well okay, that sounds better. Not sure how much money it’s worth, though. How much money would it cost to acquire a few bits of land around there for example?

      4. There’s already the Montlake play field and the whole north shore is owned by the University of Washington (they bought the moorage and old Jenson Marine property years ago). Lots of people use kayaks to access Lake Union, Portage Bay and the Arboretum. It’s not just rich yacht owners. Long term it’s a much better investment. It might even pencil out cheaper depending on what happens with material costs. A big question is how long would the highway have to be closed to demolish and rebuild the Portage Bay section? I would think that substantial amounts of the construction of a cable stay bridge could be done prior to tearing down the existing structure.

    3. The wacky thing is that despite the the pretty colors, they’ve drawn it as 10 lanes, and a 10-lane roadway looks horrible no matter how nice the rendering…

      [One wonders about the thinking that went into that… do transportation departments consider “more lanes” as a selling point, even to the point of exaggerating something that’s already pretty damn wide?!]

      1. this view is showing three lanes plus a shoulder eastbound and three lanes, the on ramp from Monlake and a shoulder westbound. The picture is accurate. Shoulders are needed for safety.

  2. [old guard washingtonian]
    The bridges are ugly! Waste of money! We don’t need bridges! Real Washingtonians get in their dinghies and row themselves to Bellevue! (For what, I have no idea!)
    [/old guard washingtonian]

  3. One of the proposals is to have a 2×2 roadway (2 directions, 2 lanes per direction) for the Portage Bay Bridge. Unfortunately, that would be a bottleneck since the rest of the highway has a 2×3 configuration.

    So rather than increasing the footprint of the Portage Bay Bridge, WSDOT plans on using the hard shoulder as an extra lane during peak hours.

    To me that’s a pretty good idea. It’s something that has been done in Germany and other European countries for the past 30 years. Any use of technology that can allow us to move more people without adding wasteful infrastructure is welcome in my books.

    1. I have a bit of an issue with the concept of “hard shoulders.” God forbid you get into a wreck, lose a tire, or run out of gas (which is hard to do considering most vehicles have gas gauges). Shoulders exist for a reason, and those reasons are very clear. It’s evident in the Highway Safety Manual AND the Highway Capacity Manual that shoulders provide a safety and capacity benefit.

      Truthfully, the new bridge should just be a box girder bridge. It’s something simple, utilitarian, and provide tax payers (not just the urbanistas that bought overpriced homes in Portage Bay and Madison Valley) the best bang for the buck with minimal impacts and cost of environmental mitigation. We don’t need flashy artsy spires or brass fish hanging off of it…just a bridge to cross Portage Bay for the best bang for the buck.

      1. Ah yes, the true Washington attitude of build it cheap and then build it over. Shoulders do provide an important safety factor not the least of which is access by emergency vehicles. But the real reason WSDOT would never consider using the hard shoulder as peak hour lanes is it precludes the ability to go back later and restripe for more GP lanes. If they’d put decent shoulders on 520 to begin with the HOV lanes wouldn’t have stopped at the toll plaza.

      2. That’s where Active Traffic Management comes in. If the shoulder is needed, signs are changed to immediately direct traffic away from the shoulder. This concept is very simple and works extremely well in Europe.

      3. immediately direct traffic away from the shoulder

        Away where? Peak traffic all lanes are full. Traffic comes to a stop and it’s a parking lot. Without the shoulder there’s no place to go when you’re on a bridge.

      4. Bernie, you divert people away from the shoulder if it is needed as a shoulder. The congestion will be no different than any other congested highway right now. If someone is blocking a lane in peak hour traffic, it’s going to cause congestion.

        Hard shoulder running won’t eliminate congestion, but it will reduce its length and severity by allowing the space in the shoulder to be temporarily used as a lane.

        The SR 520 westbound shoulder in this case won’t be a full-on travel lane. It will be an auxiliary lane, which means that its purpose is to allow people entering from Montlake Blvd more room to merge. Again, it’s NOT a through-lane, but simply an “extension” of the space that people have to merge.

        If someone is broken-down on the shoulder, ATM signs will be activated to divert people away from the shoulder before the point of the incident so drivers won’t rear-end each other.

        Check out this link: http://psrc.org/assets/534/ATMinHessen6.07.pdf

      5. Bernie, you divert people away from the shoulder if it is needed as a shoulder.

        No, you’re missing the point that the “empty” shoulder is the only route left for emergency vehicle access. Once an accident happens the “escape route” is no longer available if used as a traffic lane. It’s a grand idea that works most of the time; except when it’s a bridge instead of a cow pasture where people can pull off onto the grass.

      6. Bernie, even at “gridlock” traffic is still capable of moving. It will be slow, but it will still be moving. That means people can still create space for traffic on the shoulder to merge into other lanes.

        This happens on the SR 520 bridge every other day. There are no shoulders, but emergency vehicles are still able to make it to the site of the accident. Most of the time, a DOT truck arrives on scene and pushes the vehicle off the bridge. Broken-down vehicles can be cleared in as little as three minutes.

        For the shoulder running, signs can be displayed to have people merge out of the shoulder (yes there will be room for them to return to the regular lanes) and emergency vehicles will be able to use the hard shoulder. This process can be completed before emergency vehicles even get anywhere close to the scene of the accident. When an accident is reported, signs are immediately put up according to Active Traffic Management policies.

  4. Ted Lane, representing the historic Roanoke neighborhood on north Capitol Hill, said tall cables are a relatively new technology, and not compatible with the area.

    “What’s needed is a design that could have been seen in 1910 but is built with modern technology,” Lane said.

    Mmmm, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you :=

      1. But the Victoria Bridge uses iron rods instead of those new fangled tall cables. What could be more inline with the history of portage bay than a bridge design that evokes the memory of tall ships rigging? Years ago a member of the Montlake community proposed just such a bridge and produced sketches almost identical to what WSDOT commissioned.

      2. Well if you want to oppose something, why bother with an argument that makes sense?

  5. What I am most interested in is the 520/I-5 interchange. Such a barrier between Capitol Hill North and Eastlake. How about a lid with a transitway for Broadway to U-District routes? Add a freeway station for 520 to downtown routes?

    1. How about instead of connecting 520 westbound to I-5 southbound we tunnel through to Westlake. Traffic using 520 should be headed to SLU or Seattle Center. Cars trying to get from the Eastside to the Sodo area should be using I-90.

      1. it would be nice for 520 to have a tunnel to mercer street. It would stop the weave from the left lane to the right lane mercer exit on I5 south…

      2. A roadway tunnel straight from SR 520 to the vicinity of Eastlake/Fairview was actually studied and dismissed — very high costs, very high construction impacts and permanent impacts. The only tunnel we’re getting east of Lake Union in this lifetime is the one we’re completing now — Link from UW to downtown. Get to UW somehow, and it’s a 6 minute ride to Westlake, no matter what’s happening on I-5.

        Eastside to SLU probably deserves direct bus service with all the employment growth in SLU. Maybe some routes could head downtown via Mercer to Fairview instead of via the ever-congested Stewart?

      3. Jonathan,

        The recently adopted SLU/Uptown/Queen Anne plan recommends your suggestion–direct 520 to Fairview bus service via the Mercer ramps. The big trick there is the WB 520 to Mercer weave.

  6. Fantastic…especially the way they get rid of all the cars and buildings in Seattle!

      1. When the pictures are wildly, blatantly misleading, it does kind of distract from any other aspects of the design.

  7. I would like to see the Ped/Bike path continue from Montlake up to 10th Ave E overpass.

    1. +1. Not because the existing ways to bike between these places are awful, but for the same reason the roadway doesn’t end at Montlake: to complete a regional connection in a straightforward way.

    1. please don’t overlook the fact that this bridge will finally have a HOV lane and did not add additional general purpose lane(S). Not a small feat. It still may have a bike lane.

  8. The bridge design is a red herring. There’s no way current crop of decision makers in this state would ever choose anything but the cheapest option anyway, and that’s going to be something that looks like every other highway overpass. But the reality is, not one of these designs is affordable, and lanes number 5 and 6 across Portage Bay are superfluous; the traffic congestion that remains now that tolling is in place can largely be eliminated via congestion pricing, by adjusting the tolling rates using the system already in place. The Mercer Weave would remain and now a new Portage Bay Weave would be added, as there would be one more lane to cross in a short distance. I-5 congestion and Montlake drawbridge openings will happen with or without an expanded crossing of Portage Bay. Meanwhile, the southbound capacity of I-5 across the ship canal — one of the worst bottlenecks in the state — is proposed to be reduced by one express lane in order to bring an HOV lane in from the expanded SR 520.

    With East Link in place by the time any of this can be built, how many buses will still be using SR 520 to I-5 to downtown? Maybe some from Kirkland and Duvall. How much time would they actually save with an express lane connection (which only serves the Eastside to Seattle commute, not the reverse commute)? And how many buses from Snohomish County would be affected by the reduction in express lanes heading down I-5? Would this configuration be a net benefit, even if it were free?

    Should urban highway expansion across a wetland be our highest priority in the 21st century? We still need to figure out a way to get people from Ballard to downtown in a reasonable time, get Link to downtown Redmond, etc. We can’t afford to do everything anyone might want to do, and we can’t afford any of these fantasies across Portage Bay.

      1. Not that different. A lack of funding didn’t hinder the decision to replace the Viaduct with a couple billion dollar tunnel. Besides, it could well be very price competitive and as I posted elsewhere, minimize construction impact and road closures. The EIS and shoreline management may come into play too if it’s shown that there is a viable alternative to the forest of concrete columns in the wetlands.

      2. Most of the state funding for the DBT was approved in 2005 or prior, at the tail end of the previous era, and that was because then-Mayor Greg Nickels put all his political capital behind it, while quietly telling the state they could do what they wanted with SR 520 if they just gave him what he wanted on the downtown waterfront. The SR 520 “preferred alternative” was chosen in 2010, in the new era, though the politicians (particularly the Governor) and the political dynamic were mostly held over from the previous era, and now, there’s really no money, so the recently commissioned watercolors are, and will remain, fiction.

      3. One big difference between the DBT and 520 is that that the DBT was planned with only a vague nod at how tolls would affect demand for road capacity. Tolling on 520 came about much earlier in the process, relatively speaking, and is already showing that demand does indeed go down if the price goes up.

    1. The HOV capacity on the entire 520 corridor needs to be completed. It will encourage more car and vanpool options to people not currently served by transit. The sooner we get funding to finish this the sooner the mother of all battles begins which is the roadway replacement/expansion of I-5 through the city. With the “seattle process” that should only take 20 years to plan and finance.

      1. That’s your preferred option? What about “Resign 405 as 5, remove I-5 from the Ship Canal to I-90, put a subway in it and build on top of it”? ;-) Since we’re talking decades in the future…

    2. Six lanes to Montlake works for me. That interchange probably accounts for a lane worth of traffic in each direction anyway.

  9. The drawing is a rendering showing a scene on a early holiday morning, where there were two separate accidents in both directions out of sight. That’s why there’s only 3 vehicles (most likely police or EMS). If it were a more normal scene, it would show bumper to bumper traffic in both directions, with smog obscuring the far horizon.

    1. Don’t be silly. This is normal mid-day traffic. By the time this bridge opens the toll on 520 will be $50 each way :=

  10. I wonder if WSDOT has explored the idea of using the cable stay design with a stacked roadway?

    1. That has been suggested numerous times, but noise and grades are both issues with stacking the highway. That said, WSDOT does propose a double-decker viaduct across Lake Washington: the new floating bridge design is a highway up in the air supported by columns all the way across the lake, quite different from the existing SR 520, and from I-90, both of which have a road deck pretty close to waterline.

      That comes from the Conservation of Viaducts principle WSDOT apparently ascribes to. Take one down, and another one must be built!

      1. Thank goodness they finally got smart on that one. No more waves crashing over the highway during storms. Plus, I bet the maintenance workers who need to get into the pontoons will be glad to be out of traffic.

      2. Yeah, the concept has worked so well on the Hood Canal bridge… Rafting fero cement barges is just such a bad idea. Witness the frequent opening of the 520 “bridge” (I thought a bridge went over something). It’s sort of a bastard; not a bridge but not a dam, just a damn bridge with high maintenance and a short lifespan.

  11. What a worthless artist. Couldn’t they get a graphic designer to put something realistic together? These all look like crap. I vote we just building a bunch of wooden pontoons and strap them together. WSDOT, you’re better than this.

    1. What is so hard to visualize from these pictures? It’s not like it’s a Picasso. CAD and CGI is way over done. People seem to have lost “perspective”.

      1. All I see is a poorly thrown together pencil drawing. They could have at least gotten Seattle Sketcher to put something paper. At least I’d know exactly what I’m looking at even if it is sketched. This just looks bland and thoughtless. The presentation prescedents shows defined alternatives. This doesn’t.

    1. Where do you think you’re going to go on a bike after entering a bridge that empties out onto I-5? Exit at Montlake and get on the Burke Gilman or the Lake Washington loop. The idea that anyone would want walk across the bridge is even more preposterous. There’s lot’s of places to spend money on good bike/ped access, like the BNSF corridor.

      1. It would connect to 10th Ave, so you can get to Capitol Hill from the 520 bridge and from Montlake without winding through Interlaken Park.

      2. Maybe, but wouldn’t the money be better spend on numerous neighborhood level improvements between Montlake and 10th? Assume you’re not coming from the eastside; which will be a very small number of people trying to make this connection. Besides, I’d much rather take a local route that’s quiet even if a bit longer than ride a bike path along side a freeway.

  12. Tolls have significantly reduced traffic on SR 520, and the sky has not fallen.

    Just divert the money to expediting East Link, and we can get about the safety issue of removing this bridge.

    1. Tolls initially shifted traffic to I-90 and other alternatives. That’s been changing as people decide spending an extra 1/2 hour each way isn’t worth $7. Eventually I-90 tolling will kick in. East Link does nothing but make traffic worse as it will remove lanes and not move nearly as many people. It gets you across the lake but most peoples trip doesn’t end in DT Bellevue. If it were financed to Marymoor that would be better but it’s pretty stupid to take I-90 when you’re trying to get from DT Seattle to Duvall.

      1. There are much better examples you could cite than Duvall. Redmond to Duvall barely fills up a half-hourly van, much less a real bus. When you’re talking about justifications for building a multi-billion dollar piece of infrastructure (520 or Link), that does’t even register.

      2. East Link ends at Overlake Transit Center. The P&R there is tiny, at capacity and Microsoft doesn’t want it expanded (rightly so). From there you can drop down to Marymoor Park fairly easily on either the 520 bike trail or there’s a dirt/gravel path that goes from a small Redmond park down to the main entrance. But that doesn’t do squat for the river of cars coming in on SR202 (Redmond Fall City Rd) and Avondale. The E segment would follow SR520 past Marymoor before hooking back into DT Redmond on the old RR ROW. A large P&R there would replace Bear Creek and intercept traffic before having to get on 520 (Overlake TC, Overlake Village, new 130th Bel-Red P&R) or push into DT Redmond. And unlike South Swamp the parking would be used off peak by the park for events like Cirque du Soleil and concerts.

  13. I like it. Let’s have a bridge with a little character. Some of the most beautiful structures in America are bridges. The George Washington, the Narrows.

  14. An enormous river of dead, frozen concrete; there’s simply no way to put a shine on it.

    Zero progress in 60 years.

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