Last week, the City Council sent a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders expressing our thoughts about the recommended replacement for SR520, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge. Eight Council members signed the letter; Councilmember Nick Licata did not.
In summary, the letter encourages moving forward so the replacement bridge can be completed by 2014 and suggests further design refinements for the across-the-lake bridge and the west side interchanges in Seattle. The letter was crafted to gain the signatures of as many Council members as possible, a task ably shepherded by Council President Richard Conlin. Here are my thoughts on the Council's design and engineering
objectives, as detailed in our letter. Council position in boldface type, my thoughts follow in italic type.
- Ensuring that the Eastside connections and cross-lake bridge are designed and built to maximize the opportunity for dedicated transit lanes as part of a design that will be limited to six lanes, as provided for in RCW 47.01.405. I personally believe that the two additional lanes—lanes five and six—should be limited to transit only from the start. We need to start making regional transportation decisions that will maintain current capacity (four replacement lanes) but shift future capacity (two new lanes) to transit only.
- Reducing the height of the cross-lake bridge structure from the 30 feet in the current plans. Current plans call for a double-deck bridge; the top roadway for public use, the lower roadway for maintenance workers. How ironic; we'll be replacing the double-decker freeway along our central waterfront with a 30 foot high, double-decker across Lake Washington. I don't think so. The state has already indicated they could lower the height to about 20 feet, but that's still too high. Twelve to 15 feet would be much better.
- Continuing to narrow where possible the lane widths and general overall footprint of the corridor without compromising public safety and emergency access. Some believe the two additional lanes can be narrower than currently designed, that's not likely. Worthy of additional consideration but the reality of two additional lanes means a larger width for the bridge structure.
- Identifying ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate project impacts during and after construction.
- Using innovative noise mitigation technologies and recognizing these investments as an integral and inseparable part of project design.
- Optimizing transit connectivity and functionality across the entire corridor, along Montlake Boulevard, and in the vicinity of the future Multimodal Center on the UW campus. This is my second most important area of concern after number one above related to dedicated transit lanes. The current design of the Montlake area does not optimize transit connectivity; the design almost suggests that transit is an afterthought, something to be tolerated. Using transit across the lake and connecting to light rail or other transit routes must be easy, seamless and so obvious that the casual and experienced rider can navigate successfully. Designs should encourage, not discourage, transit use. Current designs don't do this.
The Council's letter does not specifically address tolling. I believe tolling should begin very soon, this year if possible, on both the SR520 and I-90 corridor. The financial plan to replace the SR520 bridge is not complete, except we know we don't have sufficient funds identified. Tolling will raise urgently needed funds and help to manage capacity.
Transportation projects like this—and the Alaskan Way Corridor—create conflict between those who advocate a car-focused, business-as-usual approach and those who favor strong government action to force people out of cars in favor of alternatives like transit or light rail. To some extent, both approaches are legitimate. One seeks to preserve the status quo, arguing that economic stability requires roads and highways to accommodate future capacity growth. The other seeks to reduce environmental damage by moving people out of cars to transit. I like to blend both approaches so as to protect our economically-important transportation flow while, at the same time, handling future capacity growth via transit options. No doubt these next few months will give us a chance to robustly debate these approaches.