Filling in another 32% of the funding puzzle, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced yesterday that the Lander Street Overpass project has been awarded $45m from the $800m pool of “FASTLANE” grants intended to improve freight mobility, highways, and bridges. Because everything we fund around here is piecemeal, the project has now cobbled together $100m of the $140m it needs to begin construction in 2018, with the feds’ $40m joining $10m from the Move Seattle levy and various contributions from BNSF, the Port, PSRC, etc. Assuming the remaining funding materializes, the overpass would open in 2020. Though the award falls short of the $55m requested, it’s still a huge step forward for the long-delayed Bridging the Gap era project. Just 18 of 300 projects received funding, and our Senate delegation of Cantwell and Murray continued their longstanding success at securing funding for local projects.

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Though the basketball/hockey stadium proposal is on ice and the nearby Holgate crossing is more complicated (7 tracks instead of 4), Lander Street is the still the primary point of enormous conflict between rail, freight, cars, buses, and bikes, with up to 4 hours per day of road closures for trains. Bus routes 21, 37, 50, 116, 118, and 119 are also at the mercy of the crossing, which is often closed more often during peak because of Sounder added on top of normal freight and Amtrak traffic. And if shenanigans around the waterfront transit lanes succeed in cancelling them, we’ve heard that Lander and 4th are a likely backup plan, making it an even more critical corridor for transit going forward.

The overpass would be 2 lanes in each direction, plus a walk/bike lane, spanning from 1st Avenue and 4th Avenue. See SDOT’s page here for more info.

46 Replies to “Feds Award $45 Million to Lander Street Overpass”

  1. According to the documents, there’s currently an average of 11k vehicles per day over this segment. Combine that with 4 lanes, and that’s a known recipe for injury and death. I’m really curious why SDOT’s not going with 3 lanes (which can handle up to 25k vehicles per day). I would be okay with 4 lanes if two of them were bus/freight only, but that would need to be enforced.

    1. BTW, the response I received from SDOT when I asked this question:

      “While we plan to maintain five lanes at the intersections and four lanes across the bridge at this time, we will consider your feedback.”

      No explanation for their design decision.

      1. Would the federal government award any money for a “freight mobility” project with more space devoted to bikes and pedestrians than to freight? It seems unlikely.

        A 3-lane layout on a bridge would either mean a 2-1 lane split or a nonsensical center turn lane on the bridge and 1-1 general purpose lanes. Neither of those configurations would likely improve freight mobility significantly.

        Sometimes federal money comes with strings attached. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

      2. Will the pedestrian ? experience be just as awful as it is on Royal Brougham and Edgar Martinez?

        Those feature missing crosswalks, filthy sidewalks, desolate streetscape, inordinately long traffic signals favoring cars over pedestrians, and extremely indirect walking paths

        Even if there isn’t a lot of pedestrian traffic today, it would be humane to prioritize the design for humans on two feet over that for motorized vehicles… Something that was not done at the prior two crossings, which do get pedestrian traffic.

      3. I’m sure it will be just as abysmal as it is on Royal Brougham and Edgar Martinez plus plenty of dead space under the bridges for encampments to further repel pedestrians. I’m always amazed how awful that whole area is and how badly designed those ramps are.

      4. @Alex, turn lanes on bridges are used for queues. For example, on NE 45th over I-5 the majority of people going over the bridge are actually turning, so there are multiple turn lanes over the entire bridge. That doesn’t make them “nonsensical”. I was being conservative, I don’t know offhand what the turning movements on the bridge are expected to look like.

        We see projects all the time that get federal dollars under the guise of pedestrian improvements, but still manage to allocate most of the space to cars. I fail to see why a bridge that gives freight and non-freight equal consideration wouldn’t get federal funding. Remember, it’s still a huge improvement for freight traffic (and everyone else) to not have to wait for trains.

    2. I’m guessing the assumption is more traffic will divert from Holgate and other parallel routes to avoid train crossing delays. Bus/freight lanes sound good but seems like it would create bottlenecks for vehicles moving in and out of the lanes to make turns on 1st and 4th?

      Considering Starbucks HQ employees should be some of the primary beneficiaries of the investment they should push for corporate sponsorship to fill in the funding gap and naming it the Green Mermaid Bridge.

      1. Even if other traffic diverts; it would need to double (100% growth) before hitting that 25k threshold.

        BTW, of their two options, both suck for peds/bikes. In the first design, there’s 14ft multi-use path on one side of the street. That means people walking (and biking) will need to cross a 5-lane road twice to cross the bridge. As someone who just got a million dollar grant to fix an I-5 crossing in North Seattle where they only stuck a sidewalk on one side of the bridge, this is a non-starter.

        The second option has 6ft sidewalks on both sides. This is a pretty small space for people walking and biking to share. For $140mil, we can surely do better..

      2. “Fixed.” NE 70th/71st currently only has a sidewalk on one side and 14-16ft wide vehicle lanes. It will get a painted sidewalk on the other side, which will be protected by a protected bike lane. Basically something like this (which is from NYC):

        It will be a huge improvement, but it’s still a huge lift to get actual concrete/structural changes to an existing bridge.

        There will be additional improvements to the bridge as well; all-way stops and curb bulbs. More details here:

      3. Pine Street overpass over I-5 got its north side sidewalk added about 8-10 years ago. If you look closely you can see the old paint markings for the turn lane. Its amazing that this busy foot crossing particularly on the north side was not in the original bridge design. One would hope now that this 1960s era design would not be repeated on the Lander Street bridge.

      4. @Poncho Yikes, it’s been that long? It seemed like just yesterday I was defiantly shimmying down the narrow ledge that existed on that side of the bridge, similar to current the Denny/I-5 overpass. I was young, dumb and didn’t want to cross Pine twice.

      5. “Its amazing that this busy foot crossing particularly on the north side was not in the original bridge design.”

        This was the same era that built the Evergreen Bridge without sidewalks (being fixed now), the Denny Way overpass with a sidewalk only on the south side (still not fixed), the James Street underpass with a crosswalk only on the north side (because we wouldn’t want crosswalks in front of freeway exits inconveniencing the cars), and Fairview & Mercer with no east crosswalk (still like that after the rebuild, as I discovered July 4, although at that time I was crossing west anyway). I forgot that the Pine Street sidewalk wasn’t there until recently; I used it every day from when i moved to my current place a few years ago until U-Link opened, and I would have been pissed if I had to cross to the south side and then back to the north side.

      6. Damn, I was hoping it was going to be 80th! Still, glad to see that some of these are getting fixed, albeit slowly.. Thanks for the cites.

      7. And now I’ve looked at those cites. Wow, is building a sidewalk (rather than painting one) really that much more expensive?

    3. Someone I know inside SDOT has said that once this overpass is built, they will close the Holgate crossing. That might explain the need for extra vehicle capacity.

  2. So am I reading this correctly, only the south side of the bridge will have pedestrian access, and it will be shared with bikes?

    Why is that even being considered?

    1. Bike/walking access on this bridge isn’t a minor afterthought.

      This is the primary corridor for users of the SODO Link station and 4th Ave buses to access 1st Ave, with its Starbucks Headquarters and surrounding shopping. Since Metro has all but abandoned 1st Ave bus routes, walking from 4th Ave is the only option for transit access.

      The bridge needs bike/walk facilities on both sides of the road.

    2. Because the state and port care about freight and cars. There aren’t enough bikes or peds to matter. And if the surface road remains open then it will be an alternative on the other side when there’s no train.

      Part of me agrees there should be a sidewalk on both sides. On the other hand,. this is an example of how projects balloon in expense as everybody wants their feature added.

      1. Well said. Chicken and egg. Make it unpleasant for pedestrians, and you discourage pedestrians in the future and of course transit use as well

        Isn’t it crazy that the Royal Brougham crossing not only doesn’t let pedestrians alight on the east side of Fourth Ave near the Link and busway stations but also forces them to go a mindless loop increasing the distance and discouraging pedestrian use

    3. “Why is that even being considered?”

      Because the people who design and engineer our infrastructure never walk or ride bikes – or even bother talking to people who do.

      1. Its malpractice than one can “design and engineer” transportation infrastructure and neglect to consider basic modes and users.

        If they want to save money, stop building so many lanes and to all these worthless traffic engineering standards that aren’t safer and only encourage speed and reckless driving. Traffic engineering is a complete scam.

    4. I will simply point out that it is much easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to remain at grade than to climb a 40 foot overpass and go back down again. A multi-use track at the rail grade with crossing gates could be much easier and safer. Another option would be to install a short underpass trail.

  3. Is there any particular reason this overpass costs $140M while WSDOT’s more complex overpasses at Royal Brougham + Atlantic cost $84M?

    1. That was my first thought seeing that. For another comparison, the South Park draw bridge cost $175 million, but was obviously a movable bridge that had large pillars in a navigable river.

      My only guess is that building over active rail lines means more agencies need to review plans and special contractors need to be hired. And that means more money.

    2. This is a continuing puzzle to me. Why infrastructure projects are so expensive in the land of cheap milk and eggs. As a comparison, the Powell Street Overpass in Vancouver cost $50 million:

      The Phillip Avenue Overpass in North Vancouver cost $30 million:

      To spend $130 million you have to go to the Coast Meridian Overpass in Port Coquitlam, a substantial viaduct. I don’t have a link to the info boards, but here is someone driving over it listening to Smokie. Starts at 5:00:

  4. The Lander project is a worthy one. However, we should all be vigilant in opposing the efforts to kill the waterfront pathway for West Seattle and Burien buses. Even with this crossing the travel time from West Seattle would double meaning a likely loss of ridership to a very productive transit market. Any SODO pathway is much slower because of multiple stoplights, congestion, stadium traffic, and the cluster that is 4th and Jackson. That is true unless the city plans to remove parking on 1st, widen the street, cut down street trees and give transit priority. And it would be necessary to take a lane southbound on 4th to give bus priority there. Even with these dramatic actions, buses would be slower. If we truly as a city want to reduce SOV traffic, we must keep the waterfront transit pathway.

    1. I could be wrong, but I believe that the second line (once West Seattle Link opens) is expected to be elevated. That would interfere with a grade crossing.

      Of course, if both lines are on the surface, Link trains would be running through there every 90 seconds on average at peak times. (Two lines and two directions at six minutes would be every 90 seconds.)

      In other words, we don’t know what it will be but not knowing could be an issue down the road with or without a bridge over Link.

    1. I often wonder this myself but I’ve never gotten an answer.

      This was good use of Move Seattle funds. I wish people would quit pushing for unnecessary projects like Roosevelt BRT and instead push for finishing this project.

      1. Link trains are a short interruption to traffic and don’t cause major backups like the freight trains do. So, there is a real policy question as to whether it would be worth doubling or tripling the project budget to extend to 6th.

    2. Another reason why it may not be a good idea to extend the bridge over the Link tracks is that this would make for a poor connection for people utilizing the Link station. People would either have to walk up stairs, take an elevator, or walk out of their way to cross the tracks. Two of the largest generators of light rail riders in the area (starbuck and Seattle Public Schools headquarters) are across the tracks from the station.

    3. A light rail overpass isn’t needed. As someone who drives across the busway/light rail tracks frequently on Holgate, the wait for the train to pass is usually much shorter than event waiting for the light on 4th to change.

      A longer bridge would also disconnect it from 4th, which would make the overpass much less useful.

      1. The people shouldn’t.

        The businesses that are demanding better access to the port need to kick a little something extra, if it is so important for them to have it done quickly. What’s the bridge really worth it to them?

      1. Except, that if it is so dang important to certain businesses to access the port, then perhaps they would be willing to pay the remainder of the costs. So far, the rest of us (by our elected representatives) haven’t been willing to pay for the complete cost.

  5. Thus is wrong. There should be no federal funding of this or other projects. If we cannot fund it we should not have it.

  6. “Freight” means exclusively truck and that everything must be done to accommodate fast semi truck movement and no expense spared so that trucks never have apply their brakes between point A and B. Pedestrian, transit, bike and safety considerations can be thrown out the window.

    1. A big exaggeration. This is one single block compared to miles of SOV projects and even bike lanes and sidewalks. There’s a good argument that we should have a freight road network, or that the freeways should primarily be for freight and buses and working vehicles rather than for SOV commuters. That also means the freeways would be narrower and less obtrusive.

  7. Chris Hansen would have chipped in about $20m for this project, had the Council not rejected the arena vacation.

      1. No, Hansen was going to 100% fund the Holgate pedestrian bridge but ALSO had to chip-in $40m into a fund that would have gone towards transportation related issues. $20m of that $40m was earmarked towards the lander street overpass. It would be a smart play for Chris Hansen to offer to fully fund the remaining portion of the Lander bridge in exchange for the street vacation of the useless Occidental street that the Port made contentious.

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