520 bridge ideas abound, but money still the issue
The state is designing a replacement span for the aging Evergreen Point Floating Bridge sound enough to endure wind and waves of a fury...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
The state is designing a replacement span for the aging Evergreen Point Floating Bridge sound enough to endure wind and waves of a fury rarely experienced across Lake Washington.
But the political winds that regularly buffet the state have some project supporters worried that $500 million of funding for a new, safer span could be in jeopardy.
Word that the November ballot likely will include an initiative to overturn the state's brand-new gas-tax increase — which is expected to raise $8.5 billion for state transportation projects — came the day before area lawmakers and transportation officials toured the closed 520 bridge yesterday. The bridge, under routine inspection, will remain closed until 5 a.m. tomorrow.
Last week, sponsors of Initiative 912 turned in nearly double the required number of signatures to the Secretary of State's Office, though the state still must verify that a sufficient number are valid for the measure to qualify for the ballot.
The 520 bridge, jam-packed Interstate 405 and Seattle's ailing Alaskan Way Viaduct are all set to receive partial funding from the 9.5-cent gradual tax boost, 3 cents of which motorists began paying at the pump this month. Backers of the three projects hope to obtain the rest through federal help, a regional tax package and bridge tolls.
Finding the money
While watching crews test the 520 draw span yesterday, state Rep. Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, said he and others who consider crucial the more than $4 billion earmarked for Puget Sound projects face an uphill battle against those unwilling to help pay for the improvements.
For years, the state has warned that the viaduct and the western end of the 520 bridge are vulnerable to earthquakes. Engineers also note the 520 span was designed to withstand sustained winds of only 57 mph and could sink in a major storm. The state has clocked sustained winds of more than 70 mph across the lake, said Patrick Clarke, Department of Transportation floating-bridge and special-structures-design manager.
Jarrett said the debate will come down to whether voters want to pay for transportation projects on a statewide basis or regionally.
Repealing the tax, he said, would stall projects throughout Washington, including improvements along Interstate 90 that would reduce closures of the major east-west corridor during avalanche season. It also would force Puget Sound taxpayers to shoulder the costs of replacing 520 and the viaduct and widening I-405, rather than receiving help from around the state.
However, studies and designs are moving forward for a replacement of the 520 bridge, crossed by 115,000 vehicles each day between Seattle and the Eastside, headed to destinations including the University of Washington and Microsoft.
The span, opened in 1963, is closed this weekend for a regular safety-and-maintenance inspection. The bridge was serene yesterday morning as state crews repeatedly opened and shut its lift span, checked the house-sized concrete pontoons upon which it's perched, and performed ultrasonic tests for cracks.
Repairs and upgrades made after the January 1993 Inauguration Day storm, in which gusts reached 92 mph, appear to be holding up well, said Archie Allen, a state bridge-maintenance and operations supervisor. The state expects to release inspection results tomorrow.
Weighing the options
Replacement options for the four-lane bridge include:
• A replica of the existing bridge, but one with shoulders wide enough for disabled cars to pull out of traffic and a 14-foot-wide bicycle lane to the north.
• A six-lane span with four general-purpose lanes, car-pool lanes in both directions, the wider shoulders and bike lane, and enough capacity for Sound Transit to later add light rail, monorail or some other type of high-capacity transit.
The project's draft environmental-impact statement should be complete by year's end.
Project leaders won fans from the historically wary Montlake neighborhood this year when they agreed to study shifting the cramped Montlake interchange north near Husky Stadium.
Critics, including a group of Eastside business leaders, say it's pointless to replace the 520 bridge with fewer than eight lanes, though the state says that would flood I-5 5 with traffic it can't handle. Others, including Peter Hurley of the Transportation Choices Coalition, suggest the state ditch general-purpose lanes and charge variable tolls based on congestion to prompt more commuters to use transit.
Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or email@example.com
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