No time for a major redesign of 520 bridge plans
It's too late to wholly redesign a new Highway 520 and eliminate carpools and van pools from two designated lanes. Both should be part of a project now taking shape. Other fixes might be workable, but forward motion and regional cooperation remain the twin goals.
IN the annals of Puget Sound regionalism, a news conference throwing a wrench in long-term plans to replace the Highway 520 bridge was a spectacular dud.
Those in attendance — Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, House Speaker Frank Chopp, two other state lawmakers, two Seattle City Council members, neighborhood and environmental groups — have a right to air legitimate worries about an expensive project.
Minimizing impacts on neighbors, protecting the Washington Park Arboretum — all makes sense to a point. The Seattle City Council's reasonable request to spend four months working with state engineers to make appropriate road and bridge connections on the West side also is welcome.
What does not add up, what smacks of Seattle smugness at its worst, is a late-in-the-game pitch to change planned usage for part of the new roadway.
Lawmakers a few years ago endorsed a new six-lane roadway connecting Seattle and the Eastside with four general-purpose lanes and two for carpools, van pools and transit. Light rail can be added years from now.
That seems reasonable. But along comes the new mayor and others to say eliminate van pools and carpools to create a bridge with a smaller footprint — and then maybe the city won't have to accommodate so many additional cars.
More commuters would be accommodated if high-capacity vans and carpools share lanes with buses. There are not enough buses to fill those two lanes.
Sound Transit plans light rail across the Interstate 90 bridge, but McGinn wants to add light rail across Highway 520, too. Who will pay for all the light rail he envisions?
Proposed new usage flies in the face of years of planning with the Eastside. A group of Eastside lawmakers and mayors, joined by five Seattle City Council members, gathered Thursday to present a unified front to move forward.
Current plans need work. For example, the new bridge supposedly rises to 30 feet high — to accommodate pontoons, a maintenance road and to avoid water splashing across the roadway. The state Department of Transportation now says the height could be reduced to 20 feet.
Improving transit options on the bridge, enhancing transit connections where the bridge connects to a Sound Transit station at the University of Washington, as promoted by state Sen. Ed Murray, are goals worth fighting for.
If political leaders get bollixed up on carpools and van pools versus rail, the delay will be too long.
The better course is to renew regional cooperation and make fixes where possible. Do not change the plans in the middle of the game simply because a new mayor has arrived.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.