Suburban Highway
Massive Spokane Highway Expansion

Today, the AP reports that Governor Gregoire plans to propose a highway expansion package before leaving office. This is billed as a “transportation” package, but there has been no mention of transit – the major projects circulating so far are highway expansion, including plenty of new suburban lanes. She’s said it would “rival” the 2005 highway expansion package, which included almost nothing for transit.

As Governor-elect Inslee has committed to vetoing any direct tax increase, this package would very likely go to the voters. Gregoire seems to already be framing it with that in mind – talking about “maintenance,” and avoiding direct discussion of expansion. This is a good strategy; in 2007, highway expansion proved to be extremely unpopular with Puget Sound voters, the voters that the state relies on to pass tax increases.

With yesterday’s Republican coup in Olympia, Senate Transportation will likely be co-chaired by Senator Eide and a Republican, making the chances of a separate local options package for transit agencies, cities and counties nearly nil.

With Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change nationally, several local counties in bad shape, Tacoma and Seattle looking for revenue for streetcar expansion, and Sound Transit jump starting planning for Sound Transit 3, voters won’t be interested in big highway projects. Gregoire needs to come out swinging for transit, not promote suburban sprawl.

124 Replies to “Gregoire Prepares to Push More Highways”

  1. There needs to be a push for this package to be reconstruction/maintenance/operations only. Not expansion.

      1. You bet. But with today’s legislature, we won’t win that battle – we can get a little more transit in the mix, but we’re likely going to be left fighting against a big highway package.

        The only way to really get ahead, and to win more transit, is to build density and shrink our legislative districts, and get more legislators who represent people who want transit and care about climate change more than lanes on the highway.

        The fight not to miss is that for the upzone in South Lake Union.

      2. There’s a proposed rezone that has some council support, but is getting a lot of flak from people who just moved into South Lake Union and want it to stay just the way it is (seriously, people who have lived there for a couple of years in new construction). Conlin has a pretty good blog post today:

        Basically, it’s a carefully negotiated mixture of height increases, and if we don’t fight for them, they’ll be delayed or watered down, resulting in a less affordable city. :(

      3. But wouldn’t it be easier (and more reasonable/credible) to fight for a proposal that’s realistic?

        We’re not going to stop highway spending. That’s not going to happen. But we CAN fight for HOW it’s spent.

        Highways are here to stay for the near future. Highway funding is also here to stay. We need to recognize that. What we CAN do is fight for funds to be diverted towards maintenance (which we desperately need anyway) rather than expansion.

      4. Jason, if we keep delivering the same message: no new highways, then the state will backdown and realise what our real priorities. Don’t yield to bullying.

      5. Stephen’s right. I learned this lesson in 2007 with Roads and Transit. We can actually kill highways dead and hold a hard line, and we’ll still get opportunities to fight for transit.

      6. Gregoire is living in the past. The highways referendum can be defeated, and defeated with a “We want rail instead” campaign.

      7. Maybe it’s actually better if the proposal has no public transport if it leads to fewer people voting for it.

      1. It’s already under construction and some of it is in use. It’s a bit hard to stop now, but they used a “nose under the tent” strategy to get this thing going — they started building a small segment with incomplete funding and something like a 25 year time horizon. It’s not what you would call “solid planning”, but after 50 years they went for it….

        This one will be darn hard to stop, but I don’t know why toll revenue is not being considered for it. Why are we talking tolls in multiple places in the PS region, and on the CRC, but not in Spokane. Fair is fair. Toll it.

      2. And 520 is already under construction, and 99 is already under construction. It happened with the R.H. Thompson expressway through the Arboretum too, and now those ghost ramps are being ripped out. They’re all hard to stop, but if they put them all in one big package, we have a lot of ways to fight against it.

        Also keep in mind that every year we delay a highway is another year of urban growth inward, rather than sprawling outward, which helps make the fight easier.

      3. every year we delay a highway is another year of urban growth inward, rather than sprawling outward

        Is it? Sure projects like the cross base highway drive sprawl. But I think it could be argued that 520 and even 99 for that matter are designed to improve access to DT and allow further concentration. Of course choking off transportation into Seattle would put the brakes on growth and be something Lesser Seattle would proudly support.

      4. Bernie “Improve access to Downtown” and “allow further concentration” are mutually exclusive. That’s the problem.

      5. How so? If I-5 ended at Tacoma it would kill the Port of Seattle and the tallest building DT would likely still be the Smith Tower. If the State announce they were just going to remove the 520 bridge and then let the Ship Canal bridge “expire” Amazon wouldn’t likely have made a long term commitment to SLU. All highway projects aren’t from the same block.

      6. Ben,

        We aren’t just talking about ghost ramps when we talk about the Spokane project. Construction is already occurring along about half the length of the project, some of the roadway is already in use, and contracts have already been let to expand the scope of the project. It might ultimately be an ill advised project, but it’s not stoppable.

        And there are politics in play.

        The odds of stopping this project are less than the odds of stopping the SR520 replacement or the DBT.

      7. “It’s already under construction and some of it is in use. It’s a bit hard to stop now, but they used a “nose under the tent” strategy to get this thing going — they started building a small segment with incomplete funding and something like a 25 year time horizon. It’s not what you would call “solid planning”, but after 50 years they went for it….”

        Sounds like Link light rail.

      8. They have been building outward in Spokane on the promise of the N/S freeway for 40+ years. Stay out of Spokane’s business, you have no clue what you are talking about when it comes to Spokane.

  2. We are in such denial collectively, as a state and a nation. With climate change progressing faster than originally predicted, we need a complete ban on new highway lane miles, excepting where the new lane capacity is 100% transit to speed up service. We need a ban on coal, not a debate over which city gets a few paltry jobs exporting the coal in exchange for ruining its air quality and worsening local traffic. We need to figure out how to stop increasing overall energy demand, and convert the supply of existing demand to renewable sources.

    Transit, and transit-oriented development, is absolutely key to accomplishing all of this. But most people, deep down, know that they’re in denial, and calls for more transit are calls for them to be honest with themselves, so they shut it down. Liberal or conservative, it doesn’t really matter. How do you get people to face reality and own up to their own responsibility to support, fund, and use transit or other alternatives to driving? I don’t know, and I’m really pessimistic that we’re going to figure out how to get people to do that in time, given human nature and our broken political system.

    1. Couldn’t agree with that more. But we have to figure out how to get people to own up in time. Even if it’s by someone who gets elected and then recalled for passing real laws on the subject.

      1. We have Mike O’Brien and Mike McGinn – they both have the right values. Support their efforts, especially things like South Lake Union and the Ballard rail work. That planning, even though it’s billed as streetcar, also funds the planning Sound Transit needs for grade separated rail.

    2. New cars are more energy-efficient than any transit in our area. And new electric cars are much, much more energy efficient than any transit in our area. Electric cars like the Leaf get the equivalent of around 100 mpg in a gasoline car. That is vastly more energy-efficient than any transit we have.

      Obama is on the correct path. Mandating large increases in the energy efficiency of the U.S. auto fleet over the next 15 years or so will have a huge impact on our energy use in the U.S. This is much more cost-effective than building insanely expensive new transit systems that will never carry more than a very tiny percentage of trips, and are less energy-efficient than the new cars that will be driven in the decades to come.

      And of course those very energy-efficient vehicles will need highways and roads to travel on that are not congested all the time.

      1. Wrong as usual. Electric passenger rail, even in Seattle, has a better full-life-cycle energy-efficiency profile than a Nissan Leaf and a bunch of asphalt, and on carbon emissions the rail comes out even better. And Obama’s fleet efficiency mandates are so small they’re not going to have much effect; the rise in gas prices is doing more all on its own.

        Why hasn’t Norman been banned yet — is it because the mods like having people debunk his nonsense?

      2. To be clear to the peanut gallery ([ad hom] but others may be reading), I think electric cars are a great thing, because people in rural areas need transportation too. I’m getting one myself, because we have crap for public transportation and crap for intercity transportation where I live.

      3. …and to be even more depressing, because I’m dead sure that roadway maintenance is going to become unaffordable, I’m expecting to be driving this electric car on dirt roads.

    3. “We are in such denial collectively, as a state and a nation. With climate change progressing faster than originally predicted,”

      “In a welcome development almost no one saw coming, America’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to 1992 levels and are expected to continue to decline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).

      “In addition to a sluggish economy and more fuel efficient cars, “fracking” has been a big driver of this trend. “Fracking” is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock. The EIA projects U.S. greenhouse emissions will fall below 2005 levels by 2040.

      “It is a revolution,” says Joel Kurtzman, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute. “We should be using it. We should be embracing it. It’s domestic. We spend $350 billion a year buying foreign oil. We can replace almost all of that with natural gas.”

      “Indeed, there are multiple benefits to increased natural gas production, including less dependence on foreign oil and opportunities for the U.S. to be an energy exporter. Lower energy costs are also helping to revive U.S. manufacturing, creating jobs in addition to those directly associated with fracking activity.

      “As an aside, Kurtzman notes the U.S. is now on track to meet the emission targets of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty the U.S. did not sign, much to the chagrin of many greens.

      “The reason why we’ve had these changes is not because of policy,” be it carbon taxes or the Kyoto treaty, Kurtzman says. “The treaty itself is not working from an environmental or policy perspective. What is working is the fact that low-priced natural gas is replacing coal; that has a dramatic effect, which is measurable” as electricity produced by natural gas emits 43% less carbon dioxide versus coal”

      1. The pro-fracking shills are lying. The current greenhouse gas inventory isn’t including the greenhouse gas emissions caused by fracking, for one thing; in fact, fracking increases greenhouse gas emissions by releasing “sequestered” gas into the atmosphere through new cracks and leaks, and this isn’t accounted for. Look up the studies.

        Also, there’s barely any gas. This is “tight” gas and there just isn’t that much of it. Fracking is poisoning local water supplies and causing earthquakes, and according to the USGS, it’s for 5-10 years worth of gas.

  3. The package is already getting a “no” from me. We need to let maintenance lapse and force the reduction of non-essential highway miles. That’s the stragety. Starve the beast–only the real one.

  4. I wish Gregoire would just go away. She has been a decidedly terrible governor, not just on transportation, but nearly everything generally. Gay Marriage was really the only major positive accomplishment of her eight years in office.

    1. Andrew, I feel you are wrong on all counts. Most STB readers are too down on Governor Gregoire. Don’t forget she is governor of the whole state and not just of Seattle and environs. We might not agree much with the values of the citizens of Eastern Washington, but they are still citizens of our state.

      Also, gay marriage is off-topic surely for the STB Blog.

      1. “We might not agree much with the values of the citizens of Eastern Washington, but they are still citizens of our state.” Except they’re not a majority in our state. I looked at the budget earlier today and I think we spend $9B on roads and $13B on K-12 schools. The west is subsidizing the east‘s spread out lifestyle. A good governor wouldn’t end her term with a big roads package.

      2. Tim, in general, on most issues, I agree with you. But there is no doubt that Gregoire has been terrible from an urban transportation standpoint.

        About the only positive thing she’s done is break the viaduct replacement logjam. (From the perspective of many here, she broke it the wrong way, but I think even this solution is better than indefinitely having a giant, unsafe eyesore of a highway that could at any moment come tumbling down on waterfront tourists.)

      3. IIRC, Gregoire was happy to push the WSDOT viaduct rebuild. It was Greg Nickels that roadblocked that, forcing the state back to the tunnel. Had it not been for Nickels, a double-high AWV might be (dis)gracing the waterfront by now.

  5. I’m kind of ambivalent even if this ended up being a 100% maintenance and operations package, with no highway expansion whatsoever. The reason I say that is because then it gives the WSDOT clearance to spend less on maintenance and to dedicate more to expansion, which is where most of their money already goes presently. There would need to be some credible commitment that this wouldn’t be a backdoor for expansion, and that if it weren’t user-fee funded (license fees or gas tax, basically), that transit would get it’s fair share. Especially at a time when vehicle-miles driven is decreasing and transit use is increasing, the idea that we would want to expand our road infrastructure at all is completely insane. Likewise with only holding transit spending steady.

    1. it gives the WSDOT clearance to spend less on maintenance and to dedicate more to expansion, which is where most of their money already goes presently.

      Does anyone know the breakdown. I looked up a few documents related to the next biennial budget and it appears maintenance is in the millions and new construction is in the billions. Of course some of the more notable projects are replacement rather than expansion; the 520 bridge and the Deep Debt Tunnel. The new bridge adds a lane but he tunnel actually reduces lane capactiy.

    1. Actually, if you calculate the money collected via the gas tax, and then compare that to where it is spent, you’d find out that suburban drivers subsidize urban and rural highways, at the expense of their own local roadways.

      Urban freeways because they are very, very expensive.

      Rural, not because they are expensive, but because there are so few drivers on them, that they contribute little gas tax.

      1. Rural areas don’t need expressways. Old-style rural roads (not grade separated) are quite sufficient for the traffic volumes in true rural areas.

      2. Even the rural roads just don’t have the traffic counts for what they cost.

        It’s the ratio.

      3. Except the rural areas are why the Interstate Highway System was built, because it was intended to get heavy military machinery long distances quickly. A sane system would have bypassed urban areas.

  6. You should probably ask what the people of Spokane think about the hwy expansion before trying to put the brakes on it, but maybe you just don’t care what they think about it.

    As for the hwy bill, I’m ambivalent about it until I see what’s in it and where the money is going. A large portion of it should be going to general maintenance as this was the problem with the last gas tax bill. All of it went to fund new bonds and not the actual maintenance of the highways being built leaving the DOT broke again once the projects were finished.

    I’d say go for broke and fund the complete redesign and rebuilding of I-5 through the whole city as the roadway is going to need to be rebuilt at some point anyway, push for more transit funding in the bill, and realize also that some highways in some parts of the state do need attention and maybe expansion(gasp) where transit is not an option to get around.

    As an aside, my votes for any highway funding would be..

    1. Redesign and rebuild of I-5 through Seattle
    2. Hwy 2 redesign and widening(Monroe bypass all the way to where the current 2-4 lane section starts at Stevens Pass)

    1. That’s abusrd. Those are all non-essential highway projects–and expansion at that. Even 520 and the Columbia River Crossing are more compelling candidates, but at least that allow for HCT/HOV. That said, still, just no to any state highway expansion programme proposal.

      1. I-5 is falling apart through Seattle, plus half of the overpass bridges are probably not even up to modern earthquake standards. I would hardly call it non-essential. Also the design of the on and off ramps hinders traffic flow more than it helps, this also impacts the bus routes that use I-5 as well. Expansion would be adding lanes. Rebuilding the surface of I-5 plus redesigning some very badly placed offramps so it can last another 60-100 years is not expansion.

        Hwy 2, sure its expansion, but its also a major freight corridor as well as a massive safety hazard at the moment , hence the bandaid safety projects that have been put into place in the last few years

      2. I should add, throw in funding for a lid from Eastlake over I-5 all the way to downtown at the same time..:)

      3. Work on I-5 is prohibitively expensive. We’d be better off filling potholes until it falls entirely apart. We won’t need it in 60 or 100 years.

      4. But it probably will be needed for at least 40 years. Wouldn’t it make sense to renew the pavement to last that long (without continued patching)?

      5. What’s I-5’s *purpose* through Seattle?

        If its purpose is long-distance traffic bypassing Seattle, I-405 is more suitable.

        If its purpose is to dump people into Seattle, terminating it at park-and-rides on the outskirts is more suitable.

        I-5 is falling apart? Well, *I-5 is non-essential*. Most European cities never rammed expressways through the urban core, and urban expressways are a uniform failure everywhere they exist.

      6. To expand: here’s a teardown idea. You’re building Link to Lynnwood, right? Build a *really* large park-and-ride at Lynnwood (or Northgate if that’s too radical). Build even more parking at the airport. Terminate the current I-5 at both ends, and resign I-405 as I-5. I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding passengers for Central Link at that point. ;-) Of course, anyone who wants to drive into town can still do so on the surface streets.

        Compare Alewife station in Boston.

        Yeah, you would need a significantly expanded public transportation system in Seattle to distribute people to the currently unserved areas, but hey, you need that anyway…

        If I-5 needs some paving work for the intermediate period, go ahead, do that, but there’s no reason to lengthen its lifespan.

      7. (Incidentally, an I-5 teardown, would provide a nice grade-separated express rail route through Seattle. Though it would only really solve the current problems if it went as far as Everett, which seems implausible.)

      8. Nathanael, the purpose of I-5 is also to move people within Seattle.

        I work in Seattle. I live in Seattle. Tear down I-5 with no replacement and my bus commute (306/312/522) would go from 20 minutes to at least 45 minutes, likely more at rush hour.

      9. I can just picture UPS drivers hauling truckloads of merchandise onto Link because I-5 terminates at SeaTac! Same for all the trucks that stock the neighborhood grocery stores! LOL!

      10. Btw, if this was 1960 and we were discussing the building of I-5 at all, I would agree with Nathanael and not build it at all through Seattle. But, it was built and way too many people depend on it everyday to get from Point A to Point B and points in-between. It needs to be maintained in good condition while the rail system is built. At the rate the light rail is being built a comprehensive system isn’t going be around until 2050 or even later. I highly doubt the mode share for transit will peak above 40 percent for all trips by even than.(Note, I didn’t say commute trips here).

        I-5 does need the maintenance money and a bit of redesign here and there.

      11. I would like to eliminate I-5 in Seattle and let 405 take over its role. That would produce a better-functioning city like Vancouver or British cities… or at least it would after replacement transit comes on board. But this vision is way at the bottom of possibility in our democratic pro-highway environment. It is much easier to obtain public approval to extend Link to Everett and Tacoma and build a few Seattle Subway lines than to get rid of I-5. What we can do now is start a long-term conversation about eliminating I-5 someday, to get people used to the idea and thinking about alternatives. Then, sometime in the far future, people will be more willing to do it.

      12. asdf, that gets into which vehicle trips are “essential” and which are “luxury”, which in turn informs how much roadway capacity we need. This is a values decision that would certainly be a large debate. I’d say our society at minimum agrees that emergency services and transporting heavy loads by car as essential. So that takes care of furniture delivery, gardeners taking their tools with them, bringing six bags of groceries home, etc. But that’s only a fraction of Pugetopolis’ car trips; it requires only two-lane boulevards and maybe four-lane I-5, to include some redundancy for mitigating breakdowns. Then you need comprehensive transit that goes everywhere rapidly around the clock; that would provide an alternative to most of the other car trips. You may need some residual road capacity for single-family blocks that transit still wouldn’t be able to adequately serve. Then, beyond that, it’s just a decision of how much additional road capacity you want to provide for discretionary choice trips (“luxury” trips). I think we could still whittle that down from the current 8-lane I-5 and no transit lanes on Aurora or 45th.

      13. Lordy, Lordy, Nathanael.

        Do you get out of Seattle? Do you venture outside of the Puget Sound Region? …or do you sit in your condo downtown stuck riding the bus everywhere expecting everyone to do the same cursing everyone and anyone that drives something with an internal combustion engine.

        All put-downs aside, I have to be frank. When I read such comments, I have to think to myself, “What kind of lives do these people live? What do these people do for a living?”

        As I read articles about coal trains moving through the region, some want to protest them because of increased traffic on local roads, carcinogens being kicked up, etc. Then I come to STB and read many advocating for more freight on trains and then call for more passenger service. All the while, passenger service and freight service are already clashing.

        If a chunk of highway is kicked up and damages a person’s windshield or automobile, that person may file a claim with the state and be compensated. Just think if those claims start involving injuries and deaths.

        Maintenance and operations budgets cover the traffic management centers, maintenance crews patching potholes, clearing storm drains, blasting avalanche chutes up on the passes, clearing snow at the passes and here in the lowlands, annual striping work, guardrail and barrier work that can’t be repaired or charged with funds provided from an insurance carrier from an at-fault driver, etc. These maintenance and operations funds aren’t for major pavement preservation projects.

        Maintenance does do spot paving work, but that is generally if the pavement is sagging due to a slide, subgrade fatigue/rutting, or just pavement failure.

      14. Charlotte Royal, and I wonder what kinds of lives do the die-hard suburban drivers lead, that they feel entitled to cook the planet and use up far more energy and metal and asphalt than almost any other country on earth. The urbanists advocate a few, relatively easy, lifestyle changes that would bring people’s per-capita energy use down to a reasonable level and lift the burden of half the city’s (and suburbs’) land being taken up by roads and parking lots. The extent of such a scheme can be debated and a compromise reached, but that’s the direction we need to go.

        I don’t understand what all you mean by coal trains and maintenance. We want more freight and passengers on trains, and that obviously means more track and right of way; we don’t imagine it can all be squeezed onto the century-old BNSF tracks. But that’s a bigger issue because somebody would have to pay for the ROW and new tracks, and we have enough fundraising problems to deal with right now. High-speed rail would require a new track, and medium-speed rail could be finished much sooner with a new track, which would also free up capacity on BNSF’s mainlines. But Seattle needs subways now, we can’t wait and fix the rest of the state’s railroads first. As for coal trains, I’m undecided about them because I can see reasons for both sides.

    2. I don’t know which parts of I-5 you’re talking about specifically but widening Highway 2 is a ridiculous proposition. Why should we help make the commute easier for people from Gold Bar and Sultan? Trucks can get through without being stuck in traffic if they use the road at non-peak times. How about introduce a Cascades-style train between Seattle and Spokane via Stampede Pass with a couple daily trains in each direction instead?

      1. It’s single track all the way from Snohomish to Spokane. Unless you’re prepared to spend tens of billions of dollars minimum on another track – including a second tunnel underneath Stevens Pass, that can’t happen – if you tried, the trains going opposite directions would crash into each other.

      2. It’s not really about making commutes easier from Sultan and Gold Bar. Have you ever seen the summer weekend backups on Hwy 2 or even the backups coming back from Stevens Pass on big ski weekends at night?

        Plus the Monroe Bypass was planned in the 1970’s. Its not exactly a new project that’s just been tossed out recently. Look at Thomas Bros guides from the 70’s if you can find any and its shown right on the map.

      3. Yes, I’ve seen the summer weekend backups in highway 2 and have even been stuck in them on occasion. Still, though, all the Monroe Bypass would do is create more sprawl around Sultan and Gold Bar and traffic would be just as bad as always.

        If we’re looking for something cheap to improve safety in the region, keep the number of lanes fixed, but install a concrete barrier in the median, restrict left turns to protected left turns at signalized intersections only (this may force a few drivers go past their destination a little bit and U-turn), and maybe add a couple more signals to give drivers a few more safe places to turn. We can do all this in the highway’s existing footprint without tearing up the countryside to build another highway around it.

    3. I-5 through Seattle needs a simple repave, not a complete rebuild. Unfortunately even doing that is a multi-billion dollar proposition and no one in Olympia is interested in corralling funding for something as unsexy a billion dollar maintenance project. An I-5 redesign for better flow through downtown using the existing ROW (a downtown exit diet that would have allowed an extra through lane) was on the table a few years back but got thrown out the window in favor of the 99 tunnel.

      1. An I-5 exit diet downtown would be an unalloyed benefit to pretty much everyone, particularly if accompanied by some configuration changes to the local streets leading to I-5 entrances. It could be a relatively cheap (as highway projects go) way to improve both transit and SOV commutes within the city.

      2. Ooh, if I had endless funds…

        **I’d modify the Olive Way Ramp and eliminate the yield for those coming from First/Capitol Hill. The HOV bypass would remain in its current location and where the current GP lane is, a bus stop would be constructed (Yay! 545 fans!) Drivers coming from downtown heading to northbound would have to turn left at the signal to access the ramp. No more yield.

        **I’d also rebuild the funky off-ramps at N 145th and N 130th from NB I-5.

        **I would kill the Yale/Howell I-5 South entrance. It’s a source of bad weaving under the convention center. When drivers enter the ramp, it’s notorious for bicycle collisions with aggressive drivers. …and there’s bad traffic engineering design on Howell. (Why should any road operate with SPD providing traffic control so drivers can navigate wonky lane assignment during the afternoon peak?)

        **I would meter every lane including HOV bypasses on on-ramps to improve mainline flow. The meter rate for the HOV lane would be faster than those in GP lanes…similar to those operated in the Bay Area. Mainline congestion pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere than flowing traffic. The after-study evaluating the air quality where SF removed the (yeah, earthquake damaged) Central Freeway in favor of the surface option Octavia Blvd, showed a massive degradation of air quality in the vicinity of the roadway as cars sat in stop/go traffic.

        **Finally, I would do what has needed to be done for ages, bring the westbound on-ramp from 520 into southbound I-5 into the right-side of I-5 eliminating the 520-Mercer weave in the SB direction. Perhaps, the ramp could be constructed with a better curve and superelevation eliminating the barrier collisions.

        Thanks for the fun question, Mike.

      3. Lack,

        You can’t repave I-5. Much of I-5 through Seattle (aside from the hillside viaducts north and south of downtown) is constructed of pre-case concrete panels. The design life was only 30 years. After 50 years, the concrete is crumbling, the expansion joints between the panels are non-existent allowing water and debris to trickle down and invade the subgrade. Up until two years ago, the stretch on northbound I-5 between Lake City and Northgate used to jostle you like a shaken martini. WSDOT used a diamond grinder to flatten this section and replaced completely shattered panels. …but this was only a “triage.” You can’t simply pave over this. You have to excavate the old panels and replace with new concrete…preferably cast-in-place concrete.

      4. “Finally, I would do what has needed to be done for ages, bring the westbound on-ramp from 520 into southbound I-5 into the right-side of I-5 eliminating the 520-Mercer weave in the SB direction.”

        Forget about money, there is simply no space to do this. At least not without bulldozing every home and building on Eastlake to make room. Good luck convincing residents to go along with that.

      5. Maybe another approach to the 520-Mercer weave problem would be to relocate the southbound Mercer exit ramp and the norbound 520 entrance ramp to the left lane. The opposite direction ramps already go under the I-5 mainline.

    4. Before you ask the people of Spokane what they think of the highway expansion, you should probably show them the studies showing the actual effects of new freeways, the lifespan of I-90 through the area and how much is budgeted for maintaining it, and ask them what they would think of new sprawl lining that highway in twenty years.

    5. Probably a large number of trips would shift to 99 if I-5 was torn down. You’d also need to beef up capacity of streets like 15th NE and Rainier.

      There’d be a brief period of gridlock, then people would adjust and change their commute patterns. Transit would improve immediately because resources would be redirected away from the commuter routes Metro, Community Transit, and Sound Transit run now.

      Areas outside 99 and the light rail line would decline precipitously the further away you’d get from the termini of both the freeway and downtown. Terminate it at Lynnwood, and maybe areas north of Northgate would realize how stupid it was to route light rail along I-5.

      Even before North Link opens, I don’t think tearing down I-5 would be armageddon. If anything, it would serve as an impetus for improving the circumstances for transit and getting more rail built sooner.

  7. Ben, you are too anti car here. Interstate 5 is in need of repair throughout major stretches of the corridor. The state will continue to work on projects that benefit the state as a whole – economically and socially. Environmental considerations will be included – such as on the Snoqualmie I-90 pass through to Hyak.

    It looks like the Governor wants an increase in the gas tax which won’t be able to go to transit anyway because of the 18th amendment to the State Constitution.

    This said, the legislature needs to address transit funding, but unfortunately, if we had paid more attention to Eyman’s latest piece of crap instead of being more concerned about getting stoned and/or gay marriage, then we might have gotten a legislature more able to pass tax increases. As it is, it is unlikely that we will get transit funding through a legislature that has too many Republicans in it to allow for a two thirds vote on the subject.

    1. We did pay attention to Eyman’s latest piece of crap. But the fact is that too many people want something for nothing: they vote for improvements but not the taxes to pay for them. Or another way to look at it, and probably more accurate, is that the people who want a spending proposal vote for it and other people stay at home, while simultaneously the people who want tax caps vote for them and the other people stay at home. The net result is more projects and less taxes, which is what puts us in this bind. Seattlites are wary of Eyman now and make sure to vote no on his things, but unfortunately they’re outnumbered by people who think “Less taxes” in the abstract is always a good thing.

      1. The most accurate way of putting it is that people want everything without having to sacrifice anything, or even simpler, everyone wants something for nothing.

      2. Morgan, that doesn’t take into account that not everybody votes on every measure, and certain issues bring certain measures to the polls. When there’s a school levy in a non-presidential election, all the school advocates show up and vote for it. When there’s a transit measure, all the transit advocates show up and vote for it. When there’s an Eyman initiative, all the anti-tax folks show up and vote for it. That doesn’t mean most voters voted for all three, or that they intentionally want maximum spending and minimum taxes. It just turns out that way because different people vote for different things.

      3. “certain issues bring certain measures to the polls”

        certain issues bring certain people to the polls

    2. It might be possible to implement a sales tax on gasoline as well that could be used for the state’s general fund, and for transit. With the leglisature, its a trading game. We give them the N. Spokane freeway, they give the Puget Sound HOV lanes and other improvements. We pave a road in Dayton, and we get a HOV Ramp added. We cant go 100% no new roads, Not only is it a politcal non-starter, but there are already projects on the books that need to be finished, and a horrifically large backlog of repair that needs done. Although i do think that any new construction, and even some re-construction should be tolled. Not only will this help pay for construction, but you might even be able to sipon away money for transit service or projects on X corridor. It would probally also help transit ridership on the corridor, as well as provde some congestion relief. I honestly dont have a problem with Variable Tolling I-5 from Olympia to Marysville, to pay for repair, HOV, and other congestion relieving projects.

    3. I’m a radical regarding urban expressways: I allege that they have negative value and have never been useful anywhere. Hence my radical suggestions regarding I-5 above. Expressways are mainly useful between big cities and medium-sized cities, a rather specific niche.

      1. You cited Alewife. I’ll give you a counterexample from Boston: the Mass Pike. Mass Pike express buses save tons of bus commuters from nasty two-step commutes involving a slow local bus and a slow Green Line train. The in-city part of the Mass Pike does a lot of good for those folks.

  8. Transit agencies have all the funding mechanism they need: raise fares. Let the people who use transit pay for it. There is nothing preventing Metro or ST from raising fares to generate as much revenue as they want.

    1. Yes there is. At some point the fare becomes so high that it’s a deterrent to ridership: some people can’t pay it and others think a $5 or $10 is a ripoff and won’t pay it. That doesn’t make their mobility needs disappear, it just prices transit out of being capable of meeting them. The rich will turn to their cars, causing more congestion and pollution and parking scarcity. The poor will walk or do without. Both of those contradict the reason we have transit in the first place: to provide a baseline and reasonably-priced way to get around so that people don’t have to have cars. It’s a basic part of a city like schools and libraries.

    2. Roadways have all the funding they need: raise tolls. Uh, except that the state hasn’t allowed that. And, y’know, as tolls go up people decide not to drive.


    3. I’ll make you a deal: if you are willing to finance highway construction and maintenance entirely with tolls, I’ll consider asking transit agencies for 100% farebox recovery.

      The $8 fare will look pretty good juxtaposed against a $10 toll or two.

    4. “as tolls go up people decide not to drive.”

      That’s great, they can take transit if the trip is important enough to them. Especially if some of the toll money goes into transit on the same road so that it’s adequately frequent. So far there hasn’t been an issue of high tolls actually eliminating the majority of cars (and thus toll revenue, or revenue which could fund a bus or train’s operation). The issue with high tolls is that it discourages a minority of cars, losing the billions of dollars needed to fund a tunnel or bridge replacement.

  9. We need to deal with our highway maintenance backlog before we think about a giant expansion program like this.

    Of course, that will never happen. I-5 will be allowed to continue to degrade until it looks like 23rd Ave, and then someone will come forward with a 20 billion dollar expansion project as a “solution”.

    1. Given the current political winds, if the expansion project is put to the ballot, it will become possible to remove I-5 entirely.

      1. If only I could live so long to see I-5 ground up and recycled from Southcenter to Alderwood, and the street grid restored.

    2. Maintenance backlog, and more importantly, earthquake proofing for the eventual Cascadia subduction quake. The entire region is going to be in big trouble when it hits, as a significant number of viaducts are going to collapse, killing hundreds and blocking commerce for months. This should be the highest highway funding priority in the region.

      1. Don’cha know that’s why we’re replacing the Viaduct? Instead of it collapsing and blocking access to the waterfront, it’ll cave in and destroy some actual buildings, if it doesn’t just flood!

      2. There’s also the I-5/405 junction at Southcenter. That would really bring the state to a standstill.

  10. Looking at satellite photos of Spokane, that city is big enough now it deserves to have light rail service.

      1. The City of Spokane was among the top 100 largest U.S. municipalities between 1900 and 2010. Even now it is #106.

        It had a massively overbuilt streetcar network until it was replaced by buses during the Depression (mostly running on the same routes). Overbuilt because, at the time, the real estate barons and, later, Washington Water Power Company expected Spokane to be the next Denver. It wasn’t.

        Overlaid on the post-1945 city, the network looks puny. But the majority of the city north of Garland and south of 29th was made up of pine trees and vacant lots between the world wars.

        As for the N-S Freeway, it isn’t popular in Spokane proper because a) taxes!!!! and b) neighborhoods razed 20 years in advance of construction. But the money in the northern suburbs (there’s really no analogue – perhaps Sammamish only disproportionately powerful regionally) and downtown business interests like the Cowles and Barbieri families wanted it, so why risk a vote?

      2. Because I like to bang the class warfare/environmental justice drum, I ask that you note that it’s routing is, literally, a shortcut for the rich of Mead and Fairwood so they won’t have to see all the naughty signs and traffic lights on US 2 (i.e. Division) which was plowed through the county’s poorest urban neighborhoods (old Mead, Hillyard, East-Central…).

  11. Failing upward?

    A couple of stories today have mentioned Gregoire as a potential candidate for U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

    Odd, given that transportation has been her single worst issue. I’m generally a fan of hers, except on transportation.

    1. Considering Obama was supposed to be “the urban president”, who pushed high-speed rail so vigorously, that says it all about the state of transit in America.

  12. The state needs a transportation package, plain and simple. I would argue that there are a lot of worthy road projects – not those that simply add lanes, but those that fix bottlenecks, improve safety, and maintain existing structures are all good.

    The key is that it needs to be a BALANCED package, including gas taxes and other types of taxes as well. It needs to include funding for improving the Amtrak Cascades corridor, it needs to be clear that an I-5 bridge without light rail is a non-starter, and it needs to provide money for more HOV lanes and direct access ramps. It needs to require that general highway expansions be paid for with tolls (for example, the North Spokane Corridor, improvements to SR-18, and the extension of SR-167 are all valid projects but they should be paid for at least partially with tolls). Ideally it also includes funding for operations of public transit, including Amtrak, Greyhound, and local transit.

    There are some highway projects that we need: we need to widen I-5 through Centralia/Chehalis and we need to widen I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass. But there are also highway projects we don’t need, like widening 405 by two GP lanes or extending Hwy 509 further. The key is that any package is balanced and it would get my support.

    1. Surprised you don’t think the 509 extension is worthwhile. It would be great for freight and could help some G/P traffic bypass the bottleneck at the Spokane Street Viaduct, helping everyone in West Seattle.

      To me it seems like a no-brainer.

      1. It would also make it easier for more people to live further south and west and for people who already live there to drive more, cancelling the general-purpose bypass effect.

  13. Now she does this?

    After two decades of record population growth and not a single new major highway built?

    Better late than never I guess…

    1. Uhhh…really? See highway 18, 16, 522, US 395, I-182, US 12……………Oh, and don’t forget those EXPANSIONS of freeways, I-405, 167, 16, I-5….Someone has clearly been asleep at the wheel. Anyway, three words: induced demand, sprawl.

      1. The demand was already there. The additional “sprawl” was the fill in specified by the Urban Growth Boundary established back in the 1990s. All these highways should have been widened years ago. There is so much latent demand that the moment 167, 522, and others were widened, they were filled with cars. As for 16, the bottleneck was moved from the TNB… the I-5 interchange. Just look at the eastbound back up each morning from Sprague/Union all the way towards Cheney Stadium?

  14. Ben, I totally agree with you about highway expansion not being the answer, and that this proposal is misguided.

    That said, I don’t think you should scoff at the idea of maintenance. In the Washington Transportation Commission’s Washington Transportation Plan (WTP) 2030, Listening Sessions and public comments revealed that maintenance was viewed by many residents as the top priority across the State. And it’s not hard to see why. All across the State, roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure are dilapidated and, in some cases, unsafe. I’m all for the State and local jursidictions investing more in transit (a lot more, actually), but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to maintain key transportation infrastructure that literally millions of people depend on.

    1. I think he’s scoffing at the idea of maintenance being this package’s actual goal; see “major projects circulating so far are highway expansion, including plenty of new suburban lanes.” And as seen by the other comments, I think there are plenty of people here, Ben being foremost among the blog’s authors, who would be perfectly fine with I-5 collapsing.

  15. Gregoire is a lawyer. She no doubt behaved like one before age 16, and will still be a lawyer in her dying breath.

    This state needs a governor that is an engineer and that is honest.

    Dont expect much positive for transportation, banking law, jobs, fair taxation or freedom, while lawyers run the USA. [ ad hom ]

  16. For anyone who has lived in Spokane, we know this project is needed. Spokane gets pennies spent compared to the lions share spent in the Sound. Seriously, anyone who complains about this project sounds like a spoiled trustafarian.

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